In some ways Damascus is Hotel California. the is this core of people who just can never leave. On the other hand people are going all the time and I’ve been to more leaving parties than I can shake a stick at.
Some of the language students hear baffle me. they come with no Arabic, stay 5, maybe 6, weeks and spend a month at the university, then leave with better no Arabic. The Fixer tells me to stop trying to figure them out and just accept the ‘Language Tourists,’ don’t actually want to learn Arabic, just feel good about themselves in Syria.
They are extremely well organised sight sears. The Hotel California lot, including me*, are crap. Bukra my friend, bukra. However the Language Tourists are always keen to organize some Hotel Califiorniks onto there trips. The longer you stay the more desirable you become, as the better your Arabic is, though you also become harder to recruit, having seen more of the sights. As the language tourists are keen hammamers and eaters out I intend to know a couple at all times.
Which is kinda how I found myself going to Mauola, rather than learning some new words. My flat mate Frency, who I really like, is in Syria to get spatial distance between her and her broken heart until time kicks in, asked me if I wanted to join her.
Maoulas claim to fame is being one of three places where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken. clinging to the rocky hills, it’s predominantly Christian. The sights are a monastery and a convent. Maybe its the imminent birthday of our lord, but Mauola was pretty happening, with lots people, Christians and Muslims, at the sanctuarys. Somehow it kinda felt like Switzerland, though the skylines dominated by a huge, precariously positioned statue of the virgin Mary and what looks like a copy of the statue of Christ at Rio.
As far as I’m concerned the point of Mauola is the landscape. All limestone, with lots of little, formerly inhabited caves, some with long decrepit ladders up to them. it had a rather cool canyon leading down to the convent. the guidebook describes it as a mini version of Petras siq, but I thought it was more like St Catherines, (a cave we did in Clare) except with less water and no roof, obviously. The whole countryside was pink rock and the houses clung to the sides of the cliffs in an appealing way. Frency and I got excited about the various textures and enjoyed the cool, crisp air. you don’t notice smog until it goes away. It actually felt like autumn, for pretty much the first time.
The monastery is dedicated to Sts Serge and Baccus, and didn’t have a single doorway sized for normal people. it did have a really beautiful domed thing with lovely icons in perfect coulors over an alter adorned with a pair of eco friendly light bulbs. one assumes the monks find them lower maintenance than candles.
I particularly enjoyed the gift shop, not only was it staffed by someone desperate to get us to try the wine (very sweet) but it sold some of the kitschest Santa Clauses and snowmen I’ve seen this side of a coke advert.
The convents gift shop limits itself to reproductions of its icons, but it does have a cave, the home of st Thalika (who abandoned her fiance for St Paul. she was sentenced to death but the lions wouldn’t eat her, so they tried to burn her but it pissed it down. she ran off, moved into a cave in Maloula, was nearly raped but was saved when the rock behind her opened up to create the canyon). its much later than the monastery, and generally not as good.
We made it back to town in time for a beer at Abu Georges before I went off to meet R. basically Maula rocks the socks of Sedanya.