Friday, May 22, 2009

A Minty Brush with Fame

I'm home at last.  Return flight was considerably less comfortable than the one over.  Squeezed into the central section of row 37 and surrounded by infants, I sat in my non-massaging seat, and ate non grass-fed animals with a bendy plastic knife.  With enormous ankles and a plastic cup of orange juice (reconstituted), my eyes welled at the memories of how I used to travel. With two out of three flights delayed, it was 27.5 hours from hotel to home.  And now I can't sleep.

Nonetheless, it's wonderful to be home, and able to blog with impunity.  Many thanks to my friend, that fearless defender of free speech nerdonsafari for making sure the world got to hear about Syria's toilets and falafels.

So.  The last week in Syria was lovely, and a much-needed rest after four weeks in the village.

The first few days were spent in Aleppo, mostly eating, but also sleeping, thinking about eating, and drinking.  It was the last of these activities that found us at the Aleppo citadel on our last day in the city.  Two friends and I were sitting at a cafe enjoying a "lemon with mint."  This sensibly-named treat is made with lemon and mint - a wonderfully lurid green drink that is intensely lemony and tart, but with a minty sweetness.

Anyway, were sitting there in silence slurping our drinks and enjoying the serenity.  After nearly five weeks we had nothing polite to say to each other, and we knew that the first person to speak would have the mint between their teeth pointed out by the other two.

So as we were sitting there, we noticed a bit of a crowd starting to build up.  One of my friends broke the silence to remind us of DFAT's travel advice:

 You should avoid all large gatherings and demonstrations as they may turn violent.

“You have mint between your teeth,” I replied.  My other friend made the discreet “scratchy scratchy” motion on her front teeth with her index finger.

Suddenly there was a commotion along the road beside our cafe.  Some police cars passed, then a series of Mercedes with darkened windows, then a bewildered local in a battered old truck full of tomatoes, then more Mercedes and police.  Towards the back of the convoy a heavier looking Mercedes with even darker windows drove past slowly enough that a dozen black-suited bodyguards were able to run alongside without breaking a sweat and upsetting their intense coolness.

We were curious, but not as curious as we were thirsty, so we maintained one eye on proceedings, and one on our lovely lemon with mint.  By now the cafe was flanked with police (of both the secret and blindingly obvious kinds) who were forming a barricade between the growing crowd and the path to the citadel.  It was an impenetrable barrier that was breached only by the confused tomato seller in his vintage Hyundai.

After a couple of minutes I started to grow anxious - my drink was nearly finished, and all the waiters were distracted by the spectacle.  I looked at my friends and could see rising panic in their eyes too.

Suddenly, to our right, the crowd erupted.  Fists were punched in the air, and a loud rhythmic chant was taken up by the swelling crowd of young men.  I have no idea what they were saying, but I didn’t pick up the word “benadora”, so they obviously weren’t saluting the tomato seller.  I considered standing up to see what was going on, but it was a very hot day, and I still had some lemon and mint left, and I was quite tired from walking around shopping all morning, so it was an easy choice to remain seated.

As the chanting and air-punching reached fever-pitch, we could finally see a line of suits ascending the ramp to the citadel.  One of the men was flanked with the bodyguards (who, despite their running, had neither a hair nor wiggly ear-wire out of place).  Through the crowd I caught a glimpse of a profile that was familiar from posters, car-stickers and key-rings throughout the country.  Yup, it was the president.  Now we finally stood up.  This was more exciting than the time I saw Billy Connolly in the Bourke Street Mall.

Halfway up the ramp the president turned and waved at us.  (Actually, it may have been at the crowd, rather than specifically at the three of us.)  We waved back, and he turned and disappeared with his entourage into the citadel.  The crowd dispersed as quickly as it had formed, and the waiters got back to the important business of dispensing lemon with mint.

No strife at all.  So much for travel advice.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! It's good to have you back!

    And that's even more exciting than when I saw the Queen in London - she did not incorporate any local produce producers into her entourage.


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