Jordan and The Blindfold Game

Al Khazneh glimpsed for the first time
 (photograph © 2014. Nancy Kelly)

Here’s a game I like to play. I blindfold myself. It is a magic blindfold. When I put it on, I think of a country, any country. Say, Italy. Then I think of the one thing I would like to see in that country if I only had the chance to see one thing. Suddenly, that thing materializes before my blindfolded eyes. I can look at it as long as I want. I can walk around it. It is as if I am wearing a silken version of Oculus Rift HD. Here’s the kicker. I can only do this once with each country. Once the blindfold is off, so are all bets. Italy is forever off-limits to the blindfold game.

Moral: choose carefully.

When I tried to get my wife to play this game, she refused.

“I won’t narrow a country down to a single thing,” she insisted.

“I know. I know,” I cajoled. “But just once. What would it be for Italy?”

No use. She wasn’t having any of it.

That surprised me. I didn’t find it hard at all. Here’s my starter list:
  •       Australia          =         The Sydney Opera House
  •       Bali                  =         Mt. Agung
  •       England           =          Rembrandt’s Titus, Dulwich Picture Gallery
  •       France             =          Monet’s Les Nymphéas, Musée l’Orangerie in Paris
  •       Italy                 =          Michaelangelo’s Pietà, St. Peter’s in Rome
  •       Peru                 =         Machu Picchu
  •       Spain               =         The Goya Room, El Prado in Madrid 
I have added a new item to the list. It is different from the others. It is not a thing. It is a moment in time. What I would give to be able to relive that moment.

Nancy and I have just returned from Jordan. We saw the citadel and the amphitheater in Amman, the Roman ruins at Jerash, the Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, the River Jordan, the site of John’s baptism of Jesus, the Red Sea and Mt. Nebo with its hazy glimpses of Jericho and Jerusalem in the Promised Land.

But the one thing that blew them all away was a single sight, a glimpse that happens only once and then, like a first kiss, is gone forever. It is when you see Al Khazneh “The Treasury” for the first time as you walk through the narrow slot canyon that leads to old Petra.

The pathway into the ancient city is roughly a mile long. It takes you through a winding siq whose twisting red and white sandstone walls could have been designed by Salvador Dali. They undulate wildly as you pass between them. In some places where the opening is less than ten feet across, they draw you in. They mesmerize you. You are in some kind of fantasyland. And just at that moment when you are ready to give yourself over completely to the beauty of the natural, a narrow slit in the passageway opens up just ahead. Through it, as if you were peeping through a keyhole, you see an 82ft wide and 128ft high four-column facade complete with corinthians like those at Jerash, pediments and a large pedestal mounted urn at the very top. The contrast is wrenching. You are in the middle of a natural phenomenon of great beauty, a narrow snake of a canyon, and then, quite suddenly, someone has switched channels. It is as if some supernatural Monty Python has declared, “And now for something completely different.”

That to me is the heart of the Petra experience, that out-of-body sensation of man-made order superimposed on nature at her wildest. That first glimpse is enough to justify coming this far.

It is the blindfold moment.