Festival spirit defies instability in Lebanon

Wed Jul 23, 2008 8:13pm EDT
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By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEITEDDIN, Lebanon (Reuters) - Lyrical notes from the saxophone of U.S. jazz artist Branford Marsalis waft into the cool night air of a mountain palace courtyard in Lebanon.

The applause generated by the fine music also seems to carry overtones of joy and relief that Lebanon's summer festivals are back after two years of cancellations forced by a war with Israel in 2006 and battles with Islamist militants last year.

"It means normal life is coming back, hopefully, and it's a positive sign," said Karen Kilejian, a supermarket finance officer, outside the early 19th-century palace of Beiteddin.

Grappling with instability is nothing new to organizers, audiences and performers at cultural events in Lebanon.

The festival at Beiteddin, in the Shouf hills southeast of Beirut, began in 1985 at the height of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war -- years when the glories of Baalbek's venerable festival were a distant memory and its brooding Roman ruins lay silent.

The casually dressed audience at Beiteddin were glad of a chance to escape, if only briefly, from the political tensions and eruptions of violence that beset their tiny country.

"You have two kinds of people, those who live by their culture and those who live by arms," said Jean-Marie Megalbani, a 63-year-old surgeon. "We hope that the cultural aspect will prevail, that democracy and human rights will prevail."

For Majida al-Roumi, a Lebanese singer renowned across the Arab world, the revival of Beiteddin, where she will perform on August 9, and the other festivals proves Lebanon's resilience.   Continued...