Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Eating in Damascus

The light was shining through my glass at Narinj restaurant in Damascus old town. I emptied it quickly of the mediocre Lebanese wine filling it. It's hard to find wine in predominantly Muslim countries so you "takes what you gets". I would describe myself as "wine starved" after a couple of weeks.
Not that I'm an alcoholic but I do enjoy wine with my dinners. Years ago traveling with my brother-in-law in the former Yugoslavia, he turned to me at dinner where we were choking down yet another mediocre glass of swill and announced he was never traveling again to a destination where the wine was no good! He had hit bottom as far as the level of travel hardship he was willing to endure:)

We ordered a table full of small plates - all delicious. The restaurant is beautifully appointed and the service was lovely. At the end of the meal, they present you with the above complimentary platter of sweets. It would easily feed ten people.

As we were still a bit road dusty, we felt a bit out of place when a large Russian delegation - all suited and tied - showed up to enjoy a meal. All around us, people were smoking "Hubbly Bubbly" or Hookah pipes. All the rage in the middle east, young and old seem to really enjoy it. You can order the water pipe in different flavors and we even saw Europeans, who had brought along their own pipes, enjoying a smoke. All over the place, "no smoking" signs are posted - even in the restaurants who offer Hubbly Bubbly, which is just about all of them.

"No Smoking" has a different meaning in Syria, as does "We do not accept dollars" as does "no" anything. This might mean that something is discouraged but then again, maybe it means that if you offer the right person a little something, everything changes. The greased palm is King here. Our driver  managed to park in the most outrageous places by "tipping" the police in charge. Instead of remembering to feed the parking meter, in Damascus, you "feed" the policeman. On one occasion, we over-stayed our bribed policemans' shift and when we returned to our ticketed car, we had to hunt down the new guy on duty and grease him with his share. Even traffic lights seem to be subject to personal interpretation.

We simply could not have navigated our way around without our driver/guide. The culture is so different that most Americans are simply stymied by the jelly-like rules, bending every which way. Eventually, of course, you'd catch on, but don't try it on a short vacation!!

1 comment:

  1. i just finished reading "Neither Here Nor There" by Bill Bryson and his travels through Europe. If you haven't read it, I'll bring it to the book club for you. After some of your posts on your recent and past travels, I think you'll love it.