Sunday, March 21, 2010

Amman, do not judge a book by its cover

Hearing that I would go to Amman, many warned that it would be uber-boring, and that there is nothing to see there. Seeing buildings with perfect limestone façades, no higher than four floors, and hearing no noise, I freaked out, I was going to be stuck in this city for ten whole days ...

I was lucky to meet and reconnect with people who took me around the city, Amman is now on my list of my favorite cities.

The soundtrack to the trip was the voice of Makadi Nahas whom I was lucky to catch in concert at Courtyard a lounge hidden in the lovely Shmeisani district where my friend lives.

In the horizon the mountain neighbourhoods have little two storey limestone houses with gardens, and you could see their lights twinkling from the terrace of Books@cafe or simply Books as Ammanis call it, a bookstore, lounge, bar, cafe mix, 70s wall art, a relaxed artsy crowd, lots of scarves and curls, chairs with different but matching colors, a jazzist and her microphone on the lounge wall, just my kind of place!

Books is off Rainbow street where all the hip-spots are and that may be the only street where cool spots are concentrated, and I didn't mind that. The beauty of Amman is in its mystery, the coolest hangouts are hidden away in residential neighbourhoods, and fancy restaurants look like houses from the outside and are as welcoming when you go in (Levant, Romero, Fakhr El Din).

Even art centers are hidden in the mountains and one feels as if intruding on someone's private art collection in their home, that's exactly how I felt when I knocked on the doors of Darat Al Funun.

I have to admit that I freaked out on the first day when I couldn't find an arts and culture guide, and now I can say I am happy I worked for it, I am happy I only knew when I asked around, only then I knew that 7iber (Ink) is the reference.

I loved the views from the benches at Rainbow streets which reminded me of miradores in Spain, designated points in the city to get a bird's eye view. I even enjoyed the down town kitsch cafe-bars, which had only male customers and are now attracting the intellectual hippie crowd, I know they will very soon become Amman's equivalent of Horreya in down town Cairo. I also found Jazz, so I cannot complain, Cafe de Paris had unique gigs, night after night.

As for old Amman, my friends have transmitted their nostalgia to me, I can tell stories of Jabal Natheef and Jabal Luweibdeh, of the neighbours in the harras, and of the old jasmine tree.

When I remember Amman, I remember fresh pine scented air, rain on my coat, trying to find my way to Wild Jordan, and the lady at the fruit shop who gave me a banana and wished me a lovely day.

Photo: Church in beautiful Luweibdeh, near Luzmilla hospital (the first picture I take in 2 years)