Aleppo Syria Intercontinental Hotel
I am appalled by the horror show that is taking place in Aleppo, and not just because I am a journalist. The rebels who held eastern Aleppo in December when the army entered the area have left a wasteland.
Aleppo's government - which controls western districts - has been the target of most fighting, but the areas where the rebellion is strongest include places where economic growth has stalled and rural populations are pouring into poorer neighborhoods.
Our guide thought we could benefit from a side trip to Aleppo's souk bazaar, which would delight us with its picturesque chaos under all other circumstances. We arranged to take him there by reclaiming a table at a bar, but the local money changer became increasingly hostile after we were taken away. He retired to his office to smoke exactly a thousand cigarettes, then he returned and tried again to conjure up the dinar in dollars.
Finally, the next afternoon, when we started calling ourselves Baron Boarding School, all four managed to drag themselves down the stairs to the bar. The next morning I was the first one to scrape down the stairs with a copy of the Narayan guide in tow. I listlessly flipped through the pages and sipped sugary coffee, so sweet that my teeth squealed.
The bathtub in our tiled bathroom was 1.50 m long and Tashjian said that while we were there, we used so much water in the morning to clean the floors of the room that the elegant geometric tiles had been damaged. The hotel lobbyist ran across the street to a nearby restaurant and bribed us to buy him a meal, which we served a bit more microchipped. The four of us are still as the white light outside turns blue and then black.
It was bad enough that it went down, but when I came back it was much worse, I assure you, and it would not look like that now. Nick gave the lobbyist some money to find a newspaper and he came out in a puff, the sick dog was dead and we all admired what we saw. It feels absurd to watch the footage, but if, for God's sake, he had been in his 30s, you could feel the ragged, lonely heart of the club gathered around the bar, all the grandeur and absurdity that ensues.
A local money changer blew into the room and enraged us with his tone, but we told him that we were poor students and he hesitated to leave. The bartender strolled by and helpfully brought us a bottle of cognac to soothe our stomachs and a silver julep cup filled with Syrian cigarettes (apparently also healing). One of my friends went to get a riz-b-haleeb and came back, flanked by a rather artful Russian hooker who was also playing cards. We promised him a drink, he promised us, then he came back with a glass of vodka, flanked by his wife and two of her friends.
When Nick and the other boys came to us, shot glasses stretched across the table. The walls of the bar were decorated with pictures of Assad, whom we called "Pinko" for some reason.
This view was shared by fans flapping their roofs in the summer heat of an open basilica, and by the audience at a concert in an old town church listening to Mozart's Mass in C minor. A fluke sat on the Baron's cabinet of curiosities, which was given to us by archaeologists.
T.E. Lawrence once occupied room 201, and Agatha Christie wrote "Murder on the Orient Express" in room 203. The glass wooden table on which she wrote part of the murder recalls her frequent visits to Aleppo, which she took up in the mid-19th century, a few years before her death. This content is created and maintained by third parties and has been imported into this site to help users provide their email address and make regular contributions.
Although relatively small, the Baron wore gold-plated furnishings, had no real service and was certainly never one of the greatest hotels in the world.
But when the Syrian civil war reached Aleppo, it stopped accepting paying guests in 2012 when mortar and sniper fire began shelling the streets around it. As it continued to control the city, the hotel had to close its doors for the first time in its history. It is unclear what was in the way of the Russian-backed offensive against the Syrian Arab Army and its allies. Although the government promoted the idea of a secular Syria during the war, its sectarian edge is hard to miss.
For President Bashar al-Assad's supporters, who call the rebels terrorists and call them "terrorists," they are Islamist militants who despise diversity and criminal gangs who plunder cultural treasures. With the war's death toll running into the millions, some of the young men and women in the hotel, many of them in their late 20s or early 20s, are finding it hard to find hope. They have rejected the idea of becoming soldiers in the Syrian Arab Army or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). They struggle every day with who could become a baron, manager, bartender or lobbyist.