The Three (un)Wise Men, Episode 6
It was late afternoon by the time we found the car again in the streets of Tiberias (it was right where we’d left it) and decided to head to the coast for dinner. Our destination would be Akka (Acre). It had several draws, the biggest being the fact that it was right on the Mediterranean and the second was that it had a high probability of containing at least one restaurant.
We climbed up the switchbacks over the mountains that separated the Sea of Galilee and the coast. It is only about a 25 mile drive, but it took some time as the progress is slow due mainly to traffic of vacationers clogging up the two-lane roads. (How dare they ruin my holiday!)
We parked along a boulevard and walked to the coastal wall. The wall that protects Akka from the Mediterranean is, like nearly every structure there, built out of tan stone blocks. The wall extends around much of the city, with the top of the wall forming a street lined with fish markets and cafes. (It should be noted that these cafes were not necessarily of the same caliber that one would find scattered about around Les Halles, in Paris. Instead, they are more in line with the type of cafe you would expect to see next to a fish market.) The wall extended down a couple of stories toward the water level, then extended out for another 30 yards to reach the sea. This floor seemed a bit of an odd extravagance, until I noticed how well it kept the waves from damaging the wall, at least for the 20 minutes I stood there watching them rolling in.
There was a restaurant facing westward that we settled on. The menu indicated that they specialized in fresh fish entrees and this was a good thing. Mark had informed us that the last time he returned to his village from a trip to Akka he was asked how his fish was. When he informed them that he, in fact, had not had any fish, their brows furrowed. Mark’s neighbor took him aside and explained to him with deepest wisdom and care, “When people go to Akka and do not eat fish ……we make fun of them.”
There are times in life when things seem nearly perfect. The sun was setting over the Mediterranean, casting a pinkish-orange hue to the darkening sky. The heat of the day had subsided into a gentle warm breeze that could be best described as “just right.” The moon was rising in its brightest white. Across on the Haifa side of the bay the side of Mount Carmel twinkled with the lights from the Baha’i Garden terraces. We were seated at a table overlooking the sea and the constant lapping of waves provided a relaxing soundtrack to the dinner conversation. All was right in the world.
All was right for awhile anyway. We were finishing up our appetizer of mixed grilled bits and bobs when I noticed some goings on inside the restaurant, over Andrea’s shoulder. Two men were engaged in some sort of intimate dance maneuvers as they made their way through the restaurant, twirling and dipping each other from table to table. After about 30 seconds of dancing they emerged from the doorway and out into the al fresca dining. I found it a bit out of place to see two grown men expressing themselves in such a way in public, but I wasn’t about to question them, especially since I had just noticed the knife.
They pushed and struggled and grunted their way out the door and to the far side of the terrace, bumping into several empty tables as they each struggled to gain control of the 10” butcher’s knife. While I don’t speak Arabic, I could hear them muttering curses and accusations to each other in the midst of battle. I know of only one thing that can drive two grown men to such passion: they must have been arguing about cars. Or a woman. But probably cars.
I gained new insight on close-combat street knife fights that night. First, a knife fight at 30 feet poses little threat to you or your party. The rules change when the fight eventually makes it within 10 feet of either you or the very pregnant woman at your table. Survival instincts begin to take over as you plan your escape/counter-assault. Secondly, once you get over the initial shock of two people trying to kill each other a distant 30 feet away, it soon turns into nearly normal background commotion and conversation resumes again in a rather short amount of time. I think it took me a good 8 seconds of pause before I jumped back into the talk of the table. Then again, I was the only one at our table with a clear view of the situation, so my recovery time was greatly increased. After about 5 minutes of twirling, pushing, and expressing their love for one another, the struggle downgraded to a shoving match, then a shouting battle. We finished our hummus as the couple parted ways and the knife-wielding man backed his way down the street. Mr. Defense (as I dubbed him) returned to the kitchen to finish cooking.
A few minutes later a gray car pulled up to the cafe and Mr. Offense emerged, trusty knife in hand, and headed back into the restaurant kitchen once more. He left his car idling in the street outside with loud Arabic dance music trapped inside. I pondered the wisdom of leaving a car idling in the street of a city such as Akka, but realized that trying to explain this flawed logic to a knife-wielding man would leave me seeming the fool. Again, Defense and Offense spilled out of the restaurant, struggling, grunting, cursing, seething. They stayed away from the diners and instead focused their collective energy on orbiting in planet-like rotations around Offense’s car, the center of his universe. This second battle seemed to be more peacock-like in nature; the knife was held at arms length as he rapped the blade on the car hood. This continued for only a couple of minutes before they hissed at each other and went their separate ways.
Our entrees arrived at this point and we dug in, appreciating the flakiness of the fresh fish and soothing warmth of epinephrine flowing through our bodies. No one would be laughing at us after tonight.