Friday, September 22, 2006

Beware the toot shami

On my first day in Damascus, after purchasing cell phone and beginning the search for a place to live, I set off in quest of the juice of the toot shami. I knew where to find it. I had tasted it once, on a whim, during a brief earlier visit to Syria, and I still remembered its natural sweetness.

I made my way through the long, covered Souq al-Hamadiyeh, the one with bullet holes in the roof from celebrations past, which today provide ambient lighting in the form of hundreds of tiny shafts of sunlight cascading upon the heads of the throngs ambling through the cavernous reaches; under the Roman arches with the Corinthian capitals, salvaged from the pagan temple by later civilizations, where, facing the Umayyad Mosque, and opposite the merchants of the Qur’an and the Hadith, are the juice vendors. In summer, they specialize in toot shami – literally, Syrian berry; in English, mulberry. I bought a glass, chilled with shaved ice, and gulped it down right there. An American friend later warned me that toot shami juice can be a Westerner’s demise. I should have paid closer attention.

In the days subsequent, I returned to the toot shami vendors by the mosque, and encountering others in my daily rounds about the city, I sampled widely the array of toot shami juice the city has to offer. All was well, until I drank one glass of bad toot shami. Maybe the berries had been sitting too long in the sun. Maybe they had just gone bad. Toot shami season is very nearly over. Some say it’s already past. Whichever, I landed on all fours in my version of the Syrian prison.


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Blogger Lady Narrator said...

Thank you for this! It made my heart melt to remember all those places you mentioned (being a Syrian American myself and in love with toot shami since childhood).

2:19 AM  

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