Petra – Jordan – We are not infinite
Eternity. Indestructibility. Immortality. We have reached them. At last. We freeze Time by engaging in a Botox-propelled fight against our wrinkles. We are so enwrapped in our successes that we do not even realise that most of them are founded on grounds which do not even exist. When I was a child, instead, it was an epic event to open a photo album. Not only could I actually wait for something: it took time to have the roll developed. I could also hold something tangible in my hands. I could touch and feel my life. Nowadays, I have millions of photographs and I keep them in a small black external memory box. Do I ever look at them? Almost never. I take it for granted that they will always be there. In the box, or on this website. I lend my reality to something that in reality does not exist. We think we have become Infinite. It is certain: we live longer, we travel further, we have better access to information, we defeated horrendous diseases, we get to meet more people, we carry out more precise calculations, and we drive faster cars. I have often thought I was Infinite. Then I travelled to Petra, in Jordan. My belief was shattered.
The Nabateans, who made Petra immortal since 300 BCE, were tolerant. They did not think their civilisation was any better than others around them. They did not impose their divinities upon the tribes they carried out business with. Historians do not know much about the Nabateans. Most of the documents about them were destroyed by Time, but when you enter Petra from East, and you walk down the Siq, big-eyed, one of the first things you notice is that there are some small boxes that were carved into the ever-changing coloured stone. Some of them are inhabited by small statues. Archaeologists think that these were Nabateans’ divinities. Others are left empty: those the Nabateans used to trade with were free to expose their divine representations in there. This part of the world was not in peace in the centuries before Christ. Quite the contrary: I think I read somewhere that there was indeed some turmoil in that area. Nevertheless, those passing through Petra had already understood something that our technology-driven society seems to have forgotten: if you learn about The Others, there will be peace. They would enter Petra with their caravans. They knew that they were free to take out their Gods and let them break in those small boxes. It was like saying: look, this is me, this is what I have faith in. What about you? Look into my soul. Let’s come close. We are not so different after all, are we?
I spent a few days in Petra. During my peregrinations in this site, I can certainly admit I experienced despair. One of the deepest moments of loss came upon me when I reached el Deir. It takes between 40 and 60 minutes to walk up to this site and some 1200 steps. Your muscles burn and you curse the sweat running down your back even before you start the ascent. While I was standing in front of the Monastery, though, I realised that we would never again invent something for real. We landed on the Moon and we found a cure for TB, I agree. I know that the Nabateans could die because of now manageable infections. They would also look at the Moon to direct their caravans in the desert, but would be highly likely to feeling pure terror towards Her. Nevertheless, without computers or calculators, they delivered this 45-metre-high grave by carving it into this stone, by hand. It lasted centuries. Almost intact, although scraped by the desert winds. Would we be able to deliver something like this, without machines? Some of us do not even know how to paint a room without watching a tutorial on YouTube. In front of el Deir, I re-sized the entity of our civilisation. We often think we made giant steps, and we did. What if we simply sat comfortably on giants’ shoulders, though?
Journeys do not end when you are home again. Quite the contrary – what we experience somewhere else will continue enriching us from within. Unlike other places in the world, Petra is growing on me. Whether this depends on its objective beauty or on its gigantic dimensions, I am unsure. Definitely, though, its persistence in my soul depends on el Khasneh. Actually – it depends on the very moment I could glimpse at the Treasury at the end of the Siq. The entrance to this mythical city is an ancient river bed: this gorge was deeply carved out of sandstone by the Nabateans that direct the river flow somewhere else. You will know that you are getting closer to it and that, out of the blue, it will be there in front of you. You have seen the Treasury many times before, on many book covers. It will be splendid, but you think it will not be more incredible than … the Colosseum? Then, it happens. You become aware that no photos and no painting can come ever closer to reality. Akram the Mighty, our guide in Jordan, after a few kilometres down the gorge, tells us: “Close your eyes and stop walking. Turn 180° clockwise. When I tell you, jump back on your previous position and open your eyes”. It is that very moment, while we stand there, eyes shut, that I keep going back to when I think of Petra. That instant in which we knew that we would see something that was truly infinite when we would open our eyes. If my memory plays tricks on me, I am unsure, but when I go back to that split second in which I opened my eyes again, I can only recall deep silence around us. Like in a mirror effect, it felt like we could cross centuries and we could finally see the Nabateans, coming and going on their caravans filled up with incense and spices. Our lives intertwined with theirs, indissolubly. We stretched out our hands. We nearly touched them. Maybe History re-joins itself in places like el Khasneh.