So for some perspective, because I think its helpful – it is now 11:15 PM and I am sitting at a high and relatively low-comfort table in the bar at my hostel in Brussels drinking a Duvel (amazing) and listening to relatively low-quality country music. I have just returned from eating dinner at a restaurant completely too incredible for a recent college graduate who has no job to be spending money on. I had found it on the internet accompanied by fantastic reviews. If I were to post internet reviews for things, I would write equally fantastic things. My room was occupied by sleeping people of whom I have never seen or met before when I returned to it. I felt badly because I could probably have been more quiet than I was, but I needed to get my computer and charger out of a locker that refused to aid me in my efforts to maintain evening time noise levels.
Before eating at said far too expensive restaurant, I had a couple of delicious Belgian beers at a nearby and also critically acclaimed-by-the-internet bar, because on first arrival at the restaurant I was turned away due to a complete booking for the night. My only hope lay in the good graces of the waiter/manager, one of two workers at the restaurant (he and the chef), who said that if I came back in a while he may be able to make room for me. While before this I had been somewhat unsure of my decision to indulge myself at this mealtime, the indubitable demand for this restaurant made me unable to turn away the opportunity, and so I waited it out, not overly angry at the chance to try some different and delicious beers.
I seem to be distracted. Dinner was delicious. That is what this all means. While eating dinner I finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which if you have read my last post, you will know that I was reading. As I walked back from dinner, my mind was still reeling and trying to work out my feelings about the book itself and the way that it ended. I thought that some of the themes discussed would be an interesting way to discuss what I have been up to the past few months in Amman, seeing as I haven’t discussed it much here and have been goaded by some faithful readers to discuss it, and of whom I am nothing without and so must oblige.
So first let me outline some of the things discussed in the book that I found interesting and then I think that will lead me to discuss my ongoings as of late. And if it doesn’t, then I apologize in advance. But bear with me.
So, the book is quite interesting and weird and I really have not yet completely worked out my feelings about it. It is a philosophical discussion that is set to the backdrop of story that seemingly involves a man and his son traveling across the United States on a motorcycle but really ends up taking place in the mind of a brilliant but confused man struggling to come to terms with himself and the world in which he lives.
But this is not very important. Basically, one of the things that the philosopher father man discusses is the idea of Quality. He equates quality to the greek idea of Excellence. He refuses to define Quality – it is neither subjective nor objective – in fact Quality is definitive, in that Quality is that which defines things. It is something that occurs in the very act of the subject-object relationship.
In simpler words – Quality is something that you know. You cannot define it, but it exists as something that you can differentiate. You can point to something as having Quality or not having quality.
So, like, my dinner tonight, had some serious Quality. And so far, in my experience, most of Belgian’s beers have some SERIOUS Quality. It is awesome. Really really great.
Okay, I am going to try to stop talking about Belgium just for a bit now. You can see I am a bit smitten.
So, for the past couple of months I have been living in Amman and studying Arabic. Upon arriving in Jordan I lived in Jebel Amman, a really great area that is close to the Beled, or the downtown/old city area, in the basement of a house named “Rainbow House” (as deemed by its inhabitants, or ancient folklore, one can’t be sure). Now, this house is a total shithole. Sorry. I really can’t sugar coat it. BUT. That being said, it has some really great Quality to it as well. I lived in the basement and never talked to anyone who lived up stairs for almost the entire first 3 weeks. I had nothing against them, I just didn’t know them and am not always that willing to introduce myself to people because I like being alone a lot and sometimes have a fear of meeting new people.
But after a few weeks I needed to do laundry and the laundry machines were upstairs, so I knocked on the door and said HEY come let me in I live downstairs and need to do laundry. Well, this elicited an interesting response and from this moment on I have been termed “the basement guy” by most of the people residing in Rainbow House. I take it as a term of endearment, and even now that I don’t live in the basement they still call me “the basement guy” and I think it’s great. Rainbow House is an example of something where if you had delimited your understanding of Quality to some sort of definition it would definitely fall outside of these limitations, but there is an undoubtable and large amount of Quality to be found in Rainbow House and I think that almost everyone who has been there would agree with it.
After meeting the people who lived upstairs from me, I decided that a bit of human contact was a (slight) improvement upon my hermit-like behavior up until then and started to spend time with them. They introduced me to the formerly greatest restaurant in Amman, run by an amazingly sweet Syrian man who was also a serious sorcerer in the kitchen. For the next few weeks, until I moved away and then he had to shut his doors, we ate dinner with our favourite Syrian sometimes as many as 5 times a week. It was incredible and I miss it dearly.
As you can guess, the Syrian man and his food had an incredible amount of Quality. I still cannot understand how such a small man could have so much of this thing.
During this time I was working as an intern for IFES – the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. There was an upcoming municipal election and there was serious work to be done. While my work was far from intellectually stimulating, it was interesting to see what some of the preparations were like leading up to such a thing in such a place. I learned a good amount and worked with great people and had an overall good time.
The above description is of my time from August-September. In September I began Arabic classes again at Qasid – a highly appraised language institute in Amman that is close to the Jordanian University and is a great place with its own sizable amount of Quality. Before starting classes, I moved from my basement dwellings to a studio apartment in Dahiet al-Rasheed, an area of town right next to the University and much closer to Qasid. My commute to school would have been long and expensive and so I felt that it would be better to live closer to school. Also, the apartment that I moved to was MUCH nicer than my basement accommodations.
That being said, the overall Quality did not necessarily increase. In fact I might even have to argue that it decreased. Dahiet al-Rasheed is a much quieter neighborhood than Jebel Amman, and I have moved back to a fairly solitary existence, as I do not live with a bunch of goofball friends upstairs (I do try to get out when I can because I think that mental health is important and that it is good for that). BUT – I have a great kitchen (not great but totally adequate) and I have my own space that is nice and it is easy to get to and from class and so things are good.
My classes are excellent as well. I am in a class of only 6 students and my two professors are both really great. They both have a huge amount of Quality but in VERY different ways. I don’t think I have enough good things to say about them so I will leave it at that.
So like, that is what I have been up to lately. It is weird but as you can see I have far more to say about my past week traveling around Belgium than I do about my past months in Amman. I am not quite sure why this is, but I think it has to do with the somewhat monotony of my life in Amman and therefore a bit of a lack of serious stimulus, besides for the on the Arabic front. I don’t really do very much except study and read some books in my free time and have some human interaction once in a while.
When traveling in Hostels you end up meeting people and asking their stories and they inevitably ask you for your story and you are forced to relate what you have been up to in as condensed a form as possible, because, like, you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself and receiving the reactions that you get when doing so.
People have asked me about Jordan and Amman and what I think of living and being there. And like, I don’t really know how to answer it when I am faced with these questions. I really think it would be great to be able to rave about how taken with Amman I am and how I love it so much and want to live there forever, but that is too far from the truth to fake. Its honestly quite hard to relate how I feel about it and so when I have to do so with strangers it is even more difficult, but I think that the discussion of Quality can give an interesting perspective with which to discuss this topic.
As you may have noticed, much of the Quality that I have encountered in Belgium has been material. The food and beer are incredible. There are fantastic coffee shops and BOOK STORES. Holy shit I really love these things. They are important to me, as much as I want to believe that I am not attached to material things and/or dependent upon them. On the contrary, the things of Quality that I have encountered in Jordan are immaterial. My Professors are fantastic. I have great friends. My ability to excel in learning Arabic, the major task of my life currently, is excellent. But these things, at least in my eyes, are only loosely related to living in Amman. I have met great people in many places and had great teachers all over the world, from California to Oman to Amman.
So, I think that this is where my relative ambivalence towards Amman stems from. I have encountered Quality in Jordan but it does not quite have the inherent locational Quality that I seek out in a place that I live.
Walking on the streets of Belgium has been incredible. It is so beautiful, it is ridiculous. Like, it really makes you think holy shit this is an amazing world.
Walking on the streets of Amman is different. It often makes me really sad. There are malnourished kittens everywhere. They are almost as ubiquitous as trash is on the streets. It is common for people to throw trash out of their cars when driving down the streets. Everyone is smoking cigarettes. When these are the things that I encounter walking down the street, I do not experience serious Quality in the way that I have walking around in Belgium, understandably. Like I said, I am sad. That is not to say that I don’t have experiences in Amman that make me think holy shit, life is amazing, and I am seriously glad that I am here on earth doing this. But it is a different than walking down a canal in Brugge when the sun comes out over the rain clouds and you are just like, wow, I have no words.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that there is a serious amount of Quality in Jordan. I think that Jordanians have extreme amounts of Quality. I am proud to be able to call some of these people my friends now. And my studies are amazing. There is inherent Quality EXPLODING out of the Arabic language. It is really amazing and I would like to be doing nothing more than what I am doing now – furthering my knowledge of this language.
But at the same time, I can’t deny that there are a lot of things that I miss, including my family and friends, and even material distractions like bookstores.
So, that is what I have for you now. A brief synopsis of my recent life. And some philosophizing that I hope isn’t too weird.
Disregarding all philosophical aspects because I would probably not like where they would lead me, my biggest quandary in my last two days in Brussels is the inverse relationship that books and beer are currently playing in my life. I only have one suitcase to bring back with me and only so many things can be put in it. And while the beer here is amazing, I will drink it and it will be gone if I bring it back, while that copy of The Pale King that I saw earlier today in a bookshop can be read over and over again and I will still be struggling to understand a tiny fraction of what Wallace is trying to tell me.
So, what do I do?