Monday, April 14, 2008

The Jesus Minaret

The Jesus Minaret, Umayyad Mosque, Damascus ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

Close Encounters

During our recent trip to Damascus we bumped into John Wreford, a freelance photographer living in the Syrian capital. His most recent project was to capture images for The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, the forthcoming title from Marius Kociejowski. An image of his also graces the frontcover of the Bradt guide to Syria.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Levantine Journey

Just returned from a burst of as-siyaahah wa az-ziyarah in Syria & Lebanon. The weather was beautiful (although a little on the cold side at night), the food was great (especially the street-side shawarmas) and the people wonderfully warm and welcoming. In fact we integrated so well that I was being mistaken for an Iraqi (a compliment?!) and The Digressive Mind for a Syrian!

We decided early on that our bargaining strategy in the souqs would be based on us pretending we weren’t from London but from Pakistan in a bid to drive down shopkeepers’ prices. This worked well with me creating a mythical Lahore existence for myself until we encountered an Orthodox Catholic shop owner who’d spent a month in Lahore (fortunately 12 years ago) which really put my powers of confabulation to the test.

Damascus still holds an understated charm and exudes a deeply engrained sense of history and holiness, despite the authorities' best efforts at wiping out the city's heritage (without even the pitiful Saudi excuse of ideology). Fifteen feet below today's street level lies the same earth that Persian kings, Roman legionaries and Byzantine emperors once trod upon. The Umayyad mosque typifies Damascus' absorbing of history: it was built over a Byzantine church which itself was constructed over a Roman temple to Jupiter!

We made it to Beirut too where in the southern suburbs you can order Katyusha fruit juice cocktails whilst being overlooked by portraits of Sayyed Hassan Nasrullah!

Retrace our steps here.