After more than a week of snow, cold weather, electric failures, and now ice, Janne and I decided to head for the south to enjoy a bit of warmth before the Sabbath; a trip aimed at rehabilitation after a rather difficult week. We charged up our camera batteries, took a bottle of water and few pieces of fruit, sunglasses and maps. My plan was to show Janne, a very interesting spot along the shore of the Dead Sea that I had last visited with my friend Bill and his Goddess. But then, we had arrived a little late… as the sun was going down, and it wasn’t easy to photograph. There are fascinating salt formations there, that in some cases look like sculpture. A subject for photography that had been touched upon, but not fully explored. I prepared a flash memory with some good music which we could plug into the car radio for pleasant listening as we tooled along the highway. We looked forward to a very pleasant day.
The grounds of our little village were still mostly covered with snow. But there were also spots where the snow had receded, leaving slippery ice. And just the day before, when venturing out to get a little morning exercise, I had walked with the help of my cane, hoping that three legs would guarantee stability. But now, driving down from the Judean hills to the Ellah valley, we left the snow and the ice behind us, and were filled with joy at the sight of green trees, and millions of grass shoots that had spontaneously appeared after soaking up the rain, eagerly rejoicing in life, and reaching for the sunlight. The emerging green was everywhere. And though a long winter lay ahead, there was that image of spring to excite our spirits. Just looking at the jagged and uneven edge of the forest as it approached the highway, the different formations of trees, and the bright green edges of hardy bushes, I was tempted to stop the car again and again, to photograph. But keeping in mind that we had plans, we kept moving.
One of the problems of traveling, is how to get from one place to another, far away. Some people take a train, and other people take a plane. Since we live in a small country, most people take an intercity super highway that is a ribbon of cement or asphalt leading from one place to the next with sturdy fences or bushy foliage at the sides to keep the traveler from getting distracted. But if the traveler is like me, and likes to take the side roads and the back roads… likes to drive real slow, the better to see the landscape, to ride a donkey, or even sometimes to travel on foot, then there’s always the danger that he’ll find new worlds just a few feet from home, and never discover that the world isn’t flat and you don’t actually fall of the ledge into the great abyss. That’s why they used to put blinders around the eyes of horses years ago. And that’s why they put up those big fences along the fast highways today, with all the commercials on them, It’s a dilemma. Should we go fast or slow?
So that’s what happened. After withstanding temptation a few times, with all the determination of people who wants to get somewhere… we saw more and more sights that just couldn’t be ignored, as we traversed the landscape from mountains to the plains, and then to desert environment. And here and there we did take a stop… did walk around a little lake… did investigate a few trees… did strike up a conversation with a couple of lizards… and then it was time for lunch. After all, you can’t just gobble up the universe with your eyes. You need something to put under your belt. And this being winter, after feasting on humus and beans and a few falafel balls, and chips and salads and schwarma slices on a plate, and then lubricating the digestion of all these delicacies with a couple of beers at a workers’ diner in a hilltop city of the northern Negev, we happened to notice that the shadows were getting longer. That was just about the time I was saying to Janne that it was a shame to leave such a beautiful city without documenting the imaginative design of the city center, and the wonderful characters who occupied it.
This was after taking a long look at an orthodox Jew in traditional garb biking through the central plaza whistling ‘Home On The Range’, and then watching another fellow who looked like he’d been whisked out of some city in India by aliens, and then set walking in that same place… he walked to the middle of the plaza where he stopped and became fixated on his own shoes… giving them some thought before he became unimaginable still, just the edges of his gray beard rustling in the desert breeze… It certainly looked like it should be photographed…
What were we to do? If we we’d document the urban splendor here, what chance was there, that we’d see the salt formations? On the other hand… if we were to continue our journey, we might very well get there after dark, too late to photograph it, without having photographed the city we were now exploring. After discussing the pros and cons, we decided that we’d have to make another trip soon, to cover all the wonderful opportunities that we’d missed along the way, and continued on to the Dead Sea.
On reaching our destination, however, we had more than a little trouble finding the object of our interest. It was quickly getting dark. And though we went along the shore, first to the south and then to the north… we just didn’t find those salt formations. The Dead Seas has been going through a lot of changes in the past few years. Who knows if those salt flats didn’t move inward towards the sea center, and was no longer visible from the shore. ‘Maybe it’s our mistake to make plans at all. Might it not be better to just let our eyes lead us, and enjoy ourselves wherever we go,’ I said to Janne. ‘No’, she said, ‘If you don’t make plans at all, you never get anywhere. But at the same time, we want to go with the flow. We want to be sensitive, and enjoy every step along the way’. And with that in our pocket, we headed north, all the way to the Lido for some coffee before we’d conclude our journey, going home.
At the Lido, we ordered two cups of coffee and a cupcake. The handsome Arab behind the counter delivered our order with style. ‘That’ll be 22 shekels’ he said, ‘including VAT… But no smile included’
‘Very sweet of you to include the VAT in the price of the coffee, we answered. But why no smile?’ He explained himself with serious aplomb. ‘We Palestine people were living our day to day life most innocently, when suddenly the authorities started pouring Styrofoam insulation on our heads from up above. Then they turned off the heat till we were shivering in our boots, and then the electricity went off, and our cars got stuck, and our goats got moody. Life is just intolerable.’
‘What?’ I asked, did it snow here? In the lowest altitude in Israel?’ Actually, the dead Sea is not just the lowest point in Israel. It is the lowest dry land in the world, being 427 meters below sea level. But he was unfazed by my question. ‘No, this didn’t happen here’, he said. ‘I’m talking about my cousins further north. But you know, we Palestinians like to stick together’. I looked him in the eyes and smiled. ‘I heard there were a few Jews caught in the snowstorm too,’ I said.
‘There might have been’, he admitted. But then, the electric company probably fixed their electricity before they fixed ours. It’s out and out racism. The world will hear about it’. And then he smiled too. ‘If you want sugar’, he added, ‘I’ll tell you where it’s hidden’.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘We take our coffee without sugar’.