Last night I was introduced to the self-appointed “Sheikh” of Amman (not to be confused with the equally self-appointed Duke of Amman). The “Sheikh’s” more earthly name is Ali Maher and he is currently the Commissioner of the Royal Film Commission and a Professor of Architecture at the University of Jordan. Even more impressive, the man stands two meters tall with a mustache that could hide a pair of sable teeth and probably a family of orphan gnomes. The man literally looks like a huge white rhino standing of his hind legs, neck as wide as, well, as a rhino’s. Not a man you want to pick a fight with unless you happen to carry an elephant rifle. Also, which tickles your imagination, he has pinned to his coat jacket a metal brooch in the shape of a flamboyant mustache. Go figure.
Vanessa, the woman who introduced us, is a British subject and has been in Amman longer than she dares to admit (four years or so). She is a heritage and cultural preservation specialist and today she had to get up a 4 am in order to take a taxi to Petra and escort a reporter for Conde Nast (the company that does Vogue, the New Yorker etc.) around the ol’ Nabataean city. Cheap money, she called it.
Apparently this “Sheikh” knows everything worth knowing about Amman, hence the self-endowed title. In the 30 seconds I spoke to him, he managed to tell me that he was the teacher of a certain Rami Daher (the architect of the new Rainbow Street and a million other projects around the city); that before him a very sweet Swedish woman ran the Royal Film Commission (I forgot the name). Our brief introduction was interrupted by a massive herd of people moving in to the theater to catch a contemporary dance performance, part of a festival here in Amman. It’s all for free, paid by the various embassies that send their crème de la crème dancers to this remote, dusty town for the inhabitants to have some modern, Western culture to chew on. Equally predictable and ironic, the most frequent visitors are foreigners who could well afford to pay the entrance fee – and would gladly do so. Anyways.
In about a minute or so I will write an email to him requesting a meeting over a coffee here on Rainbow Street. I will try not to forget my elephant rifle, just in case.