In this episode, a rare first edition of the Michelin guide to Damascus.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 9 of 18, ~1170 C.E., to Khazaria
Sh’monah Esray, Prosperity
*First, to obey, and then understand*, we stays in that caravanserai two more nights. Mornin’ the third Batkol fairly jumps up from the floor and declares,
“**We gotta get outa this place,* and if it’s the last things we ever do, get rid of them goats and their mindless drift, and take back our life and take back our ways.”
And before I’m dressed, she’s out the door and when I come down to drink a chai I sees her, surrounded by three or four men.
*-* as in Sh’mot/Exodus 24:7; **-** Animals, ‘We Gotta Get Outa This Place’
Assumin’ they’re harassin’ her I rush into their midst, ready for fists, and backin’ off from me, one of them shouts,
“Okay, okay, I’ll see your price and throw in a gigim* sack, to boot, special wove and very fine as suites a lady of your degree. You stay right here and the chai hane there will serve you tea and boreks** and simits***. Tell him I’ll pay. He knows me well. I’ll be back snippety snap.”
And he rushes off, no doubt fearin’ me, that I’ll give him a thumpin’, bruisin’ and lumps.
* flat woven embroidered textile; ** savory flaky pastries
*** bread rings, often crispy and coated with sesame or poppy seed
Ain’t it just like me to think I’m the one that shapes how the action twists and turns around me. Shortly I learns some truth: He thought I had heard that her goats were for sale and I was rushin’ to top the offer he made, with nary a thought that she’s my wife. Sometimes, bein’ a headstrong fool pays off. But don’t go countin’ on it.
Before the sun had grown hot he returns with a pouch of dirhams and the gigem bag, which we use to stuff our possessions in.
What a pleasure to walk a mile straight and steady, not straggle and stray. And to balance the scale, the first rain of the rainy season pours down on our heads, rivulets drippin’ from our hair and our chin. And but a short walk back, our shepherd’s gear — thick felt and hot as a tandoor that would keep us dry in this cold downpour — we gave to the man who bought our goats.
Thunders rip gashes in the burdened clouds. Yesterday, clouds of dust as we tromped; now sloggin’ this rivery swamp of a road.
And here, Damascus! No guards at the gate, like the times be friendly and armies don’t maraud and the Franks are just traders with plenty of gold. Franks! Like they was a thousand miles gone. We enters the gate as the rains fade.
And now in our eye a flood of sights. Bazaar on bazaar as we wander about. Coppersmiths ping and blacksmiths clang, goldsmiths with redhot solderin’ irons; glassblowers, globs of glass on their pipes or rollin’ and stretchin’ their beakers and bowls.
There’s nuts and beans, grains and seeds in colorful pyramids, barrels, and sacks, like an artist displayin’ his palette of paints. Black and white beans and black eye peas, and yellow as ocher or brown like teak, fava, chickpea, haricot too. Grains the same, to feed a horde; rice and barley, bulghur and wheat. Belly a-grumble at the nuts and seeds, pistachio, almond, walnut, and pine; sunflower, carob, and sesame seed; peas that are red and yellow and green. And then come the spices, more colorful still, sumac and cardamum, anise and salts, peppercorn, cumin, cinnamon, clove, chili and za’atar, and curries from Hind*.
Textiles, linen, wool and silks, brocades, embroideries, ikats, and quilts, hangin’, swaggin’, rolled in bolts and, oh, the designs, such geometries — you mathematicians with your modular forms and elliptic equations and symmetrical tiles, and you, Morris* and Esher** too — you would swoon to see such expansive arts.
* Wm. Morris; ** M.C. Esher
In narrow alleys we peek in doors. Spinners spinnin’, clickin’ of looms. Just beyond, the dyers stoke and stir, with their leaves and flowers, roots and barks simmerin’ in pots, as if them Nephilim* has come back as painters, usin’ small trees for brushes, and frothy vats of paint to repaint the landscape, valley and hill.
* Berraysheet/Genesis 6:4
And we walks on dazzled by finery and wealth, thru markets of perfumes, potions and herbs in their slim bottles with dropper and brush or tiny tins or boxes or sacks, in pills and powders, rolls and bars, seductive, pungent, clearin’ your nose. Menthol oil and ambergris beads, poppy and opium — amber and black; fumes of vinegar, sandal, and myrrh; resin of labdanum, camphor, and pine; incense a-glow in candles and sticks.
Down one alley, the potters’ bazaar, with little clay pots as small as your thumb, or plates and cups in a thousand designs, or them pots from China — up to your chest, painted in landscapes and village life.
Come to the jewelers — ceramic beads, cabazons of lapis, turquois, and jade, amber and opals, coral and quartz; or rubies and emeralds, pearls and gold; gems for kings and barons of trade.
Now come the mats of hemp and reed, woven, knotted, twisted and sewn to wipe your feet or cover a room. Then rugs. Mercy! What beauteous things! Rugs to display and rugs to pray, rugs to enhance a king’s boudoir, and rugs to line a sand hauler’s cart; rugs woven of camel or wool and even silk to hang on your wall. Rugs like these you will later find in paintings by Holbein, Bellini and Vermeer or on palace walls like in Avignon.
As we come to the northern edge of town there we see government factories producin’ sugar, paper, and grist. And then we be out in the fields again and the maze and amaze of Damascus grows dim.
Evening fades in, and the rains return *bringin’ their goodness and blessing to crops — rain and dew on the face of the earth*, and on our faces too, and soakin’ our clothes. Sleepless, shivverrin’, toss and turn.
*-* from ninth blessing of Sh’monah Esray
In the next episode… behind a tinner’s shuk.