To the editor:
Current stories from Syria offer only death and destruction. But in the spirit of the season, I offer four love stories, two fables and two authentic.
Chaucer, who died in 1400, wrote one of the Canterbury Tales about Syrian cloth merchants who visited Italy and returned home with stories of Constance, a beautiful and noble Italian woman, which found their way to the sultan. He resolved to marry her, and sent emissaries to arrange the event. To overcome the Moslem-Christian divide, he announced he would become Christian, and invited her and an entourage of religious leaders to Syrian for the wedding. Meanwhile, the sultan's mother pretended to convert while plotting behind his back. At the wedding feast, her co-conspirators murdered her son and all the other Christians, and sent the wife-to-be packing. The story is an example of European antisemitism, helping to justify the Crusades and later acts against Jews.
The second story is a Syrian tale of the beautiful Aila, and her suitor Antar. Aila's parents refused to consent to the marriage because his skin was too dark. But after distinguishing himself in battles - possibly the Crusades - he was so famous and popular that Aila's parents consented to their union. I have a folk art painting of Aila I acquired many years ago in Damascus.
The third story is about my former nanny in Jerusalem, who married a Syrian and raised a large family. Her widowed father-in-law in Damascus was going blind, and hired a young woman to take care of him who was divorced by her husband, because he accused her of not being a virgin when they were married. The young woman and the blind man fell in love, but his family, probably thinking inheritance, objected to the marriage. The two of them were resolute, and she guided him through the streets of Damascus to find a priest who blessed their union. Since she was kind and good-natured, the entire family eventually adjusted and accepted her.
The fourth story of unrequited love was told by my father, who was gathering inscriptions in the Syrian desert and visited an isolated police post, where he was invited in for coffee. The one-room building had a small jail with a prisoner who was singing away the time. My father asked the sheriff what he was singing about, and he replied, "Oh, he is singing of the beauty of Marilyn Monroe."