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Sunday, December 18

With Or Against?

"I went mad. I imagined the modern operation of buying and selling when the supermarket was finished. A housewife would come with a plastic carrying basket for vegetables. She would enter the door of the magnificent building in complete silence since whispering is the language of sophisticated people. The woman would push a small metal cart with two tiers through the aisles of the supermarket choosing what she wanted from the canned meats, vegetables, fruit, ghee, cheese, butter, soap, coffee, sugar, tea, and jam. Confidence would be absolute in this sophisticated place. Nobody steals. Nobody bargains. No tomato is bigger than another. No apple is unripe, or spoiled, no unsanitary open can of ghee, no open tin of cheese, no tin of cream, no pottery bowl of yoghurt, no leather pouch of cottage cheese. On each container would be a fixed price to save the time spent bargaining by an elegant buyer and a gentleman salesperson. The woman would count the number of pieces at the end and write out the bill like someone who didn't know how to speak. The employee would play on the calculator like a dumb-mute and from behind the cash register accept the money with a stern face. There would be no conversation in that place, which was totally convenient for everyone."

Taken from Siham Tergeman: Daughter of Damascus, English version by Andrea Rugh, Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, 1994.


Friday, December 9


One of the important stations in Syria is Midan Ikbis; located up to the north west of Aleppo exactly on the Turkish-Syrian border, Midan Ikbis a calm and somehow neglected town was once a passage to a lot of famous persons, Agatha Christie, had once passed here and was inspired by the beauty of Aleppo and the Orient Express that made her write her famous novel 'Murder on the Orient Express'.
The station of Midan Ikbis is still active and there is a weekly rail service from Istanbul to Syria, it also goes to the following destination, Tehran (Irn), Aleppo (Syr), Turkey and Baghdad (Irq) which is temporarily closed due to political reasons! This train is part of the orient express and it is called taurus express, it was the creation of German engineers, a luxury train that connected what is present-day Istanbul with the Middle East.


Sunday, December 4

Once Upon The Time

Every night, in a small café of “al Nawfara” in the shadow of the eastern wall of Umayyad Mosque, a storyteller known by “Hakawati” keeps the art of public storytelling alive. Seated on a chair elevated above the others, he begins with a half-sung introduction, switching his voice into accents, using layers of different Arabic: slang, old colloquial and formal forms, depending on the character he is reading. Holding a book in one hand, while the other is full of vivid gestures then at one point in the story he grips a sword swings it once or twice, then BANG!! He strikes it down onto a metal tabletop in front of him. His stories might take a week, a month or a year! It is usually about very well known Islamic or heroic epics from early Arab history, such as Antara Ibn Shaddad, Abu Zaid al-Hilali, al-Zaher Baybars and many other famous ones. It was a very common craft in the past, but now it is no more than a folkloric performance or a museum piece, even some people go that he will be the last ever Hakawati, I hope not.