The Sands of Judea

Nizra-small.JPGThis is a photograph of the highway leading from Muscat, Oman to the mountain city of Nizwa.  It was taken by me on a recent visit to that country.

To prepare for the trip, I read several articles about Oman, but the best thing I read was Arabian Sands, by the extraordinary British explorer Wilfred Thesiger.  Published in 1959, the book relates his travels with the Bedouin tribes across the great desert of southern Arabia, which the Arabs call simply "the Sands."

Thesiger's descriptions of that amazing landscape are among the best ever written in English.  But what really impressed me was his account of the Bedouin.  Yes, he had a bad case of what the US State Department calls "localitis."  He went native with a vengeance.  But read him, and you will see it was a beautiful vengeance.  So greatly did he admire the Bedouins' physical stamina and nobility of character, he bemoans the coming of that bundle of blessings and curses we call modernity.

In particular, he deplores the advent of paved roads, asserting at one point that "the very slowness of our march diminished its monotony.  I thought how terribly boring it would be to rush about this country in a car."

What better segue to Yellow Asphalt (2000), a brilliant, searing film by the Israeli film maker Danny Vereté.  Seven years in the making, the film tells three tales, each longer than the one before, about the encounter of the Bedouin with late 20th-century modernity.  The sands here are those of the Judean desert, and the cast of the film includes both Israelis and members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe.  And in keeping with Thesiger's spirit, it opens with an image of a huge tractor-trailer careening along an empty highway, only to round a curve and accidentally run over a Bedouin boy.

I won't tell you the plots, because while the first and second end on a darkly comic note, the third unfolds with all the stark inevitability of a Greek tragedy.  And like a Greek tragedy, it contrasts the clumsy blows of fate with the delicate resilience of the most noble human characters.  So keep an eye on Abed, the young Bedouin in the third tale.  He would not be out of place in Thesiger's memoir.

April 19, 2009 7:18 PM |



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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Serious Popcorn published on April 19, 2009 7:18 PM.

The Eyes Have It was the previous entry in this blog.

Tri-Ocular is the next entry in this blog.

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