2011
05.14

SYNOPSIS:

Rocks, small and large – some amazing mosaics at Zippori, more information on Beit Alpha, and our arrival at Tel Aviv.  What is a Tel anyhow?

To draw out our trip Tel Aviv, we stopped at the Zippori National Park – you guessed, more rocks!

The first highlight of the day had little to do with rocks but with a strange phenomenon:  Just outside the National Park along the hillside there was a field and for whatever reason, it had attracted a hoard of storks, easily a few dozens.  If you looked up into the sky, they were flying higher than I have ever seen storks fly – they were only small dots, whereas down here they are birds as large as cranes.   Along the hill, in the field, they were stalking around poking their beaks into the ground, but it wasn’t wet!  I thought storks go to swamps to catch frogs and snakes, snails, or even fish.  But this was no swamp.  Go figure, I have no clue what the draw was, but they were there, I swear and I have pictures to prove it and witnesses to confirm it.  The occasional stork would land in the middle of the road and for a few moments would pose for a good picture until he (or was it a she?) would take to the sky again.  We were spell-bound!

The park itself – what else is new? – was a compilation of rocks, crumbling marble roads, the remains of a few shops and residences, a cistern, and a restored Medieval Fortress.  But Zippori’s highlights are its mosaics.  In several homes and in an unearthed 6th century synagogue, first-rate mosaics have been found and preserved.  In some areas you can see multiple layers of mosaics either indicating different historic layers or just the replacement of an old and worn mosaic with a new one, like we might replace a carpet.  In fact, the resemblance between mosaic and carpet patterns is striking.  I wonder who is borrowing from whom.

After seeing the Beit Alpha synagogue and its mosaics yesterday, both dating from the 6th century, it was fun to see the difference between a provincial and a cosmopolitan production, between rural and urban art.  Zippori in the 2nd century was the birthplace of the Mishna, codified oral law, which is the basis for the Talmud.  Famous scholars and rabbis resided here and there must have been more wealthy than in Beit Alpha, affording more sophisticated and experienced artists than in the rural areas.  The iconography in both places was surprising as it contained a lot of figurative representations.  In strict orthodox interpretation that would not have been the case, but in the proximity of Rome and Byzantium, it is not surprising that these elements would have been adopted into the Jewish context as “fashionable”.  The sacrifice of Isaac, signs of the zodiac, the lions of Judah, the torah ark and the menorah were symbols found here and in other synagogues of the time.  In the Roman villas more secular themes such as Dionysis, hunting scenes, beautiful women, animals, and decorative motifs prevailed.

This was definitely worth the little detour.  Tel Aviv is a metropolis and whenever I can, I avoid the big cities in favor of smaller ones.  But Tel Aviv is such an important part of Israel that at we could not skip it altogether; both Jack and David were eager to see it.

Our hotel is located near the northern part of Tel Aviv, close to the port with a lively night scene full of clubs, restaurants, bars, shops and hundreds of people strolling around, notwithstanding the Sabbath.  Orthodox Jewish outfits are a rarity, but fashionably dressed women in very high heels can be found at every corner.  Parking was a pain in the butt and the first thing we will do in the morning is to get rid of our car.  It was a great thing to have in the countryside; it would be the biggest burden here in the city.

Tel Aviv really defies its name.  A Tel is a hill, more so, an occupied and inhabited hill.  As Maria pointed out:  “No dig, no tell” (pun intended).  Indeed, just about any hill could turn into a Tel, as soon as archaeologists discover layers of inhabitation.  But not every hill can be a Tel.  And Tel Aviv is really neither.  It is flat and was a desert wasteland when it was founded.  As bustling as it is, it still is no hill.  Why the name was chosen?  Aviv means Spring and Tel, with the implication of old inhabitation was probably fitting for people who intended to return to their ancient homeland.

After a dinner at the bustling port, the final day with Jack and Maria came to an end.  We had a wonderful time together and we saw a lot.   Happy and safe travel back to you both!

For the next 10 days David will still be traveling with me and I am shocked to see the end of this entire trip in sight…  I will try not to think of it but to focus on the adventures of each coming day.

Good night.