Epilogue: the trip to Massaya and the Lebanon

Last Friday morning, we left Beirut city centre at about nine o’clock, to go to the airport. Our sadness to leave this passionate and vibrant country was accentuated by the fact that it was actually raining – something that rarely happens at this time of year in this part of the Middle East.

Rainy Beirut on Friday morning

Rainy Beirut on Friday morning

We had spent nearly four days taking in the  sites, sounds and aromas of the Levant in bright sunshine, under clear blue skies. This was a trip that had been full of laughs and entertainment but, above all, we were leaving Beirut with a much deeper understanding of what makes Lebanon and its multi-cultural people tick. We were primarily there to visit the Bekaa Valley and get to to know its wines, topography and history but the backdrop of real daily life was an integral part of bringing it all to life. This was the first ‘free’ trip that the directors of CPW had ever accepted in over thirty years but we felt that, as we were already converts to the excellent wines of Massaya, we were not compromising our independent position. Sami and Ramzi Ghosn were the perfect hosts and put in an enormous amount of effort in making our visit to their country so deeply memorable. For this we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

A quick word about our travelling companions. As mentioned in a previous blog, we had been invited by the Ghosns along with James Tanner and Averil Johnston. James is the MD of one of the UK’s most established and quality-minded wine merchants, Tanners of Shrewsbury. On the surface, he is the quintessential English country ‘gentleman’ wine merchant but behind this exterior lurks a brilliant wit with a very dry and very funny, sense of humour. The memory of sitting in the back of a car, with James giggling at the madness that is Beirut traffic, will remain with me for a long time. As will the fact that he likes to dance non-stop all-night (ref. the Music Hall on Thursday night!). James also sports one of the finest straw hats that I have seen for many years…

James, his hat and Sami

James, his hat and Sami

 Averil Johnston was the only lady in the group and put up with a lot, always being sandwiched between two chaps in the back of various vehicles for a week. Averil is an integral part of the team at Northern Ireland’s leading wine merchant’s, James Nicholson of Crossgar. Apart from being on James’ buying team, Averil also helps run the office and the busy shop. When she’s not doing this, she is also a full time mother and wife! I must apologise for continually referring  to her as English (“we’re four English wine merchants”!) as Averil comes from Eire and lives in ‘the North’ and is anything but English! She is absolutely charming and was a brilliant ‘honorary’ English wine merchant. We all thought that Averil was particularly fetching in her hijab we she had to wear when visiting a mosque in Beirut…

Anne Boleyn or Averil in a hijab?

Anne Boleyn or Averil in a hijab?

Lebanon is a country of extremes and contradictions but above all it is living testimony that multi-sectarian peoples can co-exist together, despite civil war and other political conflict. It has been fought over for centuries due to its strategic importance in the Middle East and because it has great reserves of one of nature’s most important natural resources – water. One never knows if, round the corner, another conflict will rage within its borders. If it does, we are sure that the fortitude and character of its people will get them through once again.

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