About that hubbly-bubbly: It is everywhere in Beirut. You see men sitting cross-legged on big boulders in the sand, smoking while staring out at the sea. Little groups of stylish women, out for lunch at a trendy restaurant, smoke after their meal. Even teens—some no more than 13 or 14—gather around the hookah (it is estimated that 80% of 13- to 15-year-old smokers in Lebanon smoke nargilehs rather than cigarettes).
The hookah’s tobacco and molasses mix (called sheesha in Arabic) is flavored with strawberry or melon or cherry or apple; it seems apple is most prevalent. Of course, I had to try it.
What you do is choose your flavor and then the waiter brings over a hookah and helps you to get it started, periodically checking that the coals are still burning. I took a long puff, blew it out. It tasted sweet and cool. Nothing like a cigarette.
Maybe it was just my imagination, but when I finished my smoke and stood up, I was light-headed and felt slightly stoned. Pleasantly stoned.