Al Midan

“Jdo, jdo… where are you?” Mariam called her grandpa and ran down the stairs of the beyt al 3arabi in a heartbeat to embrace him.

The sunrays of our Damascene sacred sun shed their warmth into our traditional Arabic house in the historic neighbourhood of Al Midan. The fountain sprang its water amidst the petals of roses. Jdo sat on a chair, on the very right side of the fountain. He’d love to hear the sound of the water springing and falling in the rhythm of the Syrian love poems written by the one and only Nizar Al Kabbani, one of the most famous Syrian poets ever - the poet of love.

As soon as jdo hears my footsteps on the stairs, he stands up to welcome and hug me tightly. I play with his moustache and start jumping and dancing around. Then stop and hug each of my 6 uncles.

"Very soon the entire house will be up and we shall have breakfast, all together. Fuul, and labneh, tisyye and traditional pies, and a selection of our exquisite Damascene peach and rose jams." I do remember the taste of our cuisine in Al Midan and ... gosh, I am hungry!

JDO Al Midani

Once you grow up in such a beautiful and heavenly warm environment, it becomes part of your being. It is as if a sun has been hidden in one of the valves of your heart, spreading only rays of love and tenderness.

Al Midan  (Arabic:غواص‎‎ ميدان) - See the map here

So old and beautiful a neighbourhood! I flee my jdo's arms to explore the narrow alleys surrounding our beyt al 3arabi. I must explore it.

Stepping on each of your stone, I hence connect to your commencement. Moreover, I get a glimpse of how they built You, the first neighbourhood outside the old city of Damascus.
The first public debates of Damascus taking place here come to my mind. A square which was to become one of the most traditionalist, nevertheless rich in heritage neighborhoods. I feel the vibrations of history. I look around and watch the horse races organized here. The Damascene wild free spirit invades my veins and I feel it, inside ...right over here.

My passion for el flamenco must have been conveyed to me from Your very heart, the utmost conservative neighborhood of Damascus. And yet the loving and tolerant family resides here. Scholars and "walking encyclopedias" were born in Al Midan. And so was my father. This is where his passion and fire stem from.

As I open my arms, I make the flamenco movement of sending all my love. If only I could step in the neighbourhood for a few more minutes. Upon closing my arms in the rhythm of my heartbeat, I seize the moment. I feel You with every single move that I make.

"Jdo, look at the mountains of sweets, look! I want it all. Alllllllll!" Gosh, they look so fine! Simply delicious. I  don't even know which one of these mountains I would love to indulge: the baklava, the mabrume, the barazek. Just stick my head into them. "Jdi, look at the mountains of pickles, too." Endless mountains of traditional Damascene gourmet sweets. Your heart is so sweet, Al Midan! Deliciously exquisitely sweet. And your sweetness is acknowledged worldwide. On each side of the alley, the aligned shops are up to the ceiling abundant in goodies, to my right, to the left, all along Al Jizmatiya Street.

"Habibti, we shall have some after dinner. Tell me now which one is your favourite."
"Jdi, you know I like the mabroume."

1004-DSWEETS-DISPATCHES-SYRIA-PASTRY-RAMADAN

Your famous and unique cuisine, your authentic shawarma. By God, I ate the famous one, you know which one, from the very heart of al Midan in Istanbul,  last year in December 2016. I photographed it. Yeees, I did!  And I am so proud of it. But most importantly, I am so blissful. My brain has preserved its taste so that it lingers as much as possible.

"Mom, I think your la7me bissiniye is to die for." [1]

"Thanks, draga mea."[2] Your are kind. Yet "the" la7me bissiniye is the one I ate in your grandpa's workshop years ago, that's the authentic one."

Exit the space of  this exquisite Damascene cuisine

"You know when I was young," my uncle tells me," our house was so abundant in jasmine that I'd sweep it with a broom. You would wake up to its smell and go to bed caressed by its whiteness and purity." My God, that vibrant jasmine! The fragrance of Damascus.

   Le Parfum of the City of Jasmine invading my DNA

My mother tells me she misses those nights when the entire family would meet, chat and listen to old Arabic music:
Shadia, Oum Kalthoum or Fairouz till morning and that my funniest uncle would peel for her the fruits she favoured.

It's holy Friday. We hear the ezan from the Umayyad Mosque, only 4 kilometres away, rising in the sky. As soon as Jdo has performed Salat al Jum3a  - The Holy Friday Prayer we go on with our promenade. We walk towards his workshop on Straight Street. Jdo is a craftsman, he creates handmade sieves, especially for export. All his craftsmen colleagues are sitting on small traditional vintage chairs playing backgammon.

Damascus - the Umayyad Mosque _Damascene Rose Blog
I am too little to know or even grasp the significance of this street and yet I feel its positive and loving vibrations. It is so spiritual a place. After all, the Straight Street is the only street mentioned by its name in the Holy Bible.

Wandering alleys, paved with heritage, history and tradition. We walk back to our neighbourhood. Each stone we step upon, dates to a very long time ago - from the Mamluk rule till 400 years ago, during the Ottoman Empire when it took it's final form, supposedly.

We are just south of the old walled city and yet so very near the modern city centre. The neighbourhood is surrounded by the Umayyad Mosque, the Christian neighbourhood and the Jewish one. No wonder this utmost outstanding family is so tolerant despite being so traditionalist a family.

"You are lucky to have so genuine roots", my friend from Jordan tells me.

"Thank you", I reply.

Not only was he a skilful craftsman, but he was also a wise man to always walk his way home from work, every single day of his life. Also, his joie de vivre and the passionate fire in his heart must have kept him alive until the age of 95.

"Hear me now: Wallah[3]I shall have your daughter to be my wife. I am not leaving without her", he threatened and couldn't leave the love he bore in his heart unspoken, not anymore.

His passion that dates long back ago. Throughout history, the people of this neighbourhood have fiercely fought alongside their brothers from other neighbourhoods to protect Damascus from the foreign occupation.

May Allah bless You and the entire regions around you, now, forever and always!

My father's heart started beating right here

Al Midan Ghawass

Photo Credit: (first & third picture - Damascene Rose & second picture - Damascus)

[1] Meat cooked plainly in the oven with tomatoes and onion.
[2] Darling in Romanian.
[3] By God in Arabic.

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