There’s a mysterious magic in some names and places, names like The Akhond of Swat, places like The Forbidden City, Venice, Timbuctoo or Mandalay. Sadly as the world has shrunk, and tourism has tainted so many remote places, some of the magic has melted away. It’s as though the less we know, the more romantic a place is.
Aleppo is one of those romantic places, but we’ve always known plenty about it, and it’s still a magic place. It’s so old that people were living there over seven thousand years ago. It’s seen every conqueror in history, from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Mamluks and Ottomans, and now the Assads. It’s architecture is older than the Greeks, legend has it that Abraham lived nearby with his flocks, Alexander was here in AD 333, and Saladin made it here too, among many others.
Since the sixteen century many Europeans lived here too, as Aleppo was the first city to have its own consuls, the first being the Venetian consul who built his house here in 1599. The same family have occupied it for centuries, like many other Europeans who came from places like Italy and Austria and stayed, building handsome homes, collecting exquisite works of art and historic libraries. The famous Baron’s Hotel which rivalled all the great hotels of the world hosted royalties from all over the world – mostly Europe! – travellers like Freya Stark and Patrick Leigh Fermor, statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt and Earl Mountbatten, the rich and famous like the Rockefellers and Charles Lindbergh, Agatha Christie and many more. The great Citadel has stood defiant for centuries, the Souk is the longest in the world at nearly 13 kilometers, while all around are ancient ruins, Roman and Greek, Crusader, and Assyrian.
And now – like Babylon, where US troops dug tank trenches, and wiped out ancient Sumerian cities; like Kabul, where the museum with relics from Alexander’s visit was obliterated by Russian and Taliban fighters; like the Bamiyan Buddhas, bombed by the Taliban; like Bayreuth, once called the most beautiful city in the world, destroyed in civil war – this treasure, which is not just part of the heritage of the Middle East, but is the heritage of humanity, is also being destroyed. Both people and history are being shown no mercy.
The famous Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled by the troops of Assad, an Assyrian temple has been destroyed, and battles have been fought among the famed “dead cities,” the Graeco-Roman cities long abandoned, but preserved in the dry heat of the desert. When the rebels take refuge behind the thick walls of ancient castles, Syrian troops haven’t hesitated to destroy these historic monuments in order to kill their countrymen hiding behind them.
Queen Zenobia’s legendary city of Palmyra is surrounded by Syrian troops, camped in the castle above the city, and there’s a tank park in the Valley of Tombs. It’s even rumoured that trenches have been dug in the Roman city. All these places, like the places devastated in Iraq, have nurtured many cultures for millenniums, from Sumerian and Byzantine to Christian and Moslem. And desperate men are destroying this heritage. Places of beauty, symbolism and significance for mankind are once again being devastated, as was much of Europe in World War Two, and the previously untouched historic cities like Sarajevo and Dubrovnik in later conflicts.
Africa is also our heritage, the cradle of the human race, that mysterious continent which hosts so many magnificent creatures seen nowhere else on the planet. And the native people who live there today are part of the delicate balance between man and nature, that unlike westerners, they have managed to preserve where they are left in peace. But here too, the ancient, misty culture of mankind, and the existence of the unique creatures who share this world with us, is threatened. Not by war here, but by heartless pleasure seeking. The Masai who inhabit the Serengeti in Tanzania, are facing eviction so that rich oil millionaires, kings and princes from the Gulf can hunt and shoot the wild life there.
The Arctic and Antarctic are also the common heritage of us all. And they too are being despoiled by the oil rush, by tourism, by global warming and power struggles. Our planet is so small now that we are all affected by whatever happens. Recently on TV, Professor Brian Cox, the famous physicist, picked up a huge diamond, and told his astonished audience that we are all so connected that when he rubs the diamond, it affects the stars in space. So we are certainly all affected by all these events happening in our small world. We Are all one, as the mystics have always asserted.
What can we do to make a difference? Thanks to souldipper.wordpress.com pointing me to Scilla Elworthy’s video on TED, I know that there are many people working to end conflict in all its forms. And the best way? Start with ourselves… which means that though we may hate what’s happening, we can’t hate the people involved – because they all think they’re doing the right thing just like you and me!
And you can help the Masai by Googling Avaaz.org Stop the Serengeti Sell-off.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
An inpromptu little gathering for drinks with a few friends meant rustling up something to soak up the wine, so they would n’t, in the words of a funny article I read, have to drive drunkenly home through country lanes. A dish of olives, and some chicken pate and crackers were the usual nibbles, but I decided instead of doing something with salmon that I’d make a sardine pate. Quick and easy. Two tins of sardines, four tablespoons of cream cheese, some squeezed lemon, salt and pepper, and lots of finely chopped parsley. No need to bother with a mixer – which I don’t have – it mashes into a lovely smooth spread/dip- call it what you will. With thin slices of artisan olive bread left over from lunch, it was a hit, and cheap withal.
Food for Thought
Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is only of interest to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees. E.F. Schumacher. 1911 – 1977 Economist and writer of ‘Small is Beautiful ‘.