Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila




Gila's Tips for Tours

Mark Twain's Tips for Holy Land Pilgrims

A 31-year-old Mark Twain joined a tour to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867.  Mark Twain was virtually unknown as the "Quaker City" sailed out of New York harbor with no celebrities on board.  But she returned with The Great American Humorist.  Many of Twain’s dispatches to New York and San Francisco newspapers poked fun at his fellow travelers, as well as at the natives.  The tips below are adapted from Twain’s best selling The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869.  I've added present-day photos.
  • Pay attention en route to Nazareth – or you may find a camel nibbling at your ear!
Two hours from Tabor to Nazareth -- and as it was an uncommonly narrow, crooked trail, we necessarily met all the camel trains and jackass caravans between Jericho and Jacksonville in that particular place and nowhere else.  The donkeys do not matter so much, because they are so small that you can jump your horse over them if he is an animal of spirit, but a camel is not jumpable.

The camel would not turn out for a king.  He stalks serenely along, bringing his cushioned stilts forward with the long, regular swing of a pendulum, and whatever is in the way must get out of the way peaceably, or be wiped out forcibly by the bulky sacks.

Camels grazing near the River Jordan

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

"The camel would not turn out for a king!"  (Mark Twain)

It was a tiresome ride to us, and perfectly exhausting to the horses.  We were compelled to jump over upwards of eighteen hundred donkeys, and only one person in the party was unseated less than sixty times by the camels. 
I can not think of any thing, now, more certain to make one shudder, than to have a soft-footed camel sneak up behind him and touch him on the ear with its cold, flabby under-lip.  A camel did this for one of the boys, who was drooping over his saddle in a brown study.  He glanced up and saw the majestic apparition hovering above him, and made frantic efforts to get out of the way, but the camel reached out and bit him on the shoulder before he accomplished it.  This was the only pleasant incident of the journey.

It took Mark Twain two hours from Mount Tabor to Nazareth

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Mark Twain's journey from Mount Tabor (in photo) to Nazareth was 2 hours

  • Prepare some baksheesh – you may need to sneeze.
At Nazareth we camped in an olive grove near the Virgin Mary's fountain, and that wonderful Arab "guard" came to collect some baksheesh for his "services" in following us from Tiberias and warding off invisible dangers with the terrors of his armament. The dragoman [professional guide] had paid his master, but that counted as nothing -- if you hire a man to sneeze for you, here, and another man chooses to help him, you have got to pay both.  They do nothing whatever without pay.

Olive grove in Nazareth

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Mark Twain may have camped in this grove in Nazareth

How it must have surprised these people to hear the way of salvation offered to them "without money and without price."  If the manners, the people or the customs of this country have changed since the Savior’s time, the figures and metaphors of the Bible are not the evidences to prove it by.

Smart eye-catching Holy Land pouches

Smart-looking Holy Land pouches, not available in Mark Twain's day

  • Be grateful to the Catholic monks who drove stakes through traditions to preserve them.
These gifted Latin monks never do any thing by halves.  If they were to show you the Brazen Serpent that was elevated in the wilderness, you could depend upon it that they had on hand the pole it was elevated on also, and even the hole it stood in. 

They have got the "Grotto" of the Annunciation here; and just as convenient to it as one's throat is to his mouth, they have also the Virgin's Kitchen, and even her sitting-room, where she and Joseph watched the infant Savior play with Hebrew toys eighteen hundred years ago.  All under one roof, and all clean, spacious, comfortable "grottoes."

Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth visited by Mark Twain

It seems curious that personages intimately connected with the Holy Family always lived in grottoes -- in Nazareth, in Bethlehem, in imperial Ephesus--and yet nobody else in their day and generation thought of doing any thing of the kind.  If they ever did, their grottoes are all gone, and I suppose we ought to wonder at the peculiar marvel of the preservation of these I speak of.  When the Virgin fled from Herod's wrath, she hid in a grotto in Bethlehem, and the same is there to this day.  The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem was done in a grotto; the Savior was born in a grotto--both are shown to pilgrims yet.
If it had been left to Protestants to do this most worthy work, we would not even know where Jerusalem is to-day, and the man who could go and put his finger on Nazareth would be too wise for this world. 

The world owes the Catholics its good will even for the happy rascality of hewing out these bogus grottoes in the rock; for it is infinitely more satisfactory to look at a grotto, where people have faithfully believed for centuries that the Virgin once lived, than to have to imagine a dwelling-place for her somewhere, any where, nowhere, loose and at large all over this town of Nazareth.  There is too large a scope of country.  The imagination can not work.  There is no one particular spot to chain your eye, rivet your interest, and make you think.

The memory of the Pilgrims can not perish while Plymouth Rock remains to us.  The old monks are wise.  They know how to drive a stake through a pleasant tradition that will hold it to its place forever.
  • The Holy Land has small-scale geography, but large-scale impact.
Like my grapes which the spies bore out of the Promised Land, I have got everything in Palestine on too large a scale.  The word Palestine always brought to my mind a vague suggestion of a country as large as the United States.  I do not know why, but such was the case.  I suppose it was because I could not conceive of a small country having so large a history.
When I was a boy I somehow got the impression that the river Jordan was four thousand miles long and thirty-five miles wide.  It is only ninety miles long, and so crooked that a man does not know which side of it he is on half the time.  In going ninety miles it does not get over more than fifty miles of ground.  It is not any wider than Broadway in New York.

The River Jordan is not any wider than Broadway...

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The River Jordan is "not any wider than Broadway in New York" (Mark Twain)

Leaving out two or three short journeys of the Savior, he spent his life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracle within a compass no larger than an ordinary county in the United States.  It is as much as I can do to comprehend this stupefying fact. How it wears a man out to have to read up to a hundred pages of history every two or three miles -- for verily the celebrated localities of Palestine occur that close together.  How wearily, how bewilderingly they swarm about your path!

We are surfeited with sights....The sights are too many.  They swarm about you at every step; no single foot of ground in all Jerusalem seems to be without a stirring and important history of its own.  It is a very relief to steal a walk of a hundred yards without a guide along to talk unceasingly about every stone you step upon and drag you back ages and ages to the day when it achieved celebrity.
  • Marvel at how Palestine has developed since Mark Twain’s time.
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince.  The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape.  The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent.

The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds.  Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here.  It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Jezreel Valley is dismal and dull  no longer

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

A dismal land no longer:  The Jezreel Valley

  • If you board a ship at Jaffa, be sure you have a ticket – else you will be thrown up by a whale.
Simon the Tanner formerly lived here [in Jaffa].  We went to his house.  All the pilgrims visit Simon the Tanner's house.  Peter saw the vision of the beasts let down in a sheet when he lay upon the roof of Simon the Tanner's house.

It was from Jaffa that Jonah sailed when he was told to go and prophesy against Nineveh, and no doubt it was not far from the town that the whale threw him up when he discovered that he had no ticket.  Jonah was disobedient, and of a fault-finding, complaining disposition, and deserves to be lightly spoken of, almost.

Mark Twain suggests that Jonah failed to buy a ticket in Jaffa!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

These rocks served as breakwaters for the ancient port of Jaffa

  • From the ramparts of Old Jerusalem, observe the knobbiness of the city.
A fast walker could go outside the walls of Jerusalem and walk entirely around the city in an hour. I do not know how else to make one understand how small it is.  The appearance of the city is peculiar.  It is as knobby with countless little domes as a prison door is with bolt- heads.  Every house has from one to half a dozen of these white plastered domes of stone, broad and low, sitting in the centre of, or in a cluster upon, the flat roof.

Wherefore, when one looks down from an eminence, upon the compact mass of houses (so closely crowded together, in fact, that there is no appearance of streets at all, and so the city looks solid,) he sees the knobbiest town in the world, except Constantinople.  It looks as if it might be roofed, from centre to circumference, with inverted saucers.

Mark Twain called Jerusalem a knobby city

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

"There is no appearance of streets at all" (Mark Twain)

The houses are generally two stories high, built strongly of masonry, whitewashed or plastered outside, and have a cage of wooden lattice-work projecting in front of every window.  To reproduce a Jerusalem street, it would only be necessary to up-end a chicken-coop and hang it before each window in an alley of American houses.
  • Jerusalem’s alley cats demonstrate the narrowness of the streets.
The streets are roughly and badly paved with stone, and are tolerably crooked -- enough so to make each street appear to close together constantly and come to an end about a hundred yards ahead of a pilgrim as long as he chooses to walk in it. Projecting from the top of the lower story of many of the houses is a very narrow porch-roof or shed, without supports from below; and I have several times seen cats jump across the street from one shed to the other when they were out calling. The cats could have jumped double the distance without extraordinary exertion.

I mention these things to give an idea of how narrow the streets are.  Since a cat can jump across them without the least inconvenience, it is hardly necessary to state that such streets are too narrow for carriages.  These vehicles cannot navigate the Holy City.
  • Don't look for St. Veronica's handkerchief at Station of the Cross #6 – it's in Paris, or Milan, or Rome….
We crossed a street, and came presently to the former residence of St. Veronica. When the Savior passed there, she came out, full of womanly compassion, and spoke pitying words to him, undaunted by the hootings and the threatenings of the mob, and wiped the perspiration from his face with her handkerchief.

We had heard so much of St. Veronica, and seen her picture by so many masters, that it was like meeting an old friend unexpectedly to come upon her ancient home in Jerusalem.  The strangest thing about the incident that has made her name so famous, is, that when she wiped the perspiration away, the print of the Savior's face remained upon the handkerchief, a perfect portrait, and so remains unto this day.
We knew this, because we saw this handkerchief in a cathedral in Paris, in another in Spain, and in two others in Italy.  In the Milan cathedral it costs five francs to see it, and at St. Peter's, at Rome, it is almost impossible to see it at any price.  No tradition is so amply verified as this of St. Veronica and her handkerchief.
  • Travel encourages broad-mindedness.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
  • Holy Land memories are priceless.
In time this fatigue will be forgotten; the heat will be forgotten; the thirst, the tiresome volubility of the guide, the persecutions of the beggars -- and then, all that will be left will be pleasant memories of Jerusalem, memories we shall call up with always increasing interest as the years go by, memories which some day will become all beautiful when the last annoyances that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds never again to return.

To us, Jerusalem and today's experiences will be an enchanted memory a year hence -- memory which money could not buy from us.

Copyright 2009, 2011  Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed to reprint in any medium.

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When Mark Twain visited En Dor, he haggled for an ancient pipe that was supposedly smoked by the sorceress during the séance with King Saul.  When he visited the Valley of Elah, he unfortunately missed out on the opportunity to buy "the traditional slingshot" that killed Goliath.  But you can!




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin