Too often Amman is the butt of other peoples’ jokes. The Milton Keynes of the Middle-East (because of its many roundabouts), is the main one doing the rounds right now.
But this ancient city of Roman ruins and Herculean temples is far more than the mind-numbingly dull cardboard box-shaped (and coloured) buildings that line its dirty, polluted streets. It is a city built on seven hills (what great city wasn’t), that now sprawls nineteen and deserves to be famous for more than just being near the Dead Sea. For instance it is also near a city whose name translates as ‘The Blue Town’, how fun is that!
Forget Petra and Wadi Rum. You are a modern, educated and thinking human being. You know that to really see a country you must mix with its people, get ripped off, have shouting matches with taxi drivers and lose your dignity in public. If only to have something entertaining to tell your friends over a celebratory craft beer on your return. You left home searching for something, an idea perhaps, or the ending to somebody else’s poem. You have a notebook and a camera but need somewhere for inspiration. And, more importantly, you need it to be public so other people can see how earnest you are. Or how nice your sandals are.
With this sort of traveler in mind, and with Jordan likely to remain popular as a ‘stable’ Middle-Eastern tourist destination, where best to go in downtown Amman when in need of a good think?
Street book stalls – a place to buy thoughts
Whether you are after an Arabic copy of Mein Kampf or a used Christmas card you can find these and much more at the various book vendors of downtown Amman. All at a low price, and not just the ones that are apparently held together by their own fading will power. All are generally sold by an old man who appears to be more book than person.
Shoman library – a place to read thoughts
A public library that looks like a bank. Probably because it is sponsored by one. Opposite the Iraqi Embassy (whose entrance is beautifully modeled on the gates of Babylon – although be prepared for an angry response from the guard when you try and take a photo. Why didn’t you just paint it beige then?). Outside the library is a small cabinet labelled as a street library, where you can swap a book for a book (surprisingly still full). Inside you’ll find free wifi, ample tables and a central island full of plants and palm trees stretching all the way up to a clear glass ceiling. Pure air mixed with the smell of a good book, nothing better when in need of refuge from the sun.
Darat al-Funun – a place to sit and sip in thought
Set on the steep, downtown-facing slopes of Jabal Luwebdeh, Darat al-Fanoon is the wandering traveler’s haven. Home to the Palestinian space agency, terrace cafe with views over the hills of central Amman (occasionally accompanied by a lute player), three art exhibitions, ancient ruins of a 6th century church, shade, greenery, a bubbling fountain, cats in various states of disrepair, and a cosy, upstairs library said to be where Lawrence of Arabic wrote some of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Perfect. What is more, entrance is free.
Downtown poem – a place to stare in thought
Let us imagine
The rivers burning in the distance,
We hear the silence, then suddenly
The music comes towards us,
To kill us,
So that the dance returns stronger
Beneath the white sun
Inspired by the words of Moroccan poet, Mohammad Baz, and turned into street art by artist Abdullah Karroum on the side of a derelict multi-story car park as part of Darat al-Funun’s exhibition ‘Expressions on riverbanks and other activities’.
Jordanian website Aramram interviewed some people on the street about this poem. Most didn’t realise it was there. But now you will. How great is that. And you can discourse on its many nuances at length to those who couldn’t care less, and would you please buy this bottle of perfume.
This list would probably be complete with a nice restaurant or some such eatery, but Ramadan has its restrictions. Food for thought…