Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Tel Aviv  - Yafo
My life simply doesn't want to stand still since I came back from Canada, almost three years ago. It twists and turns like a fish on dry sand, trying to reach back to the water. 

When I was working on cruiseships a  key phrase during emergency drills was "reach your final destination". On the ship it was easy, it meant a little square from where we were supposed to get on life boats or rafts.  But in life on solid ground it looks like my real final destination doesn't want to be found. I finished much less than gloriously my cultural promotion mission in Portugal, on the ground of dramatic political and administrative changes in my motherland. I can't call it homeland as I don't have a home for now, or, again, since I left Canada. Which is also arguable as my rent appartment felt like home, not the country per se. 

After spending Christmas in Bucharest with my beloved mother, sister and brother, plus some extended family members, I went to Israel to end up a conversation. It started in the Madrid subway with an Israeli song author, video-editor and aspiring writer, about a year before and we kept in touch only via Facebook, getting acquainted through our photographs, phrases, likes and dislikes. I decided to take up his invitation to visit a contrasting and controversial country. It was not meant to be a pilgrimage, but I didn't discard the idea of making it part of the whole experience. I was richly rewarded for this decision. I received so much love and positive energy during this trip that I can hardly describe how much it enlightened my mind and my soul.

I don't know if this is the Holy Land...all land is holy, as long as people don't spoil it with their changes. I felt amazingly in the desert, on the shore of the Kinneret Lake (Sea of Galilee) or in the Ein Gedi Park.

Lake Kinneret

Judean desert

And I met amazing people, that treated me with such effortless genuine kindness that I am still in awe, regardless of being Israeli or Palestinian,  religious or not, Christian, Jewish or Muslim . This trip above all restored my trust in the human race. Especially that I was in conflictive area, and I expected the inhabitants to be more nervous and impatient. It was a real life lesson, about the beauty of nature and the human kind. It's hard to explain, but I felt pure unconditional love flowing towards me.So in these terms I would advise anyone to go there, regardless also of their nationality or faith. 

I deeply appreciated the cosmopolitan vibe of Tel Aviv, its colourful market, white beaches and modern looking leisure port. Here and there one can see interesting Bauhaus buildings and wander on Rotschild Boulevard or hang out in lively neighbourhoods like Neve Tzedek, Sheinkin street or Florentin. I was very  lucky to have such good hosts there. 

And so was I in Bethlehem, on the Palestinian side of the story, spending time with a Christian family and taking a day trip around with a Muslim taxi driver and tour guide, a former history and geography teacher. I saw bedouins on donkeys and horses, a desert monastery, the Shepherds' Field, Solomon's Pools and the ruins of a Herode's palace in a record time, with a great guide, who spoke decent English and knew plenty of stories. The Nativity church is simply beautiful but really rundown, and most visitors were paying less attention to its beauty and more to the basement stone were Jesus was supposed to be born. I was shocked to see the caretaker washing the Byzantine mosaics with a dirty mop. But I guess this is as much as they have. Life is far from being easy there, but smiles are for free. 

Then there is Jerusalem, with its confusing old city, made of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian Quarter. A true 1001 nights experience, especially on the market (souk) streets, some shops look like Ali Baba caves and you can sample many delights of the Middle Eastern exotic and flavourful world. I had a hard time getting the Christian vibe of the place, except for the hundreds of pilgrims that insisted in living in their own pious bubble. The churches were assaulted by hordes of passionate Christians, clicking desperately on their phones and cameras button, like there was no tomorrow. The next best thing to do was to touch whatever stone or image was supposed to be the holiest of the place: where Jesus died, wept, stepped, where Mary was born, were Mary died, etc., like on a freaking film set. No corner to recollect and reconnect, which for me gives sense to a pilgrimage. Most cathedrals show signs of their impressive age, old grey smoky walls with hardly any signs of painting, old icons and beautiful ancient lamps. My biggest frustration was not seeing the so called Dome of the Rock big mosque, an ancient piece of pure architectural beauty. On Friday and Saturday it is closed to non-Muslims.

The newer Israelian side also hosts a bustling market, Mahane Yehuda, full of goodies of all kinds and a central fun zone, with pedestrian streets and nice hang out coffee shops and bars. I had no time for museums, but for a first visit I think I had plenty on my plate. 

To me though the best experiences were the moments I spent out of the cities: Kinneret Lake, Judean desert (old Mar Saba monastery), the Ein Gedi oasis and national park, the Dead Sea shore, the Massada ruins. Nature is a gift of God to the humans troubled soul and restless mind.

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