Aleppo burns–the souk where we have wandered many an afternoon; the Sisi House where we have dined on the most delectable food in the hemisphere; the Kala’a in whose bowels we have been awed and made small; but most of all the people of Aleppo, their joie de vivre, their open hands and hearts, their urbane melancholy.
I have visited Aleppo half a dozen times at least, and would declare without hesitation that it is one of the most fetching of all Middle Eastern cities, its competitor of note being Isfahan–not Beirut, nor Jerusalem. I have reached it from Beirut in a cab or from Amman on a night bus which used to leave Amman at 6:30 pm and arrive 12 hours later, at dawn, when Aleppo would be waking up. And every time I have left Aleppo, invariably after a satisfying stay, I have repeated the words of my grandfather, Hagop, who too loved Aleppo and visited it as often as he could, words which roughly translate this way: I ate your bread, I drank your water, may you stay shen, Haleb.
A city burns–breaks the heart, mutes the words. Here are some photos from old postings, and from my files of many years ago. I don’t think of Haleb as a particularly photogenic city, perhaps because of the absence of water, like Isfahan or Istanbul or even Jerusalem which is relatively far from the Mediterranean but receives its breeze and sunlight. Haleb’s beauties are hidden, invisible almost, like inchoate memories that sear themselves deep in one’s consciousness and stay there. So, these photos do no justice to Aleppo (and I am not an accomplished photographer), but they take away some of the heartbreak of its burning.
Here–when Haleb was shen, beautiful; when her open hands and generous chest welcomed us all, time and time again, took us in, made us feel that we had arrived at a temporary home.