And I'll mumble something back, along the lines of how I'd talked with Alastair about visiting Fr. Paulie in Nazareth, and I thought I could take a quick side trip to Petra & the more I read the more intrigued I became about Jordan and though Alastair and I never followed up ... and I'll trail off with a shrug ...
Some places are easy to explain. No one ever asks Why Paris? or Why New York? But when I say I'm heading into Amman I get hesitant and curious stares, and always - Why Jordan?
So .. ؟ لماذا الأردن
Li-madhaa al-urdunn? Because I'm a hopeless frikkin' romantic. That's why. Because I want to hire a Bedouin to guide me to the hidden Nabatean city of al-Petra. Because I want to take a camel out into the wilderness and feel what T.E. Lawrence felt in Wadi Rumm and Azrak (Of Azrak, as of Rumm, one said 'Numen inest'. Both were magically haunted: but whereas Rumm was vast and echoing and God-like, Arak's unfathomable silence was steeped in knowledge of wandering poets, champions, lost kingdoms, all the crime and chivalry and dead magnificence of Hira and Ghassan. Each stone or blade of it was radiant with half-memory of the luminous, silky Eden, which had passed so long ago). Because I want to sleep like Antoine St. Exupery under the desert sky (I wonder whether the stars are set alight in heaven so that one day each one of us may find his own again....the stars, the desert -- what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible....It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye).
This is what happens when you read too many books as a kid. One day you'll have just enough money and time to get in trouble for yourself. You want your child to be happy, to grow up and get married and settle down in the nice pretty house behind a clean white picket fence? Don't teach them to read.
There's more. It's because I want to see this tiny Kingdom that has kept the peace though it has no water and no oil and is surrounded on all sides by chaos (Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq!). Because King Abdullah II will disguise himself as a taxi driver and wander the City, Queen Noor was an Urban Planner, and Queen Rania al-Abdullah (left) has a website on Women's Empowerment. Because 200,000 citizens marched in Amman against al-Quaeda. Because homosexuality is legal & though there is no outward scene gaydar has 900+ profiles. And because I've visited the Jordanian chat rooms and blogs and damn if I didn't pick up a sense of aloha there.
So I've been studying my Arabic and re-reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Next week I buy my tickets, and come Spring I'll be riding my camel across the desert.