In preparing for our trip, which is really a pilgrimage to various Orthodox Christian sites in the region, I realized that my knowledge of the places we'll be visiting is abysmally minimal. After the Romans left, the next I heard of the area was the Six Day War, when I was in 6th grade. Since that time, one's exposure to the Middle East comes from the media, which always seems to stress wars and related unhappy or unpromising events. To try and learn more about Syria and Lebanon, we've spent the last weeks reading a variety of sources for information.
We closely perused Monasteries of the Antoichian Orthodox Patriarchate, which Bishop Joseph of the Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, lent us. [My photo of this book's cover appears at the start of this blog post.] The book is filled with stunning photographs and explanatory text -- a page in Arabic followed by a page in English.
We are blessed with a good personal collection of books, some unread and some read long ago. We scoured our book shelves and found and are re-reading:
- Albert Hourani's classic A History of the Arab Peoples
- Bernard Lewis's The Middle East -- a brief history of the last 2000 years in 400 pages
- Bernard Lewis again -- From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East [I remember buying it at an airport and was fascinated by the challenges faced by early interpreters and how much damage can result from miscommunication due to language barriers]
- Robert D. Kaplan's Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, which has interesting descriptions of Aleppo and Homs
- Daniel Pipes's Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition
- H. V. Morton's In the Steps of St. Paul [a travel book, though with that title I had expected philosophy]
- Jessica Lee's Syria Handbook (Footprint - Handbooks), one of the useful Footprint travel books
- Lonely Planet's Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon (Lonely Planet Syria and Lebanon) (Multi Country Guide) and
- Thomas Cook's Travellers Syria, 2nd (Travellers - Thomas Cook), short but with good photos to help with orientation.
While backgorund reading is interesting, we look forward to seeing and experiencing these ancient lands first hand.