A Tale of Three Cities
Which city do I love the most in the world?
To choose one city above the rest and aver that I prefer it over all is most certainly a tenuous avowal. I have had the pleasure of living or passing through many fascinating cities over the years and I have had a transient affair with a few. My feelings are better revealed in French through the words of a forgotten laureate: “J’ai des mémoires de villes comme on a des mémoires d’amour”. I have memories of cities as we have memories of love.
My cities were selected by the passion of a whimsical heart rather than the intellect of a well-traveled man. The universal magic and appeal of the famous metropolises would not gain any added benefit from my humble appraisal. However, I owe it to the three cities of my choice to tell the rest of the world about them. I should also make it clear that I do not mind a casual affair with a large city but I would never fall in serious love with one. I am a small town boy and will remain so till the day I die, or to put it more emphatically I am a crude sailor who had spent a great deal of his life in the arms of fashionable damsels but only had one sweetheart all along.
I would be willing, perhaps, to leave Tartous if I had to, and spend the rest of my life in Tripoli of Lebanon, Larnaca of Cyprus or Alicante of Spain.
Tripoli is the twin sister of Tartous. Every real Tartoussi thinks of her as his second home. A distance of 60 km separates the two cities and going there on the spur of the moment to spend the day and return is a long established tradition for us. There is no other Syrian city to take its place in my mind. I know every single street, every neighborhood. I’m welcomed by its shopkeepers and recognized by its everyday amblers. The Tripolitans speak with my accent and share my inherited values. This is the only place in Lebanon where the line between Syrian and Lebanese is almost nonexistent. It’s a beautiful, well-kept city by the sea with a charming boulevard adorned with tall palm trees and an easy going lifestyle. It is home to most of my lifelong friends, those who are scattered today around the globe waiting for better days to return. Tripoli is so much a part of my life, I could never let go.
I have sailed the 110 nautical miles from Tartous to Larnaca one spring afternoon and made harbor and anchored late at night. I stepped out of the boat in the early morning and was immediately engulfed with an ethereal nostalgic feeling. It’s as if I’ve stepped back in time to the Tartous of my childhood yet remained in the present with a vision of how it should have gone. Larnaca is a precious little town on the Mediterranean, full of heritage, of pride, of the simple pleasures that make up a happy life. The adorable promenade is lined with little pubs and restaurants each with its unique identity and lure. It’s absolutely fabulous to be a stranger in Larnaca and learn to love the beautiful island of Cyprus. I’ve spent 11 high-spirited days of my life on that first visit and it’s easy to understand why I always cherish my return. The city has grown since our first meeting but it has, nevertheless, aged with grace and dignity.
It’s perhaps my destiny to reach beautiful cities in the wee hours of the morning and crash into bed. When I woke up in my hotel room in Alicante and took a panoramic view from my balcony of the harbor, the beach, the esplanade and the mountain, I achingly fell in love forever. This is an intelligent and attractive city in the same way a gorgeous woman is. Years ago, the people of Alicante realized the futility of competing with Barcelona as a commercial port. They’ve collectively decided to turn their harbor into a recreational marina to host cruisers, yachts and sailboats from the seven seas and beyond. Nowhere on earth would you ever get a chance to eat fish like they make it in Alicante. A most scrumptious fish of a few kilos is totally covered with coarse salt and baked inside a very hot oven. When it’s taken out and brought to the table, it looks like a giant salt rock. After expertly breaking this solid layer, a steamy delight made of dreams is unraveled and served with a generous flow of wine. The three hour lunch lazily consumes the rest of the day amid laughter and great company. A tourist attraction that has succeeded in not turning whorish, Alicante is the epitome of the most beautiful city by the sea.
I have tremendously enjoyed this special tag and have therefore decided on spreading the word. I am tagging my friends the Syrian Brit, Dubai Jazz and last but not least my dear Karin.