Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Syrian Drama...and Damascus

A short clip with the awesome Abbas el Nouri and his - "Yil'an Abu Sharafak!"

Syrian drama is frequently commented on these days, and rightly so. The most famous of these was Bab el Hara, which enjoyed enormous popularity during its second and third seasons but there are plenty of other series which have been just as good if not better. One of these is called al Hosrom al Shami - Damascene Sour Grapes (I'm not quite sure how else to translate Hosrom)*.

This series can only be described as an epic tale of a particular period of Damascus' history, at the start of the 18th century. The city is wracked by strife and conflict, the rich gobble up the poor and the honest starve to death whilst thieves grow fat. Although compared to Western shows the show appears amateurish at times, the acting was fantastic and the story line had wonderful twists and turns. I have to admit I am really impressed and can only recommend this to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

In short, this is a dirty, lowdown view of Damascus far removed from the idealistic, macho vision of the city in Bab el Hara, where the bad guys are conveniently packaged as either the French or traitors. In this series there were saints and sinners, whores and virtuous maidens, thieves and honest men. The lives of all the characters are intertwined and linked in a way that only becomes clear near the end. More importantly, it had snide references to the excesses that Damascus has seen over the ages by those supposedly in charge of it.

This city has been tempting to many and has attracted all sorts of people over the years. In fact many people living in the city today, whether they are aware of it or not, are not considered true Damascenes by - ostensibly - the true Damascenes or Shwam. These are the old families who have been in the city for generations and regard her jealously as well as highly.

I think the show struck a cord because there was always this subtle insinuation about how people from outside the city were always bespoiling it. This is something I was constantly to hear as I grew up, about how beautiful Damascus was and how all these strangers moving in made it overcrowded, polluted and unsafe. In effect, Damascus was and is a victim of her own success. I know that those comments were tinged with class resentment yet I can't help feeling a twinge of regret for the Damascus that my father recalled growing up in, a Damascus that really was lush, green, clean and smelt of jasmine and roses. Where everybody knew everybody else. Idealistic, but he has a point. Early in the series rape is shockingly brought to the viewer's attention, the idea that the sacred, the pure, is bespoiled by evil. It is Damascus that has been raped, and the men who were supposed to protect her failed miserably to do so.

The series is laced with much sadness and you will sense something familiar in all the characters and what they go through. Nothing sacred is spared profanity and you reap what you sow - this is the lesson we are taught here. But more importantly, the story of Damascus is not over, it is still being written...

* I've got the disks for the second season and I'm tempted to watch the first episode before going to bed. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do so when you have a chance. Buy it now on pirated DVD, available at all quality bastas in Damascus or in the stalls of Sheikh Muhiyeddin.

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