...and now I've fallen for Damascus.
I have settled in, much like a piece of dust blown in from the desert. With the help of an angel - who tells me that I will be looked after, whether I like it or not - I move into a room in a house tomorrow, in Bab Touma, the Christian quarter. Things are more or less fine. I have just had lunch at a very good restaurant near this internet cafe, and though I am in dire need of a siesta I thought I would update you.
The money situation is not entirely solved but also not entirely a problem. The Commercial Bank here is yes, where I go. They have many branches, each branch dealing with one thing - i.e. one branch for depositing, one branch for withdrawing, another for loans, etc.. I went to the one for foreign exchange and they said "no travellers cheques". However, I have been tipped to go up to the second floor so I will try that. The process to study Arabic has been formally initiated, although I have to say that some Arabic is needed to "begin" in the first place. My placement test is on Tuesday, and classes begin on the 18th.
The old city here (of which Bab Touma is an integral part, especially on Fridays when the remainder shuts down) is enchanting, enticing, enduring. It is a city where a grid system and a labyrinth come together, and where upper storey extrusions and ground floor eye-candy make for a truly sculptured city. As the angel led me to my future home, it was as if I was drowning both vertically and horizontally.
I have had a very sophisticated introduction to my stay here by way of a conference at the Danish Institute in Damascus (a place I will be returning to many times), entitled Cultural Encounters during the Crusades. Listening to hard-core crusader historians and experts on canonical law is like seeing the surficial intricacies of mosaic tile without a knowledge of the structure behind. I have yet much reading to do to prepare for the past. We have seen some major sites here in Damascus and beyond, and as we have gone through some sun-drenched courtyards and rooftops, dimly-lit spaces and just plain pitch-black tunnels, it has been both an eye-dialating and eye-constricting experience. Yesterday we went to a castle called Krak de Chevaliers, with the person who wrote the book on Crusader castles, Hugh Kennedy.
And today I was initiated into Syria. Someone asked me how many children I had.