- Written by Alexandra D Smith
- Category: Tzor
The way to Tzor was not far as the doves flew. On foot, there were the headlands above Yam ha-Kinneret, first skirted and then climbed by way of a goat track. Next we walked the semi-desert of the highlands seen nearly every day of my life whenever I looked away from the lake.
I looked behind us when we reached the rolling land above our lake. He sparkled, deep deep blue in the middle and aqua around the edges. These were the colors he showed strangers. In the village, his colors were richer, less clear and more detailed. Already, the lake and the home of my brief childhood were becoming more memory than present truth.
We spent the whole day, Aunt Mariamne and I, walking further up and farther away. Neither of us bore a heavy pack. Though I was toughened by the chores and play natural to my days in Migdala, I was not used to walking and walking.
I was gladder than I could say when we stopped for a cold meal along the road. We had pressed figs, nuts, olives, cheese and some barley flatbreads. Our drink was fresh water, drawn from a chattering brook tossing and splashing down a stony run edging the path we walked. Mariamne suggested I cool off and freshen myself in the stream.
I only dipped my dusty feet into the run a moment before I pulled them out squealing. My toes were blue at the tips and pink to my ankles. I’d never felt anything so cold, not even winter on the lakeshore.
More climbing through the afternoon. Not too steep, but always tending up. Well before sundown, Mariamne stopped and let us into a wooden structure half a parsa’ot from a place she called Hatzor. We found neat stacks of kindling and dung pats for the fire. There were wide benches to serve as furniture. And there were ceramic boxes and amphorae in a set of racks against one wall.
We were in Hatzor’s red tent, my aunt told me. A woman’s place, like my mother’s room on the roof. Here we were welcome to take what we needed and share back what we had. Mariamne left two fresh packets of dates from Misr. I added some of the almonds mother had sent with me as a home gift to Bet Maryam.
While she started the fire, I went into the late afternoon to look for kindling to replace what we used, and find field forage to help our evening meal along. Our spring was further along than up in the hills. The dandelions here were still tender leaved. I gathered up anything I recognized, eager to display my field craft and ability to contribute.
Mariamne disincluded some of the mushrooms I had collected-- though I noticed she tucked those away carefully into her pack. The rest of my offerings were stirred into the barley stew. While we waited for it to cook, she told me a story about a soldier returning from the Per-O’s wars in Misr who tricks an old lady into making him soup with a magic stone.
“I wish I had a magic stone that would always make me a bowl of soup,” I sighed. Mariamne laughed.
“That’s the point of the story, Hanna. If you find a nice rock tomorrow as we walk, pick it up. We will wash it and make it your very own Soup Stone. And it will work every bit as well as the one in the soldier’s pack.”
I slept almost as soon as it was dark, the day had taken more from me than I knew. We woke with the early birds, raking up the buried coals of last night’s fire to heat water and reheat the leftover stew.
The luxury of eating without having cooked first felt decadent, and then lonely. Would the temple let me cook sometimes? Or Bet Maryam? I didn’t know how daily life was arranged there. All I knew for certain was that it would be nothing like Migdala, full of drying fish and too many brothers.
Now our winding way brought us around and through the foothills of the mountains on which far and farther north grew those cedars fit for the pillars and rafters of the Temple in Yerushalayim. As we walked, mostly we were surrounded by olive trees draping the constant swell and fall of the land in a cloud of silvered green foliage just unfurling.
Beneath the trees, goats and sheep fed in local droves. Flocks of chickens and geese pecked and wandered in the shade of these gnarled, oil-bearing elders all around us. Truly, we walked through the land of Asher-- rich in pasture and rich in oil.
To pass the time, Mariamne taught me to sing a counting game she learned in Misr. Then she asked me to do sums counting as the Babilim do. I liked the game. I liked it because my aunt didn’t expect that I could count and add so easily in another tongue.
I teased her by switching to the Roma names for numbers, and then Senskerit. By midday, she had taught me the way to count in far Parthia and farther Sogdia. Though the Senskerit I used had travelled farthest of all.
“You have the ears of a scholar and the mouth of a parrot. I wonder what your mind can do, little Hanna?” Mariamne thought aloud, face fully shadowed by her big yellow hat.
No one had ever wondered over my mind before then. At home, my family prized my nimble finger, sure climbing, and tireless attention. Not even my dear mother had taken thought for how readily I counted and learned the names of plants and fish, or how I learned every recipe after hearing her tell it only once. Would the temple wonder what my mind could do? Would Bet Maryam? In only another day, I might begin to learn what others would make of me.
My feet were swaddled in strips of old linen, and the sandals I wore fastened over them, to make a cushion between the road and my blisters. I was determined to walk as far as I could, just to bring the next day’s goal a little closer.
“What’s your hurry, little parrot?” my aunt called from behind me.”You walk so fast, your knees don’t have time to bend and your pack is bouncing like a date palm on a windy day. We won’t come to Tzor today, no matter how hard we walk. And we will get there tomorrow, unless the Goddess in her Cart should choose that we do not.
”So slow down, look around you, ask questions. And before you ask questions, I have one for you. How many of your mother’s people can you name, Hannakin? Can you recite the branches of Bet Maryam? ” By now, she’d caught up to me and we walked side by side again.
“Well, there’s Marmar--and she’s the oldest. She is my mother’s mother’s mother’s sister, yes?” I turned to see Mariamne nod her head, all her beads and knobs and bones rattling and clattering in mutual agreement with the wiggling fringe around her broad-brimmed, yellow hat.
“Shelomit of Bet-Le’ em makes her life there as a midwife and she doesn’t live at Tzor. She is Marmar’s oldest daughter’s daughter. That would be Maryam, but she is dead. Next comes Maryam’s sister Sobe, who married a Kohen yet she lives now at Tzor.” In my seven year old mind, I knew that marrying a Kohen and living at Tzor didn’t go together. Mariamne cast me a sharp eyed glance as I paused in my recital of our lineage.
“Now comes my HaHa, who I haven’t met, and who is also the daughter of a Hanna: Hanna called Ismeria, sister to Maryam called Marmar.
”Where do I put Cousin Elisava who is Sobe’s daughter, but lives in Yerushalayim, though the Kohen she married died? Do I put her where I said Sobe? Do I include her at all, since she doesn’t live at Tzor? Though Cousin Shelomit doesn’t live there either,” I temporized.
“Put Elisava where you like, little one. She can’t hear you, so it won’t matter. And as a matter of form, you might say her name after Sobe’s if you’re speaking to someone not of the Bet Maryam.” My question answered, I forged ahead.
“Then there are the daughters of Hanna, daughter of Hanna known as Ismeria-- who is also dead and didn’t live in Tzor but in Roma Imperia. First comes Aunt Mimi, Maryam bat Oachim bar Yuda. Then comes you, Mariamne bat Cleophas, also called Halfi. Then comes my own mother, Miryam Shelomit bat Selomo. My Haha only had girls, and only had one girl child for every husband,” I stated, proud of the math.
Mariamne stared at this recital and then laughed. She laughed so that I thought she might have been choking. She caught her breath in ragged panting heaves.
“You forgot someone in the lineage. You are not finished with the recitation.” Was she serious? I looked and saw she was serious, laughs and all. Who had I forgotten? Not the Bet-Le’em branch. Not the greats. Not Yahya’s absent mother, Elisava. Oh.
“Maryam Hanna bat Shelomit,” I intoned. I liked the sound of this name better. If Zebadyah thought I was a loaner child, he would likely be glad to have his name out of mine.
“You are another of the Mari girls, as well as a Hanna. How Sobe ever missed them both, I don’t know. Grannie Hanna hated her name and jumped at the chance to use the Roma. She insisted on being called Ismeria. Though the names are confusing enough, so in the end it’s a help of sorts.”
I asked my aunt what she did away from the temple and Bet Maryam. While she answered, she picked field flowers and showed me how to slip and knot different kinds of daisy chains.
“I make trades, little parrot. I go to the baths, souks, street markets, salons, carpet dealers, taverns, amphitheaters, circuses and forums of all Roma Imperia. Some years I go farther, into central Parthia, beyond Ctesiphon. Once I travelled all the way to Maracanda to see the blood horses of the Xiongnu. When I trade, or travel, I listen. I listen to what people say, and what they don’t say. I listen to gossip, poetry, songs, decrees, liturgies. I listen, and I make records of what I hear for the Hecatoi here in Tzor herself.”
We spent the night in another of the red tent shelters. This one looked across the olive orchards, on the lea of a creek bank. We had a fire outside while Mariamne showed me how to soak reeds in a hurry with a pot of hot water, and a hand of ways to start a basket.
“You never know when you might need to carry well more than you planned to have. Making reliable pockets of grass and reeds and vines is a skill you will never regret acquiring. In fact, skills in general--things you do with your own hands and mind are fundamental to success throughout life. Remember that, if you forget everything else.” I promised.
Our walk to the city of the temple of my foremothers took most of the next day. We walked toward the thin grey line of the Mar Yam-haMariahne along the low, terraced shoulders of the hills surging down to meet the shore. Rows, thickets and tangles of vegetation anchored the old terraces, and blurred their stone limned edges.
Then came the splashing of waters, gathered into ancient cisterns, sunk deep into the flesh of the hills. We walked through a field of giant pools, cool and dark as tree bark after the rain. The last cistern was attended by oxen at a wooden wheel.
They walked placidly round and round, and the water from the cistern was forced up into a chunky pylon and from there through a covered cornice which rode over squat pylons from Ras el-Ain all the way to Tzor. In the city, those waters fed fountains and baths and sluiced the streets.
“Our waterway to Ushu, the old city-- the landside city, had been running without fail time out of mind. Now the Roma look to our method, and they make use of it all through their endless Imperia. With their new materials, and the maths from the ‘Elines, Misr, and the Babbilim, they have made great what we made first.
“The New City has a few cisterns of her own. Most of her water comes by boat to the Port of Misr. Look, you can see it there, look. That hill is above the old harbor way. And those little islands, they’re the sunken jetties to guide the sea lanes. If you look in the waters, you can see where the island continued out three more stadia. It made a real harbor then, and not just a beach for docking scows and ferries.
“The Sidonian Port is on the farther side of the island. It has our warehouses, portage, customs offices and banking houses, factors and factories.
“The dye vats are at this side of the island, near where Melkart’s temple sank beneath the waves. Your Aunt Mimi’s spa and convalescent center are behind the Sidonian Port. She still travels from Tzor in the late spring when the snails are curing. The smell is fierce, though the wind blows it down the shore to Ptolemais and beyond.”
I stared and stared as we walked alongside the aqueduct, which dropped heavy intermittent shade across the rough paved road. The rumble and clangor of an ox cart from behind us proved the useful width of the road, as we didn’t leave the paving to make way for the two wheeled cart loaded almost to the heighth of the aqueduct’s cornice with fresh-cut, sap-tanged timber.
As we drew closer to the city, we drew closer to the shore and I heard the timeless thrum and crash of waves on the shore. Gulls shrieked overhead, salt and garden greens in full sun scented the air.
The side of the road closest to the sea suddenly seemed full of statues, and little votive houses, and stone tables and benches. And all of them were written on. I had never seen so many words before in my life. And here at Tzor, they lay in the sunshine like napping chickens, everywhere and heedlessly crowded.
“What are all those words lying there?” I asked.
“Those are the markers of the dead of the city. Some have family dwellings here, some have only a slab marker laid on the ground, or against the wall of a wealthier memorial. We are a ways from the city, but she has been a city here for a long, long time. Her dead spread about her like a skirt, quilted together by centuries of commemoration.”
Tzor had more literate dead people than Migdala had ever had alive in all her time on the shore of the Yam-haKinneret. I gaped at all the marble and granite carved and chiseled and etched and incised. I saw ‘Elines letters, Phoenikos, Minoan, Hieratic, even a piece or two with lines in the reed-stamp of the Babbilim.
There were carven figs, palms, grape vines, pomegranates, and flowers both with names and without. I saw winged creatures with people heads and the bodies of oxen, cruel taloned birds, giant cats. I saw the bodies of people with the heads of those same displaced oxen, birds and cats. There were old carved bees, and fresh carved peaches. I saw shells made of stone, stones made of marble and everywhere the remembrances of the gone and long-forgotten.
Living vines grew on trellises surrounding the aqueduct’s broad pylons just the other side of the road from the necropolis. Between the wreathing vines we had a view over the gardens that supplied the port town, temple, and ships docking at Tzor as they transit our Cradling Sea.
The gardens were a crazy patchwork of stone walls and rope lines and vines and wattle fencing with raised beds, covered beds, wildcrafted micromeadows, even long roofed narrow mushroom barns. Chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and geese marched with sharp-eyed solicitousness from plot to plot, pecking as they went. I saw rabbits in hutches, and reminded myself we weren’t in Ysrael anymore.
The gardens gave way to houses such as I knew from Migdala. Soon those houses were joined wall to wall and rose up to two levels. Some had stairs and ladderways I could see, others must have been joined inside. The aqueduct now sported booths under each portal.
There were metalworkers and potters and drapers of linen, woolen, cotton, and even silk. Some sold nets and some sold jewelry or hair dyes and wigs, or shoes and gloves and hats. There were leather-workers and cabinetmakers and saddlers for any kind of animal you could name, and many I couldn’t when I saw the pictures of the beasts they could fit for saddles and bridles.
Then came the food stalls, and the fires tended in a ceramic basin mounted on a wheel, like the garden barrow at home. People from all around the Cradling Sea sold food on sticks, cupped in leaves, and in unglazed ceramic troughs as long as a grown man’s hand.
After that I saw the stalls of fruits, fresh and dried, some sealed in precious syrups or brandies. There were flowers and vegetables in colors, sizes and shapes which never finished surprising me. There was a covenant bow’s worth of garden yield in the market stalls of Ushu, the eldest child of Phoenikos.
The market stalls spread to both sides of the road. Then we walked through a square, filled with runs of booths and surrounded by the daubed stone houses of Old Tzor. Mariamne wove her way through the square, expertly skirting a pyramid of melons, and dodging featly a tottering tray of sea-chilled, bald gazed fish. I slid and scrambled behind my nimble aunt.
In a crowd, I was too small to be seen or reckoned with by the full-grown. On the other hand, I could see them quite well, and stayed alert to their intended movements as I eeled through the crowded square-- a floppy yellow hat my beacon.
We popped out the other side of the bustling square, and walked along a wide plain of gravel. On either side, there stood houses, businesses, clubs, temples, monuments, and palm trees. But the gravelled center was as wide as the beach between the village houses and the lake back home. So far, Old Tzor and Yerushalayim last year were the only cities I had ever seen. But I didn’t think cities supported open, unused, unusable spaces.
“Why don’t they put some of the city here, or maybe some more, since there’s some of it around the edges?” I asked my all knowing aunt.
“Not so long ago, if you think of how time must pass in very old places, a man touched by the gods came to Tzor. And he demanded not to rule the city, but to play king for a day, just one day. And on that day, the man who thought he was a god, would talk to our own Melkart in the place of the king. And Tzor, being Tzor, said ‘no’ to the man.
”And the man proved his likeness to the gods. He caused Ushu to be torn stone from stone, and every scrap, roof tile, stair and lintel was thrown into the sea until he builded himself a causeway from Ushu to Tzor. With a causeway and the help of many navies, Eskandar-- for of course it was he, took the town after a bitter siege and great loss of life. Even so, he chose to execute another several thousand citizens of Tzor once he had the walls of the city breached.
“By then, the time of the annual festival was long past, and that man was on his god-driven way to take Misr and make of it a satrapy. We of Tzor do not forget Eskandar. Nor do we forgive him to this day. Nor have we ever let any other than our own anointed priest and king approach the temple and make the mystery, not before and not in the three hundred and seventy-four years since the accursed Argead came and remade the very land to please his ends.”
Thus began my awareness of history addressing concerns outside the family. I had never thought to wonder over the history of nations and empires and temples. Such things were, and looked as if they would be, there for a long time. Yet single people within those enormous frames could move the very shuttle of the loom of life and cause the pattern to change.
What would someone who could move whole nations, what would they be like in life? Would they be fussy eaters like Timo or Zebadyah? Would they smell different from other people? Were their eyes a special color?
“Let’s hurry now little one. If we arrive in good time your Aunt Mimi may find us a bath worth taking. And your Cousins Sobe and Maryam and your very own Haha are likely to want to make a feast with our evening meal to welcome you to our fold,” Mariamne chivvied me. ”I will enjoy all the warmth accorded the shepherdess who brings the lost lamb home. For being lost so long, you are worth more to us just now than any of the rest of us in whatever combination you might choose. We won’t have a cause to celebrate like this again until Shel arrives at the end of the summer.”
We hurried through a gate deep and dark, long and chill. There were no guards, only a gateway. We bustled through the narrow winding streets of New Tzor. As we trotted up the hill, the streets grew broader, breaking into the occasional square with a well in the middle and palm trees casting shade.
We headed farther up, until we faced another great gate. This one had guards. They wore dark, worked leather scales edged with golden metal caps. Their spears were long, and the metal of them was gold to match their armor. The helmets were round, with a point at the top like fat leaves sewn together. Mariamne showed the guards a shell, and they let us pass with no questions.