BEIRUT: The protagonist in the prologue of Mikhail Naimy’s Book of Mirdad recounts, “Facing the sea to the west and rising many thousands of feet above it, with a front broad, steep and craggy, Altar Peak appeared from the distance to be defying and forbidding.”
Neglectful of the warnings from local mountaineers, our hero’s resolve to climb is strengthened as he observes, “Yet, reasonably safe accesses were pointed out to me, both tortuous narrow paths and skirting many precipices – one from the south, another from the north.”
The vivid backdrop summoned by Naimy’s words is that of his home town Baskinta, a village that sits high on the slope of the regal Mt. Sannin, overlooking the eastern Mediterranean. The area was also home to other eminent literary figures, Abdallah Ghanem, Amin Maalouf, George Aroyan, Rachid Ayoub, and Suleiman Kettaneh. A rich cultural heritage accompanied by striking landscapes inspired Joseph Karam, President of ECODIT, to conceive the 24 km mini-thematic hiking path, The Baskinta Literary Trail to promote and preserve the region’s heritage.
“The idea was to develop a trail where people could discover these authors and poets by walking in the region, learning and feeling what these figures must have felt when they wrote about the village, when they mused about existence: whether it is a great philosophical essay like The Book of Mirdad or the poetry of Abdullah Ghanem,” he says.
Indeed, the common hiker with a penchant for reading is at once struck by the likeness between Naimy’s renditions of the fictional Milky Mountains to the impression left by the stunning views extant in Baskinta: Of hills bending, reclining, and forever rising in succession from the faraway shore; of tranquil hamlets encased in verdant frames; of valleys nestled in hills, “studded with men at labor” selecting the best of their yield.
“When people walk on the trail and go to the places where these authors lived and worked, things inevitably pop up from what they wrote, prompting the hikers to realize, ‘Aha! So, this is what was meant,’” continues Karam.
Part of the larger project, the Lebanon Mountain Trail which connects communities across north and south Lebanon, the Literary Trail was conceived, with the help of USAID, to conserve the environment in the area and to provide economic opportunities for the locals through tourism.
The trail passes the home of Naimy, where one can find the 600-year-old oak tree overlooking the valley, under which he sometimes meditated, the simple room that he shared with his brother, and the tiny crevice in the wall which served as his library. A chance encounter with his nephew, Yusuf – dropping in to tend the apple and cherry orchard – might divulge an anecdote about the author’s life.
“My uncle died in my arms,” Yusuf related that in 1988, Naimy beckoned his nephew to pay him a visit in Beirut. “I found him smoking and drinking coffee in his home, he said he felt very tired and very sick. Within two hours of my arrival, he was gone.” Naimy requested that Yusuf bury him in El-Shakhroub, where he wrote many of his notable works. The site of his grave is also a landmark contained in the trail.
From here, the snaky paths eventually lose their definition as one descends into the depths of Wadi el-Deleb. On the way, one catches sight of smiling strangers and invitations to share a pot of coffee; streams carrying freshwater all the way from Sannin; Forest markers erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian of the 2nd century, banning all logging in the area; and the majestic mouth of the Sayf al-Dawla Cave, named after the enlightened Arab leader of the Hamadani state in 940 A.D.
A laborious ascent by way of the El-Hosseyn Hill brings one to the heart of the village of Baskinta, leaving behind an arresting view of land already traversed. Rugged landscapes give way to asphalted roads, many-storey houses: the standard indications of civilization.
A cultural center dedicated to renowned poet, philosopher and journalist Abdallah Ghanem is located here, storing the his most prized possessions for public viewing: his notebooks, his identification papers, his characteristic walking cane, and the desk where he rarely wrote.
“My father wrote most of his poems in the presence of nature, facing the mountains and the valleys” says his son, Ghaleb Ghanem, the present head of the Supreme Judicial Council. In fact, many of Ghanem’s poems were written atop Mt. Sannin, where the view of the steep valleys bestowed him with an unvarnished honesty, as the lines from one of his poems reveal: “Upon my heart she tapped and said, ‘Oh kindly open let me see.’”
Naturally, the question of why the small village of Baskinta, in particular, has produced such a startling number of remarkable figures arises: During the 18th century, with various missions from Russia and France venturing to the area to establish schools, the area gained a reputation to be an educational center. Children from neighboring villages and beyond made the commute to take advantage of the didactic opportunities.
“There are essentially two interrelated elements in Baskinta that contribute to its cultural heritage: the nature and a certain literary culture, with an accompanying humane culture which developed in the beginning of the 20th century,” explains Ghanem.
Anomalies in what would otherwise be a pristine landscape do, however, exist. This is evident in the series of unfinished buildings that may remain for years in skeletal form, depending on the income of the owner.
“A foremost threat to conservation efforts in the area, is construction,” says President of the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association, Karim al-Jisr. “The essence of a trail is to see nature and the value of a trail is how much nature you get to see. The minute construction becomes rampant then you diminish the value of the trail.”
According to Jisr, bad habits, combined with ignorance and low-cost projects are contributing to the environmental threats to the area: “People tend to widen existing roads, or build new roads by cutting it through landscapes. They don’t look for the path of least-resistance, or try to make these new additions blend with the environment by cutting as few trees as possible and managing the rubble that is produced along the way.”
In an attempt to maintain the trail and its surroundings, LMT is planning to segment the route, along with a business sponsor, and encourage individual municipalities to present the trail in their urban planning regulations
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Travel-and-Tourism/2011/Oct-26/152256-baskinta-literary-trail-preserves-towns-heritage.ashx#ixzz1bsCmnm1o (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)