I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Friday, March 31, 2017


A day early, just because I'm enjoying looking at New York pictures right now.

The Empire State Building and friends, in a real Manhattan cityscape.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Urban poetry

Maybe because no one does urban like New York, the best urban poetry shots are always the ones I take here. And while I do have more pictures from my trip that I'll post from time to time, I've been home for weeks now and I'm ready to get back to steady-state New York blogging.

The leopardskin print on the chair is the winning detail here, outside a garage on Tenth Avenue.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

The gray sky is the giveaway -- this is the real Mars, not the Jordanian impostor.

From our old friend the Curiosity Rover, a panorama from within Gale Crater, looking across a dune field at the slopes of Mount Sharp.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

A last look at Wadi Rum

Sunday bird blogging

Unfortunately I couldn't get closer to this gorgeous bird -- a glossy ibis in Keoladeo National Park.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bubble tents

These Space Age tents are designed for stargazing, so I'm glad I didn't waste money on an upgrade -- I loved my little pointed tent with the rugs and draperies, and there weren't any stars to be seen anyway.

But they do look very cool against the mountains in the morning fog.

Morning in the desert

I'd really wanted to see the stars in Wadi Rum, but it started to get overcast as soon as it was dark, and they were only bright glimpses behind the clouds.

The next morning it was drizzly and gray, and the rain on the stone made bright colors under the dim sky.

Evening view from my tent


This is my tent in the  camp in Wadi Rum where I spent the night.

The toilets were a five-minute walk away, which was fun at 4 o'clock in the morning when it was pitch black dark and way below freezing.

Fortunately the tents had heaters, and fur throws to pile on the bed and thick Bedouin robes to wear. And the beds had carved headboards and embroidered pillows and silky draperies. So I wasn't exactly roughing it.

In fact it was so warm and comfortable that I fell asleep and missed dinner.

Not the Lawrence Train

This train is actually parked at the train station just outside Wadi Rum, but since I was writing about Lawrence of Arabia, it's on topic. 

I don't think they do it anymore, but this is a replica of the old trains that used to travel through the desert here (complete with a red Turkish flag, which you can just see at the back of the picture on the right) used for re-enactments of the famous train battle scene in the movie. Just in case you've ever fantasized about being attacked by Bedouins while you were minding your own business on a train. 

Now if I got to be one of the Bedouins doing the attacking, that might be fun.

Lawrence House

Not exactly a house -- actually ruins around an old Nabataean cistern -- but T.E. Lawrence probably stayed here at some point during the Arab revolt and so it is now and forever named for him. Along with a large puddle known as Lawrence's Spring, and a rock formation near Wadi Rum Village called the Seven Pillars of Wisdom after Lawrence's famous book (I counted only four and a half pillars myself.)

Supposedly the movie Lawrence of Arabia was the reason tourists started visiting Jordan in large numbers, but it's odd that in such a beautiful place, in a region not lacking in history, so much fuss is still made over a random Englishman who did not actually look much like Peter O'Toole.

Saturday reflections

I've been sidelined by a cold that hung around, off and on, for weeks, before taking up happy long-term residence in my lungs. I'm much better, though still in that awful state where I dread the bouts of coughing just because every muscle in my body is already sore from it.

But I do intend to finish up Jordan this weekend if I can. This picture was taken in the side mirror on the highway between Wadi Rum and Amman, where the off ramps led to Saudi Arabia and Iraq to the right, and Syria lay straight ahead. Jordan is a beautiful, peaceful country, but the neighbors suck.

And now the new travel restrictions are going to strangle tourism there even more. Amman is one of the cities where you now have to check laptops and cameras if you're flying to the U.S. (Since Britain is going to apply the same restrictions, I'm going to give our government the benefit of the doubt and assume there is some good reason for this -- the reasoning they gave, of insufficient security in these airports, is laughable.)

I'm not going to put my camera and lenses and laptops into checked luggage; they're far too expensive and fragile. You can get around the restrictions for now simply by doing what I did -- changing planes in Paris or some other European city that's not London on the way home. But for people who won't or can't do that, it will be just one more reason not to visit one of my favorite destinations ever.

And that's a shame.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

As I'm coming to the end of the Jordan postings, here's a return to the standard blogging schedule: a lovely picture of a storm on Jupiter, courtesy of the Juno probe.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Life on Mars, part 2

This is probably my favorite panorama (after this one.)

Life on Mars

Plus there were camels

A camel at one of the Bedouin camps we visited.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tea in the desert

Suleiman and a friend at a camp where we stopped for tea.


Carvings on one of the canyon walls.

Um Fruth

Two looks at Um fruth, one of the natural stone bridges in Wadi Rum, with slightly different light. And me.

More mountains

The language of time

Patterns created by erosion on the side of a mountain in Wadi Rum. It looks some kind of ancient inscription, in a language no one can read anymore, left by a people forgotten by time.

Jebel Rum

This is one of the tallest mountains in Jordan, looming over the entrance to Wadi Rum. There are ruins of a Nabataean temple at the base.


This is Suleiman, my guide in Wadi Rum.

He'd originally planned for us to eat lunch at a camp belonging to his cousin, but there wasn't anyone there, so we had a picnic out in the desert instead. Lunch was a can of tuna, a tomato, and a cucumber, with a couple of slices of pita bread, a bar of chocolate, and mango juice. Suleiman chopped up his tomato and cucumber into a pretty little salad, then offered me his knife. I managed to mangle the vegetables into  a few large chunks, but once it was rolled up in the pita it didn't matter.

After we ate, it was nap time. Suleiman got the seat cushions from the back of his truck and we stretched out on the blankets. I pulled my coat over my face, but didn't sleep. I just lay there listening.  There were a few birds -- and an occasional soft snore from under Suleiman's robe -- but mostly it was so quiet I could hear the breeze against the rock and the sand while the clouds sailed slowly by against the deep, deep blue of the sky.

Another perfect experience in Jordan.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A word about logistics

Shepherds leading their flock through the morning fog on the highway between Petra and Wadi Rum.

I've already written about the day tours I took in India and Abu Dhabi, mostly arranged through Viator, but in Jordan I went through a local tour company, Wadi Rum Classic Tours, that I found online, to handle all the arrangements from the minute I left Amman until I came back three days later. They seemed reputable, had good reviews, and didn't require any payment in advance, and since I really didn't want to try to figure out the logistics of getting to Petra and Wadi Rum on my own in the little time I had to plan, I booked.

And everything went exactly as promised --  which, given the number of moving parts involved, was really quite impressive. The first day, I was picked up at my hotel in Amman and driven to Wadi Musa, then to the entrance to Petra, where I was turned over to the local guide. The next day, a different driver picked me up at my hotel in Wadi Musa and drove me to Wadi Rum, where I again met a local guide. He dropped me at the Bedouin camp after a day of touring, and yet another driver picked me up there in the morning and drove me out of Wadi Rum, where we met the driver who took me back to my hotel in Amman.

And after a while, it just started to seem perfectly natural -- “Oh hi, you're my driver now? Nice to meet you. Let's go.” I never had a moment's uneasiness about traveling as a solo woman with all these strange men; Jordanian culture has a very strong tradition about hospitality and the treatment of guests, and it turns out that they consider tourists to be guests. Was I comfortable? Did I want a coffee? Did I need a bathroom? We talked about our families, we talked about King Hussein and King Abdullah and Donald Trump; we talked about finding places to graze sheep in a drought and the advantages of moving to a cave for the summer (that was the Bedouins); we talked about snorkeling in Aqaba and why it's the best place in Jordan to get a deal on a new phone (that was Abdullah, the young man who drove me on the Amman to Petra leg).

It gave a chance to feel I was really experiencing Jordan, instead of just dropping in, visiting a few ruins and flying out again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Leaving Petra

Sadly I could not fix this picture -- I actually took this from Suzo's back shortly after posing for the pictures of me riding him, and it was late in the afternoon and this trail was in shadow and I didn't have time to fiddle with the camera before we took off again.

I still had a long way to go -- all the way across that valley and up into the hills on the opposite side, where my guide's father picked us up in his truck and drove me back to Wadi Musa, and Suzo scampered off to his well-earned supper. I didn't get any more pictures along the way; there were more interesting ruins as well as a castle built by Crusaders. If I go back to Jordan, and that is definitely something I want to do, I'll do this trek again, next time on foot.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Parking lot

Mules waiting for their riders to come down from the Monastery.

A closer look

A closer look at the facade. It's similar in some ways to the Treasury, like the way that pediment at the top is split open and the round tholos stuck in the middle. But those horns at the tops of the pillars are a Nabataean design, unlike the Greek capitals on the Treasury.


The Monastery.

If you were starting to think I'd never get here, that was definitely how I was feeling the day I was there. Riding Suzo up all those steps (there are either 850 or 900 depending on which source you choose to believe) was only the beginning. What the guides hadn't mentioned to me before I agreed to this madness was that the mule can only take you part of the way; the last part of the climb isn't safe for mules so you have to do it on foot.

Well, that was disconcerting, but it actually wasn't that bad -- maybe fifteen minutes, pausing to catch my breath a couple of times. (Coming down was a different story, as it usually is with my knees. The steps are broken and sloped and covered with slippery sand, but as I obviously survived I won't complain now.)

There are no sneak peaks while you're climbing; even coming down the last part of the trail, all you can see is the plaza, and the hills on the other side.  And then you come around that last bend. Wow. Just, wow.

Unfortunately there are no people in this picture for a sense of scale. It looks human-sized here -- the stone version of a manor house in some English village -- but the Monastery is much, much larger than the Treasury. It's about 160 feet tall; the doorway is more than 25 feet. The size makes it a little unnerving; if someone were watching from behind those stone windows, you really, really wouldn't want to know. But I also felt oddly privileged to be there, as though I were presenting myself to the kings who used to worship in the temple that it once was.

There's a small cafe on the other side of the plaza, and I sat on a cushion in the sun and sipped a lemonade with mint, and it was one of those perfect moments in your life that you just want to grab onto and never let go of.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


I wanted to include one more tomb, because in this picture you can see the crowsteps above the pedestals on the facade. It's a common motif in Petra; it may have been used only on tombs, as my guide said, or, since we don't really know the purpose of every building here, it may just have been a pattern that they liked (and that was easy to carve.)

But although the more elaborate tombs and temples clearly show influences from Greece and Egypt, these steps look very Nabataean to me. If your God is usually represented by a plain pillar or block of stone, often on top of a mountain, then steps would have an obvious religious significance. And they certainly carved enough of them into the hills around the city -- real steps, I mean, not the decorations. I climbed a couple hundred of them at least, and rode a mule up several hundred more.

Sometimes the easier way is the better way

The theatre.

All of those rows of seats were carved out of the hillside. They may have wanted to feel closer to Dushara by sitting on stone that was still connected to the mountain, but using pre-cut blocks would have been a lot less effort and might have held up better besides. (Also maybe not using sandstone.)

The Roman amphitheater in Amman is almost as old as this but is much better preserved.

The Urn Tomb

This is the largest, and by far the most impressive, of the Royal Tombs.

If you click to enlarge, you can see that the Nabataeans appear to have built the terrace in front, instead of carving it out of the mountainside. I saw other Nabataean ruins in Wadi Rum that were built from stone blocks, but somehow in Petra it feels like cheating.

Meanwhile, back at the Royal Tombs

I love how camels, which alternate between being goofy and being nasty, always manage to look downright noble in profile.

Which doesn't mean that they aren't sneaky, and you'll never convince me that sitting cross-legged on top of one is ever going to be a good idea.

Sunday bird blogging

And now for something completely different: a purple sunbird in Keoladeo National Park.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

And beyond the Treasury

Bedouins riding through the main part of the city.

There is so much more to Petra than I had realized, and I didn't begin to see it all in the one day that I had. (Maybe that's a good thing -- I can't imagine how many pictures I would have taken if I'd had, say, a week. I'd be going through them for the rest of my life.)

The structures in the background, for example -- those are the Royal Tombs, and I walked past them and took a few pictures, and had a soda at a nearby cafe so I could look at them, but I didn't get any closer than this. There are many more wonders that I never even saw.

Yet one more place I can't really cross off the list because I really want to go back.

The Treasury

I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade last night instead of doing something productive, just to see the part near the end where Indy and company ride through a narrow desert canyon and arrive at the temple where the Holy Grail is hidden. The canyon and the temple were of course played, most effectively, by the Siq and the Treasury at Petra. And the experience in real life is almost that cinematic, minus the John Williams score. 

But in real life, you can have your picture taken with some genuine Roman centurions. Eat your heart out, Harrison Ford.

The Treasury was almost certainly not really a treasury; it was probably either a temple or a tomb. You can't go inside, but there's not much to see there -- just a large square chamber, mostly empty. But there's so much magnificence outside it really doesn't matter.

More gods

I'm guessing that these (still in the Siq) were made later, because the inscriptions underneath are in Greek. The Nabataeans spoke Aramaic, and left very few inscriptions behind.

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