Monday, May 30, 2005

The Dead Sea 

I just wanted to post some nice pictures from the Dead Sea. Besides being beautiful it is also very interesting historically and geologically. The Sea has about 10 times the salinity of other oceans because it is completely landlocked. Its name is fitting since absolutely NOTHING lives in it: no plants or animals or Darwinian salt loving crustaceans. Nothing. But of course the mud and salt from the sea are renowned for their therapeutic qualities. Its shores are even more prosperous bringing hords of tourists to bordering public beaches and beautiful resorts alike. And of course, you can't talk dead sea without mentioning the dead sea scrolls which lay hidden in a cave on the western shore from about 200 BCC to 1947 AD when they were discovered by some Bedouin goat herders looking for a lost sheep (or so the story goes). Below are some pictures from my two trips there:

Looking out over the west bank.

Camels and people relaxing on the beach.

For those that can't take the salt there is a pool with a view.

Shane floating like a cork.


Sunday, May 29, 2005


Abdoun is the most upscale neighborhood in Amman. It has multi-million dollar homes with huge terraces and beautiful gardens. A month ago Shane and I looked for a reasonably priced flat in the area but had to give up quickly.

Last June they put the first Starbucks in the country right next to the main circle in Abdoun. It is a very nice Starbucks complete with comfortable lounging chairs and a large patio. To the right of the Starbucks is a restaurant called Blue Fig which reminds me of any upscale DC restaurant; that is to say expensive and good but not remarkable in any way (except for a stange decision to have some of the waiters dress as big, furry mascot animals).

But as you sit on the patio of Blue Fig sipping $12 Grey Goose martinis or spread out on a big lounge chair at Starbucks sipping a $4 caramel frappuchino expect to catch a herd of goats passing bye in the corner of your eye at least once or twice.

It's an interesting juxtaposition, but somehow it seems perfectly normal after awhile. I'm also quite fond of the stacks of wooden beehive boxes that line some of the busiest streets.

A Fitting View of Abdoun.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Her Majesty King Hatshepsut 

I may have found a woman that peaks my historical interest as much as or more even than the tough Caravaggist painter Artemisia Gentileschi. You may have heard of her but I never realized how powerful Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458 B.C.) was in her 21 years as pharaoh from and how cunning she was to be able to become pharaoh despite the fact that woman pharoahs were not acceptable during that period and she was never actually genetically in line for the throne.

I don't want to give a boring history lesson, but the quick on Hatshepsut is that through a string of intermarriage and clever positioning, she somehow managed to banish her nephew, the rightful heir to the throne in Egypt to a monestary, and seize the crown herself. In order to justify her power grab, she erected a number of statues and paintings showing herself as the child of the god Amen. She also called herself "King Hatshepsut" instead of Queen and wore men's clothing and the traditional false beard worn by the pharaohs.

Here is a picture of one of her statues where she is wearing the male pharaoh garb and beard.

We saw the amazing Temple of Deir el Bahri in Luxor that Hatshepsut erected for herself. Much of the artwork was defaced by her nephew who, when he grew up, was so angry with the woman who had kept him from the throne of Egypt for years that he tried to destroy her most famous accomplishments. He destroyed her tomb and destroyed and anything on her temple that referred to her and not the gods.

Here is a picture of the Temple of Deir el Bahri.

But clearly he did not succeed in erasing her from History as he had hoped. Her rule was too enshrined and powerful for Egypt and the world to forget. During our trip down the Nile we heard about her a lot. And some 3000 years later her temple Deir el Bahri in Luxor is a tourist zoo. Not a bad legacy if you ask me!


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Oberoi Philae 

This is a picture of our river boat that we took down the Nile River.

It looks bigger here than it actually is. Also, the pictures on the website make it look 10 times nicer than it really was. But it was magical. Rooftop pool, individual balconies and an early 20th century feel. Nothing short of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart on the African Queen.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Nile 

I have been in a magnificent time warp over the last few days. Shane and I just got off a boat that took us from Aswan, Egypt and down the Nile River to Luxor, Egypt. The trip lasted four days interjected with daily tours beginning at the 6 Kilometer-wide quarry that mined all of the Granite we saw along the way, from the Greek-Roman highly decorated splendid temples in Aswan and Komombo, to the older, massive Egyptian temples in Luxor. The temples and tombs we saw revealed so much information about life here 3,000 years ago but also beg so many questions... I am still pondering how they managed to get so much granite so many miles with so little equipment. We both have new dreams of scubadiving the Nile to find lost relics buried under the silt. We heard a Swiss group is attempting these underwater excavations currently and we were considering running off and joining them for a few months. We are also amazed how much is still left to be discovered! Every year they seem to undercover another tomb full of treasure, another layer of history. At one Luxor temple there is a Mosque on top of a Christian church on top of the Egyptian temple all buried to different degrees at different points. There is way too much to write about here! But it has been an amazing trip so far. Very surreal. I definitely recommend it. It's cheap too. We did one night at a beautiful hotel in Cairo, a four-day cruise all meals and tours included, a night in Luxor in another gorgeous Nile-view room and are doing 4 days in Sharm El Sheikh at the Marriot all for $1500 each which includes airfare to and from Amman (which costs $350 each ticket alone). Here is the link to our cruise ship: www.oberoihotels.com
Of course it hasn't been all rosy, we both have had varying degrees of food poisoning since we got here, the poverty here is stunning and the locals hassle you almost everywhere you go but it has been very well worth it. Okay, I've got to get off of the computer now there is a line and they are bugging me to get off the computer. More later...


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The DaVinci Code 

This older, distinguished woman in my building stopped me yesterday to talk to me for 15 minutes about, of all things, the DaVinci Code. She, by the way, has never gone out of her way to be at all friendly to us but instead complains that we are just more tenants who don't speak Arabic.

So she stops me all excited and asks me if I had read the DaVinci Code, which I have. And then proceeds to go on a diatribe (and I mean a diatribe, I might have gotten in about 2 words the whole time), about how she loved that the premise of the book. How we should all realize that religion isn't in the details. How she actually believes the church might have suppressed women deities in order to suppress women. She went on to she said she didn't mind if Jesus married, that people got way to carried away with details. Basically, she gave a very interesting and intelligent review of the book.

That in itself may not seem to strange, except that I heard from another neighbor that the DaVinci Code is "forbidden" here and this distinguished older woman randomly decides to discuss its most controversial aspects in the hallway with me. More interesting yet, was the way she ended the conversation. After she was done reviewing the book she says to me "Did you think an Arabic woman would talk like this? Or did you think we would all be quiet and acquiescent?" What do you say to that question?

Well, I told her the truth. No, I did not expect the kind of fiery, strong women I encounter every day here. I have met with quite a few women marketing directors and managers, and know women doctors and architects. Some wear veils, most do not.

However, there is a big income gap here and I feel comfortable saying that the acute inequality of the Arabic world harped on by the western media is relegated mostly to the lower echelons (not like that makes it less important but it should be put into a context). Although the women in my office admit that a "women's movement" has only begun to take hold in the past few years, they are also surprisingly optimistic about the direction it is heading. They do lament that even though consumerism and globalization have begun a tide of "modernization," western policies and mandates against Arabic countries/Islam have also made the culture retreat into it's more traditional ways which include more traditional gender roles.

It's all very interesting. Especially coming from the states where women my age have forgotten what it means to be a feminist, and what it is like to have fight for equality....Certainly makes me appreciate even more the strife of generations of women before me...


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