Sunday, December 31, 2006

Old Year, New Year, Jordan

On this last day of December 2006, I'm looking back to this time last year, when we were in Jordan. Habibi blogged this in words and a few pics, but here are some more pics, and my impressions, with links to his words!

On Day One, December 29th, we flew into Amman, and transferred to Madaba, where we spent several hours, first lost and then wandering, until it was time to meet Habibibaba off his flight from London.

It was cold! I had knitted myself a hat and gloves in anticipation of the trip and the promise of cold weather, but after all these years in Dubai, we had completely forgotten what cold actually felt like. We bought shwarmas as much for the chance to stand next to the grill as for the (wonderfully hot and delicious) food itself.

At Saint George's Greek Orthodox Church we saw our first mosaic floors. Of course, floors are meant to be walked on, so the fascinating mosaic map of the Holy Land is faded and uneven, but it is still breath-taking. On the drive from Amman to Madaba I had been struck by the extraordinary orange soil: in the days to come we would travel across limestone, granite, and sandstone that ranged from golden brown, through Petra's rosy pink, to plum, to sage green. All of these colours appear again and again in Jordan's mosaics.

The ornate Byzantine chandelier and painted dark wood panelling of an orthodox church still in service after centuries. A Christian shopkeeper we met later was happy to talk to us about the complex history of the people of Jordan. Saint George's was his parish church, and he had been there for midnight mass with his family on Christmas Eve.

Such craftsmanship.

Never having paid much attention to mosaics before, I was astonished by the artistry and technical skill that went into these masterpieces, faded as many are by time and use. This villa floor has survived sun, wind, rain and frost since the villa itself fell to ruin.

A fragment from a more protected spot.

En route for Jerash, we stopped at a roadside stall and bought ropes of dried figs and apricots. At a small supermarket we bought locally grown scarlet and yellow apples. I generally find Gala and other red apples insipid, but these were beautifully crisp, sweet and juicy. I looked for Jordanian fruit when we got home again, and found some Iranian apples that looked the part, but I suppose that any fruit we get in our supermarkets has been a long time in storage and transit by the time we get it.

Taking the ringroad up the west side of Amman on Day Two, heading north for the Roman city of Jerash, through a landscape that becomes more mountainous, the rich Madaba soil giving way to thinly covered limestone planted with pine trees and dwarf tulips to control erosion, and generations of terraces dotted with hardy and beautiful olive trees.

The Olive Branch in Ajloun was exciting to get to. I was too busy holding onto an armrest and giggling to take any photos on the zig zag ride up, up, up, but here's a flat bit at the top! The building won't win any architectural awards, but it's clean and comfortable, and the staff are pleasant and efficient. Also, because it is so high up, there is no traffic noise at all, despite all the little villages that are invisible by day, but appear across the valley and encircling mountains in little clusters of light as night falls. It was very seductive to wake before dawn to cool, soft air and sit whispering on the balcony, tucked up in blankets, as the sun rose, colour returned to the landscape, and the little villas and villages faded from sight again.

Jerash is alive and kicking. We had heard about the Jerash Festival, which takes place every July, so we weren't sure what to expect. Nor were we entirely sure how long we'd spend there, because, well, it's a Roman ruin, isn't it? We stayed for hours, only withdrawing to the big restaurant at around four o'clock because we were getting cold!

The restoration work is extensive and ongoing, but the incongruous mix of heavy machinery and ancient stonework only features near the entrance. Start walking along the paved roads, up dressed stone steps, and under archways, to the hippodrome, the churches and temples, the north and south theatres, and you find time has flown, your feet are aching, your stomach's complaining, but there's still so much to see!

Old skills renewed.

Into the hippodrome - for the spectators, not the horses.....

The North Theatre, from the stage. The acoustics are very, very good. I'd never been in a Roman amphitheatre before, so I was keen to photograph it in detail for my students, but also to test the acoustics for myself. If you stand centre stage and simply speak clearly, with the sort of projection that a conventional proscenium arch stage demands, you can be heard clearly from the farthest seat at the back. Thank you Habibibaba, for doing the legwork all the way to the top to keep mama happy!

And again, from the cheap seats! There are some Arab bagpipe players down there, from the police band, I think. Ode to Joy should not be played on the bagpipes. No really. Take my word for it.

However, when you're standing high up on a sunlit hill, with crickets and butterflies doing their ephemeral thing among the layers of history and echoes of generations, it's the perfect melody to have in your head.

Another floor open to the elements, this time in the ruined church of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
On Day Three, we turned south again, back towards Amman. Back in April, when I started blogging, I uploaded umpteen photographs from the Folklore Museum. They are in a series of entries for April 12th and 13th.

Right, it's 11.47 p.m. and I return to the present for a wander up Jebel Ali with my beloved, to see the New Year in from the top. Happy New Year everyone!


nzm said...

Happy New Year!

I'll have to do a retrospective Jordan post in February which will be a year since we were there, and I never did blog about it!

Anne said...

Happy New Year. I love your pics! I wish I had more time in Amman to take pictures, I loved Jordan.:)

MamaDuck said...

Everyone I've ever told about our Jordan trip has said how much they loved the place. We want to go again, to revisit places we didn't do justice to (i.e. all of them) and visit so much that we didn't have time for - the wetlands in the east, and the desert and wadi in the south. One day, perhaps.