In the season five finale of his CNN travelogue Parts Unknown, host Anthony Bourdain cuts right to the chase in describing Beirut, Lebanon: "There's no place else every remotely like it. Everything great — and all the world's ills — all in one glorious, messed-up, magical, maddening, magnificent city." It's Bourdain's third trip to Beirut; his 2006 journey, which coincided with the outbreak of the 2006 Lebanon War, was famously documented in an episode of No Reservations, which saw Bourdain and his television crew TV trapped in the city during Israeli airstrikes. ("Like South Beach... there were people drinking vodka and Red Bull, even while Israeli jets flew overhead," Bourdain said during that No Reservations show, which aired just a week after a cease-fire was called later that summer.)
Parts Unknown's revisit takes a similarly serious tone: Violent news reports are juxtaposed with images of food being prepared; Bourdain walks through neighborhoods full of Syrian refugees, marveling at how groups are forced to co-exist in a country roughly the size of Connecticut. While there, Bourdain enjoys Syrian delicacies (a dish called "the seven countries"), plus his fill of hummus, kibbeh nayah, and grape leaves. There are also copious shots (literal and cinematic) of vodka and arak, the liquor of choice in much of the Middle East. But Bourdain admits early on that "I'm not a geopolitical expert," ceding much of the talking in this episode to the citizens of Beirut, both longtime residents and recent refugees.
Here now, in the final Quotable Bourdain installment before the already-promised next Parts Unknown season debuts, are the 15 best quotes from Beirut. (In the spirit of the episode, the rundown features some guest speakers, as well):
1. On his return to Beirut: "The first time I was here, it did not end well. But it made no difference to me... in spite of everything, I love it here."
2. On geopolitics, featuring puns: "Along its borders, the country was what you might call ‘Syrious’ neighbor issues."
3) On the city's diversity: "Here, block by block, you see the scars from the 15-year civil war that only ended in the ‘90s. But also: nightclubs, discos, beaches, bikinis, where much of the Arab world comes to let their hair down. It is an incongruous mix."
4) On Beirut's reputation as the "Paris of the Middle East": "Walking the corniche, it's easy to forget — for a moment anyway — what's going on not far from here."
5) On the 2006 war, which lasted 34 days: "I fell in love with this city under the worst possible situation."
6) A guest quote, from a Beirut resident working Bourdain's security detail: "We have only one good neighbor that doesn't effect us, that helps us all the time. It's the sea."
7) On Beirut hipsters: "Is that — why yes, yes, I think it is — ironic glasses, vintage clothing, and neck beards. It appears the Brooklyn strain has spread even to Beirut."
8) Bourdain to his host, who voices support for Hezbollah: "When is it permissible, morally, to use a car bomb or using civilian targets — for you?"
9) On the fact that Lebanon doesn't have a president: "That's sort of awesome."
10) Another guest quote by a music hall owner/entrepreneur: "I think that culture can save the world. ISIS, those criminals who are not very far from Lebanon; someone who read interesting books, someone who listened to beautiful music, cannot become an animal again."
11) On an unlikely watering hole: "Where better for capitalist, imperialist pig-dogs like Ramzy and myself to spend the last evening in Beirut than... a Communist-themed bar located in a housing block?"
12) On the complimentary shots that keep arriving to the table: "You're trying to kill us, man. Who is this man? He's trying to hurt us."
13) On inspirational party animals: "In the words of Vladimir Illyich Lenin, let's get the party started. Or was that Rick James?"
14) On a different kind of well-stocked bar: "I seem to remember mom at some point whipping out some kind of automatic weapon."
15) On Beirut: "Everybody should come here. Everyone should see how complicated, how deeply troubled, and yet at the same time, beautiful and awesome the world can be. Everyone should experience, even as the clouds gather, what's at stake, what could be lost, what's still here."