Our last weeks in Israel were hectic but amazing. We went to Petra (ok, not Israel, it's in Jordan) which was one of the most extraordinary sites I've ever seen. We watched the sunset from the mountains at the top with three other tourists and three bedouin, and then hiked down in the dark. We took a donkey back to the bedouin village, drank tea with our hosts, and listened to one of their sister's, wearing a full hijab and robe, tell us dirty jokes in impeccable english.
All year I meant to post about the shuk (open air market) which was my favorite place in all Jerusalem. The produce is amazing, and amazingly cheap. The crowds are overwhelming, but once you learn to navigate them, friendly and helpful. And like all Israelis, full of suggestions on what to buy, how to cook it, etc. The smells are overpowering, and usually delicious-- walking less than one city block, you get fish, fresh meat (not actually a bad smell), strawberries, mint, cilantro, oranges, the spices, turkish coffee, and bakeries. The sounds are also amazing-- the shopkeepers shouting about their wares-- tut sade, kilo l'arbaa, kilo l'arbaa-- that's strawberries, four shekels for a kilo (or about 50 cents a pound). The best are the ten year olds, helping out in the stalls, shouting and imitating the fast, loud cadence of the grown men. And when I said goodbye to my baker, he came out from behind the counter to give me a hug, a kiss on each cheek, and a blessing for health, joy, and a speedy return to Israel. Stop and Shop looks pretty bad by comparison.
Our last shabbat in Jerusalem we went to the Kotel, or Western wall, for the end of shabbat. The area is packed with religious Jews, eating the ritual "third meal" and waiting for the sun to go down. There are teenagers dancing, and everyone singing the soft, goodbye songs that go with the end of the day. We watched the sun set, reflected on wall, saw the sparrows swoop and glide above the people praying, saw the flowers growing out of the crevasses in the stone, and went ourselves up to the wall to say goodbye to Israel. It was magical.
We're so happy to be back in America, with complete linguistic competence in every situation, and most importantly with friends and family. But...
I saw a some beautiful photographs of Israel the other day, and it pulled on my heart like nothing else. Now, with a little bit of distance, I think that Israel, and my relationship with it, reminds me of some particularly unhealthy relationships I had in college. I love it so much, and with such passion, but it is tragically, fatally, an unstable relationship. The place is so deeply flawed, and my knowledge of that makes it all the more romantic. I miss it, almost viscerally, but I'm not sure I can ever have a relationship with the place that is not, at the heart of it, tragic.
Thanks to everyone who kept up with the blog all year.