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Leave the Keys on Your Way Out

6:59 PM

Amman, Jordan

Today I walked. And walked. And walked. I remember going to bed before 10:00 pm, proud of the fact that I’d fought off the merciless jet lag gods only to hear them have the last laugh a few short hours later as my iPhone touch screen read 2:49 am. At just about the same time I could hear the same melodic chants in Arabic off in the distance. I wondered who it was making those beautiful sounds for their god at such an ungodly hour. I wouldn’t be upset if I woke up to that sound every day, I later thought.

I made my way towards the City Center at around 7:00 am. The early bird gets the worm, but not in this town. Storefronts weren’t even in the nascent stages of giving life to commerce or exchange. For a brief few hours the city seemed almost like it belonged to me and me alone. Aside from the occasional passerby, who I’d invariably offer a “Salam” towards, the city felt like an elaborate set at Warner Bros whose film had wrapped for the day.

Eventually I stumbled across a giant theater. Of course, it’s not often you “stumble” upon a Roman theater, the largest in Jordan, that was once the pride and joy of Antonious Pius who reigned from 138 AD – 161 AD. I stood in awe as I always do at such things, taking picture after picture of the Corinth columns daydreaming of what it might have all been like 2,000 years before.

I looked to my left towards the now glaring sun and saw high on the hill what looked like another treat the Romans had left behind. That’s all I needed and began to once again make haste. I zigged and zagged up a rather precipitous hill, knowing good and well, even as a foreigner there was a much easier way to my ancient ruins. Still, why treat my aversion to pragmatism now? I thought.

Eventually I found myself at the Amman Citadel. Here I saw the Roman Temenos, the Roman Temple of Hercules, the Ayyubid Watch Tower, the Sculpture Gardens, the Umayyad Cistern, a bath house, a Byzantine Church, and much more. It was the perfect reward for an hour and half walk that began to feel rudderless, but probably a wet dream for whatever archaeologist discovered the same site many years before.

I understand that some people just see a pile of rocks with such things, but for whatever reason the sight of ruins, often the Roman kind, though old, never gets old, at least not to me. And I’ve seen them in many places now. I suppose what I marvel at most is how one culture conquers another invariably taking over where the previous tenants left off.

Whether during the Persian Period, the Hellenistic, or Roman, each seems to take without fear of reprisal. “Thank you for the fortification wall, the bath houses, the church we plan to make into a mosque. Leave the keys on your way out. We’ll take it from here,” they seem to say. I wonder how much has really changed.

I reflected on a piece of advice, Antonio, the 20-something Peruvian PHD candidate mentioned to me before I left. He said, “When you’re in a rush you have to do things extra slowly.”

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