Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ramadan, on American soil

On Monday night, I attended an extravagant dinner affair, on the occasion of Ramadan, at the residence of the American ambassador in Damascus. The residence, which has been unoccupied since the United States recalled its ambassador from Syria a year and a half ago, is the envy of the diplomatic community here. It is a stately two-story residence with sprawling grounds, including a swimming pool, in the center of a city where virtually everyone lives in apartment buildings.

The party was attended by diplomats, journalists, Syrian doctors, lawyers and businessmen, as well as members of Damascus’ Jewish community. The spread of food was somewhat obscene, occupying one of the larger rooms in the house, and entertainment included an oud player, as well as Damascus’ storyteller. (See earlier item, “The Storyteller.”) A traditional coffee seller, dressed in Ottoman garb and carrying a giant tin coffee pot on his back, served up warm shots of Arabic coffee.

I snapped this photo from the front door as I was leaving, before a clutch of well-armed Syrian security guards rushed toward me shouting, “mamnoo’a al-tasweer!” -- photography forbidden. I quickly pocketed my camera and headed out through the front gate, guarded by dozens of security agents I could see, as well as many more I imagined lurking in the shadows of the well-manicured hedges.


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