Damascus, Dimashq, Syria
March 27, 2006
Firstly, I have to make it absolutely clear that I did not eat here. Friends did, however, and the overall consensus was that the food was "fine." The menu had a sort of Middle Eastern, pizza and chips fusion approach to food. The patisserie had the usual array of cakes, decorated in icing that had the appearance of runny cement mixed with food coloring. Nothing special, so what?
Well firstly, it sells beer. It’s actually quite hard to find a place in the centre of town that does food and beer and other drinks. On the streets its food or cold soft drinks, but not both together, and often nowhere to sit. If there’s a group of you and someone wants a coffee and someone else wants a beer and a hummus pizza followed by a grey/green cake, then this is the place.
Secondly, it’s a handy retreat after a hopefully successful mission to obtain money from the great god ATM, or failing that but managing to find the right queue in the right bank for changing money. It’s also a good place to prepare for the market experience.
Thirdly, it’s just across the street from a good internet café called Cybercenter Said & Co., So those not e-mailing have somewhere to hang out.
Fourthly, the décor is a stunning example of the fusion between the classic minimalist "you can never have too much Formica in your life" school of interior design, with the more contemporary style of the "but what’s wrong with garlands of fake flowers?" school. The poster of Bob Marley behind the counter reinforces the notion that this space is still evolving, but for the moment the two dominating styles make this as good an example of Formica/flower fusion as you’ll see anywhere.
There is one insy winsy occasional problem with the place. Some street traders who, if they spot you in the café, will let you get settled before inviting themselves to sit with you. If they won’t go away after you’ve asked them nicely then tell the café staff and they will ask them to leave. If on the, other hand, you think that’s a bit heavy handed then you can either buy something or make it clear that you really don’t want anything, but you’re happy to chat. In my experience, the last option is a waste of time and you’re usually back on the sales pitch within 5 minutes. Anyway, it doesn’t happen all the time, and certainly a lot less then when you’re eating outside in the market. And the icing on the cake, for me, is that this place does the BEST ORANGE PRESSE in town. In fact it was the only place in town I could find that did a real one out of real oranges with bits in and all. There’s oranges on sale everywhere, but no fresh orange juice. Even the one I had at the Sofitel was out of a tin. The Phoenicia has the real thing!
From journal Bamako - Never Judge a Book by the Cover