Yes, it’s true, I've been away from the writing desk for sometime and I needed a little push past my summer hiatus. I don't get writer's block, but when summer hits in Michigan, it's just a wee bit harder to get in front of the screen and put the hands on the keyboard, so please excuse my absence. I really do love to bang out some words that people enjoy reading and I truly get a charge out of writing for all of you.
The sweetest words a writer can hear from a reader are: I miss your words. Unfortunately, I've never heard those elegant words. I did recently receive a call from an old friend who said, "Hey Boylan, get your lazy butt back in the writing chair so I can start my Monday with a “Let's go!"
Not a gentle push, but quite effective. I promptly switched
on Pandora, turned up the volume to 8 and with Jethro Tull's Aqualung blaring,
here I am again!
To begin with, there's also been a change of venue for Tales of Royal Oak. While I'm still posting on Royal Oak Patch, I've switched from columnist to blogger. My delightful editor at the Patch, Judy Davids, has encouraged the switch, but I was resistant, mostly because I still don't know what the term blogger means. Blog sounds a lot like the noise I made when I upchucked after drinking some bad chocolate milk in the St. Mary's cafeteria in 1965.
But the world moves fast these days and so a blogger is what I've become. I guess we'll figure out what that means together. With the change of venue, comes a title change, and since I'm not limited to Royal Oak, I'm going with the title of my short story collection, Gerry Tales. For those of you who have read the book, it's filled with stories that are "directionally accurate," a term I coined to deflect my children's disagreements on my version of our family stories.
My writing sabbatical started with a trip to Israel earlier this year. It's a good a place as any to start so here goes.
A trip to the Holy Land of the three major religions and a place filled with incredible history and holy spirits, was on both the lovely Kathy's and my bucket list. We saw what looked like a lull in the volatile, hotbed region and jumped on the long flight via New York City.
We spent seven full days in the country with our inimitable guide Ron Sinai and toured the country from Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea, north to the Roman ruins of Haifa, east to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee; southward, skirting the West Bank, a visit to the Golan Heights, visits to Bethlehem and Nazareth and finally to Jerusalem.
We visited the holiest of sites in Jerusalem, snuck into the Palestinian controlled town of Bethlehem, bobbed like corks in the Dead Sea, walked in the ancient footsteps of Jesus and his pals on the banks of the Galilee, did an off-road trek of the 1967 Six Day War sites and ate the best freaking hummus and shawarma from every hole-in-the-wall kiosk that Ron Sinai could find. (We also had a fish pedicure and tried our hand at diplomacy, but more on that later.)
It was a remarkable adventure in so many ways, but as we've found with most foreign travel, the trip was enriched by the wonderfully optimistic spirit of the Israel people and the resiliency and resourcefulness of the Palestinians we met.
Israel is a very small country; it's smaller than Massachusetts and could easily fit into Lake Michigan. It's about 260 miles long, 71 miles at its widest and only 9 miles across at its narrowest point. As we drove through the country we were as close as a few miles from Lebanon and Syria, where the civil war was raging. When we visited the Jordan River site of John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus, the country of Jordan was 30 feet across the river. When we discovered that much of Palestinian controlled territory in the West Bank, Bethlehem included, was surrounded by walls and fences, it brought to cold light the challenges both sides face in finding a way to live together in some other way than the stifling stalemate of today.
In this short column, it is impossible to convey the
richness of the spirit, history and complexity of the conflicted politics of
the country and the surrounding countries. In fact, the best description I can
give is that the country is a cauldron of impossible complexity on every
conceivable front. In spite of such audacious challenges, there is optimism and
candor that ripples a breeze through the contentious political humidity.
Living in the Detroit area, we all know how complicated and dysfunctional our region can be and living through the automotive depression, Detroit's bankruptcy, the toxic mistrust of our political parties and the racial rancor on all sides, we all know a thing or two about complicated and seemingly intractable problems. I'll tell you that in my humble, but well traveled opinion, our problems are a cakewalk compared to Israel, the Palestinians and beyond.
We found Jerusalem to be achingly beautiful, inspirational and profoundly spiritual in spite of the interwoven governance, religions, cultures and cultural infighting. And that’s putting it mildly.
I’ll report back more on what we learned, but how about a few fun stories?
While at the Dead Sea, we saw two chairs in front of two fish tanks on the floor and a sign that said, “Fish Pedicures 50 Shekels.” I am a guy who doesn’t want anyone messing with my feet, but when we saw the two tanks filled with tiny little guppies, we sat down and dropped our feet into the water.
All I can say is: Oh my!
Hundreds of those little suckers went to town on my calluses like they were eating a Sanders hot fudge cream puff sundae. I had to skedaddle out of there shortly after; because I was starting to think the little fishies were really mini-piranhas that would have nibbled my feet right off the bone.
(I definitely watch too much bad cable TV.)
As it turned out, in Jerusalem, we were staying at the same hotel as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his room was at the end of our hall. Even though I look nothing like him, as we stepped off a crowded elevator, some confused guest told the rest of the bunch, “That’s Secretary Hagel, you know!” Somehow word got around and for the rest of our stay people pointed and whispered at us. I tried my best to look solemnly diplomatic, as not to disappoint people, but it was tough to pull off while in my Emerson College t-shirt and snappy Bermuda shorts! Kathy just rolled her eyes.
The most frequent question that we were asked by friends and family about the trip was: did we feel safe? The answer is a definite yes. It did take some getting used to seeing very young soldiers casually walking in the streets heavily armed. But we walked every day and night in every city and town and were met with the warmth of country’s people.
It was the trip of a lifetime and we’re grateful to everyone along the way who made it so memorable. Kathy and I want to add special thanks and add a strong recommendation for our guide Ron Sinai. He was extraordinary in many ways and we learned more, saw more and experienced more than we ever would have without him. You can find him on Face book.
Plus Ron did not mind arguing politics with Kathy and me, which is way above the call of duty!
I’ll be back every-other-Monday, but also with some special blogs. If you’re interested in being on my email reminder list whenever I post, send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and of course, I will not share the email with anyone and the reminder is private.
It’s Monday…let’s go!
Gerry Boylan is the author of the novel Getting There and the short story collection Gerry Tales. Both are available at Amazon.com and the Yellow Door in Berkley, MI.