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Berry Picking #3: The Parisiana
Martyrs' Square in the 30s & 40s
Back in Dec 2020, when COVID-19 was still very much our reality, I masked up and went to Cabinet of Curiosities, a short-lived exhibit at Dar el Nimer in Beirut’s Qantari neighborhood. Given the circumstances, I feel many missed out on this treasure trove of “unnecessities.” I still have the poster and the pamphlet that describes all the random souvenirs from all over the world (with a substantial amount from Lebanon and Palestine) including lottery tickets to guidebooks to a copy of the law booklet for sex-workers in Lebanon that dates back to 1931.
One of these items was the drinks menu (below) from the Parisiana. According to the pamphlet, the Parisiana was a hotspot for French officers during the Mandate and it used to be called Zahret Souriya. It was located in Khan El-Tiyan present-day Martyrs’ Square.
There were A LOT of fascinating tokens in this collection but why did this item stand out to me?
Because at Zakira, another photography exhibit at Dar el Nimer in April of 2019, there was a photo taken in 1982 that stunned me so much that Joseph Faddoul, the photographer, emailed it to me without hesitation. It was labeled “La Parisiana.” I still don’t know why I love such a sad image.
About 7 months later, during an afternoon in the South, my dad and his brothers were reminiscing about old theaters in Downtown Beirut and the Parisiana comes up again. So what was it? A cafe or a club or a theater? All of the above? Perhaps it had many lives before it became Joseph’s relic above. The menu refers to it as a casino.
According to Nadia Barclay’s thesis titled Café Culture in Beirut: A Center for Civil Society (16th century – present), it was the following:
“The Parisian was the most important café on Martyrs’ Square. The only item on its menu was a locally produced dark red soft drink called Jallool. During the day the Parisian was a regular social meeting place. At night, however, it turned into a cabaret. Musicians and dancers entertained, or theatrical groups performed plays, or improvisational and politically satirical shows.”
Do you or your parents or theirs have memories of this place?
About the Berry Picking Series
Once a month, I share a nugget (very or loosely) related to wine from my random online deep dives or in-person encounters.
This series was formerly known as “Brainfood” but was renamed in Sept 2023.
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