From Friday, May 12, 2006 to Sunday, May 28, I abandoned Chicago for
lands unknown. This latest adventure took me to London, Lebanon, and
ultimately Jordan and Petra. I had not been to the Middle-East since
1992, but as chance would have it, Peter and Kathy Dorman, who are
some of my oldest friends here in Chicago, had rented an apartment in
Beirut for a few months, and invited me to visit them there. I knew there
would never be a better chance to see this part of the world than with
people who knew it intimately and who wanted to show me all the things
they loved about it, so off I went!

Below are some pictures I brought back from the journey. Clicking on any
of them will show you a much larger version. Enjoy!

Addendum 8-16-2006:

It is incredibly surreal to me that mere weeks after I returned from
this trip, Israel and Hezbolla started bombing the hell out of each
other. I don't think that the area in which I was staying (Hamra) was hit,
but I know that many of the roads I traveled on were bombed and I can only
guess at the fate of some of the other areas of Beirut that I visited,
specifically the Palestinian refugee camp.

My impressions at the time were of what a safe, beautiful, non-threatening
country Lebanon was. I chuckled about those (including myself!) who had
been apprehensive about my visit, and chided myself for conjuring up
images of a war-torn Lebanon, where no bomb had fallen for over 15 years.

But as we now know, Lebanon's seeming stability was all too short-lived.
I am very happy to have seen these places before this latest catastrophe,
and can only wonder like the rest of us what the future has in store.

But, hey, on with the show!

My friend Meg Dorman at a silver kiosk in Portobello market.
I was staying with her and her husband Ben in London for a
couple of days before heading to Lebanon to visit Peter and
Kathy, who happen to be Meg's parents.
Meg and Ben enjoy a jacket potato at Petrie's, which
came highly recommended as affordable and delicious.
We also met up with our friend and Golosa alumna Toni
Babourine, seen here sharing a potato with me.
Streets in London are very confusing even for natives,
so a lot of them have helpful directions on which way
to look for traffic. It didn't take me long to get used
to depending on these, especially after my second or
third time looking in the wrong direction for oncoming
cars before blundering out into the street.
Toni and her husband Kostya invited Meg, Ben, and me to
their place for dinner. Afterwards, the boys enjoyed some
genuine Cuban cee-gars.
A touristy but delicious meal of fish-and-chips on the
banks of the river Thames on day 2 in London.
Meg and I visited the Tate Modern on that day. They won't
let you take pictures of anything inside the museum. But
this shot onto the Millennium bridge toward St. Paul's
Cathedral was OK.
While shopping in the Covent Garden area, we heard a crash
like a traffic accident. Turning around we saw that no one
had been hurt, although a bicycle-rickshaw had been upended.
An hour later nothing had changed. I suppose the owner was
busy in town somewhere.
"Be careful going to Lebanon!", all my friends told me.
"Don't get blown up!". They were sure that my crazy "vacation"
was taking me to a very dangerous place. Dangerous for my
stomach maybe! This is the very first thing you see coming
out of the international terminal in Beirut.
In Beirut I stayed with my good friends from Chicago, Peter
and Kathy Dorman, who were renting out an apartment from March
until the beginning of June. They lived in the swanky part
of Beirut near the AUB campus (American University of Beirut)
and I visited there often. Here I am under a banyan tree on
campus. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of the
beautiful but snobby rich girls that go to school there.
Beirut has mostly put its years of civil war behind it and
new buildings can be seen going up all over the city. Here's
some new construction across the street from a bombed-out
hulk, a relic from the war.
Beirut is full of kitty-cats who by and large do pretty well
and benefit from the cat-friendly population.
A pre-war building that survived mostly intact. It's easy to
see the faded elegance of the old architecture.
This poem isn't written in perfect English, but this is a very
sad story. This man is Bassel Fleihan, the former Lebanese
Minister of Economy and Commerce who died from injuries
sustained in the explosion that killed Rafik Hariri, the
Prime Minister of Lebanon, on 14 February, 2005. Perhaps his
wife is is the author of the poem? It's a touching gesture.
On day three in Lebanon, Kathy and I traveled to the ancient
city of Byblos, which holds, or claims to hold, the distinction
of being the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world. It
is certainly extremely old, its most ancient archeological remains
dating back to 5000 BC.

Here's Kathy standing in an archway of the Crusader Castle, one
of the main Byblos tourist attractions.
I always try to take these multi-photo panorama shots and for
some reason they never quite line up. I've applied a bit of
Photoshopping to this one and it's still not quite right.
Still, it gives an idea of the view of Byblos from the Crusader
And I did notice that by applying one filter in Photoshop, I
could send the panorama back in time to the 1930's.
Byblos boasts some of the largest single-blocks used in ancient
construction. Only Baalbek, also in Lebanon, has larger ones.

Please also note the sunglasses, which I bought for myself
earlier that day because they looked like something a cool
middle-eastern kid would wear.
Flash forward to Jordan. After a week in Lebanon Peter, Kathy,
and I flew into Amman where I would finally put an end to years
of jealousy toward my friend Jamil because he had gotten to go
to Petra way back in the last century and I didn't have time. In
Amman we were met by Peter's friend Barbara Porter, director of
ACOR (American Center of Oriental Research). This organization is
the "key to archaeological, social and scientific research in the
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Middle East". They also have
very nice rooms for staff and guests.

During a visit to their conservatory I got to handle this 2,000
year-old bowl. I was understandably nervous.
We went with Barbara to visit Jerash, a 5,000 year old Roman city
not far from Amman. At the entrance to the site one finds the
ubiquitous merchants of tourist kitsch. Ubiquitous, yes, but not
unskilled. Here's one guy making a sand painting in a bottle.
On the grounds we visited the renovated Hippodrome, the Roman
race-track, where we were treated to a fantastic show displaying
Roman military tactics, gladiatorial contests, and horse racing.
Here is one of the gladiators, who seems to have patterned his
look on Steve Reeves, shooting the breeze with some local kids
before the show.
Roman legionnaires in battle-array.
A criminal forced to fight for his life begs for mercy from the
crowd. To my surprise, we gave it to him.
A modern-day chariot racer in the ancient arena.
Some street-wise toughs from antiquity.
Jerash's unique oval forum.
Kathy and Peter among the ruins at Jerash.
In one of the ancient buildings were some guys selling water and
providing a demonstration of how the ancient columns rock gently
back and forth in the breeze. This plastic spoon could be seen
spookily moving up and down by a few millimeters. If you stick
your finger between the column and the base, the thousands of tons
of rock in the column will gently squeeze and release it.
In one of the ancient buildings were some guys selling water and
providing a demonstration of how the ancient columns rock gently
back and forth in the breeze. This plastic spoon could be seen
spookily moving up and down by a few millimeters. If you stick
your finger between the column and the base, the thousands of tons
of rock in the column will gently squeeze and release it.
There is often comedy to be found in local translations. This
was one of my favorites, which we passed on our way to lunch
after a long day of clambering around the rocks of ancient Jerash.
Finally, I had made it to Petra! This had been my ultimate goal
on this trip. The most famous building here is the so-called
"treasury", which stands at the exit of the twisting series of
passageways known as the Siq. Before you reach it however, you
pass many other structures which are very impressive in their
own right. Here is the Obelisk tomb, not far from the entrance
to the site.
Kathy in the eerie, winding passages of the Siq.
The unavoidable tourist photograph of Petra - the first glimpse of
the Treasury at the exit of the Siq.
The unavoidable tourist photograph of Petra - the first glimpse of
the Treasury at the exit of the Siq.
Peter enters another of Petra's monumental structures.
Peter and Kathy from within the above building.
Another astounding edifice.
Luckily, we weren't here on the day this rose-red rock fell down from above.
The second most famous building in Petra is the "Dair" - or monestary.
It's a breathtaking reward for a long hard climb up thousands of twisty,
well-worn steps.
The Dair from the side.
Pieces of thousands of years old pottery are just lying around on the ground.
Naturally, the thing to do when visiting a world-famous landmark is to perform
"The Play". Here, Peter Dorman, tenured professor at the University of Chicago
and one of the world's leading Egyptologists, appears in the role of Hymnoo Koo
to my Joseph Thomas.

Act I: "Your Mama!"
Act II: Retaliation
Act III: Contrition
Act IV: Absolution
Peter and I with a nice dog we met during a break from hiking.
The Jordan trip was over. Our driver returned us to the airport
and from there it was back to Beirut.
The next day, I accompanied Kathy and the Dormans' younger daughter
Emily on their visit to a Palestinian refugee camp, where they gave
English lessons twice a week. We found Emily in her apartment with
her cat, who she likes a lot.
Me with one of Kathy's more advanced students. He wanted to buy
from me the sunglasses I had bought for myself in Byblos. I knew
they looked like cool middle-eastern sunglasses!
This kid from Kathy's and Emily's combined class had a lot of
moxie and wasn't shy about asking to try on my sunglasses or about
being photographed with them.
The next day, Kathy and I journeyed to Sidon, in southern Lebanon.
They have a fantastic souk (market) there, with the best falafel
sandwiches I've ever had. They also had a very nice fish stand.
Cobblers in the Sidon souk.
An insouciant Sidon shoemaker.
Right off one of your typical old-world middle-eastern covered
avenues is a startlingly modern soap museum. It seems a little
random at first, but the Audi family (no relation to the German
car manufacturer) has been making soap in Sidon for over a hundred
years now.

Here's a big tower of soap. At first I thought they just stacked
it like this to look impressive, but it's really a strategic way
of exposing as much of a newly-minted soap-bar's surface area as
possible to the air for better and more uniform drying.
Later we wandered down to the shore to explore the Sea Castle,
a very handsome and historically significant building with almost
no tourist literature or explanatory signage inside. At this point
in my trip, after two weeks of visiting all kinds of museums and
archeological sites, this lack of information was something of a

This is possibly my favorite picture that I took on the whole trip,
from inside the castle to the bright seashore beyond.
This might be my second favorite.
Kathy in the Crusaders' Sea Castle
Back in the souk, we did a little more shopping. I'm really sad that
this picture didn't come out in better focus, but you can still make
out the brand on the heel of the shoe - Abibos. Hmm... And on the
side were the trademark *four* stripes of the Abibos company. Tragically,
I did not have room in my luggage to bring home a pair.
The next day, Peter, Kathy, Emily and I set off for Baalbek, the last big
archeological stop on my tour. Despite tourist-weariness it did not fail
to impress. This is Peter atop a big hunk of something old.

Incidentally, if you've heard of the ur-pagan God "Baal", this is where
his worshippers used to congregate. Hence, Baalbek.
Giant columns from below. There's something vaguely dirty about this shot.
Kathy thought it was essential that "The Play" be performed again at
Baalbek. This time I took over the role of the conflicted Hymnoo Koo while
Emily tackled the no less challenging role of the abused but faithful
Joseph Thomas.

Act I: "Your Mama!"
Act II: Wrath
Act III: Despair
Act IV: Clemency
Act V: Reconciliation
Although Peter is American and ultimately of British ancestry, he was
born in Lebanon in this house, which was blown up by rockets during
the war. It's still nice to come back and visit though. This is Kathy
looking for some nice roof-tiles on the side-steps.
Back in Beirut, I sneak a picture of the hotel whose southern face
was destroyed by the tremendous detenation that killed ex-Prime Minister
Hariri. The building and the surrounding area are still an open crime

This is my last picture from the Middle-East. The photographs give a sort
of archeology-heavy view of the trip, but that's only because I didn't
take pictures of the ice cream place, the baklava place, the milk-shake place,
the stand where we bought Manaeesh (delicious baked bread smeared with zaatar,
a spread made of thyme, oregano, and olive oil), Mike's salon where I got the
best shave of my life from a man with a straight razor (three times!) or the
very modern and totally chic bar where Emily and I hung out for beers and a
bubbly-pipe. There is a lot of beauty here. A lot of ugliness, too, but I
hope it is outweighed by the beauty, and that I can return someday.
And the next thing I knew my Middle-Eastern trip was over and I was
back in Meg's and Ben's flat in London. On the morning after I arrived
they prepared a traditional London fry-up, seen here. It was delicious!
Really! I'm not even kidding! Well, the blood sausage was a bit chewy.
We went back to the Tate Modern (it's free you know) and this time found
a participatory art project. I thought I'd make my own small contribution.
Super Gibolon uses his hand-hair to draw a self-portrait. Isnt' it just
so meta?!?! It's about time S.G. was hanging in the Tate.
The adventure over, I returned to my apartment in Chicago, where Dana
and I relaxed with some grilled goodness and a couple of cold ones.