I only spent one night in Damascus, my main mission was to get up to Aleppo, 5 hours to the north, and try to find an Oud. An oud is an Arabic guitar, but without frets, so it is both more difficult and more interesting to play. I have wanted one for awhile, and I had heard of a famous Oud maker called Ibrahim Sukar, based in Aleppo.
Check out this Youtube clip for an awesome demo of the sound:
So I got on the bus. Aleppo was amazing, first, a little intro of some of the curious things to a western eye:
There are a lot of churches in Aleppo, with a large Armenian population. At the point I took this photo, I was trying to find my way back to the hotel, I thought I’d cracked it when I saw the church, then I looked up: no massive mosque meant to be there! Turned out I was about 5 ks away. Thank god I had enough money left for a taxi!
What really struck me about Aleppo was the mish-mash of the old and the new, even more so than Damascus. While Damascus tries to look old (its souk was actually rebuilt relatively recently), Aleppo is old.
Centuries old tumbling down, smog stained buildings right next to busy modern streets, electric lights and advertising. Oh, and satellite dishes on the roofs of course!
So often I was struck by classic scenes like this. A bedouin man at an oasis? I wonder if he’ll visit Syrian Modern Cables megastore after his rest. Stuff like that is so cool, because it reminds you that we are living in the present, and its complex, and it is so intimately linked with the past that you cant separate the two! As an archaeologist Im used to putting the past in a little box, and neatly dividing it from the present. But Im not so sure if I’ll be able to do that anymore…
That night i stayed at a posh hotel, called Beit Wakil (Wakil’s House). I asked the manager to find me the address of Ibrahim Sukar’s oud shop, and he irritatedly made a few calls and found it for me. He acted like something like that was below him! Beautiful place, but I think I preferred the Al-Rabie in Damascus. It was more dilapidated, sure, but when things are too clean and neat they feel forced, controlled, and sterile.
For me at least! Give me a bit of ramshackle any day.
But the restaurant at Wakil was AWESOME. I had a cherry kebab, famous Aleppan cuisine, and it was amazing. A glass (okay two) of the local white wine was an almost perfect complement, and they had an Oud player on a podium in the middle of the stone courtyard!
And what do you know, but the irritated manager comes up to me and says that it turns out that ‘his oud’, the one being played in the restaurant, was also made by Ibrahim Sukar! Thats right buddy, I know my stuff 🙂
Next Post: exploring the massive citadel, and wandering the alleys of the old old town of Aleppo.