Friday, June 5, 2009

Ancient walls of flowers...

Walking over the uneven pavestones of Jerash in Jordan was a trip back in time. The expanse of the site was dumbfounding; we could have explored there all day amongst the flowers and columns and ancient stone, trying to imagine life as it was.

Temples to the Gods, promanades, graceful carved scrolls, spaces which had enclosed shops along the walkways, staircases, and all the architecture one would expect from an ancient Roman city.

Mosaics and wildflowers. There were scarlet poppies and irises and hollyhocks among the yellow blossoms which dominated the landscape, wreathing the city in a garland of exuberant spring.

Groups of Arab youths were going around in groups separated by gender, and many of them had brought drums to accompany frequent and seemingly spontaneous bursting into song and dance. Often call-and-response verses and steps that everyone seemed to know.

The leader of the group pictured above is the one with his red-and-white checked keffiyeh (headscarf) in the middle; he waved it around as he cavorted back and forth between the others in lines who held each others' hands and danced and sang back to him.

In the South Theatre amphitheatre there were Arab bagpipers playing, amusingly, Yankee Doodle and Scotland the Brave, to demonstrate the excellent acoustics. They couldn't quite hit the high notes but they were united in being almost exactly half a step down when they stretched for them.

Every time I have seen the seemingly innocuous combination of Arab and bagpipe I have enjoyed the novelty of the whole idea. Fresh out of coins, I threw some paper Dinar in their bucket, something I noticed few of the tourists who had crowded in to get their photos taken marching with the bagpipers during their performance did. Huh.

Bethy and a couple in the South Theatre, the woman showing only her hands and eyes. We have gotten entirely used to this style of dress and barely even notice anymore, except in making an effort not take their anything but a sneaky fashion, that is.

The kids did extrordinarily well with being dragged all over for hours under a bright sun. Thomas got his arm stuck down into a hole in the Colonnaded Street, the main thoroughfare, and needed prying out, and fell more than once, leaping from one abbreviated column to the next or toppling off of unbalanced stones. Quote of the day from Thomas: "I want to climb on the ruins!"

Neither child plunged to certain doom off high walls despite several good opportunities for such an end. A theme for parenthood in the Middle East...try to notice such things as there really are no safeguards. Both kids posed uncomplainingly for innumerable photographs, mostly taken by fellow tourists.

At one point, a good 5 hours into our self-guided tour, Mike went off ahead to view Artemis' Temple, which I knew the kids and I wouldn't get to. Remaining behind, we amused ourselves by exploring a series of stone rooms open to the sky, first ducking through a doorway better suited to the kids and not myself.

Wanting to avoid the squeeze on the way out, I tried to go another way with Thomas and ended up climbing higher and higher atop the walls, thinking I'd get to a point where we could easily get back down and finally settling for relatively safely, lowering Thomas and then hollering at him to stay put while I went on my stomach then squirmed backwards over the edge and down next to him. Not my best moment, and not unlike a cat getting stuck up a tree.

Part of the issue was giving a wide enough berth to the enormous shiny black millipedes everywhere. These were at least an inch wide and some were damned near to a foot long. At the time we thought they were centipedes and none of us wanted to find out how poisonous they were. As is turns out, they were African Giant Millipedes, quite harmless, apparently make great pets. Missed a photo op there as you can see if you do a search on Google for African+millipede.

Trust me, it's worth it.

Gratuitous (non-millipede) photo of yours truly, thanks to Bethy for the I-was-there documentation.
Mike with the guidebook map. Modern Jerash can be seen beyond ancient Gerash.

Other creepy crawlies included the large lizards sunning themselves on the stones, watching us bemusedly, and the black dung bettles that Thomas in particular delighted in catching. He commissioned his little bucket hat as a bettle holder and scampered after the hapless bugs, expertly picking them up and carefully securing them in his hat, folding the edges shut. At one point there were at least ten in there, all wishing themselves elsewhere, I am sure, and I hope they appreciated our catch-and release-policy.

Finally, after hours and hours, in the late afternoon we conceded it was time for an overdue lunch and a bathroom. (The only facilities we had found within the paid area were locked, and while outside and diapers were OK for the three others...) After exiting I tried a previously unnoticed bathroom down the hill from the ticket takers and came face to face with yet another potato-scarf bathroom woman, eerily similar to the first one. I shied away from the proffered tissue, managed just fine, dashed ahead of her to turn on my own water at the sink and dried my hands on my jeans, thwarting attempt #2 at the tissue offer. Ha! She looked disappointed but resigned, though that didn't stop her from holding out her hand. I smiled, thanked her...and left.

Also near the ticket takers was an open air restaurant offering a buffet and we went for it, ravenous. All sorts of Middle Eastern foods, and freshly baked flatbreads. I took Bethy to see the man baking the breads in a stone oven and he told me, with a combination of signs and words to go get my camera to take a photo:

Which I then paid for. Sheesh.

Well, at least Bethy got heart bread.

It had been another long day, full to the brim with new experiences.

1 comment:

Jessica Rose Morris said...

The dancing is a Palestinian traditional dance called Dabka. It's a lot of fun and when I was there, there were a bunch of girls doing it and I was too chicken to join. Later that day we went to Um Qais and some women were doing it there and I joined and it's definitely one of my most memorable experiences in Jordan. Wish I would have gone here again in the Spring, your pictures are awesome.