Horsh Beirut Festival: Briefly Enjoying the City’s Park

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The first Horsh Beirut festival, held in 2011, lasted three months, but the park was only opened three or four days a month for sporadic events. This year the organizers decided it made more logistical sense to condense the events into 13 consecutive days. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Sandy al-Rassi

Published Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Horsh Beirut, the city’s largest public park, which has been effectively closed for over 15 years, will open temporary this Thursday for the second annual Horsh Beirut Festival.

The festival will host a series of free cultural events for adults and children over the next two weeks, an experimental initiative intended to offer limited access to the park against a backdrop of growing pressure from residents and activists to open the pine woods permanently.

The festival is organized by the Assabil association in cooperation with the municipalities of Beirut and the Ile-de-France region, which consists largely of Paris and its suburbs. The Paris municipality paid for the reconstruction of the Horsh on the condition it be opened to the public by 2002. Ten years later, the park is still closed to the general public on the pretext of protecting it, although Lebanese over 35 can apply for a permit from the municipality to access the park.

Beirut’s mayor, Bilal Hamad, at one point promised to open the park, although no date has been set so far.

Nawal Traboulsi, the secretary of Assabil, told Al-Akhbar that the organizers wanted to create a festival that was free and accessible to the public, unlike many of the major cultural and artistic events in Lebanon.

Tickets for concerts at the Byblos and Baalbek festivals, for example, can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention transportation to and from the sites.

The first Horsh Beirut festival, held in 2011, lasted three months, but the park was only opened three or four days a month for sporadic events. This year the organizers decided it made more logistical sense to condense the events into 13 consecutive days.

Horsh, in addition to being the last green space left in the city, holds a special place in the hearts and memories of the Lebanese, particularly those who lived through the civil war and remember when the small pine forest fell in the no man’s land dividing east and west Beirut. The festival will therefore will be a chance for people to reconnect with a historic part of the city which lies at the center of the sectarian fault lines that cut communities off from each other and from the forested refuge of the park.

The festival program features many different musical genres and artists, some of whom are widely known while others are up-and-coming.

The festival is scheduled to open at 5:00 am on Thursday with the Francophone duo Rima and Joelle. They will be followed by a group of students from the Higher Institute of Music and the Antonine Music School who will perform a set of traditional Arabic music and maqamat. At 8:00, there will be a concert by the music group Asil Oriental Ensemble, which will perform contemporary classical Arabic music.

Other acts include environmental activist Paul Abi Rashed on September 22 at 5:00 pm, the Arthur Satyan Jazz Trio on September 27 at 8:00, and tarab musicians Nisrine Hmaidan, Wissam Jaber and Wissam Bitar on September 29 at 8:00. The band al-Moukhadiioun, known for its Arabic cabaret-style music reminiscent of the 1920’s and 1930’s, will also perform on September 30 at 8:00 pm. The oud player Charbel Rouhana and his band will perform at 7:30 pm on October 2.

In addition to music, there will also be dance performances by the groups Zaffet al-Mir and Jafra on September 21 at 5:00 pm.

Festival organizers are making a special effort to appeal to families, welcoming children with a series of activities starting with a show by the Jnoon children’s theater company on September 20 and again on September 23 at 5:00 pm. There will also be a kite workshop with Sami Sayegh on September 22 at 5:00 pm, and on September 28 at 5:00 pm, Les Amis des Marionnettes (the Friends of the Puppets) troupe will present an environmental children’s puppet show show titled Men Mahmieh la Mahmieh (From One Nature Reserve to Another’). Stories for Kids, a story-telling and reading session, will take place on September 29 at 5:00 pm.

The organizers of the festival said they tried to include something for everyone by striking a balance between music, theater, poetry, storytelling and kids activities.

On September 21, a unique performance titled A World without Voice by Issam Abu Khaled will engage with issues related to the daily lives of people with hearing and speech difficulties. The stories presented are inspired by the lives of the actors, who are themselves deaf or hard of hearing. Lebanese hakawati, or traditional storyteller, Jihad Darwish will perform Stories for Adults on September 22 at 8:00 pm.

On September 28 at 8:00 pm, there will be a poetry reading featuring Mohammed Ali Chamseddine and Houda Nomani, who will read in Arabic, and Michka Mourani and Aida Haddad, who will read in English.

The festival means that Horsh Beirut will be open again to the public, if only temporarily, although many hope this initiative will lead to the permanent reopening of the park as a refuge for all Lebanese.

The Horsh Beirut Festival: From September 20 till October 2. For more information call 70/109979

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Having made 4 trips to Lebanon in the last 9 years, I have been puzzled as to why our hosts never took us to Pine Park, knowing that we Canadians crave fresh air and green space. How shocked I was to find out that it is closed to the public! Have been to Jordan's Petra, I realize that the park needs to be protected from those who would treat it disrespectfully but I am stunned that people as proud and strong as the Lebanese have tolerated essentially complete closure. We have been fortunate to spend most of our time in the mountains but now our children are moving to Beirut and we are deeply saddened that our grandchildren will be deprived of the fresh air and green space to play in. I would have thought that a country with as many wealthy, educated as Lebanon would not deprive their citizens of something so basic as a little ground beneath their feet and some breathable air. I hope for all of you, good sense will eventually reign.

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