Sunday, June 12, 2011
Long Shadows – A Tale of One City
Today our new comrade in blogdom, thriller writer Thelma Straw, joins the regulars on the Crime Writers' Chronicle. A true woman of mystery, Thelma has been an extremely active member of the Mystery Writers of America, a founding member of the Carnegie Hill Writers, and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. She has reviewed mystery books for Mystery International and Orchard Press Mysteries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barack Obama's disputed words about the June 4, 1967 lines triggered poignant memories.
It was another time. Another war. A tale of one city. . .
From the academic enclave of Sewanee, Tennessee, I headed for Jerusalem. A personal pilgrimage to the holy city.
At JFK the airlines told me the Israelis had closed Jerusalem to outsiders.
London, then Paris, then Rome. All had the same message: Jerusalem was closed. Nailed down to outsiders.
Didn't the American know there was a war on?
In Athens a small window opened. But only as far as Tel Aviv.
The night before the flight I got a taste of war – the Athenian military pomp and swagger. The Greek bloodless coup d'etat from April 21, 1967. The Regime of the Colonels. Boxed in at a concert at the amphitheater by hundreds of highly decorated members of the Greek military junta. The smell of fear and unease was all around me.
The next day I traded the casual outdoor atmosphere of the Athens Hilton pool for the solemn tone of the Tel Aviv Hilton with the mountains of sandbags lining the halls of the hotel.
Daily I hounded the travel desk for any news of a passage to Jerusalem.
No hope. The only way I could get inside the walls of the holy city was to go hidden under a canvas tarp in a cart filled with live produce. No guarantee of safety.
I retreated to the cool water of the Mediterranean and waded into the sea, my purse and all my worldly goods held above my head.
After a week I got word that the first planeload of outsiders had arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, a group of British pilgrims for a ten-day bus tour of The Holy Land. They had one seat left.
For ten glorious days our group stayed at various kibbutzim. We met hospitable Israeli and Arab people in towns and villages, held nightly prayers in inter-faith settings, made new friends.
Finally we reached the Holy City. From the King David Hotel I followed up on introductions from colleagues - the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, contemplative nuns on the Mount of Olives, teachers who worked at schools and missions.
On the last night I ventured out on my own to explore the famous bazaar. The labyrinth in the Old City souks, dazzling, stiflingly hot. A maze of narrow alleyways.
And got lost! No street signs, nothing looked famiiar. I was terrified.
Suddenly a young boy appeared and offered to guide me back to my hotel. But only after I went with him to meet his family.
A trick. I'd read this in books.
But they were real. Welcomed me as if I were a rock star! Wanted to hear all about America!. Served delicious tea and sweet cakes.
As we rode the tour bus back to Ben Gurion the next day I was more aware of friendliness and warmth I'd found on this trip than of sandbags and military force.
Obama brought back the memories – 44 years ago.
So many questions now.
The boy would be over 50 now.
Is he part of the Arab Spring?
Or does he fight for Israel -- or even Libya or Yemen or god knows where?
Did he come to America?
Is he even alive?
Long shadows from a night in the labyrinthine bazaar. . . . .