Memories of honey
There’s a place I love in Lebanon; it’s beyond the highway that drives you out of the rubbles of Beirut and through the ruins of Tripoli. If you close your eyes during the drive and open them only when you arrive, you’ll look down onto the blue, blue sea and ask yourself where the hell you could be if you were in Beirut only 30 minutes ago. Look up and you’ll see an unassuming house on a hill, it’s painted white and the land around it is so unkempt it’s like the house sprung out of the earth like the trees that surround it.
Almost anyone who’s been to Lebanon can tell you that leaving is bitter, because you can’t help but think that when you return, you won’t be able to recognize the place. It’s almost like every time you leave, you’re saying goodbye for good, at least to the Lebanon you saw this time around. But leaving Beirut and arriving in the place I am writing about, Batroun, is always sweet. It’s where my grandmother, an avid beekeeper/gardener by day and a doting mom/granny by night, spends most of her time these days.
Until last month, I had always associated honey with my grandmother. My whole life, I’ve understood honey through her hands. Since I can remember, she has nurtured a colony of bees with patience and resolve. She has shown me that the process can be as, if not more, rewarding as the result and that really good things come to those who wait. This isn’t too far off from honey’s newer connotations…
From a very young age, my grandmother made a point of teaching my sisters and I the many ways we could eat honey; like on top of ashta (an Arabic version of clotted cream) for dessert or drizzled on top of the sliced banana of a sweet breakfast manousheh. Being able to trace back what we were eating to the hive a few meters away made the moments we ate the honey feel ceremonial and important; it’s probably why I can so clearly remember them.
Most significantly etched into my memory, forever I hope, is the image of my dad eating labneh with honey. When my dad was a boy, before my grandmother got the bees, when the only pet they had was Picco the parrot, his mom introduced him to the magic that is labneh topped with honey. To this day, he will scoop dollops of the silky spread into paper-thin sheets of markouk (a type of Arabic bread) and douse it with honey. And when labneh isn’t so available to him up here, on this side of the hemisphere, he’ll settle for a pot of FAGE Greek Yogurt and a spoonful of his mother’s honey smuggled into the country all the way from Batroun, Lebanon.