Amman, Jordan — a brief revisit

I lived in Amman, Jordan from 2011 to 2014. I recently ,unexpectedly and serendipitously, got the opportunity to return to Jordan. The detour was due to sudden changes to travel restrictions related to the pandemic. Because of the pandemic, we chose not to stay long in the city, but to merely pass through on our way to more remote and less populated regions of the country. Upon our arrival, we had to get PCR tests in the airport, but the procedure was pretty well organized and streamlined. We rented a car, which was also a relatively painless procedure. The company also loaned us a data hot spot, free of charge. We just had to purchase an inexpensive data card from a booth conveniently located directly across the concourse from the rental car window.

Amman is a mash-up of the past and the present, the traditional and the modern, the rural and the urban. A perfect example of the latter is the sight of shepherds grazing their flocks of sheep and goats in the medians of highways, or in the wild weeds of vacant lots. It is also common to see impromptu fruit or vegetable stands on the city street or major roadway. The Jordanian authorities seem very willing to allow people to make their living as their families have done for generations, free from regulation or zoning ordinances, for which I am sure the residents are appreciative.

We stayed at the new and ultra-modern W Hotel. The designers were, clearly, trying very hard to be artsy and cutting-edge, while also acknowledging Jordan’s rich historical heritage. The walk from the hotel entrance to the elevator lobby is an artistic interpretation of the famous Petra Siq. The artwork of Jordanian artists is integrated into the hotel’s design, including a colorful fabric “tree.” Placards identify the artist and tell a bit about her or him. Our “suite” was very tiny, but creatively, and somewhat whimsically, designed.

After getting settled into the hotel, we walked around the area. The unique mixture of odors brought me back to my time there: the ever-present overlay of dust in the air, mixed with the smell of the equally ubiquitous garbage and trash, interlaced with the odor of fried falafel and aromatic schwarma, as well as the sweet scent of jasmine and incense. We had dinner at the Jordan River Wine tasting room (something we don’t have available to us in Saudi Arabia). Our young server spoke perfect American English, had tattoos and piercings, and also was very enthusiastic and informative about the tasting room’s offerings. Jordan River has really upped its game in the past seven years (we were told they got a new master vintner); every wine we tasted was very nice. We even got a few bottles to go.

Wandering through the streets after dinner, it was nice to see Jordanians (mostly the younger ones) dressed in modern Western clothing engaging in the same activities youth in many places enjoy — skateboarding, listening to music on their phones, hanging out and drinking coffee. On the same street were other Jordanians dressed in traditional dress (women with their heads covered), also hanging out and drinking coffee, strolling side by side, or just enjoying each other’s company. We discovered a new outdoor mall that had been built since we left in 2014. Based on the appearance and design, it could be an outdoor mall almost anywhere — the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe. In a way, it is a little sad to see historic architecture replaced with cookie-cutter commercial spaces. We chatted with some locals, who directed us to a French bakery in the mall for the most amazing lavender cupcakes (not a traditional Jordanian dish, by the way). They were, indeed, fantastic! Since there was a 9:00 curfew due to the pandemic, we headed back to the W for the night.

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