Monday, January 09, 2006

The Alleged Site

Avi is a great tour guide and Tali is a marvelous cook, and during my three-day stay in Galilee I felt like my every need or desire had been anticipated and obviated. They live in Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth), which is a higher, wealthier, and more Jewish suburb of Nazareth, which is mostly Arab. The day after we arrived, we drove into the city and visited the souq, where I bought an AC plug adaptor from a huge plastic basket of various adaptors, and we also sampled some knaffe, an Arab cake that looks like birds’ nests.

Then we made mini-pilgrimages to the Church of the Annunciation (on the alleged site of Gabriel’s visit to Mary to tell her about the virgin birth and everything), the Church of St. Joseph (on the alleged site of Joseph’s carpentry shop), and the Greek Catholic Church (on the alleged site of the synagogue where the young Jesus allegedly prayed and taught). We skipped the Greek Orthodox Church and Mary’s Well, which is the alleged site of the annunciation according to the Greeks – we didn’t want to get involved in any controversy. We also skipped (to my disappointment) Nazareth Village, where actors dress up in robes and re-enact life in the time of Jesus (on the alleged site of Canaanite Town, where Jesus attended his first historical reenactment).

There was a service going on in Latin and Arabic at the Church of the Annunciation. It was the biggest and newest of the churches (built in the 60’s, on still-visible Byzantine ruins), and aside from the grotto that Mary supposedly lived in, it featured wall sculptures of virgin and child from around the world. The Mexican one was cartoony, a la Diego Rivera; the Japanese one had the holy figures dressed in kimonos; the American one was colourful and vaguely hippy-ish; the Canadian one was a low-key terra-cotta abstraction. It was as though they had been created by an international committee whose job was to reflect each country’s perceived personality. In the basement of the St. Joseph church was another grotto, this one below our feet and covered with plexiglass, which gave the impression of not being a very commodious or salubrious location in which to conduct a carpentry business. Everything was pretty quiet, except at the Greek Catholic Church, where there were Christmas decorations around the door and people were singing while tourists snapped photos.

Everything is really close together in Israel, so not long after we left Nazareth we arrived at the extreme north-western tip of the country to visit the caves at Rosh Hanikra. We descended in a cable-car from the top of the cliff to the tunnels at sea-level. It was a beautiful sunny day and I leaned out the window, taking pictures of the sheer white chalk cliffs. The very impressive caves are partly natural holes in the chalk worn by waves, and partly the result of excavations by the British Army in the 1940’s to allow a train to pass from Beirut to Haifa. We learned all about it in a unique 15-minute multi-media show: it was basically a film shown on a screen in one of the tunnels, part nature documentary and part historical narrative, but at one key moment dramatizing the sabotage of the railway bridge by the Israel independence forces there were flashlights in the ceiling playing along the walls, and then at another moment near the end when the voice-over was mooning over the eternal love affair between the sea and the rock, and the waves were washing against the shore on the screen, we were sprayed with a not-so-fine mist to simulate the loving caress of the sea spray.

Next we went to Akko (Acre during the Crusades), a walled port city that looks like it hasn’t changed much in several centuries (that is, if you disregard the acres of ugly high-rise apartments in the sprawling new city, and the scooters and plastic water bottles on the street and so on). Here is a picture of the marina. Israel has only three ports and now I’ve seen them all.


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