Dream of: 14 December 1995 "Il Habia Gloire En Damascus"
I was in Damascus, sitting at a table in the lobby of a large hotel. The building (constructed from ponderous gray rocks) seemed old, but well-maintained. In front of me lay a pad of paper on which I was writing a letter. I was working on my third paragraph, was almost to the bottom of the page and was just about to close. I could write more. but I had other people to whom I also needed to write. I especially thought when I finished writing this letter, I also needed to write one tomy good Dallas friend Eloise.
The letter I was writing was to my old girlfriend Carolyn (who also in my mind seemed somewhat like Vickie, another old girlfriend). In the letter I recounted the story of why I had come to Damascus and what I had been doing while I had been there.
I had only arrived in Damascus the previous day, flying in on a jet plane. I had come to help in a car-smuggling ring to drive a car to the east. Cars could be bought cheaply in Damascus and sold at high prices in the east. It was against the law, however, to do so.
I had met with a short dark-haired man in charge of the operation. He had four or five cars and had solicited drivers for all – I being one of the drivers. We had all driven the cars to the east of the country, left them at the appointed location, then returned to our hotel in Damascus. The black-haired man had paid for everything, including my plane fare, and had paid me some extra money for my efforts.
As I thought back over what I had done, I thought how similar this episode had been to the one in 1978, when I had driven a car from Munich, Germany to Tehran,Iran. That little episode had ended in disaster, with my finally being arrested and spending almost eight months in prison in Tabriz, Iran. The thought that this adventure could possibly end the same way gave me chills. Nevertheless, I thought this time I was going to be able to pull it off; I was glad I had come.
When I noticed that the black-haired man had walked into the lobby, I quickly gathered my things together and walked over to him. About 30 years old, he had always been quite friendly toward me. This time, however, I detected a more distant air. After pleasantries, I asked him about when he might need my services again. He seemed reluctant to tell me whether he would be able to use me again; finally he said he wouldn't be conducting a similar operation for six months. That surprised me; I thought he made the trips monthly, if not weekly.
He excused himself, adding that he would contact me when he needed me. After he left, I had the distinct impression that he didn't intend to hire me anymore. I couldn't figure out why – I had done a good job. I was disappointed.
I subsequently found myself sitting in a vacant lot in Damascus. I had been walking around for a while, carrying two small satchels, and I had stopped to rest. I was confused about what I should do next. I had seen practically nothing of Damascus, yet I felt as if it was already time to leave. I planned to travel overland to Turkey and then on to Greece, where I would spend some time. I would later return to Damascus to fly out.
I didn't feel comfortable in Damascus because I didn't know the language. I thought Arabic was spoken there, and I didn't know a word. Of course I figured many people probably spoke English.
I was also concerned about whether I would have any trouble leaving Damascus. I certainly didn't want to be charged with car smuggling. The authorities might think it was suspicious that I had only been in Damascus for one day. What would I tell them? I could tell them I had been visiting someone I knew, but that might not be a good idea because the authorities might check out my story and discover that I was lying. I could tell them I had won the trip, and now I was leaving to see some other places; that story also didn't sound believable.
I was also concerned that the authorities might see the old stamps from Iran in my passport. My Iranian trip had been a long time ago, but it was still in the passport. I hoped I wouldn't have to try to explain that.
If I went out of the country now, I would have to return again later, because my plane ticket was for a flight out of Damascus. So I would have to face the authorities more than once.
At the moment my most pressing problem was to simply get off the street. I needed to find a hotel; the best place would be to go near the airport. Two yellow Volkswagen-bug taxis were parked at a taxi stand on the other side of the street. I figured that I could go over there and get one, but then I was surprised to realize something else: I was actually sitting on the bed of a light truck which was a taxi. The back window of the truck was slid open, and I could see the driver inside. I scooted up to the window and said, "Do you speak English?"
From his response I inferred he knew a few words of English; I asked him to take me to a hotel at the airport. At least he should be able to understand the words "hotel" and "airport" and put them together. He indicated that he could do that and I started to pick up my two bags so I could sit up front. Before I could do anything, however, he started up the truck and we pulled out. I hadn't wanted to be chauffeured around in the back of a pick-up truck, but we were already moving, so I just sat back and accepted it.
As we rolled along, I reflected how little I had seen of Damascus – practically nothing. I would have liked to have had more time to explore the city. Perhaps when I got settled into the hotel I could still go out that evening.
All at once I heard a voice speaking in English, telling me to look to the side of the road. As the voice continued describing the sight before me, I realized the taxi driver had turned on a tape machine which had a recorded tour spoken in English. Apparently he used the machine to sometimes give tours, or to amuse English speaking passengers such as myself.I listened to the voice and looked out to the side of the road. The voice said what I was seeing was an ancient man-made lake. The lake now had no water in it, and indeed I could see the small pale blue tiles which made up the floor of the lake. I was also surprised to see many broken statues scattered about the floor of the lake. Mostly I saw large stone heads, perhaps half a meter in diameter. The scene reminded me of a poem I had once read, about a broken statue in the desert, and the inscription proclaiming how grand the person of the statue was.
It was a moving scene. Now all around me, I could feel the power that once must have been there. I saw many statues, all broken, yet all still magnificent and powerful. One in particular caught my attention. It was probably five meters tall and showed a woman dressed in a toga, looking down at the ground, while on her shoulder she carried a boy perhaps ten years old. It was extraordinary.
Obviously there was much to see in Damascus. I tried to think of whether I knew of any famous people who had come from Damascus. I couldn't recall any, but clearly there was much history under the ruins, and the ancient power was still palpable.
As I had been viewing the sights, my thoughts had tended also to drift into other languages. Mixing Spanish and French, and looking at the magnificent ruins around me, I thought, "Il habia gloire en Damascus."
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