I’m walking home on Hana Senech, one of the few streets here that’s fairly level. Sometimes I like to walk home in the evening, when the sun’s rays are getting lower and the air could be described as “balmy.” (Nevertheless, about five minutes into the uphill hike, I’ve usually sweated through my dress clothes, losing whatever veneer of dignity business formal endows. Some of my more hardy coworkers walk to work in the steamy morning; I couldn’t help but feel a secret camaraderie with one such colleague who came in with epaulets of sweat on his shirt from his backpack.) Usually my eyes are trained on the sidewalk, which offers the pedestrian an array of potholes, bumps, and urban detritus. But today, I’m examining the neighborhood. In my area, tall, pale apartment buildings tower like desert palms. There doesn’t seem to be much else besides flat upon flat upon flat (I’m still getting used to the British lingo used over here). The city is maxed out, every inch of level earth developed, paved and built up. For my Wisconsin readers, Haifa and Madison have about the same population, but Haifa occupies less than a third of the space that Madison does. The tightness of everything makes me miss the suburbs, the big yards and wide streets of Midwestern sprawl. Hey, I’ve never been a city girl.
While most of my life here occurs either in my office or my flat, I do occasionally step out.
A few days ago, I visited the House of ‘Abdu’lláh Páshá in Akko. I was there on pilgrimage seven years ago, but my memory of it had eroded to the striking geometry of the staircase. Long before Led Zeppelin, early pilgrims talked of these steps as the stairway to heaven, for at the top would be ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Today’s pilgrims walk up that same staircase to the rooms occupied by the Holy Family over a century ago. It is said that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could watch the progress on the mausoleum of the Báb from this house, and indeed, looking out a window I could faintly see the golden dome across the bay, suspended like a medallion on a ribbon of green, the terraces.
After the visit, I followed some acquaintances into Old Akko. I know in olden times this was a dreaded prison city, but for my touristic sensibilities, this district’s dusty stone archways and minarets seemed romantic, like the backdrop for an orientalist painting by Gerome. We passed one bazaar and entered another where belly dancing skirts hung above fresh fish.
At the end of the day, I’m still an incurable homebody. There’s no excursion better than arriving on floor 13 and entering that bit of territory I can call my own.