Wednesday, 29 January 2014

True Adventures of a Part Time Writer. The Sea of Galilee.

I sat here, at this table, in a state of slight disbelief. In the distance was the Sea of Galilee, the town I was in was Roman, and the restaurant had been built in a beautiful black and yellow stone Ottoman mansion.

Where was I?

The view south from the restaurant is like this, five miles of Roman temples, theatres, stores, and baths. In the bright November sun (yes, November) lizards sunbathed on blocks of stone, then sprinted away if you came too near, legs lifted high on each side.

The place is called Um Qais. It's in northern Jordan, the slice of pale water in the distance is the Sea of Galilee, now in Israel. The nearer hills are in Syria and Palestine, and the valley is that of the river Jordan.

The Roman town was called Gadara, most of it is now buried beneath olive groves, but it was once part of the Decapolis, the network of cities that ruled the area. It is the site of a biblical story about a herd of swine being chased into the water. When I was there it was also the site of an owl trying to sleep in a tree and a flock of sparrows determined not to let it.

The Ottoman village dates to when the Turks were in charge, but they left long ago, when their empire fell in upon itself. Local farmers took it over, but they too have gone.

The restaurant serves beautiful lamb stews, to the sound of haunting Lebanese guitar music. The day I was there, though, there were two other noises. The first was a weird trilling, like distant birds. I looked everywhere for them, until I spotted them high over head. Arrow head formations of broad winged, long legged cranes, migrating from the Russian Steppe to Africa for the winter.

The other noise was more distant, and more sinister. The muffled thump of artillery in Syria. Damascus is only just beyond the first range of hills, the infamous Golan heights. The whole area is scarred by millennia of wars. In the springtime the hillside is a riot of wildflowers, and filled with exiled Palestinians who throng there to see where they once lived.

There are stories everywhere, and some places few of them are happy. All we strive for is an end to this one, and as soon as possible.

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