If you asked me to imagine myself in a happy place, I’d be quick to describe one scene.
In that scene, I would be sipping a warm cup of tea in front of a primitive fireplace in the family house of my village in the south, sitting in a circle with my relatives while it snows outside, and gazing into the hypnotizing flames dancing before me.
LouLou, the powerful storm that has been in the process of invading Lebanon for the past few days, is what inspired me to write about my experiences with winter in the village.
When you live in the city, as I do today, you don’t get to behold the true essence of winter in both its majestic views and unforgiving chill.
The villages of Lebanon, in their unchanging simplicity, have succeeded to preserve that essence, unlike the prideful city that has long antagonized the white-coated visitor.
One of the most delightful experiences exclusive to winter in the village is stepping outside in the morning and realizing that everything is not as you left it the night before.
The trees, the dirt, the stairs, and the roofs have all become white and sparkly – even the smell of the air is different now.
The echoing silence that takes over the atmosphere after it snows puts you in a deep trance that is unlike anything you have ever felt. You only hear the crunching of snow beneath your feet and that of the animal that dares to leave its nest to venture outside in search of sustenance.
Every breath of cold air you inhale outside feels like – and probably is – the purest of any breath you have ever taken in your life.
And although you slightly shiver, you feel more alive than ever before when you wander in the endless fields of white, soft snow before you, and sense the gentle harmless sting of a snow crystal as it lands on the palm of your hand.
The remarkable topography of the elevated Lebanese villages forms a terrific blank canvas that, when painted in snow, produces amazing pieces of natural art.
In winter, the readily beautiful terrain of Lebanon forms unequaled views easily deserving of a spot at the top with the most admired natural sceneries in the world.
And in the countryside, nothing stands between your eyes and these magnificent views but the trees that are no less magnificent in their winter wardrobe.
The old bite-sized Lebanese houses in the distance choose to yield to the overwhelming snow and dare not to disturb nature’s perfect continuum.
Along with the mesmerizing visual extraordinaire and the soothing calmness that accompanies it, my favorite part of spending winter in my Lebanese village is what I like to call the fireplace ritual.
The ritual involves the cousins going outside to the small inventory in the back of the house, and fetching some wood and flammables to feed the dying fire in the primitive chimney in the living room.
The best thing about it is the coziness that comes with watching the fire regain its life, while surrounded by your relatives, sitting on a traditional Lebanese floor seating, sipping tea, roasting chestnuts and sweet potatoes, and conversating.
In these moments, in that atmosphere, you get a glimpse of how beautiful the simplicity of life used to be in the days of your grandparents.
You get to experience life in a way you’d never dream of experiencing in the city. It reconnects you with your origins, with your culture; it reminds you of your identity as a Lebanese.
I would pay to experience the fireplace ritual in my city, to have a replicant set of the village house during winter – with a hand-built fireplace and everything – planted somewhere in what remains of the slowly fading vegetation at the edges of the suburbs.
A place that the busy people of the city can go to every now and then to forget if for a short while, the complications of life and the stress of the daily routine.
If you’ve ever spent time in your old-school Lebanese village in fall, you probably relate to everything I wrote. If you haven’t, then I advise you to do so soon.
Winter is here in Lebanon and it’s your chance to reconnect with your extended family, to join them in their comfy floor seatings, and travel back in time to experience the true wonder of old Lebanon.