Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

Over the weekend, Israel killed 109 Palestinians in Gaza. At least half of them, according to Israeli human rights organization Betzelem, were not involved in combat nor in shelling Israeli territory. Meanwhile, downtown lover and I spent a daylong vacation across a hostile Middle Eastern border, in once inaccesible Aqaba, Jordan.

Granted, the Middle East is not simple even when you do your best to ignore blood. The only place DL could give her legs a bit of sun was aboard a pink paddle boat, drifting a few hundred meters offshore. We got a good view of the world's second tallest flagpole (the tallest is in Amman), and the locals got a very limited view of us.

...which was a blessing. Consider that while I briefly crossed the street to immortalize the above tableau of mountains and logos, downtown lover got harrased by no less then three drivers, including a taxi driver with a car full of passangers. All stopped to get a better view of her in her deliberately conservative but nonetheless western attire.

But all in all Aqaba is lovely and friendly and we had a good time there. Our Hebrew was well recieved and cigarettes were dead cheap. The town's prime advantage over neighboring Eilat, where we came to attend a chamber music festival, is in its more decent urban fabric. It actually has a market, complete with skinned lambs hanging on hooks with their furry heads unremoved.

Travel is in the details. The two towns sit by the water like mirror reflections of one other. Closer inspection reveals different clothes, different music, different attitudes, different sidewalk curbs. In Arab countries curbs tend to be exceedingly high, stranding those on wheelchairs while pleasing visitors by reminding them that they're somewhere different. The beauty and tragedy of Israel's westernness both reveal themselves in this pleasure. We travel 5 kilometers east and feel engulfed by the exotic.

Fans of the exotic may also enjoy Aqaba's hooka pipes

and herb gardens along the corniche

and of course the old fashioned soda can tab! That in itself is good enough reason to venture into troubled territory anyday. Lets hope some sort of stability is maintained in the region so we get to pull at them again soon.

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