Magazine article Herizons

Smoldering Incense, Hammered Brass by Heather Burles

Magazine article Herizons

Smoldering Incense, Hammered Brass by Heather Burles

Article excerpt

SMOLDERING INCENSE, HAMMERED BRASS BY HEATHER BURLES

Engineer Heather Burles still can't explain what compelled her to derail a promising career and buy a one way ticket to Syria back in 1995. However, her abiding fascination with the place has remained undeniable even long after her return. In Smouldering Incense, Hammered Brass, Burles treats the reader to an armchair travelogue -- a passionate look at Syria's geography, customs and people as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged Canadian woman.

The author's journey begins in Damascus, a city so charming that she decides to stay as long as possible. The first part of the book relates Burles' efforts to embrace life in the Syrian capital where "even crossing the street is an act of faith." She rents a house, studies Arabic and gets to know a few of the local women. The second section focuses on various excursions taken to points of interest in the countryside. To some extent, these passages recall bittersweet memories as the writer encounters some unwelcome attention from Syrian men, including the mukhabarat or secret police.

As the journey unfolds, Burles quickly establishes a level of intimacy with the reader by sharing detail upon detail of her daily life. Not even the scenery escapes her sense of wonder at sunsets "stitching tissues of light into the day" and swallows "that pierce and embroider the sky." Often the descriptions use Canada as a point of reference; for example, the Syrian desert is portrayed as "a vast, introverted beauty," which reminds the author of the frozen tundra back home. …

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