The city of Amman is built on seven mountains. And the word mountain means mountain – not a hill! Many years ago I saw Andorra from the top of nearby mountains as the car headed downward on steep windy roads. Andorra is a little country tucked between Spain and France, I was astounded by the verticalness of the buildings constructed on the side of a mountain, nearly 90 degrees. Amman is even more vertical than Andorra. I have never seen, or walked, so many 95 degree stone staircases and stairwells in my life. It is impossible to get from one destination to another without trekking up and down millions of steps. The residents here undoubtedly have the strongest thighs and lower backs in the world. The photograph above is one of the staircases that provides residents access to their homes on the opposite side of my mountain. The residents, from babies to great grandparents, climb hundreds of steps daily just to get to the street above or below their home.
The walls of the buildings that line the staircases are spotted with assorted graffiti expressing everything from short thoughts to more complex issues about Jerusalem and Palestine.
When I leave my apartment I usually walk up a sidewalk with a hefty incline to Paris Circle. After passing the water shop, I usually say hello to Ibraheem, whose family business is the flower shop nearby.
Today Zohreh, Randall, David and I trekked to the Shoman Foundation’s Darat Al Funon, an arts and culture center with a terraced cafe.
While drinking my mini-cup of thick coffee grounds and sugar I saw the artist I met recently, Mohammad Abu Aziz drinking coffee and was introduced to his artist friend, Iyad Kan’aan.
Both Muhammad and Iyad have absolutely gorgeous and profound art.
You might want to take a look at it yourself here:
On our walk home we saw Fulbrighter Matt on the balcony of another coffee shop. We stopped to say hello and proceeded down the tile and stone sidewalk, window shopping.
Fifty years ago, the Jabal Al-Weibdeh neighborhood area was considered the most stylish and upscale place to live in all of Amman. As far as I’m concerned, it still is. The historic arabesque architecture, and the multitude of cafés, shops and cultural centers are in direct contrast to the newly built “upscale” neighborhoods that have popped up throughout Amman.
Muhammad and Iyad invited me to meet with them at the Jabel Knowledge Culture (art gallery and cafe) at nine that night. Jadel is one of the oldest buildings in Amman, hidden away in one of the many dimly lit excessively long stairwells. Unsure as to whether or not I was taking the right staircase (in the dark they all look the same), I stopped at a barber shop and requested directions. Not knowing how to speak Arabic, or the exact name of the place, I returned to the barber shop twice after heading out to re-review my directions. The third time that I returned to the barber shop I decided to get my hair cut. I asked the barber for a trim by using hand gestures. He refused by using hand gestures and holding up an electric razor. Unless I wanted a buzz cut, I was in the wrong place. Thanking him for his time I headed off to another stairwell and eventually ended up at Jabel Knowledge/Culture.
After meeting Muhammad in Jabel/Knowledge and looking at the current exhibition of paintings by a Syrian woman we walked downtown to the oldest hookah lounge in Amman, secreted away at the top of a multitude of well worn stone steps with sawdust scattered on them. The lounge is in one of the oldest buildings in Amman.
When I entered the lounge I noticed I was the only female in the room, but my presence didn’t seem to bother anyone. Iyad showed up and we smoked hubbly bubbly, drank mini cups of thick, black coffee and talked about the important aspects of life: art.