Wine at the Lowest Point on Earth

The road connecting Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the few resorts dotted along the Dead Sea’s eastern coast begins flat before turning southwest and sloping sharply downward through the barren plains of the Arabian Peninsula.  It is smoothly paved, equal to any American highway.  Picnicking families, camels, and tents belonging to Bedouin nomads sporadically appear along the shoulder and in the surrounding countryside.  The landscape is bare, aside from rocky gravel and patches of scrubby grass.

Upon arrival at our destination, I see a small sign near the resort’s entrance indicating the altitude at which you stand: 383 meters below sea level, the lowest point on Earth.

Through the open front doors and windows blows a cool breeze, dry and salty from the Dead Sea.  The air smells as ocean water does, only more acidic.  The opulent resort and its environs – lush gardens through which stone pathways snake and bubbling fountains within crystal-clear swimming pools – stand in stark contrast to the ravages of war-torn Baghdad, its pockmarked suburbs, and trampled countryside.  The stress of living in the presence of constant and indiscriminate danger feels strange in such a tranquil place.  But the peace is appreciated, if only for a few days, before returning to the chaos of Iraq.

Following a dip in the Dead Sea, whose concentrated salinity reeks of sulfur and allows one to bob like a cork, I prepare for dinner – a feast of Mediterranean cuisine.  More importantly, the meal is served with a half dozen local varieties of wine.  All of which is remarkably good.  And surprisingly, it is served with a dinner as a special: all you can drink of their Jordanian wines for about ten dollars.

A few bottles later, the sun sets over Israel, on the Sea’s west bank.  The desert turns cool and the night sky is filled with stars, then suddenly, fireworks.  The group laughs at one another for our collective panic at the noise.  Fireworks sound so similar to the explosions to which we have grown so accustomed.  Glass still in hand I gaze upward at the bursting colors.  Just down the hill a wedding party cheers wildly at the display; it seems the father of the bride spared no expense for this celebration.

My colleagues and I turn back inside to conclude dinner with a nightcap in an upstairs lounge.  It has been a good day, after so many that were not.  In a couple of days I will return to the anxiety of living amidst violence.  But for now, I focus on that delicious Jordanian wine and the haze and happiness it brings.

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, this month I’ll reflect on my time serving in the Middle East.  This is the second in a series of three posts.

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm  Comments Off on Wine at the Lowest Point on Earth  
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