Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day +15 A Post 4,000 Years In The Making

Today we visited Jaffa, the 4,000 year old city at the southern tip of Tel Aviv. Let me just say, Pharaoh Thutmose III, The Phoenicians, Babylonians, The Crusades, Philistines, Sultan Selim I, King David, King Solomon, King Richard (the Lionheart), the Book of Jonah, Joshua, Ezra, plus the myth of Cassiopeia and Persian Rule for good measure. You know the one about Demosthenes? He might be the only historical figure who has nothing to do with this, but he was the Athenian orator who suffered from a speech impediment. According to legend he stuffed stones in his mouth to practice his speech, and what this has to do with Jaffa is only that I feel as if there are now rocks spilling from my mouth, the history of Jaffa so full.

And now so is my head. I cannot even begin to touch what I saw today, from early antiquity to the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, from the Hellenistic period to the Byzantine, Medieval, the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate. Hell, even Napolean showed up in Jaffa in 1799 to ransack the city and massacre thousands of Turks, just because he was a dick like that. Then there was the bubonic plague. I mean, you see it now, right? These stones just falling from my mouth like teeth in a recurring dream symbolizing transition? And you're also naked?

So instead I will show you this, bracelets I bought including an Israeli gold bangle and a little evil eye action. I do love haggling...
And this, because. Well let's not even pretend this post will be anything but disjointed. (Not my fault: see above history.)
Saint Peter's Church. It was built in 1654 in dedication to Saint Peter who raised one of Jesus' disciples from the dead. (!!!!) (Thrown in there all casual-like.) The church was first built over a medieval citadel, then twice destroyed and again built in 1888. It remains on the hill above the shore, a beacon to pilgrims that The Holy Land is near.

I will tell you this: I am not a religious person per se, but every single time I go into a church I cry. I remember this from traveling in Italy, Prague and France. I don't know what it is. Past life perhaps? But my chest feels heavy and I cry, both because the churches are so beautiful and because I don't understand how something so pure, the love of a god, can be responsible for so much violence.

And then there was this: the sudden (to me) call to Muslim prayer.

I was stunned. And again cried. I guess I had never really heard the Adhan, or call to prayer, droned out from a minaret, no less. It is the recitation of the Takbir (God is great), followed by the Shahada (there is no god but Allah). Please ignore the Yanni-like street musician who insisted on playing his schlock straight through the call to prayer. I thought it was a little disrespectful and gave him a dirty look or three, but he couldn't have cared less. You can see the white city of Tel Aviv as I pan over, and to the right of the minaret is an outcropping of rocks in the sea where Andromeda was stripped and chained in sacrifice to sate the sea monster Cetes.

I mean. Stones from my mouth, all of it. And I am not even coming close to anything.

So let's take a break and look at me and my dad. We are cute. And so very waspy.
And this cat. There are approximately 2,000 feral cats in Jaffa, and each one of them is also 4,000 years old, I am sure.
Had I a normal immune system I would have maybe given each one a little scritch, but yesterday's hummus got me into enough trouble so I stayed far away.

Which reminds me: before you all freak out that I even went to Jaffa, please know that I was given permission by Ashraf, the nurse. I was told not to eat anything (I didn't), and to wear my mask and gloves when in taxis, crowds and shops (I did).

Speaking of which.
I swear I only ducked in here quickly for the photo, but wow. It really summed up the history with the assortment of kippah, crosses, hamsa, nazar, vials of holy water and inexplicable Russian nesting dolls. Sadly I hesitated at a shelf of 100% pure argan oil for hair, and then remembered and left.

On our way home in the taxi we stopped at a red light. Our cab driver was blaring his radio in Hebrew, and the van next to us was blasting something that sounded again like Middle Eastern prayer. Many of my friends have asked me about the political tension, if I feel safe here, and the answer is not even close to simple. I thought for a second, there at the red light, that maybe this is how it happens. The sudden, the nonsensical, the bombing or the gunfire, the stabbing on a city bus. Certainly there is little to no foreboding. Just a red light, and then.

The cab drivers here all talk politics. Everyone does, actually. Bibi (thumbs up, yeah?!), the election, Arabs and Jews, Obama (thumbs down, frown, yeah?), Europe, now Lebanon, Islam, "the conflict," as they call it. And I realized that here there is no luxury of not caring. At home we talk about entertainment, food, what we're doing this weekend. There may be the odd debate over something vaguely political, but it is done politely, sometimes humorously, and we move on to whatever Kanye said about himself. And quite frankly, where I live, when we talk politics it is only to agree.

So do I feel safe? Maybe I was wrong to have that thought in the taxi today, just two radios blasting against each other in traffic. Maybe it was naive or ethnocentric, stupid with the "stu" part tight as if you're cramming it down into a straw. But it was a thought nonetheless, after a day spent in a city spanning ages and empires where I couldn't help but look down at the stones that made up the street and think that both statistically and inconsequentially, how someone once must have died there on the stone that I was standing on, fell in love, got her heart broken, yelled at someone, ate a piece of chicken, farted, sang a song, laughed, cried, how one time I am sure someone stood on that exact same stone and thought for sure, yes, I mean I think maybe she felt safe? But still wanted to go home, wherever that was, because home is always safest of all.



Nancy Fastenau said...

Wow, what a fabulous experience! In spite of all the shit, you have something marvelous to take back with you. Hope you get more shopping in. Love you.

Anonymous said...

Politics is discussed vividly everywhere but the United States.
I grew up in Europe and we start early discussing politics - at first with parents, peers, teachers and friends. Sometimes it will be a heated discussion, yes, but nonetheless, it's part of life there.
I am glad you're getting to see some of the sites there, it looks very colorful and I kind of liked the background music of yanni-like while the muezzin calls from the minaret; it gave it more pizazz.
You look good, look happy but I am sure your heart is aching terribly for your family. There is no place like home, even if it ain't Kansas. Hang in there!

Mollee said...

Oh Susannah! I love reading your words and seeing your pictures. But I can't wait until I read the "coming home" post. And then I will make you nourishing cookies and bone broth and all sorts of good, fully cooked so as not to have listeria, food and treats. Get your Balls back here!