Saturday, June 9, 2007


Here comes a break in my blog about Jordan, Islam, and the women's conference. I posted "Spoke-ified" on the afternoon of the conference's last day. That night our Jordanian hostesses treated us to a magnificent party at Kan Zaman, an Ottoman caravanserai that has been turned into a tourist restaurant-with-shops. We indulged in a final flurry of shopping, heaped plates of mezzes and shwarma, and dancing to the bagpipes. (I've since learned that the Arab Legion of the British Army introduced European music to its soldiers by setting up musical bands, and in 1929 bagpipes were incorporated into these bands. The bagpipes, which incidentally had been played in Persia thousands of years before they came to Scotland, were so popular in Trans-Jordan that the great-grandfather of the current King Abdullah had them played on his way to mosque every Friday.) Anyway, in honor of the occasion, the ladies of the IWF outdid themselves in ornament and dress.

An amusing and dramatic side-plot of the conference was the increasing display of jewelry from the Middle East. Every morning at breakfast I spotted new pieces on IWF-ers. One morning an American said that before her trip she had asked a friend who had traveled to Jordan what there was to buy. "Nothing," the friend had replied. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jewelry, both costume and antique, silver and gold, is beautifully different and also inexpensive compared to what you find in the U.S. And the high-end clothing, such as the cross-stitched Bedouin jackets and the semi-sheer scarves and over-dresses made of camel's hair (not coarse, but soft and fine like silk), are lovely. Much of this clothing, especially hand-embroidered silk caftans, came out to Kan Zaman.

A coda to the evening is that the bus ride to Kan Zaman, on the outskirts of Amman, showed us the tight security I had been expecting and did not find at the conference. The attendees of the World Economic Forum were already arriving as we ladies were leaving, and the Jordanian army was out in force. (The forum was meeting at hotels along the Dead Sea, but many attendees were staying at hotels in Amman.) As we drove out of Amman, we saw a tank or police car parked athwart every side street. There were a couple of soldiers posted on every block. Every hill and hillock had its sniper. This display went on for miles and miles, presumably all the way to the airport.

Two days later, I was back in Rome--this time with my daughters, both of whom were suffering from jetlag and post-graduate school-year exhaustion. (Coincidentally, both Coco and Caro are getting their Ph.D.'s at Princeton--Mayhill Courtney in Russian history and Caroline in Byzantine/medieval art.) After a Fowler women weekend in the Eternal City, Coco flew off to Paris (treating herself because she just passed her orals) and Caro and I commenced a Toad's Wild Ride through Sicily. The ostensible reason for the trip was the medieval cloister at the Cathedral of Monreale outside Palermo, which Caro plans to write about in the coming year. But the real impetus, it seems to me, was Caro's love of the sun. We spent much of our week there checking out various beaches, and indeed we found a glorious one. Unfortunately, however, Sicily is still a bit internet-challenged, and it is only now, weeks later, that I can complete my thoughts about Jordan, Islam, and the Conference.

So I have two more postings: on the Middle East and the western media; and finally on what I have learned about Islam (and there I will include a list of the books I have found illuminating, the ones I have not, and the ones I have on my bedside table now, for I will pursue this subject further).

Next year Clare and I plan to return to Wadi Rumm; then I want to go on to Syria. Meanwhile it's back to American politics for Junehill, Owl and Green Dog. I did the Barack Obama Walk for Change this afternoon; I've been thinking about the "Faith Dialogue" that Jim Wallis persuaded CNN to host, with all the Democratic candidates. Watch for those next week.

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