Image: Willi Heidelbach
A box of advance copies of the magazine’s first issue arrived from the printing press. I scanned a copy. It looked good. It smelled good too – there’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh print in all the world. I picked up a handful of them and made my way up to Abdullah Zahlan’s office. I sat down with Zahlan and waited for him to go through the magazine. He flicked through the pages, nodding appreciatively.
Olives, Page 119
It’s an oddly fresh smell, yet pungently chemical. If the print job was a rush, your fingers will slide on a powdery dusting of china clay – printers use it to dry the ink faster and stop pages sticking together. You pull the pages open and thrust your nose into the gutter and there it is, magic marker meets trichloroethylene, a hit of solvent abuse that comes alongside the feeling of achievement, as your efforts are rendered concrete. You scan the pages one last time for 'literals', a little fearful thrill to make the satisfaction that bit more complete. Tragically, new novels don’t smell half so good.
It’ll only be so long the reek of a new magazine will be commonplace. Perhaps five years, perhaps ten. The idea of a print only publication already feels a little archaic and, certainly, Paul’s reason for travelling to Jordan for a year in Olives is already a minor area of conflict in the book as ‘new guy’ at the Ministry of Natural Resources Abdullah Zahlan wants more of a web play than a paper magazine. But his ‘old school’ predecessor Shukri (we never find out Shukri’s first name) has signed the contract with TMG for a print magazine only. Paul’s git of a publisher, Robin Goodyear, stands by the contract but Paul, the guy stuck on the ground tries to help out and at least give Zahlan some help in creating a more online property.
Jordan is one of the most advanced contributors to the Internet in the Middle East, the region’s most competitive telecom market and a major source of innovation, investment and IP development – thanks in no small part to the REACH process kickstarted by King Abdullah in 1999/2000. And yet there are still more Shukris than Zahlans. The Middle East, generally, lags the West and Asia in its adoption of Internet technologies and even the boost the ‘Arab Spring’ has given to Internet and social media adoption hasn’t quite driven the region to truly embrace online.
Which is lucky, really. Otherwise my callow young journalist friend would never really have had a reason to go and live in Jordan at all...