1994, the suq in Aleppo in Syria. My first long journey had started in Istanbul, and now, a month later, I had reached Aleppo in Syria. I had crossed the border near ancient Antioch, denied my previous trip to the “Palestinian occupied areas”, i.e. Israel (wary of the omnipresent police forces that often joined you within Syria, as travellers we’d refer to it only as “Disneyland”), and here I was. Old Assad was still in charge, the father of Bashir, and his statues were another omnipresence. Aleppo was amazing, welcoming, in its ancient and present mixture of cultures, nowhere better manifested than in the souq, the world’s biggest covered market. The picture is taken here, and stands witness to a beautiful maze of alleys and shops that now, in 2020, are no longer there since large-scale destructions hit the area, and Aleppo and Syria in general, in 2012.
Among my dear memories are these two: the two cousins, apparently gay since they addressed every traveller with what must have been ANZAC (Aussie-New Zealand) gay slang. They were incredibly knowledgable about practicalities, such as the black market for changing money, and thus I heard their “exqueeze me?” often enough. And second, the three friends I met after I found a calligrapher who’d make Christmas cards for my family. He was a Muslim, his one friend Greek orthodox, and the other Syrian orthodox Christians – I loved the naturalness of their friendship. They invited me to a lavish dinner in a packed restaurant in downtown that night. It was my first impressive encounter with almost literally overwhelming Syrian hospitality. With such fond memories it makes my heart bleed to look at Syria now.