Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Loving all ends of the spectrum in Jordan

Wadi Rum
There are some trips that you want to hold onto because right after your return you are so full of great memories and so full of great feelings that you want to elongate that after-vacation period when you feel relaxed and happy. Jordan was one of those trips.

For days I have been waiting to be able to put it into words, scanning the pictures, thoughts and stories to be able to accurately describe my time there. It was amazing for so many reasons that I had a hard time untangling all the different cords describing why.

It was a trip with some old friends, but I made new friends in the process. It was very touristy on the one hand going to Petra and Wadi Rum desert with a tour guide, and it was very local on the other going to a friend’s house (a 10+ year resident of Jordan) for a home-made lunch.

Our modes of transport varied between a 9-seater mega Tahoe that we took down to the dessert and camels, donkeys and horses while in it. 

We climbed up, down and over rocks to get up, down and through cliffs in Petra. We laid down and napped on slabs of rock in the Wadi Rum desert.

Amazing Petra
In some moments, we recreated Toyota commercials by driving over steep sand dunes, (the idea of our slightly show-offish guide), while the boys hung off the sides of the car (just because). In others, this same Formula 1- wannabe driver made keffiyeh-type traditional head pieces for my friends out of their wool scarves.

We slathered Dead Sea black mud all over ourselves during the day and donned heels and dresses for clubbing at night.

Dead Sea and Mud treatments
We danced with arms around each other’s backs in a semi-circle in traditional Arabic style for some songs then danced like a horse and rider in Gangnam style for another.

We ate some meals in very sophisticated modern restaurants while others in some more traditional type cafes; we even had one meal in a Bedouin tent, a BBQ cooked for us by our guide on a small portable grill.

BBQ in a Bedouin Tent
In terms of food, I don’t know if my palate is shaped by my roots or just purely by flavor, but I never get sick of Arabic food. I would have been happy to eat any of these dishes day after day after day if I had to, but there is such an array of vegetarian options that I didn’t have to.

Hummus, Labneh, Baba Ghanoush, Wara Enab
In fact, it was a vegetarian’s dream with things like okra (stunningly good), hummus, labneh (yogurt-type cheese), wara enab (stuffed grape leaves), tabouleh (bulgur wheat salad), falafel (spiced and fried chick peas) and of course, pita bread. While the meat-eaters didn’t go hungry either, with feasts of shawarma (spiced, roasted meat), shish taouk (chicken skewers), kibbeh (baked beef and bulgar wheat) and various lamb dishes like Jordan’s national dish, mansaf

Arak & Shisha
I had some piping hot sage and mint teas (I’ll never figure out how tea can be so good in the Arab world!)  and smoked double apple and lemon mint shisha on some days. On other days, I had icy-cold, Arak (a licorice-flavored digestive) and refreshing lemon-mint smoothies. 

One of the many local and impressive pastry shops in Amman

There was even an array in the types of coffee and desserts: we had Jordanian Starbucks coffee one day and local “Turkish” coffee another. At restaurants, I ordered various Arabic sweets (mainly consisting of phyllo pastry, nuts and honey). At our friend’s house, we had freshly made cupcakes. 

In a whole other category, there is knafeh, the famous local dessert, which to me tasted like a mix between a proper meal and a dessert. It is a type of deep fried cheese with bulgur wheat, rose water and orange syrup. (A bit too much for me, I’ll admit). 

In short, the variety was endless, and I had enough adventures and repose to more than amply fill the 6 days I was there. 

Packing up the day before I left, my inner voice opposed, saying “Wait, what are you doing? I like Jordan. I was just settling in here!” I felt like I had been there a lot longer; I felt like I could stay a lot longer. I had reached a familiarity with the place that didn’t come from a six-day duration.

I don’t pretend to claim I know Amman or Jordan like a local would or does, and I don’t believe that family roots can completely bind you to a place or region that you yourself had never been, but I do believe that it can feel natural. Being in Jordan felt natural to me.

I remember on my first trip to Egypt, my half Egyptian, half Italian friend told me to lean toward the window to see the desert from the plane. “You’re flying home,” he said. I had never been there. My dad had only lived there from birth to the age of 18. My grandparents weren’t even Egyptian; they were immigrants to Egypt from Syria. But there was something about the certainty in which he stated it, the factuality of it: home. There was something about it that made sense. Perhaps Jordan reminded me of home.  


Some useful links I used:

Royal Jordanian- For booking direct flights to Amman; Doesn't always come up in search engines
Amman Snob- Good list of restaurants/Bars
You in Jordan- A blog with some good hints and ideas for things to do

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Living like a local

As it happens during periods of life (my life anyway), I have been going through a period of not living like a tourist. It has been a period of health appointments, paperwork renewals, necessary errands and general bureaucracy. In fact, I have been living, not like a tourist, but like a local in Rome for many months now... way too many months. And I will be very frank, living like a local in Rome kind of sucks. All those quirks that you find amusing as tourists, charming as visitors, unique as travelers to Rome are irritating, predictable and frustrating to the people who live it day in and day out.

When you arrive at a store and the opening hours say 14:00-20:00 and it is 15:15 and the store is closed, as a tourist you say, “Oh those funny Italians, they are probably out having coffee. They really know how to enjoy life!” But when you are a local and left work specifically to go to that store and it is your 4th visit because every other time there was also some reason it was closed, your reaction is “What in the world? Don’t they ever work?” Or when you wait 45 minutes for a bus, as a tourist you say, “At least it is sunny out. When was the last time it was sunny in February back at home?” As a local you say, “For crying out loud, I could have walked there and back (and probably would have) if I weren’t carrying these heavy bags of groceries.” The scenarios go on and on.

Whereas living like a tourist in Rome can be the inspiring, fantastical, romantic life you see in the movies, living like a local is often none of these things; it is just ordinary, regular, everyday life in a city.

In periods like this, when I am not feeling the whole "tourist" life thing, I still make sure that my ordinary, regular, everyday activities incorporate bits of the touristy-vacation-style-of-life. When running, for example, I sometimes take a slightly longer route that will take me by the Coliseum. Or if I have the mundane errands of picking up shampoo and face cream, I sometimes make it a point to do them in the Historic Center to see the city light up in an orange glow at night. I have to remind myself of the tourist point of view otherwise I become a much grumpier person (and this blog would be called Living like a Curmudgeon).

So as much as life has been requiring me to take care of the trivial things, you know, like health, money and career, I have been reminding myself not to get too comfortable in the local perspective. Because in the seemingly endless stream of doctor and dentist appointments, transportation pass renewals, income and tax declarations, government identity registrations and the variety of other paperwork/busywork, Rome can quickly lose its luster.

I will soon share with you two other stories that haven’t helped Rome in the luster category, but then I will brush them away and once again seek the inspiration that is inside of this city (as within every city) because I never know how much longer Rome and I have together. If these are the last moments, they should be great ones.


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