Tuesday, May 06, 2008


There is a good view from the top row of this amphitheater. More than just good, it's a fabulous view picked personally two thousand twenty two years ago by Herod the Great, ruler of Israel for the Roman Empire.

Stretching out in front of this stone seating is a disconnected jumble of items with the the sea not a hundred yards distant. Plastic bleachers along the open side for more seating, scaffolding for stage lighting presumably, a field of ancient carved bits; edges of buildings, pillar tops and a tomb. Broken stone columns lay in a heap, they are ancient, but what can you do with them? There is a groomed walking path with interpretive signs set out from a mass of ancient stone foundation. It juts clean out into the sea, the lowest stones are one of Herod's palaces that got built on by subsequent fortifiers. The ocean flattened out the ambitious parts it could reach, except for one hunk of old wall out in the surf. On top of it a romantic pair lean into each other. What makes the sea such a beautiful color? Blue-green, and white breakers rolling in, this is a mood of the ocean writers try to describe, but how do you really know how that looks till you've seen it? What makes it so different from other ocean scenes? Water quality, bright noonday sun at this latitude? It would certainly be satisfactorily diverting if the toga clad theater troupe fails to entertain.

Our group gathers at the top. Thirty tiers of seating lets us see down on ruins; what had been buildings are now a nonsensical mass of unearthed walls. The hemispherical bowl of benches catch the quiet test phrases of my fellow tourists standing down on the floor. Nate, our singular leader, teacher, and guide begins to explain the history of Ceasarea Maritima
. Various harbors were constructed over the past millennia, Paul the Apostle was imprisoned here for a time, and which international conflicts left each new layer of stone.

This being the twelfth of nineteen days on our tour-vacation-college-class-worth-one-credit, we are used to Nate explaining everything. He does an excellent job of it. But today, perched up here with the blue sky drawing breezes over the seaside, it can be a little difficult to focus on a lecture.

Multicolored wood sheets of varying sizes make a strange but smooth stage floor. We sit there, Nate stands, gesturing, expounding, sharing the fruits of his college degrees, some analysis of race relations in the neighborhoods of first century Caesarea, but that may have been later on in the day, or earlier, I don't remember exactly.

Down on the stage crisp snatches of conversation float up from other tourists in little clumps strolling by at ground level.
A red bikini wearing woman didn't just walk past. She stepped out to the center of the stage, performing ballet moves! That is no silly tourist clowning around; no normal person moves with such balance. I mean, I've never seen a ballet live, but it's obvious from tv commercials even, that such kicks, spins and toe standing done in an air of casual fun must be from years of practice. Normal people wave their arms in the air with natural clumsiness, not poetry.

We didn't say a word. Nate was facing us teaching, oblivious to this peril of such an exotic classroom setting.
It didn't seem appropriate somehow, to interrupt a passionate instructor, everyone sat there, waiting for someone else to make an exclamation, which no one did. We just watched. Such a spectacle was just what this place was designed for; a moment more engaging than the ocean view that framed it.

She walked away with a little laugh – a dedicated creature of the stage unable to go by without being able to say here too she danced.