Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Syrian Memories!

Each day the horror show that is Syria gets worse.  Millions of people dead, wounded and displaced – with no end in sight.  And each day I think about the totally enjoyable week I spent in Syria in 2009, two years before the carnage began.  And I wonder:

What has happened to Sami Maamoun, who turned a 17th century mansion in old Damascus into the Old Vine, a boutique hotel where we stayed?  Sami’s life was dedicated to making the Old Vine wonderful.  But who in his right mind would go to Damascus today?

And also in the old city, is the Al Dar restaurant, where I drank much too much arak, still in business?

We hired a car and driver and went out in the desert to see Palmyra and the Roman ruins for which the city is famous.  ISIS now occupies Palmyra.  They have begun destroying the archaeological treasures we saw.  This breaks my heart.  Our driver was Nasser.  I wonder where he is today, and his wife, Fatima, who we met at the end of our journey.

From Palmyra we drove to Hama, stopping at the Krak des Chevaliers, a 12th century crusader castle.  In the old days Krak withstood many sieges.  More recently it has been the scene of fighting in the civil war.  In Hama our hotel was next to the Orontes River overlooking the norias, waterwheels, for which Hama is famous.  Many women in Hama were covered head-to-toe (including a face veil) in black.  When we were out walking around we passed one such woman who looked at Sandra, said “hello,” and was gone.  I wonder what has happened to her.

We ended our week in Syria in Aleppo.  I read that it is the scene of horrific fighting between the rebels and Assad’s army.  Apparently, much of the city has been damaged and hundreds of thousands of people have fled seeking safety elsewhere.  I can only imagine what is left of the streets on which we strolled, the stores we visited, the hotels in which we stayed.

Where is Yasir, a student who drove us out into the countryside?  The Bedouin family we saw camped outside the town?  The Arab gentlemen who offered us tea?  The oud players who serenaded us at restaurants?  The many other people who were warm and welcoming to us?

This is a very sad story.


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