Category Archives: Bantermarket

Abu Roberto? Akeed?

Basil the landlord strolled into the house one afternoon as usual, and sat down awkwardly, periodically divulging utterly irrelevant and frankly laughable details about his depressingly uneventful life (‘I like action films’, ‘I want to name my next son Osamu’, etc.) until we caved to the pressure and offered him Earl Grey.

We didn’t understand the next bit in Arabic, so he tried his English on us: ‘I give task you, must have Rozin die, away house. I want blanket’.
‘You want us to get rid of Rozin the prostitute by means of a gruesome murder?’
‘Aywa. Then we talk blanket. You have blanket?’

Then there was a house meeting for the five of us after he left, the Turkish coffee flowed.
‘I’m getting a shwarma’, Johnny declared after about three seconds, and immediately left, neatly avoiding any defamation of character in the following… er… passage.

So the four of us slowly brought our heads round to look at the entrance to the beast’s room, distaste etched into every face as we imagined a particularly perverted client taking delight in depilating her copious body hair. Actually that was just Roberto. Thinking about it, I mean (well, I hope, anyway).

‘As unquestionably the funniest person here, I should definitely not have to do this’ I declared.

‘You’re not the funniest person here, Mick’ Aubeida replied with a look of incredulity, ‘you’re a wanker’.

‘I call second’ hastened Roberto.

Carlos ‘Third’.

Aubeida sighed heavily. ‘Fourth…’

‘Don’t worry, ya shabaab!’ I added, ‘any bizarre, criminal and probably quite dangerous activity becomes fun and culturally important if we opera up! Just imagine!’

Suddenly we were standing in some nameless Neapolitan palace lavishly decorated with ceiling paintings of frolicking cupids, candyfloss skies and (artistic) nude women. Everything henceforth we sang in high Italian and repeated three or four times whilst cavorting around like it had been about two years since we’d last had a wank, but I’m sure you can imagine that easily enough.

‘If Rozin looked like one of those, we might not have to kill her’ suggested Roberto, pointing to the ceiling and thinking hard for a few seconds before adding ‘yanee, habibi’.

‘Someone’s external physical appearance has no effect on their potential to be venereally diseased, you know’ Carlos corrected him.

‘THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!’ I said, sounding fairly convinced that I was funny. Aubeida seemed to ‘get’ it and we high-fived unnecessarily. I glanced around to see if we’d get some rolling banter but wasn’t too surprised when instead I got Roberto’s typical reaction of a stare with mixed fear and incomprehension for quite a bit longer than strictly required to chastise me.

Swaggering through into the next room, we quickly spied the source of the problem. A vile, disgusting mass radiating palpable physical, moral and spiritual repulsiveness was slumped in one corner, farting and coughing up mucus at regular intervals.

‘Is anyone else horny?’ Carlos asked.

An awkward silence ensued, whereupon we decided, mentally so as not to introduce more nauseating dialogue, that henceforth we’d just stop every fifteen minutes and pool together the awkward silences so that we didn’t have to interrupt the… wonderfully descriptive prose narrative or, for that matter, our scintillating conversations.

Matters didn’t really come to a head when the composer inserted a gratuitous bassoon obbligato while Aubeida sang ‘Muraglie abbattere, disfar incanti, se vuoi ch’io vanti darti prove d’amor’. I’d been at the toilet for the seven minutes that took, playing Snake on my phone and getting a little carried away (they added a campaign mode so all my shits now take double the time), so only caught the last two minutes, after which he informed me that it wasn’t a reference to my mother, which was nice to know.

We agreed that it would be very difficult to get within an erect penis’ length of the monster without choking on the smell or simply losing the will to live, but there was some debate over exactly how great a distance that was, and more importantly over how incredibly stuipid an idea that would be even with immediate death temporarily ignored.

‘I know!’ Carlos volunteered, ‘what about I dress up as a woman, slowly gain her confidence and then poison her? That way we can make out this largely unrelated selection of concert arias to be a genuine play set to music. It’s not that I’m a transvestite or anything’.

I'm telling you, dressing up as the same thing every Halloween and every now and then besides constitutes an underlying mental issue, not a great costume
'I'm telling you, dressing up as the same thing every Hallowe'en and every now and then besides constitutes an underlying mental issue, not a great costume'

We all sang a few songs about spurned lovers, fighting people, loneliness, the importance of marital fidelity and fighting people, then a handy deus ex machina resulted as Apollo got seriously fucking bored with watching us all mincing about, driving his chariot right into where the beast’s head should be/was before it was swallowed up by the body. It seemed to do the trick, and so after some great storm music that resulted in a few violin strings breaking which would be kept by Roberto and used as sex aides (some people are into that, I don’t ask), we were left with a mass of slowly decaying flesh which smelt marginally better than the living version.

It took about ten seconds for a herd of stray cats to pick the body clean (oh wait, this is 18th-century Naples, not Damascus. But no matter).

‘Wow, this has been a great success’ said Carlos with a disturbing smile on his face. ‘Also not a reference to your mother’.

In the cavernous folds of fat we discovered, amongst other things, an ornate backgammon set with a piece missing (‘Mmm, this is irritating, yes?’ Roberto suggested helpfully), three formerly-notorious Saudi paedophiles who had apparently been trapped there since the late ’70s and a small car filled with heroin.

Johnny came back holding a half-eaten shwarma and his face quickly contorted into a look of disgust.

‘Roberto… um… Saahib al-bait…?’

Finally some pictures to go with all this gibberish

There’s something very comforting about a proper pizza.

It should be cooked in a wood-fired oven. It should be thin and crispy. Most importantly, it should have three toppings, and three only – tomato purée, mozzarella cheese and oregano – the red, white and green from the flag of Europe’s mother nation. I’m sure there are lots of things I could say about Italy and Italians here, but I’ll save that for if I go to Pisa studying for three months. Plain sailing…

Mmm, bravo. Porco dio! etc.

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I like blogging. It lets me separate various different points with series of dashes so that I don’t have to write something with any thematic continuity or particular coherence.

The Baradaa river, more filth for the filth of this filthy slum. Filth!
The Baradaa 'river', more filth for the filth of this filthy slum. Filth!

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Unfortunately these pictures aren’t great, but I’m working on my camera.

The Gate of Peace on the north wall just up the road from my house
'The Gate of Peace' on the north wall just up the road from my house

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When you fart in your sleep and wake up to find yourself in a small puddle of your own liquid faeces yet feel genuinely tempted just to lie there and pretend nothing has happened, you’ve really reached the dark place. I’ve always prided myself on having a stomach of iron (some of my readers may remember… more than me on this issue), but that’s gone to pot now. All for the sake of some spicy pasta sauce and about twelve cashew nuts. This has been food poisoning like never before, I honestly didn’t think there was enough manky water/acid/other nasty stuff in the world to cause such… problems:

0430: get up, not having slept, cursing the nature of physical existence. Spew like Alan on crack

0440: toilet (recurring about every fifteen minutes)

0500: spew

0530ish: find stray cat foraging in bin, encourage it to leave and in the process accidentally spew slightly on cat

0630: aforementioned mess of bed

0645ish: attempt to shower. Spew

It did get a little better from there. But that was yesterday morning (and oho, what a morning!), and the toilet trips still haven’t quite stopped. No Thursday night mayhem for me (well, maybe there will be, but not the usual kind of mayhem, and I’ll wager there will be considerably more human waste involved).

LOVELY

Whitey time...
Whitey time...

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Why is it that some cultures survive and others are lost to history?

If we take traditional Scottish culture as an example, it has been centuries since the clan system, traditional ways of life, language and dress associated with our nation in the mists of time have all but disappeared. This is generally because that manner of existence has no place in the modern world, and it has been replaced by an entirely different – but no less recognisably Scottish – way of life in the land of today. I’m not complaining. There’s really nothing wrong with tweed jackets, ale and fried food. Preferably all at the same time.

This hasn’t been quite as true for the Arabs (and I’m not talking only about black pudding here. Some cultures are just better than others!). Travelling through some of the massive desert of central Syria, we could look out on a landscape that has remained largely unchanged for millennia, and we saw a way of life that has been more or less the same as well for many centuries. That classic stereotype of desert-dwellers, ‘Saracens’, living in squalid conical mud houses in small villages, with animals and children roaming all around without a care and sermons from the local masjid bawled around came surprisingly true. Sure, shepherds had switched from donkey to motorbike, the preacher had switched from shouting loudly to primitive loudspeakers, people had switched from the floor to cheap, broken plastic chairs, but the ideas were the same. It was pretty easy to imagine the land as it must have been all those years ago when these people were first Arabised. I suppose those more in the know must have thought that these new conquerors would be just like the Persians not long before, claiming the land and being driven out not long after. But, as it turned out, Arab culture has been there to stay, a (slight) unifying influence on a region where chaos has always ruled.

Things aren’t dissimilar in Damascus, on a larger scale anyway. I can gaze out from the roof of my house onto the other rooftops of that charming slum of the old city, and it’s not hard to take the satellite dishes and occasional red water tank out of my mind’s eye and imagine myself back when life was simpler. When it still had that certain… extra something which I suppose has been lost with the advent of aspects of modernity around the world. Taking in the mountains, the archaic, alien grandeur of the Umayyad Mosque, and yet the skyline of this slum city, I suppose too that I can begin to see why people have fought over this place for most of the about twelve thousand years it has existed.

Part of the Umayyad Masjid, to this day the biggest (and most impressive) in the world. Photos of the interior to follow
Part of the Umayyad Masjid, to this day the biggest (and most impressive) in the world. Photos of the interior to follow
The Roman eastern gate, from which the Arabs first entered the city
The Roman eastern gate, from which the Arabs first entered the city

My other halooyaat are testicles

Up at 0715, I go for a shower and find a random Arab, presumably another of my Syrian housemate’s friends, trainwrecked fully-clothed on a bed in one of the vacant upstairs rooms across from it. Standard. Taxi to university in a Soviet-made car which must  have been at least thirty years old and had no suspension (or much else) to speak of. I pay the driver my fare of 40p and, as I leave, he says in broken English ‘mayy carr naiss, yess?’.

Returning after class, I sit down in the common area of my house with my housemate with some cheesy pastries purchased nearby and a door opens from another vacant room and another random Arab walks out. All he can muster is a gravelly baritone ‘ahlan’ before he simply lets himself out. Also standard.

Going to the Maronite church this evening, the formal Arabic of religious devotion proved as wonderfully inaccessible as ever. I ran into the bishop outside afterwards and sat down with him for green tea. We were soon joined by a few of the other priests and had a conversation in Arabic and French about the state of employment in Syria, the age of the site of the church  in which we had just worshipped (the foundations of a previous church were laid in the sixth century, making it the oldest site extant in Syria) and Margaret Thatcher’s political policies, amongst other things.

On the way back I was greeted randomly by a passing man who talked with me about my trip to the northern city of Lattakia, his home, which I visited among others last week. I bade him goodbye as I went for a shwarma, a wrap of shaved goat meat with lemon mayonnaise. Heading back from the fast food stall to my house, I ran into a professional Kurdish musician who invited me into his house for sweet mint tea and bizarre, mournful Kurdish music played on a theorbo-like instrument, after which he discussed that the modern attitude towards Jews in Syria dismays him, as he lived in the Jewish Quarter with a Jewish man for ten years until recently when he passed away.

Then I came back home and had what was written of my essay/dissertation on the fall of the Roman Republic critiqued by a housemate (I’ve never written a 3000-word uni essay even in English before…).

Just another day.  Every one has the potential to surprise, awe and downright confuse. That’s the thing with such an ancient and diverse country.

Last week was a holiday for ”Eed al-FiTr, the festival for the end of RamaDaan (thank fuck…), so I went travelling with some peeps around northern Syria. The photos are amazing, and as soon as I see them up they will be shamelessly poached for this blog (with due credit given. Obviously).

Ginger Syrians, or ‘Gyrians’ as we know them (affectionately) are not simply a curiosity in Aleppo, but a phenomenon. There are around five million Kurds in Syria by some estimates, and these men are only the most obvious of them. They’re your average greasy, mustachioed Syrians except… ginger. It’s fucking bizarre, let me tell you.

Something lost in translation from Arabic to English is the drinking of alcohol. Racist westerners assume that all Arabs are fanatical Muslims wearing Sikh-style turbans filled with explosives bent on carnage with no fun allowed afterwards. It goes largely without saying that this is completely false. Nevertheless, I did assume when I arrived that, just like in Britain, drinking in public and open public drunkenness would have a certain traditional social stigma assigned to them.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a bit of Aleppo and found out that this isn’t the case at all, and, if anything, the opposite can be true. Trying to arrange a car for the day after, at just before three in the afternoon two of us were sitting outside a hotel marvelling at the most bizarre scene I have yet beheld in all my days.

A group of around thirty men, including two or three Gyrians, were trying to arrange taxis (apparently), but really just causing complete chaos on a stretch of pavement in the square, to some moderately distant location on the outskirts of the city. All seemed to be varyingly intoxicated, but one man was absolutely, ridiculously battered. Honestly probably the drunkest I have ever seen anyone (or maybe he’s just Syrian). He was shouting incoherently, spitting, trying to drink more lager, attempting to assault taxi drivers and generally falling all over the place and making a complete tit of himself. Two of his slightly better-off friends were trying to hold him back. At one point, he flailed his arms all over the place and exclaimed something about his friend’s blood and passed out (literally in a second) onto the bonnet of a taxi with a sickening thud. In an attempt to rid himself of this menace, the driver started to reverse away, only to reveal that rather than the Arabic equivalent of  ‘WARNING, VEHICLE REVERSING!’ his rear bumper played a gobsmackingly hilarious monophonic rendition of ‘It’s a Small World After All’, complete with a drumbeat which sounded more like an ocean with something really wrong with it. With that going on, the drunkard fell from the front of the taxi to the ground, rolled around a bit in either agony or ecstasy or probably both in equal measure before being picked back up by his friends, being scolded by them and then continuing to make a (most pricelessly humourous) scene, amongst all the general havoc that continued to go on around.

Meanwhile, a group of slightly older men in maybe their early thirties stood across the street drinking Heineken and smoking cheap Syrian cigarettes. Seeing our jaws wide, one explained to us that the offending gentleman had been married earlier that day and that they were trying to go to a site near the airport where they would consume inordinately excessive amounts of ”araQ (the Arab equivalent of absinthe) and then fight each other frenziedly using half-sharpened daggers. They asked if we would join them, and we politely responded that we would wait for our friends inside the hotel. They came out a few minutes later and we managed to head for the aswaaQ and the citadel, escaping certain death.

‘What happens in Syria…’

‘Practise your I”raab, you bitch!’

I could bore you with a sort of diary entry detailing every little thing I have done since getting here, but it’s probably better to write about my more interesting and poignant experiences so far.

Waking up on my first morning at the arsecrack of dawn and looking out of my hotel window was quite something. Across from me was this decades-old, very unstable and abandoned building which looked to have been of some standing during the French occupation or maybe even earlier. Even though it looked like it could collapse any minute, people had set up various stalls in front of it selling the usual middle eastern fare of pirate DVDs, nuts, blackcurrant juice that will be exactly the same in appearance when you shit it out, cheap cigarettes, dodgy-looking fruit and so on, and drivers careened across the road in front with seemingly no care and attention, making angry faces at anyone who’d pay attention and using their horns as much as possible.

Something which struck me immediately was the mixed friendliness and greed of locals. One man I passed spoke to me in French and wished me a pleasant stay for no clear reason other than niceness, yet the first several taxi drivers I asked to take me to the University tried to charge 200 lire (about £2.75, or six times what the price should be), so obviously I told them to fuck off. The notion that there can be a fixed price for practically anything more expensive than a cup of Turkish coffee is alien, but my arrogant haggling technique is working fairly well so far. I might go to a stall in the ancient covered al-Hamadiyya market and want to buy a pack of two pillows, and be offered the outrageously extortionate price of 1200 lire. Rather than slowly work the vendor down to a reasonable price and then buy after maybe five minutes like anyone else, I’ll simply contort my expression into one of complete contempt, make a standard derisive noise, offer 150 and then walk off slowly when he isn’t happy. He’ll probably shout ‘300! 300!’ after me, and then I’ll come back and the deal will be done at 250. If not, he’ll just have to find some other mug to peddle his shit to, won’t he.

Another thing I notice prominently is that here, unlike in the near east of Thessaly and Thrace or (I imagine) the rest of Turkey, without at least a rudimentary knowledge of spoken and written Arabic it would be practically impossible to do anything meaningful except walk around the old city. In Thessaloniki it’s easy just to point to things you want and throw in the occasional Greek pleasantry, but here it’s funny to see tourists trying that and bus drivers etc. simply wondering what the fuck is wrong with them.

Taxi journeys are normally quite fun because you can just sit back and watch people doing things in their typically inefficient Syrian way (I still think the English word ‘organisation’ loses something in translation here…), feel glad that you’ll never have to drive here and listen to the normally very good music on the radio. Traditional and modern Arab music are much closer in their forms than their western counterparts, which makes for interesting listening. There seems to be a fairly small number of modern classic artists whom everyone seems to know and whose tunes are played fairly consistently, generally because despite being able to put together a catchy rhythm like, say, Lady Gaga, their songs also have artistic merit and are worthy of critical analysis, unlike Lady Gaga. Arab musicians use what sound to us like typical eastern timings and key signatures to stir more of an emotional response as well as more varied themes in tonality and in the message and idea of the song than customary western pop. Modern Arab music is also prone to using similar instruments to its classical counterpart, although the influence of that western pop is spreading amongst younger and hipper artists.

Just as ‘happy’ is a good catch-all term to describe Baroque music generally, ‘contemplative’ is a good one here. When I hear a happy song on the radio, I get the impression that the obviously Arab combination of descending scales which are continually updated and developed with an opposed yet strangely concurrent high tenor voice does more to tell the story of why the singer’s happy than simply to convey the extent of his happiness. This is a microcosm of something that can be difficult for a foreigner to understand, namely the intense relationship between the historical and the contemporary in the Arab World, indeed how the Arab always seems to want to reply with ‘yeah, but why did that happen?’.

I try to pride myself on good organisation, timekeeping and personal discipline. But I feel slightly guilty here when my ‘get things done’ attitude shines out. Before I turned my computer on this evening, I felt really happy that just sitting in a café sipping my gritty, syrupy coffee constituted a legitimate activity. Inactivity wherever possible is a way of life here, and I suppose I have an ‘inner Arab’, if you will, that just loves sleeping in until two o’clock.

Status Report

It has been a long while since the blogs were last updated. My excuse is that things have been busy with the rest of the site. Things have progressed nicely and at the time of writing the forum is up to 1777 posts, 69 of which are in the funny pictures thread. This is not to mention the AMPS, SMR and Bantermarket archives we maintain in vintage. The site has seen a greater level of interactivity and Web2.0-ness than ever before in BM history. We have reinstated all the services seen on the old sites – media, blogs, the forum, the bantionary but we’ve also added an online collaborative office suite and a collaborative project management system. We hope to use the office suite for, among other things, the Bantermarket Times. The project management software brings us in line with current accepted best practices for software development.

Our community has remained very active over the years, despite the geographical separation and conflicting demands on our time. I’m mainly writing because Starky has reminded me about our sorely neglected blogs. Starky is currently in Syria and plans to blog his experience. It really sounds like one to catch.

This is your status report/warm up act signing off, cheers everyone
sig

Guess who’s back, again.

History

Bantermarket.com was hosted on a low cost, “decent spec” hosting package from Midphase hosting and this worked fine until we actually wanted to do anything remotely interesting with it. The hosts would occassionally get cold feet and shut us down, while asking for more money. This is frustrating enough when the host will talk to you afterwards, let you address the program and start your account back up within a couple of days but bantermarket.com has been down for months now and this was not the first time it happened.

Thankfully, the internet is a free market and we simply took our business elsewhere. It’s acceptable for a host to suspend an account if it exceeds a reasonable share of the host’s resources because it impacts on the service that everyone else receives too. It is not acceptable for a host to take the year’s fee in advance, shut you down when a heavy attack of spam causes your cpu usage to spike and then disappear when the customer wants to get his site, files and domain registration back. That’s not good customer service. Don’t use midphase.

Our new hosts are hopefully more serious about customer service and we’re trying them out for this year while keeping extremely regular backups of all our files just in case.  We’ve got some pretty big plans for this site, as well as this blog we’ve also got a wiki (the Bantionary of Legendary Things), a forum and a media gallery installed on the site and we hope to grow it further.  Ideally we will also provide archives of the now venerable SMR and AMPS sites from the days of ecwhost.com (an excellent host) and content from bantermarket.com.

Should be very interesting.

Housekeeping

As ever, getting a site established is a great deal of work and there’s a lot which hasn’t been done yet.  We’re pretty experienced but we’ve just not got the time we used to have so reasonable offers of help will be considered, particularly by people who want to publish content through us.  Anyone interested by that should spend some time exploring the site and checking out the content we currently have and seeing how it strikes you.  The Bantionary is open to everyone who wants to add to it, we’re not Wikipedia because it’s supposed to be fun.  Everyone in the group already should expect to help out, check with Amps in particular for that.  Why princeofthailand.com?  I don’t honestly know, you’ll have to check with Starky for that too.