January 31, 2010

(Re)learning Languages

I got my “welcome to post” notification from Brasilia.   It is still more than a year in the future and it seems sort of ironic as I watch the snow falling outside my window but the future has a way of becoming the present faster than you think.  

So much advance notice is unusual.  I had my boots on the ground in Iraq about a month after I first even thought about volunteering for the job, but usually we get around a year.   Two years is unusual unless you are assigned to hard language training. 

Portuguese is an odd language when it comes to our training.  It is a “world language” and it is a fairly easy language to learn, but it is not as common as other “easy” world languages like Spanish or French.  Since it is not a  not a “hard language” like Russian, Arabic or Chinese, the FS sometimes doesn’t build in enough time to learn or relearn it as it does for officers assigned to posts with hard languages.   This system can work for French or Spanish, since there are lots of people in posts with those languages, Portuguese maybe not so much.   I don’t know if I explained that well, but it makes sense to me.   Suffice to say that for this PAO assignment they really wanted someone with good Portuguese, so this time they built in enough time to make sure of it and I am the beneficiary.

This is very exciting.  I learned Portuguese at FSI a quarter century ago and I got to be fluent when I was in Brazil for a couple years.   In those days you had to use the language all the time, since English was not that common in Porto Alegre.  But fluent is not necessarily the same as good.  You can speak very fast and fluently but not get the grammar or the words exactly right and I never felt really confident.   Diplomats should be really good at the languages of the countries where they are assigned and this additional training - with some consistent work - will put on the polish.   I hope so.

I don’t expect to speak like a native, but I want to get very good.  We have numbers from 1 to 5.  I want to get to 4 before I leave for Brazil, but the numbers don’t mean much.  I think of it in terms of foreign actors.  I want to get to the equivalent of Ricardo Montalban, but I am afraid I had only reached the sophistication of Sergeant Shultz on the old Hogan’s Heroes in my previous time.  I am not starting from zero this time.  I have been reading the WSJ in Portuguese.  I don’t get all the details, but I can understand most of the articles.  I also bought a dozen of Brazilian movies.  W/o the subtitles I would be out of luck, but even in the short time I have been doing it; the language is starting to come back.

Technological advances make it a lot easier to learn languages; at least it has become a lot easier to get the materials.  I can read Brazilian newspapers online and listen to radio and TV.  And of course Brazilian-Portuguese movies are easy to find.  There is almost no comparison to how it was twenty-five years ago.   I remember being happy to get those old newspapers and having to copy audio tapes.

Look below at what I just did   I used Word to translate the paragraph above into Portuguese and then back translated into English.  It did a decent job.  I would have to make a few minor corrections.   The strangest thing is that it translated the word Portuguese into English.   It also left out some of the subtlety, such as “I want.”  The Portuguese translation is better than the back translation to English, it has the “I want” (quero) for example.  This is understandable, since it is like making a copy of a copy.  But the translation certainly still makes sense and is a thousand times better than I could do on my own - the wonders of modern technology.  

Desta vez, quero aprender a escrever português.   Temos de aprender a falar e ler-se nos nossos cursos de língua, mas nós não aprender a escrever, pelo menos não como escrever bem.    Aguardo com expectativa a obtenção de muita ajuda a este respeito de Bill Gates.   Microsoft Word é muito bom na fixação de palavras que estão escritas quase corretamente.   Ele faz isso em inglês, parto do princípio de que é possível fazê-lo também em português.

Back translation

This time, I learn to write English.   We must learn to speak and read in our language courses, but we do not learn how to write, at least not how to write well.    I look forward to getting a lot of help from Bill Gates.   Microsoft Word is very good at fixing of words that are written almost correctly.   It does this in English, I assume that it is possible also in English.

It is really interesting the way that the machine can translate in seconds.  But somehow I am staring to understand how John Henry felt when he saw that steam drill rolling up.

May 17, 2009

Brazil the Country of the Future

Sao Paulo Brazil skyline on May 15, 2009 

I am back in the U.S. after my week in Brazil.   We took the overnight flight that left at 10pm.  The plus side of flying through the night is that the day is free, so we spent our last Saturday in Brazil looking around Sao Paulo.  It was a great day: cool and clear.  I had not been back in Brazil since 1988.  No surprise that a lot has changed.  The roads are better.  There is less air pollution.  People are interested in protecting the environment.    People are running in the parks.   I didn’t get to Porto Alegre, so I am basing my opinions only on Paraná and Sao Paulo.  I knew those places less well.   

Renassiance Hotel in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15, 2009

Buildings in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15, 2009

They always said that Brazil was the country of the future.  Looks like it has arrived. Anyway, I have some short comments and pictures that together are enough for a post.  They are below.

Below is feijoada, a bean, rice and meat dish.  It is very filling.  And below is a local pharmacy, unrelated to the beans, but maybe not.

Feijoada meal in Brazil on May 15, 2009

Farto pharmacy in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15, 2009

Below - any place that has good beer is civilized.

Good beer in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15

Below is the monuement to the Bandeirantes.  They were a mixture of explorers, pioneers and bandits, who explored and settled southern Brazil.

Bandeirantes monument in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15, 2009

Below is the monument to Brazilian Airforce pilots from World War II.  Brazil was the only South American country to send fighting troops to support the allies.  They fought bravely in the Italian campaign. They also patrolled the S. Atlantic and hosted bases.

Monument to Brazilian airforce in World War II

Below - runners in Sao Paulo

Runners in Sao Paulo Brazil on May 15, 2009

Below Cesar and Tim.  Cesar was my colleague back in Porto Alegre, lo those many years ago.  In the background are rips roasting at the churascaria.

Cesar and Tim

Below - the last picture is not in Sao Paulo.  It is me at the falls in Parana.  Brazil has a lot of variety.

John Matel at Vale do Corisco falls



May 15, 2009

Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo from Mariott on May 14, 2009 

See video of the Sao Paulo vista at this link.  

Sao Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil and the third largest metropolitan area in the world.   It is a nice place to visit for short time, but I would not like to live in this mega-city.    I have to say that it has improved a lot since I was last here.  The air is less polluted and there are some attractive buildings, but it still is a paradise for lovers of concrete and cinderblock.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

We are staying in the Marriott Renaissance in the Jardim section of town.    I found some pretty places including a park that features a small part of the Atlantic forest in the middle of the city.  

Atlantic forest in middle of Sao Paulo Brazil on May 14, 2009

We had some very good meetings with technology leaders.   Brazil is an exciting place for new technologies will be or already is a leader in social community systems.   I will write some general comments about what I learned later.  Suffice to say that our Brazilian friends have done impressive things and will be major players in the new media.  

Atlantic forest in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Street Scene in Sao Paulo

Street in Sao Paulo Brazil

Sao Paulo

May 10, 2009

Being in Brazil

Just a short note, since I  have not written for a few days and will not write tomorrow. 

Sao Paulo Mariott at airpost

I am in Sao Paulo, Brazil for meetings on new media.  I have a little time on my hands because I got here a early.   Leaving a day earlier saved the USG about half - more than $600 in airfare.    I don’t know how these things work, but it probably had something to do with weekend travel.  

The trip is an all night flight.   It is hard to sleep well on the airplanes, so although jet lag is not much of a problem – Brazil is one hour ahead – it is good to acclimatize before meetings.  Flight was uneventful.   Flying is not much fun.  You are on the plane for around ten hours.    We were greeting by people wearing surgical masks and handing out flu information.   I was relieved to find out that this was a precaution against US.  I doubt if it would do any good anyway.  The flu is so far not a problem here.  I didn’t hear anybody on the plane with obvious symptoms.

Sao Paulo from Mariott at airport on May 9, 2009

I was at the airport Marriott, w/o very much to do, so I arranged to go down to the state of Parana to look at some forests.   SE Brazil is a big producer of wood products.  I think it will be worth the trip, since the alternative is to hang around here and eat.   My only concern is driving on the local roads and maybe getting lost, but I have mapped out the route.   I will write about that when I get back.  

BTW – I know the pictures are not very exciting.   They are just from around the hotel.  Weather is pleasant, not too hot or cold.   Below is my "pool view" room.   I didn't go swimming, however.  Hotel pools are mostly good for kids.  They are not good for swimming laps and unless it is really hot, there is not much use going in, IMO.  Nice to have a pool view, however.

Pool view at Mariott airport Sao Paulo on May 9, 2009


December 18, 2008

In a Better Mood: Clean & Friendly Doha

When I glance back at my recent entries, I see I was not in the optimum mood.  It really helps to get out and meet people.  

Below is the moon over Doha Islamic Center, a very interesting spiral building as you can see. 

Doha Islamic Center spiral tower

I didn’t expect to get to see Doha, but fortunately some of the guys stationed on the base thought of a reason to get us out and so we went to a restaurant in town and got to walk around the market.   I could not see as much because it was dark, but I suspect there was not much in the market to see that wasn’t lit up anyway.  I regret not seeing more of Doha itself, although I don't think there was more than a day's worth of looking, it seemed a nice place. People who like to shop would like it here, IMO.

The streets were very clean and lively and prices were reasonable.  I paid about $15 for my meal at a nice restaurant.  Coffee at a place that looked like Starbucks was around $2.  

Market street in Doha, Qatar 

The market had all kinds of goods, not all of them directed at tourists.  The most interesting shop sold falcons - yes, the birds – and falconer supplies.  There are probably not many stores like that around.  Falconry is a popular sport among the rich around the Arab world.  The falcons hunt other birds and small animals like rabbits.  The return in terms of meat per unit of input is low.  It is a luxury, which is why it has always been the sport of nobles or people with lots of resources and time on their hands.  It requires patience to train the birds and knowledge of the environment to deploy them to hunt and it probably becomes part of a whole lifestyle.  

Falcon shop in Doha, Qatar

The falcons in the shop didn’t do anything interesting, although it was interesting to look at them for a short time.  I didn’t ask how much they cost and the store proprietor didn’t try to sell me anything.  I expect he could easily tell that I was just a looker and not a falcon enthusiast.   My guess is that most people who come through his shop don’t intend to buy anything and he has become accustomed to the gawking traffic.

It was good to get out of camp.  The whole trip will now have a better place in my memory.  Living in the cans is no fun.  The cans in Al Asad were better because they were outside and your window got natural light.  Beyond that, I have a roommate here.   He is a good guy, one of my coworkers, but I would prefer my own place. The cans here are stacked on top of each other and all of them are housed in an enormous warehouse.   It is like living in a giant steel hive. 

We also work inside a big steel warehouse with little tents or boxes set up as rooms.   It is sort of like an exhibition hall.  We don’t have enough computers to go around, so there are a few of us always made redundant.  W/o computers, you really cannot do much work in a modern office setting.  I am not sure why they brought us all the way here for this work.  I suppose it is cheaper than sending us to an offsite in W. Virginia or Florida, or even keeping us in Washington, where most of my colleagues have to be in TDY.  I am an extraordinarily good deal for them, since I live in N. Virginia and they don’t have to pay me for hotel or meals.  Once they pay the air fare, there is not much variable cost in having us work in Doha.  They already have the hives and the chow hall is cheaper than per Diem.  Actually they give us per Diem - $3.50 a day - for incidentals.  I would say that I shouldn’t spend it all in one spot, but I already did. 

I had to buy toothpaste and a couple pair of socks, which I forgot.  While I was there I got a nice shirt and some junk food.   Strictly speaking it did not take up the whole ten days per Diem, which comes to $35.00.   When you get to my level, you get the big bucks.

December 09, 2008

Flying to Doha

I am at home today getting ready to go to Doha tonight, where I will meet colleagues to work on our strategy paper.  I am unenthusiastic about the journey.    It is something like 16 hours on Qatar Airlines in an economy class middle seat.  It is officially a United flight, so I hoped that I could use my United miles to upgrade, but this is evidently not possible with a code share like this.

Airport in Washington 

I don’t have many complaints about flying and I think that all that gnashing of teeth about passengers’ bills of rights is exaggerated.   Travel sucks by its very nature.  You just have to get used to it.  Most of us (me too) are unwilling to pay extra for business class seats, so we get stuck in the cattle car class.    In other words, we get what we pay for.    It will be an ordeal. 

Many people think diplomats travel first class. No, our government is not that generous. We fly economy unless we upgrade ourselves.  They used to have a rule that we could fly business class if we had to be on the plane for more than fourteen hours.  No more, except if you can claim that you have to go to work immediately on landing or you can assert a credible disability.   Being too tall to fit comfortably in the seats doesn’t qualify.   

I sat next to a fat guy on my last trip home.  He wanted to put up the arm rest so that he could flow into my seat too.   He complained about the injustice of air travel when I told him no.    Being fat is increasingly being classified as a disability.   A Canadian court has ruled that airlines have to give a free extra seat to the will-power challenged among us.   By that logic, they should have to give more leg room to anybody over 5’10” tall, maybe extra luggage space to those who just have to bring along more stuff than they can use.   Maybe a passenger bill of rights would handle all these permutations and produce a kind of Malthusian solution.  If we do it completely, it will drive the price of flying so high that almost nobody will be able to afford to fly anyway and it will be pleasant for the survivors. 

I don’t think Doha will be much fun.  We have to stay in the camp the whole time.   They say that there is a running trail around the camp that is around 3.5 miles.  The nice thing re Al Asad was that the base was big.   There was not much variety, but it spread over twenty-two square mile and I had more space than I could run over.   3.5 miles is actually enough for most of my runs these days, but the idea that there is no more bothers me.  I like to know I could go farther if the sprit moved me.   I can take the limited horizons for two weeks.    I hear that they have a pool in Doha.   It is like a holiday camp.   That is the way I am taking it.   The weather should be nice this time of year. 

November 09, 2008

Bolton Hill Baltimore

Below - Mariza on her street in Bolton Hill

Mariza Street on Bolton Hill 

Mariza rents a house along with some roommates in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill district.   I was a little apprehensive when Mariza got her job in Baltimore.   I remembered the crime and squalor.  But the city has improved a lot in recent years and there are some really nice and neighborhoods.   The Mount Vernon area, right next to Mariza’s area is very nice.  A lot of her co-workers live in Federal Hill, evidently a yupifiying district.   We walked around there.  It is not that nice, IMO, but it does have large numbers of restaurants.  It reminded me of State Street in Madison. 

Bolton Hill Baltimore Street

Mariza moved her last year.  She started out by looking for apartments in the Inner Harbor area, which is superficially attractive but too expensive and a little artificial, sort of like living in Disneyland.    Actually, I have to admit that it was our advice that she look there.  It was the only area of Baltimore that Chrissy and I knew.  Her further investigation turned up other, better opportunities.   

Bolton Hill street Baltimore

Where she lives now has lot of parks and museums and the Maryland Institute College of Art is there.    Many of the old buildings have been recently renovated and it is a mostly intact 19th Century neighborhood.    It is within walking distance to restaurants and stores and has good access to public transportation and the light rail system, which is important because Mariza doesn’t have a car.   It is a nice place to live and seems safe.   

Garden house near Mariza in Bolton Hill

I like the fact that she has roommates.   She has the usual roommate woes.    The landlord forgot to pay the electric bills for the previous period and they were about to lose power, so Mariza had to pay.  The others owe her money.  This is not a big problem; she is in touch with the landlord and can just deduct it from the rent, but she is now in the position of managing the landlord relationship.    They have the mirror image problem with water bills.  Mariza and her roommates were supposed to get the water bills, but they went to the landlord instead.   Now he wants to be repaid for those bills.  It looks like Mariza will again have to front the money and get it back from the roommates. 

Below - We were a little worried about some Baltimore neighborhoods.  Mariza didn't look for houses where we saw this rolling bail-bond truck a couple summers ago.

bail bond truck

I had six roommates one year when I was in college in Madison, but we had trouble after two women moved out and went to Florida.   We had a joint lease and we all had the responsibility to pay our shares of the rent, so we had to find new roommates.  In a college town, there is usually something wrong with anybody looking to rent an apartment in October or November, but we were desperate and got some real weirdoes.  Some were more responsible than others in paying.   I got the enforcer job.  One of my roommates, Marcus, didn’t pay until I threatened him.  This I had to do two months in a row.  After that, he claimed it was a hostile environment and he moved out with one day notice just before the third month’s rent was due. 

These pictures are from our town house complex in Vienna, VA.  The trees are turning nicely.

Providence Park Townhouse

Marcus was slob who didn’t use sheets on his mattress and it was stinky and dirty.   When I came home the day after Marcus moved out, I found the house full of smoke.   One of my other roommates, Tom the stoner (this was the 1970s), was sitting around with his friends in the living room.   I asked them what was going on and Tom just said, “I don’t know, man.  It’s been that way for about an hour.”    I thought it a good idea to find out where the smoke was coming from and found it was coming from under the door in Marcus’ room.   When I opened the door, his bed burst into flames.   Tom had wanted to get the smell out of Marcus’ mattress, so he put some incense on top it.   It burned through into the mattress and was smoldering inside so that when I opened the door, the rush of air ignited it.   I expect it would have started flaming soon enough in any case and I believe that had I not come home when I did, Tom would have burned the house down and he and his friends would have been caught in the conflagration and become literally burnouts.  When he saw the flames, Tom just said, “Wow!”  I beat the flames out with my coat.   We dumped some water on the mattress and got rid of it.  Roommates can be challenging, but they provide interesting stories.    The stories are funny when you look back; not so much at the time.

Our complex again.  I just like the trees in their fall colors.

Our town house complex

Back to the present, I like Baltimore and have been pleasantly surprised by the charm. 

October 20, 2008

Good Things about Portland


Portland is a very well run and welcoming city.   A thing I especially liked was the ubiquitous bubblers.   I consider bubblers a sign of civic virtue.   Another unique feature is the free public transportation.   Yes – free, at least within the city.  That keeps down the traffic and makes the city more open.   

Tram in Portland

You notice but do not immediately comprehend that all the buildings in the downtown area have retail space on the street level and even the streets near tall buildings are tree lined.   This makes the city livelier and more pleasant.   Nothing is so depressing for a city street than to have it made into a canyon of blank walls.   I suppose the challenge is to keep stores in those many storefronts but it doesn’t have to be all retail.  There were things like Bally’s and some offices.

Jake's grill

Mariza and I had supper at Jake’s Grill.  It was founded in the early part of the 20th Century.   A lot of the buildings are from around then.  They are well maintained.   We had lunch at Old Town Pizza.  Mariza wanted to go because she read that it was haunted.  According to the story the place is haunted by the ghost of a prostitute murdered by her employers after she tried to get out of the business.   I think they just made that up. 

Old Town Pizza, Portland

Below is Mariza on the Portland street.  She saw a lot more of the city than I did, since she did not attend the tree farm conference.  I hope she will contribute an entry.

Mariza in Portland

September 28, 2008

Once & Future Frankfurt

Frankfurt was the first city I visited outside the U.S.  That was almost thirty years ago.  Time flies.  Things have changed in Frankfurt, but not that much.  I use Euro instead of Deutsch Marks and the city seems more international than German.  There are a lot of immigrants and Irish pubs.

I met three Irishmen in the youth hostel when I was here in 1979.  They had checked into a hotel and went out to get drunk.  That night, none of them could remember where their hotel was located and they still couldn’t – three days later.  It didn’t bother them too much.  They seemed to have money.  During the day, they walked around the city trying to recognize their erstwhile lodging.  At night, they went out and got drunk.   Maybe they got stranded permanently and founded one of those Irish pubs.

The Irish wandered Europe and the world in those days looking for work.  Germany was booming and they could find unskilled work.  Today the Irish economy is one of the most vibrant in the world and the Germans envy their low unemployment rate. Ireland used to have high taxes and a government unfriendly too business.  No more.  It is now easy to set up shop in Ireland and the country has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world; it around 12% compared to the Germans’ (and ours) of around 35%.   Some things change. 

BTW – I heard that number on the debates today AFTER I wrote this.  I guess I am topical.

But a picture is worth a thousand words.  Below are some pictures with captions of less than a thousand words to explain them. 


I was hungry most of the time when I visited Germany in 1979.  I didn’t bring enough money, so I lost weight.  One of my favorite dishes was goulash soup at Weinerwald.   IT was cheap.  I loved it.  Hunger is the best cook and it doesn’t taste as good now as then, but I still eat it when I can, for old time’s sake.   Below is what I like to eat now.   This is breakfast at Courtyard. Much healthier food, but still enough fat to make it good. BTW - Courtyard Marriotts in Europe are great.  They are usually in nice, wooded locations and they are not too expensive.

Courtyard at Marriott Frankfurt breakfast

Even with my meager funds in 1979, I still could afford beer – liquid bread, cornflakes in a bottle.  My favorite beer was Heniger, a local Frankfurt product.  It still is good.  The picture is from the old town square.  It is great to sit in the sun on a cool day and drink a cool beer. 

Es gibt kein schoneres leben

Henniger Bier

You can tell a good beer by the “cling”.  Cling is the foam that adheres to the sides off the glass as you drink it down.  It should look foamy, with small bubbles.  If there is not much cling, the beer is too light.  If the bubbles are too big, it probably means that the cup is a little dirty.  Don’t order anything containing mayonnaise at that establishment.  Below is good cling.  The beer is Bitberger, with the slogan “bitte ein bit” – please a bit(berger).  It doesn’t translate so well.

Bitberger Bier in Frankfurt

Germany has a good street culture, with lots of sidewalk cafes an food shops.  This is typical of the bread and pastry shops.   I couldn’t stay in Germany too long.  The beer and chocolate would be too tempting.

Good Food

This post is getting a little long.  Let me continue in the next post.

P.S. It may seem like I drink a lot of beer.  I don't ...usually.  The Marines (and me) drink not a drop of it during deployment.  I do like beer and during my time in dry and beer free Al Asad I developed an aching hunger for the liquid bread.  As luck would have it, I spent a day in Germany on my way home.  I saw my chances and I took 'em.

Im Himmel gibt's kein Bier,
Drum trinken wir es hier.
Denn sind wir nicht mehr hier,
Dann trinken die andern unser Bier.

May 25, 2008

Everything is Looking Up

We are at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth that is not under water.  The sign claims it is 415 meters below sea level.  Let me point out first of all that the idea that you don’t get sunburned here because the UV rays are filtered through so much extra atmosphere is a myth.  Maybe you get sunburned less, but you still get sunburned.

John Matel floating in Dea Sea

It is not a myth, however, that you cannot sink in the Dead Sea because of the high salt content.  As long as you arch your back, you can comfortably float like a little boat.  I tried to stand up, but you float up and tip.  I tipped face first into the water.  It is horrible tasting, much worse than seawater, and it kind of burns your lips.   The water has some bitumen in it besides the salts, so it smells.  People claim the mud is good for your skin and people smear it all over themselves.  I didn’t. 

Christine at Dead Sea

Above - Chrissy came to meet me in Amman. 

The northern shore of the Dead Sea is now home to lots of really nice Hotels.  We are in the Marriott.  It is like a paradise and not very expensive.  We get the government/military discount because I am on official travel orders. 

Before development, it must have been like hell around here.  Imagine a person coming through the desert and seeing this “lake” for the first time.  He goes down to take a drink and gets that poisonous salt water.  If you drink a cup of it w/o rinsing it out with fresh water right away, it will literally kill you.   After swimming, you have to wash off. 

John at Dead Sea

Saddam & Gomorrah were nearby.  Lot’s wife supposedly was turned into a pillar of salt nearby and lots of pillars of salt rise out of the Dead Sea.  Irrigation and people making salt by evaporating water are lowering the level of the Sea and making it even more salty.    There are proposals to bring in sea water to replace the water drained out of the Jordan for irrigation.  At various times in geologic history, this area was completely dry or an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Jordan Valley is part of the same rift that reaches into East Africa.  The continents of Africa and SW Asia literally are being pulled apart by the action of plate tectonics.  In a couple million years, this whole valley will be part of the Red Sea.  But until then it might be a major engineering feat to bring in that sea water.

Tomorrow we are going to visit some of the local archeological sites.   We had planned a side trip to Jerusalem, but we learned that the border crossings are difficult and time consuming.  That, coupled with the distance, makes it unlikely we can make a successful day trip, so we will have to hold off the trip to Jerusalem for another time. 

Veranda view Mariott Hotel Dead Sea

Above is the view of other hotels from the Veranda.  It is sort of like S. Arizona.

The Jordan Valley should provide enough to do for now.  After this, we will go down to Petra.   

May 23, 2008

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi


Above is Amman from the Citadel 

Empire is politically incorrect these days but the Roman Empire was a great thing.  It brought together disparate people under the rule of law.   The Romans controlled almost all the world they knew about and certainly all the territory they thought worth having. 

temple of Hercules Amman

In our modern world, we are used to progress running in one direction.  We might suppose the past was more pleasant, but we never believe that people of the past could do more than we could.  This was not always the case.  For around 1000 years, people looked back on the ancient Roman Empire with a sense of envy.  The Romans had a better general organization than the states that followed them.  Cities fell into ruins after the fall of Rome and they sometimes staying in ruins, with people poking around among them like some characters in a scifi book.  Amman did not regain its Roman size until well into the 20th century.   People could look at the ruins and wonder how those building came to be.

On left is the Temple of Hercules.

Jordan was at the edge of the Roman world.  Beyond here was that desert I know only too well.  The Romans were wise enough not to go very far away from the Mediterranean Sea (Mare Nostrum – our sea, they called it) very often.  When they did, they tended to come to bad ends.   Crassus, the associate of Julius Caesar's,  was captured by the Parthians who poured molten gold down his throat in recognition of his status as one of the richest men in the world.   

The Mediterranean really is a paradise.  It is like California, northern or southern depending on where you are.  Jordan is like southern California.   It has been hot during the day, but not uncomfortable in the shade.  In the evening it is comfortably cool.  There is a fair amount of green.  There would be more if it were not for the goats and the general bad management of soil resources over the past millennia. 

goat on citadel Amman

Amman is quiet today because it is Friday.  I went up to the citadel.  Every ancient and medieval city of any size has a citadel or an acropolis.   Life back then was nasty, brutish and short.  You had to have a place to repair to during the inevitable periods of bloody disorder.   After a while, these places became the sites of public buildings so they usually feature interesting archeology.  Beyond that, there is almost always a good view from the high ground.

ruins Amman

As I sit here writing this, I can hear church bells ringing.  I have been hearing the Muslim call to prayer all day, so this is a change.  I understand that the Christian population was once significant.  It has dwindled in modern times, but is still here.  This is the holy land after all.   Tomorrow or the next day I plan to visit the place where tradition says John the Baptist baptized Jesus.