November 21, 2006

Syrian Towns, Meals and Drivers

Syrian Towns, Meals and Drivers

On the occasion of our show The Syrian Linchpin, regular commenter mynocturama from Winter Park, Florida offered us a guided tour of his parents’ hometowns in Syria:

My dad is from a village on the Mediterranean called Tartous. His childhood home is across the street from a park dedicated to Basil al-Asad, the son originally groomed to succeed his father Hafez in the military-monarchy that is the Syrian regime. A fan of fast cars, he died in an accident in 1994, leaving his brother Bashar, training in ophthalmology in London, as next in line for the effective throne. The town is littered with buildings stalled halfway through either construction or destruction – it’s difficult to tell. The beaches, with their warm Mediterranean waters, could be a pleasant tourist attraction, but they’re strewn with trash. This at least was how I saw it almost a decade ago. There was hope of economic openness and improvement when Bashar took power, but apparently very little has been forthcoming.

If you look off the coast of Tartous you can see an island called Arwad, which was my first encounter with the region’s deep and rich history. If you look closely you can literally see layers of history, from the ancient Phoenician walls to fortresses built by the Knights Templar during the crusades. There are castles from the crusades scattered throughout the country, the preeminent example being the Crac des Chevaliers. There are the ruins of Palmyra, along with several others from Roman times. And there are the waterwheels, or noria, in the city of Hama, site also of the Hama massacre of 1982, where Asad brutally suppressed an insurrection of the Muslim Brotherhood. The numbers vary, but most likely upwards of 30,000 were killed, the bodies reportedly paved over as a parking lot.

My mom is from Latakia, Syria’s largest port city. The buildings along the shore are very nice and modern, but if you move a few miles inland you’ll find what are essentially ghettos.

Damascus and Aleppo are probably the most prosperous urban areas. And pretty much every city has at least a few large statues of Hafez al-Asad. I remember one especially grotesque one, looming on a high cliff on the side of a freeway, about as tall as the cliff itself. At the time I was there, posters of his face were pasted practically everywhere, even on the doors of churches and mosques.

Most meals seem to be a steady stream of items. It’s very difficult to distinguish distinct phases, such as appetizers and desserts. It’s all pretty much one big blur. Almost every evening people gather to sit in a circle and eat and talk.

Many Syrian drivers have yet to grasp the concept of lanes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour. And, as you step off the bus, please remember that these countries are actual places with actual people, and not just pawns and players in political maneuverings.

mynoctorurama, in a comment to Open Source, November 21, 2006

Related Content