Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Amman / London / Solstice

Less than 15 minutes after take off from Amman airport, Jerusalem comes into view. The Dome of the Rock looks like an exquisite candy, wrapped in golden cellophane and presented on a huge rectangular trey. The expansive austerity of the Haram/Temple Mount, compared to the rest of the city, is striking even from this height. The passenger behind me observed closely for long minutes, glued to the window . I wondered if he had ever had the chance to see it from ground level.

* * *

The first thing I noticed in London was how unlike in Jordan, images of the Royals are missing from the streets: no charming Queen in suit and hat, no serious Queen in Military uniform, no smiling Queen and Philip at home with the grandchildren; and certainly no Prince of Wales (thank god). Is the reason aesthetic? One has to admit that when it comes to photogenity, the Hashemites are far better endowed than the Windsors.

In Israel the culture of State worship does not entail huge street-posters of the current leaders, but rather smaller size (A3 I believe) full-colour posters of the current President, Prime minister and Army Chief of Staff. The main tabloids produce these posters and distribute them when one of the three is appointed, or maybe for the High Holidays? can't remember. In any case, people actually put them up, and in this sense it is not much different from the King's picture in shops in Amman, although not as prevalent. Most common at hairdressers, restaurants etc is the President's picture; the Prime-Minister's is more a matter of political taste, although people make allowences. The whole thing seems quite bizarre to me now, but when I first came to the UK, I was surprised not to find similar posters of Princess Di at Laundry places and Fish and Chip shops. After the emotional outburst that her death caused, I expected to find her picture around as a kind of tribute. When I asked people here about it they were genuinely appalled by the thought.

* * *

They said we were approaching landing at Heathrow, but surprisingly we were flying eastwards, towards the Isle of Dogs. The blinking of the Evil Towers could be seen faintly through the mist below us. The plane finally u-turned, revealing the swathes of South London. I tried in vain to make out the places which have been my home for the last four years: One Tree Hill, Brixton, Vauxhall. All I could see, however, were rows and rows of identical terrace houses, and railway lines cutting through them like scarrs. I realized that my ability to think of this place as home came only at the price of a long struggle with the landscape - whose basic features remain strange and foreign, even after almost five years.
The anxiety of the flight was behind me; that of the return to London was still ahead. The Thames was growing near. A last attempt to spot Kew Bridge failed. Crew get ready for landing.

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