maandag 13 december 2010

Syrian Backgrounds

This contribution to the weblog has been written as a report at the end of the year 2010 on personal and family matters. We are happy to communicate that we had a rather quiet year. There were some physical inconveniences: Paule broke her right arm during the heavy snow of January-February but it is now Ok again. Irene, wife of Stijn, fell in September in The Hague, while getting into a tram rail. This was a very serious injury because the knee was broken at several weak points. She was operated and bound to her house and her bed for nearly two months and is now recovering slowly. With the baby Sophie in the house this was quite difficult sometimes and we went more often than before The Hague. It brought us also closer to the first granddaughter.
Our activities were as before: Karel taught frequently for the Senior Academy of Eindhoven en Doetinchem, sometimes for his former faculty and for various occasions. Fredrik Doeka was in our house for two months between 24 August August and late October. We do hope that his thesis on Moses in Indonesian Muslim and Christian Discourse can be defended in 2011.
We made shorter and two longer trips. One longer trip was to the United States in June. From 26 November-5 December 2010 we travelled for ten days in Syria. Here we show you the two of us against a Syrian background. We first stayed two nights in Damascus and then drove a small Hyundai to Palmyra, Aleppo, Hama to return for three more days in Damascus, a twon of 7 million people )ten times as much as in 1970!'
Damascus and Aleppo have been cities for more than 3000 years. This is most visible in the great Ummayad Mosque of Damascus: once it was a temple for the Fenician deity Haddad, for the Roman Jupiter, the Greek Zeus, for Jesus and Mary as a Byzantine Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist and now a mosque that still has the grave of Yahya ibn Zakarya or John the Baptist in its major prayer hall. Above we see Pauline in this mosque, neatly dressed up with facilities for tourists, that also must be used for Syrian female visitors who wear trausors. Below we see her in the Straight Street (Shara' Mustaqim in a French-style restaurant.

On day 3 we wenht to Palmyra, entering the Syrian Desert. We took some rest at Baghdad Café. This is also the road between the Mediterranean and Irak.

Day 4 we continued the trip to the world of Crusaders and their mediaeval opponents. In the most beautiful hall in the Krak des Chevaliers Paule was illuminated by fina rays of light.

Day 5 was for Aleppo. We visited first a large number of Christian churches, all somewhat different: Marronites from libanon, Greek-Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, Evangelical, Chaldaean. We will not elaborate about these differences, but found it quite spectacular to find so many large communities in the major cities of Syria, as well as in some small towns in the Anti-Libanon mountains where the monasteries are built high in the mountains.

On day 6 we visited the site of the pillar of the Saint Simeon who managed to live there for some 40 years. It was surrounded by 4 cathedrals, now nice ruins. The second part of the day was for Maraat Nu'man where we enjoyed a kebab and the street scenery before we visited the wonderful museum of Roman and Christian mosaics. Paule loved the company of the high school youth of Idlib, a town nearby.

That night we stayed in Hama, Bait al Mashriq or Orient House, a nice hotel in traditional style, full with ornaments. It was not as beautiful as the nbice hotel Bayt Zamaria of Aleppo, but both were in that nice yellow ´Jerusalem stone´. Day 7 was first for Seydnaya, at 1700 metre high a small town with 23 churches, one mosque and a great monastery devoted to saint Thecla. According to the legend she was a virgin in the year 250 or so, attacked by a Roman officer. But then the mountain above the place showed a rift where Thecla could hide and save her virginity and faith. Now it is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike. We see here Paule amongst the pilgrims and Karel in the rift, imitating the old Roman officer.

Day 8 was again in Damascus, where we visited the National Museum but also the Qasr al Azemi, the palace of the Ottoman governor.

On day 9, extra time in Damascus we first made the pilgrimage to the tomb of Ibn al Arabi, the great mystic who lived at the same time as Meister Eckhart. It is a modest but lovely place, uphill Damascus.
Much more spectacular even was the tomb of Saida Zaynab, a huge Shi'ite sanctuary in the southern suburbs of Damascus, full with emotions, gold, blue tiles and crying people. Like in the Ummayad mosque (with the head of Hussayn) and at Ruqaya's tomb, and seeing Shi'ite people moving, walking, singing and hurting themselves in Damascus, here we realized how emotional and democratic Shi'ite devotion is.

Day 10 was devoted to a short visit to the great University (quite disappointing), the Sinan mosque (used to be the Army Museum, but quite nice) and the return back to Holland.

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