DP Writing 101—Day 10: Favorite Childhood Meal…Ice Cream
DP Photo Challenge: Early Bird Light
The little girl in the photograph I’m holding in my hand is my mother at two years old (circa 1908). I can’t show you the picture because it’s an antique and in a frame, and too fragile to remove to scan. In the photograph, my mother’s blonde hair is cropped short. She stands in a white lace dress in front of three women: her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s-mother’s mother.
This third woman in the photo is my great-great grandmother, a full-blooded Native American. Iroquois or Apache is our best guess based on the few pieces of information discovered about her by my cousin Marty, the genealogist in the family, and based mainly on geography (Arizona and Pennsylvania). And this is information recently uncovered because for most of my life, no one in the family ever talked about this woman. In those early days of American history (say, mid-1800’s), it was not quite acceptable for American men to marry Native Americans, who were viewed closer to savage wild animals than to the human species. And today, that’s funny because I recently read an article that made light of the fact that many Americans, especially movie stars and ex-presidents, now claim to have Indian blood, when they actually do not. Click here to check it out.
We don’t know much about the man in our family who married this woman. But my guess is that he was a bit of a Badfish. It seems odd, almost silly, now, that my family would hide the fact for all those years, and hide the photograph that intimates that my ancestral bloodline traverses a tributary that trickles into a Native American gene pool. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to a nomadic lifestyle, women with brown toes, motorhomes, pemmican, knives, and Bedouin tribal carpets. And perhaps at first blush, seemingly out of character—ice cream.
On one of my extended sojourns maybe 20 years ago, I washed up on the shores of the Red Sea in Aqaba, Jordan. I met a man named Haroun who owned an antique shop. He sold everything from brass water pipes to iron-age coins. I bought a hand-woven tribal kilim from him. This type of carpet—thin, tightly woven and meters long—is still used today as flooring over sand in Bedouin tents in places like Jordan, where some people still live in tents and weave carpets on looms they carry with them.
Now, this is cool: these rugs are woven and designed very much like the carpets you might have found in a teepee or being sold today on, say, a Navajo tribal reservation. Even more interesting is how similar the designs are between the ancient nomad carpets and the Native American carpets. It’s not really surprising, though, once you realize that those first Native Americans were previously native to someplace else—Native Asians, Native Middle-easterners, Native Africans—before they crossed the Bering Strait on the land bridge that once allowed early nomads to follow wooly mammoths onto new pastures in North America, maybe something like 11,000 years before anyone would call it North America. When we hear “land bridge,” we might think of a narrow strip of land between Russia and Alaska. But geologists say it was huge, say the size of Texas (maybe 1,000 miles [1600 km] wide), and easy for roaming animals and humans to wander along. They also say it was a lush grazing land.
But get this: researchers have also found links in language between some Native American tribes and a small tribe in Siberia. This actually should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the National Geographic Genome Project, which traces human DNA out of Africa to everywhere else in the world. So, apparently, those acid-dropping hippie freaks in the ‘70’s and their gurus who were chanting “we are all one, we are all the same” were, quite literally, right.
Recently during a sweltering summer, I traveled again to Jordan with one of my favorite travel buddies, Lisa. We rented a truly unreliable car from Reliable Rent-A-Car, and drove down the King’s Highway from Madaba near the place where Moses died; to Petra where Moses’ brother Aaron died; through Wadi Rum, where a slew of Canaanites died; and on into Aqaba, where Lawrence of Arabia, a slew of WW1 Turks, and our unreliable Reliable rental car all died.
(caveat: in the movie, Peter O’Toole died in the Aqaba desert, but I think Lawrence actually died in the UK, google it if you’re a stickler for detail)
Not everyone rides a camel
While we French-fried our skin and waited delivery of another rental car to arrive from Madaba, we shuffled around the fairly desolate, yet touristy-for-locals, town of Aqaba. You can stand on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba and see three countries from here: Jordan, Egypt, and Occupied Palestine (also called Israel, but not by anyone in this part of the world). The Arabian tectonic plate shifting against the Eurasian plate is literally ripping the land apart here, creating the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gulf of Suez, as well as the Persian Gulf (now for some reason called the Arabian Gulf). And some people believe this tectonic action may have created a quake, which caused a tsunami that swallowed those pesky Egyptians who were chasing Moses and his tribe on their exodus out of Egypt. Luck, good and bad, has always been linked to timing.
If you ever passed through Moab or Marrakech or Death Valley or Alice Springs during summer, you might have an idea how hot Aqaba gets in July. Beads of sweat drip through your eyebrows. Clothes cling, as though you showered in them. You find yourself pursuing thin columns of shade from tilting date palms.
Because we both already had collections, neither Lisa nor I desired to purchase another Bedouin clay water jar or tribal carpet, but we decided to discover if Haroun was still there in his antique shop. And he was. Amazingly after twenty years, I walked right to it—granted, the town’s not that big. The shop now, however, is located right around the corner from the new ice cream parlor. Sometimes, you might feel like thanking someone for the concept of globalization. Somebody is doing something right in the world when you can buy three scoops of chocolate ice cream in the middle of the (not-quite) empty quarter of desert.
In the loft of Haroun’s shop, we noticed several asymmetric, miniature clay bottles, obviously hand-formed, and unglazed. Haroun informed us they were used for perfume; an “excavator” he knew had “dug them up” from some ancient site, Jerash or Jericho perhaps. They were slightly chipped, and partially obscured under an adamantine patina of dirt. Haroun said they were possibly a thousand years old. We figured maybe a hundred years—but more likely ten, and knockoffs baked in a microwave. Yet, we loved them, their sensual yet atavistic look and feel. So we bought them. Not cheap. If we tell the story right, we figured, and display them under showcase lights (maybe frame the receipt), who’s going to question authenticity?
While we negotiated the purchase of the perfume bottles, we sat on a Bedouin rug, which contained the same warp-based stripe, colors (burgundy, almost-black blue, ecru), and loop-end cabled fringe as the carpet I had purchased from Haroun two decades earlier (same tribe, perhaps), but this rug was longer, 15 feet, 4.5 meters (made for a much larger tent). “No,” I kept thinking. No. Not one more rug. Besides, it’s in terrible shape: torn, frayed, and bleeding burgundy dye—no one would confuse this rug with museum quality. Haroun intuited my interest (apparently, camel traders and carpet dealers possess a harrowing sixth sense).
When purchasing anything in this part of the world, bartering is de rigueur. But Haroun didn’t even begin negotiations. He simply started folding the carpet and barked in his brusque Arabic accent, “you take, you take.” I raised both hands and motioned for him to stop. “You take, you take,” he chanted. He creased the rug into a supremely small bundle for such an extravagant swath of homespun wool (well, they were made for transport in leather bags on the back of a camel). Haroun wrapped the kilim in rough, yellowing paper, tied it with frayed cotton yarn, charged me next to nothing—something like 14 Jordanian dinars, about 20 US dollars. Maybe because of his profit on the perfume bottles is what I’m thinking.
The carpet flew home with me in my carry-on bag. It now lives in my hall as a runner. I stroll over it every day, and I almost crave its raw texture on the bottom of my bare feet—perhaps an inherited Iroquois memory? Sometimes, I fold the rug into a low seat and eat three scoops of Häagen–Dazs, and imagine I can speak the native tongue of my ancestors…whose own ancient ancestors, millennia before, invented both carpet weaving and ice cream, somewhere in Siberia.
Do you have a story of ancestors, or negotiating a purchase? Paying too much? Or icecream?
You can find other Photo challengers here: Early Bird
You can find Photo Rehab photos here: Rehab