BEIRUT: There are many stories about the River of the Dog or Nahr al-Kalb. Though simply called "The Dog" by most citizens of the Levant, historians say that its name under the Roman Empire was "The Lycus" (Wolf) River - a somewhat more imposing name.
"The ancients tell of a dog that lived on a rock by the river in the forest whose voice was so loud it would echo to Cyprus and back," tells George, a beachcomber living at the mouth of the river.
An Iraqi and a former soldier, he had been at this spot for over a year. "I have known such dogs, whose howl would arouse the entire landscape at night," he continues.
It is still fall, and warm out, a nice day for talking on a beach.
While we chat a pack of wild dogs begins to emerge from the forest. I have seen them before at the forest edge, carefully making their way to the beach, one dog leading, and the others spread out in flanking formation — this comes from millennia of experience. They live, travel, and attack in packs.
Soon the dogs are circled and sitting around us, like we are all one wild pack together.
There is a dog who must have belonged to a family before as he wears a think leather lanyard with a carved and polished heart-shaped stone loosely around his neck. But he chose the wild life at some point and found a pack to join.
George is originally from Mosul, and he proudly explains that he is Assyrian, to be exact. I ask if he was there during the second US invasion in 2003 and the subsequent fighting that went on for over a decade; he nods yes.
He bears various shrapnel and bullet wounds from the then ongoing war, where he said he fought on the American side. I take this at face value; who was fighting who in Iraq was often a rather elastic proposition, but various groups allied themselves consistently with the US Army, usually for very practical reasons.
As the old saying goes, the Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend.
"In my unit (which he does not name) my nickname was 'Azrael'..." George says.
Before he finishes his sentence, I do so for him, "the Angel of Death."
"You know your Old Testament," he notes, smiling.
"'I know a little would about size it up," I chuckle.
After coming to Beirut few years ago, George simply walked out of the city one day until reaching this point not far north and says he "sensed it was a good place to set up beach headquarters."
It is a soldier's encampment, neatly laid out, firmly staked into the beach, but all is not Spartan; he points to a table set with skewers and says he host parties on Fridays with delectable fish brochettes. He also opens a footlocker that has a car battery, small flat screen and a satellite dish.
The ubiquity of satellite dishes never ceases to amaze me, appearing in the most unlikely of places.
George closes the locker and offers tea. First he gathers driftwood, and then carefully prepares a small pyramid of sticks and flames it up. Soon he has a blackened kettle hanging over the fire while he meticulously prepares several cups, first cleaning the mugs with soap then pouring clean water over them.
He slowly adds the tea leaves into a porcelain teapot to steep. He then pours just a little tea in the glasses to heat them, noting that a proper glass must be heated first before adding more tea to the brim. His technique and fastidiousness is akin to that of an English butler, which is called "scalding" the pot.
"Tea is served," he announces.
George takes out a carved Meerschaum pipe and prepares himself a smoke and offers his guest a Cohiba cigar, fresh as if kept in a humidor.
I might as well be in a private club at poolside sitting across from a chap in a Dolce & Gabbana swimsuit, for that is what he wears. We are soon surrounded by a blue haze of relaxing smoke as we delve into topics of economics, history, and geopolitics.
I return in late winter, during the rains, to the place that I met George, but now everything is gone, as if he never had been there, only the dream of a former Assyrian soldier, who had become a peaceful beachcomber and a friend of the forest dogs.
I call out, "George, GEORGE," loudly - but he is gone.
As I go to leave, a dog crawls from under a nearby abandoned construction shed, he is sick from the weather, hungry and lonely, but manages a tail wag and a slow walk over to lick my hand.
I give him what food I have in my pocket, a leftover croissant with cheese. Telling him that he is "a good boy," I promise that I will be back soon to take him to the vet or find him a home.
But being wild, like George, he will probably have returned into the woods to join his pack.
Annahar is featuring an occasional series of personal essays, entitled "Beirut Notebook," from our readers, citizen journalists, and our own correspondents, on their life experiences, ranging from work, travel, encounters, Lebanon living, solutions, fashion, cuisine, culture, family, tech, sport, study, and more. No politics, just Life.
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