If you start to wander into the Souq al Hamidiyeh, actually even as you approach the entrance to this grand souq you will see people wandering along relishing luscious icecreams in a cone or in a bowl, all smothered in toasted pistasios.
Wandering further into the souq, you notice more happy lickers...first on the right you pass an icecreamery, almosrt empty, still people coming along laiden...hmmm? Further along another newer and flasher icecreamery on the left- completely empty...where could they be coming from?
This is Damascus, keep strolling and all will be revealed, almost to the end of the souq now a crowd is slowly, casually milling around a doorway. What could it be? Something of great charm by the feeling of the crowd, as you slide in closer, all is revealed, this is the souce of those ice confections.
I think the sign over the door said 1895, although I am not sure my eyes were on the action, peaceful, pleasant but quite unceasing. Fit and energetic young men scooping up icecreams into cones or bowls and dispensing them as fast as they could be delivered, in the heat here no time for waiting around. Further into the vast room, full of tables full of expectant customers where a whole contingent of fit young waiters, rushing [by Syrian standards, anyway] with huge trays laiden with icecream or the less often requested but equalling delicious milk puddings. I do take research very seriously, so have had to make several visits to be sure of the lay of the land here. Once you are ensconsed at your table you have time to catch a waiter's eye and make your order then look around, noticing you passed on your way a bank of what would seem to be huge mortars with energetic young men using the largest pestle I have ever seen, at least 3 or 4 feet tall, to pound the base ingredients for the icecreams.
Wonderful sight, I arrived yeaterday, spotting an empty table made a dive for, then took stock of the room- it was full of men and boys. In Morocco when I have invaded the men's preserve of the cafe there is usually a slight silence as they digest this incursion of the female sex, never any unwanted advances just a slight silence an indrawn breath as they digest the novelty of it.
Here there was no reaction, so I had not realised in my dive I was the sole female in sight...but of course it was not long after Friday prayers and the males of the family were enjoying this treat on their way home.
The next table had one gentleman sitting at it, waiting for his icecream whan 3 ladies all covered in black, faces open came in looked around and spotted this relatively empty table. Staight up to him they went, and quite directly he had his marching orders, there were a group a ladies and they did not want to share with men, but he could...so off he could go!
I caught one of the ladie's eye as she settled her mother and friend down and shared a lovely smirk, don't for one minute think that just because a lady wears head coveriengs and and great black tent she is in anyway diminished, no man could have stood up to her, in her firm and direct way!
Some other friends joined them and the overflow shared my table- we were all sisters after all; I learned they were from Iraq and making their way to Mecca on the Haj.
I experienced the same excitment from these ladies as I experince in India meeting people on pilgramige. An excitment to be on the road and a real appreciation of the specialness of the occasion. They are blessed [by which ever God] to be able to join this pilgramige, this holiday, this festival.
I travel a lot, lurk around airports going here or there...so many holiday makers, so many people going somewhere special, but often in the west they seem more jaded, more put upon with the experience rather than relishing it. Why is it so hard to be full of expectation and excitement for an adventure? What is it so hard about feeling gratitude for the opportuniy? Whether it is the Gods who brought it about or one's own hard work and good luck, a little feeling of thanks enhances the whole experience.
I learnt a lot from those ladies and really loved the inclusive smirk when Madam had sorted out the gentleman and moved him on, good manners on his part, especially as she was on Haj meant he needed to comply, but he decided to do so politey and gracefully.
Great experince, a little richness of my day and now off for the next one....
Thankful I am to be so lucky!!