Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Amman's Seven Hills

    Aisha took us downhill into a leafy avenue of fine old houses before she gestured, her wooden bangles clacking. ‘This is the First Circle, the centre of old Amman and it’s becoming fashionable for cafés and bars. There’s a place here that may be within your budget, but it’s unfurnished. It’s just up the street from the Wild Café, quite a popular place that the Americans built as a gift to Jordan. They like to give us little gifts.’
    I stayed quiet as she pulled the car to a stop in front of a flight of stone steps leading up to a house standing apart on the hillside, ornate wrought-iron railings protecting its windows and a vine trailing on the pergola in the garden to the front of it. I found myself following the swing of her hips as she led the way up the steps from the road. She turned abruptly at the top, caught me looking at her bum and raised an eyebrow. I felt my face redden. She pulled a soft pack of cigarettes from her burgundy handbag and offered them.
    ‘I don’t, thanks.’
    ‘Suit yourself,’ she said, lighting up and inhaling hungrily
From Olives, page 19

Amman’s not only built on seven hills, it’s also built around seven circles (although there are more than seven of them these days), the first circle being ‘old Amman’, the late Ottoman era houses and leafy, sometimes steep, hilly streets tumbling down to the wad- beds and to East Amman.

The area around the first circle, Jebel Amman, is home to a collection of cool cafes and restaurants, many of which are scattered along Rainbow Street. The amazing Arabic restaurant Fakhr El Din is probably the most celebrated eatery in the Jebel Amman area. Eating at Fakhr El Din should be compulsory for everyone who visits Amman – it’s in one of the larger Ottoman houses and serves a legendarily rich mezze (including delicacies like sheep’s spinal cords and 'assafir' plates of tiny birds intended to be eaten whole) alongside heaving dishes of Levantine delicacies and, of course, nargileh, or shisha. Sitting outside on the terrace in the summer chatting with friends and drinking a madly strong Turkish coffee with the smell of apple shisha on the breeze is one of life’s little delights.

The picture above, by the way, shows something Quixotic and wonderful you'll never see again - the 'Thieves' Market' in East Amman. This was where you'd go to buy back the video recorder or mobile phone that was stolen from you last week. I kid you not. Everything the local crooks had blagged in the preceding week was on sale here, a sort of public display of outrageous fencing. The Powers That Be have since closed it down, but it was a wonderful, odd, crooks' car boot sale experience.
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