Know more/Know less
Less about Israel/Palestine, if you so prefer.
If not, please return to the abridged chapter…
“Whoever runs the
table gets to play
“Sheeit, that Bird could blow, true school—know what I’m say’n?”
“Not like Saint John…”
“Whast alto sax got t’do wit tenor, huh? Gimme some a dem damn chips…”
“Awww, ’Trane went jumpin’ the rails wit his spiritify hip trippin’—just like Miles did. Bird was a stone animal…’Trane was mo like mudda fuckin’ prey!’
“Thast whacked—Bird was cooked at the end, man. ’Trane was just leavin’ the station.”
“Damn straight—Bird cold attacked the sax, some baaaad-ass tone. But ’Trane caressed his horn like a lady love.”
To my mind, the pitched grind of that knife-sharpening wheel kept tune with the music now flooding across the Palace grounds. That truck-bed blade honer synched as well with the drone of a Putzmeister compressor pumping cold concrete into an imposing corner renovation, a pivotal house where Bay Street zigzagged across Baker— scaffolded to death, hard-hat zone, matching yellow Porta-Potties, locked and loaded. The three-plus story brickface behemoth looked defiantly out of place among the outer Marina’s codified residential architecture, a curiously darker toned fortress, temple to masonic tradition, tuckpointed to perfection.
Further west of Baker, fog heaped more thickly over the distant Presidio treeline, backdropping this short, stately block of Bay Street—an orderly pride of more Spanish mission-style strongboxes and bungalows, alternately a wall-tight formation of off-white or pastel Monopoly gameboard house and hotel tokens clustered sumptuously along Park Place. Two to four stories, these once-modest stuccos reborn as trophy palazzos were more expansive than most other Marina District homes, hideously more expensive. Civil litigators lived here now, neighbors to investment bankers, cosmetic dentists, and elder surgeons who had laid their scalpels down. All were guardedly tending flower beds in the overhanging shade of their de rigueur red-tiled crowns and rooflines, flipping their charming cupolas, wringing hands heatedly in bay and cathedral front windows at the syncopated congestion below.
“Lady? Talkin’ Pres, nigga…”
“Pres, shit—Lester was too light in the loafers,” said another, eyeing a pair of passing holistic hookers, out here trolling along lily-white walk of outdoor shame. “Playin’ his bitchy riffs…phrasin’ and sub-honks all over the road…”
“ ’Sides, William always had him by the sack, jack.”
“We’re talkin’ pure pan modes and scales, Elroy—’Trane’s intense three-on-one chord progressions, goin’ three to flat nines, layin’ down sheets of sound…stone copa-SETIC…”
“Gimme Sonny Rollins anyway, sucks…Coltrane just riffed on for hours weed’ all them suckin’ multinationals and turnaround three-measure lines!”
“Giant steps, dig…gotta luv it supreme…”
District homeowners could rightly fret over the usual parade of weekend tourists, let alone the Jazz Street gathering of today. Unsettling as were the double-decker diesel tour buses and their loud mural led advertisements, this over-amplified music and the aficionados it attracted were about as welcome as the annual Blues Festival over at Fort Mason, or electrified Dylan at Newport ’65. But there was no gainsaying the locals’ everyday view, how these stylish Mediterranean hatboxes and cash registers lorded, stood steady sentry over such normally placid, historically hallowed grounds.
On the other hand, far from being East Bay bangers, turned out those brothers made that quick Chestnut Street getaway because they were in a hurry to catch their favorite ’Trane. Having got right properly down here in allegro time, they were chillaxing now, rolling up on this brassy, harmonic open-air bash, spread out on lawn chairs, chaise lounges and stadium seats with their cooler drinks and big fat stogies, tuning into KJAZ-FM, livin’ largely oblivious to their sideswipe show back outside Chestnut Liquors. That dented Isuzu Trooper parked crookedly nearby. But hell, no SFPD blues were tracking them down, callin’ them out, other than lip serving a speed advisory, then copping a compensatory cigar or two on their way back to the squad car. And I’d had more than my share of run-ins with ‘the street’ in the recent past, and wasn’t about to be yankin’ these bloods’ gold-plated chains over a tipsy old walker about now.
“Aww, get wit’ the day, man…I mean, I’m down wit Rave’s sound.”
“Rave’s just suckin’ coattails wit dat touchy-feel melodic shit. He ain’t even no Joshua Redman.”
“Yah, Josh—playin’ that rubato line on tenor, flowin’ into his killer eighth-note streaks and altissimo runs—then coppin’ his soprano stick for some lightnin’ ass arabesques…not that sissy atall…none a’ this Frisco shit.”
“Don’t go callin’ it Frisco, bro. That’s like you be callin’ Louis Armstrong Looie, or King James Jimmy Brown…”
Who could decipher all that? The brothers, raw rookies to early retired, were speaking a different, in many ways higher language, and they sure seemed to know their chops. Here, JazzStreet had taken to the park—the Palace of Fine Arts, to be exact. Today’s scenic venue of the citywide jazz fest was devoted to something of a John Coltrane Memorial Sax-Off, with the likes of Dave Ellis, Dayna Stephens, Sherman Irby and George Coleman taking the Palace’s indoor theater stage by turns, taking the outside spillover crowd by storm via massive banks of stacked JBL loudspeakers. At the moment, the Ministers of Sound held sway, over from their Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, running through powerhouse improvisations on ‘Trane’s ‘Spiral’ and ‘Cousin Mary’ etudes. As we pushed further through the grounds, we could soak in Walter Blanding’s distinctly disparate phrasing and tone of haunting ‘Naima’ segueing into a nervy ‘Mr. P.C.’ These seemed to be but a few of what lounging, finger-snapping buffs called ‘My Favorite Things’.
“What in God’s name are they talking about,” Paulen asked, this jazz wrap not stir-frying his veggies all that much.
“Got me.” So how about dialing up the heat, I thought, noting a coveralled remodel contractor circling curbside, cell frantic over payment due. “But what the hell are we talking about, for that matter…”
“About what you intend to do about your glazing over.”
“I dunno, maybe try to conjure up some kind of Mideastworthy resolution to that mess over there,” I replied, refocusing, compartmentally drifting to L.T. and his devotion to the soulful beat.
“Hah, take a number, get in line,” doc scoffed, tapping the flashing button on his earpiece. “And bring something to read, while you’re at it—something good and long, a real doorstopper.”
This setting had impacted us the moment we turned a corner into the Baker Street zag. After so many blocks of hard Marina District concrete, a flood of wide, open greenery came along garden fresh and iridescently inviting. Still, the rolling lawns and sweeping blue skies could only play a supporting role to the imposing, figure-ground formation presiding over it all. Here, now, rounding that street corner was like happening upon the Vatican after a parish of neighborhood chapels and chantries. Outsized, strikingly out of neighborhood scale, larger than life today, born of another place and time: Nevertheless, the Palace of Fine Arts welcomed us with classically open arms.
“Well, I’m not just blowing smoke.” The breathtaking scene allowed me to catch a breath, collect myself, then soldier on, like when full-pack forced marching through steamy Carolina backwoods on Ft. Bragg maneuvers, not that long before, um… “Believe it or not, I’ve done some reading on this Mideast peace process, too—all the way to UNSCOP in ’47…”
“Then you know what a Rube Goldberg deal that Partition Plan was from the start,” Paulen snapped, seeming to tune out the music altogether. “Yet one the new state of Israel could live with at the time. Alas, the same could not be said for the Arab League.”
“But the General Assembly did have the proposed Jewish State go from a few scattered settlements to, like, over 50% of Mandatory Palestine,” I said, stretching some more at the small of my aching back.
“Problem was the U.N’s working schematic,” doc said. “That calico map was shoddily drawn up with inscrutable borders, a crazy quilt of zones touting around one another. There it was, however, something to work with, including guaranteed rights and an Economic Union. So Israel signed on, even though Prime Minister Ben-Gurion really wanted the entire territory. Palestinians were lame-brained to arbitrarily shoot the plan down and start a guerilla war over it—conniving Arab support notwithstanding.”
“But Resolution 181 was a big concession to swallow overnight… leaving Palestinians barely 43% of what they’d known as their homeland. Upper middle class Arabs were ousted by expulsion orders and IZL/LHI intimidation, a newbie Jewish state getting most of the choice coastal lands.”
“Look, I evidently want peace there more than do Palestinian Arabs, if you look closely at their self-defeating resistance. All I see is utter ineptitude and intransigence on their part—the record speaks for itself.”
We descended along a winding asphalt walkway, past alternately full bloom cypress and skimpy, propped-up sycamore trees, around giddy Euro tourists and timorous rubes from flyover country with pocket digicameras at arms’ length, framing fellow travelers in their viewfinders, centered against a backdrop of the mossy lagoon’s double kidney shape, its solitary bare-pipe fountain gurgling and gushing 20 feet straight upward in clearly recycled overflow, set against the Palace rotunda itself. Hungry sea gulls glided in like seaplanes for water landings behind a choral group gathered for a portrait against a lagoon backdrop, photo assistants fluffing blouses and re-cocking the horned alpine hats key to their local chapter shoot.
“Dunno, doc, how can a two-state solution be negotiated when one side is always the hammer, the other the nail,” I asked, stabilizing, reconciled to nailing this approach down, pound it in firmly, for better or for worse. “Better yet, how do you explain Camp David, 1978? Arabs did shake on that, didn’t they?”
“Hmph, Carter twisted arms with a grin and a prayer to get that handshake photo-op,” Paulen looked my way as if recalling our CU-Boulder confabs on the Pearl Street Mall. “That’s how I remember the Accords— such vaunted peace theater to force Israel and a vanquished Egypt to finally play nice in the Sinai sandbox. Israel would not budge on captured territories, however, and look where it got Anwar al-Sadat.”
“The agreement still holds though, doesn’t it?” I know I was, along with the convulsions and head-on collisions around these parts at the time. How long ago was that? “You don’t see Mubarak yanking Israel’s chains…”
“Not directly, perhaps, but Cairo’s current tyrant does enable the tunnel smuggling trade between Egypt and Gaza, if not supplying weaponry—and that is hardly the spirit of security and responsible self governance Sadat and Menachem Begin agreed to at Camp David back then. Little wonder the stipulated administrative council and internal security in Gaza and your West Bank have never adequately been realized, much less Israel’s security.”
“What about the Palestinian Authority?”
“I said adequate, Herbert. Whereupon issues of boundaries and final status spelled out in the Accords and Resolution 242 could be competently negotiated—with or without Egypt’s involvement—or Jordan’s for that matter.”
“So Israel’s taken it upon itself to set the terms and direct the policing instead, huh?”
Another sinewy young runner breezed past us as we pressed along the undulate walkway that followed the gentle contours of the Palace’s lagoon. Paulen looked to follow her sleek black swoosh, whereas I rather more focused on a scarlet-plumed cabaret dolly in a red and silver Folies Bergere bustier, vamping down waterside for her buzz-cut snap shooter boyfriend—echoes of an antiquated era, Coltrane or no. The brothers up around that park bench seemed to nod in agreement with my take on her somewhat provocative fan dance, particularly once JazzStreet’s live music feed chord changed to intermission. For a moment, I could almost see Janis up curbside, wailing, slugging Southern Comfort in fur vestments atop her psychedelic Porsche.
“Egypt aside, the sticky wicket remains Palestinians, especially when you reflect upon what erupted in October, ’87,” Paulen said matter-of-factly, glancing over his shoulder at that runner’s fleeting contours. “A bloody intifada because some poor Israeli driver lost control of his delivery truck…”
“Plowed into a Gaza refugee camp, didn’t he,” I re-engaged his steely stare, swallowing hard as I bored into all this, cranial muscles tightening with torque wrench force, jaw clenching at the hinges, neck locking, scalp vice-gripping up and down around my fronto-insular cortex. “Besides, Palestinians were already agitated over Israeli rule, shady land buys and becoming prisoners in their own land—as in, 200,000 in Israel’s jails. Maybe that’s why Arafat declared statehood.”
“And you’re suggesting such accusations justified riots, tire burning and bomb throwing from Gaza to your West Bank and East Jerusalem? Let alone a misguided uprising by Arafat and the PLO that lasted six long years?”
“And you’re saying that simple civil disobedience justified sending Israeli forces out to ‘break Palestinian bones’ and hit them with tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets?”
But that gorgeous little distraction just left us dawdling behind a blue-haired local matron bent over, nosing her yellow wheelie walker, gruffly spreading bread crumbs from its metal basket, her wingtip heel-dragging husband at turns coaxing her forward motion, dutifully swatting away the pigeons flocking overhead. We veered impatiently into the next leftward curve, facing another, bay-ward flank of Mediterranean-style mansions across Baker Street, overlooking this entire Seuratonic setting.
One after another, these were conspicuously more palatial spreads: richer color schemes, fine artier, go-for-baroquier facades, wider balconies. Broader lawnage was laced with pom-pom topiary and sculpted bulb-shaped shrubs; from copious flower beds figured by gnomish statuary, provincial flags poled up and flew on prideful display. Clearly impressive, to be sure—save for the tour buses.
“All those hoodlums had to do was engage the Shamir government’s peace overtures, and hold their own elections as a means of ending the violence. Instead, the PLO refused to negotiate, this after the infamous Covenant of Hamas called for the utter destruction of Israel.”
“While Israel refused to even speak to the PLO,” I countered. “So nearly 1,200 Palestinians end up dead through that impasse, along with 160-some Israelis, by 1993.”
“Alas, the first Palestinian ‘Throwing Off’ rather makes one want to throw up, to use the vernacular. And the sad part was it wasn’t destined to be the last…”
A newly arrived Happi Trails motorcoach docked on the Bay Street side, disgorging a full load of hurried Asian tourists, who streamed down past strumming sidewalk buskers and the jazz crowd—itself now spreading thinner as those theatre combos to take five or split the scene altogether. Taiwanese visitors filed toward the lagoon, multi-generations giddily taking pictures of one another, framing in a mid-pool fountain, or a number of those squawking green parrots that had landed on a thick clump of pathside bushes, their brilliant red heads pecking busily at the shrubs’ sweet white flower buds. Up on Bay, that pink and white tour bus idled in wait, diesel smoke spreading, nearby neighbors and that confab of jazz brothers fuming even more.
“Well, at least Intifida 1 resulted in Oslo 1,” I pointed out, mood elevated by the splendor, however momentarily. “With Slick Willie’s help, that is…Nobel Peace Prize material, the whole bit…”
“Clinton’s prodding is more like it, grabbing Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin by the shoulders, hoping to hold them to a Declaration of Principles on Mutual Recognition by Israel and the PLO, along with a five-year transitional period of IDF troop withdrawal and expansion of Palestinian National Authority and self-governance,” said Paulen, markedly less enthralled. “All well and good, but Oslo commitments were no match for political resistance and negotiation stonewalling—without even sniffing permanent issues such as border security or Jerusalem. This, despite Peres’s and Yossi Beilin’s best efforts toward Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian statehood.”
“Or because of no right of refugee return and that spreading acne of Israeli settlements,” I zeroed in on his apparent preoccupation. “But the stonewalling came from both sides, didn’t it? And once the ultra-Orthos took peacemaker Yitzhak out, all bets were off…”
“Hmph, at least until the re-battle of Jericho…another flight of diplomatic fancy.”
“The Gaza-Jericho Agreement? More Palestinian self-rule and civilian policing, with more Israeli security—what wasn’t to like?”
“Look, beyond that, Israel improved economic ties and began releasing 5,000 non-terrorist prisoners in May, 1994,” doc noted emphatically. “While the IDF withdrew from Jericho, even Gaza, which Arafat took over. Again, with the concessions and accommodations, and what did Israel gain in return?”
“Another shot at Oslo, right? Striking down the Palestinian Covenant for a less militant Council, and minus its vow to destroy Israel. Clearly delineating those West Bank ABC areas. More security and safety for Israel, protections of Jewish holy sites, tighter crossing points from the West Bank to Gaza,” I said. “Sounds meaty, so what was the beef?”
“There was no proverbial beef, that was the problem,” doc sneered, with lectern elocution. “Oslo 2 is best remembered as the unmitigated folly of Arafat. Provisions for a more robust Palestinian police force never stopped Yasser Arafat’s thugs from destroying synagogues and Hebrew holy books. Palestinians never actually complied with major provisions on the Covenant or National Council, or accepted the Jewish state, so what was the point to it all?”
Day tripping inner city kids streamed and screamed out of double-parked Ford Escapes and Chevy Tahoes, bounding down gently graded lawns, leaping over rust iron brown bushes and bristled, needly shrubs to water’s lapping edge. There, they tossed popcorn out to snow-white swans deep double-dipping into algae-filmed water. Brattier whelps reached on hands and knees lagoon-side to try grabbing the fatter swans and geese by their long, uncinal necks.
“C’mon, redeployments took some heat off the IDF. Plus Oslo 2 bought some more time, settlement-wise,” I cracked. “The West Bank map was starting to look like a sausage-mushroom pizza by September, ’95, with Israel controlling its water supply. Without moving an inch on final status agreements.”
“And yet PM Netanyahu deigned to sign the Hebron Accord with Arafat, face to face, in early ’97, paying dearly in the eyes of his Likud Party,” Paulen countered indignantly. “That protocol triggered 80% IDF withdrawal from Abraham’s very birthplace, a city Jews have lived in since biblical times. They’d incurred Arab wrath and pogroms, over the ages, and now were an even smaller minority. Then Israel released more Arab prisoners and promised permanent status negotiations. Did all that stop Palestinians from demanding 100% Jewish withdrawal? Hardly—nor did the attacks on Hebron’s Jewish settlers and holy sites end there.”
“Could have Baruch Goldstein have had anything to do with that? Killing 29 of Hebron’s Palestinian worshippers in ’94? Just aaasking…”
“Wrong, it had more to do with Palestinian recalcitrance. Look more closely at Wye River in October, 1998 to resurrect Oslo. By then, Israel had been withdrawing from required areas, stepping up economic cooperation and had agreed to resume negotiations on permanent status. But did the Palestinians follow through on weapons or violence control? Not one reciprocal bit…”
“So Netanyahu nearly broke Clinton’s deal by demanding Jonathan Pollard’s release,” I said, watching the fowl flap and paddle away. “Then Israel proceeded to renege on all those agreements anyway…two wrongs…”
“Who could take Wye seriously? Same held true for the Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum in 1999—just another exercise in futile wheedling. Albright and King Abdullah fairly begged for implementation of territory and power transfer, and permanent status, normalizing Gaza, waving the bloody flag of U.N. 242 and 338.”
“They were just trying to get the timetable for the Oslos and all other agreements back on track, weren’t they? Break the deadlocks, Kicking both sides in the ass, compliance-wise—thinking Barak would be better PM for Arafat to negotiate with?”
“You mean more territorial transfers and redeployments on Israel’s part, with little added safety or security in return,” Paulen shook his head. “How Bill Clinton thought Camp David 2000 would yield any more progress is beyond me.”
“Hey, despite Monicagate and impeachment, Bubba did take a serious shot at final status negotiations,” I shrugged. “And all he got for his trouble was 15 long days of mulish word play…”
“Too little, too late—that, you can’t deny. Nor that Ehud Barak advanced an earnest plan,” doc said, as we walked further along the lagoon, pigeons scattering in waves. “He simply wanted to jump past previous interim agreements and settle permanent status issues, once and for all. What was Arafat’s response to this eminently fair two-state proposal? He again threatened to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood if all his preposterous demands were not met. Namely his-state solution, total refugee return and immediate Israeli withdrawal back to the green line—nothing less, no strings attached. In a word, hopelessness…the putative PLO leader was no peace partner, he was an obstacle who offered no legitimate proposal of his own.”
“Arafat claimed the summit was premature, that he was being overly pressured, that Barak was just offering a warmed over plan that would deprive Palestinians of good land and water, and relegate them to cantons of territory under de facto lsraeli control,” I said. Hopelessness? Hopeless to who, hopeless for who, hopeless by who, for chrissake? “From there, it came down to semantics. Complete control versus custodianship, administration versus autonomy, authority versus sovereignty—West Bank to Gaza—with no middle ground.”
“Israel was even offering an elevated highway and railroad between the two…”
“Yeah, between lands divvied up on a 9:1 ratio in Israel’s favor…”
The lagoon fountain gushed and gurgled, yet was often paltry at best: a solitary pipe shooting reclaimed water feebly skyward, sadly stripped of the dancing iron maidens who had encircled it so long ago. Still, top billing undeniably went to the San Francisco landmark backdropping that fountain; the whole idyllic scene took me back to nerve-wracking lunchtimes at Chicago’s Art Institute, lost in ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, pointillistic masterpiece that it was. Only here, a goulash of languages and the Palace de resistance could be chromoluminaried in, as well.
“Look, Barak was prepared to withdraw from over 90% of your West Bank, I’ll have you know,” doc huffed. “Moreover, virtually 100% of Gaza…”
“Keeping nearly half of their West Bank settlements, which caused the bloc discontiguity Arafat rejected, while keeping sovereignty over both sides of the Green Line, plus airspace,” I replied heatedly, trying to articulate like he could, yet wondering if I was starting to wave the red, green and black flag my own self. “Aren’t those barriers akin to loosening the leash but keeping a tight grip on the choke chain?”
“What more could Barak do, and maintain some semblance of security?! Besides, the PLO was demanding full right of refugee return retroactive to 1948, a demographic flood that would have doomed Israel’s character as a nation.”
“Character? I marveled at the sight, as though viewing the Palace for the first time—forgetting the personal…history. “Palestinian negotiators were thinking more along the lines of basic human rights and existence—reclaiming their lost homes and villages, based on U.N. Resolution 194. Anyhow, they walked back to a position of gradual absorption—say, 150,000 a year. But then Israel denied responsibility for the ‘refugee problem’ or repatriation. Do I detect a pattern here?”
“Barak agreed to certain ‘Family Reunions’ and funding compensation, didn’t he? In any case, the principal couronne d’ epines was Jerusalem,” Paulen said, across the walk, paying the Palace little heed. “Arafat absurdly demanded that the Temple Mount and entire Old City come under Palestinian sovereignty. He was out of his keffiyeh…”
“Aww, he just wanted some real authority over their future capital in East J, not the contrived ‘custodianship’ Israel offered up…”
“Sorry, sovereignty over most Arab neighborhoods in the Old City was tendered, including Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock. Trouble was, the PLO wanted it all…including the Western Wall.”
“But so do the Israelis, no matter what Barak put on the table,” I countered, gesticulating in kind. “Witness their hold on the holy sites, East Jerusalem and its outlying districts, demanding the city as its sole capital.”
Knowing better than to overpush a stanza of high notes, I shunted across the walkway, plopped down on the nearest bench, eyeing Paulen as he paced lagoon-side about the needly juncus rush, fiddling with his earpiece, either connecting with a cohort or shooting blanks to the breeze. It was getting so I was about going: No way, they couldn’t pay me enough. But ultimately unsure either way, I gazed squarely ahead, faced with the Palace’s iconic neoclassical rotunda. “It just seems,” I sighed, “the bottom line is there will be no peace over there until hell or the expansions freeze over.”
“Look, Ehud Barak cited Jerusalem is an international city then, and recognized that some partitioning of quarters so sacred to different faiths was inevitable. The Israeli offer simply reflected those complex religious and historical realities. He acceded to Clinton’s last-gasp proposal on dividing the Old City and adding U.N. Security Council co-governance. It was Arafat who wouldn’t budge an inch.”
“He argued all the concessions were coming from the Palestinian side…”
“Arafat was unwilling to yield on further Arab claims, much less final status issues—just an empty military playsuit with plastic medals who made no concrete counter offers.”
“He was an elected leader looking after Palestinian rights and dream of a state and better life, at least back to ’67 borders.” Yo, ease up, you were even saluting ersatz Chairman Arafat now, or what?! There had to be an easier, less troubling way…
“He was an ineffectual fraud bent on stalling and scuttling the talks altogether, rejecting the best chance the Palestinians had at an enduring two-state solution.”
“He claimed he bravely rejected the myth of Israel’s ‘generous’ offers in the face of Barak’s and Clinton’s concerted pressure.” Finally, there was that anger, bubbling up like stormy Gulf crude.
“He was a coward who blinked at peace prospects and slithered away from a collapsed summit to foment a new round of terror violence against Israel. Poof, Barak’s conciliatory effort was instant history…”
“But Arafat knew a battered, lame-duck Clinton was history, too. Hence his skepticism and mistrust after years of land grabs and double-dealing.”
Party to the Marina, yet a world apart: This mother must have stood 140 feet high, a circular marvel of soaring arches rising to a stone garlanded entablature, to a waist band of sculpted friezes topped by a massive coffered, custard/tapioca-colored dome. The Beaux Arts palace’s centerpiece bore a weathered tawny patina, intricate 13-foot Latin vestal urned plinths basing tall terra-cotta support columns crowned with spiral ribbon-scrolled capitals. Dancing damsels, angels and centaurs cast in high plaster relief strategically shouldered a towering loggia originally inner paneled with allegoric murals and sculpture.
“And yet Ehud Barak did give peace one more valiant chance, now didn’t he? As the Bush Administration was taking over in 2001…”
“You mean he desperately pinned his re-election on it, right?
“Nonetheless, Barak saw to it refugees, repatriation, settlements, Jerusalem—everything was on table at the Taba Talks,” doc stressed.
“But you can’t say Palestinians didn’t come with offers of their own, despite Arafat’s misgivings.” Saluting again—had to get on track, or untracked, however that trope went…had to get with the goods and go… “It wasn’t his fault we had a new president and Israel was facing its own elections within weeks. That the peace process lost its honest broker and Israel tossed Barak at the, ballot box…”
“Arafat’s abject rejectionism certainly didn’t help matters along. And although some progress was made on final status issues, time simply ran out.”
“Close, but no cigars—what a long, vain trip it’s been,” I sighed, picking up again on doc’s sun-sparked sapphire ring. “Can’t lay all that at the Palestinians’ feet though. Their negotiator Saab Erekat said they just needed another six weeks to really finalize it…”
Extending left and right from behind the Romanesque rotunda, in a similar creamy travertine finish, were the Palace’s spread wide muscular arms. Detached, slightly disjointed, these graceful colonnades swept north and south in a broad arc around the lagoon, supported by fluted Corinthian columns, now more or less as overgrown with low shrubs and climbing fir and sycamore trees as was the rotunda itself. Capping the open-air columns’ lengthy cornice were a series of humongous stepped planter boxes, the four corners of which were adorned with ‘weeping ladies’ to water hanging vines, clear out to the colonnades’ angled, knuckled tailpieces.
“Hmph, while Arafat was cynically cooking up a second intifada that rattled Israel and paved the way for Ariel Sharon’s election and hardline clampdown. Barak was a goner, so were Kadima moderates, leaving Israel divided left and right.”
“But I saw where Sharon actually pulled the intifada trigger when he marched on the Temple Mount and declared Jerusalem Israel’s undivided capital. By the way, Arafat didn’t exactly fare well, either. He could have faced a Gaza death sentence if he’d accepted one sentence of Israel’s Camp David proposals. Instead…”
“A dead-cat bout with AIDs, or whatever it was, in a Paris hospital. Let’s face it, he had grossly miscalculated in the PLO’s suicide bombing of the Park Hotel’s Passover diners. Israelis said, ‘enough, never again’. Meanwhile Sharon struck back against Palestinian cities and camps with Operation Defensive Shield, then began seizing more land. He isolated Arafat in the remains of his Ramallah HQ. Yassir, that is where the scoundrel took ill and deteriorated, prisoner of his own making. There’s sad irony in there somewhere…or at least geopolitical karma.”
“R-r-right, either that or a Mossadditive dose of Polonium 210…”
Tightly back staging the Palace’s semicircle formation was a solid-walled gallery, science museum and theatre at opposing ends. I could now hear a Coltrane classic being outdoor loudspeakered from the latter during JazzStreet’s intermission. Over the squawking of famished seagulls, the screams of kids chasing after them, clearly and vividly reigned ‘A Love Supreme’.
“You’d like to think that now, wouldn’t you,” Paulen shouted after me. He squeezed his pocket phone, adjusted his earpiece, before turning away in animated conversation. “Wait…hold that thought a sec, Herbert. Take in more of the culture here, why don’t you…”
“Yeah, right.” Who needed this shit? I could just go climb the Lyon Street staircase, or count the steep 202 Baker Street steps back to Pacific Heights. Ugh, then again, I could have stood a bit more of a break from the housequake uphill. Besides, I could hardly stop our feint and parry-fest now. Just had to make sure it was on his time, on his dime, dummy. Whew, that music—uncoupling my train of thought. Whoa, don’t go runnin’ off the rails again…yeah, blow, train, blow. “I’ll totally suck it up…sit here, figure the whole thing out…”
Care for more?
Chapter Forty-One. Remedies and
resolutions volley about, playing
the Palace to its logical coda…
Return to Chapter Forty.