Friday, June 19, 2009


Colonialism is complicated. It was a pretty unequivocally bad thing. Even if it had economic and technological ramifications without which I could not be sitting here in Damascus using the Internet, from a justice-oriented point of view it just sucked all around.

But lots of bad things have romantic trappings in hindsight. So as unequivocally opposed as I am to colonialism in the past and to soft colonization in the present, I can still find myself playing a drunken game of croquet in someone's backyard at four in the morning, smoking a cigarette and yelling about quinine because those two things seem to fit with the situation and I find that enjoyable.

Similar experiences can happen sometimes when, as an economically privileged traveler, one goes to a historically colonized (or Mandated) country. Sometimes, you find yourself eating a delicious French-inspired lunch with your family in Phnom Penh in the wood-paneled room where European journalists used to hang out. (Still do.) Sometimes, like yesterday, you find yourself and your new acquaintances being lunched at a very fancy restaurant in a gorgeous courtyard by a charming Brit, receiving rather obsequious service from people whose skin is darker than yours and who were born here.

And what's difficult is that while that experience is problematic and a little uncomfortable, there's also something romantic about it. Maybe it's because I'm a somewhat lapsed Anglophile. Certainly privilege is at work--the enormous and lavish lunch cost maybe $10 per person, and that's an unusually large expense--but there's something else, too. It's something I think I'll be wrestling with a lot over the next couple of months.

It does help that many of the other customers were Arab, and that the restaurant is owned by a Damascene family that lives just next door. But all the trappings were more or less in place and I don't know what to think about it yet. Maybe I've already thought too much.

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