Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Walking Old Damascus (4)

I’ve really saved the best for last. I am about to take you into our very favorite restaurant in Damascus, Naranj. It is very close to The Talisman, at the Roman Arch on the Street called Straight, and just across from the Greek Patriarchate. We were lucky to eat there when we did – and to have a table where we could watch all the high Syrian Poo-Bahs come to dine. The food was – hands down – the best food we ate in Damascus, and we ate some truly fine food there. Unfortunately, we could only eat there once – all the other times, every table was reserved!

We don’t know why, but Naranj was also the only place we saw females working in a restaurant – one as a hostess and one as our waitress and one as the bread girl (bringing around baskets of fragrant freshly baked flat breads). We saw very few women working anywhere, in fact the only other women I can remember were running the ONAT – the very fine handicraft shop down near Bab Sharqi.

Naranj:
001naranj1.jpg
001naranj2.jpg

In the heavy black stone container (HOT!) is a dish called Hommos wa Burghul, or Garbanzos and Wheat. It must have had a ton of butter in it, to be so rich and so delicious, and with such simple ingredients. If any of you make this dish, I would love the recipe.

001naranj3.jpg

001naranj4.jpg

Along the Street Called Straight:
001copper-and-brass.jpg

Silly me. I love copper and brass, and would have bought more, but I thought we were limited on Jazeera to 20 kg – that’s what the ticket said! It seems everyone else knows that it just isn’t so.

001hammadiyasoukconstruction.jpg

I loved the spaces in this building at the mosque end of the Hamadiyya Souk – and here is a view of the souk from one of the upstairs stores:
001hammadiya-souk-birds-eye.jpg

As the street lining the souks at the beginning of the Street Called Straight is under renovation, the shops still open, but people have to negotiate their way up ramps:

001soukrenovations.jpg

001soukscene.jpg

001streetcalledstraightsouks.jpg

We discovered we are in Damascus just as all the oranges are ripening, and oh, the juice is so sweet and so delicious:
001orangetrees.jpg

This beautiful statue is on the grounds of the Damascus Museum. You can’t take photos inside. We actually like the grounds of the museum better than we like the inside, currently. We think we remember a lot more stuff formerly, but it seems very spare now.
001damascusmuseum.jpg

You know me, I can’t resist a good sunrise or sunset. This is the mosque behind the Talisman, at sunset:
001mosquebehindtalisman.jpg

And I saved my very favorite photo for the last – Damascus DOES have modern trucks that deliver fuel in the more modern part of the city, but in the tiny narrow streets of the old city, they still use a cart with a horse, who can get into the smaller spaces. This card delivers fuel oil, and as he goes along, he sounds a two-toned horn – not a loud horn, but a distinctive horn – so that if anyone needs coal oil, they run out and he gives it to them.
001oildeliverycart.jpg

I have had responses that tell me Damascus is not for everybody. Even while I was there, I could imagine friends who would not love it as we do, might find it too old-fashioned, maybe too dirty, too inconvenient, lacking in up-to-date conveniences.

We also went knowing that as Americans, we might have problems. We never had a problem. We never met a single Syrian who wasn’t gracious and welcoming, and we were well treated at every turn.

We like adventure. We like history. We like walking, and we like good food. We like architectural details, we like fusion cultures, and we LOVE small, personal, charming hotels like the Talisman, with their excellent service. For us, this trip to Damascus was a supurb vacation.

Advertisements

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Travel | , , , , | 4 Comments

Walking Old Damascus (3)

I can never get enough of Old Damascus, but for those of you who are bored already, I will only do one more after this one. And my friends, I am only skimming the surface – Damascus can keep you busy and happy for a long time. Along one of our favorite streets, Al Qamariyya, we saw a sign that said Calligraphy and Lute instruction, and we looked at each other with a grin – we could be happy for weeks learning lute and calligraphy!

We had met up with an old friend who loves Damascus as we do, and he suggested a walk OUTSIDE the walls, from Bab Thouma (Thomas’ gate) to the Bab Es Salaam, which we did. The Bab Thouma is only a five minute walk from our hotel, straight up al Hijari, crossing Street Called Straight where it becomes Sharia Bab Thouma – how easy can it be?

The walk along the northern outside walls in this section is spectacular. For one thing, look at the differing levels of construction in this, one of the remaining walls of Old Damascus:

00walloutsidebabt2.jpg

00walloutsidebabtouma.jpg

00outsidewall.jpg

From outside the northern wall, looking north toward the mountains:

00viewtowardmountains.jpg

Then you come to the Gate of Peace/ Bab es Salaam:

00babessalaam.jpg

There is a whirl of reconstruction going on in the old city. Some fear modernizations which will change the character of the old town, but others say that the restrictions won’t allow that to happen – we shall see:

00reconstruction.jpg

00reconstruction2.jpg

Here is what we love – in every country, you will find volunteer supervisors where construction or reconstruction are going on:

00reconstructionsupervisors.jpg

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Ananias’ chapel. This is not the actual spot where Ananias baptized Paul, a mosque has been built over that site (It is called the Jakmak Mosque and you can see it in the long covered souk at the beginning of the Street Called Straight) but this is the church/chapel which commemorates that baptism, and it is very beautiful.
00ananiaschapel.jpg

00ananias2.jpg

Time for a cup of coffee, and to plan the next walking expedition, and we find this wonderful cafe next to the church at Bab Sharqi:

00babsharqicafegallery.jpg

We think there is a museum for the Hijaz Railway, which fascinates AdventureMan, but this is all we can find:

00hijazrailroad.jpg

At our friend’s recommendation, we also try the Old Town restaurant, and we like it so much we go there twice:

00olddamascusrestaurant.jpg

Nice to have some pasta for a change, and the pasta here is really good!

00olddamascusrfood.jpg

Interesting old balcony:

00balcony.jpg

I keep looking for the Issa/Jesus spire of the Umayyad mosque, and I think this might be it, but I am not sure. Legend has it that this is where Jesus will prevail over the forces of darkness and evil on the Last Day.

00umspireissa.jpg

We are told you MUST make a stop at Leila’s, near the Ummayad Mosque, near the Hamadiyya Souks, and so we do. It is very conveniently located when you are shopping for visiting the mosque:

00juicemenu-from-leilas.jpg

They had a Baba Ghannoush there unlike any I have had before, but very much like something we used to eat in Tunisia, called mechoia – grilled eggplant and peppers and garlic, with a very smokey taste. Yummmmy!

00leilasbabaghannoushmechoia.jpg

You know me and light fixtures – this is one of the Leila lamps:

00lampleilas.jpg

Tomorrow I will take you to our absolute favorite restaurant in Damascus, and finish up the trip, I promise, as much as I hate to leave!

(Happy Islamic New Year!)

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cold Drinks, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Travel | , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Walking Old Damascus (2)

You know how it is, when you are flat-out totally in love, you can’t see the flaws. In moments of clarity, I can understand that there could be hardships to living in Damascus. There could be problems meeting the codes for historical preservation while trying to install modern plumbing. There could be bureaucrats to bribe, there could be problems with labor, I don’t know any of this, I am just guessing.

None of it matters to me, I am so head-over-heels happy. Thanks be to God, AdventureMan shares my insanity, and we are having a wonderful time walking, walking, walking. He is SO patient with me, and all the photos I have to stop to take.

Today we visit the Ummayyad Mosque which also contains the tomb of John the Baptist. I think this is one of the reasons we love Damascus so much – the co-existence of Islam and Christianity, and the sharing of sacred spaces.

The parking area in front of the mosque is full of vendors. My favorite are the bread carts:
00breadcart.jpg

Non-Muslims have to go to the entrance where you can rent an abaya with a hood, so that you can visit the mosque. All visitors are welcome; entire tour groups are going through, French, German. You also have to take off your shoes, and the beautiful marble flooring is VERY cold! In some places, there is carpeting.
00entranceumayyadmosque.jpg

This is a tree-of-life detail from the treasury:
00umdetail.jpg

Once inside the Ummayad Mosque, they have that in-floor heating, so you can warm your tootsies back up while experiencing the magnificence of the mosque interior (please note the horseshoe arches):

00insideum.jpg

The tomb of John the Baptist:
00umyahyahstomb.jpg

A funny story: as we are leaving the Mosque, AdventureMan says “where is this tomb of John the Baptist you wanted to visit?” and I looked at his in puzzlement. We had finished touring the whole mosque, and I had photographed the tomb.

“We already visited it!” I told him.

“When?” he asked.

“It was that beautiful tomb in the main mosque area surrounded by people praying!” I replied.

“No, that was somebody named Yahyah,” he corrected me.

“Yahyah is the name for John the Baptist,” I told him. Guess he would have appreciated it more if he had known at the time. I just assumed he knew.

I must have been a magpie in another life. I don’t know why, but I love these glittery Chinese decorations. AdventureMan bought one for me, a golden crown with big red “jewels”. The shops always catch my eye:
00shinydecorations.jpg

This is a famous ice cream place in the Souk Hammadiyya:
00bakdashicecream.jpg

This shop was on the traditional medicine shop street. It had herbs, and dried creatures which can be used in healing, and unusual soaps, and also seashells:
00traditionalmedicinesouk.jpg

This is the traditional souk at the beginning of the Street Called Straight (al Mustaqeen) which is undergoing renovation. Just wanted you to see the bulletholes through the roof:
00soukhammadiyya.jpg

I don’t know if you could find a truly bad meal in Damascus. I think you would really have to try! We found this wonderful restaurant, Al Kawali, not too far from our hotel, and we loved their food and we loved the atmosphere, and we loved having the bread baked right under our noses:
00alkawalireceptionroom.jpg

00alkawaliinterior.jpg
00alkawalisideroom.jpg

For those of you who, like me, are addicted to spaces and details – look at these gorgeous light fixtures, Damascene glass:
00alkawalilightfixtures.jpg

And last, but not least – we find the food so fabulous that we are eating too much. Our first time at Al Kawali, we order just some favorite mezze dishes and soup. When the tastes are so perfect, it takes less to fill you up, and this food is perfection.
00alkawalimezze.jpg

We found this old house as we were leaving Al Kawali to walk back to the hotel:
00alkawali.jpg

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Bureaucracy, Community, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Photos, Travel | , , , | 8 Comments

Walking Old Damascus

We arrive in Damascus, and are eager to walk. Something has happened, though, and on our first walk I discover my knee is killing me. We find a pharmacy, I down some aspirin with a freshly squeezed orange juice and we carry on. I tell myself that the latest in therapy is “motion is lotion” because I don’t want to waste a minute while we are in Damascus, and with the help of the aspirin, and the distraction of the sheer beauty and treasures of Damascus, we continue walking.

In our days there, we developed a routine. Get up, eat breakfast, head out. Walk and walk and walk. Stop after a couple hours for coffee (no matter where you are, there is a coffee or tea place nearby.) Walk some more. Stop for lunch. Walk some more, head back to the hotel and get a little rest. Go out walking, find a place for dinner. Two of our days there, we met up with an old friend, and spent time in the afternoon and evening visiting with him.

Knowing how my blogging friend Kinan told us to watch for treasures, i.e. remnants of olden times incorporated into more modern structures, we were continually delighted. AdventureMan has a particularly keen eye and can spot an old hewn granite stone in the foundation, remnants of arches, remnants of old pillars – it was a treasure hunt every day.

00doldarch-in-house.jpg

00dpillarinwall.jpg

There are still some of the old mashrabiya balconies remaining, and near our hotel we also found a woodworker who specializes in mashrabiya:

00dmeshrabiyyabalcony.jpg

There are many restaurants which have been created in the old open courtyards of the old Damascus houses. This is one where we had coffee, Dar al Bandar, at the beginning (or end!) of Sharia (street) Qamariya, which will soon also open with hotel rooms. These courtyards are entirely covered over in the winter time. I think some of them can be opened, and maybe they open them in the summers, but the summers are as hot as the winters are cold, so maybe they only open them in the springs and autumns.

00dbeitalbandar.jpg

The Beit al Chami is the closest restaurant to the Talisman, and also built in a courtyard. There is another level of dining high above the courtyards, and we saw both couples and families heading up for the quieter, more private dining rooms above. This is the entrance to the Beit al Chami:

00beitchamiexterior.jpg

This is the ceiling of the Beit Chami reception hall near the entry:

00dbeitchamireceptionhallceiling.jpg

We saw people eating something we had never seen before. It looked like a mezze, but not like any mezze we knew. AdventureMan asked the waiter, and they brought us one at the end of the meal and would not let us pay for it. We ran across this kind of generousity and graciousness daily during our time in Syria. This was indeed a mezze of sorts, but a jam mezze, or dessert mezze, and you eat all these sweet things with bread. The one in the middle is a kind of thickened cream, the others were fruits and preserves and jams. Fascinating and delicious!

00djamdessert.jpg

This is a man in a little street Tabak who would only speak French to us, never Arabic. He acted like he didn’t understand Arabic. AdventureMan thinks when we finally settle back in the US, he will open a little corner Tabak like this and spend his days sitting and selling small things. (I think he is kidding.) This man would call out “bonjour!” whenever he would see us.

00dbonjour.jpg

Just a few more random shots:

00daccidentblamethevictim.jpg

00dgreen-car.jpg

00drestoration-everywhere.jpg

00dwalkingstreet.jpg

00narrowstreetsnarrowtrucks.jpg

00olddamascusstreet.jpg

And, my friends, this is just the beginning!

January 8, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Building, Community, ExPat Life, Living Conditions | , , , , | 16 Comments

Grieving for Damascus

“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”

Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:

Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.

This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.

We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.

We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.

AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)

This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.

P1020847.JPG

P1020875.JPG

A restaurant nearby the Talisman:

P1020898.JPG

Breakfast at the Talisman:

P1020907.JPG

The historical nearby Bab, or gate:

P1020909.JPG

A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:

P1020916.JPG

Streetside bakery:

P1020935.JPG

A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!

P1020937.JPG

A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:

P1020946.JPG

P1020964.JPG

P1020967.JPG

P1020973.JPG

P1020975.JPG

P1020981.JPG

Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:

P1030002.JPG

P1030018.JPG

P1030023.JPG

P1030068.JPG

P1030091.JPG

P1030099.JPG

P1030103.JPG

P1030110.JPG

P1030124.JPG

P1030132.JPG

P1030133.JPG

Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.

P1030135.JPG

Inside Naranj

P1030136.JPG

P1030137.JPG

P1030140.JPG

A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya

P1030157.JPG

P1030183.JPG

P1030184.JPG

P1030186.JPG

P1030189.JPG

A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:

P1030201.JPG

P1030209.JPG

 

I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?

For more photos of Damascus, you can visit my 2007 posts, Walking Old Damascus, by clicking here.

 

January 18, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Restaurant, Travel | , | 4 Comments

7 Spice Grocery and Grill in Mobile, AL

There is a lot to be said for advertising. As we watch the local news at night, we switch to Mobile after the Pensacola news is finished. Mobile has a town nearby called Pritchard, and we always love to hear what has happened in Pritchard – mysterious murders, drug overdoses, family incest – it’s all there, right in Pritchard.

Between stories are the Mobile ads, and some are hilarious. One, however, for 7 Spice Grocery and Grill caught my eye. They show shelves and shelves of Middle Eastern goods, and mention a restaurant, too.

Time for a field trip to Mobile!

7 Spice Grocery and Grill (FaceBook page)

3762 Airport Blvd, Mobile, AL 36608

(251) 725-1177

This is what 7 Spice looks like from the roadside:

007SpiceExterior

This is the interior. You walk all the way through the grocery, and at the back, it is like entering a Damascus restaurant. Indeed, one of the waiters was from Damascus, and the food is very Syrian
:
007SpiceInterior

The smells are divine. The smells coming from the kitchen are fresh meat being grilled, lamb, chicken, beef.

 

And we know we are at home. If you have read Walking Old Damascus, you will know we have loved traveling in Syria, and have loved Damascus for 35 – almost 40 years. Near our table is a hanging of the Roman Arch on The Street Called Straight; the last time we stayed in Damascus, at The Talisman, we stayed near this landmark, near Bab Thoma.

 


007SpiceDamascus

With every meal comes a lovely serving of addas – lentil soup. It was silky and lemony, the croutons were thin and crisp, it was so simple, so deliciously prepared:
007SpiceAddas

 

 

AdventureMan ordered the Shish Taouk, a chicken shish kabob. It came fresh and hot from the grill, crispy and irresistible:007SpiceShishTaouk

I ordered the appetizer plate; hummous, felafel, tabouli, baba ghannoush, little meat pies, stuffed grape leaves, and olives. Also a wonderful garlic aioli to dip into. AdventureMan shared some chicken with me, and I shared all these delicious tastes with him. They use a really good olive oil; it makes all the difference.
007SpiceAppetizerPlate

As we roll ourselves out of the restaurant, carrying more than enough for our evening meal, we have to walk past all the shelves in the grocery to get to our car. The prices are very reasonable and there are things I really need, like a whole bag of dried mint (have you ever tried making Middle Eastern food without dried mint? you need a LOT!) and chana dal, wonderful legumes, fig preserves, all kinds of little charcoals for braziers and big bags of henna . . .

007SpiceMarket1

 
There are wonderful Middle East restaurants also in Pensacola, but none like this. Worth a drive to Mobile to find this truly excellent restaurant on Airport Boulevard in Mobile.
 

 

007SpiceFoodShelves

February 23, 2015 Posted by | Cooking, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

I saw a mention of this book in an Amazon.com referral as a book I might like, and was almost set to order it when something said “go check the stack of books Little Diamond left for you” and sure enough, I already had the book.

51vnyNOIRqL._SS500_

I use books as an incentive to get me through life’s inevitable tasks I don’t like – like “if I finish this project on time, I get to read this book as a reward.” It works for me.

When I first started reading Marsha Mehran’s book about three Persian sisters starting up a cafe in a small Irish town after fleeing Iran, I found it sour. The author has a critical point of view, and generally speaking, I don’t like hanging around with people who criticize others and judge them harshly. At the beginning of the book, Mehran introduces a lot of people, many of whom we are not meant to like.

Even the sisters are not all that sympathetic – at the beginning. But also, near the beginning, she discusses Persian cooking, the idea of balance in a meal, hot and cold, spicy and bland, so you kind of get the idea that if there is sour, then there will also be sweet. In addition, at the end of each chapter there is a wonderful recipe, a wonderful, fairly easy-to-follow recipe, and she included one, Fesanjan, that is my all-time favorite Iranian dish and now, I know how to make it, Wooo HOOOO!

Three sisters, orphaned by fate, held together by love and duty, start a cafe, which, against all odds, becomes a raging success. Raging success does not heal all the old wounds, however, nor the hearts that bear them, and we learn through the book what the sisters have borne and overcome.

It turns out to be a sweet book, one well worth reading. And oh! the recipes! In each chapter, there are also hints that make them even better, so you can’t just copy out the recipes and use them, you really have to read the book. 🙂

It’s a pity that two of the most wonderful countries in the world – Syria and Iran – are off limits. We’ve been back to Syria, and it was everything we remembered (see the Walking Old Damascus blog entries) but oh, how we would love to explore Iran. Sigh. The world turns, and we can only hope to be able to get there in our lifetime. Stranger things have happened.

October 25, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fiction, Food, Iran, Ireland, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Poetry/Literature | Leave a comment

Business in New Orleans

Once we discovered how easy it is to go to New Orleans, even just for the day, we are hooked. When Zito’s Metal Polishing & Plating called to tell us our pieces were finished and offered to mail them (free of charge) to us, AdventureMan said “Oh no, we’ll come get them” and set the date. We invited a friend who also has some pieces that need re-tinning to be usable, and off we went.

You may think this is trivial, but for us, it is beautiful:

P1110818

 

Gas is so much cheaper in Louisiana. Of course, it takes nearly half a tank to get there, so I don’t suppose we are saving so much, LOL.  When I saw my old friends, my copper pots, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I don’t think they looked this good in Damascus, where I bought them, on The Street Called Straight. Who knows if we will ever be able to walk the streets of Damascus again?

 

P1110821

 

Zito’s was able to replace a handle on the brass piece we bought, oh so long ago, in the Khan al Khalili in Cairo.

 

These pieces are, I believe, more beautiful now than when I bought them! I had the pots re-tinned because I have used them cooking many many times over the last 35 years, but now I am afraid to use them, they are so beautiful!

 

We stayed out of the tourist areas with Mardi Gras madness in full swing, and found a fabulous Thai restaurant, La Thai, on Prytania, (voted Best Thai in New Orleans,) when our two Ethiopian restaurants were both closed. It was a wonderful happenstance; we had a great meal (scallops!) and we also were able to finish our day in New Orleans with a tour of City Park and ice cream at the Creole Creamery. Oh wow. Flavors like King Cake Ice Cream, and Red Velvet Ice Cream and 5 Spice Ginger. It was a great day.

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Mardi Gras, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cordoba, The Mezquita, and Sharing Sacred Spaces

(Yes, it is Christmas Eve, and my part of the preparations are all done. AdventureMan is cooking a duck for the family dinner tonight, the Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp is all cooked and shelled and de-veined, the Rotkohl spicing up the kitchen, the salads and side dishes ready to go. 🙂  I have time, oh, the great luxury of time, to write . . . )

When we lived in Amman, we often went to Syria. I went once with an archaeological group, visiting several sites in the bleak cold of the Syrian winter. One site I didn’t see a lot of hope for, the site of St. Simon the Stylite, a hermit who sat atop a pillar and was considered holy. In truth . . . I scoffed.

I scoffed until I reached that isolated hilltop, and saw the giant pillar, and felt how very cold it was as the icy wind blew. We were there two or three hours. I had to confront my unwillingness to believe and the fact that with every zinging atom in my body, I could feel that this was a sacred place. Saint Simon chose a weird sort of sacrificial life, but in God’s eyes, I suspect it mattered. I know visiting that site changed me, and changed my ideas about sacred spaces.

Today, I get to write about a visit to another sacred space, a space you can feel resonating from the moment you enter, the Mezquita.

*        *             *              *                *                   *                       *                    *                     *

It’s early breakfast for the Smithsonian group, and then we check our whisper guides and board our bus en route to Cordoba.

Traveling with a group is a novelty for us. It means using an alarm clock to be at scheduled breakfast and getting on a bus for a 2 hour drive. On our own, we wake when we wish – usually early, but not so early as with this group. We are not usually at a breakfast with a lot of people looking for food at the same time. We are not used to coffee makers that make one cup of coffee at a time while a 100 people line up for coffee. These are things that are not normal in our experience. We might find a local small store, pick up some water and some small snacks, and hit the road, stopping here and there to take a photo or just savor a view, have some water, soak in the fresh air. On the other hand, these bus drivers know where to go and there is no getting lost trying to find the right route out of town.

 

En route to Cordoba, most of the jet lagged Smithsonian group slept. Wide awake, I watched as acres and acres of olive groves and wind farms passed by. We saw an ancient fortification on the side of a hill that had a view to die for – 270 degrees plus of visibility.

It is raining once again as we arrive in Cordoba, but almost immediately it stops, and by the time our group has walked up the hill by the Mezquita, the sun is out and the day shows great promise. Cordoba is beautiful. Everywhere you look is some exquisite detail. Cordoba is a treat for the eyes.

 

Even the police are polite and helpful, directing tourists to where they need to go:

PoliceGiveDirectionsAtThe Mezquita

Art Nouveau bench:

CordobaArtNouveauBench

 

Flower pots on the stucco walls:

 

CordobaFlowerPots

 

Tourists coming up to The Mezquita:

P1110043

Masques in a local art shop:

 

CordobaMasks

 

Finely wrought silver filigree jewelry:

CordobaSilverJeweler

At one point, we had a choice: Do we go shopping or do we have lunch in a highly rated local place? I bet we could do both, and we opted for lunch – more on that to come. At the end of lunch, we had only ten minutes to shop and not enough time to get back to this wonderful shop. I won’t call it a regret; lunch was a wonderful experience . . . and I do love filigree, and this artisan had beautiful silver filigree . . .

CordobaSilverFiligreeEarrings

 

Ben Maimonaides, a Jewish scholar and ethicist, with wide influence. This was a continuing theme on the entire trip, that the interaction between Jew, Christian and Moslem in this period led to a great leap in ideas and artistry. The interaction was like pollination; science and the arts and mathematics and medicine bloomed.

I wonder if this is happening today, as Moslems, Jews and Christians study together in universities, to they interact and inspire one another? Is it possible that in spite of dire political headlines, under the radar, people are learning to cooperate and collaborate in the interest of a better world?

(Wikipedia: Aside from being revered by Jewish historians, Maimonides also figures very prominently in the history of Islamic and Arab sciences and is mentioned extensively in studies. Influenced by Avicenna (c. 980 – 1037), Averroes (1126–1198) and Al-Farabi (ca. 872–950/951), he in his turn influenced other prominent Arab and Muslim philosophers and scientists. He became a prominent philosopher and polymath in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds.

CordobaBenMaimonaides

Bulls everywhere, LOL

CordobaBull

An artistic courtyard

CordobaCourtyard

 

Love the little blue pots, and love the people who take care of them!

CordobaBluePot

After our walking tour of Cordoba central, we gather in the gardens while our guide goes to pick up our tickets to take us inside the Mezquita, built as a mosque, becoming a cathedral after 1492.

Did I mention we learned two major dates on this trip: 711, when Tariq crosses into Spain (Jebal Tariq . . . Gibraltar) and 1492? Americans know 1492 as the year “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two, but 1492 is the year that the Moslems were driven out of Spain, weeping at the loss of Andalusia, Al-Andalus.

When the Moslems were driven out of Cordoba, the huge, beautiful mosque, Al Mesquite, was not destroyed, but recycled, repurposed, space holy to one faith became holy to another. I love it that the original mosque, with its spectacular soaring arches and inspirational proportions, was recognized, and re-utilized. Holy space is holy space. We worship the same God. We saw the shrine to John the Baptist in the Grand Ummayad Mosque in Damascus; why should we not share holy spaces?

 

CordobaChurch

Cathedral Cordoba

This is what you see immediately upon entering the Mezquita – a gorgeous kind of meshrabiyya covering the windows, patterning the light as it enters, keeping the harsh heat out and shrinking light in star like patterns across the floor.

CordobaMezquiteMeshrabiyya

 

The interior of this mosque/cathedral takes my breath away. It was crowded with tourists, but it just swallowed them up and maintained its sacred integrity. We could wander off and still hear our guide, thanks to this whisper-technology, where we all had headphones and our guide could broadcast. This was a place where I needed to wander off and experience it on my own, but felt some responsibility not to get too far afield from the group. I didn’t want to be a pain in the neck for the guide. And I also didn’t want to be a part of the group within this structure. It’s a problem.

Just look at these spaces:

CordobaMezquiteInterior

I’ve always had a thing about light fixtures, LOL, I probably should own a lamp show except I would only stock what I like and I would have a hard time selling anything in the shop. Guess it’s just a good thing for me to admire light fixtures and not to have to manage them.

CordobaMezquiteLightFixture

The beautiful Mihrab (points you in the direction of worship in a mosque) from the original mosque:

CordobaMezquiteMihrab

The Christian altar built in a structure added to the original mosque:

CordobaAltar

With a piece depicting King Ferdinand holding a globe:

CordobaMezquiteFerdinand

CordobaMezquiteTower

 

As the tour ended, our tour guide warned us that we had only an hour and a half for lunch, so not to go to a restaurant, just find something quick, or shop, and BE BACK ON THE MEETING PLACE AT TWO!

We had seen a restaurant we wanted to try, so raced to it. We hate being rushed, and part of the fun of traveling is trying new kinds of food in new places!

 

P1110106

 

P1110099

 

SanRafael

 

P1110104

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Blogging, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

St. John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit

00umyahyahstomb

 

This entry is a totally Here There and Everywhere moment; the impetus of which is today’s reading from Luke about the birth of John the Baptist, or as he is known in the Moslem world, the Prophet Yahya. We visited his tomb in Damascus; at our church in Kuwait on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, one of the readings was from the Quran. I love it when our worlds intersect and we can discover what we can learn from one another, to the advantage of all.

I also love it that each meditation from Forward Day by Day lists at the bottom the area of the world we are to include in our daily prayers. I love praying for Nigeria. I have old friends from my Kuwait church living there, and also a neighbor from Doha, a sweet book-club friend who lived across the street, who now lives in Lagos.

When I pray for Nigeria, I see the tiny flame of the holy spirit entering into each heart, and then I see God blowing lightly on each person, so that the flame grows. The flame helps them reach out and encourage one another, and others see, and are attracted, and thus the holy spirit spreads. I imagine it covering Nigeria, all believers, seeing one another as fellow believers, not as Ibo or Christian or village or . . . you get the drill. I pray that the light spreads through all Africa, and tiny embers spread out to join, and then further, so that sparks unite all over the world.

I pray, too, for Damascus, and for Syria, and all our friends there; I think of all the wonderful adventures and times we have shared in Syria, and I know and trust with all my heart that our good and loving God can bring good out of this horror. I pray for it to happen sooner rather than to allow this suffering to endure.

. . . And that was just ONE synapse connecting early on a Monday morning, LOL. Have a great day. 🙂

 

 

MONDAY, June 24    The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-80.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”

It’s interesting to me that the name John means “God is gracious” and the meaning of the name Zechariah is “God has remembered.” Not all that different, given the content of the Song of Zechariah that he immediately launches into, but the miracle of the loosing of Zechariah’s mute tongue at that moment makes the point of the story pretty clear: going with the divine flow is the only way to go. 

Most of us don’t receive such pointed visions that show us the fork in the road—“this way, not that way”—but all of us are constantly cultivating either a disposition of “my will be done” or of “thy will be done” that will suddenly show up in those crossroads moments. It may appear like divine intervention, but it is long-term divine cultivation.

 

Living into a larger pattern is both exciting and terrifying, because it means letting go of convention and stepping into new territory. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, we do not step forward blind but with a promise: God remembers, and God is gracious.

 

PRAY for the Diocese of Oke-Osun (Ibadan, Nigeria)

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Kuwait, Lectionary Readings, Spiritual | Leave a comment