Doubles Lives - Work & Play in Damascus

It was a tiring day in Damascus. After attending eight consecutive meetings, my Italian associate and I were bushed. At 9:00 PM, our last client was still arguing over pennies and cents. It was hard enough to keep my eyes open let alone argue with him. I just wanted out of there, a hot shower, a light dinner, a nightcap perhaps before calling it a day. In addition to the poor Italian and me, several other smartly dressed people were sitting around the huge meeting table, all subordinates to the bossy client. He was lecturing now. Surely he enjoys an audience and he was running on full steam. He was bathing in the adoring looks of his fans. He had fat and short fingers. I couldn’t take my eyes off his ugly hairy hands. I felt sorry for the beads of the expensive rosary coming in direct contact with his huge nails. There were so many reasons why I should hate the man and I was reciting them in my head. I don’t normally hate the filthy rich for no reason. I just loathe them when they go cheap to stay rich.

The man was a big shot and the head of his own business empire. For some reason, he calls himself the chairman of the board. His older son (the idiotic looking one) was introduced to us, the innocent Italian and me, as the chief executive officer, while the second son (the disgusting one with the greased coal-black hair) the general manager in charge of foreign accounts. What kind of a stupid job description is that, I was rubbing my eyes now, why doesn’t he just say: “he is my fucking son and that’s why he’s sitting here with us.” The victimized Italian was desperate. I knew what was going on in his mind, no salary in the world would be enough of a compensation for spending 2 hours with this moron. He was probably dreaming of spaghetti and Bocelli, of the green Italian vineyards and the lithe girls coming to and fro in the streets of Padova at exactly this hour on a Saturday night. He’ll let us sleep it over, the exact amount of money he offered for our services and which he, in his infinite wisdom and business sense, deemed appropriate. Then he stood up and the meeting adjourned. Take them to dinner, he told his son, the one with the greased coal-black hair. I tried to extricate my miserable Italian companion and myself but to no avail. The chairman of the board had said: Let there be dinner, and there was no way around that. Has anyone ever said no to this asshole, I wondered.

We were driven by the two sons, the helpless Italian and me, in two separate cars along with a couple of the ass-kissers from the meeting to a fancy restaurant in uptown Damascus. Dinner was presided over by the older idiotic looking son. It was his turn to act like a peacock now. He ordered the food for everybody without even having the courtesy of asking us what we would like. Like father like son, he knows best. We were allowed to order our soft fucking drinks since HE doesn’t drink alcohol. The disheveled Italian and I have accepted what must’ve been fate. We have done something terribly wrong that day, last year, before we were even born or conceived, and we were paying for it. I left to the restroom to, well, take a leak really. The greased coal-black haired one followed me and stood against the wall. While relieving my bladder he popped up the question. Would you like some Vodka with your Cola? You know we can’t let the Haj know (the Haj being his brother, the chief executive officer). I smiled at him while zipping up. He looked so beautiful in that instant in time and I wasn’t hating him anymore. Not some Vodka please, a lot of Vodka, I pleaded. Relax, he said, let’s finish dinner with the Haj then I’ll take you around Damascus, just the three of us. The Italian, the beautiful man and I had 3 colas each. After the first sip, the Padovano glanced my way and wanted to say something. He stopped short as I harshly stepped on one of his expensive Italian shoes and benevolently smiled. It seems that the evening was turning our way after all. We might still end up winners.

An hour later we were descending some stairs in one of the better neighborhoods of Damascus. I had no idea what to expect but the beautiful man assured me that we’re going to like it. Now in all honesty, I can’t claim that I ever was a regular of nightclubs. I always preferred small bars where people go in to drink and talk. On the occasions I’ve been to places where there’s dancing, I was taken there by somebody. This was a huge surprise to me. I’ve heard that there’s nightlife in Damascus but I never knew to what extent. Let me say this, I never knew that there are such places in Syria. The atmosphere was fabulous. Crazy young men and women were dancing wild. They were kissing and touching in dark corners. Do they do that in Damascus? Alberto, or whatever his name, asked me. Sure, I said, boys and girls are like that everywhere. Shit, I couldn’t believe it myself. The beautiful man was in his early forties but that didn’t stop the half-dressed girls from dropping by our table to give him kisses and tell him how much they’ve missed him. The music was loud, the Scotch smooth and Alessandro, or whatever his name, euphoric. He was on the dance floor as his Italian pedigree proved irresistible to the women with too much blood in their alcohol, I mean, you know what I mean.

The beautiful man asked me if I was going to give in to his father’s demands and I told him that I didn’t think so. He told me that he didn’t think so either and that we should drink to that. We did and he taught me a few business lessons at three o’clock in the morning, the Damascene way.


Dubai Jazz said…
I love night life!
Although I am still asking myself the question after reading this; do these things REALLY happen in Damascus?!
So the business proposition turned implausible after what.... the third vodka?! know what they say "History is made at night".... Did I say that I LOVE night life? ... as long as the 'Haj' doesn't know of course!
Unknown said…
Awesome post Abufares. Beautifully told as usual. I especially liked the transformations the Italian man had to go through as the night progressed.

I'm surprised to hear that about places like that in Damascus as well. But I guess whose who work hard, have to play hard as well

Cheers to nightlife :)
Omar said…
lol.. I swear,I could put faces to those characters.. you woke up ancient memories of dealing with clients in Damascus, obviously the level was not the same as those you had to deal with, but the puking urge was similar...
hey.. at least you got your three "cokes".
KJ said…
So you have experienced the nightlife of Damascus huh? It is quite wild I must say. I am shocked at how people appear innocent in front of others, in the streets and markets and around the family, but when the sun sets down they shed their human skin and out comes the vampiric form. The lust for blood, for sex, and everything in between.

Business in Syria is about ass kissing, there is no doubt about that. Be wary though, whatever lessons this guy told you at 3 AM may turn against you. Remember, he may ultimately be puppeteered by his father on purpose to make you comfortable and lure information out of you. Or may not, but now that you have given in, he may turn against you and his dad.

No one knows, really, what will happen. I'm saying be careful. I've seen it happen to businessmen I know, and my dad himself as well.

Anyway, enjoy the nightlife. When I return to Damascus I am gonna have it all shut down :P
Abufares said…
Dubai Jazz
I have learned that the nightlife of Damascus rivals that of any liberal city in the world. However, there is one big difference. These places are very few and very expensive for the average boy and girl to go out to and spend some time.
Damascus either has 5-star extremely overcrowded nightclubs where a reservation is a must or, well, basically nothing as an alternative.
Abufares said…
Omar the 1st
It is my belief that many Damascenes are not aware of the nightlife phenomenon in their own city. I think that in addition to the various cultural differences within the population it's also a matter of economics. These joints are way too expensive to be enjoyed on a regular basis. Most, if not all, of the clientele are (in my opinion) people who have an alternative definition of money. The boys/men are either in business or their fathers are. The girls, well, I couldn't quite put my finger on their backgrounds. It remains a mystery to me.
Abufares said…
Omar the 2nd
I'm sure that these characters are familiar to anyone who ventured in the business world of Syria. I got my 3 Colas and an uncounted number of Scotches. The nice thing about this particular experience is the surprise element. Have I been told one day earlier that this type of evening is a way of life for "some" people in Damascus, I would've find it strange to believe.
Abufares said…
What surprised me most is what you've indicated. These people are indeed leading double lives.
As for your business advise I have to tell you that although I'm in business but I'm not a businessman. My role is that of a consultant. The "father" ended up taking our offer as is because he had already milked several companies in Italy. We had this information ahead of time and we knew that our price was the lowest he got or will ever get.
I am always suspicious of business people. Although I have been making my living as one small part of this machine, I never found it in myself to morally justify the amounts of money changing hands by a simple signature or a phone call. The harder the work the lower the income is a sad fact of life.
Shannon said…
I finally have a free moment to comment! I loved this post. I could really feel your pain (having been in more than a few meetings like that myself). Sounds like Damascus might rival Las Vegas in nightlife! ;)
Abufares said…
Hi Shannon
I wouldn't say that Damascus is anywhere like Las Vegas but the surprise element is definitely much greater. In Las Vegas, everything is out in the open. In Damascus you can get in a car for a 20 minute ride and witness the variation and diversity of the oldest city in the world, social, cultural and economic like nowhere else on the planet. Barely a 10 minute walk away from this very western nightclub you can find one of the most traditional all-men cafes where the same clients are smoking their arghiles and playing cards or backgammon like they've done over the entire span of their adult lives.
This is what's fascinating about Damascus.
Anonymous said…
Excellent! OK, my favorite part? The metamorphosis of the disgusting guy into "the beautiful man" after he offered to sneak in the vodka! I've seen one similar hilarious scene during a big dry wedding in Damascus, seeing a friend's table being a lot more jolly than the rest.

You know what I love about your blog? It's so unpredictable, you never know what to expect, and what subject you're going to be covering. That said, I'm glad to note there have been less of the dangerous (i.e. food descriptions) posts. :) (I bet there's one coming right up, now that I've reminded you! Mea culpa.)

I've discovered these places in Damascus several years ago; the people with me were surprised to see my surprise ... what did I expect, they said? Uh, well, certainly not that, actually!
Abufares said…
Hi Rime
I always enjoy your comments. They are as smart and sweet as you are.

Dry weddings! I've had my share of those but always managed to turn my table into a "jolly" one :-)

As for these places in Damascus, I can understand your surprise. After that fateful night, the one I talked about in my post, I had the chance on a couple more occasions in 2 different "nightclubs". First, valet parking for as high as SP500 on a Thursday night. Then there's no way in without prior reservations, it just is impossible as the supply is too meager for the huge demand. And, once inside, these places are too small to be really called nightclubs and they are always overcrowded. It's almost impossible to find a place to sit. In addition, The price per drink is obscenely high, for Syria or even for Las Vegas. Finally, once inside, a huge number of UN soldiers, foreign diplomats, and rich spoiled local boys are one part of the equation. The other part, the women, is what I can't really categorize. Are they all rich spoiled girls, hard working highly paid girls, or simply pretty girls. Or, am I missing something. I couldn't quite fit them in the social fabric of Damascus (at least the fabric I'm familar with). I can never claim that I'm an expert on Damascus, so may be, just may be, this "nightlife scene" really needs further exploration, analysis and documentation. In order to do that, the researcher should be a little on the sober and "somber" side :-)
GraY FoX said…
clients can be so annoying
but for God's sake, have some mercy on them , you have shown them as if they were some mutants from the wilderness :P
feeling sorry for you cuz of the terrible day, and happy for the so-called calm evening :)
i know you will not hate damascus for the sake of that day, but i will emphasize on that point :)
Kinano said…
Damascus is one of the liveliest cities in the entire world. The nightlife in Damascus is absolutely stunning and amazing at the same time.

Your progression through this post is inevitably captivating I like how you give personae to your everyday characters :)

Great post abu fares and Viva Damas.
Abufares said…
Hi Gray Fox
I can never hate Damascus.
Business in all of Syria, actually all over the world, doesn't appeal to me. I know I'm not being totally fair but I can't appreciate the gift of buying and selling as an exceptional talent. As if it weren't enough, how can I ever understand that making commissions is tolerable. This is, in my one-sided opinion is what business all about: a bunch of parasites making money on top of each other. It filters down to the final consumer who is always screwed.
My story was a real depiction of an actual client(s). One of hundreds in Damascus and elsewehere in Syria.
Abufares said…
Hi Kinan
my personal aversion to "living" in large cities doesn't prevent me from considering Damascus as one of the most amazing in the world.
I am lucky/unlucky to have met the real characters of this post. I just have to tell as is, with a dash of salt and pepper.
Kinano said…
With a dash of salt and pepper indeed :)
Karin said…
WOW ... nightlife in Damascus?? I had NO idea there is a thing like that! I am sure though there are MANY THINGS we "Westerners" don't know about Syria ...
I am crazy about the way you describe situations - it doesn't go more life-like!
Despite the lousy company (greasy hair, long nails .. YUCK!!), I'm happy you had a great time!
Abufares said…
What the day taketh away, the night giveth back. I'm lucky my 24 hours out of town turned out so good.
Damascus is a fantastic place, full of little and big surprises. I look forward welcoming you here someday to take you around for a real spin.

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