A wintry Amman is casually lovely. The summer is great for tourism, but the winter invites introspection and quiet contentment. This is the time to warm your fingers by candlelight in a lounge like Canvas, or walk hypnotized through City Mall’s minimalist sleekness, or else just gape at the construction projects that are bristling up all over the city.
In the cold, Amman is a quieter place. Sound carries. Sunlight is milky and diluted. The nights are more energetic, now that new bars and restaurants are welcoming residents and travelers into their cavernous, smoky insides. For myself, I have now discovered Loki, the place that everyone started talking about a long time ago. As an infrequent traveler, I hope I can be forgiven for my lateness and general un-hipness.
The joke goes that Jordan is stuck “between Iraq and a hard place.” And yet for a nation literally bordered by conflicts, Jordan has done fairly well for itself, all things considered. It remains a favourite with tourists who are particularly keen on history and nature (although international brand-name luxury certainly has its presence in Amman, the Dead Sea, and beyond). The economy has been growing, and the currency is pretty strong.
The Islamic Action Front, a conservative political party, has suffered losses in Jordan’s most recent parliamentary elections. This may have something to do that the economy appears to be a top priority to the electorate, but personally, I’m not sure either way. Jordanian society as a whole is still pretty conservative, but Amman in particular has mellowed out some. I used to feel my foreignness keenly in Amman. Perhaps I’ve mellowed out as well.
In many public places, hotels especially, metal detectors are a reminder of the bombings of November 2005.
The metal detectors have a dual effect: they both inspire a feeling of safety, and remind one that there is no such thing as safety. Although, where in the world is really safe to begin with? I suppose I could bundle up and stick it out in my old ancestral lands in the Ukrainian countryside, or else in the North Carolina mountains, but then there would be people-smugglers and fundamentalists to fear, respectively.
Today, the threat of terrorism in Amman is a whispered threat. Upon a casual observation, it doesn’t quite seem real. You want to relegate it to the ghost-world, to the realm of the Chupacabra and the Abominable Snowman. Desire doesn’t always correspond with reality, however, and in the Levant this is especially so.
But you don’t want to think about these things in the waning days of winter, when women in niqab look badass in leather trenchcoats and shawerma places stand with their doors propped open, exhaling hunger and heat. It’s perilous to try to guess the future, but hope reverberates here, like adhan in those hours when a lazy bum like me has to stop for a second and marvel at how people manage to get up while all I am capable of doing is burrowing further under the blanket and away from the lingering cold.
The olive trees creak on the wind and sleepy cab-drivers honk irritably as a new day presses upon Amman. It’s gorgeous and unfussy, like the women stomping their cold feet at the bus-stops, like the gentle curves of the hills. After I finally come awake and face the music, a Ukrainian woman who dyes my hair tells me, while laughing, a story of her husband beating up her old boss when the latter tried to solicit sex from her. Throughout the day, different people relate the same grim suspicions about the famous Abdoun suspension bridge, a marvel of modernity, that’s “probably built with crap-materials.” Why? Who knows? And anyway, the bridge is so, so pretty that the doomsday talk surrounding it reminds me of a Morrissey lyric: “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”
I wish I could stay for weeks, eat mansaf until I’m fat and happy, listen to tales of terror surrounding gas prices, talk about the apparent plans for the prettification of Queen Alia International Airport (hey! I like it just the way it is! Oh wait, no one’s asked me…). I wish I came here more often. That’s the thing about Amman. It may not be obvious, it may not be in-your-face, but it is subtly, dangerously charming, even as it changes and morphs and breaks apart and comes together, like a craggy kaleidoscope before your eyes.