|view on the Old City of Sanaa (©M. Heinze)|
Tim Mackintosh-Smith is a British author turned Yemeni, who regularly writes on the country. His book "Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land" is one of my favorite non-academic books on Yemen and won the 1998 Thomas Cook / Daily Telegraph Travel Book Award. Below is a recent publication of his on Yemen's capital city Sana'a, where he has been living these past thirty years.
The City: Sana
The Daily Beast, January 16, 2012
by Tim Mackintosh-Smith
What do Kazan, Caracas, Sadr City, Marrakech, Mumbai, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, and Frankfurt have in common? Answer: they have all recently shared the epithet “city of contrast.” I confess I didn’t look at any more of the 285 million hits for the phrase on my search engine…You get the idea. You will search the globe in vain, it seems, for a city of boring homogeneity.
It must be said, though, that the city I’ve lived in for most of the past 30 years, Sana, the Yemeni capital, gives new life to that clapped-out cliché. For a start, the contrast with the rest of the Arabian Peninsula could hardly be greater. The other day, for instance, the placemat for my lunchtime saltah, a nourishing beef and fenugreek hotpot eaten in a hole in the wall in the souk, was the usual sheet of newsprint, this one from a Gulf daily. It showed a row of multimillion-dollar yachts in a marina in Abu Dhabi—a short flight away, but which for most Yemenis might as well be on one of Jupiter’s moons. Conversely, my tower house here—and any one of the thousands of historic buildings in the ancient heart of Sana—would be classed as a national monument in the Emirates.
But it is the contrasts within Sana that are stranger. They were already ancient when the 10th-century geographer al-Hamdani noted the paradoxical character of the city. In fact, they are innate: because Sana was founded during a conjunction of Venus and Mars, al-Hamdani explained, the contrary characteristics of the two planets coexist in its people—good manners and love of la dolce vita contend with a fondness for unseemly jokes and quarrels and for messing about with knives. More than a millennium later, Yemen’s greatest modern poet, Abdallah al-Baradduni, portrayed the city in chiaroscuro as “a pretty woman wooed by consumption and mange.”
Read the rest of the article and look at Karim Ben Khelifa's beautiful photograph here.