an ode to urbanity

i am writing this from Madrid; i was in Istanbul for 6 days last week, and in between i was ‘home’ in Jordan for about 6 hours. there are currently four currencies in my wallet (dollars, euros, lira, dinars); within one 24-hour period I went from hearing Turkish, to Arabic, to French, to Spanish.

forgive my boasting: i’m still new at this world of international travel and cultural access. man, how awesome it is to be geographically located in the eastern hemisphere! you can fly to different realities in just a handful of hours. forget jet lag: how about transitioning from Muslim standards of dress and cuisine to Madrid’s famous chain restaurant “Museo del Jamon” (Museum of Ham!), across the street from a ‘Top Girls’ strip club? linguistically, though, it is kind of a relief. i can speak 3 year old Spanish, but only Martian Arabic.

in Istanbul, i almost swooned immediately after walking up the steps to exit the metro. one, i had just ridden the subway- cheap, clean, public transportation that I could easily navigate. two, a man played clarinet, busking on the level above. i have never seen a street musician in Jordan. even his free jazz was awesomely stimulating. three, there were people- hundreds of people- walking around enjoying themselves on the street above. there were the smells of variety: doner kebap, baklava, ice cream, coffee, fries. there was street food, a historic tram, hundreds of shops, people looking stylish, frivolity. such activity and engagement is not what i see often in Amman. i think there are mostly economic reasons for this, but i wonder how much is cultural as well.

Amman doesn’t have a metro. there are few pedestrian-friendly streets, limited eating options and just not a lot going on culturally. in Istanbul I could watch a ballet, visit a modern art museum, take a tour of the Bosphorous via ferry, eat pide, listen to a concert, go to a wine bar, indulge in a hamam, shop for sweets, etc. I know Amman offers some of these, but how frequently? How easy are they to access to travelers, foreigners, or visitors? How much are they supported by the local population and the government?

even though i spoke only 3 words of Turkish, i was meeting up with friends and would soon make new ones. i would see amazing sights, walk for miles, eat unfamiliar food, and have conversations about nationality, music, political corruption and popular resistance.

i loved Istanbul’s challenge and opportunity- it thrilled me.


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