s of Aleppo are blissfully cool. Narrow streets, under high stone vaults, opening onto fourteeth and fifteenth century khan
s through giant, nail studded iron doors. The ceilings flutter with writing
, on red, green, pink white plastic like Tibetan prayer flags
, but I don't know if these were religious, political, or 'sale
! sale! sale! everything must go
!' messages rustling in the breezes coming through the open windows at the hihest points in the domes.
I wandered for hours, back and forth, sniffing the cardomen
and the rose water
, and the sandalwood
which drifted through the air from the tiny shops that line the souk's streets. That beat the place where I'd started: I entered the covered part of the souks by the meat market, and came face to face with a shelf of sheep's heads, grinning evilly. Glistening dark kidneys
dangled from hooks behind, among ribs and innards. I took the first turning out of there, heading into the maze that runs from the old city walls to the citadel on top of a huge mound on the eastern side of the city.
The citadel dominates the entire city, with huge defensive walls on top of a steep stone-clad glacis
. Inside, the way goes left, right, and around, with every doorway guarded by stone lions, and grills above your head, through which boiling oil could be poured onto less welcome visitors than the tourists who shell out 300 syrian pounds for a green and white ticket to wander. Once inside, the citadel opens up, to a bright white tumble of walls and towers and a pair of mosques. At the very top is the throne room, restored to its old glory with massively intricate painted, carved wood ceilings and walls, and a small fountain babbling away in the centre of the marble-tiled patterned floor. It's cool and dark and peaceful there, though watched over by the inevitable double portraits of the old and young Assads.
Every time I sit down to admire the view, or drink of cup of tea, I gain company. In Aleppo the offers are to 'visit my shop, see my antiques, my carpets, my silver'. In Palmyra
it was 'see my garden, drink tea, eat dinner, just you and me
' or, 'ride a camel
?' In Damascus
, it's 'have tea, have a chat about the time I was in London
.' In Deir ez Zur, it was 'hello! what is your name? FUCK YOU FUCK YOU TOURIST
I spent an hour sitting with one of the most charming kids on the planet. Thirteen years old. He'll make a killer business man one day. He's more than halfway there now. He's being coached in English, and sales, by his nine uncles. ('Don't be pushy. This is an English lady. Polite. Say please
and thank you
and excuse me
. No rushing. Germans, then you can be a little pushy. No, no, too quick on the price. Wait, talk a little.') I met seven of the uncles - all have the same scrunched up eyes when they smile, the same English accent, and the same taste in puns. The youngun coached me on proper dealing in the souk, warning me off the commission
agents, explaining how it worked, warned me of the very new antiques, walked me through the souk, telling me not to answer when people call out 'where you from' because otherwise, in minutes, everyone will be claiming their cousin went to England, pointing the prettiest way through to the citadel.
Tomorrow evening I will head to Raqqa, to visit Resefah as early as possible the next morning before the heat settles in, if, of course, I can get transport (not an easy task on a friday). There's no point trying to get out there to see it tomorrow, the taxi men will all be enjoying their holiday.
I'm enjoying mine...