Lower level of Herodion complex with main level in the background
Upper level of Herodion
Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
April 6, 2012, Friday, my home in Bethlehem
After a short day in the office, mostly email and photo work (reorganizing my photos folders and files) which included photographing young orphan girls at an equestrian school run by a rotund and jolly Palestinian man who’d operated a school like this in Texas and then returned to open what may be the second of its kind in Palestine (the first and more famous school is in Jericho, profiled in This Week in Palestine), I visited Herodion (alternately, Herodium).
At the horse riding school I was stricken by the notion that each of these children had no parents—all were orphans. So that later, on my way to Herodion when I met a large Palestinian family, I could appreciate that family more fully—mine also.
I’ve known about Herodion probably from my first trip to this region. It is a huge mound, partially or fully constructed, that looks like a truncated volcano cone. Walking down from it to catch a service taxi home I observed thick limestone on the sides of the road and I picked up a piece which now is on my altar. I’ll carry it home and place it on my main altar, along with the limestone I retrieved on my walk across the Judean desert about five years ago. A new friend, Ohtman, drove me to the visitor center where I paid 27 shekels ($6 roughly) for entrance, denied the senior discount of 50% because I’m not Israeli. A hike to the tunnel entrance, thru the tunnels which are the remains of cisterns and water tunnels, most apparently constructed during the 2 Jewish revolts of 66 CE and 132 CE. The top contains the remains of the main palace and fortification, also a synagogue constructed by the Zealots during the first revolt. From the top a spectacular view to Bethlehem and some of the settlements, also Jerusalem but I didn’t identify it. Once again a common photo problem emerges: how to effectively show a vista? Mainly I used the near-far technique. Haze was a problem. While here and later writing to M I thought of her with me, as I often do now. Will she and I someday return here, hand in hand?
That was site no. 1. Site no 2 was unexpected. I’d learned from Beata at the Manger Sq visitor center that services (pronounced serveece, a shared taxi or small van) went to a village near Herodion, cheap, fast. I found the taxi stand, asked for a service, met a handsome, relatively skilled-in-English, athletic looking man perhaps in his 40s with an infectious smile. I initially thought he was a driver. He explained the deals possible: service to a point 1.5 km from Herodion and walk, costs 6 shekels, or service to that village and then special or private to Herodion for another 20. I did not totally follow him, chose to ride the service, which meant waiting awhile for it to fill. Finally, not more than a 15 minutes wait, off we went.
He got out at a crossing, beckoned me to come with him, said, you can walk from here to Herodion, about 3 km, and then pointed out his house not far away on a hill and invited me to tea. I said, thanks anyway but the afternoon is late, Herodion closes at 5, they stop visitors from entering at 4, it is now 2:30, probably not enough time for tea and Herodion. Well ok, he said. As you wish. Then he offered to drive me there if I first stopped to meet his family and have tea. Which I did, the correct choice.
Ohtman introduced me to his wife who was sitting on the kitchen floor making bread. Then his 3 sons, 2 cousin, and 2 daughters, one of whom had stopped developing at 7 months and now looked feeble in her wheelchair, barely able to hold up her head. We shared bread dipped in sour milk or olive oil made from trees his extended family owns, and lots of conversation.
He told me he is a teacher, which is a very tough job and earns little money. Like the guy I’d met the night before at dinner, Nabil, he has a large class, 38 students. They do not wish to learn. Like Nabil he trained to be a tour guide but faltered because of his poor English. He’s studied English, watches American films, but has few opportunities to practice. Thus me. His eldest son graduates high school at the end of this year and wishes to study in the USA. I told them about Nadeen in Alaska. They know the family who live in a nearby village. The son has high grades, seemed smart, altho not as English-fluent as his father and mother, and so when I mentioned the exchange program Nadeen was part of this seemed to kindle some hope for his higher education.
Earlier I’d asked the mother whose name in Arabic relates to Maria (I think) if I might photograph her as she made bread. No. ditto for the eldest daughter, which is common among Palestinians: males ok, females usually not. Later however, when I posed the question of making a short movie for my daughter Joey who’d asked me to make one for the kids, all agreed. I slowly panned across the family, each person introducing self and saying Hi Joey, we love your father, he is a kind man, etc. I also made a few portraits.
We exchanged email, blog and Facebook addresses and so now I have a commitment to make and mail the visuals.
Now, how to get home? Walk down the mound, explore the lower regions filled with more palace and garden ruins, none of it developed, think about my 2nd big fortuitous meeting of the day–the wife of the archeologist who was the main researcher on the Herodion project. Ehud Netzer died in 2010 when he fell thru a barricade while excavating. In 2007 he’d found the burial site of Herod. I met Dora Netzer at the visitor center thanks to a trio of Americans I’d run into while exploring the site. She gave me a lead to someone she thought might know about the cistern near Mamilla that I photographed with Gilat for Friends of the Earth Middle East.
I must remember that Herodion is in the West Bank yet under complete Israeli control. Which means money that tourism generates goes solely into Israel’s pockets, as do all the artifacts excavated there. Little noticed, rarely discussed, the hidden occupation.
This day was providential. My muses worked overtime yesterday. First the horses and orphan girls, then the Ohtman family, Herodion, Ms Netzer, finding my way home, my shower, plus a phone call from my sister Elaine in Alaska, 11 time zones from here, nearly half way around the world.
Oh yes, how did I get home? By service, 6 shekels, direct to my door. Very easy.