INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for souq

The Temple on Lane 253: Bahrain’s Synagogue

As rumor had it, the one synagogue on the Arabian Peninsula was in Bahrain. It seemed like an easy find — a sore thumb somewhere in two mile-wide downtown Manama. Earlier in the day the address I had plucked from an online forum, “Sasa’ah street,” seemed to get vague grunts of recognition from taxi drivers: near the souq, maybe. I decided not to make the trip to the desert to see the “Tree of Life”, a large mesquite that seems to spring miraculously from arid ground; instead, buzzing and sleepy from a long, bacony brunch, I went in search of the country’s Jewish roots.

A friend dropped me at the arched gate of the Manama Souq, a mostly pedestrian criss-cross of simple stands and boutiques. I forgot my phone (GPS and all, though unlikely to be helpful) — this quest would depend entirely upon the knowledge and forthrightness of passersby and standers around.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea where I was walking. After a few blocks, the bustling lights of the central shopping district gave way to construction and inauspicious quiet. I figured I’d ask around. I didn’t know how people would feel about any past or present Jewish structures, but I was leaving the country in a few hours and I had a better shot playing honest than sneaky. I greeted two older men chatting in the street beneath the pointed dome of a beautifully ornate blue and green Shia mosque. “Do you know where the Jewish synagogue is?”

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Natural Color — لون طبيعي

The Levant: Part Eleven, the Last

The narrow streets of the old city smell like soap or raw meat or wet stone — every hundred meters shops shift in their inventory: spice markets, then tailors, then piles and piles of green and brown soaps. Shop owners dispatch their young kids to relay or fetch or give directions, but only when approached. For that composure, Aleppo is different from Fez, where display racks breathe and squeeze in from the walls, but the look is the same: always dim in the channels between old buildings, just wide enough for a pickup to honk its way past, just the same every day of the week. In these oldest of Old Cities, a dozen odd shops sell the same selection of keffiyahs — how does anyone get by?

Early morning at the Hammam Al-Nahassin, downhill from the Citadel towards (Aleppo’s) Umayyad Mosque, a few guys sit around not really waiting for customers. It was expensive by Syrian standards, but this was the place — it even had an arrow at the end of the street. Stairs lead down under an archway, revealing a vaulted wooden chamber half-underground and hidden from the world but for the one door. For $12 (or $7 at a good spot in Damascus), you can spend the day washing and lounging, commanding tea and shisha or coffee or kebabs, reclining on pillows set up in separate boxes along the wall. Another door leads from the hall to the hammam — all intricate stone and tile, infinitely steamy, letting daylight in and steam out through patterns of circular holes in domes along the ceiling. One room has metal and marble basins to fill with warm or freezing water; another blasts the hottest vapor from a pipe on the floor, mildly musky, but like armor for the lungs. In the center of the hammam on knee-high cement walls is a long tile surface that burns to touch for more than a second. My hammam mentor tapped the tile: “Lie down”.

“What’s under there?
“Fire.”

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