Now I’ve left Damascus, I find that I’m inclined to say some nice things about it. Here then are my top ten favourite things to do in the Old City, accompanied by pictures of the walk from my house to Bab Touma which I do approximately 4728 times each day.
my front door
1. Eating fuul for breakfast
Fuul is breakfast for princes, lunch for nobles, and dinner for peasants. Get up earlyish and walk to the place on Qamariyyah St. Sit outside unless you enjoy watching beads of sweat falling into your food. Eat with your fingers and don’t move for a bit afterwards to let it settle into that comforting fuul belly.
2. Not talking about the Zionist entity
Disneyland, Southern Lebanon, the 52nd state. Pick your euphemism and stick with it. The paranoia about this is probably the result of ajnabi students trying to inject a little danger into their Middle Eastern study trip but it’s still probably not worth the risk. Also, don’t watch documentaries about the IDF on a public bus plastered with pictures of Nasrallah. Same goes for Waltz with Bashir.
some well political graffiti near my house
3. Hanging with rapperz
In one of the more surreal episodes of my life in Damascus I went for a drink with a friend and some of his famous friends in a tiny hole in the wall bar called Abu George. Kano was there. He bought me an Efes and I translated some Arabic for him. He had bought a scarf that said ‘al-Quds linaa’ (Jerusalem is ours). He found this pretty funny. So yeah. Hanging with Kano in Damascus’ Old City. Yeah.
4. Ploughing through my Google Reader
The liberal ordering policy of most Old City cafes means you can order a tea and then sit there for hours, thus allowing me to feed my addiction with impunity. A noteworthy subsection of this is one of Rob’s favourite things to do in the Old City, which is to show me videos of the IDF on YouTube and watch me getting angry.
my street, for once apparently child, cat, and cockroach free
5. Browsing Arab kitsch in the souq
The mosque o’clock is so Sham 09; this year it’s all about the imitation gold fob watch with Arabic numerals. Then there’s the whole Hizbullah merchandise thing to navigate. A fridge magnet is OK, but is a tshirt one step too far?
6. Mocking Etonians.
I’ve met more old Etonians in the past month than in my entire life. They provide endless amusement, bless them. For example: one punishment at Eton was wearing a really stiff collar for a few days. One of them actually said ‘I chundered everywhere’ when talking about his gap year, his tongue nowhere near his cheek.
the omnipresent Bashar
7. Taking a shower.
If you’ve ever been to Syria in the summer, this one is self-explanatory.
8. Listening to fragments of Arabic conversation
My favourite one so far: a crying child walking along with his mother. She was comforting him and saying ‘khalas il mundial, habibi, khalas il mundial’ which translates as ‘the World Cup is over, dear, the World Cup is over’.
picturesque lane #1
9. Eating ice cream at Bakdash.
I unashamedly love this place. I like elbowing old ladies and small children out of the way and dodging huge trays of ice cream. I like the way the sound of the ice cream being made often precludes conversation. I like the look on children’s faces when they are presented with a huge cone. I like how mad keen the Syrians are for ice cream. This place is wild.
10. Getting out of the Old City
This is probably my favourite thing to do in the Old City.
picturesque lane #2
And my least favourite things to do:
1. The Umayyad Mosque
I was underwhelmed. Sayyida Zeinab is better.
2. Drinking arak at expat parties
Turns out a lot of people here study Arabic. Who knew?
3. Getting lost
Those kooky kids at Lonely Planet advise ‘putting down the guidebook and just getting lost for a few hours in Damascus’ fascinating Old City.’ Au contraire, getting lost in the identically quaint streets of the Old City in 35 degree heat is just vexing. Get a map tattooed on your forearm or something.