Now when I hear the word cocktail what comes to my mind is a drink in which the bartender skilfully brings different components together to create a new concoction. The word had a different meaning in Aleppo. You could get a normal cocktail, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, in fancy bars in the city but they were not as good as what we thought of as real cocktails.
For most people in a Muslim-majority country like Syria, Friday is a day of rest. Shops and cafes mostly close until the afternoon when Friday prayers are over and then business builds only slowly towards the evening rush. For many young Aleppians, it was meant to be a lazy morning. For me, an Armenian, I had to wake up early to go to school. But Friday mornings will always make me think of three things: a breakfast of the best ful in the world, delicious Syrian sweets – Shuebiyat or Zlebyeh — and drinking coffee by Aleppo’s citadel.
Balcony in al-Aziziyeh district decorated for Christmas and New Year's
Aleppo Lights, Tony Tahhan 2010
Aleppo Souq at Mawlid
Copyright 2005, Frederik Questier and Yanna Van Wesemael Photo album generated by album from Dave's MarginalHacks
Today falls between two important birthdays for Syrians.
Yesterday was Eid ul-Mawlid an-Nabawi – Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. There is no consensus among religious scholars about the permissibility of observing it, or indeed about which specific day it is, but it is often celebrated across the Islamic World on the 12th day of the third month of the lunar Hijri Calendar. Most Aleppian Muslims celebrate the day with passion. The Souq, now burned, used to be decorated with small, often green, banners bearing prayers and praise for the prophet. Mawlids – sufi chanting sessions – are held in mosques and other public and private places. At homes, people make and eat traditional desserts. My mum cooks mamouniyyeh, and my father would send me or one of my brothers to buy sheybiyat, sweet pastry stuffed with walnuts or pistachio.
"Computer accessories shop, al-Jamiliye" photo by eSyria.sy
"Falafel" - Photo by Raduan (Flickr)
"DVD Shop in al-Jamiliye" Photo byThe-Syrian
"A historical building, Iskenderun Street, al-Jamiliye" by Vito Press
We often think of cities as their streets and buildings but they are also a collection of journeys. These can be the daily commute or a trip to a market, journeys so routine, so automatic that we barely register them. But when you leave a city and cannot return, those urban trails take on a deeper significance; the stops along the way take on an importance in your memory that they lacked before.
Before the conflict in Syria, on any busy street in Aleppo on a Friday morning you would see a long queue in front of one small shop. Everyone in the line, including children, would be carrying a big bowl and would be waiting to take home fool, the traditional breakfast of choice for the people of Aleppo.
Europe owes much to cities like Aleppo. We owe the city for being a storehouse of classical knowledge when much of it disappeared from Europe. We owe it the Old Testament of the King James Bible, thought to be substantially drawn from the Aleppo Codex, a Jewish text that spent eight centuries in the city. On a more mundane level, we all owe something to Aleppo for a product we use every day: soap.
Image 1: Pillowcase with the Syrian Eagle and the eight-edged star
Armenians, like other minorities in Syria, have contributedto and been influenced by Syrian culture, symbols and history. After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, several hundred thousand Armenians deported from Turkey adopted Syria as their new home. Shortly afterwards, in September1918, the last Ottoman troops left Syria and Faisal Bin Hussain from the Hashemite dynasty became its king. The French mandate ended the independent kingdom of Syria on 24 July 1920. For 26 years, the Syrians struggled to gain their full independence and finally on 17 April 1946, the Syrian Republic emerged. During the early years of independence, a handmade pillowcase was found in Aleppo where the unknown Armenian artist interestingly combined two symbols, one Syrian and one Armenian. As shown in the image (1) below, the finely crafted needlework shows an eagle – the Syrian independence emblem – circled by flowers. Below the eagle, in Arabic script, the artist wrote Al-Jumhuriye al-Suriye, the Syrian Republic. Given the time this piece was made, this is a clear indication of a celebration of independence.