We go through our lives on autopilot, dreading the past and rushing to experience the future. Our mind is designed to escape the present moment. We will forever miss it unless we consciously focus our divine light on it — If we shine long enough, magic will happen.
– Everybody in Jordan calls me King Albert, – says the taxi driver adjusting his big hands on the steering wheel. The cracked crimson leather that covers it reveals the infinite amount of adventures King Albert and his taxi have gone through.
About twenty years ago, – he continues with his deep voice and a spark of pride in the eyes, – when I had just celebrated my 40th birthday with my wife and two sons, I was offered to be the driver of the royal bus. King Hussein himself received me… –
At a traffic light, he bends down to the glovebox, removes a plastic envelope from a bundle of old photos, and then hands me one. In the photo, King Albert looks much younger than he is now — a slim body and long hair both lost in time.
The taxi reaches the ruins of the ancient city of Petra and when I pay the ride, our hands touch for a moment. King Albert gives me an embarrassed glance, perhaps because of that contact or because he is going to reveal something very personal.
– You know, if you do the right thing, work hard and live with honesty, sooner or later magic will come to your life. –
Petra: the ancient city of Wonders
The Old Ancient Book tells this story. In a moment of great difficulty, God appeared to Aaron and his brother Moses — Their starving and parched people wondering why they had brought them in a place where grain, figs, vines or pomegranates would not grow; where not even water would be available to them. God then gave Moses clear instructions: Gather the congregation; take your rod and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water; the congregation and their beasts will drink.
According to Arab tradition, this happened in Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses, the narrow land where Petra is located.
All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is
To reach Petra from Amman, the Capital of Jordan, the early morning Jett bus is a much cheaper option than a taxi and gives you the opportunity to discover a diverse range of Jordanian people — The old lady, whose head is covered by an elegant dark blue silk veil; the man with moustache yellowed by nicotine and neglect; the three school girls who, for the first time, are allowed to go to Petra on their own.
Through desert-like valleys, where not much exists, but animals, sand, and lonely houses, the bus brings you to Petra in about 3 hours. Halfway through, it stops in a bazaar, where you can buy cheap souvenirs, food and drinks, and an expensive thick liquid that they dare to call coffee.
The bus ends its journey in Wadi Musa, the main touristic gateway to the wonders of Petra. The modern town is ugly; a few streets cross one another, enriched by dull buildings, many of which are hotels — It is not that difficult to find the one that fits your needs.
With my Jordan Pass, I enter the archeological site, ignoring a large piazza-style area with an over-priced market. There, I take a downhill trail followed by a parallel route for horses and donkeys — expensive animal-driven transport systems for lazy tourists.
Eternal constructions, gigantic god-blocks, caves, and obelisks built by the Nabateans embellish the walk, but my mind can only focus on one image so detailed as it if it were already a fresh memory.
On the other side of a bridge, laid over a water system that was dug millennia ago, awaits the entrance to the Siq — a vast gorge that extends for 1.200 meters with peaks of 80 meters, formed when tectonic forces split the mountain in two.
Suddenly, the Siq becomes very narrow, creating a dark and silent place, from which a light beam shines through, unraveling one of the most amazing views that my eyes have ever focused on.
A portal to another dimension
In front of me stands the Treasury — a 40-meter high facade, decorated by columns, capitals, and mythological figures, entirely carved from stone 2.000 years ago. This colossal work was probably commissioned by King Aretas III, the Greek-lover, who brought architects to Petra from centers of the Hellenistic culture.
I sit for I do not know how long on a bench admiring the crisp beauty of the morning colors reflected on that stony marvel. Tourists around me are equally hypnotized. In my copy of the Rough Guide, I read that the “Treasury of the Pharaoh”, the name given by the Nabateans, was created by the Pharaoh, the lord of black magic, to hide his riches in the urn at the top of the facade. For centuries, bedouins had been trying in vain to shatter the urn and to recover the gold.
When I look up again, the magnificence of the Treasury takes my breath away a second time, launching me in a novel state of mind where my perception of time has gone lost.
And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep
We, humans, are trapped in a 4-dimensional universe made of the three spatial dimensions plus time. Because of that, we experience time in one direction: Time can only flow from the past to the future. The present is the one single physical moment in time that we can be aware of; the before and after exist only in our minds.
We cannot measure time directly, what we do measure is the motion of an object in relation to the spatial dimension. We can monitor that motion by comparing it to the tick of a clock. By itself, time has only a mathematical value and no primary physical existence.
In other words, the universe may simply be a timeless collection of events.
Up To The High Place of Sacrifice
As I proceed into the heart of the ancient city, the Siq opens up to me exposing the street of facades, an agglomeration of monuments carved from the rock on different levels, and the theater, which in Roman times would accommodate more than 8.000 people. Just before reaching it, I venture onto a path that climbs up to a hill — I want to see Petra from on high.
Past two large obelisks of about six meters and the ruins of a crusader fort, I get to the wide summit of the hill, where the Nabatean priests would perform religious rituals — it is the High Place of Sacrifice. The altar is right there. No much is left, though, but some stones and a large pool that was used to gather rainwater for the rituals. According to some tales, the blood of the victim was channeled down the hill and only if it could reach the mouth of a sculptured lion, the sacrifice would be considered acceptable by the Gods.
From this sacred place, the view on Wadi Musa is stunning. The bright ocher of the hills and the shapes of the rocks resemble the complexity of human history — past, present, and future all unfolded simultaneously before my eyes.
It feels as if I could go back in time or travel to the future by rolling my eyes on the rough curves of the hills; as if I could access any point in time at will.
Although several theories postulate the existence of higher dimensions, it is hard to picture a multidimensional universe. Simply put: Our brains are not made to perceive it.
But if you were a higher-dimensional being, like the alien race Tralfamadorians depicted in several Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, you would experience the universe and time in a very different way.
You would be able to walk through the time dimension freely. You could visit the moment in which you were born or when you fell in love for the first time. The entire timeline of your life would be fully accessible to you, just like walking up to a hill in Wadi Musa.
In a higher-dimensional universe, you have always been born, you have always been falling in love, you have always been dying.
All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist
On my way back, I stop at a small stall that offers drinks and shelter from the strong sunbeams of the early afternoon to the few tourists who ventured that far. From a scratched blue door, a boy comes towards me speaking in a language that sounds as ancient and mysterious as the ruins of Petra.
– Shay – I say.
Waiting for my tea in that comfortable shade, I open my journal and find the words of King Albert: – Sooner or later magic will come to your life. –
It is just a matter of time and if you have a multidimensional eternity in front of you, magic will surely happen. In fact, in a multidimensional universe, magic has been always happening, is always happening, and always will.
Inspired by the bright stone landscape of the ancient city of Petra, I scribble a couple of words in my Journal.
– Magic is all around, – I read out loud when I see the boy walking back with my glass of tea.
— WRITTEN IN AMMAN, MADRID
All photos were taken during my trip to Jordan. For more check on
All quotes are by Kurt Vonnegut
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From Quantum Chemistry To Stories
From Atoms to Words
A collection of my thoughts and musings on science, writing, and the intersection of the two.