In a city one of whose streets is called "Lovers' Lane," people have these days all but forgotten a holiday they used to celebrate in the streets, in cafés and shops, even in universities and schools, is coming at the end of this week.
Valentine's Day always had a special spirit in Homs. Shops in al-Dablan, al-Hamra, al-Hadara and al-Hamidiya swam in red on the first week of February of every year. A street in al-Hadara neighborhood was even affectionately called by the people "Lovers' Lane," due to the huge number of lovers who used to flock into the area.
Asaad, a young Homsi, whose marriage has been delayed for the past three years by the Syrian war, explains how he is experiences this Valentine's Day: "Since three years, my fiancée has forgotten about this holiday and its gifts. When we were forced out of our homes in the Bab al-Sibaa' district and were displaced, she has even become ashamed to remind me of my previous Valentine's gifts."
The young man recalls the same period, four or five years ago when, "I used to ensure my fiancée received gifts of value for Valentine's, and used to work extra hours before Valentine's. Today, I work all day long, so that we may be able to get married as soon as possible."
Red is The Color of Blood
Al-Baath University girls will not wear red this Valentine's. They will neither be carrying roses, nor red bags as gifts, as used to in the past; thinks Rafif.
The Education major sees that it has become "improper to celebrate this holiday, when innocent people are being killed a mere few meters in terrorist bombings, or when women and children are being trapped in al-Waa'r neighborhood." She adds, "The color red has become reminiscent of blood, more than symbolizing love."
Critical of Valentine's Revelers
Marcel, a gift shop owner in al-Hadara neighborhood, is not at all surprised of shops and restaurants in Damascus celebrating Valentine's Day, despite the difficult security situation the capital is experiencing; whereas a city like Homs has completely forgotten this holiday, even its gift shops. For him, it boils down to the fact that "Homs has, more than any other city in Syria, suffered from the cruelty of war, which further distanced it from such festivities."
He explains the reason for the absence of Valentine's from the streets and markets of the city: "Last year, I decorated and bought Valentine's-related gifts, in an attempt to revive the past and remind people of the importance of this holiday. But no one bought them; therefore no one dared to take the same risk year. I was also severly criticized for my initiative."
He adds: "Five years ago, stores would be racing to secure Valentine's items, as they would also be sold. Shops' profits during this period used to be excellent... But we now shy away from such habits."
It Is All Due To The Financial Situation
Abu Firas recently returned to reopen his shop in the stricken al-Hamidiya neighborhood. His collectiomn of gifts is limited to some porcelain mugs decorated with hearts and roses, in addition to some old-fashioned picture frames. As a matter of fact, everything in this shop looks that way—Old and dusty.
Neither has the sexagenarian bought any Valentine's Day gifts himself. He explains the reason, in his native Homsi dialect: "People barely have enough to eat, how can they buy Valentine's Day gifts??" He stresses that this holiday will never return to Homs. He bemoans the old days and continues, "Come February 13, I would have had all the gifts in my shop sold out... Homs has changed!"
Whether the Syrian war ends or not, Abu Firas sees that "People's hearts have largely gone past Valentine's Day and its traditions of love and romance. They have become accustomed to grief." People have become stone-hearted, as he puts it.