In April 2012, I had the opportunity to go to Jordan for the International Conference of Young Chemists. Between the culture, the food, and the people, it was amazing enough, but the most incredible part by far was visiting the Roman ruins in Juresh and the ancient city of Petra…
I could go on for ten thousand words about the experience, but I’ll skip that part and go right to some of the tidbits of inspiration I found. I’m going to skip all the wonderment (like every time there was a toilet and paper instead of a hole in the ground and a spray hose) and spirituality (not the least of which was standing in front of the Treasury thinking “oh my god, John Rhys Davies and Harrison Ford and oh my god SEAN CONNERY was standing right here!”) and the touch of nirvana (I’m not exaggerating: that granola bar was literally the most amazing experience of my life. You try hiking Petra on an empty stomach) and skip right ahead to a little of what I discovered.
In the event that I have to write a scene about ruins, or about a technologically young society, or even a tourist trap like these places were, I now have an arsenal of tiny details to make it feel like a real place. For example:
- Nowadays: Did you know that bagpipe troops are a thing in Jordan? Neither did I, but they were awesome. Also, the millipedes are huge. Also, children will use cheesy American pickup lines to try to get you to buy things (no, I did not fall from heaven).
- Years of trudging around in the market center etched pathways into the stone. Years of carts and chariots passing through carved deep grooves.
- The old sewer was right below us. I could see down into it where stones fell loose.
- There were 3-walled stone cubicles lining a road, where vendors used to set up.
- On the bus ride back to Amman, I could see little square holes carved into the rocks. I would later see that Petra is full of such stuff. In a country with ruins, history can be in the middle of a disregarded sheep field.
- Nowadays: Men will charge a woman twice as much for half the goods. Sometimes men won’t even talk to women and you have to have a man to communicate. Also, Americans have it so easy. Everyone else got asked to show passports, but not us. There was literally not a cloud in the sky, and the air didn’t move. It must have been over 90F, but I didn’t feel hot at all because there was no humidity. Americans are used to a ridiculous number of safety measures. There weren’t even railings. If you weren’t careful, you were dead. The donkeys and camels you could ride up the mountain were scrawny and not shoed and looked like they would collapse at a moment’s notice. The best part: There is an Indiana Jones themed gift booth, and an Indiana Jones food vendor.
- They were awful at carving stairs back in the day. I went up an awful lot of stairs, and I can tell you for a fact that most of them were two-foot rises.
- The sacrificial altar had grooves for blood flow, and a big cavity underneath that it collected into.
- There are grooves carved in a very regular pattern along the facades of most buildings. They were apparently used for climbing.
What about you? Have you visited any places like this and found all those little things that make a scene really pop in a vivid, realistic way?
(If you’d like to see more pictures or hear more, let me know.)