Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Talisman Hotel, Damascus

We have always loved Damascus. We used to hang out there a lot when we were with the embassy in Amman. Weekends we would drive up and stay with friends at the embassy there, or they might drive down and stay with us. I remember shopping at one time, and in a shop along the Street Called Straight when I caught a glimpse of the shopkeeper and his friends, drinking tea, not oblivious to us, but also not attentive to us, and all of a sudden, I could see through the centuries, I could feel the weight of the history of this city, that the citizens of Damascus have seen so much of civilization and we were mere mists, appearing for a short time and disappearing again, nothing of substance, nothing of importance in a city which endures and endures.

You really have to love Damascus to go through what we had to go through to get to Damascus – it took months for us to get visas. Our government publishes advisories telling us NOT to go there, and we in our arrogance, figure we will be OK. We also know that when we re-enter our own country, we will get additional scrutiny for having put Syria in that little block where they ask where you have travelled between your last visit and this visit.

When the blogger Gastronomica was blogging, he wrote about staying in the same hotel in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia that we had stayed in and thoroughly enjoyed, (the Dar Said for anyone going to Tunisia, is just minutes from the Tunis airport in the beautiful hillside village of Sidi bou Said, minutes up the road from the old city of Carthage). He wrote about a hotel in Damascus called The Talisman which I immediately looked up online, and immediately bookmarked.

The Talisman was formerly a family palace, fallen on hard times, gutted and renovated with enormous care. No matter where you set your eyes, there is something of beauty. The furnishings are beautiful, chosen with taste and restraint. The colors are both traditional – and modern – and very exciting.

The entrance to the Talisman is on a tiny little hard-to-find street, barely big enough for a taxi:

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We would never have heard of The Talisman without Gastronomica’s recommendation, but on our very first morning there, we met a woman with the December 2007 Conde Nast Traveller featuring Damascus, and recommending The Talisman if you couldn’t get into Dar al Mamluk, a much smaller hotel not too far from The Talisman. We saw the Dar al Mamluk, and a nearby merchant said the rooms are much smaller than the Talisman, and not so exquisitely furnished. We have not seen the rooms for ourselves.

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From the moment we arrived, we loved The Talisman. You are located a mere minute’s walk from the Street Called Straight. You can get anywhere in the old city in ten – fifteen minutes walk. You are one minute from a nearby Amin Street where you can catch a taxi anywhere in the city. What we loved the most about the location was that we could walk and walk and walk – and we did. Every day, we walked the city.

The service you get at the Talisman is personal and attentive, without being intrusive. Breakfast is cheerful and plentiful, served buffet-style in a rosy-red room filled with antiques and two bustling, good-humored waiters who keep your coffee and tea cups full.

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The rooms are huge. We only reserved a regular room; you just never know looking at pictures on the internet what a place is really going to look like, so we had thought that if the room was too small we would ask if any suites were available.

When we got to our room, we were blown away by their concept of “regular”. It was spacious. Compared to most hotels, the “regular” rooms were HUGE! The bathroom had both a huge bathtub and a modern shower, and they both worked and had plenty of hot water. We had space enough to invite an old friend to our room; we had our own seating area.

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We loved the attention to detail, the room furnishings, even the light fixtures:

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There are also two lounges, one outside, one inside, and tables around the pool where you can sit and soak up some sunshine, even in the midst of winter.

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The Talisman is a treasure, with its attention to detail and to cheerful, attentive service. One of the things we liked the very best about the Talisman is the pride the Damascus citizens take in its restoration. One shop, where we had bought from the current owner’s father, told us with pride that his shop had provided many of the lamp fixtures for the hotel. Most shopkeepers and restaurant people had visited the Talisman at some time or other; they all spoke of it with pride. Who can blame them? The place is a gem.

There were many families staying there. There were many English and French, and even . . . yes, Kuwaitis. If there were one drawback, it would be that there is a mosque nearby whose muezzin at 4 in the morning is purely awful; the call to prayer is flat, and garbled, and awfully loud in addition, but the hotel can’t be faulted for that which it cannot control.

We would stay there again in a heartbeat – and hope to.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Holiday, Travel | , , , , | 20 Comments

Tagged by This Lady

Some tags are silly, but fun. This one . . . someone took some time. These questions are genuinely thought provoking. Thanks for tagging me, Lady.

*Do your closest friends have any nicknames for you? No. If they do, they don’t use it to my face! But when I have grandchildren, I am going to be called “Shisha.” I won’t tell you why, but it has nothing to do with smoking.
*What would your ex-(boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse) say about you in one sentence? “Life just isn’t the same without you.”
*What is the greatest achievement of your life so far? Staying married for years and years and years, and producing a son who is a successful adult. Sharing the triumphs of his graduation(s) and career and marriage with his father/ my husband.
*How should people think of sex in this, the 21st century? Often, and with joy.
*Where would you live if anywhere was possible? If anything were possible, I would live in a house with a view of the sea and mountains.
*Is there a religion that’s fulfilling for you and/or the masses? I am a Christian, and one who has come to believe that the ultimate truth will be a grand adventure. We all have glimpses, and we are limited. One day, we will see clearly, and not “through the glass, darkly.”
*What inspires awe in your life’s experience? People who create something out of nothing. People with vision who make things happen.
*What was/is your best pick-up line? The most interesting women don’t need a line; they are good listeners.
*What and when is the most potent emotion you’ve ever experienced and why? Anger. I am not an angry person, but once I knew I could kill to protect my son. On the very rare occasion when I get angry, my anger scares me, my primitive nature scares me.
*On what occasions do you act self-absorbed or just plain selfish? When I am tired past being able to sleep, or sick past being able to be gracious, or depressed beyond my ability to fight on. Then I need quiet, and rest, and miso soup, and to just curl into a ball until it’s passed.
*If someone assigned you a quest, or if you decided your own, what would you be looking to find? I would want to find the secret to helping us all just get along.
*If you had to choose between them, would you live in Hollywood, Washington D.C. or New York, and why? Oh please! Spare me. Neither!
*Who or what makes you feel “whole”? I feel whole when my spiritual life, my family life and my friend-life are all in order.
*Where is your greatest opportunity for change? I love living in places where my husband and I can walk. I feel the need for walking as exercise.
*What do you consider to be the greatest opportunity for humankind? To learn to live together, and to find a fair way to allocate resources.
*What surprises you about getting older? The betrayals of the body. Inside, you are still young!
*What or who makes you feel younger or rejuvenated? Walking, a good haircut, a great conversation.
*Where or when do you feel most alone? When my husband and I disagree.
*Where or how is society most ripe for change? When people are willing to step forward and take their part in making changes.
*Do you think of yourself as attractive to the opposite sex? ;-)
*When or where do you feel the most free? In Seatttle, on the west coast, women are about as close to being equal people as I have ever hoped to see. I feel most free there.
*What is the greatest memory of your life to date? The night I discovered my brain had not turned to jello during childbirth and child-raising. You can read about it here.
*Where and when did you find out who you really are? A female mentor laughed and said “you have no idea yet what you are capable of” and I was so shocked I decided to start finding out.
*How and when do you collect your thoughts and why? I take a bath. I wash off any defilement and pray for discernment.
*If someone told you when and where you would die, what would you do immediately after being told? I would thank God for the many many blessings he has given me, especially seeing our son dance at his wedding, and living happily, and for the years I have had with my husband, and the lively and exciting life we have had together, then I would make lunch dates with my dearest friends one-on-one, to say goodbye and thank them for their contributions to my life.
*What are the best parts of being in love? Learning how many many kinds of love their are, and that love is a verb, and a choice.
*What’s your favorite libation (a drink offered to a god)? I really like coffee! And ginger beer (it is not really beer)
*What “life philosophies” have you adopted since you’ve become an adult? Serve God first, live life so that you have no regrets, stay out of debt, invest for the future, life’s true riches are the blessings of the angels God sends you in family and friends and even brief moments of connection with others.
*How would you like to be remembered? I would love for people to say “Whoa! She was a pistol!” :-)

I TAG star blogger FONZY, Kuwait’s premier blogger Don Veto, sweet True Faith, Touche, who thinks outside the box, Chirp, because I want to know the answers, and a blogger I think is going to have a very interesting life, MirimtheMirim. I also tag my niece, Beiruti-blogger Little Diamond.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Humor, Marriage, Tag | 17 Comments

Online Friendship

Recently, my blogging friend Macaholiq8 posted a question asking “Do You Take Online Friendships Seriously?” The question pops up often, along with the “can men and women be friends?” question.

I like questions like that. You think the answer is easy, you have an automatic response, and then you find yourself days later re-visiting the question, pondering the question. That’s a good question, isn’t it, when it comes back and haunts you and makes you think some more?

In social environments, my mother trained me well. I know how to be pleasant, how to make small talk, how to amuse people with anecdotes that are short and funny. I know how to mingle, I can put people at ease. I have a wide range of connections; I have a lot of friends, i.e. people I know socially.

Only one of these friends knows that I blog.

There is another level of friend, friends with whom friendship has developed slowly, and usually cemented by some event during which we connected at a deeper level. I know one blogger, for example, face-to-face. I liked her anyway, but when my Father died, she sent me her real name and phone number and told me to call her. You know how wary I am – her compassion and grace, her trust, brought me to tears. She is the one exception to my “stay anonymous” rule; she broke through the barrier by her one act of grace – and by her body of work, which helped me to know her temperament and her character.

Most of my friendships occur online these days, but through e-mails keeping me up to date with those whose friendships I have cherished over the years:

* My college friend
* My childhood-live-across-the-creek-in-Alaska friend
* My Chinese-Mormon-Army Wife Friend
* Several mentors, hobby-buddies, church buddies, expat-abroad buddies, as well as family members, some of whom are also buddies!

AdventureMan is my very best buddy. When we met, my sister was getting married in the Heidelberg castle, and there was a lot to be done. I didn’t have a license to drive in Germany, and AdventureMan would come and get me and take me places like the florist’s or the officer’s club or wherever I needed to go to run an errand that needed to be run. We weren’t dating; he was just very kindly ferrying me around. As he would drive, we would have good conversations. The night my sister got married, he looked at me and realized he wasn’t going to see me again if he didn’t ask me out. We’ve been best friends ever since.

Friendship, deep friendship, doesn’t always mean you’re going to agree, in fact sometimes it is only your very best friend who can give you bad news and make you listen. When friends tell me about big fights with other friends, I tell them (whoa! when did I become a mentor???) that fighting and even hatred is not the opposite of love, disengagement and indifference and not caring is the opposite of love.

I have a good friend now in Kuwait who is helping another friend walk through a terrible situation. The friend gets really really angry with her, and even says behind her back (and to her face) “I hate it when people try to tell me how to live my life.” Because the helping friend is loyal and committed to the friendship, she persists. It’s like dealing with an animal in pain, when we are in emotional pain and don’t want to hear something, we might strike out at the person bearing the message. It takes a very special friend to stay the course, to be committed through that kind of emotional pain.

As I see it, there are an infinite number of levels of friendship, and different friendships for different times in your life, and different needs.

In times of crisis, when a friend needs someone to talk to who can keep her mouth shut, I’m there. If you are my friend and want to spend a lot of time with me, you’re going to be disappointed. If you need me to head up a project, I’m there. If you need me to head up a group – no way. Some people, mostly introverts, find me a great friend, and others, those who are good at hanging out, find me lacking.

I DO think you can be friends with bloggers and never meet them. In the days of snail mail, people had pen-pals who lived in distant places. They might write for decades and never meet, and yet there was a lasting and genuine relationship that I would call friendship. We meet in a realm of ideas and experiences. Meeting in person, the differences might overshadow that which we share in common.

You might think I am just blah-blah-blah-ing, but there is a method in my madness. I think we relate to one another and influence one another in ways we are just beginning to realize. I think there is great value in what we gain from our online friendships.

Later I will post on a hotel AdventureMan and I stayed in, a hotel I would never have known about or heard of were it not for the recommendation of a Kuwaiti former blogger (one who I hope will one day blog again) Gastronomica who now owns and operates The Slider Station and who hasn’t blogged for quite a while. His posts were so educated, so interesting and so reliable that I truly miss his presence in the blog world.

I am guessing that the secret to maintaining friendships is to understand who the friend is and what he/she is capable of. One of the great pitfalls is expecting more from the relationship than the friend, or the relationship can merit. Different friends bring different gifts to the table; I think you need them all to some extent, and it is up to you to determine to what level YOU want the relationship to go, depending also on the capabilities and needs of the other.

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Locard Exchange Principal, Relationships | 14 Comments

Morning Grin

A woman went to a walk-in clinic, where she was seen by a young, new doctor. After about three minutes in the examination room, the doctor told her she was pregnant.

She burst out, screaming as she ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped her and asked what the problem was, and she told him what happened. After listening, he had her sit down and relax in another room.

The doctor marched down the hallway to the back where the first doctor was and demanded, “What’s the matter with you? Mrs. Terry is 59 years old, has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?”

The young doctor continued to write on his clipb oard, and without looking up, asked, “Does she still have the hiccups?”

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Fiction, Humor, Joke, Lies | 10 Comments

   

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