Phoenix Cities: Beirut and San Francisco

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I was born and raised in San Francisco, a city destroyed in a major earthquake in 1906, whose flag symbol is the Phoenix – a mythic bird that arises from the ashes of its prior life. In SF, the ’06 quake is still a matter of common reference, over a hundred years later. Last week, I visited Beirut, Lebanon, a lovely and energetic city rebuilding itself after the devastating 15-year civil war which ended in 1990. Just as with San Francisco, Beirut seems determined to rise up again without forgetting or pretence. My daughter Jessica and I were visiting our friends from the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen mentoring program, and Al-Makassed (the Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association of Beirut).

I grew up boating on Lloyd Lake in Golden Gate Park, which features the “Portals of the Past” – the white marble portico of an elegant Nob Hill house destroyed in 1906, donated to the park as a permanent remembrance of the great earthquake and fire. In Beirut, I saw a similar desire to honor and remember in the preservation of the Martyr’s Square statue, with its bullet holes unrepaired.

There are still many evidences of the Lebanese Civil War but as buildings are renewed or replaced, most blast marks and bullet holes will quietly disappear. Beirut displays evidence of its ancient Roman past – a visitor can see corinthian columns next to the downtown shopping area, a Roman bath near the government buildings, and old foundations preserved behind glass under a modern building. I respect the city’s desire to acknowledge and preserve its more recent history as well.

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Images Copyright 2012-2013 by Katy Dickinson

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