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Cleopatra's wedding present - Travels through Syria by Robert Tewdwd Moss

January 19, 2021

‘Cleopatra's wedding present - Travels through Syria’ by Robert Tewdwd Moss is the most beautifully haunting book I may ever have the honor and pleasure of reading. 
The novel is, as you might have guessed,  a travel book around Syria, decades before the war-torn country many of us imagen when the subject of Syria is brought about. It presents Syria in a hazy, dusty whirlwind of all its tough beauty and ugliness in the form of strict religious dictation, ancient time-stricken architecture, food, music, spices, and people. So many heavenly hospitable people that we meet down the dusty roads of Syria, as they offer us tea and cigarettes and a bed to rest our heads irrelevant if they have a spare one to provide or not.  It is truly a compelling and witty look at a middle eastern culture, by a western author who stubbled across a place and wrote a book about his adventures, this alone separates is surprisingly unique. 
However, the observant reader, which I assume you are, of course, will note my usage of the word ‘haunting’. Nothing I have said implies a haunting story, but it is fact, not the book that is in itself haunting but in the tragic turn of events in which the birth of this book came around. Not two hours after Moss, the author had completed the last manuscript of this book,  he was murdered. Murdered by two young students who he had met early and invited in for drinks, only to be robbed and suffocated. To think that the words you read may have been on the mind of someone as they died hangs over you as you read about his enthralling and benevolent travels. You find yourself mourning the author's senseless death and celebrating the life that seemed to burst like the Syrian sun from the pages.
In his adventures, the one thing that was a strange yet engrossing constant was people who felt comfortable to share with Moss their human particularities that would have seen them imprisoned or worse in an authoritarian place such as Syria. There is a chapter in particular that captures this unique notion which is called ‘the perfume of rose water’ where a young teenage girl called Wafa befriends Moss and after visiting the local mosque and she (still with her hijab on) precedes to show Moss a cross she was holding in her pocket and then tells Moss how she wishes to convert. This act is highly illegal which Moss and the girl are very much aware of but still, Wafa tells him, still she wishes to show (even for one person her) her true person, her true beliefs. This is one example of unique experiences that are freckled within this beautiful book. Interactions with people who you would never normally have, secrets you would never hear. The opportunity to see real individuals for who they are without the sometimes choking stereotype of Syria in such alluringly crafted words should not be overlooked. I think these finer more human details are often forgoten in travel books as the grandeur of the place is focused on for the reader, this book simply does it differently. 
The culture is rich within his words as you travel to towns, historical sites, cafes, and libraries. The chapter ‘the monasteries of St Moses’ captures this perfectly. This secluded place of Worship placed high on a mountain you get a real sense of the culture from the tea they drink to the animals they keep to the peculiar yet charming rules of hospitality. Such as if you are a guest and you say you like something of the host's, the host is then obliged to offer it. Its small hidden details that are presented in old-fashioned English dandy that makes this travel book so individual and rare. 
Jihad? This is the chapter that defines what this book has meant to me. Jihad is a Palestinian ex-soldier covered in war scars who against his own upsetting and starkly impoverished state of living still, out of sheer kindness,  offers everything to Moss, even things he cannot afford. He defies the horrible name the word Jihad has been given by being to Moss what is so rare to find in fast past and quick turning travel diaries -  a true friend.  They spend their time together talking and smoking and then they lie together.  We learn their relationship was a mix of Jihad’s suppressed homosexuality and the beautiful Syrian culture on male friendship. All the way through notably and understandably Moss is terrified by getting found out the thought of being dragged into a van by the secret police and never seeing his home again is always in the airlike a bad small yet he still stays. 
He shows us how people on the fringe survive. The virile guys who are really closet homosexuals. The ancient Jews who linger on. The Western expatriates who have hung on through decades of political turbulence and many more -  Moss has written their story which is now thus the story of Syria. 
The horrible irony of Moss being a homosexual and a English journalists in the middle east meant he was continually petrified of being discovered and executed which made the fact that he was killed in his own home in the country where he was meant to be the safest - a truly sad turn of events. 
By the end - though this happens regularly with biographical pieces a connection forms to Moss as you silently observe his fears, revelations, hopes, loves, and travels - memories that are told to you over the quiet whispering of a page turn. I adore this book.  So with not much left to say, I will implore you if you have even the slightest interest in travel, in dialogues of the human spirit, or are just interested I ask you to read ‘Cleopatra's wedding present - Travels through Syria’ by Robert Tewdwd Moss.
In memory of Robert Tewdwd Moss 

'Being a foreigner in an alien culture is a way of institutionalizing your aloneness, of going public with it. insight into the narrative' 

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