22 February 2015

from The Towers of Trebizond, chapter 18 (Rose Macaulay)

I went to a travel agent and got a passage to Istanbul on a cargo ship that sailed from Haifa in ten days, so I had these days in which to see Israel, which is a very beautiful country indeed.  I went to Acre, and spent a night in an inn that looked as if the Crusaders might have spent their last night in it before fleeing from the Holy Land to Cyprus in 1291, and I bathed in a blue and green sea outside the citadel.  I went to Nazareth, which was full of tourists and touting guides and fake holy places, and I went on to the Sea of Galilee, and this was so beautiful that I stayed by it for several days, stumbling about the ruins of old Tiberias and going out with the fishermen in their boats while they cast their nets, fishing alone from the shore, sleeping in a small Franciscan guest-house above the lake, with a balcony from which I could every morning watch the sun rise over the wild brown and mauve mountains on the Syrian shore.  The days were very hot.  I rode the camel up the shore, to Magdala and the ruins of Capernaum, and the little bays beyond, where I swam in buoyant blue water.  Every place along the Genesaret shore was in the Gospels; Magdala, and the ruined Capernaum synagogue, and the sermon on the mount, and the feeding of the five thousand on the opposite shore, and the rowing on the lake, and the drafts of fishes, and the healings, and the floutings of Pharisees and sabbatarians, and the vision in the dawn to Peter and the rest as they fished, and the calling of the disciples in turn to leave their work and follow.  St Matthew, people think, sat at the receipt of customs on the quay of Capernaum, taking the dues from those who landed there.  When he arose and followed, did he have time to hand over his job to someone else, or did he just take up his cash-box and go, so that for a time people landed and departed without paying anything?  There is nothing at the customs now but the black basalt quay stones lying about, and the little waves of the Sea of Galilee lapping among reeds.

In all these places that I go through, I thought, he once was, he once taught and talked, and drew people after him like a magnet, as he is now drawing me.  And I thought that if David had been with me and had asked me again what he had asked me in the cloister of St. George's Cathedral, I would have answered him rather differently, for by the sea of Galilee Christianity seemed local and temporal and personal after all, though it included Hagia Sophia and all the humanities and Oriens, sol justitiae, that has lighted every man who has come into the world.

I would have liked to spend a long time in Galilee, fishing and rowing and swimming and riding about the hills and trying to paint the changing colours of the water and of the mountains across it on the Syrian shore, and everywhere coming on fragments of Rome and of Greece.  But I had to leave it, and I did not think I should come back, it was too subversive, it filled me with notions and feelings that were dangerous to my life.  I did not want Vere to come there, though Vere had not my brand of flimsy and broken-backed but incurable religion, of which I have always been ashamed, so it might work out all right.

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