OT Favourite hotel
Aatish Taseer The Beit Al-Mamlouka (www.almamlouka.com) in Damascus.
OT Last visited
Aatish Taseer January 2006, while travelling for [my first book] Stranger to History. And sadly, only for a few days I couldn't afford it past that.
OT The experience
Aatish Taseer It is an old-fashioned Arab house in the inner city of Damascus, with all the classical features of such a house orange trees, a fountain, the iwan (that amazing vaulted space, walled in on three sides, and carved) and slim inward-facing balconies, which rise three and four storeys high, forming a deep central cavity around the courtyard. A house like this has its back to the city. One can see how these features, besides serving the requirements of outward modesty, could, in a time of invasion, conceal the splendour within. Today, the effect &mdash no less powerful &mdash is of deep privacy and tranquillity. One of the nicest ways to keep the commotion and decay of old Damascus at bay.
OT The food
Aatish Taseer Excellent Syrian food. A lot of bread, rice, meat and salads. The breakfast, especially, was memorable. They have a homemade labneh, a kind of Mediterranean yoghurt, served with bread and herbs. Delicious. Plus &mdash and this is not something anyone should take up in earnest &mdash I have a very fond memory of drinking arak (aniseed liquor) in the morning. There is also, out of Lebanon, some pretty spectacular rosé.
OT The hotel's USP
Aatish Taseer At the time, its intimacy. It was a small, old-fashioned hotel, the likes of which few exist today. And its owner, Maya Marmabachi, a lively, talkative woman, was full of a very personal kind of hospitality. And there was, if I remember correctly, quite a louche crowd, too an Italian automobile heiress, a Kuwaiti prince ('the sheikh of chic'), an English art dealer...one half-expected a murder to happen at any moment.
OT Repeat visit
Aatish Taseer No. There are some places that become too deeply linked to the people with whom and time in which you knew them. But it is, of course, open to anyone else to go.