Or, The Ruins’ Point
The land marked on many maps as “Israel”, or as a series of dotted lines, or a be-yarmulka’d frowny face, is exactly what it has been for millennia: ever-changing. Every neighborhood and time-tested city is a variable function that depends on your state of mind: Feel like a local? The city is x. Feel like a tourist? The city has this to offer. Feeling especially Jewish today? Come, have a homentashen.
As the first familiar place I’ve been in seven months (save a week at grandma’s house), Israel — as it does for many — felt like an old relative. Like at grandma’s house, Israel always feeds to excess and loves to retell old stories. But insomuch as any past posts have been a travelogue, the document of this short stay in the Holy Land can’t be. I’ve changed too much throughout the course of my Isrelationship — I haven’t been just the brief courtier I was in North Oman or Eastern Azerbaijan. In rapidfire, express-tourism, vision is clear because it is so heavily filtered. Depth makes statements difficult, assumptions even harder — putting complete thoughts together after visits spanning nearly 15 years and a brief stint as a semi-professional is harder than trying to chart the evolution of your favorite color in your first seven months in utero. I can’t write advice for tourists because I’m all mixed up about what it means to be one. Less is more sometimes, and as much as this is a failure to reveal the value of touring in the first place — it’s not you Israel, it’s me.
Long story short: it hurts to think. So I’ll report the facts unmarred by that aggrandized pastime, and all that deducing and synthesizing that purport to accompany “clever” writing and “helpful” analysis — well… that’ll just be your job for the moment.
In Acco (also called Acre) in the north of the country near Haifa, I was introduced once again to the unfaltering heart of Israel — the old Jewish woman. An eleventh century capitol of a medieval Christian empire, a stronghold of the Crusaders in the earlier bits of the second millenium, and a site of bloody contention by all the major players of the day, Acco is no stranger to newcomers. But in the twenty-first century, you can’t find yourself at home inside the ancient walls so easily. No — for that, you’ll need the audio tour.
This was a fact an elderly patron of the ruins’ overpriced tunnels made great effort to impart upon us. “I don’t want you to miss it,” she said sad and sweetly, in the same way a Frenchman might sigh, “Oh woe, the bread has gone stale.”
It’s okay, we told her; we weren’t really in the market for an audio tour anyway.
“How will you know what the point is?” She pressed.
“I’ll read the signs,” I said. “Look. Like that one.”
“But you’re going to miss the whole point!” It hadn’t fully occurred to me that ruins were obstinate — that they stubbornly endured for a thousand years because they had something in particular to get across. I told her that.
“I’ll tell him to let you back in, just go back and get the audio guide. I don’t want you to miss it.”
And like that, it was over. If we were arguing, she won. I didn’t want an audio guide — I never wanted an audio guide — and there I was, slumped and beaten, slinking back towards the entrance and the audio guide kiosk.
The traveler beseeched must ask himself: for whom do I act? How can a stranger impart the guilt necessary to change a “no, that’s okay” into an “okay, fine? The truth is that decisions are often made in favor of those who care. It doesn’t matter whose action it is — if a passing septuagenarian cares way more than you do about something, that’s the way it’s going to be. And you’ll not yawn while she’s talking, so help you Moses. The only mystery that remains: why, in the first place, did she even care at all?
Nosiness — it’s for your own good, they’ll tell you — has been a part of the Israeli experience since Adam first asked Eve why she had to keep hanging around that one tree all the time when none of his other friends’ wives went to that neighborhood. Yet there is change in the sands, both good and vexing — some markets are still cheap and everyone feels like family; other vendors now insist on inflated prices… and everyone feels like family.