Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Amphitheater

The Old City, Jerusalem
Sunday, October 18th

Sitting here in the Old City in the Gloria hotel, on a warm October night, a few steps from the Damascus Gate, surrounded by a half dozen languages (one of them "cat" from some forlorn young one down the way), the warmth of the day still coming off the paving stones, the sense of the forever of a place is irresistible.

Except compared to where we were on Thursday, this part of this place is, you know, new.

Enter Bosra, Syria.

An online guide says this: that Bosra was mentioned in the journals of Tutmose the III in the 14th century BC. It was the first Nabataean city a mere 2,200 years ago. And it was a prominent place in the journey of the Prophet Mohammed, where a mosque stands in a place believed to be where he took his rest. Such places live and endure in ways I really cannot articulate. Yet we found ourselves there, and encamped in one of the most glorious Roman Amphitheaters still standing, ten Americans and eight young men and women who had fled Iraq and, often, death. Common ground on the ground walked by every faith, and every regional power, for more than 3,000 years.

Amphitheaters are the universal language of art in ancient and contemporary times. Gathering points for community and for the celebration of words, of music and, on this particular day, of dance. The sun shone intensely overhead, the heat more of summer than fall, but shortly after lunch the sounds of an American singer from Washington by way of California, and the sights of an American dancers from North Carolina by way of Washington, restored the meaning and purpose of the craftsmen of 1,900 years ago. From the very highest seat of the 1,500 in the Amphitheater Amikaeyla Gaston's voice could be heard from the whisper to the deepest, most resonant note. It filled the half bowl, bringing other tourists to a standstill, pulling them to take seats themselves, to clear the stage and linger in the shadows, and to celebrate the eternal power of the human voice.

It was Kathryn, our Kathryn, who captivated with her improvisation to Ami's voice, turning, spinning, bending and doing what only she can do. From the floor of the theater her footfalls echoed around the theater, and she found for our Iraqi friends, and for the random visitors, the universality of dance.

We've been in extraordinary places in our travels over the years, but none more so than an afternoon a few kilometers from the Jordanian border.

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