Monday, June 11, 2007

Another restaurant

What to do with a large, deserted, half-crumbling, centuries-old Arabic-style courtyard house in the old city of Damascus? Turn it into a restaurant. This one will be around the corner from my house. Opening next month.

Over the past five years, more than a dozen new restaurants have opened within a few minutes walk of each other, all offering the same experience: a stone courtyard, a fountain, traditional Syrian dishes and the plaintive voice of the Lebanese diva, Fayruz.

The restaurants are pleasant and bring money and life to the old city. They also mean old houses are being restored that otherwise might sit vacant. But some locals, and even foreigners, complain of gentrification, that the old city is losing its authenticity.

But there are still plenty of pealing walls, flaking plaster and cracks in the sidewalks. Damascus is in no danger of becoming another another Prague or Venice -- at least not yet.