Friday, May 8, 2009

The Rosary Sisters

The Rosary Sisters

It’s about 7:45 in the morning on Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Here in Jerusalem the weather is perfect and cool. The sunlight is lacing the olive trees outside and making those remarkable patterns the thick leaves and needles do in a light breeze. The air here is very dusty. Filled, really. They say it’s only in spring that the winds rise up in such a way as to hurl the desert into the city.

The Rosary Sisters Convent is a guesthouse now as well as a convent. Dina found it through a family connection, and its just literally next door to the American Consulate. Its an enormous structure with room after room after room, as you would expect. Down a long corridor one finds, in the morning, the Sisters at breakfast. There are only a few of them to our eyes. If there are more they are quiet and sequestered somewhere out of sight. In the guest dining room there is a wall-to-wall map of the world. It has little pictograms of soldiers with various populations of them by country. In the world today there are either 195 or 196 countries (depends on whether you count things like the Vatican).  On the map in the Sisters’ Dining Room there are 63. The map, like the city in which it has been looking down upon the endless stream of visitors to the Convent, is frozen in Political time. The map of the Middle East shows Jordan as the power in the West Bank.


The highway to Nazareth.

A divided land.

In a taxi heading north to the city of Jesus’s childhood. We’re in Israel proper at the moment, on the road at 130kpm. In the back seat of our Mercedes Benz taxi Tish, Julie and Shannon are sleeping. The scenery slips by and the topography changes. Ahead and to the left is Tel Aviv. We left Jerusalem about 60 minutes ago. From the steep hills of the West Bank we drove into a long plain. The trees a few meters above were pine covered. It could have been New Hampshire.

The highway out of Jerusalem was walled on either side, fortified in that most horrible of ways to which we have become accustomed. “On this side, Palestine; on that side, Palestine. Only the road is Israel,” says that driver. A strip of land appropriated to make a highway and locked inside those horrible high walls festooned with barbed wire.

Once into Israel proper everything relaxes. The roads are smooth and fresh paved. The traffic moves better than on I-95. Wide expanses of scrub brush and amber, dotted with olive groves and farms that run from the simple to the complex. And then a wall pops up on the right, just as those separating the Palestinians meters behind us from the Israelis. A sign on the road says, in Arabic, Hebrew and English, “settlement.” And you realize that even inside the country there is division, and that walls you hoped you had left behind pop up and cut off one from another. And then it is all ordinary again. The highway authority has been busily planting trees, beautifying the landscape. The scene again feels as if it could be in New England or Western Maryland. You realize that Israel has made a great country, a great infrastructure, rise. It feels so familiar, so well planned and made. It reminds you of what brilliant things they have accomplished in just a short tie.

A sign for Tiberium passes. This was the seat of Roman government, and exceptional and elegant city in antiquity that is being rediscovered through archaeology. It was in Tiberium that they found the name of Pontius Pilate.

To the left more Pine forests; to the right, as the land begins to slope again and slide, rich groves. The minarets of mosques peak above the woods, and small cities and villages come into view and vanish. There’s a sulfur odor suddenly and the realization of some industry over the hill comes into your mind. Israel has many mosques. We’re in an Israeli arab area. There are Israeli flags on the roads and endless mosques in the distance.

Ten kilometers down the road and we’re in a valley. The first sign for Nazareth comes and goes, along with a second sign to Tiberium (or Tiberias). The gals are awake and the conversation has turned inevitably to Christianity and the question of the Gnostic gospels and the endlessly debated issue of “the true gospels.”

Yesterday Katherine and several other members of the Company took a walk through the Old City and went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In wanting to learn a bit more about where they were Alice asked a man standing by the slab where Jesus was laid who seemed to know and be interested in sharing. He promptly informed them that he was a prophet, had died in the 1970s and knew the future. And that was just the beginning. In relating this story last night on the bus back from the closing night performance Dina, listening to them related that he was indeed a prophet, said "yeah, and I'm the snake in Jungle Books." Which, of course, she is. So who knows what his real deal may be.

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