On the wall at Al Jazeera.
I like power lines.
Taken from the skinny alley outside our Aleppo hotel, which used to be a house.
Lookin’ tough at Umayyad Mosque in a culturally appropriate get-up.
At the Umayyad (or Great) Mosque in Aleppo.
When Lila was still part of our traveling caravan, I regularly thought about:
– how cool those giant Egyptian statues must have seemed through her elementary school eyes.
– how cool it would be to grow younger and younger until I was 7 again, then start growing forward. Seven’s a good age.
– how Lila was a sort of surreally gifted swimmer. (I couldn’t swim until I was 9!)
The important point is, sometimes, I wish I were 7.
Geoff and I talked about this in Luxor. His take was, yeah, repeating 7 would rule, but no kids that age even realize they have the best lives ever. Flopping around the pool with no concept of responsibility or reality. Getting to invent and unflappably believe the most fantastic possible reasons for stuff with actually boring explanations. Being even tinier than an adult next to the pyramids.
And he’s right.
But I found a loophole yesterday. Even if I hadn’t breached the double digits yet, I would have thoroughly appreciated being super small, super agile and super ensconced in the limestone crevices that lead to the monastery of St. Takla in Ma’loula.
When I was a kid, I used to stand near relatively enormous things – like the trees in our backyard – as points of reference for imagining other things that size, but alive, too. Like dinosaurs. I also used to spend entire afternoons pretending that a nearby forest was somewhere in Middle Earth. So, Ma’loula would have really blown my mind.
It’s got medieval origins, a healthy dose of intrigue and those deep chasms, flanked by tall walls that, if morphed into living creatures by my childhood imagination, would have housed any suburban foliage.
Our group descended into Ma’loula’s gorge* on Wednesday afternoon after a long drive through Syria’s infinite countryside. For lack of a more professional word that would, I don’t know, prove I can express myself, it was so cool. So. Cool. So authentic and old and spiritually charged. Impressively disconnected from commercial antics, considering its tourist appeal. (There were gift shops, of course, but they sold the sort of kitschy, brandless religious paraphernalia you’d fine in old Italian ladies’ apartments.) So fun to walk around.
I hate to harp on the gorge, because it’s hardly the most remarkable thing about Ma’loula. Just the part I reveled in most.
About 60 kilometers northeast of Damascus, Ma’loula is the only place in the world where people still speak the Western branch of Aramaic – in short, the language Jesus spoke. Because of Ma’loula’s distance from heavily populated urban centers, its linguistic integrity stayed in tact for well over a thousand years. Our group even got to hear The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, delivered by a priest inside the Mar Sarkis monastery, erected more than 1,700 years ago on the ruins of a pagan temple.
Then we went to one of the most well-preserved Crusader castles in the world.
That’s even cool for grown ups.
*That’s what she said. (Sorry.)
I’ve been doing this cute thing lately where I forget to charge my camera battery for the most picturesque legs of our trip. So far, two castles, an Aramaic hamlet and Aleppo’s ancient network of markets have evaded my lens. Bummer.
But there’s a bright side to every situation. In this case, I stumbled upon Loufi, a Flickr user with some striking photographic evidence of his world travels. Loufi approaches landscapes and buildings with an eye for the simple and bold: power lines draped across a Portugese sky or shadows swallowing a mosaic wall in Andalucia. It’s like he strives to capture instances of abstract contemporary art that occur in real life.
Thankfully, Loufi also uses Creative Commons to license his work. That’s how I found him, via this photo, while searching Flickr:
I love everything about this image, from its perspective to composition and, of course, its contextual content – in particular, the crucifix dangling from the cabbie’s rearview mirror as he schleps a family to the Syrian town of Ma’loula, where locals still speak the language of Jesus.
Nick took some great photos on our walk through the market yesterday. These glamor shots, for instance. In case you didn’t know, vanilla ice cream rolled through bits of pistachio = yes, please. Also, mom: We should recreate this at home with soft-serve! You’d love it.
Together, Katie and I spent a dollar on two enormous falafel sandwiches, filled with lemon peels, mint and tomatoes, at this colorful stand. It’s located in the heart of a labyrinthine khan in Old Damascus.