MAY ALL IN
n the Aleppo of my mind, the coffee was bitter, the figs supple, and the evergreens open- crowned. I gorged on pita and labnah and after every meal, smoked a pipe of shisha, and watched mint-scented clouds swell and retreat. In my Aleppo, I rode an eastbound tram from al-Jamiliyah to Bab al-Faraj, tracing the skyline with my finger: up and down spires, up and over domes. Everything was the color of oatmeal and the sky, an electric blue. I zigzagged through a 14th-century souk with vaulted, honeycombed
by Courtney Zoffness by Courtney Zoffness
ceilings and lost myself among mounds of spice. I passed cooked sheep heads, teeth intact in their semi-smiles, and pyramids of pottery, and rug stacks taller than their merchants. I passed a stall devoted entirely to brooms. It was hard not to think of the Silk Road on which the Syrian city had been a central stop. Especially when someone trotted by on a donkey. Granted, this was the Aleppo of the 1960s, well before I was born. Also, as a young American woman in a conservative country, I likely couldn’t have done these things. But I did. I went to all these places. I picked pomegranates from local shrubs and tucked them in my pockets—on the page. You see in 2006, a few years before Aleppo got ensnared in civil war, I met a middle- aged Syrian Jew who had a story to tell. And I became his ghostwriter.
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