The date links will take you to a page with maps and/or pictures to give a little context for that day's events.
Feb 15 - Kaleidoscopic day. I vow in my shower to have cold secured by nightfall. Manage to get two black-market eggs for breakfast. Not wishing babbling guide, we start off for old city and stumble on Gate of David's Tower. Climb to roof of tower and take bearings on Old City. Make rough sketch note. Find Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Dark and dank interior shored up between narrow arches. Dim and so broken up one loses scale. The cluttered altar with its many lamps and icons. Bend low and enter little vault with Greek Priest at end. Stand looking down on two mellow warm slabs that cover the burial niche in the solid rock below. Touched, I pray for Victory to our arms. We walk down the narrow, damp streets filled with market shops and wares, packed with all manner of people, piles of oranges glowing warmly. Drive up the Mount of Olives, its top covered by British cemetery, hospitals, monastery. It is surely a mount, sudden and giving broad view's. To the East the desert falling away in mammoth rolls, down, down to the Red Sea hidden deep in the arid land. To the West, Jerusalem undulating on her rocky hills. After early lunch Snow gets guide, to save time. In the chilly pale sunlight we jeep away to Bethlehem so ruthlessly passed last night. Arrive through the usual rubble of fallen buildings that have grown out of stone walls, sprung from the naked rock and hard sand, of the billowing bleak land. To the Church of the Nativity. The Big Square door's stone lintel walled up solidly to the Norman arch below, the masonry continuing down to the tiny opening that's left, to crouch through. "For a camel cannot enter through a needle's eye." Nor can Arabs make a rush sortie on donkeys and camels, since the Crusaders dammed the opening. We creep through and enter, pause with delight at what we see. For where the Sepulchre Church is all broken up into small glittering parts, here is simplicity, dignity, and the great beauty of a whole. The Crusaders' paintings still cling to the top surfaces of the columns, rubbed to their deep red luster by countless people at the figures' height. The lovely cedar ceiling and fragments of frescoes still clinging to the upper walls. Almost all the mural decoration perished when the Turks removed the weather-protecting lead from the roof--to make bullets. The guide lifts a wooden hatch set in the old stone floor and we see the original mosaic deck, as soft as tapestry. Pass into the cave-like crypt to site of the manger, and see the gold star marking the place of Nativity. We bow and leave, Snow's eyes large with wonder. Pile in Jeep with guide and start down to the Dead Sea thousands of feat below. Incredibly sharp turns on British road over Roman base, steep sheer drops at every turn, no rails. Arabs on donkeys riding sideways as they always have. Hundreds of goats and sheep nibbling the stingy sparse grass. Pass the ruins of Bethany, exposing her Roman arches amid piles of rubble. Shades of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Down and below through increasing descent, the road an even greater curving danger. Snow bent forward over the wheel, leans with the sudden swing of the jeep, and we like three pendulums follow in unison. July like flying. The land far below, the singing ears, the swallows, the increasing deafness, and the gathering warmth as we descend 3,700 feet. Guide points out the three Jerichos. Climbing the steep hills is Herod's, where he had his summer palace; farther north the city of the Canaanites and Jews. Below on the plain the Jericho of the Crusaders. Just passed the Inn of the Good Samaritan, with Crusaders' watchtower high above. Down through the weirdly carved badlands, where the Jordan used to flood. What? That dirty little yellow creek the River Jordan? We get out very deaf. The air is hot. There beyond the little iron bridge is the Trans-Jordan land. The Arab flag is flying and armed Arabs stand guard. Show our passes to the British on our side and walk across and step on Trans-Jordan land that Lawrence of Arabia loved so well. The striped turban, the Arab dignity, the background of high Trans-Jordan mountains, the trees and little stream at our feet looking like any "bottom" in Virginia. Get aboard and drive ten miles down to the Dead Sea. Pass sign marked "Sea Level" and descend 1300 feet below to the bottom of the sea. There lies the Dead Sea with its great depth at our feet, stretching away to the southward, its surface and its mountains dimming away in mist, distance, and sunshine. Buried beneath the shallow surface at the far southern shore lie bathed in brine the deluged cities of Sodom and Gomorrha. Hard by is the Potash Town and works, and stretching in the sea the British airways dock--with launch made fast. British soldiers swishing, or floating on back reading papers. We dip our fingers in and taste the really bitter water. To the East the vast wall of the Trans-Jordan fountains, from whose height Moses looked down on the Promised Land he could not enter. Start back up and up, round and round. Camels with two young--one pure white, the other jet black. On the horizon, three thousand feet above us, is the tower of the church on the Mount of Olives, just like a lighthouse in a landfall, dim in the watery sunlight. Back we climb to cold Jerusalem high on bar hills. Pass through the Gate of St. Stephen, out of which he was led to be stoned. Plenty of ammunition here for those heartless devils. Down the narrow street (jeep-wide) honking, edging past, the natives under the bridge where Pontius Pilate showed Christ to the howling mob. "I find no fault with this man," and washed his hands of Him. To Starboard, the door they led the Savior out into the narrow Via Dolorosa. We move down this foul alley followed by screaming children. Out of black holes in the wall and cellar caves creep filthy crones in lice-covered rags, like rats from their holes. Many eyes, bright like animals', peer at us, dirty hands itch to snatch our well-watched gear. What must the lonely and deserted Christ have felt, stumbling down this dark and shadowy alley, bearing His heavy cross? We park the car under a dismal arch at the head in charge of the competent guide who stands shouting in Arabic at the curious groups about him. Led by a native policeman we wind and turn through the narrow lanes in the fading light of day. Climb the stepped stone paths, descend, turn, and climb. Glimpse through the holes in the stone walls the damp squalor of unwashed centuries. Another twist and we come upon the narrow lane and the Wailing Wall. Lamenting, reading, and mumbling they stand, mourning the lost and destroyed temple. Women, old and young men. The younger men with sickly white faces with wisps of plaited hair hanging down either side of the checks, under the black broad-brimmed hats. Old Jews with their long beards and faces as white as plaster, and delicately modeled. Pathetically, to us, they earnestly bemoan the temple below the wall, backed by the hostile Moslem village, protected by two tactful British soldiers. From the great stones in the Wailing Wall the grass protrudes like the whiskers of Rabbis. I get permission from the British and Snow gets a photograph of this unreal little world as the shades of night creep up the cold stones of the wall to meet the dimming sky. Thus I shall always remember Jerusalem, not the clean, modern city, but the agony, past and present, of the old.
Feb 16 - Bad cold by no means secured so put on black flannel CPO shirt under sweater, heavy blues and raincoat. We shove off for Damascus 220 miles away at 0950. Due North, our course, through country turning red, still sparse of grass. Many convoys of three camels, towed in tandem by small donkey, bearing muffled Arab. Towns same gray pile of rubble, Ram Allan, Nablus, Quatye Jenin, E Affule, strange names, and now Nazareth. Here as often before the new church, built above older church, which rested on the ancient foundations of the original. Bent double we descend into the cave where Joseph worked at his trade, a damp and dismal workshop it must have been. To the Greek Orthodox Church, once the little synagogue where Christ preached; to Mary's Well, the only one about, still flowing freely, still used by the women bearing the graceful water jars upon their heads. Erect of carriage, walking with extreme grace, their bare feet soundless on the hard road. The irony of Nazareth, Arabs and Christians, but no Jews. Roll along again. Jack says from the back seat, "I have it, these are all hill-billy towns - same feuds, same isolation, same distrust of the cities and people from the outside world." Good jeep-mate, Jack, often shooting out amusing observations. Won't let me spell him on the windy back seat until my cold is better. We creep and bump down, make hairpin turns, sharp even for a short square jeep. Overcast day, the wind whistling, Snow's foot down on accelerator to buck it. Caps pulled hard down to ears, chin straps rigged. Down to sea level marker and descend 800 feet below to little Sea of Galilee at Tiberias with its ancient fort and old houses. Get out in the warm sin and bask at Arab open café at lake's edge. Oranges and coffee. Sea at our feet with steep dancing waves, of a lively green. High mountains beyond, snow-capped to the North-East. Gay, warm and lovely. We stretch out our legs and want to stay. But we have much Northing to make, and start the steep climb up the green hills with trees, the grades as steep as we have seen. By now each jolt and bounce has its answering pain in our sorely tired seats. From high we look down on the Sea of Galilee, we think for the last time. Migdal, Rosh Pinna. Here we bear North-East for Damascus. Time after time as we turn east or west we again glimpse the little sea, ceiled in mystery and distance. Examined at the border of Syria at 1500. We climb by quick turns and windy windings to a different world. A high, blustery and stark plateau. The few people and flocks take on a new character. We are much alone on this high empty sweep, bouncing along at 55 m.p.h. It's getting rapidly colder as we approach the show-covered mountains we have beheld to long. I think, Tibet must be something like this bleak, high, gusty land. There are no towns of streets and separate buildings. Instead, large, square, flat mud colored buildings a story high. In these fortress-like structures live all the farmers, sheep, goat, and camel men, under the ruling local Kaid. In the extreme cold and dull light we see a great stone fort building, the entrance of tumbles stones alive with people climbing up and in. Shepherd driving flocks of rich yellow sheep, jet black goats, home for the night. Women and children, their rags flapping in the cruel wind, fluttering like birds homing for the nest. Dead ahead a large mound shaped hill has stood blackly against the sky, and now as we near, it glows a rusty red mottled with dull green. We are now almost on a level with the snow on Harmon Range to Port. Pass another low consolidated block and are amused to see a large French window and well designed balcony on the southern wall, marking plainly the apartment of the Kaid who must have traveled. El Quneitra and at Sasa, a petrol point, we climb out of out blankets to stretch and stamp our feet. Later, to Port, a brown hill towering against the sky with Damascus stepping up the grade. We enter the city on the flat plain finding the streets filled more with people than traffic, except for crowded little trams. The tricolor everywhere, hundreds of French soldiers, the high caps of the officers. The fine horses with Syrian riders straight in the saddle, rifle slung over back. We have been meeting these horsemen all afternoon. I stand up in jeep to watch our gear in front of the Omayad Hotel, while Jack goes in with his flawless French to try for rooms. A small crowd forms about us, staring and talking and pointing, but unlike Egypt they ask not for baksheesh. Secure car and Snow in same hotel. For which I am glad, for I have ordered him not to go out after dark. The Syrians are tough and the French care not too much what befalls an American or English bluejacket. Stand on balcony outside our room looking over crowded square below and strange city feeling fairly far away from work we know as dusk drops suddenly. Not hot water until 0500 tomorrow. Watch men in dining room, all Syrian and wonder what they think and how they live. No women dining. We are sorely tempted to fly to Baghdad on the morrow, but I will not leave man and jeep here alone for several days, nor would Jack.