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“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.

But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.

In fact, it’s shit.

How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.

Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.

The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.

The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.

At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.

During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.

With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.

Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.

Second lesbian blogger exposed as a man

A second supposedly leading lesbian blogger was exposed as a man masquerading as a gay woman, a day after the Gay Girl in Damascus blog was revealed to be the fictional creation of a married male student from Edinburgh.

Paula Brooks, who claimed to be the executive editor of a US-based lesbian site LezGetReal.com, told the Washington Post that “she”, too, was a man – in this case, a 58-year-old retired construction worker from Ohio called Bill Graber.

Linda LaVictoire, a contributor at LezGetReal.com who writes as Linda Carbonelli, told the Washington Post: “I was completely taken in. I have been completely taken in for three years.”

Before I am outed by various unsavoury, sexist, and worthless denizens of the blogosphere, I have decided to reveal myself that I am, in fact, a Syrian lesbian librarian and feminist freedom fighter. My bra size is 36HH. I started this blog because I was bored – the only other lesbians here in Damascus are visiting Americans who, apart from being intensely dull, disrespect my beloved country and the sufferings of our people, thousands of whom have fled to Turkey, which is shit.

Anyway, this article will tell you a bit more about my home city.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

Before Athens was built, or Rome; before Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, Damascus, “the pearl of the desert” and the present capital of Syria, was a great and famous city. It is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, and we can trace its continuous existence for 4,000 years.

To the Arab it is also the most beautiful city, and on it he bases his idea of paradise; for it lies in a lovely green plain on the edge of the Syrian desert, and its gardens – stretching for miles along the Barada River – yield oranges, lemons, citrons, pomegranates, mulberries, figs, plums, walnuts, pears, apples, and cucumbers, to the limit of his dreams.

It is a sacred city as well, and in the 12th month of every Mohammedan year, thousands gather at Damascus for the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every believer hopes to make once in his lifetime. About this city of romance many historic memories cluster – how it was taken by the Israelites under King David, and by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III; how Saul was miraculously converted while on his way to persecute the Christians of Damascus; and how it was captured by the Crusaders. Here died Saladin, the great enemy of the Crusaders in the days of Richard the Lionheart, and here he lies buried.

No city is more Oriental in appearance than Damascus. From a distance its great expanse of low-lying Arab houses, overtopped here and there by the graceful minarets of the 248 mosques, seems very picturesque; but when you come nearer, you find that the streets are narrow and crooked and dirty, and the houses seem very dingy and in bad repair.

The “Great Khan” with its Moorish gate and its black and white marble cupola supported on granite pillars, is a magnificent structure. In this and several lesser khans (walled caravan headquarters), trading goes on in a cool twilight to the pleasant sound of fountains. The bazaars are noisier and busier, being simply streets of small shops, where bright silks, rugs, metalwork, and other articles are temptingly displayed. The longest, busiest bazaar of all is the “Straight Street” mentioned in connexion with St. Paul’s conversion. It is roofed for its whole length of a mile and a half.

The looms of Damascus have been famous for many centuries; and in this city, where everything is still done in the most primitive way, where meal is ground in stone mills turned by camels, you may still see the hand-looms worked by a weaver and his draw-boy. On these looms are made the beautiful damasks, woven in silks of brilliant colours, that were known throughout Europe and Asia as early as the time of the Crusades.

Few of the Damascus sword blades, for which the city was also famous in the Middle Ages, have been forged there since 1399, when Tamerlane, the terrible Tartar conqueror, raided the city and carried off all the great armourers to his own capitals. The twisting and welding of two grades of iron or steel gave them their cutting properties and also contributed a beautiful watermark pattern. To make them still more beautiful the Damascenes inlaid them with marvellous designs done in gold and silver. These blades were so keen that floating gossamer could be cut with them; so hard that they would shear an iron spear in two. Damascus today is still famous for its metal inlaid work.

The first mention of Damascus is in Egyptian records of about 4,000 years ago. After 1200 B.C. it became the most powerful of a group of Aramean kingdoms that long defied Assyria. In 732, however, Tiglath-Pileser III crushed its walls. The Bible tells of King David’s conquest of Damascus. In 333 it fell prey to Alexander, and in A.D. 63 to Rome. From 635 down to the time of the World War Damascus was in Arab and Turkish hands, except for a brief interval when it was held by the Crusaders of the 12th century. In quelling a rebellion, the French shelled part of the city in 1925.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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