For sixteen months, Peter Luskin soaked in the streets of Damascus. He studied Arabic, conducted MA thesis research, and caught a buzz with elderly alcoholics at Abu George and the Journalist’s Club above Jisr Abyad. He can walk the alleys of the old city with more fluency than most locals and can draw a map of every bar and liquor store from Geramana to Bab Sharqi to the last shacks along the crest of Jabl Qasyon. He’s shared meals with Kurdish laborers in the shanty towns west of the city, dodged marriage proposals from boisterous Shi’is, smoked Two Apple nargiley with urbane Sunnis, and sipped twenty dollar cocktails with Alawites at the swanky Beirut-style bar above the Ummayed Hotel. He slicked back his hair, bought skin-tight shirts, and peacocked through Bab Touma on a Thursday night, delighted whenever a Syrian guessed wrong and asked him for directions. He’s also spent the last nine months accompanying dismounted patrols out of combat outposts scattered along the Arghandab river valley, where he worried incessantly about his future attachment to feet and genitalia.
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