Journal - Napló
|Posted on November 19, 2009 at 9:40 PM|
I spent the weekend in Damascus. I found a small, but centrally located hotel and checked
into a room on the top floor. A hard bed with some dirty heavy blankets, a broken night
table and a washbasin: the room’s so-called furniture. But at least it could be closed, had
a roof and was cheap.
Through Mohamed, a journalist I had met, I got myself four programs tickets for of the 17th
International Film Festival of Damascus. From Fellini through contemporary Arabian films to
Hollywood movies, both the entertainment and „art” industry were represented by a wide range
of films. I saw an Egyptian, a Syrian, a Romanian - Hungarian film and the American ’
Crossing Over’. I had seen the latter once before and noticed something interersting. In the
version shown in the festival, every part that had anything to do with religion, either
Islamic or Jewish, had been cut out. As a consequence, several threads became impossible to understand. I mentioned this to the two journalists with whom we watched the film, but it
seemed they didn’t really care, they liked it. Perhaps they are used to these things.
I left the capital in the early afternoon. Heading north-east, the left side of the road is
bordered by hills and mountains. On the right side there are dunes upon flat dunes which are
pretty much uninhabited except from the occational flock of sheep or goats flocking around a
Beduin camp. The monotony of the sand-coloured, flat buildings is livened up only by the
silvergrey donkeys grazing lazily and the colourful clothes hung out to dry.
Abuseif with his snow-white car drove me as far as to Dayr az Zayr, hundreds of kilometers
down the road. An elderly woman sat beside him and a 4-5-year-old boy between them.
Repeatedly, I heard the soft noise of a nylon pack, followed by the little boy, with a
wondering look on his face, giving me a piece of chocolate or salted baker’s ware.
In the town of Palmyra we halted for a couple of minutes and Abuseif showed me the
illuminated, famous ruins of the Roman age.
Having reached Dayr az Zayr we both said goodbye to the woman and boy. Then Abuseif invited me to his place. Even though he was 50 years old he wasn't married. I never managed to find out what his relation was to the woman living in the same flat and to her 7-8-year-old boy. I spent the night there.
For today’s morning, I’d rather invent something…
… I was walking on the bank of the Euphrates, then in the bazaar-like centre of town. I met
two men who invited me for lunch to one of them’s. Maybe they were trusting in my non-
existent art-dealer connections when, together with a magnifier, they handed to me little
statues that they had dug out illegally at night. Proving my „expertise”, humming I looked
at the Roman-age works, especially the ornamental stone-eggs that contained some metallic
liquid inside. The men told me that here in Syria it was difficult to sell them, but if I
could find buyers in Hungary…
That afternoon Abuseif took me on a city-tour. He introduced me to some of his friends in
the „quarter of car mechanics”. It was a forest of garages where the workshops all stood
shoulder to shoulder. We had a cup of tea in one of them with the house mechanic and some
We also visited the confection house that Abuseif owns. Vast amounts of various candybombs
were being made there. One guys task was to decorate the ready basic material with whipped
cream, cocktail cherry or pieces of pistachio. Two others, sitting on the floor surrounded
by baking dishes and other deeper dishes, were dunking the sweet discs into chocolate and
coconut filings. There was much to do behind, at the oven, and also the finished cookies had
to be packed in so that they could be safely transported.
We went to see a friend who was the manager of a shop selling clothes and with whom Abuseif had a really long chat. When we were in the car again, Abuseif asked if it would be okay if I slept in a hotel that night. And he mentioned the police… I said it wasn’t a problem but
I’d rather hitch-hike out of the inhabited area and put up my tent somewhere. I
respectfully refused his offer to pay for the hotel. He was driving onward for a while,
knitting his brows, when suddenly his face become smooth - he found the solution. He parked
the car right in front of the police’s building. He described the situation to a guard: here
is a guy, a tourist, whom he gave a ride for a while and invited to his home. Would it be a
problem for the police if he housed me that night? Confusedly, the guard directed us to the
reception-like, small building next to the main entry. His superior wasn’t sure what to
answer either, so he called „an expert”. Hanging up, he asked if I wanted to accept
Abuseif’s offer. When I confirmed this he let go a sigh of relief, laughed and let us know
that it was not a problem. All of us laughed.
Of course, we had to tell the news to the clothing shop guy – who had perhaps been the
sceptic on the issue -, then we all ended up in a dark street. We entered through a door
that cannot be called even a back entry, and a floor above we stepped inside a bigger room.
It became clear to me to where men go from their houses in the evenings.
At first sight, I would call the place a pub. But there was no alcohol here. All the more
there was smoke and noise. About a hundred people were sitting around the tables. No
decoration on the walls. Though there were two televisions, nobody watched them. Everyone
was focusing on the tables. They were playing cards.
Beside the chairs there were specific metallic tables for the teacups and the ash-trays. The
big tables were only for the the cards and the occasionally striking hands. The people were
of different age-groups. Just to mention a few: hooded adolescent, tattooed, striped-T-shirt
wearing twentyish guy, thirty-year-old man with suit, potbellied, serious-faced Omar
Sharif, large-built – loud-mouthed, lean - deer-eyed. But they had one thing in common: all
of them had a cigarette or cigarette-holder of water pipe in the mouth, and from time to
time they would all raise their voice and strike the table.
We too sat down around a purple-clothed table that was „decorated” with cigarette-burnt
holes. Then Abuseif and his friends got lost in the game. I’ve never drunk as much tea as I
did that night. As a result, I often went to the doorless toilet with nothing but pisoires.
Proof enough that this place was only for men.
The shaky chairs creaked when people - supposedly those who were going to lose – made angry moves, yelling harshly. These attacks always lasted only two minutes and generally ended in laughter – sometimes in taking offence – but never in a fight. The tiny teacups were served on huge metallic platters. They were „scheduled” just like buses. And people were playing cards endlessly. When the large room was almost completely empty and even Abuseif’s board was fully written with numbers, we payed and left.
It was about 1 a.m. and I thought we were going to bed. Turned out we were dropping in on
Abuseif’s nephew’s to have a dinner and of course, some tea. I got to horizontal position at
3 a.m. but the tea consumed that day kept me awake for long.
Though we had talked about making a big Syrian tour and fishing at the Euphrates, it turned
out that Abuseif had something to do. I took a walk but most of the day I was busy with blog
Translated by: Agoston Galambos