I had about a week to burn with nothing to do between film projects, so I abandoned my cabin-fever inducing routine of waking at 6 and running, writing for 2 hours, bumming around, then studying Arabic for 3 more. It's incredibly productive use of my time but it makes me antsy and sometimes I run out of inspiration. So I packed up my bike and headed out for a circular 5 day route from Nablus to Haifa and back. The route would cross 3 Israeli checkpoints and take me from the most conservative points of Palestine to the most liberal points of Israel in under 4 hours of biking. The checkpoint guards tell me I'm crazy (as usual), crazy for riding a bike, crazy for sleeping in Nablus, for trusting Arabs. The only crazy thing is how little they know about their neighbors, who would kill you by earnest hospitality a whole lot faster than by any direct attack.
They let me through and I bike up a steep grade past Ariel settlement, stop again at checkpoint #2, more security, had to dis-assemble my bike to get it through a baggage scanner, but my story was more plausible this time: I had just biked to Ariel and was headed back to Tel Aviv because I like biking up mountains. After that it was flying downhill, and I was relaxing in an immaculately-maintained park on a riverside straight out of Munich or Paris by 10:00 am.
I went to Yoav's art opening in a brand-spankin' new hip gallery, white and bauhausy, 3 stories, rooftop dance patio, projected video onto the graffiti'd industrial buildings nearby. 50's ballads and mo-town all night long! Yoav's piece looked great, everyone there serious and beautiful in that academic liberal Jewish way we artists know so well.
The gallery was the brainchild of two people who had died before it could come into being. How did they die? one from cancer, one from a Palestinian Terrorist Attack (acronym pending). Damn. Those moments of connection and clarity really chill you. The artsy folks around me didn't know that the night before I was hanging out in Nablus, learning about yet another extraordinary death or collective punishment or circumstance that wasn't part of my reality from people that saw the gallery-owners death as a form of justified resistance. And I'm sitting here looking at a-political creative objects and a bunch of people having a good weekend night thinking 'how is this stuff even related?'
After a couple days of Tel Aviv I start biking up the coast to Haifa. Yoav decides to come with me, and together we set off on a funny journey punctuated by getting lost, heat, and 3 flat tires in a row. We spent the night on the beach, sleeping in sheets in the sand, listening to the ocean, and set off further north the next day.
I was planning on sleeping on the beach again once I got to Haifa, but called an acquaintance who was out of town, he was nice enough to give me his place for as long as I felt like it! So I plunked down in an old stone building sandwiched between the train line and the sea, typing away in my underwear like I've been here for months. Hilarious. My host Jeremy is really interesting and cool for someone I don't know at all. I met him in Nablus and literally talked with him for 10 minutes. He's an inventor and patent lawyer. Judging from my surroundings he knows how to cook well. One of 3 rooms in the house is taken up by an electrical workshop, there are high-powered magnets lying around everywhere, and books on basic particle physics and electrical engineering. I watched a creepy/obscure David Lynch films and read myself to bed with Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Life's good and hilarious.
After Haifa, seeing the Baha'i gardens and hanging out with a cool woman from Salt Lake, I got my bike all outfitted as a perfect MTB tourer (which you can read me geek out about on Saltcycle). It's official now, I have a bike I like, I don't want to leave. Simple as that. The slick tires are comparatively crazy fast and touring's effortless. The Baha'i guys are pretty ideal, I talked for one about religion for a long time, they're basically Secular Humanists with a god fixation. Awesome. They believe in gender equality and compulsory education and interrelation between all people. Sign me up. They also believe in something called Progressive Revelation , which is pretty sensible. It's essentially the notion that all religious teachings throughout history were catered towards the people of that age and what they were capable of working on, in a cultural and social framework that they understand, and so on. So like 'hey bible, you're cool, but a teensy bit sexist...' type of logic going on. As a mythologist I can dig that too.
Crazy descending gardens.
When it was time to leave Haifa I decided it was time to do some serious exploring. Without a map and with a list of village names I set off into the wilderness, and onto some of the best touring roads I've ever discovered.
I was guided primarily by a random paragraph I found on the internet (that I can't find now, go figure) and google maps satellite pictures. I found the connection between a Jewish town and a cool little Muslim village called Ilut by looking at the satelite image and saying to myself 'I bet there's a logging road by that treeline.' After a morning's riding to the end of a random housing development, I dropped off a ledge and pulled my bike through about 20 yards of forest, to where this road emerged:
followed by this one:
and then the town of Ilut! Where the water is gratifyingly cold and the hills steep enough to encourage existentialism in pretty much anyone.
Success. From there I rode what seemed an impossibly long stretch from Nazareth to Nablus, punctuated by an improbably high number of motorcycle-like hairpin curves and the summer sun, scuttling from shade to shade like a spider, resting for half an hour at a time and chatting with various folks on the road.
The whole loop was about 300 kilometers (186 miles) and spanned a whole lot of Israel/Palestine. It was a great use of my sweat, time, and communication skills, and was a huge boost to my personal inspiration. Many times along the way I reveled at my ability to transcend these two cultures who seem incapable of doing so. I'm happy to be back in Nablus, tired and tan, gearing up for a month more, and then a long goodbye.
with that, I leave you with this:
Friday, June 24, 2011
Days in the Life, Bike touring Nablus to Haifa and the places in between
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