Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Besudfeh Ahla

My amigo Theo and I went to Nazareth. Most people come to Nazareth seeking Jesus, I come seeking people who happen not to be Jesus, but are nonetheless Nazarene. There's plenty of that for us.

There's Daher, the owner of the Al-Rida Cafe. I don't recognize him at first since he shaved his marvelous Obelix moustache, the outcome of a trimming accident. He insists on taking us to the roof to look at the town. The Basilica of the annunciation, with its lantern-bearing conical roof, looks like a massive lighthouse from there. It is so near that had Al Rida been a ship, it would have smashed against it. Daher converted the attic into a B&B. Dangerous stuff, Any pilgrim would get a heart attack upon waking up to that view. Theo is impressed with the reserved, Scandinavian design. "Who made this happen?" he asks. "I'm the only victim here", replies Daher - carpenter the first.

There's Mary, Who co-owns another cafe, the Sudfeh ("coincidence"). She is a curator and worked at several cultural institutes in the city before tasting entrepreneurship. Naturally, the Sudfeh will end up featuring a gallery, and is already pretty artsy with its Mexican style courtyard, nice bar and whimsical t-shirts worn by the waiters. "Bisudfeh akhla" one of them reads - something like: "I happen to be better looking", and a wordplay on the restaurant's name.

It turns out Mary's quite fond of Daher and frequents the Al Rida to get her "Daher fix" from time to time. Now, Nazareth is hardly my city, it's an Arab city, a city across the cultural, linguistic and political lines. You can hardly imagine how peculiar and fun it is for me to talk to people there about mutual acquaintances, and so fondly at that. Mary from Sudfeh - carpenter the second.

Forgive my obsession with nightlife spots, but another one of them exemplifies the Nazareth spirit wonderfully. "The Moon Pub" is located in the Jewish enclave situated at the very top of the hill. Nazareth Illit may have been designed as a Zionist fortress, but at night it's pretty off guard. Gilu, the owner, is leisurely smoking a hookah pipe, warning us against gambling on the stock exchange. Dorit, a costumer and kibbutz kindergarten teacher, notifies us that she slaughtered a lamb that day, in preparations for a friend's wedding. "I haven't washed since!", she declares, then offers us a lift downtown. We descend down impossibly steep streets into a maelstrom of lights. Dorit is a carpenter for sure, plus an able butcher.

Nazareth is well constructed. Spend an afternoon chatting to whoever feels like chatting, on the mattresses at the courtyard of the Fauzi Azar hostel. Lose your way and have someone direct you by putting a hand on your shoulder and walking you to your destination. Wander to a mysterious chapel that's locked, then walk into the neighbors' kitchen as they cook and have them hand you the hammer-sized key - you'll get the idea. Some fine woodwork was performed to put that city together, mentally-speaking, that is. If Jesus grew up there he must have been a really sweet guy.


Miriam (Mimi) Asnes said...

Where is Bisudfeh? Is it the "new" cafe in the old city and is the owner or funder the same guy who owns Diwan Ellajun?

I am curious what has become of that place. Please discuss.

Miriam (Mimi) Asnes said...

Language note: it's Ahla. Heh, not kheh. The root is heh-lem-waw which corresponds to Hebrew חלו حلوand as you know it goes by the Arabic and Mizrahi pronunciation :) The same root means "sweet" or "sweets," helwiyat. In Arabic, the title of your post translates as "it's better when it's a coincidence", but it's interesting that Ahla is used mostly in Hebrew slang...

Miriam (Mimi) Asnes said...

Oh, and the "I happen to be better looking" translation is also true.

Yuval said...

I'll correct the title of the post. Shukran 3awi.

I don't think the Sudfeh people have anything to do with Diwan Ellajun. I went there too and saw Hanita. The place is full of dolls now, very pretty ones actually, which are produced by her crew of laboring ladies. The whole space was done up quite nicely, and they're having stuff like Sufi poetry nights. I think Diwan Ellajun should still kind of decide what it actually is... but well done to them for the efforts anyway.

Miriam (Mimi) Asnes said...

There is also a famous Arabic saying in Egyptian Arabic: "al-sudfeh ahsan min alf mi-a'at" Which means, "[meeting by] coincidence is better than a thousand planned meetings."

I wonder if Diwan Ellajun is still a Wisconsin project or if they've broken off.