Sunday, December 30 2000
It’s afternoon now. I’ve spent the morning in the National Museum amongst carved statuary and screens, glass, pottery, inlaid swords, suits of chain mail and a room which was panelled, painted, carved, domed and richly dim.
I enter the mosque tentatively, not quite sure of protocols, and find myself in an area of space and shade, where I’m offered a long brown robe with a hood and watch a gardener sweep up leaves, and knock a huge rough-skinned lemon off one of the courtyard trees close to the mausoleum of Saladin. I move into the main area, the area shown in the postcard and I’m overwhelmed by detail: minarets, marble inlay, wooden screens, lapis lazuli and gold. Above it all swirls of pigeons.
Inside the mosque is vast. Children race up and down the centre part, skidding on rugs and falling flat on their backsides. Groups of women sit in groups off to the side chatting. Men, shoes lined up neatly behind them, prostrate themselves in prayer. An old man sits talking to earnest groups and blessing children. I too sit at the foot of a pillar, taking it all in.
As I put my shoes back on, a small boy wearing a Pooh Bear jacket takes up his position in front of me and looks with huge brown eyes at this strange woman, who smiles back without breaking his concentrated stare.
The day hasn’t ended yet. I move into the calligraphy museum next door. There is a woman caretaker and I feel more at ease. I’m in a square space with an octagonal fountain in the centre, which suddenly comes to life. The ceiling is gold and blue-corniced and richly painted with vases and spirals of flowers; the back wall opens into a casement with heavy, brass-barred doors; behind an arch a stained glass window. I sit down, sketching and describing. What began by looking like relatively simple patterning proves to be intricacy within intricacy: pink, gold, green, white, black, grey, red. This focused frenzy of description comes to an end when my fingers begin to freeze: a functioning fountain is best on a hot day.
I walk the length of the street called Straight: the churches of Ananias and St Paul; keffiyehs, iqals, sacks of pulses and grain; a small foundry with two young men cross legged rhythmically banging something glowing and metallic; another young man sitting on the kerb demonstrating a kind of kitchen whizz, chopping parsley and making a lattice of potatoes.
A short slideshow in the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque
That was my experience of Damascus seventeen years ago. For Damascus now, read this.
Kate Taylor said:
I read the news piece at the end of your blog Meg, it could not be more different from your account of grace and great beauty of an aged culture. Damascus has become a version of Hades somehow accentuated by the description in the news piece of “the bloom of fire”.
Thank you for taking me on this beautiful trip to Damascus. I wouldn’t want to experience it differently if I were to go there in person. It is heart-breaking to know how life and beauty of this place have been distorted. It makes me think of Crimea. The scale of military invasion might be different, however, it feels no longer available for the peaceful multicultural existence and discovery. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26367786
Such a beautiful building! Did you continue with your calligraphy, Meg? 🙂 🙂
I had a spell in the nineties when I calligraphed pretty well everything, including faxes to principals, a few of whom expressed displeasure when we went email because they wouldn’t get any more of my handwriting. I used to write love letters in calligraphy on handmade paper, which took over the living room, hanging on the curtain rods to dry. Sadly, no more, except occasionally on birthday cards, and then without the flourishes of past obsession. I hope your weekend is progressing joyfully. Mine is over. Sandy, sundrenched hugs from my two weekend beaches.
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Tish Farrell said:
The road to Damascus indeed. A very powerful postcard, Meg.
Lucid Gypsy said:
Very evocative Meg, your imagery takes me back to places I’ve visited in the Islamic world.
You never know what lies ahead.
Thanks for the trip Meg. Interesting. I wonder how free and easy it would be there now?
A poignant glimpse of a now lost place….