Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Donkey of Nazareth

I could write exciting tales of the ever present Israeli Defense Forces, but instead will recount a few impressions of the very interesting and beautiful town of Nazareth.

We are staying in a 300 or so year old renovated Turkish mansion which has original ceiling frescoes from the 1700s as well as doors, floors, stairs closets and kitchen, except with really good internet. It is like staying in a living castle or a Moorish dream. Just go to Fauzi Azar Inn dot com and you can see the online pictures and they don't lie.

The town itself is situated amidst gorgeous rolling hills covered in Mediterranean buildings surrounded by cypress trees and rocky slopes.

As Nazareth is home to three faiths, last night we watched a new crescent moon (an Islamic sympbol) rise above the city while the calls to prayer echoed across the stone streets accompanied by the tolling of bells from the countless Christian churches of all persuasion which are littered throughout the city.

The main Basillica of the Annunciation which is supposed to be set on the site where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was pregnant with Jesus is stunning; all sorts of artists from countries over the world have given a huge art piece related to Mary which are hung from the walls. C and I were blown away by a number of pieces including the US contribution (which is quite weird. The Australian, Japanese and Mozambique art however, was some of the most beautiful stuff I have seen on three continents.

The city itself is majority Arab of whom 2/3rds are Muslim, the other 3rd being Christian. The Jewish folks mainly inhabit a new suburb outside of town: Nazareth Illiat.

It is a strange city in which the Christian Arabs are completely psyched about Christmas but have have little in the way of traditions of Santa and snow. Thus giggling waiters have taken to wearing Santa hats, which I think are as probably as much of a novelty to them as if I worked in a bar in downtown Toronto and for two weeks got to wear a Fez or turban. Even more odd is the blaring of Christmas carols all sung in Arabic including many repetitious renditions of "Jingle Bells" played at screeching volume. This song is clearly a town favourite.

The Arab culture in town is alive and well with a thriving traditional Arab "souq" or market, one of those things you see in "Casablanca" or the many Western romantic images of "the East". The old town where we are staying is absolutely fantastic: a mixture of Dubrovnik with Morocco; all ancient stone buildings in perfect condition complete with narrow winding alleyways and doors that open into fresh spice, flour and coffee mills. The souq is really alive and all manner of Nazarites walk through each day to buy everything from kitchen utensils to gorgeous scarves to half a sheep hanging outside the butchers' from chain hooks, which are incidentally, hanging next to the scarves.

We were lucky enough to be invited for dinner tonight to an Arab Christian home as I have clients in Canada whose family are from here. Our hosts had made a feast fit for kings from scratch, the preparation of which, must have taken at least two days. Homemade olives and pickles; fresh chicken breasts in sauce; beef in sauce; a fantastic curried vegetable dish, about twenty different Arabic salads and a mind blowing rice dish which is traditionally served to guests as a special welcome. Our host refused to let us refuse anymore and kept forcing us to eat more until we were almost sick. Apparently in Arab households one is not allowed to say "no" to more food. The dinner was capped off with homemade honey and walnut sweets, fruits fresh from their garden trees and later tea and more homemade biscuits which we were, again, not allowed to refuse.

Then came the gifts...it was actually quite embarassing and I finally asked the Mistress of the house not to go upstairs anymore (where all the gifts were) as I feared she might insist of giving me her night table.

Perhaps my strangest experience of the day was going to "Nazareth Village". A number of Arab Christians had wanted people to understand the teachings of Jesus in more of a context. They therefore got together and bought land in the middle of the city and recreated ancient Nazareth circa 10 AD. It is actually done quite well, particularly the explanations of the mechanics found in Christian parables (ie: how one sows wheat, one makes bread, one tends sheep) and how such stories would relate to the lives of the people at that time. Local Christian Arabs in costume volunteer to be shepherds, wine makers, weavers etc...

At one site, the olive oil press, we learned how Nazarites made olive oil while we admired the fine donkey who was walking in circles powering the press. The donkey wore a harness which was attached to a large stone which groun the olives to mash. Behind the donkey was his handler whacking him with a small switch to urge him on. After a pause in the mashing (the donkey stopped and simply refused to power the press anymore) the guide began explaining the arduous process of oil extraction.

I, an animal lover wandered over to the donkey and started gently petting his head and rubbing his velvetine ears. The small donkey neighed softly and began nuzzling up against me; it a scene straight out of "The Little Drummer Boy" until I realized he was slowly ingesting my shirt (think about it like as if you had your shirt caught in an escalator). After about five minutes of embarassed silent pulling and shoving the donkey man finally saw my predicament and together we wrested the swallowed quarter of my shirt from the donkey's vice grip jaws.

I thought afterward that maybe I should get shirts made up: "My friend got her clothes eaten by a donkey in Nazareth and all I got was this lousy T-shirt".

Tisbah 'ala khayr

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