Monday, July 1, 2013


A few days ago Baba took me to a couple of malls. This is a new phenomenon in Syria. Apparently, after 9/11, when countries in the west penalized all Arabs by freezing their private bank accounts, Arabs looked for more hospitable places to invest. They found that Bashar’s Syria had become trade friendly. Add the fact that the local middle and upper classes were hungry for products and that many wealthy Gulf Arabs frequently vacation in Syria, and investors had the perfect recipe for a booming economy.

The malls vary from clusters of stores that were already located in one spot to full scale western style malls complete with food courts, game arcades, and escalators. Keep in mind that Damascus has been a center for trade for over two millennia. Souk Hamidiyyeh, and Straight Street are part of a labyrinth of markets that could easily be called the ancestors of malls. Of course there’s a difference. The old markets are adjacent to or inside khans (caravanserais), and therefore the street beneath your feet is dirty even if it is paved and you share it with whatever livestock was used to haul the goods to and from market. In today’s malls, the floors and walls are marble or look like it, and they usually have a parking garage too. Something most Americans will find unusual is that many malls here feature a supermarket (grocery store), some more super than others.

Cham City Center, a five story mall, is the nicest mall I've seen, here. Old Navy and Gap are out at another mall, and Kickers (mostly for kids) seems to pop up a lot. If you have the money, you can dress nicely and pretty fashionably without hitting the boutiques near Abou Roummaneh, or the comparative downmarket of Salhiyeh. It’s a big change from the plastic slippers and double knit polyester of my childhood, when quality “ready-to wear” clothing was hard to find.

I was tempted to Syrianize my look with this suit, but ankle-length skirts in 100ยบ weather was too much for me to contemplate.
This is more my style.

Lost in translation, considering 99% of the people in the mall speak Arabic.
The other mall that is popular with my family is Towncenter, ironically located outside of town. It houses a giant supermarket and some clothing, electronics, and bedding stores. There is also a car dealership, and then an Arab style bakery named “Apple” in an adjacent lot.  

On cooler days, the shades in the windows of the bakery can go up, allowing patrons a view of the city.

That’s an elevator for cars! It’s a little creepy if you know the unreliability of regular people elevators in Syria.
Wow, can you tell it’s an election year?

By the way, there is no p or ch in Arabic. Vowels are different too. The Arabic equivalent of u, called wow, sounds like oo or w. The schwa sound is usually represented by a (alef). So, Punch translates to Arabic as "Bansh."

 In case you start to think everything in the west has been duplicated for your convenience, look closer. The Dairy case isn’t turned on; it’s just lit.

The freezers are turned on, but the boxes aren’t all labeled, so you won’t really know what you’ve baked until you bite into it.

This isn’t your typical corner market. So, rather than cartons or flats of eggs – flats are the norm in Syria – you can buy baskets of eggs. Really swank, but so expensive that they are likely to be rather old.

But, it wouldn’t be a SUPER market if it didn’t have everything, including things you can’t identify.

This is supposed to be for wine, or maybe tea? It would make for an interesting conversation piece, but if I bought this, I’d have to think for the rest of my life that I had better things to do with my money.

So, Syrians have put their own twist on the super market and the mall. I’m glad. As much as I like my western comforts, I’d feel robbed if I stepped into a real American grocery store in the middle of Damascus.



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