Beirut: Anise reopens; Middle Eastern, Italian, and Armenian cuisines; sail blogs, and the Singular Story of Paul Ceglia

June 7, 2021

Not much to report about last week, except for an excessive consumption of food and wine.

Wednesday was the opening night of Anise, my friend Hisham’s bar in Mar Mikhael which had been closed since March last year as a result of COVID19 and the explosion in the port. Natalia, Marina and I were among the first patrons but many others came later. I was happy for Hisham and his team since the bar is their main source of income.  After a couple of Negronis we relocated to Baron, a restaurant around the corner from Anise that specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine.  Although Rita the chef is now gone — she is managing a French-Asian restaurant in Paris— the menu hasn’t changed much and the food remains excellent; nobody is indispensable. 

On Friday, Lebanon was honored by the visit of the World Bank’s regional VP and somebody from the Board.  The Director for the Bank’s local office organized a welcoming cocktail at a hotel by the beach that Natalia had to attend.  She later joined Marina and I for dinner, this time at Mario-Mario an Italian restaurant also located in Mar Mikhael. I hadn’t been there for over a year but like in Baron not much has changed; the same mellow atmosphere, the terrace surrounded by trees and bougainvilleas; the low, strip lights; the asymmetric distribution of tables and chairs with multiple designs and colors.  It is a place to enjoy authentic, simple, Italian recipes.  I had some of the burrata with a perfectly loose outside shell of mozzarella and a balanced molten core of cheese curds and cream.    

Saturday my in-laws arrived after a very long journey from Riga via Istanbul. It took them over 2 hours to go through migration and then recover their luggage. Natalia and I were relieved when we saw them exiting customs pushing a heavy cargo of 4 suitcases.  It was 2am when we got to the apartment.

Yesterday Marina and I rode to Mar Mikhael, yet again, this time to have lunch at Mayrig an Armenian restaurant.  There are some similarities between Armenian and Lebanese food though, I argue, the former is more involved and complex.  It was the first time that Marina experienced Armenian cuisine and she loved it. We took our time sampling various dishes — including Manti which is a dish of tiny little boats of dough, filled with meat and eaten with a sauce made of red peppers and tomato paste— that I accompanied with Arak. While enjoying our food Marina told me the following story.  

A few weeks ago in Ecuador, a Russian friend of ours who manages the lodge Playa Escondida (located just south of the beach town of Same where we spend most of our summers), organized a welcome party for a family who had just relocated to the area.  Marina knew this through a friend she met while on vacations in Ecuador over Christmas and New Years who was among the guests. Another friend of mine who was invited to the party was Eduardo who also owns a lodge, this one in Estero de Platano some 30 minutes further south (Las Holas Surf Camp). 

Eduardo is himself a sailor who lived for many years in Florida trading goods in his 30 foot sloop between the mainland and Dominican Republic (I had written about him here before).  He moved to Estero de Plata a few years ago to open his business. Being familiar with American pop culture he happened to recognize the proud father who had just moved his family to Estero de Platano and was living incognito.  Eduardo did some google searches to confirm his suspicious and it turns out he was right. The man in question was no other than Paul Ceglia, a New Yorker who disappeared in March 2015 after being charged with trying to extort billions of dollars from Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Ceglia was awaiting trial in New York federal court on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud. He reportedly removed his electronic ankle bracelet and disappeared with his wife, two children and a dog.  He landed in Ecuador, a country known for not enforcing extraditions to the USA. Somehow Ceglia was found and arrested by the Ecuadorian authorities in August 2018, but in early 2019 he was released after Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, denied a USA extradition request. Since then, Ceglia is again a fugitive according the US Justice Department:  “The government continues to consider Ceglia a fugitive and to seek his return to the United States to face charges,” Assistant US Attorney Janis Echenberg wrote to US District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan.

I don’t know how I feel about this.  The man is living happily with his family in Estero de Plata and, obviously, has made new friends. I am sure I am going to meet him when we travel back to Ecuador after our cruise in Grenada.  He is likely a very interesting person and, who knows, might be innocent after all…    

Back home from lunch I took a nap.  Soon it was time for appetizers and champagne to welcome the in-laws. After I cooked salmon in the oven that was served with glazed cauliflower (Natalia’s dish) and some rice. We had a lovely dinner that lasted until midnight.  

On another, final, note, I found this very cool site that tracks and ranks sailing blogs.  I discovered several that I didn’t know — though I was surprised not to find a couple I do follow and I think are quite popular. Check it out:   https://blog.feedspot.com/sailing_blogs/

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