Saturday, December 29, 2007

أرض الكوابيس

I somehow interrupted the story of the other day- that travelogue to the unexpected- just to refer to the disappearance of my favorite pasta brand back home. Memory-work proceeds multiplied, because it is the full and personal field where the roads cross, the sights merge, time shifts and where a tiny particle of information may create gigantic shadows.
But, voila, we now crossed the borders and in the nice cloudy day we drive to Damascus. There is no hotel reservation anymore, as you remember. No Meridien, no Damascus International, no Venicia, not a thing. So, the suggestion was to try our luck on the airport way, where the rumors suggested luxury. The distance should not scare us, since the car was available. BUT BELIEVE ME, eventually IT SHOULD. Before long, we reached the area of the International Damascus Fair, some 18 km from the city center, and here it stands: like the late samples of Socialist Grandiose Architecture, Ebla Cham. A huge lobby, surrounded by the internal balconies decorated with wood, that they create the impression that you entered the Scala, in Milan. Nice... We asked for the price, they offered the unbelievable amount of 190 USD plus tax per night. Thanks to what we ambiguously call "Luck", a Jordanian group (part of it actually) has just arrived and, since we happen to know most of the travel agencies in Amman and the guides, this polite young man offered to help us out and to book through his agency. We got the nice, big, warm, nicely painted and decorated room for half the desk price. Great. Then we decided to go to the center, to "Kamal", for a late lunch/early dinner. And by that time we discovered the reality. The streets of Damascus work as the challenge of Labyrinth. Easy to enter, difficult to find your way out: the signs are unbelievable, they are placed at enigmatic locations, and the highways go to thoroughly different directions in case one commits a small mistake. Plus heavy traffic, plus people going the wrong direction and ignoring the traffic lights. After forty minutes we reached, after two hours we went to have some coffee, after two hours and a half we discovered that we were attacked by what is described as "travelers' diarrhea" . Rushed back to the hotel, another fifty minutes, dramatic pressure, agonized moments :). By 8:30 p.m. my friend was sleeping peacefully exhausted from the adventure, the early start of the Eid day and the driving. I went down to the lobby to realize that the huge place is haunted. No one was there, except the waiter, and the night shift guys of the reception. Where could I go 18 km away from the center, under a 15 m long chandelier?
The next day started smoothly: The crowded and, at places, under restoration covered market, Bab Tuma (thank God we did not buy anything except chestnuts, you will know why) , Costa Cafe at Four Seasons. Then we thought why not to go up to the mountain Qassyoon, to admire the night falling onto the city... This was uttered by 5:15 p.m. and we started driving uphill. By 5:40 we were close to the TV antenna, under snowflakes, something so Christmas-like, so I suggested we should drive back. and indeed, we were operating a U-turn when we heard the double scary explosions: the two left side tires had been cut like rose pedals at a sharp edged pit in the middle of the road. The spare was unavailable. So we hastily parked and started going down on foot, under snow. The area is a military zone, due to the presidential palace which is located nearby. Close to the main street we eventually found a taxi, he gave us a lift to a tires' shop (the first day of the holiday not many shops are open anyway) and then we started trying
to find a reasonable solution. In order to replace the tires, one should go up to the mountain to pick them, to put the new ones and, then, to fix them again on the vehicle. Mmmm, you can imagine at what prices, and every time we were moving up and down the owner would discover a previous mistake so the cost would climb higher and higher. How did we go up? By a '70s car, with a 70 years old driver. What did we find there? Around 5 soldiers and an officer setting the poor vehicle under siege. We explained, they checked, they showed interest and care indeed. I kept wiping all along the front window of the '70s car so that there would be some visibility left for our driver. It felt like Karate-Kid 1 exercise. We finished around 9:40 p.m. frozen and poor.
The coming day, we bought few fruits and some cheese and we started driving back. Again some late donations, again some rally from one desk to the other. When we saw the smiles of King Abdullah and late King Hussein, on the borders, we definitely felt better, and we enjoyed the fact that we would have many conclusions to draw in the days to come.
What is Maktub? It is having your left side tires finely cut while your spare is useless and you forgot your tools kit. And many other things...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

entaaaaaaxei loipon!! auto einai pou perimena! :D n syria den sas edwse kalo taxidi! :( at least you had your car back! I doubt you would've if that happened here!

Maktub is, you were all able to get back your car, you found a nice old man to help you get some tires, the precious lesson that you shouldn't travel wuithout spares, or through fake travel agencies!:D


3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suddenly remembered such an experience; maybe this is not the proper place to mention here. Vas: i will email it to u ... same events , same tragedies, But In chicago. Speaking of highways ? endless routes? car being seized ? Fishy neighborhoods? paying a leg and an arm to get on'es car back after being towed by the municipality ? you will have to hear my story, then !
Adding more lessons to what Luma said : Ala : check ur spare tires, tools before embarking on such a long distance trip ( as per the Jordanian/ middle east region standards ). And it wouldn't be a so dump idea to maybe get a "map" for the old city Damas, though i agree that damas is not an ideal city to be navigated by a car with a greek co-driver fiddling with an an arabic language based map... in a city that literally resembles a lybirnth! Guys ... i hope next time we will be able to go the three of us!


4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

....... But again ... its all maktoub :)


4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also like the idea that this is the second post with an arabic title, gives me the impression that i might one day find a whole post in arabic by you! :D


4:41 PM  
Blogger Moey said...

nice post, I know syria very well :P never had the "travelers" thingy :P

4:54 PM  
Blogger Vas said...

1. Moey dear, what can I say? Just lucky youuuuu:)Never had it before myself, but as this vulgar Coehlo says when Destiny decides on you, all diarrheas appear.
2. Majd i will read it carefully, a Chicago story is always something special :) Al Capone and stuff.
3. Luma, yeah, I love the Republic, and as I said, I love the Arabic Republic :) Cheers to the Syrian Arabic Republic.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through all these difficulties. I mean you just wanted a normal, perhaps entertaining and fun Eid. Nevertheless, that Eid might eventually turn out to be the most entertaining, funniest one ever (you'll get that feeling after a considerable period of time passes, of course. But you sound like you have already started getting it. Good for you! I guess…)

However, you can look at the bright side of the whole thing. Neither you nor your friend were harmed or injured (I mean physically)…well, hopefully!

5:39 PM  
Blogger Vas said...

And not only that Rowan, but we offered a great laugh to all friends:))) Hahahaha i cannot stop, the stoical doorkeeper.

5:42 PM  

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