Of Giving the Lie

All the traffic that I have in this with the public is,
that I borrow their utensils of writing, which are more easy and most at hand; and in recompense shall, peradventure, keep a pound of butter in the market from melting in the sun . . .
“Ne toga cordyllis, ne penula desit olivis;
Et laxas scombris saepe dabo tunicas;”
[“Let not wrappers be wanting to tunny-fish, nor olives; and I shall supply loose coverings to mackerel.” Martial, xiii. I, I.]
And though nobody should read me, have I wasted time in entertaining myself so many idle hours in so pleasing and useful thoughts?
montaigne, “of giving the lie”

Here is a story:
In the fall of 2006 into the winter of 2007, my wife and I lived in Jerusalem.

I was a guest professor at a university, and while we were there plenty of friends came for visits, giving us more than enough reason to see pretty much all the holy sites in Israel. But in January and nearing the end of our stay, we decided we wanted to see Petra, the ancient city carved into sandstone canyons, over in Jordan. Our friends Jeff and Hart from here in Charleston were visiting us then, and we spent one cold and sun-drenched January day hiking the bright and towering red stone ghosts of the ruins.

On our way back the next morning there came a snowstorm, and we found ourselves snowbound in a taxi at the crest of the King’s Highway between Petra and Aqaba, elevation 5,000 feet, hours and hours from our home in Jerusalem.

 Forty-five minutes after the driver called in our predicament, members of the Jordanian army—yes, the Jordanian army—suddenly emerged from the white all around us, having driven their emergency response truck as close as they could to us and then hiked up the highway to the cab. Jeff and I helped the soldiers push the taxi out of its snow-mired fix, then watched the driver pull away and drive off. Only then did we realize that of course he couldn’t park and wait for us to climb back in because he’d get stuck in the snow again.

That left Jeff, me, and five soldiers to walk a mile or so through a blizzard back to their rescue truck. Along the way we pitched snowball fights, America versus Jordan (I actually yelled that out as I reared back to launch a snowball, and was nailed in the shoulder before I could even let go), all of us laughing, talking (they all spoke English), and trying our best not to think of the cold and this wind and all this snow. Then here was the rescue truck, emergency yellow, sharp and big with its pug-faced grill and running boards two feet above the snow-packed road. We all climbed into the warm quad-cab, the driver inside and ready for us. Eight of us jammed inside, Jeff and I in the backseat in the middle, a soldier on either side of us.

Then one of the men in the front seat pulled from the floorboard a battered Thermos, another soldier produced from somewhere a stack of four thick glass tumblers, and the one with the Thermos poured out steaming hot tea, giving Jeff and me the first two glasses.

I don’t even like tea, but I cannot remember tasting anything as perfect as that sweet and strong hot tea, its steam immediately clouding my glasses….

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