Fishing with George

With D and her family I went to the beach. They go to one of the many beach clubs along the coastal strip, this one at Jounieh. Most of the coastline is taken up with private developments, a range of vintages and degrees of exclusivity: this one is open to chalet or locker owners who have bought in for regular access, and who can bring a number of guests annually.

D says there aren’t any public beaches but if you look over the razor wire behind the crepe stand where the East African kitchen worker eats a shawarma, tired in the shade on her break, there’s a stony cove between the concrete platforms of the neighbouring pools, where a car and a VW van are parked, and a guy is sat alone on a towel. You can hear housey music on the wind from one of them. The white stones of the beach aren’t without their garnish of litter and flotsam, and it looks a bit bleak below the buildings behind, half built or semi dilapidated, but it is there and someone seems to be using it. But, public beaches you might go to on a regular basis if you prefer a seawater and chlorine pool to the cloudy sea, and bars and food and company and facilities, near North Beirut, not so many.

This is one of the places her father George comes to fish. He fishes a lot. I’ve always wanted to learn, but I’ve never really taken the initiative. Today I have a go, but mostly watch, between swimming and sitting in the shade. He quietly shows me how to cast, then after a while, how to bait the hooks with rolled bread, and how to notice a proper bite. They’re tiny fish here today, but catching them makes him happy, and it’s infectious. Swimming in the sea nearby his brother and I watch for a while before I join in, and Dory heckles occasionally while we tread water. He tells me George loves fishing because it clears his mind. I’ve always wondered at the guys by muddy lakes and canals, but there’s definitely something meditative about the rituals, quiet, the attention to the float when you wait for a bite that has a hook.

D says the day after he was married, during the war in ’82, he went fishing on the way to his law graduation, with the bombs in the background, and was late to the ceremony, his Josephine worrying and waiting with his smart shoes. We have dinner later, fish he’s caught and frozen, and the story is clarified: it was 3 days after their wedding, there weren’t bombs, and he missed the graduation, presented by the Minister for Education, completely; she’d brought his suit and tie, but not the shoes and there were none small enough otherwise. He grins, happy recollection retold with a wry punchline: he missed his graduation, but caught lots of fish – what’s better?