Sunrise in Gibraltar

This sunrise was our reward for an early start on a big day.  We were staying near Gibraltar, and taking the ferry over to Tangier in Morocco to spend the day.  It was our first time ever in Africa, and we were a little nervous to step through that door.

Our driver Rashid was very helpful.   Rashid was a good son, who lived with and cared for his elderly mother.  His English was difficult to understand, so he and the kids communicated in Spanish.  If I had a question, I could make myself understood in my rusty French, but his replies came too quickly for me.  We worked out a system in which Rashid would reply to my French questions in Spanish, which the kids would then translate into English for me.

We were typical tourists.  We went to the market and did what most day trippers do.

We felt grateful for a quick peek into another world.

A glimpse down a dark alley could shed light on another way of life.

We walked past little shops and businesses. People work so hard to put bread in the mouths of their children.

Amizagh women sold vegetables in the market.  They are called Berbers by the Arabs and most of the world now.  Descended from prehistoric dwellers of the land, they are now a minority, but they retain the language and traditions of their ancestors.

I saw this cat in a narrow passageway, and it occurred to me that cats all over the world speak the same language.  I wondered what would happen if people did too.  Something would be gained, but much would be lost as well.

In Tangier we were given a taste of new flavors, colors, music, and customs.

It was time to cross back over the Straits.  The  kids will never let me live down the fact that I accidentally bought a rug, my only souvenir of that trip.  I wanted to bring home some of the vivid colors of a world so very different, and yet so much the same as ours.

Sunrise to sunset, long after the threads on my rug have faded, that day will stay with me.

All words and images Copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird.

 

Survival Stories

 

While exploring Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, my sister Constance and I stumbled upon the ancient hilltop town of Pitigliano.

 

We saw many other lovely towns…

…and picturesque villages.

But I loved this place like nowhere else in Italy.  Its story was the key to my heart.  Pitigliano had provided a rare refuge for Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition. After the Pope and the Medicis forced Pitigliano’s Jews into the ghetto in 1600, they still accounted for twenty percent of the population.  After the war and the Holocaust, a small handful returned to care for the synagogue and to tell the story.

How small?” I asked a local. She shrugged. “Maybe five.”

The Jewish bakery was closed for the Sabbath, and the synagogue was closed because there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.

But a shop sold matzoh and a confection called Sfratto, the Italian word for eviction.  Sfratto has a filling of honey, walnuts, and oranges, baked into a smooth-crusted loaf shaped like a police baton.   It was invented by the Jews of Pitigliano to commemorate their eviction from their homes and into the ghetto by officers using sticks to beat on their doors.  Four hundred years later, they’re still telling the story, and we’re still eating it up.

In a narrow alley across from the synagogue, I shivered to hear the haunting strains of a lone Klezmer violin drifting down from a second story window.  At first I thought it was a recording, until the music trailed off.  It had to have been played by human, or perhaps ghostly hands.

 

 

Nearby was a doorstep decked with flowers as colorful as the town’s history.  Two cats curled up in a big flowerpot, one cat a black and white mix, the other all black, but I was an English major, and I saw them as symbols of the concrete world of black and white, living in harmony with the fluid world of shadow and story.  The scene was framed by dark medieval walls backlit by the sunny valley, while the valley was alive with vineyards and olive trees…

…yet riddled with ancient tombs.


The paradox seemed to capture the essence of Pitigliano, and of all Italy.  But before I could capture it on film, the cats bolted, and I lost the moment.  Or so I thought.  That night in our apartment in Orvieto, Constance painted…

…while I wrote about Pitigliano.  I loved it for its unique history, for providing refuge when so few others would, for its tiny but stalwart population of Jews determined to protect a precious legacy, for the stories and ghosts that linger in every back alley.

Then Constance showed me her painting.  Alive with color, it conjured the fragrance of honey and walnut, the haunting strains of a lone violin. And there were my cats, just as I remembered them, a perfect balance of black and white, and shadow.

It was reassuring.  In arts or in letters, by word of mouth, or in the guise of a Jewish confection, so long as there is someone left to tell it and someone willing to listen, the story will survive.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck