2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

R&K Insider: Syria, before the war

This week on R&K, photographer Kevin Bubriski on documenting pre-war Syria, what to know before you go to Kolkata, and talking Cuba, art, and coconut water with illustrator Edel Rodriguez.

This post originally appeared on February 1, 2019, in R&K’s weekly newsletter. Read the archives and subscribe to the newsletter.

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On a frigid December day in 2012, I huddled with a group of young men against a stone wall, deep in the Old City of Aleppo. It was loud that morning, as shelling and gunfire echoed through the streets around us. Mounds of metal shell casings lay scattered with heaps of trash on the street and the walls were chipped and covered in ash. We had pushed forward to this point because the young men I was photographing wanted to show me something special: the Citadel of Aleppo.

Aleppo’s citadel is one of the oldest castles in the world, dating back to the 13th century. Its fortifications and locationon an elevated mound rising above the citygive it it an unrivaled defensive position, which Assad’s troops used strategically during the war. Snipers positioned themselves in the castles’ fortifications and shot down over rooftops and through alleyways. The rebels holding the ground beneath the citadel shot at it too, and it was damaged numerous times during the war.

The glimpses I was able to sneak of its ramparts were brief, and always involved me quickly poking my head around an alleyway corner or sneaking across a rooftop. Like the rest of the city, the citadel both amazed and saddened me. Aleppo is one of the oldest cities in the world and through the war, much of it has been reduced to dust.

This vanishing archaeological history is part of the reason I so deeply enjoyed photographer Kevin Bubriski’s latest book “Legacy in Stone: Syria before the War.” Bubriski traveled to Syria in 2003 during the Iraq War to photograph “regular people, normal lives,” as he told me over the phone last week. While his portraits of smiling Syrians and merchants are textured and intimate, Bubriski’s background in fine arts shines through in his photographs of stone and architecture, balancing light and shadow. I asked him about this subject choice and why he decided to publish the book now—so many years after he took the images.

Also on R&K this week, Ayan Chatterjee tells us what we need to know before visiting his family’s hometown, Kolkata, and what makes the proudly cosmopolitan city so special. With photography by David J. Krause, Chatterjee shares with us his hard-won local wisdom, including when to go, where to escape the bustle, and why you need hit Nizam’s kebab joint for a kati roll.

On The Trip podcast, host Nathan Thornburgh taste-tests coconut water with celebrated illustrator Edel Rodriguez. You’ve most likely seen one of Rodriguez’s bold pieces of work (such as Donald Trump’s “meltdown”) on the cover of TIME or Der Spiegel. He talks to Thornburgh about his childhood in Cuba and trying to make art that can be easily understood by people around the world.

Stay warm and get at me with the hate mail.

I’m at cengiz@roadsandkingdoms.com.

–Cengiz

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