On The Way To Palmyra

word traveler

Palmyra greeted me wrapped in a mist of a spring late afternoon, years ago.  The Syrian desert surprised me as quite different from other desert landscapes I had seen before. It’s a dry barren wilderness, suddenly covered in green patches that gather in small oasis, where for no apparent reason water breaks through the ground surface. What I am sharing here is a memory of the country of Syria as I remember it, and I wish that soon it will be possible for me to visit those amazing places again. Most importantly, I wish people peace and happiness. I wish children to grow in harmony and equanimity.

***

April 2001.

The trip from Damascus is hard---cloudy sky, stubborn winds, and oppressive heat.

Mamma, papà, brother. All of us accompanying my grandfather in a business trip throughout Syria, and occasionally taking time to explore.

We are only forty miles from Palmyra, but a sudden Jeep breakdown risks to jeopardize our family adventure. Two hours stop in the middle of the unmerciful desert, without food, only cans of delicious mango juice for lunch.

We sit by the roadside, on our right and left only an endless road, starting in the capital and ending in one of the most ancient cities in the center of the country. Our driver, Amin, blue eyes, brown skin and four children at home, lies under the car, occasionally breaking the silence by muttering words whose meaning is easy to guess.

The emptiness of my stomach matches the emptiness of my cultural background---I don’t know much about Palmyra, I only imagine the ruins from the Roman Empire, surrounded by desert. I know of an oasis. And I have seen pictures of a big castle on a hill, which dominates the valley like a severe guardian.

Finally Amin the hero fixes the Jeep, we feel relieved and begin to drive the road towards our destination.

As we reach Palmyra with great expectations, we can’t see a thing. The wind is blowing hard and the landscape appears like a pink thick cloud. We opt for a half an hour break at the hotel. And while we rest, a heavy rain starts.

When we step out of the hotel, a miracle has just happened.

The sky is ocean blue, and the wind has calmed down, becoming a pleasant warm breeze.

The desert in front of us is rich, full of past, enlightened by the sun.

There it is the old Roman ruins from long ago---right next to the road. No fence, no guards, and not many tourists around. Only a couple of local Bedouins at the beginning of the column road, waiting to give foreigners a ride on their camels.

We stood there for a long while. The light and the colors of the columns were amazing---the sun still strong in the sky produced an amazing spectacle in different shades of yellow and pink. And that is when we know that the trip was worth the effort.

 

by Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)

 

A weary waste of blank and barren land,

A lonely, lonely sea of shifting sand,

A golden furnace gleaming overhead,

Scorching the blue sky into bloody red;

And not a breath to cool, and not a breeze

To stir one feather of the drooping trees;

Only the desert wind with the hungry moan,

Seeking for life to slay, and finding none;

Only the hot Sirocco’s burning breath,

Spangled with sulphur-flame, and winged with death;

No sound, no step, no voice, no echo heard,

No cry of beast, no whirring wing of bird;

The silver-crested snake hath crept away

From the fell fury of that Eastern day;

The famished vultures by the failing spring

Droop the foul beak and fold the ragged wing;

And lordly lions, ere the chase be done,

Leave the black desert to the desert-sun.