AL BUS­TAN HO­TEL AND ITS LEGACY

Perched on a hill in Beit Mer y, the Al Bus­tan ho­tel has a long her­itage. It’s a land­mark to the past, watch­ing over Beirut from above. LT speaks to Myrna Bus­tani, daugh­ter of its founder and pres­i­dent of the Al Bus­tan Fes­ti­val, who has made the ho­tel an

Lebanon Traveler - - FRONT PAGE - Al Bus­tan Fes­ti­val, 16 Fe­bruar y-20 March, al­bus­tan­fes­ti­val.com, 04 870400

WHAT IS THE HO­TEL’S HIS­TORY?

There was a ho­tel in the same lo­ca­tion called the Grand Ho­tel, that had been there since the 1930s. It had be­come derelict and was listed in an auc­tion. My fa­ther, Emile Bus­tani, was a busi­ness­man and en­tre­pre­neur, and when he heard that the ho­tel was go­ing to be auc­tioned he was in­ter­ested. My mother and fa­ther used to go danc­ing there in the ‘30s. He bought it and wanted to trans­form it. They had to pull the old ho­tel down and the new con­struc­tion started in 1962. When he died in 1963, my mother con­tin­ued and com­pleted the in­te­rior.

THE HO­TEL MUST HAVE HAD A BIG PRES­ENCE EARLY ON FOR YOU – HOW DID YOU GET IN­VOLVED IN RUN­NING IT?

The grand open­ing was in 1967 and that same year there was the Arab-is­raeli war, so it didn’t star t on a good foot at all. Back then there was a French gen­eral man­ager who was ver y nice, but wasn’t so suc­cess­ful. I was crit­i­ciz­ing him all the time and so my mother asked me if I thought I could do bet­ter? I said yes. I planned to just work there for three months, but I stayed three years. Af ter that, the Le­banese Civil War took place. The ho­tel was like a sit­ting duck

on top of the hill – ever ybody was shoot­ing at it. Af­ter­wards the ho­tel was in com­plete sham­bles, we had to re-do ever ything.

WHY DO YOU THINK AL BUS­TAN BE­CAME SUCH A LE­BANESE LAND­MARK?

When we re­turned again af ter the Civil War I was in­sis­tent that ever ything should be like it was in the ‘60s. If a ta­ble was bro­ken, we re­did it in the same man­ner as be­fore – we treated ever ything in this way. Peo­ple stay here and they have an idea of what Le­banon used to be like.

HOW DID THE AL BUS­TAN FES­TI­VAL START AND WHAT WAS THE AIM?

It star ted in 1994. I re­al­ized that clas­si­cal mu­sic had dis­ap­peared from the scene in Le­banon. This sad­dened me be­cause I ben­e­fited from be­ing around in Le­banon dur­ing a won­der­ful time when we had ver y good mu­si­cians who came from all over the world. For the first year we had only 30 per­cent oc­cu­pancy but that slowly changed. We never thought we would con­tinue as long as we have; it’s been 23 years. We are ver y pleased be­cause we have suc­ceeded in our mis­sion to br ing back clas­si­cal mu­sic.

HOW HAS THE FES­TI­VAL IT­SELF EVOLVED?

It has changed mu­si­cally. The first year we only had one “tutti frutti” of opera, with four singers. Now we have full op­eras. Though our hall is small – we have to re­move three rows of chairs to fit the or­ches­tra, since we don’t have an or­ches­tra pit – and it is ver y dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive [to or­ga­nize], now peo­ple are en­joy­ing it and we are happy that our pro­gram has be­come much more dense and im­por­tant.

WHAT IS THE FEED­BACK OF THE MU­SI­CIANS WHO PER­FORM AT THE FES­TI­VAL?

We have re­turn ar tists that we ask back ever y year. They love the fes­ti­val and are ver y happy to come. We ac­tu­ally have a prob­lem… they never want to leave!

WHAT IS THE THEME FOR THE 2016 EDI­TION OF AL BUS­TAN FES­TI­VAL?

The theme is “Mid­win­ter Night’s Dream,” which cov­ers Shake­speare in mu­sic. Next year is 400 years since his death, so we are fea­tur ing some of the mu­sic that was in­spired by him.

IS THERE ONE SHAKE­SPEARE PLAY THAT YOU AL­WAYS RE­TURN TO?

Shake­speare sounds won­der­ful in Ara­bic be­cause it’s rhyth­mic. I think the one that I like the most is Ham­let – we are br in­g­ing Ham­let here (4 Jan­uary) with a per­for­mance from The Globe The­atre.

WHAT IS IN THE FU­TURE FOR THE AL BUS­TAN HO­TEL?

We are build­ing a beau­ti­ful ham­mam and spa. There was a 100-year old house next to the ho­tel that was fall­ing to pieces; we built the spa there. We kept the out­side ex­actly as it was be­fore, even num­ber­ing the stones dur ing con­struc­tion so we could put them back in place. It should open in three to four months time.

NAME ONE SPE­CIAL FEA­TURE IN THE HO­TEL THAT GUESTS SHOULDN’T MISS?

With­out any hes­i­ta­tion, the bar. It has this view of Beirut, as if you are in a plane, com­ing into the city to land.

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