After Muhammad Ali and I parted ways, I stayed at the site, taking photos and visiting the museum. When I finished the museum, I walked back toward the entrance, taking the path that led to a view of the Roman amphitheater and plaza, ruins that were in the valley between hills.
Sitting here, perched on a low wall, were a young man and his mother. They were sitting quietly, talking to each other as I came along, but they perceived I was a visitor to Jordan and said hello to me. It turned out that he spoke English pretty well, so he asked where I was from. “The United States, America,” I said. I was learning that people recognize “America” better – there are other “united” countries in the world. He asked where in the U.S., had I been in Jordan long, the usual kind of small talk.
Then he asked me, “How is the medical care?”
I was a little startled, it’s an unusual question. “Very good,” I said, “although not for everyone. We’re still struggling with that problem.”
He asked, “Do you have cures for all the diseases?”
“Not all. Some. We use vaccinations to prevent quite a few – polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, things like that. No cures for cancer yet, but treatments have improved a lot in the last few years.”
“Do you have a cure for Parkinson’s Disease? My mother,” he nodded in her direction, “has it and it is getting worse. If we went to America, can they cure it?”
I looked at his mother, who was looking at me. Since he mentioned her Parkinson’s, I noticed the slight tremor in her hands. She had been sitting quietly, and not moving her hands, so I had not noticed it before.
“No,” I had to say. I felt for him. It was clear that he wanted very badly to help her. “I have a couple of friends who have Parkinson’s disease. We have some medicines that help the symptoms, that will slow down the disease, but we do not have anything yet that will cure it. I’m sorry.”
He translated this to his mother, who nodded to me and smiled wistfully, acknowledging my reply. She seemed resigned to this more than her son. He made some more comments about health care in Jordan, neutral, not complaining, just frustrated that he could not get more help for his mother. He had learned what he wanted to know, and after a few moments of absorbing this information, he changed topics.
“Have you seen the ruins across the way?”
“Not yet,” I said. “I was getting ready to go there.”
“You can see the market and the… (searching for the word)…theater from here,” he said, pointing.
“I can. It’s a great view from up here,” I said.
“I bring my mother here often. We like to watch the people of the street from up here.”
“If you are here a while longer, you will see me cross the market plaza,” I said. “If you’re here, I will wave.”
“We might be,” he said. “We will look.”
We said good-byes, and I began descending the hill. Going down steep hills is harder than you think, but it’s still less effort than going up. I found a public stairway that made it easier to go down. The stairways frequently have doors that open onto them from people’s homes, and the walls have graffiti, but sometimes, there is wall art:
One of the things I love about the ancient-ness of the Middle Eastern cities and villages is the way streets wind and turn into stairways and secret-looking passages.
I arrived at the market plaza, and looked for a ticket booth. The only one I saw said “Tickets for the theater.” Since I had read that there are still performances in the theater during warm weather, I assumed that was what the sign was talking about. I didn’t see any other booths as I walked toward the amphitheater.
When I arrived at the entrance, I was told I needed a ticket. “Where do I get one?” Yes, it was the booth I passed. So I walked back, purchased a ticket, and started to walk back toward the theater. Then I remembered!
Part way across, I turned and looked up toward the Citadel, toward the corner where the man and his mother had been sitting. I waved, big, full-arm waves. I had to strain a little to see, but yes! A figure stood up and waved back. We waved for several seconds. It was a nice feeling, one of those, “we are all human beings together” moments.
The Roman Theater dominates the Roman ruins on this side of Hashemi Street, as you can see in the earlier photo. The seating is cut into the side of a hill, and I discovered that the seats and steps become narrower as one gets to the top, physically foreshortened, not an illusion. It’s worth climbing, though, just for the perspective. It’s not that hard, but lean forward. The theater seats roughly 6,000. It is thought to have been built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Seating in the three tiers was by rank, rulers first, military second, and the general public filled in the top. Theaters often carried some religious significance, and the signage says that the small shrine above the top row of seats housed a statue of Athena, which now resides in the National Archeological Museum. Full restoration of the theater was begun in 1957. Non-original materials were used, so the current iteration is not just like the original, but really, for most of us this doesn’t detract one iota from the enjoyment. The theater is used for entertainment, which I think is a great idea, but it’s in July and August, so sadly I won’t be here.
There are two museums in the Theater wings, the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Traditions. These display traditional costumes, musical instruments, mosaics, a variety of household items from traditional life, and a Bedouin goat-hair tent complete with tools. They are worth visiting to get a sense of what life used to be in a brief encounter, and are included in the cost of admission to the Theater.
There were two girls in the museum that were excited to meet an American, and I posed for selfies for them and their entire family, except the father, who I am sure considered it inappropriate for him to do so. My Arabic was still very, very limited, and so was their English, so our conversation was short. Once again, it was the girls who spoke it best because they learn English in school.
There is a row of columns in front of the Theater that marks the boundary of what was once one of the largest public squares in the Roman Empire. The square measured about 50 meters by 100 meters, and was built in AD 190. Columns flanked three sides, which must have been impressive because it’s still impressive today, even without the columns. The fourth side was bounded by a stream, but the stream, the Seil Amman, now runs under the the streets. In this photo, you can’t see the columns because of the theater wall, but it gives you an idea of the scale (also, it proves I climbed to the top row.)
The last feature of the public square is the Odeon, which was a 500-seat venue for musical performances. In the photo above, the entrance is through the small brown wooden doors on the upper right side. I think that the Latin word, “Odeon,” survives in English as part of
…the word “Nickelodeon.” Maybe someone besides me remembers an old song about putting “another nickel in, in the Nickelodeon, all we want to hear is music, music, music.” I was a kid then, and the context of the song indicated that the Nickelodeon was some early version of a juke box, or maybe a late version of a player piano. Funny what sticks with you as you grow up.