Thursday, 24 December 2009


I left Tzfat in a case of what the hostel-owners called 'English weather' - actually torrential downpours are unusual in England because we space our rain out over 75% of the year, not just a few isolated days. But I gladly accepted the offer of a lift to the bus station from them. I had arranged to meet a South African-born German woman, who I had met at the Fauzi Azar in Nazareth, and visit the Ancient Galilee Boat Museum. I got drenched walking from the bus stop to the restaurant by the entrance, so had a cup of coffee while I read my biography of rabbi Akiva. Cara arrived and we made a hasty walk to the museum.

This museum is in a location named Ginosar, next to the Sea of Galilee. Its main exhibit is a boat found by two kibbutzniks in the Galilee which has been dated to 2,000 years ago. So, roughly from the time of Jesus. The boat was very carefully extracted from the bed of the Sea, and underwent a ten year preservation process in order to protect it from deterioration due to exposure.

This is an interesting fact: the 1st century boat was essentially pickled to prevent the new environment destroying it. This pickling is in fact a process of embedding and integrating the boat into its new home, the 20th century (and its atmosphere). Therefore the boat as it exists now is a chimera. It is as much an artifact and demonstration of 20th century technologies, procedures, attitudes and beliefs, as it is of those from the 1st century.

As I mulled this over I realised (remembered?) that I and other undergo a very similar process, because it is inescapable in textual or historical studies. There is no such thing as stasis: in reading and talking about religious scriptures, or even modern philosophers, we are reintegrating them into our own present environment, preserving as much our own beliefs as theirs. While the form of the text is preserved, handed down to us by posterity, to rediscover the interpretation is impossible. We can only hope to create a way in which the artifact now makes sense, can be demonstrated as valid/meaningful in the contemporary atmosphere. To interpret is always, in a sense, to destroy for it perspectivises, annihilating other possible aspects or understandings. It creates a mongrel hybrid of the past and present, demonstrating as it does so that the past never existed. Only the past-in-relation-to-the-present, whichever specific present that is. I recall also that the archeaologists at Bet Guvrin all those weeks ago decided to excavate only what they deemed enough; leaving some evidence for the future, giving it the chance of not being corrupted by 20th century techniques and attitudes soon to be supplanted.

Here is the boat.

The rest of the museum, about human history in the Galilee region, is also very interesting. There are plenty of displays, information and films, including some on the recent history of Jewish Israel. Cara and I talked about perceptions of the Palestinian conflict, distortions in the European media and some other issues.

This is a pre-Common Era Egyptian-style carving in Ivory.

We left, it had stopped raining and we went to Tiberias where we drank beer, ate onion soup and talked about dualisms. And astrology.

The next day we met by coincidence at the bus station. The only reason I had come to Tiberias was so I could travel to Hula Park Nature Reserve, which I was now doing. Cara decided to join me.

This is quite a wonderful place. When the state of Israel was created, a program of intensive agriculture and development was undertaken, which included drying out of the marshlands in the north. Hula Park is a fraction of the original, preserved by some forward-thinking naturalists in the 60s.

Here we saw water buffalo,
Ducks! Alas only mallards, but they still made me very happy.

Glossy Ibis
And dozens of Eurasian Coots. More coots than I've ever seen together before. I'd thought they were solo creatures.
And turtles
And these archaic-looking Catfish, who are 2-3 feet long and have several tentacle-like facial protrusions.
So, this was cool. She went on to, er somewhere else while I went back to Tiberias.

...and visited the tomb of Moses Maimonides. I liked this place. It wasn't very well looked after but I think that added to the charm.

Then I went back to my hostel where I met a scouser called Tom. He invited me to join his tour around the region tomorrow - I said I'd think about it. A couple of hours later I bumped into him enjoying the Goldstar (one of Israel's 3 native beers) at Big Ben, the pub Cara and I had visited last night. We proceeded to get hammered and I decided I would join him tomorrow after all.

I'm glad I did. We were driven around the Galilee region by an elderly gent who chainsmoked and drank coffee gthe whole time. He knew his stuff though, and didn't impose himself upon our hangovers too much. First we went to a church and monastery. I don't remember the name but it was quite cool, including these little birds who fluttered constantly around the building.

Actually now I think about it, this church preserves the stone which Jesus did something on. It's in the second from last picture. What was it? Perhaps it was the feeding of the five thousand. This is the stone where he multiplied his loaves and fishes. That may be it.

Then we went to Capernaum. I can't remember why this is important either (hey, I was hungover). It was cool though.

I met this kitten who was tiny but had the hugest of miaows.

She joined us while we walked around.

This is the ruin of an ancient synagogue.

I found this stone quite unusual. It was oddly shaped but balanced very well on the top of the wall.
(You need to click these pictures)
Then it turned and looked at me! I couldn't tell what it was, the only animal I could align it with was a wombat.

Inside the church at Capernaum.

This is the rudest plant I've ever seen.

The church is built on stilts and with a glass floor.

We found some more wombat-things and I examined them with my binoculars. They appeared to be herbivorous, and quite ungainly. They have the oddest little faces. My binoculars were coming in very useful over these few days for examining wildlife.

We tried to see the Syrian border.
And then we stopped for lunch.

I'm really enjoying the Arabic coffe-with-cardamum.

Then we went to Nimrod's Castle. This castle was actually built in the 13th century by the Muslim rulers, before changing hands several times including Mamluks.

The castle is huge and has some amazing views, as well as more wombats.

Okay, they're not actually wombats. We found out later they are hyraxes. The name doesn't seem to fit - a hyrax should be much more sleek or feline, and less like an overfed rabbit with a silly face. They should really have saved the name wombat for these things.

Another hyrax. You need to click this picture.

The well of the castle.

Really liked Nimrod's castle. Was very glad I'd joined this trip.

Next we went to Banias.
This is Pan's den. The area is an old pagan site, it's name deriving from Pan-ias.

Then we went to see the waterfall.
I don't know what this jeep means.

The water is ferocious. I couldn't go any further without being soaked by the spray.

Finally we went to the place where Jesus did the sermon on the mount.

Inside the chapel they had the stations of the cross - but 14 of them. The last two were when he was taken of the cross, and then buried. This is unusual and I don't know why they do this.

After this trip, again I must iterate very worthwhile, we jumped on a bus to Haifa. Tom went on to Akko and I went to the Port Inn. I was glad to be somewhere I knew and felt comfortable. Tiberias was a city I didn't like. There was something bad in the air there. Pretty much from the moment I arrived to the moment I left I was feeling tense. Anyway, from Haifa I was due to travel south to the African Hebrew Israelite Community in Dimona, in the Negev desert.

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