Pilgrimage IX

Music changes perception. I listen to a lot of music, and lots of types of music, and when I studied in London I would walk through the streets on my way to this class or that tour, with earbuds on. Sometimes. Sometimes I did not, just to hear the music of the voices and cars and the city around me.  A band teacher once wisely explained:

Music is made up of sound and silence. One is as important as the other. When you are playing it, execute the silence with as much diligence as you execute the notes.

If you let it, the type of music (or attitude) in your head affects what you perceive of other people. For example, in London, if I listened to Gershwin in the streets, I saw upscale British subjects of the Queen, full of the culture of the United Kingdom. Dignity and class. But if I listened to hard rock, every other person looked like they could be the next Guy Fawkes or Jack the Ripper and they were just awaiting the right opportunity. Funny how that works. John Donne, an old philosopher, once said “the jaundiced eye sees yellow,” meaning what you see is more telling of what is already in your head as it is an accurate description or truth. Verbose politicians should take heed of this. How they respond to questions, the statements they make, and the accusations they hurl speak loudly of what is lurking behind their eyes rather than what is before their eyes.

To reverse this whole idea, it is quite humorous to me what music a brain will connect with what images or environments. When I was walking around the old city of Jerusalem, I saw more Jewish men and women than I could count, even if I had an abacus. Some were modern and looked like anyone else, some wore modern clothing plus a traditional head covering. But some were orthodox, or Hasidic, Jews and wore the garb they have worn as a group, for religious reasons, for a millennium or more.  Every time I saw them – carrying their prayer books and wearing their kippahs, or yarmulkas, with a black hat on top of that, with their black shoes and black pants with white shirts and long black coats with the tassles of their tzitzits often hanging out from below the coat, I thought of devotion and holiness. I heard music such as this:

The funny thing is that’s Ave Maria – catholic – and not Jewish at all. But that seemed holy and reverent to me, so there it was. Go figure.

That is still what I heard in my mind when I saw a several of them at our gate in the Tel Aviv airport, waiting to board a our jet to Paris. But that changed in a funny way.

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As we were waiting and some of our group was checking flight information online, rumors of delays and talk of extended layovers were circulating. Murmurs of “I have other engagements of this or that,” or “I’ve never seen Paris,” or “I just want my own bed,” were being heard in the breezeways and waiting areas.

About the time we started boarding the plane, the several orthodox Jews became a larger group, and then a full fledged flock. They were coming out of the bathrooms and the lounges. They were rising up from the black chairs around us, having been camouflaged with their Hasidic uniforms like Ninjas. I swear when I couldn’t see them they must have multiplied again in the walkway between the gate area and the plane, because by the time we were in our assigned seats, the 200 seat plane was crowded with what looked like a murder of crows, (that’s what you call a group of crows, really) and by the time we picked up our wheels and became airborne, murder is what the rest of the passengers were thinking. Each of them had a black hat, black hat box, black carry-on and black jacket to be stowed in the overhead compartments, and they reminded me of an old black and white comedy in their efforts to accomplish this.

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Except they weren’t silent about their task. Again think of the noisy crows, calling and cawing, and flapping their wings – in Hebrew. Loud Hebrew –  not the quiet, pious, reverent dialect that the ancient fathers surely used. Their music changed in my mind from Ave Maria to Primus. (Sample Primus at the bottom of the page. I’m a fan of both)

Once we were sufficiently delayed by their confusion, they sat for the 10 minutes of ascension, and then started over. Up and down, moving black stuff around in the bins, arguing over whose black something was the other person’s black whatever. And going up and down the aisles to get drinks. Not waiting for the flight attendants as civilized travelers do, but bumping their kosher derriers against everyone in an aisle seat as they shuffled to the back of the plane for another can of Heineken, and a few cups for the apparent communion to come. I know I’m mixing up my religions here, but I don’t even care.

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I was on the back row of the plane, next to the loo. I could not see the toilet area but I had visited it myself and I knew it to be so small a child wouldn’t have room to change his mind back there, much less an article of clothing. But they were going past me in droves like clowns piling into the tiny little clown car at the circus. I’ve heard black is slimming, but that was truly a miracle similar to Elijah and the widow’s jar. Read it for yourself. 1 Kings 17:7-16

I have never been so thankful for intestine wretching turbulence as when we hit bad air over the Italian Alps. The pilot ordered us all to sit down, and they obeyed, suddenly becoming little more than small black domes at the top of each black naugahyde seat. During the turbulence, one by one, they discovered that pushing a certain button above their heads would produce a pretty stewardess in quick fashion.

They seemed to enjoy this repeatedly, and I judged the looks she was receiving as she made her way up and down the aisle to suggest something prohibited by the Books of Exodus or Leviticus. After 10 minutes or so, a bell dinged to signal the end of turbulence and required restraints, and they were flushed like birds at the sound of a gun (think murder of crows again) and formed a rowdy line for turns at the schnitzel chute.

The citizens of Switzerland had no idea what was happening in the airplane flying above them.

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The odor creeped out of the tail section of the plane like an Egyptian plague. Only I’m sure God did not ordain this one, so much as the combination of Air France food plus heavy Heineken. The aroma was so strong I tried to video it creeping, crawling, waxing and waning up the aisle, but my camera battery was dead so it didn’t pick it up. I had flashbacks of when I worked at a landfill before law school, and I would have my lunch in the porta-potty to get a break from the stench of the dump. This particular smell was a cross between the DMV, a jr. high boys’ locker room, and falafel with a touch of rosemary. It was attacking us like the Philistines in the Jezreel valley, but we had no stones to throw – Goliath could only be flushed.

The pilot, at long last, gave us the news that we would be landing soon, and that did not settle anything down at all. When we did actually touch down, they took the expected 37 minutes to collect, argue over, and distribute out all their identical black belongings, and we de-boarded in Paris, France, to try to confirm just how long we would be hopelessly stranded in the wonderful city of lights and romance.

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