Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Amman Bombings

   I took a cab to the Four Seasons, where we were stopped by security scanning the car with what seemed to be a divining rod. The cabbie chuckled throatily at the performance.
   ‘This little stick he find bomb too much, seer. Too much.’ He gestured with his thumb at the uniformed guard walking up and down balancing his little dowsing stick. I was still shaking my head at the strangeness of the whole rigmarole as I walked through the airy lobby, past a huge display of flowers and grasses arranged in ranks of tall glass vases. I found Aisha in the sumptuousness of the yellow-carpeted piano lounge, sitting at a big round table and tapping away at her MacBook.
Olives, Page 23

The Four Seasons Hotel in Amman is the city’s poshest hotel and also its most expensive. They make a smashing Martini and rare is the trip to Amman where I don’t find an excuse to sink a couple with friends. It’s a wee performance, the cocktail is made in an individual shaker, then brought over on a little silver tray with a napkin, the drink shaken and poured at your table.

In the wintertime, a rare treat is afforded by the open fire in the lobby lounge, sitting back on the comfy sofas and munching on the Four Seasons’ homemade potato crisps.

The oddness with the diving rod actually takes place, cars are stopped by security on the approach to the hotel and a guard does the ‘scan’, I have never been able to work out quite what science is behind this performance with a little black divining rod.

Security at all of Amman’s hotels was stepped up after the Amman bombing, the terrible night when sixty people lost their lives. It took place in 2005, which seems odd now because it feels like a million years ago. Amman reeled under the impact of the bombs, Jordan had lain in the middle of one of the world's most dangerous, conflicted regions for decades without having seen bombings like this. The country is safe and secure - the Jordanians are a hospitable, welcoming people and Jordan has long had a thriving tourist trade - in fact, it's a major earner for the country's economy.

A pal was in the reception area of the Grand Hyatt when the bomb went off and described how, in that moment, her life and world changed as the windows blew out. She was around the corner from the lobby lounge where the bomber killed seven hotel staff. The bomb at the SAS Radission, a short walk down the road from the Grand Hyatt, was detonated in the middle of a wedding party, killing many guests including the fathers of the bride and groom. The bomber must have known he was walking into a wedding. I still find his actions incredible, even considering the fact few of us can truly imagine what goes on inside the head of a suicide bomber.

The company I work at was one of the sponsors of an art exhibition held the week after to protest it and raise funds for the families, called ‘Into the light’. I flew in to attend the event. I remember checking into the Hyatt as one of sixteen guests in the hotel, the lobby area blocked off by plasterboard. Many of the staff I had known for years (our office was based in the Hyatt's Zara complex) were no longer there. Their names, along with the others, still hang in my house, two treasured monochrome calligraphies from the exhibition, each one starkly detailing the sixty names of the fallen.

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