Anahid said that people come to Jeruselum to pray, Tel Aviv to play and Haifa to stay. It’s in a beautful location perched on the flanks of Mt. Carmel. Today it looked like the beach area was the place to be, but she said that much of the year it is hot and more humid there and those with means live at the top of Mt. Carmel, where there is always a breeze. Netanyahu has a villa here. We even passed a few campgrounds on the beach, the first we’ve noticed. Outside of town miles of banana trees were flourishing, nestling beneath netting that protected them from the strong sunshine. We passed fish farms, placed right next to the sea. Flocks of pelicans were patrolling those waters. I wondered if there would be any fish left to sell. Much of the fruit Israel exports is raised around here.
We headed half an hour out of town to Caesarea, a national park preserving what’s left of Herod’s villa and the town he built along side it. I’m not sure I’ve got this right, but Herod Sr. was appointed by the Romans to administer this area. He was Jewish on his father’s side (which doesn’t count) and had three sons all named Herod. The second Herod Jr. was the one we read about as part of the Christmas story who heard about the birth of the new messiah and tried to prevent this by having all the baby boys killed, causing the Mary and Joseph family to flee to Egypt. Herod Sr. was sort of a Nixonian character, talented and knowledgeable in many areas, but plagued by the fatal flaw of paranoia, which caused him to put some of his own children to death as well as many others who he found alarming. He was a master builder and is responsible for many of the things we see around Israel and other Roman holdings in the Mediterranean area. From those places he imported varied materials for his palace and city here. Piles of columns collapsed on the ground were from all sorts of colored minerals that come from far flung places. Herod built fresh water swimming pools that extended out into the ocean. I prefer swimming in fresh water, too.
Herod built a major port here, diplomatically naming it after Caesar. It lasted until the Muslims conquered it in the seventh century. Then the crusaders came through and it functioned as an important port once again. Today what’s left is a national park with a theater and hippodrome where Game of Thrones type entertainment was staged until everyone became Christian and a church was built right in the middle of the track to bring an end to the bloody shows. Before we entered the hippodrome, we passed through the public toilets which Herod had constructed in such a way that the high tide cleaned the spot out twice daily. Of course, there was an extensive bath area with pools of varying temperatures in the Roman manner. Remains of mosaic floors here and there hinted at the magnificence of what once was.
On the way back to town we stopped at an overlook near the top of Mt. Carmel which allowed us to see the vast panorama of Haifa all the way to the Lebanon border. Below us we could see the Baha’i Gardens. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an exquisitely detailed, multi-terraced landscape built in honor of the Prophet-Herald of the Baha’i faith. The gardens would be amazing to see in any setting, but in this arid spot, the Baha’i have learned how to recycle the irrigation so they rarely need more. They see gardening as a spiritual activity and only the Baha’i are allowed to tend the grounds.
When we were still in Palestine there was garbage and trash everywhere. While we knew that there were no real garbage collection services funded there, Mustafa said that this was cultural. In Jordan things were neater, but Nader said that this is also a problem there. Here in Israel the land is well kept and it is rare to see a plastic bag caught in a bush. We passed an Arab village here and couldn’t believe how the garbage was strewn everywhere. Anahid said that they receive trash pickup service just like everywhere else. That’ll a cultural trait they need to work on.
Lastly we walked through a slightly seedy Arab neighborhood near the port where people were bustling around preparing for the beginning of the the Sabbath at sundown. Most of the streets did not continue in the same direction for more than a block or two and around many corners we saw outdoor art, expressing some of the politics and emotions of the residents. Most of it hinted at the sadness that displaced people feel; many of the people who live here did come from somewhere else, perhaps with less enthusiasm and hope than our immigrants have had since they were persecuted and prosecuted in their homelands. To lift our spirits we stopped in a tiny coffee and confection shop to sample some halva and paradise loaf, a confection of nuts and nougat rolled in pastachios. Some of us bought a chunk to take home. It was so good, it may not make it there.