Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wadi Ramm visit

(NOTE: If you already read this post, better images as well as a few new ones were added.)

Four days ago, I (Yo) joined Prof G and a medical doctor from London (Dr. P) for a trip down to Wadi Ramm (often spelled and pronounced 'Rum'), the largest wadi in Jordan. For the more adventuresome tourists to Jordan, this is THE place to go, particularly if you want a desert environment with striking mesas, beautiful layers of colored sandstones and granite, and red sand. For those who have never heard of the place, the wadi is where parts of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed; Lawrence was based here part of the time during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18. It was also used to represent the surface of Mars in the movie "Red Planet" (thank you Wikipedia!). The stark beauty of the landscape is remakably similar to the American southwest, an environment that geologists particularly enjoy without all that annoying vegetation and so on.

Wadi Ramm, looking to the south

With Prof. G at the helm, we headed south along the Desert Highway from Amman, a less scenic route (than the King's Highway, which winds its way slowly down canyons like Wadi Mujib) for the early part of the trip. Eventually we arrived at a pre-pottery Neolithic (PPN) site known as Ain Jammam. Ain Jammam was built on a steep incline near a spring ('ain); the view from Ain Jammam looks like this:

Although excavated, very little is known about the site because it remains largely unpublished, but the architecture is very similar to other PPN sites to the east of the Jordan Valley. You can see that the site is located on a steep slope, and the walls remain remarkably well-preserved despite their continued exposure, even preserving a window. These buildings probably had a second story.
From there we continued south to Wadi Ramm. Located just about 45 kilometers north of Aqaba, Wadi Ramm is a seemingly remote area yet easily accessible from the major Amman-Aqaba highway, although you need a high clearance four wheel drive to get anywhere. Petra certainly attracts many more visitors, but the Jordan authorities have established an entrance and small settled bedouin town near the entrance, where visitors will find basic foods, water and drivers willing to take tourists around the desert in jeeps (almost exclusively Toyotas, it should be known as Toyota Town). Behind the first set of Toyotas is a 'jebel' known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Of course there are other ways to tour Wadi Ramm as well....

Various places in the desert of Wadi Ramm have bedouin tents set up for overnight tourists to spend the night, bedouin style (although some seem to have those port-a-johns set up, not a common sight at most bedouin encampments).
I had never visited Wadi Ramm before. Visiting with Prof. G. was a particularly lucky opportunity because he was recently working on clearing and documenting some enigmatic structures in the Wadi Ramm. Some of these may be late prehistoric (Late Neolithic, Chalcolithic or Early Bronze -- 6th to 4th millennium BC), but there really hasn't been any way to date the structures yet. His research in this area is only just beginning and will prove to be tough, but will produce a whole new set of information about the area.

You can just barely make out the wall lines in this photo, below and to the left of the truck (my apologies, for some reason, the only way I have been able to upload photos was to make them very small and low resolution. As I have no way to reasonably blame RJ, I'm going to go with Wanadoo).

There are a huge number of these structures, both circular and rectilinear, as well as tumuli (intentional piles of rock). I'm only putting a few here, but it seems people were returning to the area and perhaps re-using the structures, possibly for ritual practices; its also possible that they frequently built new ones as part of the rites, disregarding the earlier structures. There is virtually no material culture on which to base an interpretation, although this might change as people like Prof. G. begin serious investigations and excavations. Finding associated artifacts to understand when they were made is difficult because there is so little depth of cultural deposits with these features. This also causes problems for preservation of carbonized material that could be used for radiocarbon dating. In addition to this beautifully preserved circular structure,

one of the more enigmatic features was the long, sinuous "path" or "wall" located near some of these other features. Whether or not the different segments of this path were connected at one time isn't entirely clear. And again, there is no way to date this so far.

There were also many rectilinear structures of stone, such as those below, with four stone walls surrounding a single standing stone in the center. A few appeared to have some form of stone pavement on the inside.

Of course, with all these structures around, why wouldn't a little bedouin kid build his own model of a structure, in this case a miniature goat pen.

Prof. G. was also kind enough to take us around as tour leader as well. I had never been to Wadi Ramm before, and so it was good to see the rock art in various places, including camels, dancers,

praying men, 'tripod men' (ahem, see below), and various inscriptions in Thamudic and other scripts.

Above, the "Big Man"; images created in similar styles are known in Saudi Arabia.

We also visited the Nabatean temple, which definitely fell under the heading of "post-interesting era" with our group (sorry C!).

We spent the night on mats under the stars, with blankets against the chill of the desert air. The next day we cruised over to visit Lawrence's spring, where there was additional rock art and a camel watering hole.

We also stopped at a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site, partially excavated. You can see the circular walls of semi-subterranean structures. It is also possible to make out where Diana Kirkbride put in a trench; as Prof G. noted, its good that she barely touched upon any of the structures, or she might never have discovered the impressive PPN site of Beidha. There are also outlines of rectilinear structures, but it doesn't seem that the archaeologist excavated any of these.

Headed out of Ramm, we stopped off for a coffee and then hit the road.
On the way back we stopped and climbed to the top of a mesa where a major flint quarry was exploited, possibly for the production of 'tabular' fan scrapers, a particularly wide flat type of tool commonly associated with the Chalcolithic period (4500-3600 BC) but also found at Late Neolithic and Early Bronze sites. The ground was just littered with flint, so much in fact that picking out the knapped tools and debitage from the naturally fractured flint was sometimes difficult. The production of tabular scrapers (a type of tool) requires a massive blow to the exterior of the large blocks of flint in order to produce large cortical flakes (large flat pieces with the weathered exterior of the stone).

We also climbed the next small mesa to the north to investigate a Roman structure. Apparently this was badly destroyed, although either side of a vaulted structure was still visible. Who destroyed it wasn’t really clear because there was so much rubble piled back on top of it, possibly from the construction of the high wire pylons set into the ground.
More intriguing was the older Ottoman section of the village across the highway. Located right next to the old tracks for the Hijazi railway, the mudbrick structures are still in great shape (at least from a distance!). This seems like a great spot for some modest reconstruction and preservation of the older village right next to the major north south artery.

From there we made our back to the cooler air of Amman. It was a great trip, and it will be fascinating to follow Prof G's research into the enigmatic structures of Wadi Ramm.
Watch out for those dust devils G!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mo's Home Town

As many of you know, Mo grew up in a small town in Southern Ontario, deep in the heart of dairy cattle country. Ingersoll established the first cheese factory in the region and in 1866 the town produced the first mammoth cheese weighing in at over 7000lbs. The cheese was exhibited in New York and Britain; it was immortalised in the infamous poem "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds" by James McIntyre, a Canadian poet.
When I mentioned to my niece that we should go to the Cheese Museum in Ingersoll, she stated: "That sounds boring". You can't really argue with that. Recently there was an article in the local paper about how the Cheese Factory Museum had to change its sign on the highway. Apparently most tourists visit thinking they will see a working cheese factory, with samples and everything. Instead it is a bunch of implements and newspaper clippings regarding cheese making in the region. The museum was accused of false advertising.
Every year there is a Harvest Festival in Ingersoll and this past weekend we all dropped by to check out the various activities. Here are some of the things we did:
We rode the miniature horse taxi:

We sang the song "I like big butts and I cannot lie..." Here are LL and MRK doing a little dance to the song. There is nothing more hilarious to a 4 and 5 year old than saying "butt" 4 million times, it is always funny.

We made scarecrows:
We walked on stilts: or we tried to:
We went swinging:
We went fishing:

We actually watched some of the harvesting activities:

We played in the park - look no hands (you will notice on FMK's bulldozer there is a spray painted Star of David, on the other car is Swastika - interesting choice of tagging). We were all really good and there were no meltdowns: the fearless foursome - FMK, AV, LL, and MRKWe did not eat this, but I took this image for our friend AMP - just in case she is missing the fine fare in Amman. And after the day was done we went back to the farm and picked baby tomatoes with our mittens on, as you do in Ingersoll in the Summer . . .

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Top 10 Reasons to Fly Royal Jordanian

I recently flew with Royal Jordanian Airlines for the first time. RJ recently became part of the Oneworld alliance, which means that it now qualifies as a carrier for those limited by the U.S. Fly America policy (see earlier diatribe on said policy, 4/23/07 "Why I Love the Fly America Policy"). I was excited because it was a direct flight from NY to Amman, skipping the long stopovers in Heathrow, Paris or other European airports.

Our flight (originally scheduled to fly at 11:30 pm from JFK) was cancelled (due to "technical problems"). This came as no surprise because the RJ website said that there was no flight scheduled for Flight 262 that day! Yet no such announcement came from the RJ staff at JFK. The long and short of this story is that we were treated with rude disregard, held at the airport all night, finally driven nearly an hour away from the airport and dropped in a nasty motel where we were apparently left and forgotten the next day. No food, information, vouchers were offered.

Despite the mistreatment we passengers experienced at the hands of the RJ staff (one supervisor, in fact), there were positive points as well. One was meeting friendly Jordanians who helped each other out and helped care for the many mothers with babies and old people traveling. If not for the kind consideration of my fellow traveling companions, I would probably still be a resident in the hell hole RJ dumped us in (see below). Another positive aspect was the ability to share with you 10 reasons why you too will want to have the RJ experience.

10. You like Muzak, so for FREE, you can listen to all you want by dialing 1-212-949-0060. Don't worry, no one will answer - more 'music' for you! Someone left the cake out in the rain.... Oh no wait, its not a 1-800 number, thats not free.

9. You like to live 'on the edge', not knowing what will happen next - will you fly? Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.

8. You like to place wagers on what will happen next based on virtually no information. Not to worry, you won't receive any from RJ. (Note sign behind RJ counter, placed there by a passenger).

7. Joining a gym is too expensive, but you will have the opportunity to fight over the few seats on the van. Don't worry, there won't be ANY RJ employees there to assist the feeble, wheel chair bound, establish any order, or inform us how to find out what to do the next day.

6. You've had few opportunities for the 4 am tour of east Long Island. You are in luck! RJ will (not so happily) drive you around for hours touring the motels of Long Island.

5. You have trouble meeting new people. No problem! RJ will demand that you share a motel room with a complete stranger. Four to a room is suggested (in two beds).
4. You need to lose weight. Here, too, RJ can help: after your flight is cancelled, you will not receive vouchers for food at any time during the next 24 hours. You probably eat too much anyway.
3. You find today's information highway too busy and crowded. RJ will be happy to pare that down by placing you in a motel without working phones or TVs.

2. How many hours have we been in this east Long Island parking lot in August?

and the number one reason to fly with Royal Jordanian Airlines....

1. Hey, its better than driving!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

VIP Tennis in Toronto

When I was a kid I loved tennis. I took lessons and watched all of the matches I could on TV. Alas I lack any hand-eye coordination , so tennis was not really my forte, but I can appreciate a good player. Last night I had the treat of watching Justine Henin and Andreja Klepac at the Rogers Cup event in north York. I went with my BIL B and my sister M and our friend D, who is the only real tennis fanatic among us. As many of you know B and M move in different circles than we do, so it is always first class and great seats when you hang with them. We had VIP passes. However not all VIP passes are the same. At our first encounter with a VIP tent we were denied access. Horrors of horrors we had to walk from the free VIP parking to the stadium (about 5 mins) when we were denied a ride on the VIP golf cart.

Once we arrived at the stadium we had to wait in line with the rest of the regular folk even though we had VIP passes. At this point I was beginning to wonder what VIP actually means and why anyone would pay extra to be a VIP.

True to M and B form (well really just M, B is very punctual) we were running late (their daughter once complained that she was always late for Montessori, always the last to arrive, branded as a latecomer at 4), and we needed food before we sat down to watch the match. This is where the VIP status started to kick in. We were able to by pass the hoards at the regular food booths and enter a special tent (which B's company owns - and the reason we were VIPs) to get some special food. Not the regular hotdogs and popcorn of the plebs, but carved roast beef, freshly made pasta or a glorious salad bar. Here we are (Mo and M) enjoying the VIP high life.

But back to the match, the real reason we were there - tennis.

VIP seats rock. We had a great view of the court and the play. When we finally got to our seats (tennis etiquette dictates that you have to wait for between play to head to your seat), it was tied at 2-2 in the first set. Earlier in the day when we were making arrangements for getting to the game my sister mentioned that we were really lucky because Justine Henin was currently No #1 in the world of women's tennis and she lived up to her ranking.

The match was great, with some good rallies and some blistering serves (187 mph). In the end Ms Henin crushed Ms Klepac 6-3, 6-1. As the close of second set neared, my sister leaned over and and asked "if she wins this is the game over?" It was then I realized I was sitting with someone who does not really appreciate tennis. This fact and the time we were in Paris during the French Open. B had tickets for the centre court final and M made him give them up because they had gone the day before and it was "too hot" to watch tennis. While on my left was D, who was enjoying every minute. At the end of the match M decided it was time to head home. She had seen the best in the world crush another opponent and it was getting late (9:00pm her bedtime). D stayed on to watch another match. Everyone laughed when I asked if people do the wave at tennis matches. They might not do the wave but they do have goofy mascots who try to get the crowd to dance, cheer and clap.

It was an interesting evening, thanks for inviting me B. And Happy 10th Anniversary B and M, may you have many more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Send Off

Living in a transient community like ACOR we learn to hate saying goodbye to people, especially those who are particularly fun. Last night we said so long to Mr. A, who regularly held court on the back porch. After a few light beverages, Miss A, E, Yo and A, the Man of the Hour, headed off to Reem al-Bawady, a favorite place for the relaxed atmosphere, delicious mezzas and grilled meats, and of course, the hubbly bubbly.

But the highlight was the search for the perfect slide at an amusement park. Our first nearby slide at the Pollo Ranchero was rejected as too small, soft, deflated, and in fact, we were afraid they wouldn't want us near anyone's kids.

So we walked down Garden Street, something most of us had never done, passing charming shops along the way that we had never noticed before.

Finally we found the carnival-like place that we had often noticed with a magnificent blow-up slide. Miss A treated the gang, and away we went, first A and E, the film of which will soon be one of the most popular on YouTube.

A, we will miss you!