Theodore writes of Lebanon as a place of paradox. On the one hand, it is a country of natural beauty, cultural richness and exceptional kindness and hospitality – he recalls being greeted every day with the phrase ‘Ahlan wa sahlan’ (‘You are our kin, be at ease’). On the other, it is a country defined by political corruption, economic collapse, struggling infrastructure and religious division - ‘Everyone is leaving’ says Mira, a staff member at a local bar and now heading for France; the owner of a guesthouse can only apologise with shame for the state of her beloved country.
As structured, the essay presents the catastrophic blast as almost an inevitability – cries of ‘It is the end’ are heard in Arabic from the streets. Whilst, in one sense, ‘freakish and random, another milestone in Lebanon’s tragic history’, Theodore also represents it as, in his words, ‘a natural consequence of the degradation and corruption of the state.’ Its immediate effect is captured in vivid prose – Theodore’s apartment is gutted by the blast (pictured opposite and below) and fragments of glass slice through his foot and ankle. He labels it ‘a rehearsal for what the end is like.’ He aids his wife day and night ensuring the safety of embassy staff. It hastens their return to Australia and the very process of writing the essay served as a form of catharsis.