Accept a glass of arak in a toast and savor the anise flavor.
Take off the month of June. Meet your cousin for the first time at the airport gate in Beirut. Stay calm and smile while he drives too fast on hairpin roads to the mountain village of Baskinta, an hour east.
Under the grape arbor, return hugs from the family you’ve heard about for 40 years. Quickly learn to kiss three times, alternating cheeks. Gather in the living room where divans line all four walls and jewelcolored rugs cover every inch of floor. Talk a limited amount but when they roll up the rugs, dance as if it’s your first language. You know it’s theirs.
Leap, twirl, stomp to the derbeke’s beat. Accept a glass of arak in a toast and savor the anise flavor. Accept a turn in the hookah circle and savor the apple flavor. Eat all your meals outside. Watch the women bake pita rounds on the outdoor domeshaped stoves. Don’t wait to eat a loaf.
Join them on the roof in late afternoon to pry pine nuts from cones. Turn to the west, close your eyes. Let the sun fill your face. See the orange behind your lids. Breathe in the blue air of the Mediterranean.
Allow yourself time to wander alone through the nearby cherry orchard. Explore the stone buildings, every one of them an ancient ruin. Whisper the word bedouin into the soft wind. Scan the landscape and notice Mt. Sannine and see that it draws in all the rays of light and emits a color of its own. Understand why native poet Naimy was spiritual in his prose. Pick wild mint on your way back to the house.
Add part of your collection to the bundles hanging upside down from the kitchen ceiling and ponder its abundance: crushed mint for lamb, chopped mint for tabbouleh. Steep what’s left of your mint leaves in a teapot of hot water. Bend close to inhale its aroma. Place the delicate cups and saucers onto the tray and serve your family.