Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #93, East of Mashhad

Herat Ruins; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Herat Afghanistan Citadel-4072961276, in the public domain.
Herat Ruins; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Herat Afghanistan Citadel-4072961276, in the public domain.

In this episode, we are definitely east of Eden.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifteenth Era, Part 1, ~1272 C.E., Tabriz

The Hand of God or the roll of dice? But our road turned, and who could perdict, our lives refreshed by a servant’s mistake. It seems like sometimes the spheres overlap, but sometimes they only touch in one place. You step thru a door and it disappears. You pull out a map and chart your path, a continuous line is what you draw. But that’s an illusion! At every point new worlds begin and old ones collapse, which our eyes can’t see and our minds don’t grasp. For us it’s just the blink of an eye.

So we’re headin’ upstream in the Mongol wake, like time runnin’ backwards. The further east, the more revived each city and town that the Mongols had trampled into the ground. Amidst shattered brick and rotted corpse, houses rebuilt and children born.

Mashhad. It seems like we stepped out of time. Our long journey, chokin’ in dust; weepin’, groanin’; ruined fields, the mud brick towns like empty tombs, meltin’ slowly back into the earth. Here in Mashhad we remembered Tabriz which we raved about, so finely rebuilt. Now Tabriz seems like a tattered beggar limpin’ along, his crusty hand out stretched for alms. Here we follow a line of palms along a boulevard, paved and wide — the trunk road comin’ in from the south. The street narrows; the crowd grows dense; noise and hubbub, opulent shops. Suddenly, the sun cuts thru the clouds. The road opens on a verdant square. And before us a towerin’ dome of blue and as grand a mosque as ever I seen. As we approach to marvel inside, some grizzled men start to cluck and shoo, and some boys start chuckin’ stones at us.
“Not for dhimmis* and infidels,”
a turbaned and black robed pilgrim growls, and we turn away with grumble and gripe.
* “protected” status in Islam for Jews and Christians; really a euphemism for having limited rights

Morning. The streets like a sepulcher. Goat’s heads stacked in pyramids, stare — empty eye holes and toothy grins where a greenish ooze is dribblin’ out. This, a local delicacy, goat’s head stew to start the day.

They say the Mongols spared Mashhad, who knows why, but the local folk weren’t spared of anger and a mean distrust. This we suffer sharp enough as Marco’s* health begins to fail. He can barely swallow a sip or bite before it departs with vicious cramps and prodigious blasts from his nether hole. He spends his days on a rope bed with a hole strategically under his butt.
* (he finally corrected my pronunciation)

Meantimes, I rove the shuks and hans for goods the locals under-price. Turquoise. Blue as a robin’s egg with nary a matrix or fleck or flaw, and polished to oval cabochons. I report back to our financier and we buy a saddle bag and pack it full.

For Marco we buy little talismans; and healers a-plenty visit our flat. Finally we decide it’s Mashhad’s air that brung this great distress on him. Though Marco be weak and sways like a drunk on horse’s back, we tie him firm seekin’ the pure air of Khorasan. Arid plains and rugged vales, milky streams that even a horse ain’t inclined to drink. They said Herat was just three days. Ten days it were with our sickly lad.

Herat’s air proves a cure. Marco soon is up and about. But his pasty pallor and glassy eyes belie his assertions that all be well. Maybe the air is about the same, but them few parasongs from Mashhad to Herat made a vast difference in attitude.

Mashhad, untouched by the Mongol’s mace and his battering rams and torch and flames, kept its ancient character and its old suspicions and abrasive touch. By contrast, the Mongols leveled Herat like an earthquake. Hardly a wall still stood, and the only survivors were them who fled. Made me think of my Jerusalem. The whole city, like time reversed, raises itself from its rubble piles. Mosque and mansion, hovel and han, re-usin’ stone, old timber and brick. Just mortar, tile, and glass be new. An ancient body with a mask on its face. And many the ruins still remain where owner or squatter or nomad lives. Heaped up stone and shattered brick must do for walls; a patchwork roof of tent felt and woven wool, staked with cracked and rotten posts. And so the people. Grizzled and gruff, with a cheery smile and open hand and inclined to open their doors for us.

Now Marco descends into delirium. His panickin’ uncles believe any tripe and cynical promises of healin’ herb or ritual dance or incanted verse. I try to turn them from their gullible fear but many the ducat they squander here; hokus and pokus, and many a dram of vile concoction Marco drinks, yet further drifts towards the maw of death before my warnings are finally heard:
“Let Batkol attend to the desperate lad.”
Much they been duped, but they won’t hear of that.
“A woman healer. Who’d descend to such a thing?”
Til Marco mumbles,
“I was walkin’ the edge… a rocky cliff, howl and moans… out of the deep… I tripped and fell over the edge… she grabbed my hand… that woman Jew… she pulled me back….”

The all-judgin’ Lor revives the lad. One morn he opens his eyes, a whispery gasp his first word that made sense in many a day.
“I finally ‘member how I knew that Jew. In Mainz and Provence and the Alps too he’d been sighted, forever walkin’ the road. They say on the road to Golgotha hill our Lor cursed him with eternal life.”
He never said no more than that. But from that time on, he calls Batkol ‘Mother of Mercy’ and ‘Jerusalem’. And he calls me ‘friend of my Lor’ as if he knew that I knew Jesus well.

Like in Mashhad, I’m lookin’ for arbitrage as I gather news of the route east. Walkin’ the ruins where the vagrants camp, I always pass some hovelly shops excavated from the rubble piles — sellers of relics; soothsayer hags; gypsies playin’ crude instruments, and tunes that haunt me, familiar but strange; where have I heard those melodies before?


In the next episode, can you believe it…?

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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