Children of a Damascene winter

It’s been a while since I last walked the streets of Damascus. I used to do it in my frequent trips to the Syrian capital. First time I arrived in that city, everything was very different. 2010 was running and nothing seemed to announce what would happen later. The city shone with the influx of many tourists, an expanding economy and a political situation with its ups and downs but relatively stable. The streets of the center bustled by day with a frenetic activity of all kinds, always flooded with people and urgent matters. At night, Damascus offered visitors delicious pleasures, suitable for all tastes and pockets. The restaurants offered an infinite collection of possibilities for stomachs with curiosity and the narguile smokers hurried the burning coals on their snuff of delicious smell without stopping a single moment, looking around in search of the next story to tell. Women walked quietly through the Hamidieh souk stalls, occupied in the search for this or that without anyone noticing if a piece of cloth covered their head. Days and nights went by easily, the same way a child plucked jasmine  flowers from its branches, tied them up with a string and sold them to the drivers so that they could hang them from their mirrors and enjoy the millennial smell of Damascus in their vehicles and in their lives for a ridiculous price.

damascus jasmine

With the advent of Spring, problems began. The stems of the new branches, even young and inexperienced, ran to touch the sun, to reach the light and its heat, but the water that nourished the sap that flowed through its veins was plagued by parasites and the clay where it rooted could barely offer any fertility. Little by little, those healthy and beautiful flowers began to rot and fall and finally abandoned their search for a better future tearing their roots from the earth that saw them being born. The water of the Euphrates began to run out and the foreign springs ended up drowning the last jasmine in the city. Instead of these flowers, other plants and shrubs, stripped of any kind of beauty but very resistant and with an amazing capacity to survive, began to grow and violently occupied many houses and fields of Syria.

Damascus, despite everything, still maintains a certain verdure in its streets, a timid stream of water still runs next to the Square of Umayyad and the Opera. As if the city were waiting numb, anesthetized by so much pain and suffering, the arrival of a new spring. Buses and taxis are still full of people running from one place to another, as if nothing had happened. A distant explosion momentarily alters this silent procession and after a few moments of uncertainty, when the fortune goddess seems to have smiled again, the raging of people through its streets is unleashed with renewed fury. Faces look at the sky, waiting for a flash or, simply, the arrival of the night and its rumblings. The nights of Damascus are now the scene of desolation, a silent melancholy that recalls the brightness of yesterday and strives to forget the present dreaming of a future far from its streets. Smokers, women and sellers of dreams have given way to fear, uncertainty, loneliness and silence that takes over the city when the sun goes down.

The Spring has not returned to Damascus, yet. A long winter fell long ago over the land of the Umayadd caliphs and since then its inhabitants only await the arrival of an autumn with the vain hope that the cold would have wiped out the weeds that have taken root strongly in the plains and mountains. Its inhabitants, tired of waiting, have reached the sea hoping to find another spring, certainly one less beautiful than the damascene but one that at least their children, the children of a damascene winter, who have only known the cold, can contemplate.

Mosque winter

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