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The International Writers Magazine
Travel Reading - From Our Archives

Reading in Aqaba
Marwan Asmar

One of the best places to read is along the promenade in Aqaba. Just sit on one of the benches, and open your book, nobody will bother you, the traffic is light, so no noise, the breeze is pleasant, and every once in a while you can turn around to look at the beach and the distant sea.

This is Aqaba in winter, it’s Aqaba all-year, a place where you can watch the world go round, and not lose touch with the outside world because of the coziness of the city, its distance to Amman, the region and internationally. The glowy brown benches, lots and lots them, which there is non in other parts of Jordan, bring back memories of yonder and beyond.

I like to travel, but I like to travel with a book and open it especially when I am doing little else and it takes my mind off to another world.

In Amman, Zerqa, Irbid and Ajloun, for the most part I have been deprived of my favorite past-time mainly because of the urbane structures of these towns and cities and the way they have developed. Their roads and open spaces tend to be cramped with no or narrow pavements and heavy traffic and constant hooting.

Aqaba on the other hand, is the place to open up your book, the promenade is ideal, its long and wide, the space gives you a sense of freedom and tranquility, but this is actually the feeling one gets all around the city with its parks, green turf-laden roundabouts and long sittings as you go through the city center.

Being deprived of the sea, I must confess though the first thing I told my companion when the bus reached Aqaba was "I want to go to the beach", to see the sea, actually Red Sea, and breath its aura and its smell which I miss so much, but for me the deep blue Aqaba Gulf was seen within the wider context of sitting on my own, reading the latest novels, action adventures and detective stories of world famous writers.

I have no quarrels with what I read as long as it’s absorbing and takes you into the story. For a litarati aficionado, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea or Anita Desai’s A Village by The Sea would be great readings and adds aura to the place by the sea. Similarly, Arabic books by Najeeb Mafouz, Abdel Rahman Mounif or Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Hanna Menah serve as great strides to raise one’s intellect.

On the way to the beach there is the promenade, a perfect place to scratch your head and stretch your thought and ponder about screaming ideas in your head or in front of you in the book, newspaper or magazine. It’s lazy, pondering food for thought.

If you want to take your mind off the book, stretch your legs and take a stroll, the promenade is certainly wide enough, you can walk as long as your feet will take you and back in the midst of palm trees on either side of the road. In between turning pages you can gaze as far as the eye can take you and then plow on reading with occasional breaks of looking sideways, you won’t lose the thread of the story or what’s happening around you.

Jordanians have to get into the habit of reading and walking as a leisure activity, something that is healthy and enlightening. People do both activities everywhere outside. In Aqaba you can do that at your own pace, you can walk either with a group, or a couple of friends. I prefer to do it on my own, it gives you time to dwell on the surroundings or think.

Reading and writing require a fair amount of calmness and solitude to be able to fathom and understand the flow of ideas whose concepts are structured in logical ways. Readers sit to read novels, but writers take advantage of long serene, deeply meditative walks to contemplate, analyze, put forth and reformulate in one’s mind—Aqaba is perfect for that.

From that perspective, the city is yet to be discovered. Judicious readers who normally require ‘reading space’ should think of Aqaba as a place around the corner. Similarly writers who are thinking of plotting out their novels should think of Aqaba as a place to really get the inspiration to structure their novels and writings.

Writers need an intellectual breathing space, a well-known fact among world novelists who have idiosyncratic tendencies of mentally emasculating their stories inside their heads before they put their thoughts on paper.

Reading, writing and thinking manifests hunger. The beauty of Aqaba is that everything is at your beck and call, you can saunter across the city without getting tired or worn out. Hotels, cafes, restaurants and the shopping malls are all within easy reach. So if you get hungry pop into a diner, relax, finish your food and start another session of reading if you are by yourself or for writing if you want the piece and quite.

© marwan asmar 2008

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