Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Soooooo, Tom and I talked it over, and I decided to go for it. It is certainly nice to be begged to work! I do also have a short-term editing job for AUB (American University of Beirut), but I can continue that work at a slower pace on evenings and weekends while working with UNRWA in August. Come September I will be back to editing with the laptop on the balcony, but for now here I am in Tripoli.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
We took a bus from Beirut to the border, where a car and driver named Zacharia were waiting for us. As the places we wanted to see were fairly remote and somewhat difficult to reach by public transportation, we had arranged for the private car for two days.
First was Krak de Chevaliers. The best preserved Crusader castle in the world. It was given up without a fight about 800 years ago,
We skipped Saladin’s Castle, not all that eager for the climb in the afternoon heat.
Our first night’s stop was at Hama, a lovely town known both for it’s wooden waterwheels and also for the massacre of 800 people committed by Hafez Assad’s troops in1982 an effort to stop a rebellion. Let’s talk about the waterwheels! They are huge--20 – 60 yards in diameter—and were formerly used to pump water into an aqueduct system to irrigate crops. Now mostly they provide local color, and some water to a city garden. The technology dates back to the 5th century, but the earliest of the existing ones are merely 14th century… They make an amazing, groaning sound as they turn—really loud! Tom says it reminds him of the sound large wooden ships make. As we walk through this lovely, picturesque city, when I first hear the noise I think “generator”, because this is what we hear in Lebanon each day when the power goes out. But instead it is this other man made sound from another century. Apparently, an expert can diagnose any mechanical issue with the wheel just by listening to the sound it makes as it turns. Reading about them before seeing them, I had pictured scoops or paddles on the end of each beam, but there are none—just 20 or so boards hitting the water, one after the other.
The next day, driving, we see in Syria: brown, a lot of rocks, concrete buildings. Primarily agricultural. Fields ringed with sunflowers. Poor, but not wanting—simple poor. Bedouins herding sheep, living in tents. The ubiquitous poster of Bashir Assad, smiling and waving.
I notice quite a few people with blue and green eyes , and find it arresting. Maybe it’s the contrast between olive-tone skin and light eyes, or maybe it is because they seem to be ringed with a dark outline somehow. Assad has blue eyes.
On to the Dead Cities. There are 500 towns, all deserted 15 centuries ago—no one knows why. We visit Serjilla, the one with the greatest number of semi-complete buildings. Some buildings are still intact, a few others have been rebuilt. Lots that are standing are two stories tall, with archways supporting the second floor. Here is Tom with an olive press in a Serjilla house.
Later, in a pastry shop: Just short of garish, walls lined with beveled glass, ceiling (metal?) with gold painmted outlines. Lights encased in clear plastic baubles strung together in flower shapes. Two veritable trees growing in pots against the windows. They serve a special sweet (halewa) here—soft dough encasing soft, mild cheese, over which sugar syrup is poured and chopped pistachios sprinkled. We tried it yesterday; today we have just tea, unfortunately Lipton’s, when we had been hoping for Syrian chai. Oh well.
Quick trip! We board a cushy air-conditioned bus bound for Beirut. I will get off in Tripoli.
Choice signs seen from the bus:
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Here are photos along the way.
A typical bit of sidewalk (left, below). One must always be alert to dips, holes, protrusions and a full array of potential obstacles. Makes life interesting.
Next, downtown, photo below left shows tops of church and mosque next to each other (with a protruding street light, unfortunately). Then (right) can you see two guys painting the top of the Hariri mosque?
We head back. We pass the remains of the old Sheraton hotel--tall thin block in the center, below---that found itself in the middle of the civil war. Don't know why it hasn't been torn down, though we hear it is still apparently structurally sound. Full of holes from various armaments.
Another city view.
And we are home:T on the balcony--