01 March 2015

Israel 2011

Continuing from Jerusalem 2011, my second day in Israel had such a growing air of absurdity that my irreverent funny-bones were irresistibly tickled. I can but relate the tale with as much dignity objectivity propriety as possible.

Overnight our ship moved north to the port of Haifa but it was still a two-hour drive to Nazareth and the Galilee area. Heading north, that is, to within shooting distance of the Golan Heights. It was a cool day, becoming colder as it went on. Our earnest guide began by giving us his real name but insisted we call him Bud. It's a bonding technique employed by experienced guides, often successfully, with foreign-language tourists. But possibly Bud was a trainee. 

Bud was severely pronunciation-challenged in the English language. He mentioned Moslems praying at their masks which should have been a clue but wasn't, not at first. We understood Ga-lilly quite quickly. I don’t know how many times he spoke of the disableds before we caught on he meant disciples. Since he was so eager and bursting with information to give us, no-one wanted to hurt his feelings by drawing attention to it and we translated as best we could. He referred constantly to the BY-bical (Bible) which ~sorry~ cracked me up each time. Discreetly.

What's more, Bud or his employer had decided that every stop would have a reading from the New Testament, presumably to enrich our understanding of Jesus’ time spent in this part of the country. I suspect he had been practising with devout Christian pilgrim tours. Whereas our group might be called an eclectic or ecumenical mix.

Away to Nazareth, hometown of Jesus' parents. First, Basilica of the Annunciation commemorating the angel telling Mary she is pregnant. All newish-looking, because it has been reconstructed; bits of the previous Byzantine structure have been incorporated. The contemporary art featured in this church was outstanding, and we had time to appreciate it! We went below to an excavation believed to be Mary’s family house and then next door to see Joseph’s workshop under the Church of St. Joseph. First-century ruins and tools were found here. Exhilarating stuff for history-archaeology-culture junkies.

Things soon went rapidly downhill. Our bus deposited us next at the obligatory souvenir shop, more of the exorbitant prices, we feeling like a captive market. Bud stipulated a twenty-minute stay and waited outside to herd us back to the bus which was re-locating itself but he didn't tell us that.

We browsed around and finally I was at the cash register a bit late and flustered because of it, when Bud said to me, don’t rush, don’t worry. Exiting the shop I saw no Bud, no group sign waving, no bus in sight, no people I recognized. The roundabout where we'd been dropped off was insane with traffic. Oh well, they left without me, right? Head count fail? I decided to stick with last known whereabouts, wishing uselessly for an ice cream fix. 

While ruefully inspecting my extravagant purchases, another group from the ship came to shop so their guide called my guide. Panicky Bud came running to fetch me. Seems I was holding up the schedule; apologies to all. Really, it was only fifteen minutes and others had arrived just before me, slightly dazed at temporarily being lost. It's apparent the ship's rep had already berated hapless Bud for his oversight. Everyone settled down with a few disgruntled glances at Bud.
Onward to the Church of the Beatitudes, location of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The Franciscan Sisters built this octagonal church in the 1930s, a lovely building with a breathtaking view from the exterior colonnades over the town of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. The eight sides represent the eight beatitudes, also depicted in the upper windows. Bud was so absorbed in his recital he didn't notice we tended to spread out in all directions. Here like many holy places, a forbidding iron fence encloses the site.

As we left, head count in order, our bus exited the narrow gate and there was an almighty horrendous metallic

                            CRACK ...

... making us all jump. Three windows on the right side of the bus shattered and fell. Passengers beside the windows were stunned. TERRORIST attack?! We were all stunned, mute, edging toward the floor to cower. 

Oh, wait.

Turns out the bus driver incautiously scraped the iron gate with the side of the bus, making it bend, causing the windows above to break. Said driver's speed at the time and his spatial sense became noisily debated. Limping to our next destination at minimum speed, we heard a replacement bus had been ordered. The addition of an alfresco breeze made it even cooler and we were going to be really late everywhere.

With a few of us still half-traumatized, we reached the Capernaum area, location of much of Jesus' ministry.

 A tour highlight was to be a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Groups of tourists were coming and going from the boats that had rows of seats. As we filed into the boat, the rain began to pour. Nevertheless, we forged ahead onto the water to experience Jesus and the Disableds going fishing. Undeterred, Bud was diligently droning quoting the BYbical again; maybe he had waterproof pages, we couldn't even see him up front in the blind downpour. The awning over the seats was useless, leaking buckets onto us; besides, the rain was coming laterally with a ferocious wind. We were drenched. Visibility absolute zero. Some wag might have mentioned Noah's Ark.

Wisely, someone not steadfast Bud decided to abandon course and return us to the dock, soaked and miserable. You understand why no photographs are available. We had to wait some time, dripping and idle, in the tourist building for our new bus to arrive. Late for lunch at a typical “we cater to tourist busloads” restaurant, for a hasty meal followed by a tablespoon of coffee.

 Nearby at Tabgha, mercifully the rain had stopped. The small Church of the Primacy of St. Peter marks where Jesus appeared for the third time post-resurrection. Rebuilt over a fourth-century church, the original vibrant mosaics have been preserved within. Seeing the Disableds out fishing in the early morning, Jesus cooked a fish barbecue for them, according to the book of Bud. Even though his verbal delivery lacked magnetism, his pronunciation of "barbecue" was spot on (or possibly it was his interpretation of "breakfast"). The sculpture represents Jesus declaring Peter the favoured Disabled (apparently Bud was not attempting Apostle).
Close by is the Church of the Multiplications (which sounded like Bud-speak, but it's short for Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes). A replica of a fourth-century structure in a beautiful seaside setting, the mosaic floor here is one of the most renowned art works in the country, memorializing the feeding of the five thousand. Bud perched himself on a rock and wired up for a lengthy BYbical reading at which sign many of the group were circumspectly drifting aside to the beckoning seashore.

Further on, Capernaum was a village where Jesus is believed to have lived at Peter's home for a time. A modern octagonal church now houses the excavation of Peter's house, only discovered in 1968. It's amazing to think such discoveries are still occurring. The ruins of a fourth-century synagogue over its first-century foundation inspired passing dreams of ancient times. Built and rebuilt so many times, the site yielded artifacts from every age. Jesus likely worshipped and taught here.

Late in the day the question was whether we had time to reach Yardenit, the baptismal site of Jesus on the Jordan River. So yes, because Bud was full of steam even as we were wilting. Sadly, the day had turned to night so photography was not the best.

This long-established site "competes" with the more recently uncovered baptismal site downriver in Jordan which I saw eight years ago yet another example of tradition(s) as our Jerusalem guide would have said. What a difference. Here, much catering to tourists with souvenir hawking and amenities; and even in the cold, dark dampness, a small but steady stream of pilgrims was descending the stairs to immerse themselves. In Jordan, we almost had to hack our way through long grasses and shrubs to reach a modest platform on the stream without another soul in sight (although it's coming, I'm sure; the nearby excavation had been done and one church had been built).

All in all, I'd say a fairly solid introduction to modern Israel. By now Bud should be well-versed in both the New Testament and the inexplicable ways of foreigners.

I'm not done with you yet, Israel. I still pine to see Masada and Qumram and the Negev Desert.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

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