Friday, February 12, 2010

Breakfast with Pigeons

It's 9am. It's beautiful and warm on the roof terrace, where I have my breakfast. Slow enough to enjoy the sunrays, just barely fast enough so that the pancakes and coffee can be enjoyed warm. Such is the timing of living.

The sound of the pigeons here will forever bind me to the sound of the Institute. And then again, it's not so much that - it is the quiet. Resonating beyond their feathery fluff, the muted sound of their inner organs fills the morning stillness of the courtyard with wholeness and grace. It is a fine way to begin the day.

Two pigeons on the other side of the courtyard, above the director's residence, inspect the roof and scuffle around back and forth. A little bit beyond is a minaret, one of the many pieces that create the roof landscape here. If maps and streets don't have much to say with one another here, it is even more so with the random assortment of roof bits. Like heaven, the roofscape bears little with what is on the ground. In the summer, it is a cat's playground as they ransack one kitchen to another via roof access. In the winter, it is a wonderland of buildings that have the appearance, strength and protection of a wheaties biscuit. Their defiant existance during the rains is an act of faith on borrowed time.

Far off towards the east, church bells ring. They sound old, I imagine they are older.

I went to the Armenian Catholic Church for service once. (I can't remember if I wrote about this - in any case I can't read my blog in Syria). I think I remember reading somewhere that Armenia was the first state to be Christian. I went there at 8am, and sat until 10am when service started. A wonderful old man welcomed me, gave me water and sweets his wife had baked. It is a renovated church, white and bright, with modern frescos, electricity, and heating. Drapes cover the front part, and were drawn in and out throughout the service. Mystery is a beautiful thing. The music, as I remember it now, seemed to have a common refrain, and hauntingly, achingly gorgeous. Slow and minor.

And recently I went to the Armenian Orthodox Church one evening to see a film called Phoenix and Ashes, on the work of German Johannes Lepsius during the Armenian genocide of 1915. 1.5 million died, many in Syria where they tried to escape to from Turkey. The evening was frigid. Cold wind blew through the front doors of the church and bit through thick coats, as if to give sensual effect to the subject matter. At one point the film showed a regular gas/petrol station. Cars going in and out as usual. And then a map, which showed that it lay on top of a mass grave. Where the bones of 300 Armenians lay, those that went to find refuge from persecution in their church, but found themselves locked in and gassed.

Yesterday there was a "workshop" at the Danish Institute, on the secular state and religion in the Levant. It was to be a full weekend conference with free public admission at the Damascus University, but because we are in Syria, it was cancelled the day before. I only went to one session, as it was partly in Arabic and I am not that good yet. It was interesting to hear about Turkey as a possible model as an "Islamic-but-secular-state", where Islam is good for business and good for EU. But Turkey still does not recognize that the genocide occurred.

I have 2 weeks left in Damascus, after which I abandon it for Aleppo. People don't believe me when I say that it will be so incredibly difficult to leave Damascus, but it's mostly because I haven't had to deal with the bureaucracy that much here. But I am so looking forward to Aleppo. I have saved it to last, for the good weather of March (though we are already in the low/mid-20s), and a friend from Berlin is coming especially to join me in my last 2 weeks in Syria. I love the idea of staying at the Baron Hotel - how often is a hotel listed in wikipedia?

Like my breakfast, it will all be about timing these next 2 weeks - wanting it to be savoured but at the same time impatient to explore Aleppo's 10km of souqs.

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