Doin' the Pigeon in Syria

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

On the rooftops of Aleppo morning whistles and the cooing of pigeons marks the start of a new day. Keeping pigeons is not for everyone, but it is popular in the rooftops of Syria, something they share with Bert of Bert & Ernie Fame, Sesame Street Style. Like Ray Charles shook his tail feather and did the Mashed Potato with the Blues Brothers, Bert sings and dances Doin' the Pigeon:

Every time I feel alone
And slightly blue
That's when I begin to think
It's what I'd like to start to do

And though it may not be the kind of thing
That's quite your cup of tea
I recommend you pay attention
To the little dance you're gonna see

Doin' the (coo, coo) pigeon
Doin' the (coo, coo) pigeon
Dancing a little smidgeon of
The kind of ballet
Sweeps me away

Above in the blue morning sky, the pigeons dance. Are they dancing to the tune of the whistles below? Or are they flying to their own rhythm? Corrugated aluminum shop doors open upwards as the souks or markets come alive with people, slowly, with the rising sun.

After listening and watching the pigeons on the roof, my day began by walking to the fresh juice stall on Yarmouk Street, a short walk from the Zahert al-Rabih Hotel. From there, I walked through the covered souks, invited for tea to the carpet shops and such.

To the north of the souks was the Umayyad Mosque, the mosque dates to the 8th century when the Umayyad caliphate ruled a large percentage of the world, from Spain to Pakistan. The Umayyads were once Arab nomads turned city dwellers of the Sunni Muslim sect. The sun warmed the tiles in the large courtyard, almost empty, as it wasn't time for prayers.

In the shade around the courtyard was a line of chairs near the entryway, with old men with prayer beads sitting in them. I sat down, as there were many empty seats and was soon joined by three blind men, who used their canes and hands to feel their way into a chair. After greetings, they moved me over gently so they could sit together and talk. To my right, a man gave an elder a coin for a recitation of the Koran, which he sang beautifully.

Aleppo was a good town for walking, one of the oldest cities in the world, and full of mosques, khans, souks, street food, and more. Lately, the city, with help from German friends, has been rehabilitating the old cities, to revitalize the neighborhoods and preserve the cultural heritage. This work and effort was apparent almost everywhere, including at the citadel, in the heart of it all.

One big change for me was that there were other foreign visitors in large numbers around the town; I talked with a few of them along the way as well as in the hotel.

An example of dinner at a local restaurant with no English was a salad of parsley, lettuce, tomato, and lemon; fresh hot peppers, slightly sweet and spicy, called fulful; hummous with olive oil; shish kebabs; kebe assir--a minced lamb with cracked wheat; pide bread; roasted tomatoes and onions; and a salty ayran yogurt drink. As I didn't know Arabic, a local who spoke French helped me order, French being one of the old colonial tongues.

All in all, I stayed in Aleppo three days, visiting different places each day, though almost always traveling through a souk or a khan full of shopkeepers, souks being the markets and khans being the caravanserai-cum-warehouses in the back alleys. In the end, I visited the Aleppo National Museum, to get a better picture of the historic sights that lay ahead.

Doin' the (coo, coo) pigeon
Doin' the (coo, coo) pigeon
Doin' the (coo, coo) pigeon everyday
People may smile, but
I don't mind!
They'll never understand
The kind of fun I find.
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