Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Beirut’s version of the Second Amendment

Beirut's wealthiest flocked to Goodies to buy all their food. A gaggle of Mercedes-Benzes could always be found parked outside.

Legend has it that one day a disheveled young man entered Goodies, walked up to the cash register with a rifle, and demanded all the money. Within seconds three different women drew pistols out of their Gucci handbags, pumped a flurry of bullets into the thief, and then continued pushing their shopping carts down the bountiful aisles.

Beirut was the Summerland Hotel, built along the coast just west of the airport, which was opened in 1979 as the first resort hotel designed for people who wanted to vacation inside a civil-war zone—in style.

The Summerland's innovations included the installation of two 12,000-gallon fuel tanks to feed its two generators and satisfy all the hotel's energy needs for more than a month, should the city's electricity be entirely cut off—which it often was.

The hotel also had a separate 3,400-gallon gasoline tank for its own fleet of taxis and employee cars, thus ensuring that both the staff and the hotel guests could move around the city oblivious to the regular gasoline shortages.

The Summerland had an underground garage that doubled as a bomb shelter, its own artesian wells and water purification system, its own fire department, and a maintenance shop that could rebuild or repair anything in the hotel.

Instead of installing only the four large refrigerators that a 151-room hotel would normally require, the Summerland installed eighteen freezers, so that veal, beef, and smoked salmon could be flown in from Paris and stored for an entire summer season, when the hotel's pool and restaurant were packed with Beirut's finest.

Most important, the Summerland's owners organized their own militia, which conducted the hotel's “diplomatic relations” with the various other militias and gangs around West Beirut and protected the grounds.

When I asked Khaled Saab, the Summerland's cherubic general manager during my tenure in Beirut, about his well-armed team of bellhops, he demurred, “I wouldn't call [them] a militia, but let's just say if ten or fifteen armed men came here and wanted to cause trouble, we could handle them.”
— From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

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