Monday, April 14, 2008


I had a low key birthday, I made some vanilla cake and watched "death-defying acts" with Zeta Jones while knitting a sweater for Alexa. This weekend I went up to the northern Kurdish region of Syria for a three day weekend and saw some amazing sights. This area is called "the island" as it is bounded on all sides by major rivers, the Tigris, Euphrates, and Khabur. To the left is the Tigris. It is part of the fertile crescent that extends up from Iraq and is very green and flat and consists of Qamishli, Hassaka, and Deir Az-zour. That is until you reach the Turkish border at the Tigris where huge mountains jut up out of nowhere. Below are some kids playing in the Tigris with Turkey just a stone's throw away, no guards or border agents, I could have just swam across. There are remains of an old Roman bridge there that I paid some Kurdish guys to take me out to, and then they got in trouble by the secret police because they hadn't registered me at the main police station. Of course they didn't know they were supposed to, but after a few cups of tea and small bribes we were on our way again.

The most unique part of the landscape is the utter flatness of green mud/dirt fields broken only by intermittent tells that rise out of the ground marking where an ancient city once stood. I visited tell Barak, where TE Lawrence and Agatha Christie met when she was writing "Murder on the Orient Express". Archaeologically there isn't much there, as their building materials were made of only mud bricks mixed with straw (see below). Mud mud mud everywhere. What a place. The modern houses are still made of mud bricks and have a unique slightly domed mud roof that I haven't seen in any other part of Syria. You see a lot of oil rigs across the landscape, but the locals don't see any of thier profit, as it is probably the poorest part of Syria. There were very few pictures of Al-Assad and most of the people I talked to seem to wish they were part of Turkey instead of Syria. They were a really friendly people though, and I even learned a few Kurdish phrases "chawai"!

I made my way down to Hassaka, a predominantly Christian city by small minibuses and to my dismay most of it is of the newer, ugly Syrian-Soviet style construction excepting a bunch of sparkling new Churches. Many Syrian Christians have relatives in the US or Canada that send over loads of money to finance the building of fancy new churches and country homes. Then I went down to Deir Ez-zour which is right on the Euphrates and saw some of the ruins around there. Mari and Dar Europus were the highlights, two really important cities back in the day, but all that's left are crumbling mounds of clay bricks and broken pottery. I was scouring the ground continually for relics and found a few cool partial glass vases. It's my new hobby. To the left is a castle built by nur ed-din, destroyed by the mongols. Below is the Euphrates river at Dar Europos, a place founded by Alexander the Great, the place they found the only Jewish synogogue ever with frescos.

My favorite comment of the trip was from one guy I was talking to from Ad-deir who told me in his thick, thick beduin accent that the dialect of the people from up in Qamashli was "tageela chiteer" (very heavy), which is like a Scotsman saying an Irish accent is thick.

Now I'm back back in the groove in Damascus, hanging out with friends and studying less and less. I've gotten into a romance-movie kick, probably because I miss my family. I'm slowly picking up all the things I want to buy before I leave, some traditional artistic ceramic tiles, some decorative elaborate wooden cookie molds, about 8 pairs of Syrian shoes (they are cheap and awesome), some calligraphy art, textiles, tableclothes, lung cancer, etc. If anybody wants me to bring them anything, now is the time to tell me, including lung cancer.

Below is the monthly Alexa shot - these are her modeling pics. She was "discovered" by an agency the other day in a park in Lima. I don't like the pics very much personally, but fair, blue eyed babies are apparently a rarity in Peru and can fetch quite a price.

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