The security is surprisingly light – almost nonexistent – we drive directly to a group of battered helicopters, all slightly different shades of khaki… Their forms no longer design-crisp, some carry clearly handmade adjustments. Our pilots shake hands (inscrutable behind aviator glasses), active cigarettes between cracked lips. They keep smoking during the flight. Like early racecar drivers, their helmets are made of soft leather – protection that accentuates the frailty of the human skull, celebrating challenge over security.
Clearly these warhorses were made in the USSR... their entire interior is covered in Cyrillic script… Each switch, clock, indicator is tagged in Russian, a language probably not known by the crew that will fly us to the center of this vast country. In a seemingly random pattern, about a third of the labels are covered in handwritten Arabic, sellotaped years ago.
The study never happened.
Khaled Asaad (1934-2015), head of antiquities at Palmyra.