April 21, 2005

Pope in a snowdome

I first met them in a chasm no wider than four feet. It was my second day inside the glorious, ancient city of Petra, the archaeological wonder that was the reason for my trip to Jordan (related posts: An egg in Baghdad; Mt Nebo). I was on the thin, rocky path leading up to the High Place of Sacrifice when I came upon the spry, elderly couple clambering among the boulders.

We three stood in the narrow defile, taking up most of it, and gazed up at the Lion Fountain, a leonine head sculpted into live stone, the open mouth a faucet for the ingenious, life-giving water duct and channel system the ancient Nabateans carved into this desert world.

We talked for a bit. They were from England’s Lake District. When I said I was from Boston, they said, “Ahhh! We thought we detected that proper new English accent!”

I’d see these intrepid seniors all day, full of vim, smiling, exploring every inch of Petra on their own steam. I hoped I’d be like them when I came to be their age.

I saw them for the last time at a souvenir stall run by Bedouins who live around Petra. I was considering a tar-sealed sand bottle containing a carefully crafted scene of palms and camels, sun and desert layered in pink, black, white, olive and ochre sand. I hesitated, thinking the bottle was a bit pricey and too heavy to carry back to Amman and, eventually, home. I know better. When you see something in your travels that intrigues you, buy it, on the spot. It will be gone if you wait, and you’ll sigh and think about it for a long time if you come home without it.

I needed a push, or pushes, and there they came. “These really are quite interesting,” said Mrs. Lake District. “They are,” I said. “A year from now, when Petra’s a beautiful memory, this sand bottle would look lovely in my living room. If I don’t buy it, I’ll probably think, ‘I should have bought that unusual sand bottle from Petra...’”

“How true!” exclaimed the Lake Districts, almost in unison. “When you see something that catches your eye, you should get it!" And they told me about their pope in a snowglobe.

“We were in Rome, and we found a snowdome with a picture of the pope inside. You shake it, and the snow flies. We didn’t know what we’d do with it, but we liked it, so we bought it. We use it as a centerpiece. We put it on the table at dinner parties."

Not only had they just convinced me to take the gorgeous sand bottle back to Boston, but they had me imagining fun, funky dinner parties in England’s rolling Lake District. I laughed. “Who needs flowers on the table when you can have the pope in a snowdome?”

“Exactly!” chimed the Lake Districts. I bought my sand bottle, and they bought one, as well.

The world has a new pope, but somewhere in northwest England, John Paul II smiles from a snowglobe atop the Lake Districts’ dining table at people gathered to enjoy food, drink, friendship and the adventure that is life.