The tragic conflict in Syria had me thinking about a 1998 book, by the English writer William Dalrymple, based on a much earlier book. In the year 587 , John Moschos, a Syrian monk, and exact contemporary of Mohammed, walked from Palestine to Egypt, and later Syria and Turkey, visiting centers of monastic culture, and wrote about his travels in a book called The Spiritual Meadow. Fourteen hundred years later, Dalrymple set out to follow those footsteps, and wrote From the Holy Mountain, recording the vanishing evidence of a civilization. It’s a terrific example of the English travel history genre. Dalrymple stayed for a while in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a continuous urban center for six or seven thousand years, and visited the 13th century souk, the largest such covered market in the world. An Armenian businessman told him: “After Assad’s death or resignation no one knows what will happen. As long as the bottle is closed with a firm cork all is well. But eventually the cork will come out. And then no one knows what will happen to us.” That was fifteen years ago, and a different Assad. Last year the Aleppo souk was largely destroyed in fighting. As the world now knows, chemical weapons killed many hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus. The practice of fasting has been observed by all peoples in this part of the world for millennia. It is part of the Yom Kippur observance this week; Pope Francis called last week for a day of prayer and fasting for Syria. One could do worse, much worse.