maandag 28 januari 2013

The Closest Thing to Heaven in the Holy Land

A little under a year ago I wrote a blog post called From Araq to Zombie, dealing with the basis of truth behind the cliché that archaeologist and alcohol go together like gin and tonic. Part of the post was a brief description of most common locally brewed beer in Israel. Soon afterwards, I was asked why I hadn`t written anything about Taybeh. Ignorant as I was, I asked why it was such a big deal. I was promised that when we got to Israel, they were going to show me what the big deal was. I would not be disappointed.
It was not just the beer that didn`t dissapoint.

In a country where most beer hangs somewhere between swigable and survivable, Taybeh was a true revelation. It actually tastes half decent, which is saying a lot.  The trouble with Taybeh is that it`s not brewed within the “green-line” Israeli borders. Taybeh is brewed in the Christian-Palestinian village it takes its name from, on the West Bank. This presents a uniquely difficult situation.

On the one hand, production is quite difficult as most resources have to be brought in from abroad, seeing as the predominantly Islamic Palestinians authorities would rather not have a company producing beer in their midst. In order to try and come up with an acceptable product, Taybeh started non-alcoholic beer production in 2006, labeling their bottles in green. This in order to make the brand attractive to Muslims, who do not drink alcohol out of religious principle.

On the other hand, the brand has to ship its product outside of the Palestinian territories in order to get it sold. This means getting it through Israeli checkpoints and onto the markets beyond. The main problem here is that the majority of Israeli companies don`t exactly fancy stocking Palestinian produce. Therefore, the market for Taybeh in Israel is smaller than it could potentially be and you will be hard pressed to find a shop that sells Taybeh. The most common places to find Taybeh are restaurants and bars. Typically the ones with a somewhat non-Israeli background such as the Lebanese restaurants in Haifa or the German-styled Pilgerhaus in Tabgha, are good candidates for drinking the brew.

The interesting thing is that since my introduction to the brew, drinking Taybeh in Israel has always become the marker for an interesting story. The first one is about our trip to Haifa and Acco. For the long version, see the post Grime lines and Lucky Foam from last year, but the TL:DR version is that one of the girls we were with used a combination of charm and blond hair to persuade a waiter to let us walk out of a restaurant with a Taybeh glass. It`s come to epitomize the good times we had that weekend. 

But Taybeh brings back memories closer to “home” as well. The divine solemnity of the church at Tabgha; the beautiful view of the lake basking in the afternoon sun, white herons gliding low over the water… It reminds me very much of how the Northwestern shore of the lake is almost like paradise. Josephus was quite right when he called this area “the ambition of nature”.

...and so is this

It`s not surprising that because of its hard-to-get nature and its inherent association with memorable experiences, Taybeh has come to be viewed as something of a luxury commodity. Small wonder then, that it became such a discussion topic. This is something that goes beyond the we-don`t-have-this-at-home factor, this is something that will take on the same significance that a photo book, or a reunion would. Therefore, if anyone knows where to get a sixpack of Taybeh in Europa or via the internet, do let me know.
...and this

So the conclusion of this piece is that we enjoy Taybeh because it`s good beer (by Israeli standards) which holds many memories of good times with the dear people of Horvat Kur. But perhaps the reason Taybeh appeals to us goes beyond merely the fact that the taste of the stuff evokes these memories. Perhaps we archaeologists prefer it because we recognize ourselves in the idea of trying to brew beer in the Palestinian territories. The whole concept is so crazy to begin with that it actually becomes awesome, just like archaeology. 

Boiled down to its purest form, archaeology is about the justification of craziness. We travel to nature`s extremes to perform hard physical labor in order to try and help better understand humanity`s past; a prospect that would have the average person suffering from Historical Significance Deficit Disorder declares you ripe for the nearest mental institution.
In a way, Taybeh epitomizes the whole experience of taking part in the fieldwork at Horvat Kur: it`s a unique experience that will create lasting memories of good times. These memories will stand as beacons for valueing the good things in life, and that is something I can drink to…

…anyone else thirsty?

Singing off,

The Lost Dutchman

p.s.  On a short note, it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his dominant position and that the social matters of Israel will find a well-deserved, larger slot in politics. It seems that for the time being, Israeli politics will be about more than just regional conflict. To my mind, that is a good thing.

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