Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two memoirs from Syria (1997)

Thirteen years ago I spent three days in an Armanian mountain village Kasab, just on the other side of the Syrian-Turkish border.

It was Hafız Esad’s reign and I was shocked when I saw former Armenian President Levon Ter Petrosyan's big B&W portrait was on the wall of the village Mukhtar’s house which was also a home pension where I was staying.
Besides there were no Hafız Esad’s portraits in the house (hard to believe)

People were nice to me.
These Armenian fellows did not want to delve into political subjects.
Instead they told me the name of the flower at their back:
Moustache of the Admiral!

Being a doctor, I visited the local health clinic. Although he gets a very little salary, (even compared to mine) the Doctor with the spectacles was very content and happy with his life.
The health service was free.

When Mukhtar mentioned about a Turk who settled in the village and opened a restaurant, I decided to pay him a visit.
Uncle Mehmet was from Adana. After stabbing a man, he escaped to Syria before the military coup in 1980. Since then he was living in Kasab, opened a nice restaurant named Kilikya(Cilicia,
ancient name for his hometown Adana) selling kebaps, arak and nargileh.

Despite being an untalkative guy, he insisted that I eat in his restaurant every evening with his family and elegant wife. (chicken wings grill)

One night, while I was sipping arak after the dinner, he sat on my table, ordered a Turkish coffe for himself and started to talk.
He talked about his pigeons. 
It was interesting for me to listen him because he was the first man  interested in pigeons I met so far. 
He seemed a bit sentimental to me, as he told me that when he let them fly, his pigeons were going over Yayladağ in his homeland, where its impossible for him to visit.

It touched me to see a tough guy like him, getting emotional talking about his homeland.
On those days I was reading a newly published novel of Amin Maalouf,

'Les échelles du Levant' (Turkish title was Ports of East ).

It was about a family departing from homeland in this very same region:
Immigrating from Adana to Syria and Lebanon.
I wrote a note in the book and gave it as a present to his son Ahmet (The one in the brown jacket) when leaving Kassab, but don’t think he read it yet.

Once engaged in the sentimental issues, I want to tell you about another incident that touched me in the same trip:
On a hot Summer day, I had just returned from swimming in Shat Al Azrak (Cote d'azur de Cham), the beach of Latakia.

While walking back to the hotel from the bus station, in the bazaar, a small old man in his old grey suit and black tie; shopping bag in hand came towards me and asked where I was from.

I replied without interrupting my walk.
After a small chat in his broken English-French, he suddenley asked if I wanted to come to his house which, he said, is very nearby.

Now the proposal was so strange, yet inappropriate that at first I did not understand what he was talking about.
Then I saw that he wanted this so desperately and was not insisting. I accepted his invitation to see what will happen.
We walked for a while through the small streets, went into and old apartment building, and climbed up to the second floor.
Since his wifes death he was living in this same flat that he shared with his wife, alone.
The furniture was old and covered with dust.
We entered the living room.
I sat on the old, red velvet couch.
He asked if I wanted to drink something.
I asked for some cold water.
The kitchen that we went together to get the water, gave the impression that it was designed by a woman's hand, but had not been touched for a long time.
After taking a glass of water, we returned to the living room, sat wordless for a while.
The old man seemed very sad.
After a small talk I stood up to leave
“Won’t you sit some more?” he asked
“I’m tired, I need to rest” I said
At the
door of the apartment, gathering all his courage he asked what I was doing at night.
“I have plans!” I replied and left, leaving him hearthbroken in the empty flat.

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