I am going to talk about a place, a site, which I
leave rather vague, an anonymous Lebanese village
with its houses, its memories, its customs, and its
old remains, all going back to a time which belongs
to the past. I shall talk of odd nooks where we loved
to go during our childhood but which modern trends
have completely wiped out once and for all. In these
places we used to live and carry on our traditions
of births, baptisms, feast days, dances, internments,
folklore, games, family visits, love and friendship,
the four seasons, and harvest time.
“In 1936 two French archeologists, Mr. and Mrs. Dunand,
were finishing an exhaustive dig at Byblos, when they
made an important discovery: under the last levels
where the ashes of twenty civilizations lay on top
of one another, they were surprised to find the most
ancient dwellings of stone blocks known in the world,
dating from a time when Egypt and Chaldea knew to
build only with brooks of baked earth. Here in Lebanon
man dared to attack the hard rock.” (Charles Corm)
What was unusual about these ancient houses in Byblos
was that each one in addition to hewn stone walls
had seven pillars, of which three were enclosed on
the right-hand wall and three n the left-hand wall,
with the seventh standing in the middle of the dwelling
in order to hold up the roof and consolidate the pillars
in the walls by means of beams of wood which it bore
horizontally. From the plan of such houses the emblem
of the seven pillars of wisdom was derived.
For my paintings I have done a great deal of research
and work on the theme of “the house and the village
in Lebanon “.
The house and its inmates have a very intimate relationship,
bearing on hospitality, respect for values. friendships,
mutual confidence, patience, help to one another,
generosity and customs, all of which is reflected
in the simplicity of the environment of the dwelling.
The concept of a house is simple but functional, with
a cellar, a terrace and an “upper room”. The traditional
house was occupied only in the evening, for in the
morning and throughout the day its inhabitants were
out in the fields working.
The terrace of the main room was held up by a stone
column or by the large trunk of a tree, while the
terrace itself was of puddled earth spread over boards
and branches and well packed by a heavy roller so
as not to let through the rain. Sometimes the houses
had two or three rooms, including a large reception
Built into one of the inner walls of the large room
was the famous youk (a Turkish word). This was a large
space inset in the wall like a doorless cupboard where
were stacked mattresses and blankets, which in the
evening were spread over the floor as bedding. In
the entrance or on the terrace was a stand for the
water jars, with two large holes in which were stood
the jars, with beside them a jug with a spout and
perhaps a couple of cups so one could serve oneself
with drinking water.. In the place where people ate
there would be a small rectangular wooden table six
to twelve inches high which would be placed in the
middle for mealtimes. Everybody would sit around it
cross-legged on the floor, stretching out their hands
to serve themselves.
The fire was not lit indoors because of the smoke,
but in a corner out of the wind, the sun and the rain.
Bread was kneaded and baked in the cellar or some
such convenient place.
In the Lebanese household work was distributed according
to the seasons, most of it coming in August, September
and October, with the harvests, the cleaning and the
chopping of wood for cooking and heating. Above all
there was the preparation of the mouneh, that is to
say the winter provisions for man and beast; this
comprised burghol (wheat crush and then dried in the
sun), cereals, jams, tomato purée, sun-dried
fruits, kishk (dried labneh – curds ground up with
fine borghol), butter products, cheese, labneh, oil,
distillations, and so on. Most important was peace
of mind, understanding, a happy family life.
One such traditional house is still occupied on the
north-east side of the village
of Eddeh. The interior is formed
of several arches, making it very picturesque. One
can still see the youk. The main room is separated
by a diwan where one can sit down or go to sleep.
The house is simply furnished with the bare needs,
nothing superfluous. One notices the serviettes hung
on the walls and the carpets spread on the floor.
The house gives an impression of cleanliness, of welcoming
warmth and of repose, with delightful cheerfulness.
Another old house, on the south side of Eddeh, is
no more than an empty ruin. But over the terrace there
is still a vine laden with bunches of succulent grapes.
Here also the interior is in the form of arches. One
finds only one window left and that has broken glass,
while the wood of the doors has all rotted. One feels
that people just like ourselves have in the past lived
here and loved the place. There is the ghost of a
hearth where there are some ashes and fragments of
wood. There is a broken jug and a reservoir into which
water drips from the ceiling, in all of which memories
linger. Yes, nostalgia lies heavy in the air and even
the garden is abandoned and weeds push up everywhere.
One particular day, I went for a walk, going from
Annaya to Ehmej, and found myself a little lower down
at Kfaar Baal, a village opening on to a wide horizon.
A valley stretched to where I saw a couple of isolated
houses. The first one was occupied, furnished, and
clean, with carpets on the floor, looking very agreeable.
There was a large room divided into two halves. There
was one corner for use in the evenings and another
with a large table for receiving guests and for use
as a dining room. The two parts of the room wee separated
by a wooden cupboard behind which lay the kitchen.
In the interior were four columns, thick whitewashed
tree-trunks, which supported the terrace. This also
was composed of tree-trunks with branches and puddled
earth compressed by a stone roller. I guessed this
house to be a hundred years old but still habitable
and breathing nostalgia. Such houses nowadays are
not often to be found but in this case there was still
life and movement with a feeling of warmth, so its
occupants could consider themselves favored by fortune!
The second house was in good condition but more or
less abandoned. It was occupied by an elderly peasant
who did not wish to adapt himself to modern times.
The main room was used as a store room, a dump. Were
it to be restored, cleaned up and repainted, this
house could be made as pleasant as the other one.
In both houses the emplacements of the youk and the
divan were both visible. Our forefathers were not
very demanding. The four houses I have spoken of are
very rare examples and show that before the age of
reinforced concrete and the new techniques people
knew how to enjoy life and be happy.
Now the old relationship between the home and its
occupants have been lost. Can this rich jewel be got
back? Yes, surely it can! I remember how some fifty
years ago I was offered tea on the terrace of this
house which then was so clean and so full of life
Translation from the French: Kenneth J. Mortimer
- Kfar Baal old house 1: >> View
Movie << (2017-10-15)
- Kfar Baal old house 2: >> View
Movie << (2017-10-15)