To help combat the oil spills in the Arabian Gulf Aramco called on a 25-ton Russian giant - the world's largest transport aircraft - to ferry urgently needed equipment and supplies from Houston to Saudi Arabia.
Precisely built of beige limestone and pink marble, the structures look like abstract sculpture. Instead, they are the last gasp of the Greco-Arab astronomical tradition that started with Ptolemy in the second century.
Joe Hobbs fits the 19th-century mold of the geographer as explorer, going into the field to learn and returning to his classroom to teach. "I want to present more than one perspective on the Middle East", he says.
From modern Malki to Marja Square to the top of Jabal Qasiyun, the life of Damascus, the world's oldest city, unfolds on its streets and byways. From mulberry juice to videotapes, the modern and the medieval mix unabashed.
"To those who contemplate her she displays herself in bridal dress!" Ancient, exquisite and vastly admired, the city of Damascus has inspired legends, visions and literary tributes from visitors through the centuries.