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Souq Walking

June 30, 2010

According to my guidebook, Aleppo has the longest roofed market in the world. 

The souq is narrow and the roofs are arched stone.  It’s all very old.  It smells good, like spices.  I wish I could bottle the smell of Aleppo souq.  I can’t describe it except to say that it’s very complex and warm smelling.  I ate a roll that must have been sitting out in the air for a while – it was just white bread with coconut on top, but it tasted like the souq smelled – it had been infused with the scent of spices. 

Aleppo souq

typical metal studded door and stone construction

I had tea with a tailor, Abdul, who mended my pants.  I sat on a bad chair in Palmyra with a screw popping out which tore the seat.  Abdul took care of me – good mending, a few cups of tea and a nice chat.  He has 6 children and 65 nieces and nephews.

A man in a candy store handed me a few gorgeous sweets – for free!  I said no but he insisted.  They are so good – marzipan with pistachios, and something like Almond Roca covered in rose petals.  I was on the way to meet Jade at the mosque.  I said I was in a hurry to meet my friend, and he said take more for her!

I had my tripod with me for a short while in the souq, and the people loved it.  Some adults even volunteered, by hand gestures and standing in front of the camera, to have their pictures taken.  That’s pretty common with children in many places, who love to see their face played back on the camera screen.  This is the only place I’ve been where adults want to be photographed by a stranger without wanting a tip.

perfume stall in front of mosque entrance

Perfume stalls are dotted throughout the souqs.  They have stoppered bottles containing single notes and mixes, and knock-offs of known perfumes like J’Adore.  I ask for something made in Syria, and am offered rose.  Not my favorite.  I ask for jasmine as I’ve seen jasmine growing all over like a weed.   I buy a little roller bottle of very nice jasmine perfume oil.  I also ask for incense made in Syria.  Most of the incense on sale is sticks from India, but they dig out a little plastic bag full of dried sap beads.  This is the good stuff.    They call it bajour – no idea what it is in English.  Later that day when we’re in a restaurant with a waiter that speaks good English, I pull out the bag and ask him what it is.  He asks me, very surprised, “why do you buy it if you don’t know what it is?”  So funny, he has no idea what a scent freak I am.  A man at a neighboring table offers a piece of charcoal from his shisha pipe so we can burn some of the incense in the ashtray at our table – genius.  So the place is scented with incense and shisha smoke – two of the best smells in the world. 

After walking through various souqs in Syria, I realize that the first time I walk through I notice the merchandise and the architecture.  The second walk through it better.  During the second walk I notice the people and the people watching is the best.  Jade spots an ice-cream vendor that looks like Freddy Mercury.  Some women are so made up that they look like drag queens.  Most of them wear floor length black robes.  The lingerie and clothing shops are interesting in contrast.  I spot zippered vinyl panties and pink hot pants with a matching tank top bedazzled with the Eiffel Tower. 

lingerie shop

a mountain of Aleppo olive soap

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2010 6:30 pm

    Hi Sariah, It makes sense to me that your developed olfactory ability would allow your
    favorite sense to guide you in Syria. The Jasmine sounds wonderful and those bars of olive
    oil soap to be coveted. Funny I sent Uncle Tom some olive oil soap from Italy in his Christmas
    care package. He thought it said soup instead of soap and used it for a vegetable stir-fry.
    His guest were blowing bubbles and said it was an odd flavour. I laughed so hard with the thought of having ones “mouth washed out with soap”. I think he needs new glasses maybe next Christmas instead of soap!!!!.It reminds me of the souq
    roll. These flavors create long -term memories and great stories.
    Big hug to you and Jade.
    Auntie Lauren xo

  2. July 2, 2010 1:07 pm

    That is SO FUNNY about Tom. Actually, I really don’t like the Olive soap in Syria – maybe it’s different in Italy with some other scent added? It hardly lathers and the scent isn’t unpleasant, but it doesn’t do anything for me either. Doesn’t really smell like olives, but it does smell vaguely of vegetable oil.

    The jasmine is really nice. I was standing on the street corner talking on the phone and a man came up and asked me if I needed helped and gave me a handfull of jasmine flowers that he was carrying in his hand – very sweet.

  3. July 9, 2010 7:22 pm

    Hi Sariah,
    The olive oil soap in Italy is plain sometimes and others have essentail oils
    ranging from lavender to rosemary. I personally don’t like it for bathing but it is very
    gentle on the facial skin.The Italian women have ageless looking skin which is very soft and subtle.
    It is a charming gift however and being able to cut a peice off whenever you wish makes it desirable.
    The packaging in Italy is also very fun from aged looking kraft paper and twine which looks very
    organic. Love Auntie Lauren

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