Syria postcard

Aleppo. Unable fluently to read the social divisions any more than the Arabic script, so only superficialities: the Christian neighborhoods, fewer veils, shops closed on Sunday, more jeans. Seamless transition to Muslim streets, but now more hijab, though not conservative as these things go, some women in makeup, faces framed in black fabric, men in jalabas but many in stylish leather coats, too. And then, mere alleys away, the rhythmic footfalls of murmuring or calling out crowds in a packed souk labyrinth, perhaps not the uncompromised mayhem of Fez, but also not the hard sell of attention on the outsiders, so one can look at the wares without risking a lengthy extraction. There’s an entire camel’s head and neck hanging from a butcher’s hook and then later piles of blocks of aged olive oil soap, spices, fruit, Turkish coffee. Both groups, Christians and Muslims, moving with a confidence, a relaxed intheworldness, reasonable prosperity, Kia’s Honda’s, about their business, tourists a fair oddity but the locals are too sophisticated to treat us as if we’re from another planet.

The Maronite Catholic mass last night was lovely with Christmas season cheer, understood not a word but all of the shapes of the sociality were imprinted on me as a young child, so like listening to a well-known song with the words in another tongue and a few melodies reworked. The mosque is a contrastive perplexity, southwestwardly oriented carpets, bodies moving so differently that the conscious sensation will elude me, but even in blindness I can see community, solemnity, elevation. Woken every morning by the call to prayer, more stylized and artful than I’ve ever heard before.

Aleppo is a revelation, rising almost modestly to its rival-to-Damascus claim of being the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. Vigor palpable, many well-come!’s with a default assumption that I’m French to lead to raised eyebrows when I say “USA, America” handshake and generous smiles. “Well-come.”