Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

What I did on my Summer Vacation

Zora posted all the pictures so I don't have to! Make sure to look at them all: Cairo, Syria, Turkey, and Greece. I find Flickr very hard to navigate, but you can hopefully figure it out.

Here’s the basic itinerary:

First two weeks (end of May): Cairo

Then we flew to Aleppo, Syria, where we spent about 5 days.

In Syria we spent one night in Litakia.

From Syria we took a cab almost to Turkey but had to walk across the border and find a ride to Antioch (there were 7 of us in the car, but luckily just we three foreigners in the back seat). We spend one night in pleasant Antioch and took a bus ride to Adana. Just a few hours in Adana to wait for the night train to Istanbul.

Istanbul for four nights and my conference around June 15.

From Istanbul we took a long night bus to Ayvalik, ferry to Mytilene, taxi to Eressos.

Two weeks in Eressos. On July 1, night ferry to Kavala, bus to Drama, and night train to Istanbul. Finally a night in a bed and then July 4th flight back to the U.S.

Zora did leave out a just a few pictures I deem worthy:
Here’s a baker in Cairo hard at work.

And from an old colonial book from Cairo, the academic in me loves this beautifully designed figure!

There were some great stats in the book. It turns out that, per capita, there were more (but not many more) people jailed by the British in Egypt than there are jailed in the US today. That’s a huge number.

Cairo is nothing if not faded glory. One building was home to a posh upscale antique store on the third floor. And while we're in there a kid starts yelling the call to prayer in the hallway just outside the store by the staircase and elevator. About half a dozen people came to pray in the hallway. I couldn't help but feel for the old proprietors of this store, born in Cairo but born in a different city, trying to keep up appearances.

I couldn’t help but feeling that we built and left them this beautiful city (and be we I mean the Europeans, both colonialists like the French and English, and non-oppressors like the Greeks, Italians, and Jews), and they broke it, or at least let it fall into ruin. Istanbul, which has also effectively cleansed their city of Greeks and Jews, at least takes care of the old buildings and neighborhoods. But in Cairo, it's all dirty and falling apart. 50 years ago, Cairo was on par with Greece, economically. Greece has since moved up, and Cairo has dropped down to the minor leagues.

But the city is certainly not without its little charms.

Most of the building have beautiful old working elevators.

An entranceway with what I guess is the display case for and old photography shop? Now it's cleared out with just one pictures of two baby tigers.

And most buildings have beautiful old wooden mailboxes in the entryway. I couldn't figure out if mail is actually delivered to them or not.

While waiting for the night train to Istanbul, I explored the train yard in Drama, Greece. Actually it was just by the bathroom. I did spot what seems to be a very well maintained steam locomotive. Most of the train stations are beautiful French designed places with nice cafes and restaurants. This station has a 24 hours restaurant that served delicious food. After a night ferry ride from Mytilene and a short bus ride from Kavala, we arrived at the train station a bit too early for the 8am opening of the ticket window. So we ate wonderful chicken soup and spaghetti with meat sauce at 7am served by Barbara, the very friendly waitress who took a shining to me. She said the place was very popular with the post-clubbing rembetika crowd: “very drink they are…. very very drink!”

…there was this old car I couldn’t resist climbing around…

…there wasn’t much on the inside, but I like the bunk beds!

And now for my defense of Syria and even the government of Syria. First of all, it’s not that bad. Yes, Syria is run by a dictator. I don’t deny that. But it could be a lot worse. He could be an evil dictator. Sure you’ll get locked up if you criticize Bashar. But that’s what being a dictator is all about. It’s no different than Pakistan, or Egypt, or Saudi Arabia. And they’re supposed to be the good guys?

Right now Syria is a capitalistic secular state with incredible religious freedom. Christians (mostly Armenians) abound. Churches are everywhere. Women dress in whatever they want. And some want to wear scandalous outfits and some want to be covered head to toe. That’s freedom. It’s certainly better than Iraq.

Where else in that part of the world are things so good? Sure the government is corrupt. But most governments are corrupt and give their citizens less freedom. Syria is not oil rich, but at least in cities, city services are provided. Trash is picked up. Sewage runs in pipes underground. The drinking water is clean. People are literate. There is no street crime. You can buy and drink alcohol. What country in the Middle East is better off? Perhaps Israel, but they’ve got other issues. There’s no Arab country I’d prefer to live in.

Yes, there is a huge secret police force, but the country doesn’t feel oppressed like a police state. And I’ve been to police states. Syria just isn’t that bad. (though I’ve heard it’s particularly bad for the Kurds, who can’t even get basic citizenship papers.)

America blames Syria because they can’t control their borders. Hell, we can’t control our borders. Nor for that matter can we control Syria’s borders. So what makes us think Syria can control Syria’s borders?

We blame Syria for the mess in Lebanon. Who knows what’s going on in Lebanon. It’s a real shame. But at least things were stable and getting better when Syria controlled Lebanon. We (and the Lebanese) told Syria to leave and they did. Did we give them credit? No. And now we blame Syria because there’s chaos in Lebanon.

We blame Syria for supporting terrorists. I don’t believe it. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. I do believe that some terrorists come through Syria. But other terrorists come through England and we don’t blame the English.

I think that Bashar should just proclaim himself King. It’s not ideal, but until somebody has a better idea, I support Bashar. Until we pick on non-democracies elsewhere, let’s cut Syria some slack. In the meantime, it’s a great place to travel.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Orleans

For actual words on the trip, see Zora's blog.