Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #135, To Mallorca

Snarling Dog; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.
Snarling Dog; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.
In this episode… in the hungry maw of the sea, yet again.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Nineteenth Era, Part 1, ~1432 C.E., Mallorca

I go to the pier where Batkol’s ship been docked, and it don’t take much time to learn the route that captain plies — Mallorca and the whole Iberian coast — Palma, Valencia, Malaga been the ports of call that he prefers. Four days later and I be crew, servin’ a navigator I had met some weeks ago makin’ the rounds searchin’ for maps and coastal notes. Palma’s the home port of his ship; perfect for me. I’m Batkol bound.
Open waters, white caps and spray, a strong nefesh* drivin’ our ship. If this keeps up, not four more days til we’ll be berthed on Palma’s dock, the map-makin’ center of the whole world.
*Hebrew: wind, breath, spirit
Not a half a day out from port and I know Juan de Vallseca’s where-abouts, or at least his haunts and map-makin’ friends, since like Orion with the dog at his feet, Vallseca’s constellation is well known, and he’s as bright as the dog star be. I suspect he won’t be hard to find, and if Batkol’s in his orbit still, I’m confident our stars will cross.
And before the sunset, all my hopes are thrown overboard, like I should have been. Says the navigator while scannin’ the shore to update his log of distance and time:
“You be Jew, certain as sin. So, berthed in Palma, where will you stay? Mallorca’s held in Aragon’s grip, and under the wicked Inquisition of them. These many years the ban’s been on. Jews and rabid dogs get killt. If the priests don’t grab you a mob sure will. So what in hell be compellin’ you to sail your ass to this lion’s den?”
My horrified look is answer enough.
Such a heavy nefesh blown in my face, and the hours fly like spray on the wind. And but for some few hours of sleep, shudderin’, bouncin’ and cast about in a hammock strung from these creakin’ beams, I be runnin’ errands from helm to hole, or makin’ sketches and recordin’ notes of shoreline, strength and direction of wind, and declination of sun and stars, and any wildlife in sea or air. Nary a moment to form a plan on what to do when we enter port.
Three days out; dusk comin’ on, the navigator taps my shoulder and says,
“We should be sitin’ the eastern point of Mallorca just after dawn breaks. And not long aft be lighten our sails so we can ease our way into port.”
I lay in my hammock all tied in knots, like a razor be pressin’ against my neck.
Mornin’. I knock on the cabin door of the navigator.
“Dawn comin’ on.”
He opens up and scowls at me, all confused.
“Who you be?”
And then it dawns.
“Peter and Paul! You shape-changin’ Jew. I should have knowed.”
I’d taken a scissor to my earlocks and beard, exchanged my skullcap for a sailor’s tuque. And from a drunk swob I ‘borrowed’ some britches which I tied at my knees; and long hose that cover my legs in gaudy stripes. I feel like a clown in a circus act, but the captain mistakes me for one of his hands which encourages me as I scuttle ashore.
Palma is just an hour’s walk around its star-shaped circumference, and Vallseca’s studio but a stone’s throw from where I stand on the tarry wharf. The navigator points to it:
“Eyes open and mouth shut,”
is his only word of advice to me. I set myself on a rickety stool on the promenade off the pier, sippin’ tea made of lemon peel and waitin’ to see Vallseca emerge.
Then like some sparrow hid in a bush that flutters from a branch to a bench at your side, peckin’ at seeds that fall from your bread, there be Gabriel plunk-down on a stool beside me, sayin’,
“Why are you here?”
“I hear it’s a good place to find work. Hear any music worth listenin’ to?”
“Nothing to bring down a rioting crowd,”
And he laughs.
“That was a crazy night. But I shouldn’t be here sitting with you, and you shouldn’t be here at all, I’d say. Jews aren’t welcome in Mallorca’s hills.”
And he flutters away, sparrow-like.
“Hey, one more thing! Is Batkol here?”
“Shush. There’s snarling dogs around.”
And now he’s gone. Iy. What did he mean, talkin’ about hungry dogs?
In the next episode… hungry dogs it is, and snarling too.
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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