The desk clerk at Beit Immanuel offered to drive me to the train station on his way to a dentist appointment, but it would’ve meant waiting, and I wanted to get going. So he phoned a taxi, and I promptly spent about 15 shekels sitting behind a garbage truck that blocked the alley. Several Tel Aviv twists and turns later, as I got out, my cabbie advised me to drink lots of water. “It’s hot, you know.”
I wheeled both suitcases (yes, “both”–one was carry on…) into the sleek, modern terminal, and bought my ticket — “Get off at [unintelligible]” she said. I asked her to repeat it. Twice. The connection between my ear and her voice never improved. But I knew I was headed for Haifa–the proper stop could be sorted out in the hour or so it would take to get there. The platform was downstairs — escalator up, but stairs down. Before I could hardly ponder my choices, a total stranger carried one of my bags down. And I got the other.
The train was not quite full — I got one seat, my bags got one and a third more. This became awkward, however, as the train filled. One fellow finally took the two-thirds seat across from me. He and his friend were dressed in flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts, and carrying small machine guns. There were a lot of uniformed IDF (Israel Defense Force) personnel on the train, and some of the women were wearing sandals, but these fellows were much too casual even for IDF. Still, they readily told me which station was my mine, and which way to go through the shopping mall, and which number bus to catch for Nazareth. It all went just as they said, even for a guy wheeling two bags.
Once in Nazareth, I found a cab that took me as far as taxis can go into the Old City. From there it was follow the signs to the Fauzi Azar Inn. Suitcases on cobblestone — not what either were designed for. Down one street, under the arches, turn right, squeeze past the pick-up, then right again, and I saw a wall with a door marked “Fauzi Azar” — actually a four-foot opening in a larger, bolted gate (see photo).
This squeeze brought me into a courtyard oasis, with trees and wicker chairs and people who knew my name and helped carry my baggage. Up a flight of 33 steps, across a patio, and down a hall narrower than my shoulders, I came to the first door of my room, off which I would find the shower. The second doorway only came to my eyebrow, but I was stooped to get a suitcase up a step, and missed it. Alas, I was not so fortunate with the third doorway, which, still stooped, I caught with the crown of my head. “Shway shway,” said the man behind me. It’s what Lauren and Mosbeh say to our grandsons — Arabic for “Careful!”
Stories of journeys and passages often verge on cliché–still, in the wandering wonderland version of mine, I could indeed depend on the often unsolicited kindness of strangers–far more humbling to a man and his baggage than one errant bump on the head.