February 10, 2007

Holloway Road

Back in the UK a while later, musing on the differences between the middle east and London, and the way that I have been affected by my travels.

January 11, 2007

The Secret Policeman's Poem

On the last day of 2006, with the girls in a shop stocking up for the evening celebrations, I stood in a quiet Amman street recording a poem I'd written about the Eid scenes the day before.

After I'd read it, a small, dapper man approached me and asked me what I was doing. It became clear he was a plain-clothes policeman. I kept calm and tried to explain, and of course, kept recording. After a couple of minutes the girls came out and told him that I wasn't press - he relaxed, smiled, and even shook my hand before departing.

Turned out this quiet street contained two embassies and the Jordanian National Oil corporations, so I guess he was detailed to hang about looking after those places.

But, what would his reaction have been if they had told him I was press? It made me realise that, pleasant though Jordan is, it does not enjoy the same freedoms which I take for granted in the UK.

January 05, 2007

Slaughtertown, Slaughtertown

On the way to Jerash, I filmed in the car as we passed through Baka'a, a very poor district on the outskirts of Amman. Originally it was a Palestinian refugee camp, which dates from 1948 when most of these people were forced out of their homes and off their land in what became Israel.

The girls chat happily about work, life, and then Diala casually mentions "Slaughtertown" and indicates the annual sacrificing of sheep by the roadside. I was told that the authorities in Amman have cracked down on the practise over the last couple of years - this used to go on all over town, but now is confined to the poorer areas. The grey sheep are kept penned in small groups by the road, dulled and huddled, with the smell of their dead in the air, and blood running in red rivers down the roads. It struck me so strongly, that later I wrote a poem about it.

After visiting the Roman ruins, we went for a meal and ate grilled lamb. Looking out of the window across the valley, we saw a gutted cow swinging on a thick metal chain in a barn, men and boys gathered cheerfully around it, chatting, anticipating the evening feast.

It may seem uncivilised to westerners, so used to buying meat from a supermarket in pre-packaged plastic containers, with all the sticky unpleasantness of death kept always at a safe distance from our plates. But in Jordan, it seemed perfectly normal, if somewhat dedicatedly carnivorous.

December 30, 2006


The first day of Eid Al-Adha, back in a very cold Amman, I was awoken just before dawn by the special Eid prayer being sung from the mosque just across the way. As I lay half asleep, I became quite intoxicated by the gentle caress of this invocation; it was quite different from the usual call to prayer to which I was already accustomed, a sweeter sound which contained a comfort often missing from the angrier Friday sermons.

Later Diala drove us 48 kilometres north to the town of Jerash, where set in a picturesque valley lies an ancient Roman town.

Northern Jordan is fertile, green, and with steep-sided, cultivated hills, reminded me of Cyprus. In Jerash, we walked ancient streets and marveled at the preservation of the remains, and perfect proportions of the renovated amphitheatres.

I left the two girls talking in the warm sun, and climbing up found myself in the temple of Dionysus, which a perfect listening position for the entire valley. I am sure the siting of the altar here is no coincidence. Here I made my best recording yet of the daily sound of prayer, the huge human clock that regulates the Islamic world, and had something of a personal revelation as I gazed upon the inhabited hillsides opposite, bathed in aural washes of devotion.

December 28, 2006

Arab Old City

I visited the Old City several times, getting lost in it's labyrinthine streets.

36,000 people live and work here. Like all ancient cities, it is composed of various quarters. It's quite difficult to get to the Dome of the Rock, the great Muslim religious site, the place to where Mohammed was miraculously transported overnight, according to believers.

Foreigners have to enter via a specific gate, and only within a one hour time slot. I was given various reasons for this, including that it is to prevent Israeli religious zealots from the far right from bombing the place - which I can believe - and that they are tunneling underneath to find the foundations of the Jewish Temple, so they don't want too many people walking about up above! This would be incredibly strange if it were true.

Later I read up on the modern history of the city - the ancient Moroccan district was completely razed in 1967, against all archaeological protests, and replaced with the modern Jewish district; so perhaps the tunneling theory is less bizarre than I first thought.

December 27, 2006

Into Ramallah By Road

We went back to Ramallah yesterday in the pouring rain. Like Britain, this country is drying up - there's been no rain here for over a month, during what should be the wettest season of the year.

This 23 minute video was shot using my cameraphone, from the back of the "service" (shared cab) vehicle. The guy told us that once they close this section of the wall, he's going to lose a lot of trade, as the only way in or out of Jerusalem, without going a very long way round, will be through the highly militarised Aterot / Calendia checkpoint, which it was pointed out to me, has all the hallmarks of an international border crossing, despite the fact it is kilometres inside Palestinian territory.

The news about dismantling some twenty or so checkpoints was welcome, but there are over 500 checkpoints here, which puts it into perspective. Meanwhile, the settlers moved from Gaza in the summer are going to be re-housed in a brand new Israeli settlement, right in the middle of the West Bank.

December 26, 2006

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Visited one of the major Christian churches in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on Christmas Day. It felt like a very well-established Christian tourist attraction, but was fascinating and welcoming for all that.

December 25, 2006

Basel Husseini on Eid

Dr Basel Husseini is a dental surgeon whose practice is in East Jerusalem, a stone's throw from the Old City. He describes himself as a dentist by profession, but an artist by inclination.

We spoke halfway through morning surgery in his consulting room, which is a pleasant space with a sky-painted ceiling, and of course, a fish tank.

December 24, 2006

Joan Jubran on Christmas in Palestine

Joan Jubran is a healthcare planner, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, a densely populated area about 30 minutes from Jerusalem.

Joan's Christian family originally came from Nazareth. She explained to me what Christmas means for a family who have two choices of Christmas Day.

Ramallah Market

One minute audio segment recorded in the middle of Ramallah's main market on Christmas Eve.

Mr Abraham on Hanukkha

Visited West Jerusalem and spoke to Mr Abraham, a jeweller highly regarded by his customers, whose family moved to Jerusalem from Vienna "seven generations ago".

He took time to explain the origins of the Hanukkha festival, and told me how his family have celebrated this year.

December 23, 2006

From The Cemetery To The Old City

With my girlfriend and her mum, I visited East Jerusalem for the first time which felt to me like a home from home, the busy urban streets really not so different from the place where I live in North London, full of shopkeepers, street vendors, men and women shopping, people going about their business, and schoolchildren carrying bags full of schoolbooks. We are in Ramadan but I saw that the cafes were all busy - this section of society seems much like our secular own, concerned more with the day to day aspects of life than piety, though the culture is more modest, around 50% of women having covered heads. I met a man running a patisserie who used to be my girlfriend's physics teacher. It seems many here have had to change profession several times to get by.

We visited the cemetery first to pay respects to dead relatives, then changed some money, bought a snack, and entered the Old City via Herod's Gate.

I still had a dreadful cold when I recorded this, so please forgive the regular sniffs.

December 22, 2006

Midwinter Jericho Muse

Midwinter solstice visit to Jericho - sweet oranges, a bizarre casino, dwindling water supplies, friendly soldiers, and far too much quiet.

Coming Over The Bridge

"I looked over Jordan and what did I see?" Here's my account of crossing the bridge and encountering surprise both sides of the border.

NB: Caution: May contain pops. I recorded the narrative without the excellent foam pop shield which Zoom supply, mainly due to still being pretty sick at the time - also the laptop monitors don't reveal the bass at all, though the earbuds do... Now I'm feeling a million times better I'll remember to use both pop shield and ear buds to enhance audio quality.

December 21, 2006

Photos From The Old City

Top tip: open photos in a new window to see them full size.

Arrived in Jerusalem

We're staying with GGF's Mum in her lovely flat, but I've been in a real bone-aching fever since I got here, and so has GGF, who fainted yesterday - she's OK now. I couldn't sleep for any length of time, and I soaked the bed sheets several times over as I veered from freezing cold to boiling hot.

In my deranged mental state I was convinced of various things: that the Israelis had poisoned us both at the border; that I had meningitis and was going to die because they wouldn't notice the differences between that and a nasty cold virus; and that all my clothing was being taken away and moistened by bizarre water deviants. No, I don't know what a water deviant is, but that was the phrase echoing around my tortured head in my twilight world.

I've some recordings I made as we crossed King Hussein Bridge, and at the dentist, who was a very nice man, and who is going to introduce me to some Palestinian musician friends of his. This visit was the only thing I have really managed to do in two days. I'm feeling a lot more human now, off to the Old City in five minutes, and I'll upload some more sounds as soon as I can.

December 18, 2006

First Day In Amman

A warm winter's day in Jordan. I wake with the remains of a cold, drink tea to recover, and spend time in busy downtown Amman, shopping for Nablusi sweets and the Palestinian national football kit.

December 17, 2006

Airport Conversation

In the airport cafe over a cup of tea, we talked about the differences in the arab world . Once we were on the plane, we were kept for two hours waiting to take off. The pilot kept on apologising every fifteen or twenty minutes, saying it was to do with baggage handling.

We overheard a woman complaining to the aircrew that the same thing had happened to her mother, and couldn't help wondering if the bags were being scrutinised beyond the already stringent controls that are now in place.

Eventually we took off and four and half hours later, 11pm local time, we were in Amman, Jordan. My visa, obtained after a short queue, cost me 10 Jordanian Dinars. We were met by a cab driver who transported us to a restaurant where our friends were waiting for us.

December 16, 2006

Preparing To Leave

I'm wondering what it will be like meeting GGF's friends and relatives, and suffering some last minute nerves.

December 15, 2006


I had a chat with Brian Greene about my expectations and preparations.

December 13, 2006

The Pompeii Podcast

This is a podcast about my travels to the middle-east. I've never been there before - the nearest I've been is the Greek Islands.

My partner grew up in Jerusalem, the endlessly disputed ancient capital city, during not just one but two intifada (uprisings). I grew up in Crystal Palace, a relatively secure suburb of the huge metropolis of London, where the violence was less continuous.

I'm taking no laptop - instead, I've bought a Zoom H4 recorder, which should allow me to create MP3 audio on location, and upload it via the magic of USB onto the nearest available hard drive and from there onto the web. Although I will also take my video camera, I'm not expecting to send back video. When I get back I'll more than likely add videos to this site as a post-journey complement to the audio.

Thanks to Absolute Music Solutions in Poole for ensuring the Zoom arrived on time to be included in my hand baggage.


In which I chat with my friend Rabah on the phone, anticipating the journey to the land of my partner's family.