04 June 2008


It's 99 degrees centigrade in Latakia, or at least that's what the coffee vending machine says. It could be referring to the temperature of the coffee, but as it's alternating with the date and time, it seems unlikely. Then again, so does 99 centigrade.

Latakia is distinctly different from Damascus. There are many fewer women wearing the chador, and comparatively few even wearing the headscarf. Many, perhaps most, are wearing short sleeve or sleeveless blouses.

It's worth noting that many women in Syria don't wear the chador, but wear a long, knee-length or below, coat. But whether coat or chador, it's only an outer wrapping, and a glance down at the ankles (a good way to avoid making inappropriate eye contact) often reveals blue jeans or dress slacks, and stylish shoes.

My friend tells me there is something of a religious revival in Syria these days. A great number of mosques have been built in recent years, and more are going up. Another person I met today said all the shops I see along the streets are new (although to the western eye prepared with the framing of teeming third world streets, they look as if they've always been there), and that until about 10 years ago you could only buy clothing in government shops, with, apparently, the standard socialist sense of style. And, of course, Syria is technically a secular country. So I wonder if I am seeing a return to chador, rather than the uninterrupted continuation of a tradition. My friend is concerned about the growing religiosity, and I share that. Hopefully Syria does not become Saudi Arabia.

Secularism is clearly here at work in Latakia, however. In addition to the prevalence of western-clad women, I am sitting in a three story internet cafe, where so far I have heard no Arabic music, but have heard such western classics as Hotel California, the James Bond theme, the theme from Dr. Zhivago, and the theme from For a Few Dollars More, and the theme from, I believe, Pale Rider.

To top it off, a previous user of this computer was viewing some hard-core gay porn sites. The government of Syria isn't that secular, and homosexuality is frowned upon. But either the sites aren't required to be blocked, or nobody is enforcing the ban vigorously, because this is the second time I have noticed that on a computer I've accessed. In keeping with Syria's short period of control by France, vive le queers.

gay porn


Anonymous said...

oh my. gay porn. how scandalous.

But it sounded like the trip out went well, and the folk have been consistently friendly.

As someone who has stumbled around in a strange land I can appreciate the adventure. I hope you have some photographs.


James K said...

Question: Do you still have all your skin? If so, the 99 Celsius is definitely referring to the coffee.

The increase in religiosity may be a reaction to socialism. If atheism = socialism in the minds of the people than every bad association with socialist government becomes an argument for a return to faith.

The halo effect strikes again.

James Hanley said...

Except that the government is still fairly popular--I think. My friend went to some musical performance, and when President Assad arrived everyone stood and applauded. He said he looked around to see if they meant it, or if it was "save your skin" applause, and said it looked real.

Yet two people I've talked to were distinctly less than enthusiastic about him, not that they'd say so directly. "Let's just say, not every president is good," said one store owner in the souk, who being both delightfully capitalistic and devoutly religious, may have at least two reasons to dislike the government--so he, perhaps, provides support for your hypothesis.

James K said...

I guess the test would be: is there a negative correlation between government support and religiosity?