Archive for August, 2008

Food in Damascus

I feel that having the title that this blog does, I should speak some about the food here.  In short, it’s not very good, and the most stable dish you can order is Hummus.  At least in Damascus, there is very little seafood since the closest major port city is Latakia which is several hours away.  Most things here are chicken, similar to Cairo, with some lamb as well.  I have taken the mostly vegetarian route eating a lot of Fattouche- a sort of Sumac/Balsamic Vinaigrette summer salad.  While there is some worthwhile street food, it pales in comparison to what is on offer in Beirut.  It’s about the same thing, but it seems as though the Syrians don’t care as much about how their foods taste.  There are less sweets here too.  There are desserts on nearly every menu but usually fruit is eaten after a meal, most often Batikh- watermelon.

We drink a lot of water as it is always hot- as in Lebanon and Egypt, there are a few different bottled water brands all competing for people’s hearts.  None of them are particularly spectacular, they all kind of taste like water.

Usually for lunch or dinner, we just order a bunch of “appetizers” and dip our bread in them.  None individually would make a meal, but when you have a little bit of 10 things, it begins to add up.  And it’s much cheaper.  A bowl of hummus is about $1 whereas a chicken dish would be about $5- so you can get 5 bowls of stuff and it would be about the same price.

Here, as in Lebanon they have a drink called the “Polo” (I think they only use that name here) which is fresh lemon juice, sugar, and mint blended together.  It really hits the spot.

I think I’ll be in Lebanon next week, so I’ll have time to put some pictures up, hopefully.


5-Day Weather Report

First Post

Depending on how things go, this could be the first in a bunch of entries, or one of the few.  Internet access here is a bit shifty, so I check my e-mail at an internet cafe (computer provided), or I go to one of the cafes with, as they say “internet free wireless”. 

My neighborhood is ancient.  When my friend Bulos came to visit this weekend from Beirut, he told us a quote that he heard (I’m not sure where) that said, “there was no bit of news in human history that Damascus was not there to receive.”  Stuff’s really that old.  I would guess the structure of the house I live in is at least 400 years old, but there’s no real way to be sure. 

We have a lion skin hanging on our wall- it looks to be at least 100 years old or so.  Things are different here. 

Sleeping upstairs is no fun- it gets really hot during the day, and that hot air doesn’t really filter out at night.  My room’s on the Eastern wall of the building, too, which makes things worse in the morning when the sun rises.  [interesting side note: the arabic word for sunrise, Mashraq, means “place in the east”- its opposite, maghreb, “place in the west” is also the name of the country Morocco]. 

The construction of the house is quite interesting.  It is built in a square shape with the middle of the square being open to the sky.  I don’t think it’s going to rain this summer- it never did last summer in Beirut, and Beirut is closer to the sea.  The walls are sort of an eastern painted stucco, and the roof is bordered with clay shingles.  There are random bird cages strewn around the place, but I’m not sure why.  We also have a fountain- like a fountain fountain.  The kitchen is modest- gas grill, refrig., microwave, and washing machine (for laundry).  We have two western toilets and one turkish toilet [nothing more will be written about this].  Downstairs there are two bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, and a very nice sitting area with foam seats.  This functions as meeting place, study place, and kitchen table.  It’s where I’m composing this right now.  Upstairs we have three bedrooms, a bathroom, a second (unused) kitchen, and another courtyard.  We have plants growing everywhere, although they aren’t very impressive looking.  Our house cleaner insists on watering even the dead ones.  “seeds”, he says.  No one believes him, but he does it every time.  On the wall downstairs here we have an inscription in Arabic, dating from the 1200s.  Its gist is that people of all creeds should live together in harmony without fear of their belongings being taken  or any other harm befalling them. 

Life is pretty lazy during the day here, and for good reason.  It’s in the mid-30’s celsius almost every day (high 80s-90s farenheit).  At night though, there’s lots of stuff to do- cafes, restaurants, bars and concerts.  Since Damascus is the cultural capital of the Arab world this year, they’ve had a few of these concerts.  I went and saw Faudel- an Algerian singer- put on a concert inside the Crusaders Citadel. 

I visited the Ummayyad mosque maybe five days ago.  It’s amazing in there.  I’ll try and put pictures up soon.  Since it’s 50 syrian pounds to get in (about $1.02)- i’m thinking of using it as a study spot sometimes- it’s cheaper than going to a cafe and buying coffee and stuff. 

Right now I’m living in the Bab Tuma (Thomas’ gate) neighborhood.  All the neighborhoods in the old city are named after the entrance gate they’re nearest too (Old Damascus is a walled city, after all).  I’m thinking of moving closer to bab sharqy (Eastern gate), though, because there’s a cheaper, air conditioned place there where my friend Tom lives. 

We had 6 people living here yesterday, but since Ross’ girlfriend Keeley left to go back to the states, we’re now 5.  I know 3 of the 4 others: Ryan from North Carolina, Ross from Texas, and Yusra from Minnesota.  Our fourth roommate is Ahmed from Saudi.  He seems to be a very nice guy who came to Damascus, it seems, for inspiration.  He’s an industrial and furniture designer cum artist extrordinare from what I can tell.  We’ve had some very interesting conversations about a lot of different things- he wears dread locks and lived in Brooklyn for a few years. 

Well that’s about what I have for now, so post comments and questions if you want.  Oh- and if you have any questions regarding our southern neighbors, don’t ask them.

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