I’m sitting in the shade under the big stone arch at the entrance to the Temple of Bel in Palmyra when they amble up the hill towards me.
She: puffy and pink-faced in floral dress, sensible shoes and leopard print parasol, accompanied by the obligatory local guide. He: ruddy and corpulent in beige slacks, beige safari jacket (‘African Safari’ brand) and beige fishing hat, twenty metres behind. The outfits look like what English people of a certain age and class would imagine to be the proper kind of duds for a journey into the levantine, or darkest Africa. I wonder if they have steamer chests in their hotel room.
She arrives at the top of the ramp and dodders her way next to me under the tiny sliver of shade that is the only escape from the brutal sun, ignoring the guide who is pointing out the inscriptions and architectural features of the temple in a weary monotone, and turns back to the view of the temple walls, the massive corinthian columns and the rest of the ancient town and the mountains beyond. It’s the same view I’ve been taking in from my shady vantage point for the last few minutes.
“Oh how sad. What a pity they had to put that awful television tower there. I’d have thought they could have found somewhere more suitable and not spoil the view.”
She takes a photo and sighs, disappointedly.
Me: “You can always Photoshop it out later.” Look of horror #1.
Then he, huffing and heaving, finishes dragging himself up the hill, arriving just in time for her to leave him there, as she heads into the cella to enjoy more of the guide’s rote droning.
He takes off his hat and wipes his forehead with a handkerchief. “Ruins. More ruins. I’ve had enough of ruins and ruined cities,” he mutters as he galumphs off after them. “From now on I only want to visit living cities.”
Me: “Yes, get in early. After all, the living cities of today are the ruined cities of tomorrow.” Look of horror #2.
Brent, later, in the hotel room: “Sometimes I wonder if you have Tourette’s.”
Photo above: Syrian television tower, partly obscured by the Temple of Bel, Palmyra.