Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tuesday 13th January 1942

We sleep deeply many hours; this morning we didn't wake up until 9 o'clock!

Soon after breakfast we hired a taxi and went down to the Dead Sea. It seemed a sultry, oppressive sort of place, although it was a fairly cool day. We located the Kallia Restaurant, on the foreshore. “Hope it's not Koshered grub,” I exclaimed anxiously, “the menu is printed in English and Yehudi, I notice.”
“Yes,” said Jack thoughtfully, as he ordered two coffees, “presumably “Kallia” is derived from a Greek word, meaning beautiful...” “How do you know that?” I asked, still suspiciously eying that Yehudi menu.
“Words aren't just invented Dawson,” explained my mentor, “They must have an origin... kallia is associated with beauty... callisthenics – exercises to make you beautiful; calligraphy – beautiful handwriting...”
“It doesn't look very beautiful here,” I grumbled, “A waveless sea, mist, oppressive atmosphere...”
“No, it's pretty dreary,” he agreed, “Must be pretty grim in the summer, when it's really hot.” “Yeah.”

The sea, just below us, was grey, flat and tideless. A motor barge moved wearily across it. Visibility was about a mile; no further shores could be seen and it might have been a waveless ocean, for all we could tell.

“Looks properly dead...” “Uh, huh.”

Badin, we had a swim. Jack was in first. “Is it cold, Jack?” I asked, from the steps, cautiously. “N,no. N,not very,” he said with obvious hypocrisy, “By jove, it's funny and buoyant.” He smiled enticingly. I fought for time, making conversation. “I don't think I ought to come in at all. Not safe. There's something rum and sinister about this water. Brooding. Malignant. Yes, that's it, malignant. Waiting for me, balefully.”

However, when I went in, it was at least a good deal warmer than that swim at Tobruch, last January, and the water was weirdly buoyant. Large portions of one stuck out of the water when one floated. It was impossible to sink. But it tastes viley salty. This was a historic day for Jack. He swum for the first time. “It's wonderful!” he cried gleefully, “I can swim! And steer about!” and he threshed about confidently, giving a fair example of the back stroke.

After lunch at the Beautiful (?) Restaurant we started the hike back. But almost at once, a taxi full of Aussies overtook us. The Aussies made their driver stop, and took us aboard. They had a guide, who explained that the queer hillocks (Jack's “geological freaks”) around here and near the Jordan, were accounted for by the fact that all this land had once been under the Dead Sea.

At our request they dropped us outside Jericho; we'd just seen a tempting hill. “Where you goin'?” they asked, “'aint nothin' here.” “We're going to climb that hill,” I said. “Climbing?” They didn't conceal the fact that they thought us crazy!

Soon we were well into the hills. It was anything but oppressive here. When we reached the summit, after a steep but rockless climb, we discovered an intriguing river in a gorge; beyond the gorge was a crazy mountainside path. Above the river and parallel to it on our side was a rapid-running stream, presumably in an artificial bed and still nearer the old road to Jerusalem. We scrambled down, across the old road, which was in fairly good condition, though a trifle bumpy for motor cars I should think.

The gorge was a good deal deeper than we'd thought. It was about 150 foot below the stream, which was itself about 100 foot below the road. Eventually we scrambled down to the bottom of the gorge. The river rushed along merrily with much chuckling and splashing over boulders. It was kind of nice to be beside a river of this sort again. Not colossal like the Nile, or slow and dirty like the Jordan; not artificial either. Just an ordinary, normal, mountain stream. Healthy! “Lets come here tomorrow and explore the wadi!” shouted Jack. “OK!” I yelled, “Good idea!”

He crossed on some boulders, I waded over and we both climbed the rocks beyond until we reached the path we'd seen, about 100 feet above the water. Following this we soon came out on the plain near Jericho and set off homeward. We usually beguile the last two miles with a story. This time it was my turn and I told the tale of the bull calf and Stephen, the farmer's son and his strange adventures ending sadly on “The Hills” where the bull which he'd once friended as a calf, casually killed him. And how the last thing he ever heard was the sound of the hurdy-gurdy from the fair in the village over The Hills. “And in the morning they found him, and took him away.” By this time we were just about to enter the hotel gates.

“Maalesh his wife and family,” said Jack , sorrowfully.


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