Today has been a good day. I woke at 9am, and bought a tub of hummus and 10 lira’s worth of hot, freshly made bread. After a cup of tea and my breakfast salad, I began writing. This was good news, as the last few days, I’ve been working very, very slowly on the rewrite of a story. Two days of work had produced two A4 pages. Yesterday, I had begun the morning with an argument with my friend, Tim, who was sleeping on my couch for the night, and this disrupted my writing consciousness somewhat. I’m not proud of mentioning this, as I suspect these technical work habits are fairly low-level writing wisdom: I would like to move beyond my morning control habits, if I could, and be calm until the time to write arrives.
Anyway, today the writing became to come smoother, and I wrote out six pages by 1pm, taking breaks to think and wonder about the overall quality of the story. It is an ambitious, longish short story, and it’s slow paced, especially in the opening scenes. I may have to re-write it again, even though I like the current structure; I suppose I should pray for patient readers. I coaxed my energy levels all through the morning, and tricked myself back to the desk when my writing appetite was starting to wane. I told myself to reach a particular point in the story, and by 1pm, I had reached it.
I had not put down my pen long when a friend called my name. One of my best friends in the city – Thomas, a mid-Atlantic American – came up to my room and we talked. A month or so after meeting, Thomas speculated that he and I had gone in different directions (moral and geographical) only to reach the same place; before he converted to Greek Orthodoxy, we even had the same first name. However, I doubt that he has much to learn from me, whereas I’m learning a vast amount from him. We talked about many things (if I say “we talked about suffering”, it will sound ridiculous), then he left for his own house.
I nestled into my bed and picked up Hourani’s “History of the Arab Peoples”. I’m attempting to read this five hundred page book in a week, and today I reached an very evocative section, describing the layout of a “typical” Arab city of the thirteenth or so century. Courtyards, warehouses, hammams and the court rooms of the qadis… After thirty pages or so, I wandered out into the Old City in search of some fruit, and the descriptions from the book seemed, like the after-image of a candle, to be lying over my perceptions of the narrow lanes and shouting children. None of the fruit sellers near me were open, so I walked to the north side of the Old City, by the river, to a man who sells boxes of fruits and vegetables in a nook of a street. However, he too was out of water melons. I saw a boy standing by a huge, Victorian-esque fruit juicing machine, and I asked him how much a cup of pomegranate juice cost. Twenty five lira, he replied, and began slicing and squeezing out juice into a glass cup. Each two halves of a fruit produced a really tiny amount of liquid, and a friend of his helped hold down the base of the machine with every pull of its arm. When the cup was two thirds full, I cried, “Ok, enough!”, but they kept going. When it was four fifths full, I cried, “Ok, Ok, I don’t want…” but they refused to stop. The full cup was incredibly sweet for natural fruit juice, and I stood by the river, under the setting sun, and tried to preserve my dream of the old city – despite the vast collections of detritus and litter clogging up the nearly dried up river.
I paid the two boys fifty lira, because they were so hopeful and so amateur (usually I am a bitter haggler), and this produced vast smiles and thank yous. I walked home along the north wall of the old city.
I have two hours left to read, then I am heading for an evening on the mountain overlooking Damascus with two friends. They are both remarkable people. D is an American from a Christian college in Texas, and is quiet, constantly good natured, open minded, and probably one of the most handsome men currently resident in Syria. R is a very thoughtful, serious and moderate Syrian Muslim who doesn’t wear the hijab. She somehow taught herself perfect English without ever leaving Syria or attending a private school – she shrugs when other Syrians demand her secret: “Just listen to CDs”…
Hopefully this good day will last until I sleep.