Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 14: Exploring Damascus on Our Own

Because of the excellent tour yesterday and a pretty good map of the city, we felt comfortable setting out on our own. Our first stop was the scarf shop, The Silk Road, in the handicraft market we had visited briefly yesterday. We were charmed by the young fellow selling such beautiful fabrics and demonstrating his weaving skills on an old Jacquard loom for which he had more than 150 key-card patterns. We looked through his gorgeous selection of scarves and decided that we were going to incorporate more style and pizzazz into our pretty conventional attires by wrapping beautifully soft and vibrantly colored pieces of cloth around our necks. We ended up buying some beauties. And then we set off toward the Old City.

On our way we found that walking across busy streets can be quite a challenge. While there are traffic lights and even some pedestrian crossing lights and way more traffic cops swinging batons than you would see in most countries, the traffic is chaotic. We developed a strategy: we position ourselves behind or next to two or more people crossing the busy street and stay behind them, without looking at the oncoming traffic, until we reach the other side. It seems to work. We are still alive to tell the tale.

The Christian Quarter was our destination. We had both found it so calm and quieting yesterday and wanted to have a little taste of it again. What we hadn’t realized that being Sunday many of the shops were shuttered. But it really didn’t matter. We found the Hotel Talisman where Sam Barnes and our dear friend Rivka stayed on their trip last fall. We wish we could have stayed in the Jewish or Christian quarters of the old city but Katherine’s work here didn’t allow us that choice. We had lunch, wandered around at a leisurely pace, poking our heads into deserted ateliers, and ultimately headed back to our hotel, feeling quite proud of ourselves for negotiating the crowds, the traffic, and a new city.

We ate dinner at a fish restaurant called Al Yam, close to the hotel. It was splendid. Four of us started out with the usual hummus, eggplant dip, fattoush, pickles, and the rest. But then the show began. Silvia chose our fish: a beautiful large red snapper.
It was whisked to the kitchen, cooked encrusted in salt, and returned to the table for our inspection. We applauded.
I followed the crew into the kitchen and watched as the chef broke the crust with the side of his knife, gradually revealing the beautiful fish underneath.
The fish, without its salt robe, was presented to our table and again whisked away to be deboned.
The taste of the fish was so subtle and fresh, with just a touch of tahini with lemon and herbs and a lovely rice pilaf. The staff was justifiably proud and we were delighted.

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