Which city do I love the most in the world?
My traveling chronicles, I am afraid to say, are not as rich and eventful as Abu Fares’s. There are only three cities where I’ve lived long enough to establish a comprehensive impression about the place and the people, three different cities with staggering contradictions.
When I sat down to put my thoughts together into this post, I deliberately excluded all tourists destinations. Places where I’ve been on vacations, or on quick business trips I believe shouldn’t count.
If I am to love a place I need to see it from all facets, loving a city is like loving a woman, it takes time and companionship.
Aleppo, my birthplace, is the biggest urban entity in the realms of northern Syria, it is a home town for the authentic Andalusian melodies and rhythms. It’s arguably the ‘capital of rapture’, with a fierce rivalry from some of its middle eastern peers.
It is kind of a strange co-relation that every time I think of her I recall the smell of cardamom emanating from the spice dealerships in the ancient alleys of its old town.
Scenes of its grand mosques come to my mind, and how the earlier folks used to practice their Sufism rituals in these huge structures of awe and beauty. How their supplications of almighty would echo on the old ornate stones. And how its citadel has stood proud and defiant of all changes. Ramparts and turrets perching on an elevated hill with the advantage of topography, embracing those who have built it over the centuries, at the same time demonstrating a massive repelling thrust to its foes and raiders.
A quick look at its geological history reveals that Aleppo gets hit by major earthquake every 250 years.
If the virulent pattern is still at work, then I am frightened to say that, God forbids, we are bound to get one soon. My supplications ascend to almighty at this moment, to save Aleppo from an unimaginable disaster, if the unspeakable happens.
Riyadh, is the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it’s where I’ve spent a very slow-going year of my life.
No matter how at odd we feel with a place, we eventually develop a mutual understanding, a ‘memorandum of agreement’ if you like, a definition of how the influences, the limits, the powers, the taboos and the adventures of the individual and the group are respectively circumscribed. This city is a living embodiment of the saying "stagnant waters are the most dangerous".
It is where smoking a hookah in a remote area deep inside the desert, under the mist of an outdoor cooling steam jets, surrounded by a pandemonium of TVs and agitated clownish people .. this mere dull activity is considered the hottest pastime for an average Arab expatriate like me.
It is where on any given afternoon you might be asked to hold your Pepsi can by your right hand instead of the left, and later in the evening, you would be asked (if you are an architect that is) to revise the design of a palace, by adding a secluded room with an independent ventilation system, and other features that will lead you to believe it’s only going to be used for marijuana joint smoking ...
After all, I can’t but say that I love Riyadh and I miss it, and I only realize this after we’ve parted, no wonder our Arab ancestry used to send their progeny to the desert to gain the backbone and the wisdom!
Dubai, is where I am living right now, it’s very hard to explain the tenuous n’ devious relationship I have with this town. I don’t feel as a stranger or as an intruder to say the least. It’s very easy to get along with everything. Very dynamic and fun-loving place.
If I can think of Aleppo as my mother and Riyadh as my Auntie, I would love to think of Dubai as my mistress; it was here where I’ve once revolted against all the molds and the traditions, and where I’ve once declared my contempt for all the rigid beliefs, and although I can manage now to keep the effervescence of ideas bridled, but I still think that being here has reframed my mindset forever.
It was once said by a wise man that ‘if you’re feeling bored in Dubai, it sure is your own problem’ With the wild night life, the hordes of Harley’s riders dressed in black, the flashy cars, the salsa afternoon sessions, and the round-the-clock supply of pleasure, you just can’t feel dull!
This place is also very hospitable, people are nice and super-friendly.
Men and women from around 190 different nationalities are registered here with the ‘residency’ status, and I must say that the rulers of this emirate have managed to develop this place as a melting pot.
Apart from this rosy picture, there is always a downside, Dubai has yet to develop a sense of community, with the continuous uproar about labors exploitation, the rising expenses, the stark contrast between different working classes and the racism exerted by some, it is still struggling within itself to achieve perfection.
Nevertheless, I would still rate Dubai as the hot-spot and the most talked-about city of the middle east.
But as far as I am concerned, it’s still a mistress, a mirage …. an unsustainable relationship!