You enter her apartment like you are entering an early twentieth century “salon de thé.
”A beautiful jasmine scent flies through your nostrils up to your head, which is already dazzled by books of all interests and the Baalbeck Festival
Program Catalogs that are by themselves pieces of art.
“Of course you should stay in Lebanon! We did the impossible to stay in the country.
During the war, my house was shelled twice.
The walls fell, but I stayed right here while many left by boat. Not me.”
This is how May Arida started the conversation, with pride and love for a country she strongly believes is still worth it.
Arida is no longer a young woman, but her dazzling beauty today reminds us of our country’s golden days.
She has presided The Baalbeck International Festival for over 50 years, a festival that witnessed the biggest names in the history of Arts and Performance. Yes, Joan Baez was here. The great Ella Fitzgerald was here.
“Every night, President Chamoun was there at 7:30 pm sharp, every night of every performance.”
“All of it happened in the Magic of Jupiter and Bacchus,” she exclaims with the joy of a little kid with lights in her eyes; and you realize, the minute you look in her eyes, that whatever happens they will never stop shining or dreaming of a better tomorrow.
“In 1955, we started the festival with 140.000 LL, after President Camille Chamoun’s initiative to make it one of the most renowned festivals in the region.”
The next year, the festival took the name of the Baalbeck International Festival. And since then it has been held in the Roman Temples of the city, promoting culture and tourism in Lebanon.
“Every night, President Chamoun was there at 7:30 pm sharp, every night of every performance. You would think that people would not show up for classical music…but 4500 people were in the audience, a full house,” she says, delighted.
“When the civil war erupted, our activities stopped, but every year I told myself, ‘we will open this year.’ And the year after, I convinced myself of the same thing…and then one day, we were on again.”
The fighter’s heart of May Arida is incomparable. Maybe this was the courage she gained from being a sport champion.
Not only was she the president of the Lebanese Water Skiing Federation back in the days, but she was also a Ski Champion, who, despite a very serious skiing accident, got back on the slopes as soon as she could, never looking back at any obstacle.
“I told them after the Meribel accident, ‘you’ll see, in few months I will ski again.’ They didn’t believe me.”
Talking to Arida is like opening a book of fairytales about Lebanon; stories about the good old days, about opera, classical music, white slopes, Camille Chamoun, Ghassan Tueini, the goodhearted people of Baalbek, Sabah and Fairouz…and Michel, the driver, who always helped her out in the festival.
But she is not only a storyteller of the past, May Arida is also a boost of hope to a new generation that continues to think that leaving Lebanon is their only escape.
“I am scared of earthquakes, yes, but never from Lebanon. Whatever happens, it will remain the most beautiful piece of land on Earth.”