A slow, mopey time in a dull city, conserving energy for the big war.
The reporters are coming back to Amman. I keep running in to people in the hotel who just came back yesterday or today. I’dm getting emails that more are arriving soon. Everyone is getting ready for the war. The ones with Iraqi visas are making the difficult decision of when to go in. Most want to be there when the war starts, and since their visas are only good for 10 days, they want to wait until they’re reasonably sure the war is less than 10 days away. But who knows. We all consult every news source and website we can find (I like stratfor.com) to read the tea leaves. Yesterday, everyone thought Feb. 12 to 14 about. Today, people are thinking it might be more like March. One photographer I know is going to Iraq in a couple hours, taking a car. He’s sad about it, though, because he’dll clearly miss the war. I have no interest, by the way, in being there for the war. If I get a visa in the next few days (completely unlikely) than I’dll go in right away and get out before the inspectors do. There is a whole new procedure for getting visas. Nobody is going to the Iraqi embassy in Amman anymore. They’re clearly powerless and aren’t giving anyone anything. So, now we have to send emails directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad and are told that’s the only way. Who knows.
With the nonstop journalist party that was in Amman in December, I thought it would all kick off again. But everyone is so subdued. I’dm so subdued. Instead of going out to eat and drink and laugh all night, we sit around each others’d rooms for a couple hours and then watch a movie on our computers. Maybe people are conserving energy for the tough work ahead. Also, most of the people coming back to Amman now were back home for a couple weeks, so it’s kind of depressing to be back in this hotel, back in this dull city, back to just sit around and wait for Bush to decide when to start bombing. I’dve been working so hard, I’dm just tired from that. It’s only 8:30’this is when we would start calling around to figure out where we would be going to dinner’dand I’dm going to curl up with a DVD of the Lord of the Rings and call it a very early night.
I was looking at my notes and realized there were two things I noticed in Damascus that I didn’t write about. One was that the only internet caf’d I could find is called the Trojan Horse. I found this kind of amazing. When Bashar Assad took over the country after his dad died, there was an initial opening up of things. The first internet cafes came into being. People were allowed to freely access any media they want (I couldn’t find any sort of block on the computers, I accessed every site I went to). Bashar also allowed people to create salons, where they would sit around and actually openly discuss politics. This had been unheard of in Syria. That lasted a little while, but the salons were recently shut down and the leaders arrested. So, I just think it’s amazing that this internet caf’d owner had the guts to name his place that, to actually make a joke about the fears of the regime that these internet cafes would allow all this free information into the country. It’s a shitty little place, with old computers. It was completely empty. I guess it’s not much of a Trojan horse.
The other thing I noticed in Damascus is that there is overt sexual stuff on display. I walked by this movie theatre near my hotel. It’s a dingy, seedy place with big posters outside advertising their movies, which are all old Swedish porn movies, from what I could tell. There wasn’t actual nudity on the posters, but there were women in very skimpy clothes making out with men on beds or in fields. I haven’t seen anything like that, not even in Beirut. I also walked by a newsstand that had these ‘dporn’d magazines taped open and on display. They were actually almost sweet. They had pictures of women in bras and panties. They looked exactly like advertisements in the newspaper. Nothing as risqu’d as a Victoria Secret catalogue. But I was still amazed that they existed and that they were so open. I was told Syria is not particularly religious and Damascus is the least religious place there. But still.