HOT BEER, LOUSY FOOD, BAD SERVICE
That’s what the sign inside the bar Louay took us to said. Louay was a Jordanian PR specialist attending the same conference we were invited to in Amman. He knew the city like the back of his hand. He heard us complaining about how up-tight and racist every-one around us was and so he was determined to show us a different perspective of his home country.
The fact that he felt a “pub” would suit our tastes insulted me. Most of the Arab men at the conference seemed to have these predisposed stereotype about Lebanese girls. “Loose”, “party-animal”,”easy”, “loud”, “too independent”, “too confident”… Unfortunately though the rest of the group were all disposed to the idea and immediately erased the walk I had planned for us through the city. I settled considered how cold it is outside.
I wasn’t a big fan of guides during my travels but the fact that he was a local taking us to places that aren’t typical tourist attractions sort of changed my mind. I usually prefer discovering cities on my own for what they really are.
The sign wasn’t encouraging. I understood the sarcasm in it but from what I’ve seen so far, I didn’t expect anything other than alcohol-free beer, disgusting food and shitty service. It’s what I’ve been getting for the past 48 hours I’ve been here.
It was a Tuesday thus probably why this place was empty even though Louay explicitly told us the place is always crammed. He even suggested we reserve over the phone first, ha! (We didn’t, of course.) He was consumed with telling us – what seemed to me as exaggerated – stories of Amman, trying to make us fall in love with this city as much as he is.
I didn’t blame him though. I picture the capital of my home country in an overrated frame as well. Beirut is the New York of the Middle East after all. No?
We sipped on a beer each. It wasn’t that bad except for the fact that it’s $12 a bottle.
“$2 for tax, $2 for service,” explained the bartender when we asked him about the high prices. He assumed we were American and thus addressed us in broken English. Once we told him that we’re all Arabs and that he could resort to our common mother tongue his friendly smile turned into a concerned stern.
“Where are you from?”
“Ah that explains it.”
“Explains what?” I asked, curious.
“The alcohol, the gender-mix, the openness to being out this late.”
He said those three things as if speaking of a taboo. It still surprises me every single time I am referred to as an outsider though it shouldn’t.
In Beirut itself, you’d find one street with music roaring until dawn hits while two streets down you have to make sure your knees and shoulders are covered enough to avoid the death stares forced upon you.
We paid the $12 each making sure we left no tip. A person selling alcohol isn’t one to judge a person consuming it. The bartender didn’t deserve a penny. He could’ve faked his hospitality. At least, that was my opinion. It was pleasant to see that my company agreed with me.
Considering the rip-offs we’ve been through so far, we unanimously decided to walk back to our hotel, even though we knew it was a 15 minute walk under a -5 degree Celsius night sky. I could feel my nose’s senses disappearing. I even asked my friend to check and see if it was still there.
I put on my headphones in an attempt to mute Louay’s voice in the background who was STILL trying to convince my friends that Amman is the most beautiful city in the world.
L’Orchestra Di Piazza Vittorio’s Laila played into my ears as I maximized the volume. The world was shut out and I was now on my own. I finally had an opportunity to see this city for what it really is. The fact that there was no one but us walking here made it even better. I had a short tete-a-tete date with Amman and I was planning to enjoy every second of it.
For the first time, I could see the beauty in Amman. The clean, empty streets reminded me of the old street markets of Tripoli back in Lebanon, only this was a cleaner, quieter version. I could smell her, Amman. She was a mix of petrichor, zaatar (thyme) and ‘oud. She was most glamorous in her isolation. The stone-covered walls we passed were carved with meticulous patterns that I didn’t notice earlier. Patterns that were sometimes broken off with the lining of a woman’s body or the face of a what I assumed was a man in a kufiya. I stood there for a few moments swallowing them in. Reading through them you could see that these were the walls of people who enjoyed art and beauty to the extents that they surrounded themselves by it everywhere. The paving of the sidewalk itself even had different designs every few meters or so.
My friends were way ahead of me and I reassured them that they shouldn’t slow down, it was fine with me. I was enjoying the harmony between the emptiness of this grand city and my dulcet loneliness.
I took in a deep breath as I allowed myself to conflate with my surroundings. I didn’t want to let it out. I wanted to stay in this moment forever. In this mesmerizing version of Amman, but I couldn’t. It was not mine to keep and there were other beauties in the world that I had yet to discover.
Until we meet again.