February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Squaring the circle

By |2018-03-21T20:07:25+01:00March 31st, 2017|"American Girl"|
A desert temple cut from a stone face.

e was different from us, from a different world. With his brown oxford shoes and tweed jacket, he cut a sharp contrast to the flannel shirts and polar fleece worn in the Pacific Northwest.

I was working at Starbucks in Tacoma, just south of Seattle. At that time, the huge corporation was just a smattering of small local coffee shops. It was here that this man became my favorite customer.

One day, after a long absence, he walked in wearing tan khaki trousers and a wide-brimmed hat. I eyed him curiously as he ordered his double cappuccino. I then worked up the courage to ask my question.

“Where have you been? I haven’t seen you for months.”

He smiled, reached inside his jacket and pulled out a postcard and handed it to me.

“I’ve been here,” he said.

On the card was an image of a desert temple cut from a stone face. With a grand portico of Corinthian columns and a center turret topped by a large urn, it glowed the most amazing shade of pink.

“It’s Petra,” he said. “It’s in Jordan.”

I’d never heard of Petra and had no idea where Jordan was. I did know it was very far away from anything I knew and it stuck with me. It lodged in my mind like a seed waiting for the right conditions to sprout. And sprout it did.

Twenty years later, with the cold wind and snow blanketing New York City, the seed broke ground. My past and future met on that cold day and impulsively I knew it was time to go. I booked my ticket to Amman.

The path to the Treasury of Petra takes a mile to walk. It winds through a slot canyon called the Siq and in the early dawn, the light undulating on the walls makes it seem alive. Remnants of the Nabataean culture line the walls with ancient water systems and niches that held images of their deities. Each step felt momentous, linking my own small story with the vast history of the region.

When the Treasury came into view, I let out a gasp. The morning sun cast a long glow across the pink sandstone. Hellenistic columns and an angular pediment created a portico to a second story guarded by dancing Amazons. Figures of gods and goddesses both Egyptian and Greek, intended to welcome travelers across the ancient world, were carved from the stone face. Now it welcomed me and I stood in awe.

There are good reasons Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Although the Treasury is mind-boggling, it’s only part of a huge complex. The area is littered with relics of ancient peoples who lived, died, traded, traveled, built temples and tombs, welcomed caravans and left their mark in the canyons of the Arabian Desert.

As I sat contemplating my journey, a local Bedouin approached me. “Would you like a coffee?” he asked. In an instant I was back in Tacoma, in long-gone days. The memory of the man in the tweed jacket flashed back, his double cappuccino and the postcard that brought me here. I could only think how strange and wonderful life is.

Smiling, I turned to the Bedouin. “Yes, I’d love a coffee. It would be absolutely perfect, thank you.”

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.