An Apocalyptic Adventure in Petra

I stood in the rain waiting to find a taxi with umbrella in hand. Amman in May one would hardly think you need an umbrella but on a day like today it seemed that anything was possible. I finally make my way into a taxi and into the morning traffic of Amman that was compounded by the weather. I meet the others at Safeway on the 7th circle and the four of us begin our journey from Amman to Petra.

On our way down, Tony asks us what we would like to discuss in the workshop this weekend. I feel to ask why he chose to focus so much on apocalyptic imagery in his lecture performance. We arrive to Petra and walk inside the gate to the window where we will buy our entry tickets. To our surprise there is a sign on the window that reads “Petra is closed due to the weather”. Disappointment strikes but not first without an effort; there’s got to be a way in, we are indeed in Jordan, who do we need to pay (not that we had the money), who do we need to call?

We make our attempts, which are all futile so far and so we decide to sit and have a coffee while Noura makes a phone call. We are sitting sipping our bitter Arabic coffee while Whitney Houston belts out “I will always love you” on repeat. It is a bit surreal and almost funny had it not been annoying and had we not sat with the fear of having to turn back to Amman without having gotten into Petra. Nonetheless, we remain steadfast in our mission to get inside in some way. We sit there surrounded by random tourists from many countries and a small “Indiana jones” tourist shop. This place is wrought full of clichés and orientalist perceptions so perhaps somehow this strange repetition of Whitney Houston’s overplayed pop hit almost fits right in.

Then we get the call: it’s a go. What was impossible just five minutes ago had just become possible; we have the green light to go into Petra but we have to do it sneakily so the tourists don’t notice. We hop in the car and go to a nearby office where we are put in a truck. We are driven into Petra from the back where the most epic landscape of mountains and textures and colors lie before us in an almost panoramic image. We drive past Qasr al Bint, an old church and the amphitheater that looks so old and used it makes me wonder about all the feet that shuffled up and down those steps and sat there watching whatever it is that was offered to them at the time.

Then we reach the treasury and I get out of the car and stand before this incredible sight before me. I look around and there is hardly anyone there. And then I contemplate the sign that says, “Do not walk past this” and I wonder, should I walk past it? I know what the sign says and know it is forbidden, I don’t know what the consequences of walking past it would be but I do know I feel compelled to walk past it. I am not sure if perhaps it is because of the energetic portal that exists inside of this ancient ritual place that is calling me almost in a chant like trance to enter or if it is simply the sign that says not to enter and my rebellious nature.

Whatever it was, it was out of my control. I quietly make my way past the rope and softly go inside the Treasury that is forbidden entry. The feeling of entering the Treasury was completely indescribable, the only way I can relate it is to explain what happened inside of my body. After the three-hour car ride, my back was hurting and legs were still feeling a bit crunched up. When I entered the treasury all of that was gone. A surge of energy rushed through me. It could have been an adrenaline rush from doing something “illegal” or could it perhaps have been remnants of an ancient society and the energies they left for us in the space.

Perhaps the real treasure of the Treasury is not something physical but rather a kind of energy that fills you when you enter the space and almost transports you somewhere else. It felt amazing and I didn’t want to leave. I wandered around this square room examining the space. There was nothing there; only energy, only an imprint of what was. I sat in the center of the room and meditated for a while. What an incredible day of impossibilities: at first we couldn’t enter then we got a private tour and then I got to do the second impossible, to sit inside of the forbidden treasury.

I hear my name being called and I decide to wait a bit more, not ready to part just yet. When I do finally make my way outside on the steps a small bird continues to swoop over my head, in circles and figure eight motions. I come back down the steps and we hop in the car to finish our Petra adventure, through the Siq but this time in the opposite direction.

One of the most iconic and perhaps stereotypical routes of Petra is to make your way through the Siq and see the Khazna or Treasury framed by the beautifully curved and textured Siq lines. But this was a day of impossibilities and new perceptions; so making our way through the Siq in the opposite direction seemed perfectly fit. In fact when we got in the truck, Bashar and I decided to lie down in the bed of the truck and watch the Siq from above. It was incredibly beautiful and I am sure very few people have seen the Siq from this perspective.

It is my belief that art in its quest to be expressed through whatever medium the artists chooses, should always be saying something new, something different and looking at things from a unique perspective. Tony Chakar, during his Lecture/Performance One Hundred Thousand Solitudes, did something I have never seen anyone do before. There were two screens in the room. On the smaller one Tony played his Facebook feed over a one-year period. He said nothing of it beyond mentioning in the beginning what it was but he didn’t tell us why he was doing it.

As an audience member it served as a distraction to the other projector where the main images were screened and perhaps this was his intention. On the bigger screen he placed words and flashed images. These were very popular images from the “Arab Spring’ and “Occupy” movements that had happened in recent years. He would introduce the image verbally without showing it and he would describe some kind of mythology or apocalyptic imagery that related to the image. And then he would flash the image for the audience very quickly.

The images were so well known that most of them you would have already seen. The point was to recreate the Facebook and modern media effect of fleeting images that pass us by quickly that we often don’t have time to even process them and yet every now and then some of them get ingrained in our consciousness. Yet even when they get ingrained in our consciousness they are displaced from their reality and implanted in our reality.

What was fascinating was that he wasn’t relating all of these famous modern day images to ancient mythology and apocalyptic imagery because he is some kind of religious fanatic who wants to convince us of a certain mythology. Yet rather there was something interesting in the connection between them especially living on lands that are considered to be the birth of the 3 Abrahamic paths that are considered to be “holy” lands.

With all this imagery and mythology it sometimes feels as if we are almost compelled to repeat or fulfill or play out what has been given to us. Tony’s offering was simply some kind of an awareness he had noticed that he relayed to us, and that was already at play in our environment and subconscious but now the connection was visible and very real. This is in my eyes a true expression of art, something new, something unique, something thought provoking, some people like it some people don’t but that doesn’t really matter.

And so our epic Petra adventure ended with an apocalyptic global warming (or global freezing) moment. When we get in the car to leave Wadi Musa (the valley of Moses), it suddenly begins to rain and hail violently. The hail was so big and so intense that we couldn’t hear each other’s voices in the car that began to slide along the now icy roads. It was an epic, strange, and apocalyptic day when the impossible became possible.




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