Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 03 February 2002
Volume 1, Issue 3

– Weather Information for Amman:
Yesterday – High 18C/64F - Low 4C/39F - sunny - winds calm
Today – High 18C/64F - Low 3C/38F - sunny - winds calm
Tomorrow – High 16C/61F - Low 3C/38F - sunny
Measured rainfall to this date - 57.4% of annual average
No snow in the forecast

– Circulation
Several individuals have been added to the circulation of The (Some)Times since the last issue went out, most by their own choice, some under duress, all after serious consideration by the entire editorial board. For those who have not had opportunity to read earlier issues they are currently available on the MPP website by clicking on the black box labeled "Jordan Updates." Readers will also find there a photo of Jeepers in the snow, along with co-renters, Carmen and Doug Clark (photo courtesy Bert DeVries).

– Word from the U.S. Embassy:
I continue to listen as carefully as possible for any word which I can pass along to colleagues concerned about al-wadeh, the situation, here in Jordan or considering coming here for any reason, particularly for excavations this summer. As part of a group of 50-60 embassy employees and their families who toured several sites on Friday with master tour-director Pierre Bikai at the helm, I had opportunity to talk with Mr. Alberto Fernandez, Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs at the US Embassy in Amman. He is, as far as I can determine, the third ranking official at the embassy.

The caravan of 15 vehicles left Amman at 9:30 am or so and snaked its way down the Desert Highway 90 km to Qatrana, the watering hole and souvenir shoppers’ oasis (=trap) all the buses visit on the way to Aqaba, then 15 km to the west to Qasr Bashir, a Roman fort in the middle of nowhere. In the language of all genuine archaeologists, it is the best! The best preserved Roman fortress found anywhere in the world ... at least in Jordan ... at least in central Jordan ... at least within a 5 km radius. It was truly well preserved and was a great site to explore, even if severely damaged by earthquakes. The entire parameter is standing along with the four corner towers, most to a height of seven to nine meters.

During a stop on the way from there to Umm ar-Rasas, I had a chance to talk with Mr. Fernandez about American visitors to Jordan. Without hesitation and repeatedly he encouraged us to come to Jordan and bring our friends! He was quite emphatic about this. Of course, the embassy must avoid liability in anything written, hence the cautions which are part of travel advisories posted for the entire region of the Middle East, including Jordan. However, he was quick to point out that Jordan has not experienced problems to this point which should deter people from coming. In fact, he said if anyone has questions, they should feel free to contact him at any time via email. I have his email address and will give it to all who would like it. Just let me know. The theme of the entire conversation revolved around an invitation – to come to Jordan.

Following this stop, we team-traveled to Umm ar-Rasas to see the best (as all things archaeological really are!) preserved late Byzantine church mosaic in Jordan (in the 700s). It is spectacular, picturing a number of cities in the central nave floor, including Jerusalem, Amman, Hisban and Madaba (I’m sure they would have incorporated Jalul and `Umayri if the church decorating committee had not bogged down in endless and ever fractious debate about the color of pew upholstery). The remains of a large nearby fortified settlement are equally impressive, given the state of preservation of the portions excavated. Several of the dozen churches at the site span the time of the Muslim occupation of the entire region (mid-seventh century), demonstrating at least here the peaceful cohabitation of Christians and Muslims for a long period of time. And this is really more true of the history of the area than conflict is, if one calculates the time spent making war and that making peace.

The group then traveled more or less together through the tortuous streets of Madaba on the way to Mt. Nebo late in the day. Stop lights and Pierre’s penchant for testing new routes through the labyrinthine maze of Madaba’s streets confirmed the notion that more than one road leads to Mt. Nebo, especially for 15 cars driven by independent Americans. Our snaking around Jordan turned into writhing segments of partial pieces, most but a fragmentary representation of the original snake. Following our visit to the church and Pierre’s Orthodox blessing, several of us stayed by to view the sunset over the Dead Sea and Jerusalem across the Jordan Valley. A great day with some new friends at the embassy, all the while visiting intriguing sites.

An added note about travel in Jordan. One of Larry Herr’s students located the travel report for Jordan on the web site of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and filed this report: There is a lot of semi-permanent stuff about traveling in Jordan, but there is a section near the beginning (ATTENTION) that talks about the present situation. Although this is about Jordan, they say nothing about restricting travel to or in Jordan. They talk about troubles in Israel and specifically mention the West Bank and Gaza; they advise to stay away from demonstrations and protests; and they suggest that all Canadians register with the embassy. But there are no official travel advisories or restrictions.

Another added note about travel in this area. In a quick visit to Jerusalem last week, I had occasion to pay close attention to feelings on that side of the Jordan River. While things seemed normal, even walking from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, I tried to put my finger on the pulse of the city. It is hard for a some-time visitor to do. I was more alert than usual, but everyone there seemed to be about business as usual. I was even told by a long-term resident that they have to go about their lives in spite of the political situation. Things happen – here, in Los Angeles, anywhere. Leaders in Israel and the Palestine National Authority are clearly not the best of friends and animosities have spilled over in disastrous ways. Yet, somehow we need to work and pray toward the reduction of rhetoric and the resumption of constructive conversations. Some may want to visit The Real Jordan Times website to capture perspectives from this country – www.jordantimes.com.

– Perspectives of Jordanians:
"What will you do with the sheet when you put it in the oven?" – clerk in the domestic department of Bashiti’s Hardware Store in response to Carmen’s query about purchasing a cookie baking sheet – they didn’t have any.

"Ahlan wa-Sahlan, Welcome!" – three young Madaba boys, attempting to unload some plastic thingamajigs on several of us in Jeepers entrapped by a stop light in Madaba, even with no sale.

"Astanna shway, minfatdlak. Shay?" – two guards at the ever-more-impressively preserved site of Mukawir (Machearus), one of Herod’s mountain-top fortresses overlooking the Dead Sea (where tradition suggests John the Baptist lost his head), they hospitably asking that we wait a few minutes for tea – we agreed and sat on cushions in the guard house while they got water (from somewhere) in a beaten-up old tea kettle, pouring in pounds of sugar (and we think some tea), and boiling the whole delicious concoction to death, which is why tea is always safe to drink.

"#$*^@&#%!" or something like that, if I could read his lips well – an impatient taxi driver following Carmen and me in Jeepers slowly headed down a narrow street in Amman looking for a parking space along the crowded alleyway, his horn on steady honk for what seemed like an hour or two (more than two short honks is now cause for a traffic ticket in Amman) – as I pulled into a parking place, I cheerfully honked back, thinking he might want to be friendly.

– Perspective of a visitor to Amman:
"Amman lies on the border of the Badiya, and around it are villages and farms. It is in the capital of Balqa, a region rich in grains and flocks. Amman is flush with water and one sees many streams and mills. It has a fine main mosque, near the marketplace of which the court is paved with mosaics. The city is said to resemble Mecca. The castle of Goliath is on the hill, which dominates the city. One sees in Amman the tomb of Uriah, on which has been built a mosque. There is also the circus (ma’lab) of Solomon. The prices of the merchants are low and fruits are abundant. On the other hand, ... the roads are bad. But it is a refuge for the Bedouins. Al-Maqdisi, Ahsan al-Taqasim, p. 175 (tenth century).

– Letters to the Editor:
Upon reception of a large number of letters to the editor, the Editorial Board and Censorship Committee are (is) more than pleased, in the interest of diversity of perspective and widely varied points of view, to present some here (selected, edited for content, monitored for attitude, then approved for publication):

  • "I have noted that the Jordan (Some)Times is the usual HIStory. Carmen's activities are noted only when she accompanies you. In order to help you cure this deficiency, attached is a photo of Carmen on her birthday" (see on website). – a radical feminist.
    [Actually, in a major departure from the editorial policy of this journal, which is always to publish anonymous letters to the editor, this one deserves full disclosure. It was submitted by Patricia M. Bikai, with the following designations: Associate Director, ACOR; Director, Petra North Ridge Project; and, notice carefully in the context of earlier allegations that she might use the new sewing machine for ACOR fellows’ uniforms, Chair, Uniforms for ACOR Inmates Committee. But it’s not as bad as it might appear on the surface; the uniforms, made of heavy black-and-white linen, are only for the men here.]
  • "When I looked at your list of staff, I said to myself, they have medication for that." – East Coast MPP veteran, now wannabe prescription-passing psychiatrist on the take from pharmaceutical sedatives sales.
  • "Good to see that you are still up to your nonsense. I truly enjoy your epistles, Paul has nothing on you :-). I wish we had some of the freshness of the snowfall here. But hey, it is summer time in Argentina, some nice street battles, the value of the currency devalued by half and 5 presidents in less than 2 weeks (that is a World record)." – survivor of MPP and Argentinian governmental collapse.
  • "I would like to receive clarification on the statement regarding the IQ of the editor relative to current room temperature. Is that room temperature with or without air conditioning? And is it in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius? And is that reference to temperature in Jordan, WW, or other parts of the world? Here in Thailand, if you take the temperature in F, without air conditioning, the number would indicate a fairly high IQ. Just goes to show you that everything is relative (and I am NOT a relative). But you managed to convince this reader that the editor has a VERY high IQ!" – someone from another world, science or something, but with good instincts.
  • "‘Rumor has it that. . .’ has no place in a classy paper. There is only room for facts and interpretation of facts! Just a thought to keep you on the right track." – an eagle-eyed editor who knows a class-act paper when he sees one.
  • "Doubt, I have doubt. I have seen the image that you posted and I still have a hard time believing that it is in Jordan and that it is really snow. It could be a whole lot of cotton. Neither of you are really dressed for snow, gloves, hat, scarves, etc., and with the ambiguous background it could easily have been taken in Walla Walla. True, Jeepers has a Jordanian green license plate but that could have been smuggled out of Jordan and put on any vehicle in the State of Washington. Better proof is needed, yes demanded!" – a skeptic for whom believing is seeing.
  • "How nice to hear from you and meet Carmen and "Jeepie" via your newsletter. Wonderful! Keep us on your list!" – a good person.
  • "You sound very busy with all your editorial responsibilities. I am delighted to be included in The Jordan (Some) Times circulation. I have this fantasy that some day I'll get to go on an archaeological dig, or travel to exotic places with ancient ruins, but until that happens I'll enjoy reading about your adventures and misadventures." – another good person.
  • "As a future digger/slave at MPP this summer, I was surfing your MPP web site, and found your new publication, The Jordan (Some) Times. Cool! Please add me to your list-serve, if you don't mind. The best laugh from [scratch "laugh from" and read here "thing about" (eds.)] your publication was the masthead at the bottom of the page. I salute your entire publication staff, one and all." – with time, a good person.
  • "You will be happy to know that I thoroughly enjoyed your updates. I laughed out loud a couple of times, narrowly escaping having to explain the humor to my office mates, who <sigh> sadly wouldn't get the humor. You had to be there. It almost made me want to go on the dig again, and it certainly made me feel nostalgic remembering my time there. Of course the reality of my time was heat, dust, and mosquitos, but those things tend to fade as one remembers the hospitality, the excitement of the connections with the past, etc. And I really am quite intrigued by the concept of snow in Jordan." – yet another good person.

– Archaeological Update:
Several notes about archaeological matters here in Jordan.

  1. In the first place, a word about what I am doing at ACOR (other than editing The Jordan (Some)Times). My research centers around domestic houses in Jordan from the time of the biblical judges (= Iron I, 1200-1000 BCE). I am attempting to locate all the remains of this kind of architecture excavated in the country and compare it with similar finds in the larger region. There occurred in the hill country of Jordan, like in ancient Palestine and at roughly the same time, an explosion of small settlements. Unfortunately, only a few have been excavated to this point. Of the 520+ sites in Jordan thus far discovered which show pottery from this period (some small sherd scatters, others settlements), only about 40 have seen any excavation and of these only 15 or so have produced architecture which could be understood clearly as domestic. While the situation in Israel is similar in terms of sites, many more have been excavated and will provide a significant body of comparative material. Of those in Jordan, `Umayri has, of course (in authentic archaeologese), the best preserved four-room domestic house and associated structures and one of the oldest anywhere in the Levant.

    In any case, I want to know everything possible about the houses early Iron Age inhabitants occupied. I am working to discover what it took to build such a house (we have lots of information on this already – see the Herr/Clark article on Reuben in BAR March/April 2001); what types of implements and supplies these houses contained; what we can know about the function and space utilization of each room and perhaps any gender-specific roles in the use of the rooms; any sociological or economic information we can glean, in other words the human dimension of domestic life during this tumultuous time in the region. I also plan, with the help of Karen Borstad, to provide 3-D models of the four-room house at `Umayri and use this for better comparison with the nearly 100 other such houses which have been excavated on both sides of the Jordan River.
  2. Those planning to participate in this summer’s excavations at Tall al-`Umayri should get their Security Forms completed and sent in ASAP. The deadline is 1 MARCH (which for students and teachers, all experts at the fine art of putting things off, means FEBRUARY). If you or we are not able to excavate this summer due to escalating political tensions which might affect Jordan, you have lost nothing. If you and we do mount the dig as we anticipate and hope, you will not be able to come without it. Pull it from the web.

  3. Jeepers has come through again, conveying several of us to wonderful sites in Jordan. Not only did our faithful Briggs-and-Stratton-powered rubberband-mobile (with full options of sun-roof and spiffily-mounted, illuminated spoiler) keep up mightily with the US embassy vehicles on our tour last Friday, going even where few of them dared; it also took us to Mukawir a week ago and to Umm Qays yesterday. Both days were spectacularly clear and beautiful, although the wind atop Makawir must have been howling at something over hurricane force. Carmen followed the wide path up the leeward side (broad is the way and wide the gate ...) and really only encountered the gale once she crested the top. I, on the other hand, braved the elements and scaled the precipitously steep southeast slope, from which direction the wind was blowing, being virtually pinned to the rocky crag as I ascended. Never once worried about slipping, falling off the narrow trail, careening down the precipice, being dashed to pieces on each rocky encounter, since the wind would have returned me quickly to the mountain side anyway. Continued restoration on top, albeit progressing slowly, helps visitors sense the wonder of this mountain fortress first occupied by the Hasmoneans in the second-first century BCE, then taken over by Herod the Great and developed as only Herod could develop a destination location – baths, columnar structures, water storage, everything including the kitchen sink.

    Yesterday several of us headed almost as far north as one can go in Jordan, to the Roman Decapolis site of Umm Qays and its attached Ottoman Village. Again the weather was clear and sunny, but this time there was very little wind, in fact none toward the middle of the afternoon as we were dining in the new restaurant overlooking the entire city and its environs. Upon arrival at the site, we realized how absolutely clear the sky and air were. To the north, levitating above the countryside and the Golan Heights, was Mt. Hermon, its top covered with heavy snow. It stood out like a huge banana split on which someone forgot to put the toppings, even forgot the banana. Probably less like a banana split, then, than I had supposed at first. More like a long low dish of vanilla ice-cream. To the west, we could easily see Mt. Tabor in the Galilee and beyond it on the hilly horizon, Nazareth, gleaming in the morning sun. Then, to the northwest, virtually the full length of the Sea of Galilee, a deep azure blue body of water contrasting nicely with the green hillsides and settlements surrounding its shores. It was stunning to see – the best.

    As was the site of Umm Qays itself. Its main cardo, or colannaded street which was paved with black basalt stone, stretched for a kilometer. Its colannaded public building on the acropolis, dominating the scene; its unusual square church with central colannaded octagonal area; its black basalt western theater – these all contributed to the splendor of the place. Add to this the large Ottoman Village, occupied until only recently, and one has the makings not only of "just one more archaeological site," but of a place where visitors can re-experience ancient life on top of the world!

–The News from ACOR Amman:
Well, it’s been a quiet week (or so) in ACOR Amman, my home town. To be the best is our goal, as archaeologists talk all the time. To have the best. To have excavated the best. To show off the best.

Several of us here at ACOR have felt that to improve on our best, we should work toward the establishment of a fitness center here. After all, we maintain a fairly sedentary life-style at ACOR, sitting at computers all day long, sitting in the library reading, sitting in the car when we travel, sitting at the table for meals, sitting on this idea and that one, sitting in the private reading rooms across from the sinks. Some time ago, Patricia purchased a collection of fitness equipment – a stair-master, a treadmill, a rowing machine, some weights. For months, maybe even years, this equipment has been sitting idle in the sub-basement of ACOR. Those of us still marginally ambulatory felt we should do something with this equipment to improve our lot.

Plans are to check everything out and set up all the equipment in the hallway, laid out something like a progressive party – first some high-stepping, then some walk-stepping, then some rowing, etc. Since Pierre and Patricia are currently visiting India, we thought it would be just the time to implement some of our plans. It would be best, many of us archaeologists reasoned, to encourage use of the new ACOR Fitness Center by installing a high-tech sound system for round-the-clock exercise music. Going to that trouble seemed to suggest adding a couple of video monitors and then rewiring the Orbit Cable TV connections from Pierre and Patricia’s fifth-floor apartment directly to the sub-basement for the new center. This would allow us to view all 326 TV stations instead of the two which the other TVs now get and that only after sustained wrestling with two obstreperous remotes, all the while improving our health and well-being. We also plan to play some reruns of exercise videos, selections based generationally on who is using the equipment, beginning we suppose with some Jack LaLane and Jane Fonda pieces. Then, someone thought we should also have a Jacuzzi spa and manicure/pedicure salon. The idea of a pool was considered briefly, but discarded in light of the water shortage in the country. So, our initial plans have mushroomed into a grand scheme – The Pretty Good ACOR Fitness Center, Spa and Salon. We only have two weeks to work on this, since Pierre and Patricia will be back by the time our next issue of The Jordan (Some)Times goes to press.

The other option, suggested actually by someone off-campus, would be simpler, more limited in scale, less expensive and likely not as surprising to Pierre and Patricia on their return. Here is what we were told:

"I thought I would let you in on a little secret I've found for building my arm and shoulder muscles. You might wish to adopt this regimen - three days a week works well. I started by standing outside behind the house [we could use the ACOR sub-basement] and, with a five-pound potato sack in each hand, extended my arms straight out to my sides and held them there as long as I could. After a few weeks I moved up to ten-pound potato sacks, then 50-pound potato sacks and finally I got to where I could lift a 100-pound potato sack in each hand and hold my arms straight out for more than a full minute. Next, I started putting a few potatoes in the sacks, but I would caution you not to overdo it at this level."

Well, that’s the news from ACOR Amman, where the directors are strong, the office staff is good looking and all the ACOR fellows are above average (indeed, the best).

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Desktop Publishing: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Proofreading: Doug Clark
Distribution: Doug Clark
Data Entry: Doug Clark
Marketing: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark

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