Decided to go to Bosra to see the ancient Roman Theatre, but got to the station too late for the the 12am bus. My taxi driver didn’t help. He took the longest route possible, and was a real shady character. I had a bad feeling when his taxi pulled up – it looked even more beaten than the usual Damascas taxis. I’d been scammed like this once before in Indonesia, and for some reason I still jumped in the battered cab back then, and I did the same now. Error. His meter was running at twice the normal speed, and he still demanded I gave him an extra 100 SYP! No chance. He was initially aggressive, then pleading, and much angry gesticulating between us followed. I eventually just slammed the taxi door shut so hard it almost broke, and stormed off. Then I had to navigate the usual characters who inhabit bus stations, including one Syrian who sounded Texan: “Hey, Johnny! How ya’ doin’ man? Goin’ to Bosra? I’ll take ya!” The next bus was at 2pm. I’d be having to fend off this bloke for 2 hours. Not worth it. Why is it that the scum of any city can always be found loitering in the bus stations?
I took a taxi (a decent one this time) to the National Museum instead, which was of little interest, and mostly under renovation, then headed down a small souk, where I had a chat with Tony, a local oud maker, who was busy stringing a new oud he’d just finished. Tony had been making ouds all his life, a family business passed down from generation to generation. He was very friendly, as are almost all Syrians, and, like all Syians, he invited me to take tea with him. I decided I wanted to buy one of the ouds, but would wait until Lebanon.
I continued my wander, wandering far away where the timeless streets were buzzing with the sounds of a market hustle and bustle, tailors were sewing clothes, cobblers were repairing shoes, policemen were making a token effort to control the thunderous traffic with nonchalant waves of their batons. I wandered through a tunnel, and past a whole street of gravestone shops, then past a street which sold nothing but arguila pipes. I came across a lovely mosque, and watched the minaret as the sun began setting, bringing a chillier chill to the air. I doubled back eventually, having wandered into very unfamiliar territory, and Old Damascus was far more interesting anyway. I went back through an upmarket square, with fountains and people on bicycles whistling past. Here, the atmosphere was less chaotic, more orderly, and so Damascus is a sum of these parts – part timeless charm, chaos, and tradition and modernity (though these two do not co-exist peacefully and tend to be somewhat segregated from each other.). I needed a painting that could encapsulate that.
I bought a small painting depicting a scene from the narrow alleys of Old Damascus from a small art shop after having a good chat with the lovely female owner, then went to a fish restaurant for a delicious fried fish with hummus and fried chips with a flat local beer and 2 glasses of red wine. The place was huge, and had an elegant air to it. It seemed popular with businessmen and the well-heeled. And me. I read my book as I ate and drank, occasionally gazing out of the window into the orderly chaotic Damascus night. I then proceeded to a cobbled street I’d been to 2 nights before with Nicole, and found it buzzing with local college students, men and women, smoking their arguilas. I had a strawberry arguila and a tea on my own, and surveyed this pleasant, bohemian scene, then the bitter cold got to me and I headed back to the hotel. Damascus had been worth an extra day, but tomorrow I was intent on leaving.