(I write from a country where I have never been before, where I do not speak the language; what I share may tell more about me than the place I am lucky enough to visit.)
This is not an expedition for those with a fear of heights. But it is a great chance to share a special place with all sorts of Lebanese on a Saturday afternoon outing.
The cable car jumps off from the sea front town of Jounieh, sailing next to and over somewhat shabby high-rise apartment buildings.
On the other hand, many of the buildings on the adjacent hillside look quite posh.
At first glance, the postings on the gate of the shrine seem a little fierce: "This is a holy place dedicated to the Virgin meant to be used for prayer, silent meditation and reflection." "It is forbidden to come into this holy place 1. wearing indecent clothing, showing too much skin, in mini-skirts... 2. or to engage in immoral behavior. 3. or to eat, drink or smoke."
And many pilgrims look as one might expect at a sacred Christian shrine.
A few obey the injunction to cover up by wearing a sort of drape. This seems enough to bring a woman into compliance.
Clearly for some couples, the shrine is a destination for a kind of chaste date.
Or perhaps a pleasant, holy curiosity.
A visit is capped, literally, by a climb up the tower to the statue of the Virgin.
For a few, the climb is a fulfillment of a pious promise, though most trudge up happily in their shoes.
And there she is, looming above, the queen of heaven and of the Lebanese.
After the climb, it is time to enjoy the shrine grounds, perhaps snap a few pictures.
Some visitors have as yet no notion of decorum or self-restraint, just joyous exuberance.