Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories (itinerary). The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel.
October 30, 2009, Friday, Tampa Florida, home of MU, side room by kitchen
Dream: I was in Palestine with a group of western supporters of Palestinians. We were riding in a car up a steep hill, going to some sort of event. Our host told us very few visitors ever stood on this hill. Entering a tall apartment building we rode an elevator that not only rose but tilted sideways. Many others rode with us, much excitement in the air, anticipation.
And then we were marching outside, night fell, we stopped, gathered for a rally, and I might have begun photographing. Nothing much seemed to be happening so I departed, and ran into Stan. When we met I was digging out leftovers for dinner and then felt, reluctantly, I had to share them with him.
The Gaza show last night at the University of Southern Florida in Tamp had a special quality: the university is where Sami Al-Arian, the computer prof who’s suffered for his alleged funding of some Hamas organization. He is a cause celeb and I forgot to say in my intro how honored I felt by the invitation to present there. This was the site of the request for a preview of the show. The local organizations, reps of the Arab Muslim student association, thought there’d be over 400 attending, many from the local Muslim community outside the campus. They didn’t show up, so the number stood at about 80, mostly students.
The show went OK, not as exciting as on other occasions, with a very good large bright image (once we’d adjusted the resolution), and decent timing. The discussion was tough because people were spread out. The sponsoring organizations seemed pleased with the show and asked if I might return in March and present again during a 3 day long conference they plan to title, Demystifying Israel-Palestine. Of course, especially if they pay and I have the time.
MU and L brought me to a local park with boardwalks thru a swamp along a river. We spotted an alligator slowly gliding thru the still waters. A foggy morning, not the best for photography, but I tried. I finally had a chance to show L in a portrait. Later I photographed him drawing for his USS Liberty commission.
I’d like to finish this soon and speed off a letter to Y who wrote a long letter to me about her end game in Cambridge, preparing for the big move west.
October 31, 2009, Saturday, Orlando Florida, home of AC and AB, in the main room
For some reason on this tour with few exceptions I notice myself dreaming but I’m usually unable to recall much more than fragments, nothing sustained or vivid. As if thru a fogged mirror.
Orlando, with Muslim Arab students at the University of Central Florida, residing overnight with 2 young men, one the vibrant humorous gregarious AC, the other the shy quiet cute AB, and overseen by the 21 year old married soft voiced heavily black bearded YA. He and I chatted in the car yesterday after MU had delivered me to him halfway between Tampa and Orlando. I detect in YA a tendency to rightness, realness, trueness. As in the one true Muslim path. I called him on this, he said this is exactly what I’m talking about, what I’m critical of, meaning others declaring themselves the bearers of the one true way. No, YA, what I mean is that you sometimes sound like that, declaring you know the one true proper way.
He’d been discussing how the first 3 generations of Islam were somehow the most true, pure, right, and there had been an incident recently when young Muslims learned about a book written 100 or so years ago that professed to be the true Muslim path. They followed it, and were wrong in doing this. He feels many new to Islam fall into this trap, as do the fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden, acclaimed but with little knowledge of Islam.
The phrase, that is not the true path, strikes me as fundamentalist, one side professing to have special knowledge that renders their interpretation correct, all others wrong.
The Bethlehem show last night played before about 25 students, all Muslim, and 4 older folks who admitted to being parents of the youngsters. YA had chosen Bethlehem partly to appeal to Christian students. He invited various Christian groups and then was surprised that no one attended. We discussed the age-old practice of beginning planning with the disparate groups so all are invested, rather than inviting them after the planning is done.
Discussion was fairly rich with the inimitable AC, tall and handsome, quick and funny, giving me a witty intro (now let’s hear it for the hip Skip Schiel!), and later in discussion observing that one reason Christians (and others) might not wish to know what is happening to Christians in Bethlehem (and others) is because they realize they should do something about it—they are complicit.
I winced showing Bethlehem last night, because I now see many ways to simplify and shorten it, beginning with the transitions. So many of them insert black between images. Why did I do this?
YA walked me around the neighboring research park, a relatively open, untrafficed country site with winding paths. Otherwise I reside in a huge apartment condo complex near the university, near a highway endlessly streaming with traffic. Florida is marked by its heavy use of vehicles and its corresponding lack of good public transport.
Belal wrote a very short note this morning that he’d escaped Gaza. I replied and then he was off line. This is the first writing from him since he left Gaza for Turkey and advanced education, his dream of many years.
My fantasies of someone joining me for part of this tour produce some laughable scenes. Suppose Y were to join me for a few days in Orlando, to see how the tour is going. She’d probably have to sleep on the floor beside me on the bed of this bachelor pad. Or suppose X had dropped by in Tampa on her way to her assignment—the bed, together perhaps, sealing a relationship (or ruining it)?
Endless possibilities, all in my aging head. I ache in the places where I used to play, so sang the gracefully aging Leonard Cohen.
Tonight? Where will I be tonight? Miami is about all I know, riding the train there for 6 hours, spanning the width of the state.
I learned more about a recent hosting family: the mystery man and she were once married and now choose to share the house partly for economic reasons and partly out of friendship. They seem very close. They have not divorced even tho they behave as a divorced couple. This is primarily for economic reasons and to avoid deciding how to split the property like their jointly owned house. What if P and I had made a similar decision, living together in the Center Street house? I’m not sure this would have worked. And then what happens when one of us meets another intimate? As I did Y.
MU graciously toured me thru the old Cuban-Italian district of Tampa, with its cigar stores, cafes (we drank iced tea at the Columbia), bars, and perhaps a few galleries. It is called Ybor and has a light rail system connecting it with downtown. (Altho we saw no trains actually running)
Today is Halloween, I might celebrate it in a solitary secret manner. While I think about Ella, Cid, and Rex enjoying the event as kids usually do.
November 1, 2009, Sunday, Miami Florida, guesthouse of R and RL
Ensconced for several days in a guest house consisting of bedroom, toilet, small narrow kitchen, living-dining room, and entry room. Behind the main house, not yet meeting my hosts since I came in last night around 10:30 pm, Halloween, I have ultimate privacy. The neighborhood rang with singing, shouting, music. Cars littered the roadway. Children called out. It is Halloween, and I celebrate in my own manner: with delightful erotic fantasies.
The train carrying me here from Orlando was 3.5 hours late. Either it was once again stuck behind freights, explanation no. 1 from Amtrak personnel, or the train collided with something near DC, requiring replacement of the engine, explanation no. 2. No further details. Expecting a train crew in costume and masked, I was disappointed to discover no apparent celebration aboard the Silver Meteor (a laggardly meteor), train no. 97, limping south to its final destination, Miami. I can now proudly claim: I’ve ridden Amtrak between its 2 main north-south destinations on the east coast, Boston and Miami (ignoring Portland ME).
On board for some 5 hours (for a distance of about 160 miles, drive time might be 3-4 hours) I accomplished much: adding to yesterday’s journal, refining the Special Sources application, revising Gaza, Bethlehem, and Quakers (the latter I show this morning at the Miami meeting), examining the new blog entry before posting, and reading Scott’s report of his 1990 Palestine/Israel trip. Plus limited photography of the sunset spreading over a sandy plain. Florida is flat, sandy, and of course, where I am now, hot.
I know I dreamt regularly thru the night but I have no shred of memory of any dreams. I’m fairly convinced that this is because my new environment is so novel. There is much to explore, much to imagine, much to understand. Who are my hosts, what is their house like, what neighborhood am I in, who are my neighbors, can I drink the water, what exactly does my host do in the adjoining room filled with mat cutting tools, etc.
Presently the water question is a serious focus. When I arrived last night I saw no signs about water—DO NOT DRINK THE WATER!— or alternate water, so I filled my cup with tap water, drank from it during the night. This morning showering, I noticed a putrid odor to the water, then thought, oh shit, not again, am I going to get sick from the water? This morning I discovered a large opened bottle of water which I used for my coffee and I will soon meet my host and ask her, hoping she replies, no problem, it’s safe, drink away.
Since the train was delayed I mostly stayed in the Orlando house shared with AC and AB, joking mostly with the former. I worked, preparing another subsite, the last of the summer Israel-Palestine trip, along with a blog entry which I’ve yet to upload. I resisted certain temptations borne to me via the Internet—does the devil now visit us from cyberspace when we open the computer? The connection was among the fastest of this trip.
A few more details about AC: he’s from Hawarra, but he did not know his geography. This was telling: he thought he grew up in Israel. Reason? The occupation was so pervasive, soldiers everywhere, that he assumed this. His father had and has businesses, laundromat for one, gas station another, and AC worked in some of them. He lived in Palestine from the age of 4 to 14 or so, leaving in 2000 just before 2nd intifada. He studies civil engineering, thinking it will assure him a job, but he also expects not to feel satisfied by this job and seemed interested in how I’ve organized my life for supreme personal satisfaction (with some big gaps).
We debated individualism, relying only on oneself. He argued that this way no one would cheat or disappoint him. I spoke of my experience changing from much that same perspective and life mode to one that acknowledges the value of community, striving to participate fully in various communities, relying on others, and realizing they will rely on me.
He showed me a YouTube video of his brother’s summer wedding in Brooklyn, featuring dabka. I had to confess: I’m sick of dabka. And he confessed that he is a clumsy dabka dancer.
Islamic morality came up, especially concerning college “girls.” I’d inquired about a note on the fridge that said in essence, your bike is sweet, it’s like mine, we should get together and make sweet love. With name and phone number. Someone left it on AC’s big balloon tire bike. The college girls here are very loose, he claimed, always flirting. I flirt back but stop before anything further happens except for …
And here I wondered if he referred to masturbation. I muse: do devout Muslims masturbate? Is this considered against the moral code? Certainly coitus before marriage is prohibited and my sense from discussion with AC is that many observe this. But jerking off? Watching porn? I’m not sure and I’m hesitant to ask because he might then ask me, do you masturbate, do you use porn? I might equivocate, dodge the question, say something like, this is too personal for me to answer.
So I kept my big mouth shut and live without an answer.
YA brought me to the train station, we had about 30 minutes for walk and talk. (I recognized the station, remembered that I’ve arrived-departed here at least once before, once boarding a bus.) He proved himself very knowledgeable about Islam. Here’s what I learned concerning 2 big questions I’ve had: about the night journey of the prophet to Jerusalem and then lifting off to visit deities, and the connection between Ishmael and Islam. In note form:
Most believe the journey was not a death scene, nor a dream, but an actual event. Evidence? In speaking about his journey Mohamed describes in detail the environment of that day—which then correlates with historical facts.
Ishmael to Islam by way of Abraham leads Hagar (she is royalty, a gift of the pharaoh, but served as a maid) west to desert, stopped when ordered by god. She ran back and forth between hilltops looking for people. Ishmael the baby crying, kicking, uncovers water source, laughs. This is where the kaaba was built. The local people are Arabized (original Arabs were from Yemen).
Abraham almost sacrificed Ishmael in Arabia, at Arafat, not Mt Moriah in Jerusalem, tempted by devils who wished Abraham would sacrifice, which is parallel to Christ tempted by devils 3 times.
Oh, I don’t know. How much of this is historically true? How much is mythically true? How much contains stories about how to live? How much is true true, ultimately true, pointing to a truth of the universe?