: 13.07.2010




  Dowtown Amman.    

On Tuesday evening I met up with a group of people staying at my hotel. We decided to go downtown to the older area of Amman. The origins of the city must lie far back, further back than the important Roman city it must once have been judging by the size of its Nymphaeum and its theatre. Even so the old core is minimal when compared to the sprawl that started after the Second World War and is even now increasing in speed with every refugee crisis it has opened its doors to. The old core, or downtown area is oblivious to all this. It just carries on being lively because of the fact that shop and street mingle in a way they used to in the Middle Ages: Shallow shops with shopkeepers keeping their post at the threshold between the interior of the one and the interior of the other. Smells, heat, tourist paraphernalia and countless shops selling ladies fashion within a narrow bandwidth of styles: simple long dresses with decorative insets on the front. There are gun shops and perfume shops, Hookah shops with their own coal merchant next to them, specialising in the small coal nuggets that you need for you Hookah; butchers hang their carcasses in the shop windows wrapped in cling-film. People bustle about; play practical jokes upon each other, and talk in that guttural hoarse sound that is Arabic among men. All this set within the scenery of signs advertising all sorts of unlikely promises. Both in Arabic and English. Barbers massage the cheeks of their clients with something that looks like yellow dental floss. Tiny electronics repair shops stuck narrowly between their bigger brothers with men just about visible at the back being swallowed by the stacks of old broken stuff that is their world. Bakers show off their biscuits in large trays of beautifully stacked sweetness while all forms of litter happily settles in the empty lots, on the rooftops and within the nooks and crannies of the loosely organised fabric of buildings. Two forms of organisation, in one world. We walked past the central mosque just as the imam was calling people to prayer, a haunting metallic voice making the most of a simple phrase, drawing it out in a wonderfully curly and virtuoso cadenza. On Friday, when I visited the area again, the street was sealed off and large mats were laid over the tarmac to accommodate the overflow of religious men wanting to do their thing. A lady I was with from New Zealand explained that she thought the pavements were so high so as to prevent cars from parking on them. That seemed very plausible. Indeed, as I began looking, I could see cars ready to park everywhere where they could morphologically get a foothold and being decisively prevented from doing so where there were pavements. It does not help the old and infirm of course, but then it is clear that the preferred mode of transport, the car, reigns supreme.

After our walk we went to Jafra, a restaurant that advertises itself as being opposite the post office, which it was. We walked up to the first floor and there were met with something that I found curiously moving coming from a country where the struggle between the autochthonous and the allochthonous is not yet fully resolved: Arabs being completely at ease with themselves. The restaurant occupied a large room filled with stuff: sofa’s lined the walls and faced an archipelago of higher tables and upright chairs occupying the central area. The women, mostly wearing headdress, had without exception arranged themselves in small groups on the sofas while the young men were concentrated in all-male groups around the central tables. Some men sat on the sofa’s. There were a few who conversed with the ladies, but they were the exception. All of them were however wonderfully lively, greeting each other elaborately, discussing things, looking at laptops, and everyone, including the women, smoking their personal Hookah: the smell of honeyed tobacco filled the air already pregnant from the melancholy and dramatic tones of a man with a lute who sang about love gone bad, betrayal and scant hope. Occasionally the guests would collectively burst into clapping and sing along with him for a while before the hubble and bubble magic of conversation and smoke would re-establish itself; the feeling I got was of people being unselfconscious about themselves and just enjoying the evening without the feel of judgment stultifying the atmosphere. We, as a small group of strangers, were too insignificant to break that sense of being amongst themselves and, of course, they turned out to be just like young people everywhere, except more pleasant. So here I come with my generalisation; it is not a bad one I think: Arabs are proud. We are all proud. They do not want to be made to feel second class citizens. They make themselves feel that, perhaps rather too quickly. They need to stop feeling second class citizens even though they feel we are causing them, to feel so. We need to do what we can. When they succeed, they should muster the self-confidence of not having to go too far the other way. There, for what it’s worth.

Café overlooking the old Roman Theatre, Downtown Amman
Barber massaging clients cheeck with what looked like dental floss.
This wall was actually in te university. Note the way that the shadows formed by the pealing paper and the writing show a remarkable similarity...
The picture to the right should be accompanied by a recording. Somewhere from one of the visible facades an extremely loud sermon or speech was being tranmitted
To the right, the face on the red poster is crying.
  The prayer mats in front of the main mosque downtwon. Traffic has to take second place.
Fragments from the Roman Theatre
  Meat in clingfilm I
  The man who has to be all things to all men and appears to succeed. He is a much admired and loved King.  
    Body Builder
  Foul meat ?
Herbès and tea
  Meat in clingfilm II and the old cinema from up above and behind
    Modern office building
    On the way to petra


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