Israel is a wonderful place to visit. It's so compact it is easy to go from one gospel site to another at a dizzying pace. The flip side is that one may also find oneself in the heart of the intifada if one is not careful. (The Bear would have bought a tee-shirt saying "I Got Stoned In Nablus" if the souk had any. Fortunately the rental took the damage.)
The cool thing about the Holy Land is that nearly everything is exactly like you imagine it. (The exception was the Jordan River, which was dark and sluggish, instead of rippling and sparkling.) Here is where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Hollywood couldn't have picked a better location. And the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is like nothing else in the world. Yes, right there Our Lord was crucified.
The Holy Land does not disappoint.
St. Peter's Fish
The Sea of Galilee was indeed a gem in a beautiful setting. There was a little restaurant that offered "St. Peter's Fish." This is the very fish that the Big Fisherman went after before he became a Fisher of Men. Perhaps it was the same fish that Jesus told Peter to catch, only to find a coin for the temple tax in its mouth. Surely this was the fish that Jesus multiplied.
The Bear ordered with excitement, and a little bit of awe. He was going to eat the same fish the Apostles fished for and ate. It was to be a direct gustatory link to those miracle-filled New Testament days.
Finally, it came. It was a carp. The Bear supposes "St. Peter's Fish" sounds more appetizing than carp. Thin, more bones than meat, and a little bit scary looking, even for a Bear. Oh, well, the Bear thought, maybe this lousy fish is what they had in Peter's day.
But there was still one moment-spoiling detail.
The fish was served with a cigarette in its mouth. The waiter was giddy with hilarity. "See, fish ees smoking! See? Ees smoking!" He even pointed to the cigarette, in case the Bear had failed to notice a cigarette protruding from his entree's mouth. The waiter cherished the seriously flawed notion that tourists would treasure the memory of being served a cigarette smoking fish bearing the name of St. Peter.
Yep. Now this was what I came to the Holy Land for. The Bear picked at this miserable specimen for a few minutes, then left the fish to finish his cigarette. A lot of people smoke after a meal. The Bear had never before seen a meal smoke after a meal.
So, thank you, comedic waiter, for making a fish smoking a cigarette the dominant memory of my visit to the Holy Land.
Israel Has No Sense of Humor
The Bear went on to cause a diplomatic incident in Haifa that induced Israel to declare the Bear persona non grata, followed by a comedy of petty diplomatic spite. But that's another Bear tale.
There's the Holy Land, which is amazing. Then there's Israel, which has no sense of humor at all.