I've just returned to Dimashq from Bosra, the site of a beautiful, and mostly intact, Roman amphiteater seating up to 15,000 people. The old city, which still has about 1500 people living in it, has numerous Roman columns still standing, the remains of an ancient church cum mosque, and a ruined cathedral that still has part of a picture of angels and whatnot painted on plaster. There is a reservoir on the top of the hill, and down in the old city there were baths, which you can still see, that had hot and cold running water.
If you make it to Bosra, ask for Ahmed Maqdad to guide you around. He's a 25 year old guy who's been guiding there since he was 8, and has worked with some of the Italian archeaological teams. He knows his stuff, and is a very nice and generous guy (he bought me dinner!). He says houses in the old city are selling for 20,000,000 Syrian pounds (around USD 400,000), which is a considerable increase just in the last few years. Based on our further discussion, the price increase is being driven by the government, which is willing to purchase the old houses so it can tear them down, then use the basalt stone blocks from which they are built to rebuild portions of the old city. (I would guess that some of the blocks came from there originally anyway, as people pulled from the rubble of old building to build new houses.) Ahmed will also sell you what he claims are genuine antiquities that he's found throughout the ruins; coins, figurines from the Roman era, Byzantine crosses, etc. He claims it's legal, but I'm somewhat dubious, although as he says, similar items are for sale openly in the souk in Damascus. But even if it's legal to take them out of Syria, I'm not entirely certain about the legality of bringing them into the U.S.
Back in Dimashq (Damascus), I had lunch with Maher, who said that he's noticed that fewer women are covered up than before. He's hopeful that the religious fervor that stimulated the building of so many mosques is waning. I have to hope he's right.
Last night I turned on the TV in my hotel room, and stumbled across the beginning of the Dutch-Italian European Cup game. Having married into a Dutch family, I have become a fan of the Orange. Their 3-nil victory was a huge win for Holland--maybe their biggest win in decades. (And the fact that they were clearly offsides on their first goal doesn't matter--they solidly outplayed the Italians, and would have won 2-nil if that goal had been nullified.) I'm sure my wife and father-in-law are quite happy today.
This is my last post from Damascus, as I am about to grab a taxi and head to the Airport, where I will spend the next 29 hours traveling (about 8 of that just sitting in airports waiting to transfer). It will be good to be home. As much fun as I've had, it will be nice to get back to a place where there are few car horns, where I can see grass and lay down on it, where I can have peanut butter, and, perhaps my strangest craving, where I can get some good Thai food.