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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Eleven Days

As the wheels underneath the wings squeaked and kissed the hot tarmac in Damascus my voyage was drawing closer to an end. I stepped out in the sun and a whiff of home tickled my nose. Not yet, I thought, there’s still a dreary ride across a desert road before I finally make it to the shore of Tartous.

Eleven days, twelve flights, five cities, lonely nights in strange hotels, exasperating meetings around oak tables, luxurious meals in fine restaurants, dazzling looks of beautiful women and here I am again, back where I have started.

Traveling has always pleasantly surprised me. The anticipation before reaching a new city and the longing to return to mine. The things I would do, the places I would see, the people I would meet and the memories that will creep up on me before I surrender to sleep. Smells, tastes, textures, colors and feelings are fresh and hold my senses like a first encounter with a mysterious woman.

J’ai des mémoires de villes comme on a des mémoires d’amour”.

In Vienna, I ordered a chocolate ice-cream then stood motionless on the damp sidewalk when she looked up at me. She had the most beautiful blue eyes and I was completely under their spell. Rain drops were coming down my face. It was a brief encounter like my visit to this magical city this time around. I wanted to savor every millisecond it took her to scoop the chocolate before serving me. "I will return to Vienna one day and I will come around that corner where the horse carriage is waiting and hope that I will find you again. Will you still be selling ice-cream to strange men who disappear in the faceless crowd? Will you ever remember me? I came here 2 years ago", I would say, "and fell in love with your blue eyes but never said a word". A quick glance at my watch and I find myself sitting stiffly in the back of a cab speeding on its way to the airport.

I had more time in Athens. For two nights and one day it kept raining. I made it to my small room a little before three in the morning. My lot in life is to meet cities and women in the long shadows of night. The wakeup call came too early and I had to rush breakfast and wrestle with a long day of work ahead. In between meetings, my hosts and I shared an elegant lunch and later a gracious Greek dinner. With the free flow of wine and the enticing taste of well prepared Mediterranean fish inhibitions and ties were loosened and then removed. The company of men, after a day of hard work is so reassuringly familiar. I told my companion to drop me a couple of blocks away from the hotel. I needed to walk the streets of Athens to get her under my skin. To have, at least, a clear memory of her. I blinked my eyes and found myself in another taxi, heading to another airport with a slight hangover. On a flight to Rome, I was pampered by three gorgeous hostesses on Aegean Airlines. They spoiled me by their simple graceful presence. Then, she gently awakened me and told me to fasten my belt. The brunette with the shapely legs and sculptured body wanted me to get dressed!? Was it over already!? Only a midday dream, alas. "So you had a wild night in Athens", she said. "No, I just had an endearing reverie, and You, flawless Greek Goddess, along with your two friends, were the main stars".

Venice, or Venezia as she prefers to be called, and I go a long way. We first met seven years ago and since, like adulterers, we meet with an abundance of passion whenever we have a chance. We steal moments of happiness and intimacy. I stroll her alleys and touch her walls. I drink her Prosecco in the shades of timeless buildings. I smell her, ride her canals and take the whole of her in me until intoxicated. I love her, but always, after a night or two manage to walk out on her. I get back to the real life outside this enchanted city while she forgets me in the arms and hearts of other men. I sat behind a desk working with a bunch of young men and women in love with the sea, in an office strangely located in a renovated warehouse on an old wharf in the harbor. This is where I always feel like a seaman, year after year. The seagulls swept the sky around the quay behind me, perpetually searching and finding ill-fated fish. Where do the dead go in Venezia, where are the babies born? How can you ever come to terms with reality if you were brought to life here? Later, at dusk, I found the cemetery. One wrought iron gate in the midst of figurines of angels and saints was still open. I walked amid rows of graves where the dead are buried in the sinking city.

I woke up early in the morning and looked out of the window. So at last, I thought, this is Antwerp. I had used my imagination in vain to fathom what the famed port of Belgium might look like. I had not even come close in grasping the reality that the harbor extended over 60 km long, all the way to the Netherlands, while the city of Antwerp merely rested on an outstretched finger. Surrounded by splendid architecture of enduring beauty I took a walk to the nearby address. There they were and everywhere, Jewish men, Arab men, Indians and sharply dressed hordes going about their business. Whether it is the elusive shine of diamonds or the sirens of returning ships, they were all running in different directions in search of the same thing. I had my meetings and was guided around. Here’s the old dockside and there, where the more modern buildings of the city stood shoulder to shoulder, prostitutes of days bygone stalked the night picking up horny sailors. Yet Antwerp possessed an intangible splendor and class. As I was indulging myself in unsurpassed hospitality of a lunch that extended into a dinner in one of the finest restaurants in town, I remembered Maria. She sat with us during parts of the meetings earlier, but it was her walk, the well-formed contour of her perfect ass under the light linen pants that rendered me into a lump of jelly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, not in Antwerp, not from here to beyond the wall of China comes even close to match the exquisiteness, the loveliness of Maria’s Greek ass.

Then my suspicions were confirmed in Brussels. Belgians were among the most polite, the least obtrusive people I have come to meet in my travels. Practical like a pair of light linen pants yet full of life and purpose like Maria’s. Brussels is a striking city. Jan, the young taxi driver took me to the right places to consume what remained of the day before yet another flight. I had a couple of free hours on my hand and Jan asked me what I feel like doing. "I want to drink your beer, not just taste it, but really drink it. What’s your favorite Jan?", I asked. "Well Sir", he said, "we have over 360 brands of beer in Belgium and they are all great. I am a Leffe devotee but you might like to try"… "Duvel", I interrupted, "I want to have a cold Duvel". He thought that my choice was excellent. He did not know that I never had a Duvel before but that I always wanted, not to try, but to drink what is considered to be the best beer in the world. You, my dear reader might not know that but there are beer connoisseurs who have the same passion for their craft as their wine colleagues, although, I might add they are not as “tipsy”. In a small restaurant on the ground floor of the building where Victor Hugo lived in 1852, I drank my three Duvels with a hearty Belgian meal of meat and potatoes. Giselle, the waitress, was a full and robust young woman, incredibly sexy in her own unique kind of way. During and after the beers she just turned prettier and sexier. As I was leaving, I told her as much and she smiled at me while she leaned real close. "I know that, you devil of a man". "But listen, I am not that bad", I was going to say. She disappeared between the tables. "How was the devil?", Jan wanted to know. "What, how!…?" I blurred. "Relax", said the cabbie, "Duvel means Devil in a local dialect and that’s where the name came from".

I slept my way to the airport and throughout my flight back to Italy. Then another morning and I find myself in another bed, my bed. I am home in Tartous. Eleven days, twelve flights, five cities, lonely nights just passed in the blink of an eye. Two brief pages in the book of my life.

Check out some photos from my trip on my Flickr.

36 comments:

Yazan said...

abu fares,
this is one of the posts that leave me simply smiling.

i have nothing to comment, except welcome back.

Kinan said...

Welcome home :)

I love your writing...

KJ said...

Man, you are one talented beerchaser. And I thought I wrote well :P

Any case, great to have you back, and thanks for the entertaining and highly enjoyable piece of well written words.

But they didn't serve shankleesh there did they now? See.. no need to be jealous for not going to Europe. Nope. Not jealous at all.

Katia said...

Abu Fares,

Lovely post, as always!

If only I knew you were coming to Belgium! You're certainly one of the bloggers I would have loved to show around and taste beers with. Duvel was a very good choice and obviously, I wouldn't have expected any less from you. A small comment though: the beer Jan suggested was probably Leffe and not Effe, another beer brewed with love ;-) I'm taking it upon me to treat you to a Leffe specialties pack next time you're around!

Btw, I have been reading your blog since the start and I really love it. It's like smelling El Sham al over, even if you're mostly talking about Tartous.

Cheers from a Syrian-Belgian from the beer brewing world :-)

K.

abufares said...

Hi Yazan
I'm glad I made you smile.
It's good to be back.

abufares said...

Hi Kinan
It's been a while too for me since I last read all the wonderful blogs I have become so attached to.
Thank you for dropping by.

abufares said...

Hi KJ
Indeed no Shanklish, but I had some great cheese along with the goooood wine.
Travel in general and certainly to Europe is one of the greatest pleasures in life.
Wish we can go on tour together one day.

abufares said...

Katia
My story would have been so much better had I met you. I just can imagine "...then Katia came along and I lost count of my days in Belgium."
Thank you for pointing out the fact that I ate the (L) out of Leffe while drinking my Duvel. I made the necessary correction immediately.
It would have really been my pleasure to meet you. Yalla, may be next time :-)

Lujayn said...

Abu Fares, good to have you back! tiyatamna 11 days bi ghiyabak :))

It sounds like one hell of a hectic trip, but it seems like you enjoyed most of it - beautiful women, beautiful cities and great beer!

abufares said...

Hi Dear Lujayn
I missed you as much as you missed me, if not more.
It was one hell of a great trip for sure. Hard work and harder play, when I had the time.
Hold on to your seat, I might get on the move again, soon.

The Syrian Brit said...

Abu Fares,
Beautifully written, as ever..
Boy, I envy you!.. I know how tiring and drainig travel can be, but the joy of waking up in a differnet city every morning is something to dream about.. even if I would only tolerate it for very brief periods!!..
Welcome back, mate..

abufares said...

Hey Syrian Brit
Glad to see you over here.
It truly is a great pleasure as you've said. I think I've reached the edge of my endurance though. 11 days is a little too long for such a trip.
I always preferred to go and get back in one week. That, of course, would be the ideal duration.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Hi Abu Fares, 7amdillah 3la al salameh :)
I am glad that you had fun. Marvelous writing as always. I could almost smell the beer and see the perfectly formed piece of a** behind the linen pant…

I can fully understand the dilemma of the horny sailorman!

Soraya said...

welcome Back Abu Fares we missed you,,,beautiful post indeed :)

GraY FoX said...

welcome back is not enough
if only i knew i would have got my 3arada team and waited at the airport
of course you would think that those people holding swords hate you for going around all those beautiful cities and getting lustful looks from mysterious women without taking iyado
but no , those guys including me will be waiting to welcome you
Syria missed you , and we missed your posts :D
welcome back again

kaya said...

Welcome back you beer swizzling skirt chaser!
Your wife wont be amused! LOL!
Great post thouroughly enjoyed reading it.
So all these Godesses do they have sisters? (My husband will be pleased!)

abufares said...

Hi Dubai Jazz
You could smell the beer, fine. BUT, no way for you to see the perfect ass of Maria. Not even Victor Hugo himself could come close in describing this natural marvel.

abufares said...

Hi Soraya
I missed you too. It was a beautiful trip in a way and I did the best I can to put in words.
Thank you for returning, I'm back.

abufares said...

Gray Fox
A 3arada no less. Had I known, I would have given you my arrival time.
Hey, I'm still waiting for your visit. Don't forget!

abufares said...

Kaya
"beer swizzling skirt chaser". That's so nice to hear, especially from someone who wears a skirt :-)
Let me just say that I'm more of the harmless type... most of the time that is.

Golaniya said...

Ya reit kil el shabab mitlak ya Abu Fares, just go ahead and speak their minds ;-)
The blogshpere is not the same without you, and I don't like Maria for that! Well, among other reasons :P

abufares said...

Teslami Ya Cham.
I look forward the day you walk past me on a hot summer day and make me forget Maria once and for all ;-)

kaya said...

Aah! But tis not what one weareth, but that which is under that......
(60 seconds...to let imagination run rampant)
(and then)
I mean ofcourse the heart of gold....Ofcourse...
LOL!

Ammoontie said...

Hi AbuFares,
Glad to hear that you had a wonderful time in Europe. As always you have a way with writing and I could almost imagine the cities and the aura.
Welcome back...

abufares said...

Kaya
sigh, I wonder what you're talking about, the ... of gold, I mean.

abufares said...

Ammoontie
Wish you were there!
It would've been even better.

Omar said...

WOnderful post Abufares,
you took me to five cities, and even made me day dreak about Maria..
nice to see you back

abufares said...

Hi Omar, Kifak?
I'm still day dreaming about Maria ;-)

kaya said...

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

(from the sound of music)

abufares said...

Kaya
you brought back so many wonderful memories. the sound of music was the very first movie i ever saw in a movie theater. i liked it so much back then, i must've seen it at least 6 times in the 2 weeks it played in tartous. it was 196?, nah, what's the point of saying more...

Angel said...

You're here...To my greatest delight!
welcome back Abufares, you were being seriously missed for the past 11+ days!
Great post as ever, fascinating details..... Wish I could be there ;)

Shannon said...

Welcome back! Once again, I read this a few days ago but had no time to comment. Thanks for the suggestion- My dad loves beer. I should try to get him some Duvel to try!

I love Munich said...

HOW GRAET you're back - I really missed you! You must have had a fantastic trip and your description is FABULOUS - I can imagine every single place ... and every woman you describe (hehe)!

From the cities you describe so eloquentlty I do know Vienna and Antwerp .. or as we say in German "Antwerpen" - which I find MOST fascinating! Being a history-lover, Antwerp is FULL of treasures reminding of old times ... just like Vienna!! I have wonderful memories of both places ... and would LOVE to make it back one day!

It is weird .. I was in Italy x-times .. but never made it to Rome nor Venecia, was in Belgium but didn't see Brussels, in France -but not in Paris! In other words .. there are lots of loose ends whic I HOPEFULLY will be able to tie one day!
Thanks for that FANTASTIC post dear friend!!

abufares said...

Hi Angel
Wish you could be there (with me) as well ;-)

abufares said...

Shannon
Your dad will love you even more when he happily drinks his Duvel.
I'm serious, I've never had any beer so good, not even close.

abufares said...

Karin
I often thought about you. Had you still been in Germany I would've surprised you with my visit to Munich, because that was how I planned on meeting you the first time "a surprise visit".
I had a fabulous time. I really wish I had the chance to see you.
There will be other times, other places.