The story behind the painting…
Pass under the arch of an old stone entrance and enter a corridor long and wide with narrow windows and a darkened ceiling. The ceiling is punctured intermittently with many small holes, each one allowing the heat of the day and heavy sun to beam through like the stars of the night-time. They emanate light, illuminating the passageway and offering guidance to the unknown visitor.
Enter and at first one encounters stands of gold, mounds of jewels, too many to be displayed, all a gleaming 18 carat or more- but do not be fooled for you have not entered the gold market yet, many an unwitting tourist will fall for this allure at first. The merchants polish their delights and invite you to feel the weight, to see how it complements your wrist, your neck and in a blink of an eye you are left alone, with nothing but an arm adorned with precious stones, precious metals and a mind brimming with the confusion of a Westerner as the merchant in question scurries away only to bring you something you truly have never seen before.
Carry on with your journey and secret passageways will lead you to the most delectable ice-cream in the world, its ancient recipe still tantalizing to this day. You will not find better ice-cream even in Italy, for the Romans learnt from us Syrians - didn't you know? See here, that continuous year-long queue of locals are testament to my statement. Please refresh yourself but be aware, to change your route and to enter this passageway is to lose yourself in a labyrinth that seemingly has no end, with twists and turns and a choice of exits so varied, a repetition or three will have you lost time and time again.
Should you be able to resist the ice-cream then I invite you to walk further and admire such fine Damascene brocade, so exquisite, it is the choice of brocade for royals near and far and yet here is a chance for you to own your very own. Such rich colours and such fine ornament this surely cannot be done by hand. But look here, this is my very own mother next to my very own grandmother and my very own sister. Watch their hands work with grace to make this especially for you and allow me to tell them how much you admire their craft, for I love to see them smile. Truly you will never find such a fine fabric again in your lifetime. I make this promise to you now; walk away and in a memory distant in the future, you will curse yourself when you come to realise what it is that you are walking away from.
Let us pause here for a second and inhale, for this is not the city of Jasmine without good reason. Allow your nose to guide you to the next stand - but pay attention - for this is a stand so small, it is no wider than an old medina door. Looking for a shelf adorned with a thousand glass bottles in all the shapes the mind is able to conjure: large, small, round, thin, wavy - look, even camel-shaped; admire their glass stoppers for each is an empty home awaiting only the richest and purest of cold-pressed oils. Approach the smiling merchant for he is a man of few words, but with a few flicks of his wrist he will concoct an aroma so enticing it'll have you embodying the spirits of the previous kings.
Continue forward and pass yet more stands with trinkets a-plenty and secrets a-many. Keep going, I know what you are looking for, I'm sure you've heard the tales of the spice market and you are right to be excited, but you won't find spices and stories nor fresh mint tea here. To see the sacks of
saffron and bags of murex purple. You must go forth. Walk now and pass under the temple of Jupiter. Take a right, a left and walk until your legs tire and it'll be there that your treasures await you.
Yasmin Hayat, July 2018