Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Thanks to all who have sent me Facebook messages the past day or so. I can read them via e-mail but I haven't been able to access Facebook in Syria. If I twittered, I would.

Today has been a checklist day: National Museum (check), Azem Palace (check). The Museum is about as comprehensible as [blank]. There are many objects in it but as I refine a glazed look at all of them, so do they to me. With few interpretive texts they seem to be just a clue to something further, like the shake of a hand when I ask for directions. However some things are just beautiful. Case 13 in a room full of script shows an absolutely gorgeous piece of text. It's as if Beethoven wrote a symphony using Arabic script. BOOM dah dah dah daaaa...

A few cultural places close at 2pm, as that is when lunch is. People don't come back after lunch apparently, and as I am meeting someone in half an hour I was thinking how to fill that gap in the day. I walk up to Souq Sarouja, the place where I started out in Damascus, and head for a falafel stall. My Arabic is much better, particularly with ordering falafel. I have branched out and can order a fresh squeezed juice of banana (mooz), orange (boort'nan), and pineapple (ananas). And with each encounter I learn another word, like pomegranate (romaan) which I will dish out next time.

I continue walking up to the commercial district. Bank-wise, it is a bit of a circus and to have a reasonable pleasant banking experience I go to my favoured bank which offers an ATM that is compatible with my VISA. I believe it is a new private bank that popped up like a mushroom in recent years.

And I go onto a new section of the city - for the city and for me. Much here and there reminds me of parts of China - the hope and the grit of it all. And much in the shops comes from China here too. I go for bit on a walking street - about 40 feet wide, with shops on either end, culminating in a small park. Continuing further up north I come to Souq Al-Jooma, a much more laid-back souq that the ones in the Old City. Much easier to walk through due to fewer cars and fewer people, and the products are everyday - vegetables, clothes, toiletries. And there are no tourists. Syria, I hear, gets 4 million tourists every year. So in all, a very much different experience than I had in Iran a few years back, when for example I would be the only one in a museum.

Tomorrow I head to the Immigration Office to do passport admin, and then off to Palmyra for a couple of days with a friend. It's quite warm here - somewhat chilly in the mornings but a good solid 28C over the day. Despite that, people are talking about imminent snow and the need for sweaters.

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