Milk, Dates and Falafel in Akko

Tucked behind Ottoman walls lies a magical place, a Venetian outpost of loud markets and silent alleyways. The Mediterranean splashes on damp stone, releasing scents of brine, and as dusk settles the azan from a dozen mosques begins its evocative call to the faithful. I have visited many times, happy day trips from my former home in central Israel.  Its souk rivals any other, a slippery labyrinth where huge tubs of spices glimmer, yellow, and orange and brown, precious powders by the shovelfull. Radios hum in Arabic, mournful songs of love and longing, and everywhere is the scent of turmeric and woodsmoke, frankincense and myhr. I avert my eyes to the sights of butchery, the finality of death in the glassy eyes of a decapitated sheep. Other stalls sell weirdly dated beauty products, the models’ faces faded by sun and age, curling at the edges. Soaps and rose water, shampoos from Lebanon, the land beyond the hills, a forbidden land to me, a place of mystery, of coolth and cedar. I wander further, ever further into the depths of the small town, footsteps muffled on dusty slabs. Once, when I was young and still had hair, I stayed at a youth hostel in the shadow of the walls, a small palace with a patio and library. I was lonely, and I walked endlessly to stave off the darkness that gripped me. I ate falafel and watched local boys jumping fearlessly into the angry sea from the top of the wall. Later, years later, I sat in the same area, delicious shade above and a curtain of heat by our sides, and we drank thick milk shakes of date and banana. Night fell. The sky turned pink, then purple, then black. And so we say farewell to the small town that hugs the sea, the last stop on the spice trails that once wound their way here, and return once more to our ordinary lives.

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