Archive for January, 2011
They all sat outside the amphitheater selling bills, most no longer worth their ink, most from a decade of a ruler demised, or a leader deposed. Saddam Hussein glared up from the street, girdled in wide greenish-blue dinar. Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and African heads of state lay side by side in neat spreads replicated near identically by each squatting vendor.
For 1 JD, about a buck-fifty, any one of them can be yours. Buy more and strike bargain territory. I took greater interest in those currencies long out of print, those minted in a day when one language was good enough and a banknote never traveled far. Just across the border from a land divided, a land that was once theirs, these money markets are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what the bill can buy now. It doesn’t matter what it ever could have bought. It doesn’t matter what it’s selling for on eBay — now it costs one Jordanian Dinar.
“Let’s go, man.”
We took the long way back to the parking lot, every moment asking why? — why are we doing this? why are you doing it with me? Given each action, each movement, under what circumstances would they make sense? If you’re trying to rob me? If you’re just trying to hang out?
“I don’t normally come here,” Salim said about the downtown quarter. “But I like to walk with company, because of this one.” He patted his belly.
He walked me into a falafel shop — I’d mentioned I was hungry. I ordered one, then two, and Salim paid. Weird. Sure, they were about 50 cents each, but when did a cab driver ever take his fare to lunch? Either he felt it was only fair considering how many thousands of dollars of electronics and dirty sweatshirts he was going to steal from me, or he bizarrely wanted to make a nice gesture for a tourist in his city.
Whatever his game, I decided to fight back. We paused at a streetside tea vendor. I paid. Maybe if I was nice enough, and melted his heart with warm mint tea, he’d call off the hit.
It all seemed a bit too easy, but for sixty dollars I had hired a driver from the Hussein Bridge Border Crossing to take me into downtown Amman, and later, to the airport —more than two hours of total driving. Plus, I’d have three hours to see the Jordanian capital before my flight back to Abu Dhabi. I put my duffel in the trunk, jammed my backpack into the back seat and slid in the front.
Salim was from Palestine and had lived almost everywhere his visa would let him. He lit a cigarette and spoke in better English than my Arabic.
“How’s Abu Dhabi?”
“Abu Dhabi’s okay,” I told him. “Hot. Jordan’s so nice in the wintertime.”
“I don’t like the cold.”
After an hour and a half and several bouts of involuntary napping, I opened my eyes at the city limits, where swaths of identical square houses cover every inch of hillside. Where Jerusalem stone is white, textured, the façade of Amman is yellow and brown, its flat boxes textured only by pressing against and climbing over one another like a cubist painting.
Sands shift, borders are redrawn, battles fought. But in one theater, there are no winners — only cooperation or sandy balls. The famed beach paddle sport Matkot is one of refined skill and simple, simple rules: hit. For decades, almost always in pairs parallel to the shoreline, Tel Avivians (and other Israeli-inspired Mediterranean beachgoers) have smacked a squash rubber ball. There is no net, there is no score — there is but the betterment of mutual skill, the sound of the waves, and a never-ending supply of onlookers to make fun of the rookies.
With this inspiration, I announce the first ever INGULFED.com Co-Sponsored Initiative for World Peace and Other Endeavors: the First Annual Global International World Matkot Invitational Championship. Now, I’m not positive what year the First Annual will be, but I have every reason to believe that a strong Matkot [MAHT-coat] culture cultivated and encouraged around the Middle East will provide the necessary grassroots support for the resolution of many (if not all) of the regions problems, whatever they may be. I’ve already forgotten, just thinking about Matkot — see?
In Hebrew, signs point to the Salt Sea. But below those letters reads the English no euphemism could touch. The Black Sea ain’t black. The Red sea ain’t red. But the Dead Sea, oh yeah — that pond is fuckin’ deceased.
In fact, the six-foot-under Sea is sinking even deeper. Less than 1,300 feet below sea level in 1970, the dead seashore now sits 1,385 feet below, and continues to recede three feet further every year. But despite the fact that decades ago the sea split into a separate North body and South body, there is one clear winner — your body.
Or, The Ruins’ Point
The land marked on many maps as “Israel”, or as a series of dotted lines, or a be-yarmulka’d frowny face, is exactly what it has been for millennia: ever-changing. Every neighborhood and time-tested city is a variable function that depends on your state of mind: Feel like a local? The city is x. Feel like a tourist? The city has this to offer. Feeling especially Jewish today? Come, have a homentashen.
As the first familiar place I’ve been in seven months (save a week at grandma’s house), Israel — as it does for many — felt like an old relative. Like at grandma’s house, Israel always feeds to excess and loves to retell old stories. But insomuch as any past posts have been a travelogue, the document of this short stay in the Holy Land can’t be. I’ve changed too much throughout the course of my Isrelationship — I haven’t been just the brief courtier I was in North Oman or Eastern Azerbaijan. In rapidfire, express-tourism, vision is clear because it is so heavily filtered. Depth makes statements difficult, assumptions even harder — putting complete thoughts together after visits spanning nearly 15 years and a brief stint as a semi-professional is harder than trying to chart the evolution of your favorite color in your first seven months in utero. I can’t write advice for tourists because I’m all mixed up about what it means to be one. Less is more sometimes, and as much as this is a failure to reveal the value of touring in the first place — it’s not you Israel, it’s me.
Long story short: it hurts to think. So I’ll report the facts unmarred by that aggrandized pastime, and all that deducing and synthesizing that purport to accompany “clever” writing and “helpful” analysis — well… that’ll just be your job for the moment.
The Conclusive Guide to Crossing (In and Out Of)
Jordan by Land
If I’d spent Hanukkah in the United Arab Emirates, I had to spend Christmas in Israel. At a dark 5:30 in the morning, a muezzin belted out the dawn Call to Get Moving from the Grand Mosque. We few “Members of the Tribe” left for an 8:00 flight to Jordan, the civilized among us connecting to Tel Aviv by air. Not me. Here’s how to do it by bus:
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