The date links will take you to a page with maps and/or pictures to give a little context for that day's events.
Feb 17 - Shove off at 0800 with Syrian guide to see what we may of Damascus. Drive to the great mosque of Omayad. Stand amazed in the vast court surrounded with handsome colonnade, with the bell tower carrying up the warm yellows and reds of the arches and columns against the cloud-filled sky. Bits of early mosaics still cling to the upper walls and in a number of places they fan out above the capitals of the columns in a mist beautifully satisfactory pattern. What must it have when all these smaller parts were richly covered, all fitting into the great richly glittering whole. A German plane came over in 1940 and tried to drop a bomb in the center of this court so as to stir up feeling against the English. Just missing, they destroyed a number of houses and their inhabitants, damaging only one corner of the Court. Jack says, "Think how one boy of perhaps eighteen, by pushing a button, can destroy one of the world’s rarest monuments, that took centuries of tradition and years to build, in a few seconds." The tremendous interior was ravaged by a. set fire some years ago, is vast cold and empty, save for a few fragments of fine decoration and small sections of the original ceiling. Outside I made some rough notes looking through a Roman arch at this largest mosque in the world. Near by at the end of a beautiful little garden with reflecting pool is a tiny mosque with two tombs. In one lies the great Suleiman, who stopped the Crusaders. We walk through the thousands of feet of tunnel roofed markets, the narrow stone street lined with shops. There are no crowds of following bores, begging for pennies and cigarettes. These people have self-respect and a fine dignity. To "The Street Called Straight," the oldest in the world, in the world's oldest city. Destroyed by the French and. rebuilt. Stop at a shop and find a quaint old doll dressed in native costume, carrying baby on her back. This will please my little girl. Snow buys the usual bolt of cloth and fancy dagger. The French traffic cops and soldiers everywhere milling the Syrians, the British scarcely seen, controlling quietly. We drive along the old Roman city wall to the Gate of St. Paul, with its small window above the door from which he was lowered in a basket and escaped his captors. Climb a number of crude ladders to roof of tower and observe how houses ling to wall using it for their house end, often cutting windows right through the thick masonry. To underground church of Ananias, a dismal vaulted cave, the little altar and the adjoining smaller crypt where he lived. Wind through much of the old city and back to the hotel. Regretfully shove off 1030 for the toughest day of our trip, for we must cross the snow covered mountains and be on the shores of the Mediterranean before the pursuing night. Nor'-west through barren country of a queer greenish soil, that changes suddenly in spots to a deep red- brown. Detour at Zahle for Ba'albek, thirty miles away. Swing Nor'east and enter the long valley filled with a roaring wind. It buffets with hard body blows, burns our faces. We make a rugged fight up that valley, man and car. Snow's foot is pressed hard down, and he and I wait for the windshield to carry away and wrap itself around us. At last here they are, that unsupported row of Roman temple columns, standing like sentinels against the dark cold wind-swept sky. We stop first at the British Officers' Mess in Ba'albek for hot food and coffee. Here is the rear supply area for the "quiet" Ninth Army standing at the head of the windy valley just as the Romans did. For these warm orange columns of ancient Rome, supporting their part of the great stone lintel and cornice against the storm clouds, are fragments of the temples that were surrounded by the great city at the head of the vast Whatat valley. Past here moved slowly the bread for mighty Rome. We enter the temple area of six acres filled with fallen grandeur, walls and columns remaining with all their classic beauty. It is breath taking, a place to spend weeks in quiet contemplation, instead of a little less than a windy hour. But we are at war and I must down to the sea. In spite of ruin her is living classic, drawn by the artist's hand, not the mechanical copy that stands so deadly cold in the bright sunlight of our cities. The great 250-ton Phoenician foundation stones on which the Romans builded, and atop the Roman walls the black Arab stones used to fortify. The temple of Jupiter with a whole wall of curved chapel niches, half their domes still spring upward above the rich "color" of the architectural details. The knowledge they had of building with stone, the bold grace and delicate refinements of the decoration of orders and forms for light, shadow, and always “color”. The temple of Jupiter, as I look aloft up the warm, rich surface of the majestic pillars to the fins free carving of the cornice, the whole great mass moves intact downward under the illusion of the racing sky, just as the stone George Washington used to do atop his tall column in Baltimore, when I was a boy. We walk like pygmies through the tremendous portal of the temple to Bacchus. Vast in scale, wondrous in decoration, not the slightest degree ponderous. Then we see several 60-foot patches of the concave ceiling still supported by the columns of the colonnade. And I think of the men that did that perfect cutting under the guidance of the great master that designed so magically for that height. Their hands were cut off when it was completed so nothing so beautiful could ever blossom from stone again. We look with contempt at the holes drilled to the columns' core at their bases, by the Arabs who pilfered the bronze holding metal that fitted column to round base. Down beneath the great central court and through one of the long parallel tunnels through which the sacrificial animals were driven, past the large transverse tunnel, and sliding and slipping in the mud of the road from the water dripping from the stones of the arched roof, we emerge drunk with the stunning beauty of the ancients, to our square modern jeep, not unlike a grey green squatting toad, with bilious yellow markings. It is now 1530. We have come over the Anti-Lebanon Mountains from Damascus to this howling valley of the winds. Now we must retrace our course 30 miles to Zahle, turn West and climb over this high Lebanon Mountains through the dense swirling clouds and the snow. Climb in my small command, wrapped in our insufficient all, and sail down the valley with the heavy following wind astern. We know this will be the most dangerous motor ride any of us has ever taken, and we face it with "keen anticipation, for all three of us belong to that breed that likes to take a beating. Arrive at the crossroads, turn, and start up, and I mean up. Little railroad follows us at incredibly steep grade, cogged wheels between rails. This is really like flying. Stout ear climbs and climbs, makes hairpin curve and we look straight down over side and there is the place we left a thousand feet below. Up into the clouds that smother us in a grey blanket with only a few feet of road visible ahead. A big lorry looms out of the obscurity, swishes: past with a few inches to spare, is swallowed instantly in obscurity. "Whew," whistles our cox. It's really bitter cold with driving rain and sleet. On one side the white snow rises up above us, on the other it drops below and blends into the swirling clouds. We have put up the top, no side curtains, and the wildly flapping canvas bangs and torments our heads. So like locomotive engineers we lean out over the side, the water pouring from our visors, the driving rain stinging our faces burnt by desert sun. The water drives through the cloth of our raincoats and chills our outboard arms. Three more lorries running close, crash out of the sky above and ahead, buffet us with the wind of their passing. Now and then in a momentary clearing we glance down terrific sheer drops and see the earth grey and barren five thousand feet beneath. Many tank traps, pill boxes, French fortress-like buildings seen through the swirling murk. The summit, just like going over the top of a capital A. Shift quickly into gear and start down. There's a parapet the first we have seen. Lord, that first we have seen, Lord that must have been a drop! We crawl past on the slippery road and peer down, all cloud. What a view of the world and the sea that must be. Down we go around and around not curves, just turning on a dime. Don't know how cars, let alone trucks, make it. Hope we don't meet one on such a face-about-downwards. Always the mountain rising sheer into the clouds above, dropping into the clouds, and for us eternity. We must have come down quite away for Snow turns and I see his mouth move and realize I am deaf. The damn cold and quick decent. Humming of many winds in ears. Suddenly the clouds swirl away and in their going expose a deep rich world of dark voluptuous green hills, wedge shaped with several bright towns imbedded in the verdure. This side of the mountains as lushly fertile as the other side was naked. A few minutes and the drop out of the fog of the clouds into the light of late afternoon. Still the precipitous descent, far ahead flattening out to the level of the sea. Air warm and moist. The narrow streets of Beirut, a very little tram with French school children climbing over the tailboard of the back platform, passing up their books. City full of character. A square--French soldiers, traffic cop, a light. Snow forgets to stop. Jack apologizing I am sure in perfect French, but I can hear schooners, harbor water, Mediterranean beyond. Puddles everywhere. Smells wet, very strangely silent. Along the foreshore to the Hotel Normandy. To our room and dry our pistols. Walk out on our balcony overlooking rustling palms around war memorial. Big seas breaking against promenade wall right below us. Salt water stretching away. I follow in imagination the curve of the sea to the West where it edges through the narrow pillars of Hercules, joins the grey restless Western Ocean and curves over the Earth to shores I love. There's a port almost on that line called New York, where a little girl loves I bought the doll for on a Street called Straight. Could it have been morning? That’s the oldest street in the world and the mother of that little girl is the dearest woman in the world. Wonder where my son fights the Flying Fortress he commands. “Hey,” says Jack. “It’s 1815, we’re chilled, we are going right down and have pink gins. Do you hear that?” You bet I do! The bar is a large sphere cut in half, gaily painted with the map of the world. Dancing in a room near by. In half an hour we are warm for the first time since sitting by the dancing waters of the little Sea of Galilee.
Feb 18 - Awakened by the hoarse roar of breakers dead ahead. Startled, sailor-like, I leap up. Of course, Hotel Normandy, Beirut, Syria. Close tall French windows. Outside howling gale, big seas sending high columns of white water above the wall. Salt spray instantly knocked down by wind and driving sweet rain. Snow reports Jeep's awash. Get the word there's a snowstorm raging over the Pass, blocking the road for at least three days. Closed an hour or so after we got over! Telephone Lt, (jg) Locke, the only U.S. Navy here. He arrives in a curtained Command Car and drives us to British Naval Captain in charge of port. As always, British officers couldn't be more cooperative and I get pass to sketch anywhere on water front. They give me a closed car and driver and in the lashing rain I drive about and pick out sights to sketch from. Rows of caiques, British freighter, large sub, town and mountains beyond when weather-front lifts. Drive in storm through old Beirut. Drenched buildings red, orange, and lake. Newer city dull yellows and browns. Post report and wait impatiently for break in weather. All afternoon it pours in intermittent torrents with much crashing of thunder. We are storm-bound. From our window we see through the swaying palm fronds, the breakers driving charge, churn the sea to a muddy yellow, shading off into a livid green that meets the black sky. To the right the pension Nina House juts out on its iron legs into the mist of spray and to the left from the promenade the lower open decks of the New Royal Hotel are covered with heavy surging water, plunging back overboard through the rails, like seas of the main deck of a can, rush through the scuppers. That night at dinner we study the British officers' faces and observe how truly they have held their type down through the centuries. We imagine beards on them and they all become Holbein drawings.