PLAYING "FIND THE HIGHWAY"
This saga began, in case you are interested, aaaaaaaall the way back in January when our two daughters, momentarily flushed with money or with gratitude for the splendid job Barbara and I did in parenting, chipped in and purchased for our anniversary -- half priced of course -- a night at an exclusive pension in Tzfat. However, when we received the joyful tidings, we were already planning our trip to The States (well documented in previous articles; in fact, Barbara had to make two trips to The States). My thoughts, therefore, were "Not now, later; maybe after the Holidays." Of course, the thing about "later" is that it always shows up, sooner or ...................
So, anticipating "later's" arrival, Barbara got to work sometime around Sukkot to arrange our journey up north to that spot where the deer and the kabbalists play. We would pick up a rental car on a Wednesday morning, head eastward to route 90, up to Tiberias, then westward towards our destination. We would cash in our voucher for one night of luxury, hang out in Tzfat Wednesday and Thursday -- spending the second night in less expensive quarters -- and then head over sometime on Friday to our friends Barbara and Richard for a relaxing, wine-filled Shabbat in Har Halutz..
Tzfat,we believe, is the last major spot we had been to on our five week sojourn to The Land in 1980 that we have not subsequently revisited. No surprise, my memories of the place were somewhat foggy. Par for the course. Almost every place we had gone back to bore little resemblance to what I thought it would look like. It had never occurred to me thirty years ago to take detailed notes of where we had been and what we had seen: that the gevaldig couscous and chicken dinner we had in Yaffo was in a place called so-and-so on rehov so-and-so, and here's a picture of what it looked like; which was the bus station we were in where the two cabbies got into an argument as to whether the liquid in the container was water or coffee. All I conjure up about Tzfat was that much of the old area was in ruins, and there were a lot of working artists with studios. I do have one great photograph from there: a baker feeding scraps of meat to a herd of hungry cats; but I have no idea where I took it. We do remember coming across a group of teenagers having a French version of a hootenanny in an abandoned storefront. And then there was the old man with pants so shiny that you could have used him to draw yourself a self-portrait; he had appointed himself a tour guide and was trying to collect coins of the realm for synagogues that you could enter for free. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that all the while he was doing his best to fondle my wife's fanny. Life is filled with wonderful memories.
Finally, "later" did arrive, and Barbara headed into Jerusalem to pick up our car at the Eldan office. WHEELS!!!!!!!!!!!!! After almost four and a half years, we were renting a car and going somewhere. No more looking at all the articles in the newspapers describing this particular valley which on a February day is a carpet with wild flowers, or that mountain top where you can see the raptors gliding majestically over head, or this fort or that cave, this battle field or that spot where the Elijah prophecized -- any of which you can get to in your car. Of course you have a car! Egged buses? Not a chance. We would have this little Hyundai, and we could go wherever we chose Wed., Thurs, Fri., and Sun. (For reasons I cannot begin to understand, because we have American passports, we were give unlimited mileage at no extra charge. Just fill the tank with gas before you bring it back.)
There's one other wonderful thing, I thought, about having your own vehicle. You can stop wherever and whenever you want, a feature of some relevance for a photographer. Many of the most remarkable sights I have seen hither and yon in The Land have been viewed from elevated perches on tour buses or out the side windows of someone else's car -- meaning that you see it and then it's gone in the twinkling of an eye. There is one image stuck permanently in my mind. It was back in 1980 and Yehuda was being kind enough to drive us down to Masada and Ein Gedi. We had taken a route through east Jerusalem -- one you wouldn't take now -- and were now on one of the insanely winding roads that is typical here. There are on the side of this road was a dead donkey, evidently hit by a passing vehicle, with two other donkeys, one on each side, standing vigil. If only I had been able to photograph that poignant scene..... But, even if I had somehow gotten Yehuda's attention and convinced him that he had to stop the car somehow in the middle of nowhere -- no mean feat in itself -- I would have had to walk back who knows how far up the road, quite possibly meeting the same fate as the fallen donkey. Some things are better left in one's mind's eye.
We had taken route 1 heading towards Jericho on any number of tiyulim, and each time we passed the Bedouin encampments on either side of the road, I wished I could stop long enough to get my camera out and snap away. I could do it now, couldn't I? Barbara was driving, and I was looking out the window, camera in hand. You know something: it just doesn't work. Cars don't stop on a dime; and even if they did, you don't want to do it in the middle of the road with a bunch of Israeli drivers breathing down your rear bumper. So the image of a flock of sheep dotting a hillside in the shadow of a power grid remains untaken.
Undaunted -- even though we missed the turnoff for route 90 and had to double back -- we headed north, stopping long enough at a rest area to get some coffee and share our tuna fish with some local cats. Then back on the road to Tzfat. When Barbara had most recently been back to The States, she had purchased a GPS. It was much cheaper to do that than to rent one for two weeks; plus the one she bought worked a lot better than the one we had rented in March. For a few dollars more, she was told, we would be able to download all the maps we would ever want, assuming that "all the maps" meant all the maps, not just those that related to the continental US of A. Part of her preparation for our journey was a concerted effort to download something relevant to the roads here in The Land. Let's just say, No Luck, and spare you the gory details of why not. So all the way, we were relying for directions the old-fashioned way, on a bunch of maps, some which Barbara had collected and one which came with the rental car. We came to realize that there is one distinct advantage to using a GPS; it is better at playing "Find the Highway" than we are. Many of you are familiar with this game, even if you don't know it by name. Here's how you play: you're driving along a main road which goes through a decent size town, and now you're lost. One of the streets is actually the road you want to stay on, but you have no idea which one it is because it doesn't say. Are you supposed to go left or right where the street forks; should you follow the traffic or your intuition -- neither of which is foolproof. If you want to play that game big time, head over to Tiberias for an afternoon of fun and frolic. At some point, you will eventually find your way out, which will put you on the new road leading to our destination.
Now, if a good GPS is better than we and our maps were at playing "Find the Highway," imagine how much better it would be playing "Find the Street." For, you see (actually you don't), there are no street signs in Tzfat. General indicators for the bus depot or the artists' colony, yes, but actual signs saying "Jerusalem St.", no. A GPS is supposed to know where you are, without cheating and looking for a street sign. It is blissfully unaware that there is no sign -- the one that would confirm that what it says on the map is where you actually are. By dumb luck we drove past the pension and I could yell out, "Stop, we're here." At least on a local street, we could turn around and park our car. No fallen donkeys to photograph, just one concierge type lady anxiously awaiting our arrival -- so she could give us the key, let us in, and head home.