the eastern wind

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Wherever we might live, and in whatever circumstances, there are always trials and challenges. Even when our lives seem wonderful when seen from outside, we on the inside know the difficulties and the tests. When hearing about a tornado approaching the Florida coast, I tremble at the thought of what those people have to bear. Or I read about the collapse of a glacier in Switzerland. That sounds terrible. Here, when we have snow, it’s usually over in about three or four days. But we have something else. And the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to endure that type of weather. We call it hamsin.

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Usually, it’s a hot eastern or south eastern wind that gathers dust over the desert in Africa, and blows it in our direction, filling our skies with dirty brown air that makes it hard to breathe and leaves houses, cars, and park benches covered with dust until it rains. When it happens in summer, it often doesn’t even rain afterwards, and we have to wash everything ourselves. Hamsin means 50 in Arabic, and it’s said that somewhere… doesn’t seem like it would be so in Jerusalem… but somewhere… there are 50 days like that a year. There’s an old folk tale I remember hearing many years ago. According to this story, in one of our neighboring Arab countries, if a man killed someone after a week of such weather, he wasn’t prosecuted. It was taken for granted that the weather had driven him out of his mind. Hamsin refers to the hot wind. In winter, when the wind is cold, it’s called a sharkiah, but it brings the same terrible air pollution.

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We get warnings on the radio that the old, the very young, and people with heart or lung ailments should not go outside! When I was young and healthy, such announcements didn’t catch my attention. But now that I myself am suffering from a heart disease, I don’t even have to be warned. Just once or twice outside in that weather, and I knew it wasn’t worth the effort. It’s hard to breathe, and it wears you down very quickly. Some people become irritable, while others become unhappy just having a brown sky overhead.

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We’ve had it this week, for a few days now. Started out hot, and then turned into a cold wind. The dust is still here in Jerusalem, because it hasn’t rained yet. In most of the country it’s already raining. That washes away the pollution. So we’re waiting for rain. I like to take a walk every day, but for most of this week, I haven’t even thought about it.

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Just a few years back, I wouldn’t have stayed at home because of the weather. I had commitments, work, and people I’d scheduled to see. So I went out and took care of business. Even in the car, though, it was oppressive. I remember once, on a day like this, in a café, asking the waitress (whom I knew from previous visits) what sort of a day she was having. ‘What sort of a day?’ She asked me back, raising her eyebrows with comic despair. ‘What kind of day could it possibly be with all this dust?’ And the café itself was half empty.

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I took the pictures in this post on that sort of a day in February of 2009. I was visiting my mother, and had some free time, because I’d arrived early after being invited for tea at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. So I walked around the neighborhood a bit, near where she lived. Strangely enough, though the weather was terrible, the photos bring back good memories. It was nice being able to visit my mother late in life. She lived to be 101 years old. And it was a pleasure watching my stubborn, fellow Jerusalemites doing their best to ignore the conditions of the day.

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Nowadays, there is one place where you can escape the hamsin. Not the sort of place I visit often, but the shopping mall is unaffected. There, in a completely artificial environment, and constant air conditioning, one can walk around, go from one shop to the next, without really being bothered by such a primitive thing as weather. The sky is always a blue tinted high glass ceiling; the colors always pleasant. The lighting is easy on the eyes. I do visit once in a while, just to marvel at the work of man. It is an allegory of the city. But most of the time, I prefer to be in the city itself. And so, I’m waiting for the rain. On the radio, they said there was a storm coming. In fact, it’s already snowing again in northern Israel. And there are rumors it’ll soon be snowing here. I don’t know..

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58 responses to “the eastern wind

  1. Dear Shimon, stay indoor and stay in safe. This dusty air happened in here too, just a few days ago… Then it rained and then snowed and now it is raining… Weather conditions how change in the world. When I say it is very cold today, I know the meaning of cold is different in Alaska… As always it was so nice reading you dear Shimon. I didn’t know anything about these winds… And also I haven’t thought that there would be difficult days in there about weather conditions… Dark yellow sky and dusty air… Photographs are so nice. Thank you, Blessing and Happiness, love, nia

    • Thank you so much, Nia. I don’t know if the photographs are so nice, when they’re describing something so awful. But it was just like you said. By Monday the rain came, and cleared up most of the dust. Now they say that snow is coming tomorrow. Meantime, it seems very cold, but not nearly as cold as Alaska. I was able to enjoy my walk this morning.

  2. I well remember this phenomenon from our time in Nigeria, where we called it the Harmattan. Thick dust in the air sometimes for weeks, and everything always dirty. You’re wise to stay indoors, and hopefully the rain or snow will be along soon to release you. Your photos are very evocative.

    • I was really grateful for the rain, when it finally came on Monday. Very interesting to hear that they have similar phenomena in Nigeria. Now that the rain has cleaned the air, we’re preparing for another snow storm. To tell you the truth, Gill. I prefer that the drama comes from the weather. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Yes, it is said that constant winds can drive a person to madness….let alone thick dust!
    I am reminded of the ‘Mistral’ in the south of France and the Santa Ana winds which affect coastal california…..often causing serious fires.
    Of course, here in the UK, we get all seasons in one day, many days of the year, and that includes high winds…..which by the way are expected today:)

    Good idea to stay indoors and let’s hope you don’t have a major snow storm, like the one my daughter has just experienced in Boston….

    Have a wonderful weekend, spring is on the way. Janet. xx

    • I did experience a Santa Ana wind once, when in California, and it was reminiscent of the hot wind here. Though there wasn’t that terrible dust. I didn’t realize that they have such winds all over the globe. We’re expecting a snow storm too now, in Jerusalem. I hope it wasn’t too bad for your daughter in the states. Thanks so much for your encouragement, Janet. And my best wishes for a beautiful week to you too. xxx

  4. The pictures are inspiring although not surprised the weather drives people’s emotions. Shopping malls are strange places, although they can work out as a refuge when conditions outside are complicated. Nice to have good memories. Be well and I hope for the rain there…

    • Yes, we did have a good rain already. And it really did clear up the air.I was walking this morning, and breathing that cold air in, and it was a great pleasure. I agree with you, Olga, there is something very strange about the malls. I think they more resemble human dreams than nature. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Thank you for sharing. Lovely writing. May all of you stay safe and sound there.

  6. I read about these winds in the Hamodia paper yesterday-nature can wreak such havoc on us. I hope the rains come soon and wash it away and you can can once again enjoy the outdoors. Your photos are wonderful – and the memories that go with them. 101 is an age! My uncle lived to 107 and went to Israel just 2 months before he died. He was healthy and able bodied and wanted to see Jerusalem one last time and daven at the Kotel. And so he did.

    • I was amazed to hear that you read the Hamodia newspaper, Cee. Because up until then I thought of it as a small Hebrew newspaper that just interested one a few of our neighborhoods here in Jerusalem. But then, when checking the internet, I discovered that it has spread its wings and flown. And in English too. That’s amazing. I am happy for your uncle that he was able to visit us at 107. That sounds good. Thanks very much for your comment.

  7. The pictures seem eerie and beautiful to me at the same time, Shimon. I am sorry for the sense of, and need for, confinement you now experience when this weather occurs: hoping rain will wash it away soon. Gentle peace and merry walks.

    • It’s not so terrible, Kitty. The confinement, I mean. I am grateful that I have a good home to sit in, and to protect me. And prefer that the drama in my life come from nature, if you know what I mean. We’ve already had a good rain that cleaned up the air, and now we are waiting for the snow storm which is supposedly on its way here. Many thanks for your good wishes.

  8. I cannot imagine that kind of dust for days. We have dust storms that blow through. A towering wall of rolling dust that is able to reduce visibility to practically nothing. However, it’s a storm that rarely lasts more than 20-30 minutes. It’s usually followed by a thunderstorm. You can even search YouTube for Arizona Dust storms and find spectacular videos. It’s best to stay inside in such weather.

    The wonder of photographs is all the additional memories stirred by a single moment captured in time. 101? How remarkable and fortunate for you. May you be blessed.

    • Yes, that sounds just like what we have to deal with, Judy. The reduction of visibility. Unfortunately, it can last days here. But now that it’s over, and we have clean air again… I am so much more appreciative of my ability to breathe! Maybe that’s what’s good about it. Thanks very much for your blessing.

  9. The muted light in these shots perfectly expresses that feeling of “something’s in the air,” Shimon. May the rain fall soon and wash away the dust!

    • How well you put it, Cathy. Truly, something’s in the air! But after the rain we had yesterday, the air is crystal clear, if very cold. And I’m enjoying every breath. I had a beautiful walk this morning, and snow is on its way.

  10. Here is north Wales, we often complain of the rain but I guess what you are describing is far more difficult to cope with if, as you say, you are elderly or have any kind of heart or breathing problems. I hope it soon passes!

    • Yes, we have had a good rain that cleaned up all the dust. The air is now fresh and clean. We’re waiting for a snow storm to emphasize the nature of the season. That dust is a bit hard to take, for the elderly or those with health problems. But it isn’t so bad to stay at home till it’s over. I am surrounded with books here at home, so my life is quite easy. Thanks for coming by and for your comment Jennyta. So nice to meet you.

  11. Gosh….a dust that drives people mad!!! I can imagine how awful it must be though and I’m pleased to hear you’re not going out in it! We had terrible dust storms when we lived in Australia, I didn’t know what they were at first and left all the windows and doors open….oh my ….the mess! I hope you get some rain or snow to get shut of the stuff…..I loved those last two pics….I can imagine how annoyed those chaps were….xxx

    • Well yes, Dina. It’s just the sort of thing that could drive someone mad… But I think he would have to have a predilection for madness even before that. There are many fine people who go about their business even in a dust storm. And as for me, I hole up with a good book, and let my clock go cuckoo. We’ve had some good rain that cleaned up the city. And now we’re waiting for the snow. And yes, it is terrible when you leave windows open during a dust storm. But we get warnings on the radio. Rain. wind, dust and snow… but life goes on. Thanks for the comment. xxx

  12. You’ve done an amazing job of describing hamsin so that we could all imagine being there and experiencing it. What a talent for description! I am reminded of how the Santa Ana winds (also known as the devil winds) in the Los Angeles area are also described as being responsible for crime and for making people go crazy, although from your description, the Santa Anas are nothing compared to your hamsin.

    • Sometimes the apparent reason for someone to go crazy is rather trivial. I remember some years back, hearing of a couple… friends of mine, who got a divorce. Someone asked them why, and got the answer that they had a blow out argument, and just couldn’t live with one another afterwards. When asked, it turned out that the argument was about what additions to put on the pizza. I think the same is true for people who go crazy. I did experience a Santa Ana wind though, and it reminded me a bit of what we have here… just without the dust. Thanks very much for the comment, Corina.

  13. Lovely photos, as always, Shimon. No mall–just like you say–artificial everything!. Hopefully, it has rained by now and you can enjoy real life, outdoors.

    • Thanks, Loisa. Yes, the rain came and gave the city a good cleaning. and then came the snow, which is beautiful. So we’re enjoying life… and complaining about the cold now…

  14. I can imagine this kind of wind and weather could be horribly oppressive Shimon! I have heard of such winds driving people out of their minds. I hope by now the rain has come and you can once more enjoy your daily walks. It’ll soon be spring! Lovely photographs!

    • It’s amazing to thing that spring will soon be here, Chillbrook. And that is a great time of the year. But most of the time, I try to enjoy whatever is happening. Thje dust storm is something I can’t really enjoy. But it’s not for too long. Since then, we’ve had some snow which was really a very pleasant experience. Glad you liked the photos.

  15. How dreary. Maybe even depressing and a little scary.

    Thank you for the story and the photographs. Use good judgment those fifty dusty days.

    • I really don’t think we have 50 days like that, Bruce. It must be somewhere else… and that’s how it got its name. But since the dust, we’ve had rain and snow, beautiful sights and clean air… plus a bit of drama. Still, Bruce, thanks for the advice. Good judgment is always important.

  16. I have experienced the Hamsin in Jerusalem in the warm weather you speak of. It is interesting to the first timer, though, as you say, it can be a danger to anyone with certain health issues. I am not sure how I would have responded if it was part of my regular environment. That murky yellow is one unattractive thing and was reminiscent of the smog that used to be in our UK cities. A friend living in your part of the world was a bit out of sorts with the effects of the sandstorms. I was interested to learn the name of the winter variety.
    We had the experiences of the Icelandic volcanic outfalls. They posed the same health dangers. Microscopic analysis showed the miniscule grains were like glass shards and spikey like them too. Flights were put on diverted routes.
    Forced to stay in, out of social contact for lengths of time can make you stir crazy. I’ll be in more of a position to verify it soon 😉

    • I do hope you are recovering well, and using the time for reading and relaxation, menhir. I suppose, all over the world, there are experiences like that, that make us pause and give nature the right of way. I remember that Icelandic volcano. It was a relief that that time, we humans weren’t to blame!
      Now we’re back to normal winter weather, so its a pleasure by comparison. Thanks.

  17. Although the yellowish-brown tinge to the air obviously markedly diminishes the air quality and makes it difficult for breathing, I can’t deny that it does lend itself to an intriguing photograph. Your photos captured the weight of the air so perfectly, especially that last photo. However, it’s a shame that such conditions keep people trapped indoors, trying to escape the pollution, especially in your case, when photography is one of your main sources of interaction with nature, and your heart condition doesn’t allow for you to ignore the dangers of being exposed to such poor air quality. Even your daily walks become a forbidden activity, unless, as you mentioned, you’re willing to settle for the artificially-maintained air quality at the local mall. Not an optimum choice, by any means.

    Here in Texas (USA), we have been experiencing an ongoing decline in air quality that is mostly attributed to the fracking oil drilling operations, especially in south Texas. This process releases nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) into the air we’re breathing, creating a ground level ozone layer that traps air pollutants and intensifies the dangerous effects of smog. We also get the wind-borne brown smog that drifts up via the air currents from Mexico, where their air quality is typically very poor, creating hazardous air quality. Sandwiching the oil industry air pollution on top of the already-present dangerous conditions from Mexico greatly increases our overall poor air quality. It saddens me that in our case, nearly all of our air quality issues are man-made issues, versus those of mother nature. We knowingly alter the air we breathe in order to make money, and then we wonder why we’re left gasping for air.

    On a side note, your post had me remembering an old song that refers to a mighty wind. The song is called “They Call the Wind Mariah” and was originally sung by Harve Presnell, from the Broadway musical titled Paint Your Wagon, (which was later made into a movie). My favorite version is the one sung by the late Bob Oates (available on you tube). I enjoy the concept of how they give the “mighty wind” an almost-human presence.

    Mariah blow the stars around,
    and sends the clouds a-flyin’
    Mariah makes the mountains sound
    like folks were up there dyin’

    In any case, I do hope a cleansing rain pushes through your area soon to wash away all that dust, so that you can get back out there and stretch your legs again. Being stuck indoors, for whatever reason, is no fun at all. Even when we do our best to amuse or distract ourselves, what we really need is to feel the air in our lungs again, and get out there and explore the world around us, camera in hand, capturing life as it’s happening. Get your camera ready. The rain is coming. 🙂

    • We did have a good rain which gave us clean air, and also cleaned up the city of all the dust. Then cold, and then snow… so we’re back to normal winter weather for a while, and appreciating it a lot more after the dust. It is a serious problem, when we pollute our environment. But I think it’s best to look at such issues from a distance… with a bit of dispassion. On the whole, people are living longer these days, and in better health than they had a couple of hundred years ago. And are enjoying more play and less work. In the process, we have much to learn about insuring the public welfare. But looking at history, there does seem to be some improvement. I did hear that song when I was visiting America. Don’t think I’ve heard it since. Thanks for the comment, Nancy.

  18. Now is your chance for some creative day dreaming or being pensive in the bath…. but never shout,Eureka nor run out naked in that wind or we will not be happy if you turn yellow with sand stuck all over you.:)/
    Well some folk might enjoy taking your photo!
    .

    • Yes, quite true, Kathryn. A good day for reading… There are so many things I enjoy doing inside, that it’s not really a challenge to stay inside for a while. It’s just… you know… the moment the gate is shut, you want to check it out… nothing beckons like the forbidden…

  19. And yet these photos still look great! It’s funny how that happens. In Australia, many places don’t often experience this because the desert’s in the center and most people cling to the coastlines. It did happen once though, back in 2009 actually. I underestimated the seriousness of it and travelled to the university, even though I’m an asthmatic. I gave up halfway through my class schedule and went home again. My throat just felt coated in dust, and my lungs rattled. I felt sick from the lack of clean air.

    When it was at its worst, the sky looked a faint red; a good percentage of the ground is red ochre. But I saw pictures of the same dust storm over Sydney, and the sky looked bright red, like some kind of doomsday.

    Good luck with this weather! I really hope it rains soon for you.

    • I suppose there is beauty to be found in almost any phenomenon, Jess. Just so long as we don’t have to suffer it for too long. This time, it wasn’t too bad. Because after a few days, we did get rain, and that cleaned up everything. Your experience in Australia sound pretty similar. I’m glad for you that you are near the coast. There are so many advantages to the sea. I like spending time looking out at the sea, and hearing the waves… brings me calm… even when the sea itself isn’t so calm.

  20. I’ve been away for a week or so, and it was so nice to come back and see your post. I especially like the photos, and wonder how it must be bad on engines of all sorts. After spending a week in Tucson Az, at 72F, coming back to 19 degrees and a snow storm made it unique to read you. Od that the snow is coming straight down like rain so it must be heavy and I wonder why. Tho I had known about the sand storms, I didn’t know you got them. Sorry to read of your heart disease, and you already know I want to tell you something. 🙂 I don’t enjoy the thoughts of that kind of end-of-life for anybody.
    Be well Simon, I need to read you more often.

    • Oh Bob… I’ve already made my peace with the heart ailment. I had a very full and pleasurable life before it, and have found much to enjoy even after being faced with limitations because of infermity. I see it as a part of growing old. Better this than the alternative; I’m sure you know the joke. And yes, I know what you want to tell me. And I hope I’ll still be smiling on my last day. It’s always a challenge to leave this life with dignity… but I’ll try.

  21. I understand your frustration with the weather. We are having a long, hard winter here in New England and I’m stir crazy waiting for spring and the days when I can go back outside. I too go to the mall from time to time when that is the only way to stretch my legs and walk around with my baby. I hope your weather improves soon :]

    • Thanks, Kari Ann. The weather has already improved. We had rain, and then snow. Good ol’ winter. I don’t get to the mall often, but I have a very comfortable home, so it’s not so terrible when I have to stay in for a while. I did hear about the New England snow storm, and I send you my best wishes for a warm winter inside.

  22. Thanks. Very much enjoyed meeting you through your intriguing, humane writing here’s looking forward to further visits. Regards Thom.

  23. Dear Shimon , This post was tender , your photos startling for me as I do not know much about modern Jerusalem …and didn’t know how rain takes the dust away …I see you walking the ancient roads to visit your dear very old mother …thank you so very much …xxx meg

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Meg. I’m forever grateful that I have had the pleasure of living my life in a city I love so much. Of course, there are always ups and downs… good weather and bad. But in general, the life is a good one. Thanks for your comment.

  24. It’s a lovely post, vivid and atmospheric. I enjoyed all the photos too. Well done. Wishing you well.

  25. Dear Shimon,
    I didn’t know about these hot wind conditions–a very interesting and informative post! I do hope it passes soon, and you will be able to take your walks again.

  26. The weather has a dramatic effect on lives everywhere. Can’t even imagine the trauma of dealing with heavy dust and the problems with breathing. Right now, here in Ohio, we are dealing with bitter cold. Almost every night it has been below 0 degrees F, with even lower wind chills. Sunshine is always welcome.

    • We’re back to normal winter weather now, Bev. And though I wouldn’t describe it as bitter cold, it does seem cold enough. But here and there, we see patches of blue in the skies… and that gives a little cheer. Wishing you warmer days.

  27. I am sending loving energy your way and I hope the ‘dust’ soon passes. How lovely that you were able to spend many years with your Mother Shimon. Your photographs are evocative and remind me of the Saharan winds. Take care, hugs. X

    • Thank you so much for the love and energy you send my way. Looking at the smile on your icon picture, I can really feel the good vibes, and am very happy we’ve met. Sending my very best wishes back to you.

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