Whilst we sit here in Latakia in Syria and wait for Egypt to decide on the meaning of human rights and the part they should play in restoring those rights to the people of Gaza and the many million refugees from Palestine, the danger of cabin fever was avoided by our little splinter group dashing off on a guerilla visit to Aleppo. Sneaking out under the radar of security at 5.30 in the morning we boarded a smart clean train (even the loos had toilet paper and a seat) and made a near silent journey to the ancient city of Aleppo. In a little under three hours we greeted a sunny, but not hot day and made for coffee. The hole in the wall we selected opened into an Arabian delight of marble stairway, fabulous carpets and a roof garden of embroidered canopy and a view over the mosque and citaadel to die for. Here we dined in style on the best hummus the middle east can offer and divine teas and Arabian coffee. The holiday mood was not dashed by the mosque of Omeyyado whose gatekeepers tried to rip us off for an entrance fee. I was not about to pay for that plusa horrendous all covering womans outfit when in fact every inch of me was was properly covered anyway, but I relented with grace and pulled a cotton skirt on over my baggy trousers to avoid bad feeling. This mosque allegedly held the remains of the prophet Zachariah which amused me slightly as I thought he was a Christian prophet. I kept trying to explain that all the stories are basically the same in Islam and Christianity - and for that matter Judaism - but just like the seven sets of steps which go down to the alleged scene of the nativity in Bethlehem so that every church can fool themselves that each has divine right to the entrance, neither Islam nor Christianity nor Judaism will admit that their stories have exactly the same root.
Undaunted we leave the mosque and its resident charlatans and head for the noble citadel - fabulous. Views to die for, and history which many have died for. Then on to the Suq which really was worth writing home for. A laborinth of underground passages which literally breathed its history. A living relic of ancient merchants and medieval shopping sprees. Young boys wheeled the laden barrows of sweets and pastries up and down the narrow arched passages The scent of a thousand spices filled the air, fresh roasted nuts, colourful dresses, scarves and silks from across the orient and engaging traders who did not push you at all. I could have bought everything, but decided on nothing. I will save my money for the economy of Gaza which is in dire straits since the blockade was enforced. Gaza cannot import or export. Its industry and infrastructure has been bombed to obliteration. If I spend money on anything but essentials it will be in Gaza.
On our return we are nabbed by security and have to confess all. The escape committee are already planning the next trip to Damascus.