Of Cities on Hills

Saturday, December 21, 2013 | Ottawa, ON, Canada

A city in miniature, photographed in a Paris shopfront
Sadly, memories of my first trip abroad—the trip to France that started it all, way back in high school—are already blurring. But one observation I remember quite clearly concerns the French people's relationship to their capital. It struck me, at that young age, that Paris was more than just a capital city—it was the sun around which the French universe turned. Everyone in Paris seemed self-absorbed, haughty, perfect—at the pinnacle of their society and well aware of their superiority. And everyone outside of Paris seemed to count the days from their last trip to the capital and until their next one, seemed continually obliged to justify why they were not living in the capital, seemed unable to hide how self-conscious they were of their very provincial existence. Paris was the center of a vortex, tugging ceaselessly at Frenchmen and -women, obliging them to make a conscious lifelong effort to resist its pull.

Twelve years later, I can't recall a single conversation that led me to this conclusion, but the impression sticks in my mind nonetheless.

I was reminded of this dynamic last week in Canada, where I had the opportunity to organize a small study mission for Algerian political party officials. In nearly every meeting, our Canadian hosts

"What Do You Miss Most?: Syrian Refugees Respond"

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rochelle Davis, professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown and someone I'm lucky to have worked for and consider a mentor to this day, published a piece in Jadaliyya last week called "What Do You Miss Most?: Syrian Refugees Respond", based on interviews she conducted earlier this year with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

The refugees' responses include recollections ranging from everyday mundane scenes to the horrific, and offer a poignant glimpse of what they have lost forever and what—no matter the horrors they endure—they will never lose.

I was honored to be able to provide some of the photos accompanying the piece, which date back to the idyllic summer that I spent in Syria and that I still remember with such nostalgia.

Give it a read.