Here I am, spending the month of July in the northern part of Israel. I’ve squirreled myself away in Kfar Vradim (Village of Roses), where I’ve been writing a book – about walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain last fall.
Most of the time, I write on a couch indoors. But once in awhile, I need a change of scenery. So I slide open the back doors and move onto the patio. For an hour or two, I lie back in a beach chair or swing in a hammock, breathing in the fresh air, tinged with a soft breeze, slightly scented with the mint and lavender growing in the garden nearby.
It feels strange to be writing in one country about my experiences of another, separated only by time zones and the shifting waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But slightly less strange, when I note the remarkable similarities. I might be in the western Galilee, but if I squint just a little bit, exchange one language for another, I might as well be in Las Alpujarras of Spain’s Andalucia region.
The view from the terra-cotta tiled terrace spans nearly 180° of mountains and valleys. It overlooks a pastoral landscape dotted with villages among the large swaths of untouched fields. To the west, well beyond the haze and mountain range, the Mediterranean glistens.
White-washed villas and cottages, topped with adobe tiles, spill down the mountainsides. The curbs of dead-end streets are edged with rose bushes of yellow and red. Instead of the Moorish architecture native to Andalucia, Arab villages nearby are characterized by mosques topped with minarets. Between here and there, and just like in sun-drenched Spain, olive groves and vineyards are scattered around.
In this garden, little bulbs of pomegranates hang like Christmas ornaments, while bougainvillea cascade out from layers of leaves and a solitary lemon hardens, perhaps eager to be plucked.
I wait with increasing impatience for plums and figs to ripen, certain that their impending juiciness will not disappoint. Shiny CDs, long untouched and re-purposed for their shimmering effect, hang from trees and swivel around their axis to fend off vultures and other creatures of the night. A spectacle that, in an instant, throws me back to my weeks on the Camino.
Not a bull or burro (donkey) in sight, but cats curl up in front of most homes as if guarding their territory; a solitary rooster crows before daybreak; and a sign on one gate scaring off intruders with, if it were to be believed, the danger of lurking snakes.
In the din of the night, a hum of passing cars, generators and street lamps meld together. A dog chain rattles. The wind chime clinks in time with a neighbor calling out, Limor! A muezzin’s call to prayer floats across the valley.
Far off in the distance, orange-hued lights flicker on the hillsides. For a moment, I imagine they might be homes nestled at the edge of a Spanish sky… or, coming back down to earth, stars touching this very precious, but embattled, land.