‘You see, everything tastes better in Syria,’ the waiter said with a smile as he served our table during my visit to Damascus.
The source of his pride was a range of crafted cocktails prepared by a long-bearded barman. I was seated with friends at a recently opened bar in the Christian district of Bab Sharqi, in the heart of the old city. The antique furniture shop turned cocktail bar bore witness to its traditional Levantine past, but it was also testament to the modernization drive of a generation deprived of everything but creative talent.
With the latest western hits blaring, this could have been another night out in Soho. Many were engaged in enthusiastic conversations, but none touched on the war. People seldom talk about the war itself except to speculate on how and when it will end.
This is the reality across much of government-controlled Syria, where the state maintains a system of centralized power and uses this to create a degree of normality.