Visiting the Gone-but-Not-Forgotten Syria
Pavia making friends over semolina ice cream at Bekdach in Damascus. (All photos by Pavia Rosati)
We continue our exploration of the world’s forbidden places with Fathom founder Pavia Rosati’s remembrance of Syria.
When people find out I run a travel website, the first question I’m asked is, “what’s the best place you’ve ever been?” The real answer is “Syria,” but it’s not a response I’m always comfortable giving.
The country I was amazed by was already problematic when I saw it in June 2009. Today, the country is a disaster. Two men were crucified in Syria last month. The jihadists tweeted the photos.
Sarin gas, mass slaughter. The headlines are stupefying; the injustice unfathomable. I won’t pretend to have the political understanding of what’s really going on — and I’m disheartened that the world’s best political minds don’t seem to know what to do. Civil war rages on. The crisis only escalates.
Still, as hard as it is to imagine, eventually the war will end and the country will rebuild and, yes, recover. If nothing else, the passage of time will guarantee it. But the Syria I experienced is gone forever.
The grand mosque in Damascus.
And who knows how long it will be before people can travel to Syria as tourists. I visited with my husband Ben and my best friend Julie. We were in the Middle East visiting Julie’s family in Beirut and wanted a side trip to another country. The original plan was Jordan, until a Cambridge professor friend who knows the region suggested we would prefer Syria. Julie’s Lebanese cousins and my Middle East expert pal Lee Smith were more cautious about us visiting a country run by a regime that was already so oppressive. They agreed it would be an experience, but their warnings gave us pause: “You’ll be followed wherever you go.” “Tourists disappear in Syria, to say nothing for journalists.”
On sale in the souk in Damascus.