Saturday, February 6, 2010
Palmyra! Some say it's the biggest best preserved ancient Roman city. I say it has the best landscape. Wiki "Queen Zenobia" and you'll be entertained by stories of one of the toughest women in history. This was her city.
Behind me is the Euphrates river plain! How cool is that? In this picture I'm on an ancient tel called Dura Europas. This tell has the oldest known Christian Church (oldest church built for the purpose of worship) and Jewish Synagogue in the world.
Oudai is the guy with the beard. When I first met him I couldn't stop staring at him. I hope I don't offend Shea Stott my saying this, but he's by far the best Jesus East of the Mediterranean. His Druze family invited me to their home in Sueida for New Year's.
This is a UN controlled deserted town called Quinetra in the Golan Heights. Israel took control of the Golan after the 6-Day War in 1967. In 1974 they gave a small portion back only after completely stripping the capital city of anything valuable, bulldozing the city, and taking it's 40,000 citizens.
Check out the stairs hanging from the building on the left. The city was completely destroyed.
The border between the UN-controlled Golan, and Israeli-occupied Golan. The other side of the barbed wire fence is a land mine. If you look close you can see the Israeli towers in the background. We had to get a special permit to come to Quinetra.
Abandoned Church in the Quinetra. Although, approximately 90% were Druze there was still a small population of Christians and Sunnis.
The fertile plain of the Euphrates. This is just below what you see in that first picture.
These are tombs we were able to climb through and up on top to watch the sunset. Inside were dozens of individual tombs with lots of bones. I felt like Indiana Jones. During the trip to the Euphrates and surrounding areas, we were virtually the only tourists in site and on the sites.
The most famous and best well preserved Crusader Castle in the world, the Krac de Chevaliers. It's the castle they use in "Kingdom of Heaven"
Spent Christmas day with a Christian family. The lady in the black sweater in the middle is the only local of our 8 member Syrian branch. Being a faithful member didn't stop her relatives from having a good time on Christmas Eve. Drinking and dancing is an identity marker for Christians in the Middle East.
Before and after shots. Let's just admit it, I'm freaking hot when I'm posing. I guess it comes natural. I decided to cut my beard because people thought I was 35 years old. Seriously though. The moment after the shave was complete, re-entrance into society was complete. A the barber was cleaning up the hair, he asked me how old I was. I told him to guess. He said 25. Anna if you like older men I can grow my beard back. Oh wait I already am an older man huh?
Me as a tall, dark, and handsome middle-aged man.
Friday, January 15, 2010
The last three weeks have been spent doing splits/cultural exchanges with 4 painters and their band of hooligans. It was a great ride. While transitioning between homes, my artist friend Ali let me stay it his house. I would sleep in one bedroom, Ali would sleep in the other, and the other guys would sleep on the couches or on tiny mattresses thrown on the ground. Sometimes I would wake up to a houseful of other stranger artists strapped to their mini mattresses and tip toe my way across the crowded snoring floor. Arab hospitality of course provided royal treatment, but a moderate adaption to Levantine bohemian social habits provided a colorful brotherhood. By the way it was really funny.
I’ll use a description of Ibrahim as an archetype. Ibrahim sleeps all day. Literally. He was asleep at 8 in the morning when I left that morning and still asleep at 5 o’clock when I got back yesterday. I left at 9:30 pm for my new house. Ibrahim was still asleep. When he’s not sleeping, and manages to wake up in the mid-afternoon he hangs out in his long-John’s the whole day while drinking Arabized-Argentinian maté and smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day. He’s the nicest guy in the world. Having married an Italian woman 5 years ago, he someday aspires to live in Italy and continue studying Art. All great artists go to Italy. Ibrahim has long frizzled charcoal-black hair that he wears in a difficult-to-identify ponytail. He wears taped broken glasses, has a beard that he sometimes shaves every two weeks, and drinks anabolic protein shakes daily before he goes to workout at the local sports complex. He starts the night of usually playing cards with his friends or watching a flick with me on my computer. Midnight dinner is followed by creative and deep thinking, beautiful and professional drawing (some of the best I’ve seen in my life), a little bit of Italian studies, some thought provoking maté, and maybe another nap before finally fading off into a deep dream filled sleep at around 8 am.
These guys were great. They would do anything for me if I asked. They always cooked big meals, did my laundry, gave me my own private room, and loved laughing with me. One of my favorite highlights was playing introducing my family favorite, spoons. I had to explain the rules in Arabic. Whenever I was having difficulty with a concept they would try to guess. Their guesses and my lack of Arabic words provided an amazing version of spoons I will not forget. Instead of a spelling P-I-G, you get 4 donkey shots. Instead of a PASS the cards, it’s a short and lound BAHS, with these pass intervals being 5 seconds instead of 1 second looks. Always they would practice their English slang (usually learned from Hollywood). If it wasn’t the “F word” or “donkey” it was a dead arm or jab to the face. My favorite is when they think they are clever. Instead of saying “You are stupid/shi-” they often mix up their pronouns and loudly declare with a blaming index finger pointing to the other “I STUPID!” or “I DONKEY!” The game also ended with a little Syrian touch. With marker in hand, all of us were able to scribble as much as we wanted all over the newly crowned DONKEY’S face. I’ve had some great games of spoons in my day that was one of the best. If Mark Stein were to power rank them, definitely top five!
p.s. Please stay tuned for an accounting of my most recent trip to the fertile flood plain of the ancient Euphrates river!