Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winter warmth

It is getting distinctly colder here. Whereas just a month ago the street cats were crouched underneath cars, they now come up from underneath, preferring the warmth of car hoods, albeit temporary. I myself find myself googling "date and time bamako", and reassure myself that pretty soon, I am back to highs of 36 degrees. I'm off to BKO next week, via Tunisair which, coincidentally, has oriented its schedule to fly there and back on the light of the full moons next month.

What, you may ask, am I doing in Damascus. As one might respond to any such question (i.e., why are you learning Arabic, etc.), I ask that of myself every day.

I divide half of my time to learning Arabic, and half of my time to preparing for a project in January and February, when I return. The most understandable way to explain the latter is that I am studying Islamic tile, in particular the geometric stone mosaics of the Omayyad Mosque.

The vehicle has been well warmed up now. Aside from the "must-sees" of the Hillenbrand and Ettinghausen literature of Islamic architecture, it has taken me on a quick tour of ideas of beauty and aesthetic experience in Classical Arabic thought, introducing me to philosophers such as ibn Hazm, ibn Sina (Avicenna), ibn Rushd, and al-Misri. There's been a prolonged stop, of course, at the Mosque itself, which I've come to understand much, much less as a mosque. There are frequent visits to the Danish Institute and a growing appreciation of it from various angles. The most recent of which is a side street diversion into the concept of waqf, from which (I think) derived the initial partitioning of the Roman theatre into an endowment, and which (I think) is related to why there is a lease agreement rather than a wholesale transfer of property.

I remember that learning in architecture school that once we were to become architects, and if we had any personal assets we wished to protect, we should establish a trust (in the name of a spouse, ideally a non-architect).

If you wiki "trust law", you will see it stemming from the Crusades, and thereby how the Crusaders needed this concept when they came back from the road and how perhaps they knew about this concept, as the waqf, when they were mucking around in the Levant.

The reality and concept of a religious city is ajnabee for this Vancouverite. Years of geographic and architectural studies do not prepare one for the Islamic city - except readings about Orientalism. Would it not have been better to acquaint myself with the Andalusian geographer Idrisi (which I knew more as the name of a GIS program) rather than Said? In the introduction in my current reading, Waqfs and Urban Structures, "Cities were meant to reflect the sacred, or, more specifically, cities as spatial structures imitated a celestial archetype and were incorporated into the heavenly order, which shaped the hierarchies of earthly space." Really?

So it is not so much what I am doing in Damascus, but what it is doing to me ...

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