Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sojourn in Syria . . .

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What a crazy week it's been. Or has it been going on for months now ? Or years ? It seems that France is running low on water. It has not rained in weeks. There are worries in the news about nuclear power plants not having enough water to cool them. A large amount of the electricity used in France comes from nuclear plants. If this blog goes off line, you'll know why. Dominique Strauss-Kahn in prison ? What gives ? Earthquakes. Floods. Storms. Drought. Sounds like the seven plagues are upon us. Even close to home, this past week life at the straightjacket factory was seriously disrupted by employees out on strike. Food prices keep rising, they want more money. A vicious spiral. A world power with 14 trillion dollars of debt ? How do you explain that to your children ? Irresponsibility everywhere. No one is accountable, or so it would seem. Smile, it's life, and life only... (who said that ?) Now, to change the subject :
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In April 2007 we travelled to Syria, as mentioned once or twice previously in these pages. In light of recent events, it might not be possible to do so today. As this is not a politically oriented blog, I shall make no political remarks. I can only say that I sincerely hope that Syria can work out their political situation without further violence and mayhem. Syria is a simply beautiful country, and the people we encountered there showed us hospitality in a myriad of small ways. Many seemed truly pleased to see a few tourists like us. I would go back again if the chance presented itself. On that trip I only had a fairly cheap point and shoot camera at the time, I'd love to go back with the camera I'm using now. Back to Homs, to Palmyra, to Alep, Hama, and Damascus, and the Krak des Chevaliers. Yes, get back on the bus and go.
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An odd thing to find here, it may have dated from the French Mandate period after WWI when the French governed both Lebanon and Syria.
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This was one of the rare bits of graffiti seen, nothing special at that, but it stood out because I hadn't noticed any graffiti anywhere in Syria before seeing this.
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Toilet facilities involved a certain amount of toil... now I better understand the origin of the word. This is not to say that things are going down the drain. On the contrary, we must remain optimistic.
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44 comments:

Oakland Daily Photo said...

There are so many places that never interested me before but now are either inaccessible or outright dangerous to visit. Definitely my loss. Thanks for a bit of a visit to one of those places.

...louciao... said...

"point and shoot" has a different sort of tone to it these days.

The brightly coloured buses and carpets are great, and I love the softly hinted, warmly tinted (or is that the other way round?) mountains glimpsed behind them.

I can see you put a lot of effort into this post: you're looking a little flushed.

Laurie said...

So colourful were the buses, I had to find my sunglasses! I spent some time with Syrian soldiers during the first Gulf War. Aside from having such big smiles, they all wore those little button badges on their uniform. You know the sort of thing - Ban the Bomb, Nixon for President etc. etc. But their buttons all bore the face of their president . . .

Stickup Artist said...

One thing I've come to realize about your blog, and your blog is a reflection of yourself, is how relevant your posts are. This one is no exception. Hard to imagine this place you display, full of vibrant joyful colorful expression, in such violent turmoil today. It makes me wonder if the "will to power" is some kind of illness or mental disease. It might be time to reread Nietzsche for some insights into the matter.

PS: who would have thought I'd actually have a blog label titled "asses." :-)

bicocacolors said...

thanks for that stunning trip!!!
the second one is really gorgeous!!!

Steve said...

Syria looks amazing. Since boyhood I have had a yen to see the Middle East - Syria, Jordan, et al - but, alas, the political climate there as opposed to the meteorological one, keeps me away.

The Pliers said...

Owen,

Delightful to gaze down Memory Lane with you this morning! I love the photos of Syria and wonder each day upon arising in France what the day will bring!

The DSK event is actually extremely interesting culturally in a FrancoAmerican family where we ourselves have managed to give the law a very wide berth. The talking heads, particularly one man, are doing an admirable job of explaining to the French public how the American legal system works.

It is also very interesting to hear the reactions of the French commentators and their interviewees relative to how they feel about seeing DSK all shackled up in arraignment court in NYC. "Welcome to my world!, as could say the Americans around France. I'm having both Polanski and OJ flashbacks, although, if one exams the Polanski situation closely, as a very good documentary on the subject allows, one can see why he blew out of the good old USA when he did and, as said the Los Angeles prosecutor of the case, "I can understand why he did what he did." The crime aside, Polanski's treatment under the law was a bloody travesty over a very long haul.

It remains to be seen what the DSK story will be like but it makes for great intercultural compare and contrast as well as debate and public education.

Pray for rain!

Marginalia said...

Yeah, when the West is in such turmoil it's great to get away to gentler climes.

I thought the hole in the floor loo was a legacy of the French Mandate.

jeff said...

Waow ! les photos splendides et colorées comme je les aime ! ! ! Mais tu ne changeras décidemment pas ! Des cagoinces ! Des chiottes si tu préfères ! Mais quelle idée de prendre des photos pareilles ! ! !...:)
Mais tu as de la chance de voyager aussi loin ! La prochaine fois, je fais comme toi et je rentre à la CIA ! C'est à dire que pour voyager dans un pays pareil vu les circontances, soit tu es un agent, soit un espion, soit inconscient... ou les trois à la fois ! ! !...:)

Superbes tes photographies ! J'aimerais bien des bus comme ça en centre-ville de Toulon !...:

Amitiés !

lgsquirrel said...

Not bad at all for a "point and shoot". Syria would probably be one of the top tourist destinations if it enjoyed more stability and was more open to the world.

Céline said...

Quelle gravité ce soir...
Et comme toi j'ai l'impression que le monde est fou, tout s’accélère, les changements sont permanents et Dame Nature nous envoie plein de signaux négatifs... Where are we going my dear??
Malgrè tout, je continue à penser très fort : The best... is to come !

Amitiés

ρομπερτ said...

How colourful a surprise. For sure they do look much happier than the busses over here.

News nearly all about Strauss-Kahn these days over here.
Wishing you a good Wednesday.

Owen said...

Hi Oakland,
Well, I figure life is sort of short, even in the long run. When we set out to Lebanon, we hadn't planned on trying to cross into Syria, it was sort of a spur of the moment thing, when we found out in Lebanon that in fact it is fairly easy to hire a driver, and just go. Crossing the border was simple, very few formalities really. Once in Syria, it was marvellous. I had always wanted to go there after reading John Fowles' description of his trip there which he recounts in his novel "Daniel Martin", which I would highly recommend. We were able to visit le Krak des Chevaliers, a colossal fortress from the crusades period, then Homs, Hama, Alep, Palmyra, then back to Damascus, and back into Lebanon... an odyssey. Near Palmyra there were signs at a branch in the road for Baghdad... sort of sobering...

Hopefully someday such places will be safe to visit again. There are cultural treasures galore there.

Owen said...

Dear Lynne, toil, toil, toil and trouble ! Yup, flushed, and wiped out. I won't even tell you about the severe digestive and expulsive issues I had in southern Lebanon one day while visiting a Hezbollah controlled area, we went into a town and I absolutely had to find a place urgently to toil in, I think the apple I had eaten and a can of warm coke consumed had combined to do me in, and we couldn't find anywhere, finally just when it seemed the worst was arriving, we found a gritty little sort of convenience shop which had a bathroom, about like the one pictured here, but nittier and grittier, with no flush to create that flushed appearance, just a hose that could be directed to wash the wastes away, and Montezuma took his revenge ! Yup, this gave new meaning entirely to point, and shoot ! Well, that'll teach to make potty jokes !
:-)

Margaret Pangert said...

Sad, isn't it, how travel in the Middle East as we knew it may not return. I thought Syria was beautiful and hospiitable, too. We went through the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon to Damascus. Saw the famous mosque and an ancient Assyrian church... Your photos remind me how colorful and sunny life was there. Now Greece is falling into turmoil? Bankruptcy?

Owen said...

Hi Laurie, the faces of their president, and their president's father, are omni-present in Syria... am not surprised the soldiers wore such buttons. Sort of like the pins that were everywhere in Russia, with images of Lenin on them. Ideology. Image worship. Big Brother is watching, his eyes are everywhere. Yeah, and as for the buses being bright, yes, the future's so bright, you gotta wear shades !

Owen said...

Stickup,
Power is definitely a corrupting force, giving rise to all sorts of mental illnesses, the evidence is all around us.

Otherwise, I bow my head in a moment of humble thanks to you... and then raise it again, with a smile, for yes, who could have imagined such a label on a non-pornographic blog !
:-)

Owen said...

Bicoca... you are very, very welcome.

PS Your photos never fail to capture my full attention, they are spellbinding. Love the circle of keys...

Owen said...

Steve, I hear you, and it was not without some considerable apprehension that we went. But once we got there, we realized that not everything was as bad as it may get painted in the press. Though now it is no doubt another story entirely, and we probably wouldn't be allowed to cross the border today. Very tragic.

Stickup Artist said...

Re you're lasst comment:

Not that you assked, but I assume you grassp how fantasstically hilariass you are.

(I had to consult the Thesaurass to come up with that).

Le Journal de Chrys said...

Merci Owen pour ces quelques images d'un pays qui vit des heures tristes actuellement.

the fly in the web said...

Do you think that the loo dates from th Msndate too....or did it inspire French loo style?
One thing I'm glad to have left behind me!

...louciao... said...

Owen,
I am quite flabberGASted by this waste not want not tale of toil and trouble you have recounted and am relieved that you've gotten that out of your system--as I'm positive you were, too.
Amazing what one feels moved to confide in one's big sister.
:-)

Nathalie said...

I wish I could read Arabic !
I'm sure all those signs would be worth reading, particularly in lignt of today's events in Syria. News of the massacres are distressing to hear. I'm really glad your photos speak for a peacefully coutry, I hope this nightmare ends soon.

As for the DSK catastrophy, I'm at a loss for words.

Let's do a rain dance.

Suze said...

This is where my family is from. Thank you for taking the time to post these images.

Owen said...

Dear Pliers,
Indeed, indeed, we should all be praying for rain ! Narry a rain cloud on the horizon around here. Never thought the day would come where I would get up and say, "Merde ! Il fait beau encore..." We really need water from the sky. Otherwise we will be looking at the prospect of Paris-on-Sahara...

As for DSK, it is apparent that this is going to be a media circus maximus for weeks, months to come. Only he and the chambermaid know what really happened. And one of them is not telling the truth right now. But which one ?

Yes, let it rain...

Owen said...

Hi Marginalia,
I think we could all use some gentler climes, the current climes are getting so far out of whack it's not even comprehensible any longer.

As for who gave who the loo design, I wonder...

In France they call them turkish toilets, or even turkish shoe washers. I wonder if in Turkey they call them French toilets ? Given that the current territory of Syria was not so long ago part of the Ottoman Empire, maybe they date from that period, prior to the French Mandate period ??? Need to find a good toilet & toil hisorian who can give us the straight scoop. (almost said "poop" ! :-)

Owen said...

Salut Jeff !

Alors, des cagoinces, ça doit être vraiment de l'argot, là, car ce mot ne se trouve pas dans mon Petit Robert. Me faut-il un plus grand Robert ? Non, il passe de cagnard à cagneux, de cagnotte à cagot(ote), cagouille à cagoulard, mais aucun signe de cagoinces ! Cela doit être là où l'on va pour se décoincer, non ? Un cagibi pour les coincés ?

Ah, et tu vas adorer les cagoinces roses du bateau abandonné de l'autre jour. Je te jure, roses ! (Ca ne sentait pas les roses non plus!)

Et oui, tu n'avais pas encore capté que j'étais espion ??? Je pensais que c'était plus ou moins évident avec tout ce que je fouille à la recherche d'une image saisissante.

Pour les cars, peut-être tu pourrais envisager la création d'une entreprise de peinture pour les bus ? N'importe quoi serait mieux que nos autocars tristouilles tels qu'ils sont à présent. Faudrait copier les modèles de la Syrie ou Haiti, par exemple... voire les Philipines.

Excellent weekend à toi !

Owen said...

Hey LGS,
Couldn't agree with you more. There are quite a few (a few too many) places that could really benefit enormously if they promoted stability and tourism, and opened up to travellers with hospitality instead of paranoia.

Someday maybe ? Let's hope...

Owen said...

Chère Céline,
Et oui, il y a des jours comme ça, bien que, comme toi, je aimerais croire que le meilleur est à venir... on est tellement inondé de messages pas très gai ces jours-ci, ce n'est pas toujours évident à garder le cap vers le soleil...

Merci pour ce mot sympa, et à bientôt... passe d'excellentes vacances...

Owen said...

Tag Robert,
Bright colored buses make driving a pleasure in Syria. Saw some of the craziest things imaginable there. A man standing by the side of the road selling fish, actually holding out a fish so people driving by could see it... just like in John Fowles' story Daniel Martin from years ago.

Yes, all the news is still about DSK... a circus is getting under way.

Roxana said...

oh these colours blinded me - but then the history behind took over, and i got so sad - another kind of blindness, not by beauty, seems to be that of humankind...

Owen said...

Hi Margaret, I certainly hope that someday travel will again be possible in many places in the world which are troubled today. It is simply criminal to prevent people from going exploring to discover the world we live in. And if Greece goes down the tubes then we will really be in a bad way. Where did this current contagion of mismanagement come from ??? Has the human race built such a humongous house of cards that no amount of glue and duct tape will be able to hold it all together much longer ? One must wonder...

Owen said...

Stickup, one should always have a the-sore-ass at hand... (that's what happens from riding too long on the back of an ass without a proper saddle...)

Owen said...

Salut Chrys, un plaisir si ces images t'ont plu... C'est bien triste ce qui se passe à présent là bas, même si l'on ne croit que la moitié... Espérons que ça change... que ça se calme...

The Sagittarian said...

I guess this is the closet I will get to visiting that neck of the woods, certainly in the foreseeable future! Thats the way I like, uh huh, from the safety of my PC.

Dee Newman said...

Owen, haven't you heard? Tomorrow (May 21) is Judgment Day. You needn't worry though, as I told a couple of young students from Bob Jones University who were admonishing me to repent and accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior before it's too late, I have live through, at the very least, a half dozen Raptures in my 66 years on this planet and I'm still here to tell about it.

Granted, ethically, we are still in the cave and we do not need to point to Syria to realize how little we have grown as a species . . .

Owen said...

Dear Fly,
Please see response to Marginalia above...

May all your facilities be clean and comfortable.
:-)

Owen said...

Dearest Lou,
Yes, one often confides the oddest things to one's siblings, that is what sisters are for, right???

As for being flaberGASted, we need to take the "flab" out of that word... yes, we need to get away from flabbergasting styles of eating that create far too much toil and trouble, and return to good old GAStronomy... ah, at long last, now I finally understand the origins of that cultured word...
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Nathalie,
I'm with you for a rain dance, the sooner the better... all green spaces around here are going yellow to brown, the earth is totally parched... and no signs of rain on the horizon.

Hopefully someone in Avignon could translate the Arabic for you ? I'm curious now too.

And while we're dancing, let's dance a round or two for peace in places like Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq... Don't they realize that tourism could bring them millions and millions ? A real shame, we have this beautiful planet, and we are descending a spiral of destruction and hatred, from which it may be difficult to climb back out of in the future.

Dance for rain...

Owen said...

Suze,
You are very welcome, I'm happy if these photos brought back some memories for you... may I ask where your family is from in Syria ? We only had a week, but it was really wonderful, the citadel in Alep, and the souk there are marvellous, and Palmyra was out of this world. The mosaics from Roman times are all over, and so much other history. I'd love to go back and go farther than Palmyra, apparently there are a number of beautiful sites along the Euphrates river, and on to the far northeast corner where the Tigris forms the border... the cradle of civilisation... If only peace and wisdom can prevail...

Owen said...

Ah Roxana,
I can only share your emotion for our blindness...

But should we not remain hopeful, hopeful that one day enough will become tired of blindness and brutality, enough to tip the balance toward something better ?

I think we can only hope... for the alternative to hope is not palatable.

Best to you and family...

Suze said...

Owen- though my family is from Syria, I have never been. Both of my grandfathers' parents are from a tiny place that is pronounced 'Juahet.' (They emigrated to the States through Cuba in the late- to mid-1920s.) This is not how it is spelled.

A couple of years ago, my uncle and I looked into this miniscule spot in the motherland and discovered its correct spelling. With deep chagrin, I cannot recall it at the moment and it is too late to bother my uncle with a phone call. :)

I am very well-read but very poorly-traveled and find myself relying on blogs like this one to expand my vision. For now, anyway.

As you say, if only peace and wisdom can prevail.

Catherine said...

interesting tour of Syria - as you said probably not possible right now - hope France sorts itself out by the time I arrive!!