Wednesday, September 03, 2008


The French are in town

I found myself today presenting, on behalf of the Governorate of Damascus, a sort of masterplan for the area around the site of Massar's discovery centre to a visiting French delegation, who had arrived with President Sarkozy. The Louvre had put forward a proposal for an extension to the national museum, and this was the formal response from Damascus/Syria, given to the Head of the Louvre, the Head of the Institut Du Monde Arabe and a representative from the French Embassy.

All this followed a call on Monday morning to attend immediately a meeting at the Governorate about the Old International Fairground site - no agenda, no clarification of what the meeting was for, no explanation of roles or responsibilities of anyone present. An architect called Sinan Hassan presented a design vision for the area which I was then asked to comment on. I said that as it entirely did away with the public park and created massive built forms right alongside the Massar building I was not in favour. Several people commented about the Louvre scheme, and I had to point out that I had not yet been shown it so could not say whether it was good or bad. The director of the national museum had thought the meeting was dealing with an entirely different problem, and lobbied for some emergency storage space into which to move some of his collections. The Governor replied that he should sort that out with the Ministry, not at this meeting. It was eventually clarified that the Louvre scheme could not be accepted for various reasons and that we should produce a reasoned response which put us, not them, on the front foot. This would include a commitment to the construction of an entirely new national museum! Plainly noone was leading the process, and some basic prep was allocated to Sinan and me. The following day, when all the material was put together, it was then decided that I was the best person to present it, following a short intro by the Governor. A strange choice for various reasons, not least that I would not be playing a role in the process going forward.

However, I duly turned up and spoke to the material and it all seemed to go down well. The French apparently felt that we had seized the initiative and that the thinking was well structured and suitably ambitious. So job done, but two entire days spent on this. I suppose there is benefit to Massar in quashing some bizarre proposals, but it is significant that neither in the Governorate nor in HE's office is there someone able to pick up and run with this sort of basic liaison on cultural matters.


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