"Meteorology of Affect: Tourism, Hospitality, and Infrastructures of Pleasure in Lebanon." Working Group: Infrastructure in/of the Middle East, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University. May 2016.
This paper is centered on the growth of Beirut’s Hotel District (Minet Al Hussein, Zeitouna, Ayn al Mressei), which was marked by a hopscotching of infrastructural developments realized through sites of commercialized hospitality in various eras. There are three steps in the above postcard from 1976: The Holiday Inn is prominently foregrounded; facing it are the two towers of the then 15-year-old Phoenicia Hotel; and at sea’s edge, the Saint George Hotel from 1932. These three structures, like stepping stones of greater height, offerings of pleasures, and circulations of bodies, map over periods in the development of Beirut: the French Mandate (1923), after Lebanese Independence (1946), and the start of the Lebanese Civil War (1975). This paper explores aspects of each hotel, a stone’s throw away in distance, but decades apart in time. I argue that these hotels were where hopes and expectations were housed in real concrete infrastructures, but supported through vicarious beams built through tourism. As Harman notes of a bomb: “corrosive chemicals lie side by side” and “something must happen on the sensual plane to allow them to make contact” (2013: 197). In connecting two objects, “separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distance signals” an ensuing reaction results in something new beyond the two (ibid). How then were hotels vicarious mediators in this one area, between guests and the urban landscape? Between multiple visions of Lebanon’s future?
The larger argument at hand here skips through 100 years to aggregate how hospitality was beholden to tourism. A contribution through this work is to consider that which supersedes one era - one lifetime. I am drawn to explore these hotels as infrastructures that developed beyond the human “life cycle” that illustrates continuities, pressures, and progressions of commercialized hospitality (see Bowker 2015). Thinking historically, each hotel in this area “accreted” into the next, they connected to, and built off of previous versions and iterations as tourism advanced (Anand 2015). As such, the timescale and atmospheres that emerged from these eras points to how hotels consolidated and motivated important aesthetic productions for tourism.