Sunday, July 22, 2007

Who?


On the subject of non-controversial posters seen around Damascus, I bring you...well, YOU.

I saw this on a side-street near Sahet Arnus. It makes (slightly) more sense when you can see the shop itself. Apparently, this business will put a picture of you (who else?) inside of a crystal block.

From the 5-o'clock shadow to the delicate placement of the model's (or, more likely, the shopowner's brother-in-law or something's) hands, there is nothing not to love about this bizarre advertisement.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Creative Syria's Creative Forum

Click here to go to Creative Syria's new topic for discussion: If you had the choice, what would you change in Syria?

My contribution to the discussion is below. Feel free to comment here, but keep in mind that leaving your comments on Creative Syria's page will offer more of a contribution to the discussion as a whole.


In my opinion, the most essential change that needs to be made right now is that Syria needs to stop making changes – in one area, at least: the arrival of Western fast-food chains.

If you had told me two years ago that there would be a KFC in Damascus by now, I wouldn’t have believed you. Sure, we had Hesburger (jokingly called “Hezbollah Burger” by us and our friends…probably in bad taste) out in the Dummar suburb. It was never clear to us why this Finnish burger chain was allowed in the country and all the American varieties weren’t. The Hesburger manager’s explanation was that any company with Jewish investors was not allowed to set up shop in Syria. Whether his explanation is accurate, I’ve never been able to find out. In any case, that’s certainly not the reason I think these businesses should continue to be blocked from entering the country.

Rather, Syria should remain fast-food-free because to do otherwise would go against the nature of its attraction. Damascus is billed as being the oldest continually inhabited city in the entire world. The genuine quality of its ancient streets, souqs, and culture is almost palpable. In my opinion, a slough of garish chain restaurants would only cheapen this atmosphere without providing enough benefits in return.

It’s true that these kinds of businesses often provide stable, well paying jobs, often for women. And American fast-food restaurants may very well give a boost to the economy and increase the perceived convenience factor for foreign tourists.

But the first two benefits can be achieved through other means, and the third may actually deter as many travelers as it attracts. Certainly, more traditional Syrian restaurants (and other types of businesses) can – and should - offer positions to women. And the kind of traveler who comes to Syria for a purposeful, independent visit is likely not one who also appreciates the effect of golden arches over a narrow, ancient alley.

Where else in the world today is there such a place without a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, or Pizza Hut to destroy its enchanting atmosphere? Granted, I know there are other countries 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 with toilet paper and hand soap? Not very, in my opinion.

Some may counter that the introduction of Western fast-food establishments to Syria would usher the country into the 21st century – finally. To this I say: I hope Syria never enters the 21st century in certain respects. A more modern approach to cumbersome bureaucracy and high-speed internet would be welcome, of course. But holding on to the values of past generations means that the corner grocery store, an emphasis on strong family ties, and an extremely safe community are traditions that are still alive and thriving.

Syria doesn’t even need these kinds of restaurants. Why does a country that is already home to fabulous eateries like Elissar, Beit Wakil, and the Parfait even need a McDonald’s, Burger King, or Hardee’s? Besides, the introduction of the authentic Western restaurants would make rip-offs like “Pizza Hot” and “Popay’s” redundant.

Perhaps I’m just being selfish. I will admit that in many ways, I want Syria to remain the same charming place it was when I lived there. Yes, there were moments (especially when I was pregnant) when I wanted more than anything else to be able to order something ultimately familiar, something like chicken nuggets or a vegetarian pizza topped with fresh mushrooms, real American mozzarella cheese, and sterile, generic olives out of a can. But these moments passed and in the end, I was left with a profound sense of appreciation for the capital city that Damascus is, not what it could be.

If they must come – and I realize that eventually, they probably will – at least let them try to fit in with the aura of the city. Villa Moda recently opened a branch in Damascus – in the Old City, no less. But the designers of the boutique were careful to make the shop an integral part of its surroundings, not an eyesore.

So go ahead: open up more jobs for women, more businesses to drive the economy, and free up some of the state controls. But don’t use American fast-food restaurants to accomplish these things – they’ll stab you in the back every time.