Friday, February 27, 2004

We're now ın Istanbul, ın a charmıng older Hotel called the Astın Hotel, just two blocks from the Blue Mosque and the Aga Sophıa -- a church turned mosque turned museum, buılt about 1,500 years ago by Justınıan who boasted, 'Aha, Solomon. İ've outdone you!' Allen ıs so excıted to be here ın Istanbul, he can't really belıeve he's here. Every step we take ıs full of the past. And, of course, we have wonderful opportunıtıes to buy lovely Turkısh carpets, just no place to put them!

Before we left Israel. I wrote a poem catchıng some of the sadness of those days and my feelıngs about so many unresolved ıssues, so here ıt ıs -- though Allen says the tıtle ıs long....

Lookıng at the Sea of Galılee and Thınkıng of Jerusalem

More than a graın of sand,
I mark my own passıng wıth words.
Lıghts lıne the boundarıes of the hılls,
balanced by whıte stones ın the cemetary, a lake between,
black nıght obscures the dıfferences between
the lake, the hılls, and the sky.

Who am I to grıeve for my own passıng, lost love,
one last moment wıth daughter, son,
generatıons to come,
when so many have dıed?

I see no end to vıolence,
no hope when young men
strap bombs to theır bodıes
and board the green cıty busses,
no hope despıte the sweetness
of grılled fısh, tıred feet, our conversatıons,
an early mornıng full of sun, another year alıve.

Would I stand wıth a photograph of my beloved?
Yes, as well be standıng dead, for I cannot ımagıne
peace when I remember all these -- lost.
We travel safely. So far, we've avoıded the wrong bus,
the wrong plane, the wrong turnıng back.
We've walked where we shouldn't.
I've felt eyes on my back
as ıf I already were a photograph,
already a memory.

So much spırıtualıty ın Jerusalem
ın these days of wınter, all the pılgrıms gone.
Those who are left, look wıthın, alone.
Death has destroyed peace for thıs tıme.
Lıght, shımmerıng soul lıght, heal us all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

As we get ready to leave Israel, both of us have some closing thoughts.

Here are some comments Allen wrote a week ago about Jerusalem and Masada.

"Tomorrow we're off to Tiberias, ending two extraordinary weeks in Jerusalem. I feel like I've yet to assimilate our experiences here and yet I feel compelled to write a little about them.

Strangely enough my ideas about Jerusalem were somewhat crystallized by our visit to Masada, some 75 miles from here. There, a group of Jewish Zealots (that's the derivation of the word) held out for 3 years, from 70 to 73, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman. Men, women, and children, they lived in the fortress of Masada, a mesa thousands of feet above the surrounding desert and the Dead Sea. Finally, the Romans used slaves to build road all the way to the top. The day before the wall was breached the leaders decreed suicide rather than Roman slavery for all the inhabitants. Two women and five children hid out and survived. We have the story today thanks to the jewish Benedict Arnold, Roman historian Josephus. Jews all over the world and especially Israelis see this as a great victory. Me - I see a Jim Jones cult. I see fratricide, infanticide, and just plain murder. The remains of two beautiful palaces built by Herod are still there. There aree lovely mosaics, a spectacular bathhouse, dozens of store rooms the fortress walls, the world's first synagogue, cisterns, etc. but of course there are no bodies.

Somehow that is Jerusalem, a city built on mountains, a city built completely of rock and built to last. The light here is more extraordinary than any building. The city almost glows under it. The light is so pure and white. I've never seen light like that anywhere. In some way it must be the source of the spiritual birth of these religions

Here the past overwhelms the present. A thousand year old mosque sits upon the 3000 year old Jewish wailing wall. A couple blocks away is the Via Dolorosa. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is "shared" by a dozen different sects and they all hate each other and require the civil authorities to enforce the 300 year old sharing rules or they'd kill each other. And of course the Jews and the Moslems also hate each other. We saw a jewish soldier flip over an Arab's stand where he was selling bras. As I helped the man pick up his wares, I asked him why. He just shrugged his shoulders. The woman in the stand next to his said, They always do it." A Christian Arab I talked to said Arafat is just as bad as Sharon and only the poor and the powerless really want peace.

And then you leave the Old City with its rabbit warren streets and its separate quarters for each group. And there in the New city, you find Yad Vashem (literally memory and name) and cry your way through the Holocaust. You walk through halls of unspeakable history, past an eternal flame lighting the names of ten concentration camps and six death camps. You walk through a stone valley, literally a map of Europe, with the names of hundreds of Jewish communities, each in its correct geographic place, that no longer exist in Europe. I found Atachi Rumania where my father was born and 67 of our relatives died. We took pictures. There was nothing more to do. Enough."

Last night in Israel, so I'll try to upload some photos.

Sometimes you can't use the link on the right to check out newly posted photos at Webshots, so you can go directly to the photos site by typing in this link:

All is well. It's so warm here in Tel Aviv that we're running around at 7 pm at night without any coats. Of course, we've already heard it's QUITE a bit cooler in Turkey, probably below 50 at this time of night, so prepare to shiver in the next installment. Tel Aviv is a World Heritage site for its Bauhaus architecture of the 1920s and 1930s as Jewish refugees settled here and built so quickly in the modern style. Now, not all of the buildings have been restored, but throughout Israel, we have seen amazing architecture, just not your traditional giant boxes, but curves and soaring lines everywhere.

My faith in humanity was restored by visiting the Bahai Shrine of the Bab in Haifa yesterday morning. The gardens were quite elaborate and very precisely planted and cared for -- rows and rows of flowers, shrubs and walkways to prepare you for the actual shrine itself, a towering white building with a truly gold-plated dome on its top. My concern over Israel and its failure so far to come to any peaceful common grounds was eased by this special place that emphasizes tolerance of all creeds. The many people working there, over 600 from 90 different countries, were so trusting of the future. Each person we spoke to had a kind of inner peace that makes me feel hopeful about the future. Well, there were guards at the gate here too, and I know that Bahai's have faced terrible persecution for their beliefs. But the reality is we need to be able to hope in the future.

Now back to uploading pictures!

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Today is windy but sunny at the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius, a hot springs once the home of holidaying Romans, Greeks and anyone else who could make their way here. It's the off season, so that means we have the town almost to ourselves.

Yesterday we biked 30 miles to Capernaum and, along the way, visited Tabgua, a popular pilgrim stop, to find a small, unassuming church to comemmorate Christ's "loaves and fishes" sermon. About 30 German Lutherans sang hymns that echoed up into the high vaulted ceilings of this small church, built in 1936, but constructed over the site of a Byzantine church in the 5th Century. It felt like a desecration to walk on the floors with their beautiful mosaics from the 5th Century) were covered with birds eating seeds and leaves. At the altar, the loaves and fishes were represented in mosaic as well. We were told that few religious symbols were used on floors at this time because the priests and rabbis didn't want people walking on them. Makes sense.

As we made our way to Capernaum, past kibbutzim and large banana fields, we had to stop a few times to walk our bikes up steep hills, but the view was breathtaking. We saw many beautiful birds, including a brilliantly colored pheasant (?) with black and white tail and orange body. Capernaum was a surprise, for despite the guidebook, we didn't really know what to expect, perhaps pilgrims visiting the site of Peter's home, where apparently Jesus moved after he began his ministry. We found a very large synagogue there as well, built, archaeologists say, about 150 AD. The synagogue was beautiful, large, three entrance doors, Roman style columns soaring up in the main hall. Being there gave me a sense that people of different faiths could live together peacefully.

We suffered a little on the bike ride back to Tiberius. Remember these old bones have not travelled on a bike for a while. But we safely made it back, before the rain, but not before just a few sprinkles.

Tomorrow we leave Tiberius for Haifa and then Thursday, Feb 26, we leave Israel for Turkey. This morning, we heard on CNN about another bus bombing in Jerusalem, just 5 miles from Bethlehem, a violent protest to the Israeli's building of more walls. But the bombing just makes a stronger case for such walls. Who wants to live with the threat of bombs? Most of the people we have talked to hope of peace, but no one seems to see a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Not even a compromise seems possible.

So, as we get ready to leave Israel, I could ask: What have I learned here? Back in the United States, I'm overwhelmed by a sense of history for dates older than about 100 years. Here, history is measured in thousands of years. The cross influence of Mesopotamia (Syria), Greece, and Egypt is very strong in the culture here. Cities arise and are destroyed over and over again. Today's victor is tomorrow's vanquished. National borders shift with each war. Each religion offers hope, but tolerance is not widely practiced. I leave Israel with more understanding of her importance as a nation, but with less hope for her future.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Yesterday, the day began with our favorite Israeli breakfast -- plain omelette served on a platter with two kinds of cheese (feta and a mild yellow cheese), cottage cheese, cream cheese, a tomatoe/cucumber salad, three rolls with strawberry jam and butter, freshly squeezed orange juice, and hot (and truly delicious) coffee latte. All this for one person! We split the breakfast, and the total cost about $10. We're sitting in a busy open-air cafe. The waitress has come to know us and helps us with the all Hebrew bus map for today we are going to Masada, a bus trip of about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from the city of Jerusalem.

The bus ride south to Masada was fascinating for we rode through, for the first time, a portion of the West Bank, that hotly contested area between Israelis and Palestinians. It's not easy to see Arab settlements, for they are tucked away in crevices. We can look back and see the walled city of Jerusalem with its many apartment complexes of pink, gray, and soft yellow stone, repeated in many architectural styles, blending together like a rose-colored, white shaded city on many hills. No slums in any direction. New construction everywhere of three- and four-story modern apartments built of concrete and Jerusalem stone. As we drive out through the hills, we see many trees planted along side the four, then three, then two-lane through-way. Back well away from the road, we can see just a few settlements, shacks of corrugated iron, covered with black and white plastic, huddled close together, maybe in clusters of two or three against the hill, the worst kind of a slum, with an occasional child walking through. Later, on our return, we saw large herds of goats and sheep being brought back to these settlements. I cannot think these people have even the basics of running water, heat or electricity. The bus we are on doesn't stop in this section of the road.

As we arrived at the Dead Sea, a white mist hung over the sharp blue waters. Allen remembered swimming here, intensely salty and oily water that he had to take a shower after to feel clean. He is fastidious! I was fascinated by the high mountains on the west side. On the east side of the Dead Sea, we could clearly see Jordan. Driving down south further, I saw that water erosion had shaped these dry brown mountains, waterfalls several hundred feet high remained only in dusty, salty trails down the side of the mountains.

I saw many caves dotting the high hills, and then we came to a sign -- Qumram, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered hidden in caves. Amos Elon reports that Qumram was the only community that continued to exist (as long as it did, about 200 years) based on the disaffection of men. Not only were no women permitted, but the religious men who did live here in seclusion spent their lives copying and preserving religious texts. The community only continued to exist as new members came, disaffected by life in the city. Not much is known about these Essenes, though we were able to see some of what had been recovered, including pieces of the original Scrolls, in the Israel Museum.

We continued south to Masada, a singular mountain, separate on all sides from the others, chosen by Herod to build a palace retreat, should the revolts become too violent. Although history says he never used this place as a retreat, I believe he lived here or visited for short periods, for the palace complex was beautiful, even luxurious with its many baths, a swimming pool, deep cisterns for water, and quarters for guests, all constructed hundreds of feet high on the top of Masada. Later, I can't remember how many hundreds of years, the Zealots retreated from the Romans here, tearing down parts of Herod's palace complex to build fortifications.

We spent 5 hours hiking around the top of Masada, after a harrowing ride up in a cable car (yes, I don't like standing on chairs, let alone looking down hundreds of feet), but the scenery was majestic. At the top of Masada, we could see literally for hundreds of miles. The sun came out. The sky became an intense ultramarine blue, and I was fascinated by the remains of the Zealots' daily life (ritual baths, fortifications, the oldest synagogue yet discovered), as well as what was left of Herod's Palace at the Northern end of Masada, mosaic floors, broken columns, and extensive ruins, storehouses, baths, cisterns everywhere, even a dovecote.

The story of the Zealots' flight from Jerusalem and battle against the Romans has been told many times. I remember being shocked by the story as a child. The rebels, as the sign said at Masada, could have held out for a very long time as they had unlimited water, but the Romans, a fearsome and committed opponent, built a ramp of dirt, large enough to bring a tower close to breach the fortifications. We could still see the "bones" of the ramp as well as, I think, markings on the desert floor that revealed the original Roman encampments, geometrically tidy, each with a wall built around the military complex. You can check out the basic history and see some photos by going to this link: as I'm not sure when I will be able to post pictures again. (I put this link at the top of the page on the left as well.)

How did Herod come to build here at Masada, so far from Jerusalem? Why did the Romans pursue the Zealots so deeply into the desert -- and want to destroy them so much they would build that ramp, hundreds of feet high. The story goes, told by Josephus, that the Roman troops breached the wall, and ensured of success, retired for the night. The next morning, they entered Masada to find all dead. During the night, the men drew lots and 10 were chosen to kill the 960 still remaining. Only two women and several children survived by hiding. What a night of horror. It's hard not to ask how many of those 960 would have chosen death or slavery, or if they had a choice. How accurate is Josephus' story?

Today Masada is a national monument of great meaning to the Jewish state, particularly post Holocaust, because it is a compelling testament of the need to fight back, and perhaps to choose death over slavery. The sun still shines brightly over the ruins. We passed teenaged girls in the remaining Roman baths, draped in sheets, characters in a high school play, retelling the story of Herod. By the end of the day, I had photos, tired feet, and many unanswered questions.


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Tuesday afternoon. Here I am in a smoke-filled Internet cafe, with a BIG sign that says, "No Smoking! And that means YOU!" But I will persevere! It feels VERY good to be sitting down as we walked for about 5 hours today. And today we successfully visited the third most holy site in Old Jerusalem -- the Dome of the Rock. We went back and forth between Israeli guards who gave us different information each time, different gates to pass through, and different times for access. But today, we went early and just persevered. A clump of determined tourists gathered at the entry point as well so I felt relatively safe. Once past yet another checkpoint with armed guards we entered the beautiful open courtyard to see the golden glowing dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque. This is the place Moslems believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven, thus making it very holy. Jews also believe this same place is where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac. Intensely blue colored Persian style tiles covered everywhere, and although we were not allowed to go inside, we could walk all the way around this magnificant mosque and see the surrounding buildings and arches in the Mamluk style. The hour alloted for nonbelievers was soon over but the sense of tranquility remains when I think of that spot.

We walked back to our hotel, the New Jerusalem Inn (where we have heat, a fridge, a tv, and all the comforts of home nearly), but the walk through the souq (pronounced shook) is still very sad. So few tourists pass by that the shopkeepers are not only bored but they are desperate for customers. Every imaginable object for sale is on display -- holy relics for all three religions, including glow-in-the-dark madonnas, Russian icons, beautifully embroidered floor-length robes for men and women, silver jewelry, the famous Israeli pottery with the Islamic style blue flowers, bags, carpets, red (rose water) and dark yellow candy (home-made rolled in coconut and sprinkled with green pistachio nuts), and the smell of spices, felafel stands, everywhere the cry, "Mister, come look in my shop, just look." Or, "I have a bargain for you, everything free today!"

Yesterday we walked the Via Dolorosa, supposedly the route that Christ took on his way to crucifixion (which historians have long debated which is THE correct route). Churches or little sanctuaries dot each station of the cross to give pilgrims a moment to pray. We visited them all, empty streets, no pilgrims. In fact we entered Old Jerusalem (the walled city) by Damascus Gate right into the Arabic section to find a heavy police presence. We walked slowly along, enjoying the sounds of a busy market, the melodious flow of Arabic around us, when suddenly just ahead of us, three Israeli police (not to be confused with Israeli soldiers) simply tossed over an entire box of undergarments in an open stall. I was shocked! The old woman, wrapped from head to foot in her robes, just sat there, looking after them. Her husband (?) just looked after them? He shrugged in response to my query as if to say, "Who can understand why?". Allen helped them pick everything up, but we were both saddened by this tension for it suggests that peace will be difficult in the West Bank and Jerusalem. We're both reading books (Yes, we found a bookstore) about contemporary Israel to understand the history -- mine by Amos Oz. Strong feelings are based on a brutal history of war and betrayals on both sides. I am at least more comfortable in the Arabic quarter of Jerusalem, but we decided not to visit the West Bank. A travel agent said that Masada, Bethlehem and Jerico are ok, but nothing else. We plan a day trip down to Masada then in another week, we'll hit the road again.

More about food? Our best lunches are from street stands -- fresh grilled fish, eggplant "chips" and very fresh (just baked) bread. That was my favorite experience in the Arabian Quarter by the Damascus Gate. We went into a little bakery where the baker was baking the bread (pita style bread) in an open pit oven. We bought just one piece of bread for roughly a quarter and he handed it to me, then apologized and handed me a piece of paper to hold it with for it was way too hot to handle! His smile and courtesy were memorable.

While in Be'ersheva we finally were able to visit our friends Fani and Avi. Already 12 years have passed since they were in Corvallis. Fani had a little cold, so she made a small Shabbat dinner for us -- so much wonderful food -- many different salads, home-made olives, chicken schnitzel, something called Jerusalem grill (all the organs of the chicken cooked with garlic, my favorite!), rice with carrots, beets, and another green meat patty, and two desserts -- chocolate mousse and apple strudel. Strudel, by the way, is what Israeli's call the @ sign for e-mail. It was very, very good to visit friends and we hope to see Oshi in the Golan Heights when we go there.

Just now the trees are starting to turn from bud to leaf; cherry trees are in blossom. Today I went without a coat and Allen got sunburned. Israel is a beautiful country, its cities building new spaces even as I write. In the towns we see much energy, and we hope to visit a kibbutz before leaving. Meanwhile, all is well. Morning begins with fruit, bread and tea, and then adventure!

Sunday, February 01, 2004

It's relatively early on Monday morning. BBC News not so good this morning, another serious bombing in Iraq, hundreds of people trampled at a religious shrine. A little rainy outside. Today we're on the move to Be'ersheva and leave Jerusalem behind for a while. Yesterday was a religous holiday for the Moslems, so nearly all the shops were closed, the narrow cobblestoned streets were quiet, and we walked around nearly alone. Very, very few tourists here, but we did get to visit two of the three most holiest sites in Jerusalem -- the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pilgrims come here to follow the stations of the cross in actuality, those phyical places where Christ suffered his crucifixion).

Imagine the Wailing Wall as a very high stone wall, from Herod's time, just a fragment is left about (I don't really know) I'm guessing 100-150 feet long and 50 feet high or so. Birds nest in the wall and fly around as people gather right at the wall to pray. The wall has been sectioned off, men on one side and women on the other. Allen went on the men's side and was welcomed right into a Torah service, while I went in on the women's side. A corrugated metal sheet separates the two sections. Even if you glance over, you cannot see anyone, but we could hear the men's chanting. It was incredibly moving to be in this very sacred spot, which many believe the Holy Spirit (the Shekinah) has never left).

Actually, researchers have identified a Jerusalem syndrome for people who are so overwhelmed by the religous environment that they slip over into delusions. I think we met such a man who gave us blessings, and wrote all kinds of prayer information in our Lonely Planet travel book. We returned on Sunday (as photographs are not allowed on the Sabbath), and we re-entered the area close to the Wall, Allen on his side to take photos, then me on the other side to take photos, but I forgot. The Wall is that compelling.

We then wandered through the Jewish Quarter. This section has all been rebuilt since 1967, though in the same medieval style, narrow streets, shuttered windows. You see street cats everywhere, and people just toss them crumbs. They look pretty comfortable. Wide open squares and lots of plants make this section very livable. We were looking for St. Anne Convent which was once a hospital and canversari for the Crusaders, but couldn't find it so started asking people for help. A rabbi stopped to help us (most people do), and said, "A Christian church here? Impossible. This is the Jewish Quarter!" But indeed, he did help us find it. No sign, no number, no indication that the worn stones had any significance at all. Just a garden, unkempt, an arch, and a very old stone building in ruins.

We wandered on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a large Byzantine structure. We needed to actually wander around quite a bit before we could figure out what was there and where it was! Here were several chapels conglomerated into one large traditional church. We saw the 10th through the 15th stations of the cross, from Christ's annointing to the actual tomb, a very sacred space. The high Byzantine architecture soared above with Christ Pancreator at the top of the highest dome, a brilliant portrait mosiac in gold and rich colors. In the deepest and oldest chapels, several flights of stairs down, we found the chapels to the original discoverer of the place, now St. Helena, mother of Constantine -- and, the deepest level of all, an old, dark stoned chapel carved directly out of the rock where the True Cross had been found. Whether one believes or does not, again, the spirituality of this place, blessed by the power of prayer, is compelling. And, in a way, makes Jerusalem more of a tragic city as there seems no resolution to the conflicts that sharpen between these groups of believers.

I think Allen has nerves of steel as he took me right up to the gate to the Dome of the Rock where armed guards aggressively asked if we were tourists. We walked up this long (and very lonely) double arched tunnel and could see the Dome of the Rock right through the tunnel. We were told it was not a good time to visit as this was an Islamic holiday and to come back next week. Allen believes it is safe. I'm less sure. But we will try to go. How could we come so far and not try to visit the third most holy site here in Jerusalem?

But everywhere the people are friendly; they come right up to us regardless of which section of the city we are in. Allen is studying the guidebook and they'll ask, "Where do you want to go?" or "Mister, may I help you?" I will remember this warmth as the real spirit of Jerusalem.