Out of Syria, onto Mahal


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I leave Syria soon, and in leaving I only hope I come back. While the stories have slowed down recently — I’ll blame the heat — they will continue in the fall from Cairo, on this blog and elsewhere. One of those elsewheres will be a new web publication, Mahal Magazine, a traveling source of Middle Eastern politics and culture, currently under construction.

When I get to Egypt it should be up and running, collecting stories from across the region: a long and personal view of the election fallout and protests in Tehran; lessons of Syrian bus travel, including a love of forgotten American actions films; a report on one monastery’s fight to keep its centuries old land in southern Turkey; and others.

Mahal in Arabic is “place, location ” but it often means a store, any store. Mahal will be filled with foreign and local goods — stories, research, images, reviews — with a base in the region and material from a variety of locales. It seeks perspectives of foreignness and the feeling of possession and its lack from any traveler and writer. Why? Because when Marco Polo meets Kublai Khan in Italo Calvino’s imagination, they talk about travel, the Venetian describing city after city, each a fantasy with a fantastic name. It doesn’t matter that they are all, in fact, descriptions of Venice. The wonder of foreign places looms large when Polo talks about travel.

“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his the he did not know,” Polo tells Kublai Khan in Invisibles Cities. “The foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

As for the lone donkey perched on the crop of Qalaat Salahuddin in my photo above, well, I think the old castle was his home, so he had plenty.

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