Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhea's Travel to Syria .
4 - Damascus
Rhea of Athens
from Part 3
my story on my last day of my Oddysey
in Aleppo at a table in the bar of the Baron Hotel where
Agatha Christie et al. hung out in bygone glory days. Faded
palatial splendor has always been my thing and Aleppo
has more of it than Damascus. Damascus reminded me more of Cairo down to the honking and
general din. Aleppo is noisy enough but everyone here
is more gentle, although fewer speak English. People
are more polite and immediately acquiesce to the top black
Damascus is like Cairo. You bargain for every breath
and you still haven't set a precedent. You still have
to bargain again tomorrow for the same breath.
are more palatial in Damascus, more friendly, homey, and
cozy in Aleppo. There are two monster hotels in Damascus
- Meridien and Sheraton - and
one older one, the Cham Palace with a round revolving restaurant upstairs at very good prices. In Aleppo, only the Cham but
an entire sauna, Turnkish Hamam,
massage, therapeutic machines, Jacuzzis, etc. is lodged
underneath it. Aleppo, it is much easier to go to restaurants
that are charming, old stone, like some kings courtyard
and buy alcohol with your meal. There are no dervishes,
only at Ramadan. In Damascus the best restaurants have
both Turkish and Egyptian dervished, but no alcohol, although the restaurants vary from
deep-down-in-a-castle to high up in a latticed aerie feel.
Hama has waterwheels and is an ancient city but is optional
if you like big city life combined with utter ancientness.
And Krak De Chau is a marvel if you like military establishments. I don't
like them modern and I don't like them ancient. Show
me an opulent Hamam with music, refreshments, massage and women dancing
for each other any day.
I resume my
story in the Aleppo airport after having weathered yet another
My passport got lost in the x-ray machine undetected
by me or the authorities until it was time to check in.
At first no one cared and then everyone cared, shouting
to one another from here to there.
A PA system
would have helped but no one thought of it. The passport
was subsequently spit out without the $4 stamp which is
the visa-exit fee and, of course, I had to pay for it
again. So now I am known by all the personnel at both
the Damascus and Aleppo airports. As God is
great and has a plan for all of us, I am sure that one
day I will understand why this has befallen me. Right
now, it helps to write about it so I am.
visit to Syria was worth it and that I plan to come again, perhaps
even to dance here, is certain. I feel like I have been
subjected to a fraternity hazing and am finally a member,
or the new kid at school that has fought with everyone
on the playground. You will be accepted if you win or
lose the various fights, but they want to see your style,
to take the measure of you as a human being.
I stayed in rooms from $6.00 to $30.00 a night and have
to honestly say that the cheaper ones were better, not
only more charming and picturesque but more caring staff.
ever go to Syria, tell the taxi driver you don't want
a tourist hotel but a two star hotel and put your right
hand parallel to the ground and keep lowering it, while
with the other hand hold the thumb and first 2 fingers
together, rubbing them against each other, which signifies
money. The right hand will remain pointed down towards
the ground, going gently in a downward motion, and the
left will alternately make the rubbing motion and raise
only the index finger while keeping the hand closed in
a fist and wagging the finger back and forth, signifying
no, as in, I don't want to pay a lot of money. These
hand motions will be accompanied by the eyebrows repeatedly
going up and down, emphasis on the up, while the head
nods upwards for about every 3 eyebrow raises. Although
slow to catch on, once having got it, the taxi driver
will take you to hotel after hotel, if necessary, and
go in with you as you see the room, determine if you like
it, explain why you don't (no refrigerator, window to
noisy street, broken toilet, etc.) and try to rectify
it on the next try, going before you to explain, as an
attaché for a visiting diplomat, what your needs are.
No impatience is shown but the utmost devotion to duty
and servitude without being servile. In fact, he has
become the boss of the operation and everyone must pay
attention to him.
you go to the airport, the hotel clerk will tell you what
the standard fare is. Mine suggests 200 SP ($4.00).
I knew by now that this was just a bargaining point and
that I would pay more, maybe 300 SP ($6). I had already
decided on 500 ($10) but one must withhold this money
until the last. The minute it goes into the taxi drivers
hands, he is gone. He must get you a cart and pay for
it - 50 SP ($1) - and pay the Baksheesh for the guys who
carry your luggage and push your trolley. At every juncture
he will attempt to get you to pay for these items and
services. You will smilingly hold aloft the money and
say "you effendi, you boss, you pay" until the end. Any
nice gestures, such as take this now, I trust you, make
you a loser. They respect you more if you stick up for
your rights. Even in Egypt, if I pay first, I don't get offered tea or coca-cola,
but if I withhold payment until the last, I get better
This was a hard lesson for me to learn and a hard one
for Americans in general. One rule: we are in their country
and we must go with their mentality.
try to show what basically decent people Americans are,
you will be run over like a wild coyote. Leave your manners
at home and take on theirs.
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Rhea’s Travel to Syria
… Part 3– Surrounded by Men in the Airport
Clever girl, eh? You think it’s the first time I’ve
traveled alone in the Middle East?
Rhea’s Travel to Syria
… Part 2 – The Airport Nightmare
Too bad they didn’t have any friends in America.
Rhea's Travels to Syria, Part
1, The Delusion is Shattered
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