Ease comes with some unease

Things are starting to ease a bit. There are cars in the street (oh joy, oh rapture) and most shops are open. I don’t think the birds, who have become my lovely and steady companions, like this. I saw a distinctly pissed off dove surveying a small traffic jam earlier.

You think you’ve cracked open your cell door and are finally out, only to realize the door opens into a wider cell. People are walking around in their sports clothes with expressions that range from dismay to dulled indifference. I’ve never seen so many track suits in my life. I’ve also never seen so many living room angles revealed by one magic virtual instrument or another. I’ve become so familiar with the look of some friends’ sofas I feel like I’ve been sitting on them all my life. The sofas, not the friends. I know their mugs and their lamps and their slippers and I worry if the fridge magnet in the background is missing. Oh no, whatever happened to your Greek island?

In more interesting news, I’ve been reading Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. I’m astounded at how little has changed in 400 years. The Lord Mayor’s orders in 1665 are as clear and detailed as the press briefing by the French Minister of Health the other day. Content wise, not much is different. Look:

Plays.

That all plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, buckler-play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.

Feasting prohibited.

‘That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies of this city, and dinners at taverns, ale-houses, and other places of common entertainment, be forborne till further order and allowance; and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection.

Tippling-houses.

‘That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses, and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague. 

I wonder if I’ll miss all this once we are out and we can once again go to tippling houses and attend singings of ballads.

Will I look back fondly on all the times I stared at my wall in wonderful peace and quiet? Will I think oh give me back those bra-less times, will you God of all things elastic? Entirely possible.

The eternal sunshine of the germless queue

There are many things I love about the Arab culture. They make amazing coffee. The concept of shawerma is a masterpiece. Their generosity puts the rest of us to shame. I love their dark, illusion-less humour. Their directness cracks me up (most of the time). They are passionate, warm, real and madly hospitable. The way the elderly are treated in this society is a lesson to us all. And so on.

But God forbid you ever find yourself in a queue.

First of all, you are never actually in a queue. You are in a pulsating, sweaty scrum of crazed humanity. You can clearly feel the anatomy of the person behind you indelibly imprinted on your own. You are actually doing the exact same to the person in front by sheer virtue of physics. Intrepid new arrivals constantly infiltrate the scrum from innovative sideways attack positions. People lie bare faced about having been there all along when they obviously just materialized out of the thin air in the form of annoying little queue jumping entities.

In fact, most people here enjoy physical contact with the same desperate craving I enjoy my morning coffee. I have often entered nice restaurants with friends who gave a quick inspection, then decreed we should leave immediately because the place is not full. What lunatic would want to sit where we can’t squeeze together like happy sardines? Off we go in search of the next chockablock opportunity.

Now take this and add Covid and a curfew to the mix. Plus falafel withdrawal. And then try to go to the local shop for a quick, careful shopping trip post a 48 hour total curfew. I’ve had to surgically remove a fat loud woman who was hugging me from behind while the grocer was weighing my bananas. I told a guy off for practically trying to snog me while offering a bag. As I was leaving, a happy family blocked the entrance for an urgent discussion about whether they need tomatoes or not.

Long story short. How do we quickly import some queue-ness? Has anyone got some spare?

For their contributions to life, sanity or the pursuit of ordinariness, I want to thank

a. My neighbour who wears perfume and make-up to go and buy potatoes and who wants to know if the ‘t’ in ‘often’ should be voiced or not

b. The husband of the said neighbour who interrupted our impromptu stretching class in the street and yelled ‘get inside, people are watching’

c. The gas man who drives around every day and plays the same reassuring tune as before

d. R or whoever left this bag of bread in the street for those who need it

e. A scrawny young man sitting on the pavement with a solitary coffee who gave me a half- hearted whistle as I walked past

f. The owner of this unexpected small island of green I made into the destination of my otherwise purposeless walks

g. An old shop keeper who called me daughter and advised against buying one of his products

h. The graffiti artist who created this man about to swallow a car

i. Whoever had the idea to call this educational hut for experience, culture and future the Oval Office and made me laugh out loud

j. Tim Berners Lee

Good things about bad things

I am not usually inclined to see the half full-ness of things. I find half -wit positive thinking very irritating (and I generally look at the empty half of the wit) and in life I cherish cynics, articulate moaners and good bellies.

But.

In addition to being braless and seeing hawks, here are two brilliant things I’ve discovered over my curfewed days:

a. No cars but essential services are allowed in the streets of Amman these days and I cannot congratulate the government enough on this decision. Hell may be paradise with no people, as the Arabic saying goes, but this no car zone is definitely a small slice of paradise in hell.

b. My culinary creativity is flourishing. For 10 days now, I’ve been grabbing whatever is available without a queue with no other criterion than freshness. This has resulted in a long list of new and improbable dishes. Who knew that cauliflower can blend so subtly with sheep? Tuna and beetroot! Radishes go with cheese and potato stews like a house on fire. I am loving my new menu. Bring on the carrot curry with a side of mint and whatever this green thing is yay:)