Taide’s Weblog

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Web Critic: a Website about Aleppo

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The best way to experience Aleppo, other than going there, is to view the pages of this website, Historische Alepposeife, which means Aleppo soap in English. The authors are clearly overweening, but their rambles through the city, its history and its specters is entertaining enough.

This is true for the North Arabian Diary in particular, from 2007, with words and pictures, and occasional ideological quarrels between Germans and Arabs, some news (more frequent updates there wouldn’t hurt), and an overview over Syria’s foreign-language media.


Written by taide

November 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm


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To the Government of Malaysia

Dear Sirs,

I would be very obliged if you could stop the killing of innocent people in the Thai province of Yala. It is to quite an extent in your hands to make the border areas a more peaceful place.

And once I have reason to believe that you don’t participate in killing innocent people any more, I will be happy to spend some of my holidays on your side of the border. I won’t even mind paying a bribe every now and then, when the situation demands it.


Written by taide

May 27, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Berlusconi takes up the White Man’s Burden

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Berlusconi, seeking asylum in Libya

Berlusconi, seeking asylum in Libya

Q: Ma signor Berlusconi, you are no longer Italy’s prime minister?

A: No. A number of newspapers and televisions have slandered me, thus damaging Italy’s reputation. As a heroic patriot, I’m resigning.

Q: Isn’t that only because your position as prime minister doesn’t protect you from judicial inquiries any more?

A: I have nothing to hide. I’m as innocent as an orphan. I’m absolutely the most persecuted man in history. By the judiciary, that is. I’m not comparing myself to Jesus, although I’m inferior to no one in history.

Q: What are you doing on this ship now?

A: I’m leaving my beloved patria which I served so long and successfully. Not the state, but my popolo.  I’m seeking asylum in Libya to bring my perfection to perfection. I’m looking forward to living a simple life in a tent. I might serve as a child soldier in negro Africa next year.

Q: *sob* Signor Berlusconi, thank you very much.

Written by taide

October 10, 2009 at 6:45 pm

ASEAN: A New Generation of Correspondents

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Spiegel Online, April 11

Spiegel Online, April 11

Whoever wrote the story for Der Spiegel online must be a very angry correspondent, about as angry as Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who declared anyone who celebrate victory after disrupting the ASEAN summit in Pattaya an enemy of Thailand. Enemy suggests some status. The correspondent for Der Spiegel has more unfriendly words for them:

The demonstrators stormed the Royal Cliff Resort’s compound where the [ASEAN] summit was scheduled to be held. After that, the cheering mob passed through the press centre. In the hotel lobby, windows were smashed.

Gee. It’s one thing to wear red shirts instead of yellow ones, and to waste the precious time of a lot of heads of state or government, but you must never, ever, disturb a correspondent at breakfast, or at work. No way. Only beasts, um, a mob, can do that. They’ve gone too far!

Pattaya Press Center

Pattaya Press Center, brown face in the window

If I were the mob, I’d be very careful now. They’ve earned themselves a bad press in Hamburg, Germany.

(Correspondents these days never covered the Vietnam war. Must be a new generation.)

Written by taide

April 12, 2009 at 9:17 am

Saint Simeon – Qal’at Sim’an

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Saint Simeon from Outside

Saint Simeon from Outside

Some 30 kilometres northwest of Aleppo, and some 10 to 15 kilometres to the South-West of Afrin, on a ledge and at the centre of olive groves stretching 1.5 to 2 kilometres along the road

The pedestal with the vaguely egg-shaped rock on it at the centre in the background is supposed to be what remained from Saint Simeon the Stylite's pillar.

The pedestal with the vaguely egg-shaped rock on it at the centre in the background is supposed to be what remained from Saint Simeon the Stylite's 50-feet high pillar.

62, but mostly only some 200 metres wide, 564 m above sea-level, you’ll find the Church – and monestary – of Saint Simeon. It was built as a pilgrimage site in the 5th century. During the Byzantine era, the inhabitants of the surrounding villages grew grapes, common figs, and olives. The fields are small, as the area is full of rocks. Winters are cold, and summers mild. Most people who still live around here are now commutors, their places of work are usually Aleppo or Afrin.

The site of Saint Simeon used to consist of four basilicas, which shaped the site of some 5,000 square metres like a cross. From a bird’s perspective, this is still clearly visible. Just enter Qal’at Sim’an, Syria at Google Maps, and zoom in.

Saint Simeon lived here. At the site’s centre, he is said to have lived on a pillar, as a pillar saint or stylite. Stylo is the Greek word for pillar (and, maybe not coincidentally, the French word for pen).

Simeon was born from a family of shepherds, in 392. When he was 13 years old, he joined the monks, lived in several religious orders, but apparently fell out with them. In his mid-twenties, he became a hermit, with the usual accessory cave. The more lonely he lived, the more renowned he became. His fans wouldn’t leave him alone with his cave, therefore, he took refuge to a pillar and became a superstar for good.

View from Saint Simeon across the Groves

View from Saint Simeon across the Groves

His healing sessions and prayers were great successes – legend has it that he once healed a princess of leprosy.

He spent the rest of his life on several pillars which allegedly continued to grow into the skies, as he wished to be as remote as possible from his fans. He died on July 26, 459. Not only in Aleppo, but also in other Byzantine regions, he was very influential. Pilgrims came from France, England, Spain, and Italy.

Saint Simeon’s business seems to have been correspondingly successful. Between 476 and 490, under the reign of emperor Zenon, a church was built on the site, dedicated to Saint Simeon’s glory. His remains were taken to Antakia. After continuous enlargements, the site was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 528.

The somewhat more recent history of the site may be contested. Kamal Hammoud and Dr. Shawqi Sha’ath (curator of the Aleppo National Museum) for example, emphasise the Arabs’ religious tolerance which left churches and cathedrals to the Christians in Aleppo, al-Rasafa, Damascus, Jerusalem, etc. (P. 29). When the Islamic Arab state was weak and disrupted, the Byzantines were in a position to take the Church of Sim’an and to fortify it. (…) In 986, al-Hamadani Sa’ed al-Daula reconquered the fortress after a blockade of three days. (Source: Kamal Hasheem Hammoud / Dr. Shawqi Sha’ath: Kal’at Sim’an und andere Stätten, Aleppo, 1999, pages 29; 30.)

A former entrance to Saint Simeon, at the foot of the ledge, towards the road.

A former entrance to Saint Simeon, at the foot of the ledge, towards the road.

I’m not sure how pilgrims hungry for souvenirs could chip pieces of a 50-feet pillar away until there was not much more left than a large piece of stone, roughly the shape of an egg, but this is true: Saint Simeon is in ruins, but a place which time has treated with reverence.

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April 8, 2009 at 9:28 am

Syria Military (no Pictures)

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It was autumn, 2007, and our flight with Turkish Airlines ended there, in Turkey. Service on board was so-so, but after debarkation, we experienced Turkish hospitality as usual, i. e. excellent, no matter how expensive or cheap the place.

Our route was far from the Turkish-Iraqi border, but these were the heydays of the Turkish offensive against the PKK in and about Northern Iraq – and of course, the military bases along our road were sporting patriotic hyperactivity too. The installations were almost camouflaged in dust clouds, and once in a while, Leopard A1 tanks made by Krauss Maffei and M 113 made by United Defense alternated with poor warriors dragging along their G3 rifles made by Heckler & Koch. It was pretty martial, and Blueland at its most convincing. The last walk-on of my own in such a show lay some 20 years behind me, but here, the old scenes were still with us.

Then came Syria, and only in Aleppo, there was military again. Somewhat shabby, but also cool somehow, with their vintage Barkas, old Kalashnikovs, and the officers, standing at the kebab booths, sporting handguns covered with flash rust at the bottoms of the magazines.
Blueland had looked much more ready for big action than this place. Hatay Province (Iskandaron) seemed far out of reach.

While Turkey´s equipment had been on the move with dustclouds rolling, the Mil Mi-24 helicopter (Hind) bases along the road in Syria looked more like showgrounds, openly presented to the streets, without camouflage or chip guard.
Not far from a historical site, a flak awaited foreign aggressions. We were asked not to take photos of the incredible monster cock, and we complied.

At Aleppo´s Archaeological Museum, a freelance guide lectured two somewhat embarrassed compatriots of mine about the recent “mindless terrorist (Israeli) air raid on an agricultural production site”. I was strolling through the aged artifacts and began wondering what, maybe, I had not seen along the road.

Written by taide

March 30, 2008 at 10:06 am

Posted in Syria

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A visit to an Arab stallion

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Last autumn I accompanied a friend to Aleppo in Syria. He was on a business trip, I did extensive sightseeing. As a history teacher and horseman, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I had heard that there was at least one stud in or around Aleppo, but I knew nothing specific about it. But once we had arrived in town, it was easy to get there, and had to exercise a lot of self-restraint to keep myself from buying a stallion from the breed of an Arabian princess, or so they say. (No, not from Saudi Arabia. There, women aren’t even allowed to drive a car, and I guess that princesses are not exempted from the rule.) A beautiful stallion with a fabulous pedigree. The animal was for sale, because the owner didn’t want to bear the expenses any more.

It was a good time. Two former Syrian show jumping champions looked after the horses (or supervised their care). Besides discussions and watching the routine, a lot of jokes were cracked, and I feel it was the highlight of my stay in Syria.

Just that I returned with empty hands, even though consumer credits are so cheap these days.
OK. Maybe this year.

Written by taide

March 29, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Posted in horses, Syria

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