Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Welcome (back) to Sham

Damascus received a bit of a makeover while we were gone. Specifically, they took some ugly areas of town, removed them, and replaced them with small parks.

One of these areas was the Souq Saroujah (?) near the Old City. To tell the truth, this Souq was always a mystery to me. It had the highest “unsightly hell-hole” to “proximity-to-major-tourist-destination” ratio that I’ve ever seen. Although it was technically a souq, it was not one of those charming bazaars full of atmosphere you would hope to find so near the Old City. Instead, it was a filthy, abrasive market where the vendors overcharged you for bananas.

The other place where we noticed an improvement was our very own Sheikh Saad. First, they took down the derelict wall near the traffic circle so that the small park there is visible from the street. Also, the mosque is finally complete. They put in a median with trees and some off-street parking (!). Finally, they removed the “tire district,” as we used to call it (it was actually a group of car repair garages), and put grass and trees in its place.

Whoever was in charge of making that particular decision deserves a medal. The tire district was a blight on Sheikh Saad – those car repair shops attracted large groups of leering shabaab, were the source of annoying sudden loud noises, and took up all of the sidewalk and half the street so pedestrians were forced to walk in traffic.

The only other big changes I noticed were that there is, in fact, a KFC in Damascus. I had heard this before, but I refused to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. I sincerely hope that other fast food chains do not follow. Where else in the world today is there such a large city – nay, an entire country – without a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, or Pizza Hut to destroy its enchanting atmosphere? OK, I know there are other places without American fast food, but that is just one of the things that makes Damascus so unique and authentic. Because how foreign can a country really be when you can still biggie-size a burger and fries, or be sure of a clean public restroom? Not very, in my opinion.

Also, Amideast is closed. I have no idea of the story behind that one, but it makes me sad.

Otherwise, Damascus seems to be much as it ever was. And that is a wonderful thing.


Suzanne Bubnash said...

Those are huge changes. And it looks like they actually repaired ankle-breaking potholes in the sidewalk. I wouldn't miss the tire district except that as a visitor its unique hideousness alerted me that I must be close to home. That ugly souk just didn't belong in this great city so good thing it's gone. Where do suppose the funds for these sudden civic improvements are coming from? Granny

yaser said...

hi bridget,
i wish you a nice stay here in damascus ,and you have taken really nice pics ,i like the first picture in particular ,it seems you will be enjoying a nice outlook from now on..:)

Nancy said...

I'm so glad you got to go back to Damascus finally...last year was kind of a bummer deal.

I'm no fan of a Big Mac, but I do happen to enjoy the clean restrooms. And free toilet paper. Maybe we could get a McDonald's without the food...

Anonymous said...

It had the highest “unsightly hell-hole” to “proximity-to-major-tourist-destination” ratio that I’ve ever seen.



Anonymous said...

My Name is ADIB,
What amazing story, I am Syrian man and I am so glad for your filing for my country, especially Damascus thank you for the nice word, I hope you and other from USA injoj your trip next time,
wish you and your family the best

from Damascus

Bridget said...

Mom, the tire district was not worth its status as a landmark.

Thank you, Yasr and Adib. We were also so happy to be back.

Nancy, a McDonald's without food is a novel idea. Maybe you should work on that.

Alex, that phrase popped into my head the moment I saw the place. It was inspiration :).

adiamondinsunlight said...

the sad thing about Saroujah is that the area has quite a posh history, as one of the first out-of-the-old-city areas to which the elite bourgeois and old families moved in the 1920s-30s.

On the other hand, its fate is better than that of Qanawat, which was eviscerated by lower Thawra and Quwwatli highway!

Anonymous said...

That was a heckuva insta sentence!

Not bad... Blondie.