Thursday, October 31, 2013

Q: Do You Know Where You're Going To? A: Why Should I Have To?

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. So sang John Lennon on "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)," from his 1980 album Double Fantasy. Now here's another idea riding the same route as that train of thought: The best things in life -- or on any travel adventure -- are not only free. They're also the ones that you aren't looking for.

Or in the words of another Jeremy, a half-Argentine, half-Jewish aliyah expat from Toronto who is currently based in Jerusalem, quoting another time-worn but still-useful saying: "The watched pot is slow to boil." In other words, throw away your road map. Live your life. Be free. (Thank you, Belinda Carlisle.)

Jeremy No. 2 imparted his words of wisdom last week toward the end of my final afternoon in Jerusalem, which we spent roaming the streets of the city, wandering aimlessly from spot to spot, where we'd sit and continue our conversation while watching the wheels go round and round (thanks, once again, to John Lennon and Double Fantasy).

We ended up in the coolest traditional neighborhood, one with vintage large-brick buildings and narrow streets that looked like something right out of the Bible. It was a great place to just sit and watch local life go by, removed from the tourism trappings of the new town, and one we might never have found had we had any idea where we were going to right before stumbling upon it.

That's my favorite way to travel, without expectations, without a final destination. Some of my most memorable visual experiences of the last few months -- Ai Tre Scalini on Via Panisperna in Rome, Via di San Niccolo in Florence, Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and that charming little barrio in what is now my favorite Israeli city (yes, in hindsight, Jerusalem has overtaken Tel Aviv for, in the days since I left it, I find myself thinking about it more) -- have been ones that I happened upon when I was either completely lost or had no idea where I was going to.

For the locals in Aqaba (as it was with the ones in Jerusalem's old city), that appears to be a no-no. Everyone wants to help me find something. I realize most of them are doing it for something in return -- shekels in Jerusalem, dinars in Aqaba -- not out of the kindness of their hearts. (An exception: the young Muslim woman on the corner of Sultan Suleiman and Derech Yeriho in Jerusalem who spoke perfect English and correctly gathered from the map I was staring at and the two suitcases beside me that I was sort of lost, and not in a good way.)

I adore the people in Jordan so far. We barely understand each other (for a tourism-driven city, there is very little English spoken by locals here in Aqaba), but we have a pretty good rapport going. If only they'd let me be and let me let it be.

I'm not talking about the ones who stopped me yesterday while I was walking along the marina and struggled to ask me questions about myself in English. They were charming, and a large part of why I so quickly became a fan of this strange, fascinating Kingdom of Jordan, which is exactly what I always thought the Middle East would be, unlike Israel (too Western) and Dubai (too modern).

I'm talking about the ones at the corner of King Talal Street and Prince Mohammad Street, the ones who kept honking their horns to get my attention and stopping their cars to ask me the same old questions: "Do you need some help?" "What are you looking for?" Couldn't they see that I was having a magic moment?

I appreciated the gestures, mercenary as they may have been, and I know I'll miss them if I ever return to Berlin, the land of live and let be (even if you've fallen, and you can't get up). But I just wanted everyone to ignore me and allow me to admire the buildings of Aqaba, framed by the desert mountains in the background, uninterrupted.

Why does everyone always have to be going somewhere, or looking for something? Is it so strange that someone might want to just stop for a minute or 15 to take in the scenery that's spread out before him? I thought about asking them, but I knew they wouldn't understand me, or the point that I was making.

Anyway, I didn't want to talk. I knew exactly where I was, if not where I was going to. In that magic moment, though, all I wanted to do was enjoy the silence in my mind and the city in front of me.

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