Martyrs' Square

Martyrs' Square

Graffiti

Graffiti

Filipina domestic workers, Christmas Day

Filipina domestic workers, Christmas Day

Bronze Age statue, National Museum of Beirut

Bronze Age statue, National Museum of Beirut

Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea

Sodeco

Sodeco

Zaitunay Bay

Zaitunay Bay

Nejmeh Square, Christmas Eve

Nejmeh Square, Christmas Eve

Corniche

Corniche

Lebanon

Beirut

Christmas 2011 • If Beirut has an anthem, it's probably played with just two instruments: the car horn and the jackhammer. The whole city seems to be in a mad rush, as if to make up for the decades lost to civil war, occupation, and stagnation. Today's skyline is beyond the imagining of anyone who watched Beirut's implosion on TV in the 1970s and '80s—but it's still a city on edge, no matter the outward signs of renewal. Pointing a camera in almost any direction invites a warning, and during Christmas weekend, every church was guarded by heavily armed soldiers. On Christmas Day, I hopped from service to service—first Greek Orthodox, then Maronite Christian, then Latin Catholic. The Beirut on display was wealthy, chic, multilingual, confident. But the Beirut I saw later, on the way to the airport, was an entirely different vibe: grindingly poor, controlled by Hezbollah, and presumably empty of Christmas worshippers and foreign tourists.

Martyrs' Square

Martyrs' Square

Graffiti

Graffiti

Filipina domestic workers, Christmas Day

Filipina domestic workers, Christmas Day

Bronze Age statue, National Museum of Beirut

Bronze Age statue, National Museum of Beirut

Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea

Sodeco

Sodeco

Zaitunay Bay

Zaitunay Bay

Nejmeh Square, Christmas Eve

Nejmeh Square, Christmas Eve

Corniche

Nejmeh Square, Christmas Eve