What was the name of this place?
I feel the warmth of the air on my cheeks and the firmness of the sun-dried earth beneath my feet. Short, scorched stubbles of grass - hay - intersperse sparse, naked shrubs that look like tumbleweed on pause. The wind is still. Occasional olive groves give the landscape some focus, and some welcome shade. In the distance rise hills with dotted green. The smell is fragrant, arid, slightly heady; nondescript mediterranean scrubland. There is a latent sweat beneath my skin.
Due to irretrievable data-loss all photos and videos from a journey to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in Summer 2003 have been erased from my digital memory. These vignettes are an attempt to articulate and safeguard the fading pictures of my biological memory. They will do little justice to the traumatic changes in Syria’s cultural landscape that took place a decade after my visit; it is only my personal consolation that maybe these words will do more good than so many jpgs confined to a hard drive. They are honest in their inaccuracy.
What was the name of this place? I came here because of the ruins: Abandoned Byzantine village.
I can’t remember how I got here. I must have walked from some nearby road, dropped off at an empty layby by a confused bus driver. Not a soul in sight. Insects break the silence. Lizards dart across the rough stone walls, finding gaps in the loose mortar. Picture-book picturesque, the ruins gather amongst the olive trees and spill out on to the plain. Individual buildings are still easy to recognise. Thick outer walls stand higher, tallest at the corners with their windows now forming some flying buttress, before crumbling in to the foundations of a random interior layout, forgotten rooms in lost places. Here and there the walls are overgrown, hauled back down to ground by time’s slow embrace. Soon the next building springs up, perhaps not as clearly, perhaps a pile of rubble. Abandoned simultaneously, collectively, they now wear the frayed variety of decay. But they are perhaps more than ever an ensemble, a single labyrinthine space; I feel a dome stretch over my head as I stand amongst this village.
What was the name of this place? I sit down in the shade with my back against a warm wall. I did not know this at the time, but upon my mind’s re-visit I see with some excitement that the stones must be of volcanic rock; a heavy, porous dark-grey basalt. Rough and unworked, they sit in clumsy patterns and bare weathered faces. They might have been untouched since the day of the event that ultimately led to this scene. Another lizard emerges opposite and freezes in the sunlight. It flicks its tongue at me. This place has no name. It is the landscape of decay, replicable in all places but for minor detail. It is the beauty of the forgotten, the dream of every place past. It is the refuge of abandon, the nightmare of future.