April 15, 2008

Amman, Jordan
30 Miles to Jerusalem

Can you even call a 17 hour layover a layover? That's long enough that you really have to consider putting down roots.

At Turkish passport control, I was in line with 50 middle-aged Russian women. They are much better at waiting in line than me. They seemed to glide past while I was standing still. Are the rules of line-waiting different in Russia? I always found them to be basic and immutable.

Clearly, none of these women are poor. One does not have initials embroidered across one's handbag unless one has money to burn. Their glitter red alligator print jackets identify them as aristocrats. Someone had to go out into the jungle and hunt down those glitter red alligators, you know? That doesn't come cheap.

Am I missing something about Duty Free? What's the big deal? Who are the raging alcoholics who need to save a buck on Chivas Regal?

Obviously, I had a lot of time on my hands. One good thing about Istanbul's airport, and really the only thing that ever matters: free wi-fi. I finished up a project I've been working on for a while. I put every place I've ever been into Google Earth.

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It has all my travel dates, loads of pictures, and links to journal entries.

I haven't worked out how to put a link on my map page yet that will open straight into Google Earth, so for now, just right click (or whatever you mac people do) on this link and save the target file, then open it in Google Earth. If that doesn't work for you...give me a week or two to sort it out.

There are some typos and little things here and there that aren't quite how I'd like them, but that's just life, isn't it? The more important flaw -- and believe me, I'm well aware -- is that this isn't actually interesting to anyone but myself. It's too much information and it's too fiddly.

My next goal is to boil it down into something friendlier and more presentable: a map of all the places I've ever shot a dancing clip. I plan to attach an image from each scene to the markers as well as a short blurb about how it was shot. It'll be sort of like a coffee table book, except not a book and you won't be able to put it on a coffee table.

Midnight flight into Jordan. Anyone ever sat in a plane seat with those fold-down foot rest bars? They're amazing. If you're over 5'8", they serve no purpose, cause you're legs are too long to actually rest on them. And in their folded-up state, they sit at just the right height to scrape against your shin bone through the entire flight. What a marvelous addition to the air travel experience!

Someone must have packed a container of jam in the luggage directly on top of mine. It exploded at altitude and leaked all over my bag. When I picked it up off the carousel, I got a nice surprise: hands covered in sticky, purple goop.

I don't know why I took this picture.

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After two consecutive overnight flights and 48 hours without a bed, I decided to treat myself to a Day's Inn. I booked on Expedia from the airport. Checking in at 3am is rarely a good idea, so I hung out in baggage claim until dawn, way too exhausted to fall asleep.

When I showed up at the hotel, they had no record of my booking, which I'd already paid for online. I told them I booked on Expedia. They said it must be a "fake" site because it didn't appear in their records. The guy looked at my bloodshot eyes, though, and I guess took some pity on me. He put me up in a room and said we'd straighten it out later.

I smelled so bad, I couldn't go straight to sleep. Instead, I slid into the tub and promptly fainted. The tub was too small for me, so my legs were pressed up against the bathroom wall. When I came to, my legs had been like that for over an hour. If I'd just fallen asleep normally, the awkward position would have woken me up, but I evidently passed out. When I tried to get up, I found I couldn't move my legs. I had to crawl across the room to get into bed.

What I'm trying to say here is: the last couple days haven't been terribly thrilling.

I've got two full days left in Jordan and I'm going to try to make an adventure of it. I'm thinking of heading down to Wadi Rum and seeing what I can see. I hope to find some Bedouins who will dance with me.

Looking at the map, I realize I'm about 30 miles from Jerusalem. I was there less than two months ago shooting a commercial for an Israeli travel agency. It's 30 miles, but it feels like a thousand. I had a similar experience in Kuwait, looking out to Iran and Iraq only a few miles off the coast. Geography cedes to politics here. Tiny distances separate discrete worlds. And the dividing lines have been moving around for as long as civilization.

Of course this region is in constant turmoil. It's not about religion. It's not about oil. It's about pressure differentials. Weather patterns. It's thermodynamics, friends. Thermodynamics!

May 02, 2006

Unspecified Location, Jordan
My Day at the Iraqi Police Training Facility

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If you're wondering, that's my "This clearly isn't really happening" face.

Made the flight out of Aswan, spent the night in Cairo, missed my flight to Amman, Jordan the following day.

Turned out my taxi driver didn't have a license, so he had to bribe the guards at the airport to get past. He wasn't too happy about that. He dropped me at the wrong terminal. It being Cairo, I had to take three separate buses to reach the right one. Once there, I had to run the length and back with all my bags, getting useless directions from every guard along the way.

I reached the check-in counter as the flight was closing. Threw a tantrum, but it did no good. They put me on the night flight. Business class, so there was that, but I had ten hours to kill.

The airport in Amman has an interesting visa policy. It costs 10 Dinars to get one, and you can only pay in Jordanian currency. There are money exchange desks, but if all you're carrying is a bank card, this is a problem, because the bank machine is on the other side of immigration.

When I presented my problem to a guard, a number of them huddled together to discuss it. There was passionate yelling and long, ponderous head-scratching. It was as if, with flights landing every hour, I was the first person to run into this dilemma.

Still bitter over the Cairo debacle, I had little patience left. I marched past the guards to go get some damn money out. This threw them into a panic.

"No no no! You cannot do that!"
"Why?"
"You must have visa."
"Yeah. We covered this. I don't have money for a visa. I need to go get some."

Looks of anguish and worry, as if their jobs were at stake.

After several more minutes of deliberation, at last a ranking security officer escorted me to the ATM. Problem solved.

On returning, he asked the burning question. "Excuse me, sir. You are American?"

"How did you guess?"

He gave an awkard laugh and I got some insight into what their long discussions had been about.

I recently got an email from an American named John who is living in Jordan. He said if I ever planned to visit, I should let him know. I wrote back with "How about next Sunday?"

I get emails like this from time to time and rarely take people up on their offers, mostly to avoid...ya know...hole drilled into head, acid poured in the brain, chained in basement as zombie sex slave.

It happens.

But the timing was close enough and the region intimidating enough that I decided to take a chance.

Fortunately, John isn't into that kind of thing.

Having missed my flight, we weren't able to meet up when we were supposed to. I got in super-late and found a hotel in the downtown area. In Jordan, "downtown" is a euphamism for "hive of scum and villainy," but I didn't know any better.

There are no street addresses in Jordan, so the directions I gave John to my hotel were useless. We finally met up later in the morning and rushed straight out of the city for Petra.

John had taken the day off work and stocked the car with drinks and snacks. Thoughtful guy.

It was great being around an American again. For as much as I criticize my countrymen, there is a certain way of seeing things that is uniquely ours. He had much to say on Muslim culture -- stuff that'd been bothering me for the last week, he'd been dealing with for over a year.

The endless deliberation I endured at the airport; it's a thing. Nothing is done without a long period of negotiation. As an American, I'm very action-oriented. And for all the places I've visited where the pace is slower, I still have trouble down-shifting.

For some reason I had it in my head that John worked at the US Embassy. Turns out he's an instructor at the Iraqi Police Training Facility.

That Iraqi Police Training Facility? The one the White House is always going on about? The one they're betting the farm on? The linchpin in their effort to get us the hell out of there?

Yes. That one.

"When are you leaving again?"
"My flight is tomorrow."
"Too bad. If you were staying an extra day I could take you to work with me."
"Did I say tomorrow?"

So we got to Petra. Neat place. I neglected to do any reading on it beforehand...and you know what? I still haven't bothered.

No history lesson for today, folks. Just some pictures.

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That's John on the right.

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You may recognize this image from...come on, you know it...

Here's a hint: "We named the dog Indiana."

That's right. This is where the Knights Templar hid the Grail of Christ, and where an aging Indiana Jones removed it.

Turns out there's no Grail inside -- no nifty decapitating buzzsaws either. It's pretty much just a facade.

They call it the Treasury, but I find it hard to believe anyone would go to all that trouble decorating a treasury.

There's only one reason people make stuff like that: to show everybody how nauseatingly much they love God.

John's guess seems accurate; that it was built as some kind of temple, then the Romans came in, took it, and used it to store all their cash. Sounds about right, huh?

We tried doing a dancing clip in front of it, but it was a little bland.

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I found this framing a lot more mysterious and compelling.

It took a while to get it right, so I was lucky to have someone with the patience to hold the camera through multiple attempts.

Here's an amphitheater of some sort.

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I don't have anything interesting to say about it.

We didn't stick around very long once we got the shot. Lot of Japanese. Lot of guys trying to sell camel rides. Some difficult hikes, but not too much to look at.

[This post is unfinished. I'll polish it off later.]

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