Archive for September, 2010

day one in jerusalem

September 5, 2010

A siren sounds to mark the beginning of Shabbat and Jerusalem starts shutting down. As we amble up the stone steps of the old city, worn smooth and shiny with centuries of traffic, an Australian voice calls from behind: “Where are you guys from?” Two young Orthodox men overtake us, vaguely resembling hipsters in their skinny black pants, skinny ties and white shirts with the sleeves rolled up. They heckle us about being from Perth, joking that it’s barely even part of Australia – they’re from Melbourne – but concede “at least you’re not from Sydney.”
The next morning, we set off to follow the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Sorrows or the Stations of the Cross. Fifteen minutes of searching fails to reveal the location of the first station but we make do with starting at number two. By the fifth station, located in the heart of the bazaar, I find myself being slowly sidelined towards a stall selling men’s underpants by a geriatric Italian pilgrim group; after a string of prayers and a flurry of snapping cameras, their leader marches onwards, toting what looks like a tangerine impaled on the end of a long stick.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, is an absolute circus. Scores of Russian pilgrims, wearing yellow caps emblazoned with “Sunway Tours”, yell at each other as they queue. Most of the ladies have swathed themselves in lurid, gauzy sarongs to provide a degree of modesty beyond their pink hot pants and strappy singlets. They pose, unsmiling, for photos in front of the various altars and I imagine them explaining to their friends at home “… and here’s me at the place where they nailed Jesus to the cross…” The Greek Orthodox priest tending the area scoops up fistfuls of wax tapers, extinguishing them en masse barely seconds after their bearers light them in solemn offering. The crush of people is too much and we flee, vowing to return at an earlier, quieter hour.
Exhausted, we flop into the common room of our hostel and order some tea and hummus. As we breathe a sigh of relief, a guy using the computer in the corner looks over his shoulder and asks if we speak English; ten minutes later, we’re regretting answering “yes” as he regales us with details of how he worked as a secret agent for the US Defence Force when he was 14 years old but he still had to pay taxes until 2003 and how there are six branches of the US Marines, just like there are six points on the Star of David and, trust him, it’s no coincidence… He barely stops for breath as we grab our hummus and run away.

beer notes #35

September 1, 2010

Taybeh Beer Golden  Palestine  5%
Taybeh Beer Amber  Palestine  5.5%

Not unlike Chateau Musar, the story of the Taybeh Brewing Company is one of passion for family, place and quality product. Despite tremendous adversity, the Khoury family have been brewing in the West Bank since the mid-nineties. “The finest beer in the Middle East” is their slogan – one that is very easy to agree with. The Master Brewer, Nadim Khoury, an engineer by trade, returned to Palestine from the US with his young family and brother, David, after the Oslo Accords with the stated aim of contributing to a successful, independent Palestine. Nadim told us how he first got the idea of a Palestinian microbrewery as a college student in the 70s when he’d bring back various bits of home brewing equipment from Boston for his father who was unable to get any decent beer locally.

Taybeh Beer is named after the village that it is located in, the ancestral home of the Khoury family. It sits high above Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. In a happy coincidence, the word “taybeh” means “delicious” in Arabic; the town was renamed by Saladin, having been formerly known as Ephra, meaning “unpleasant” – probably for the best as far as marketing is concerned. Taybeh is the only remaining Christian town in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories; like everything in these parts, it’s got an incredible, long history, even cracking a mention in John’s gospel. If you’re interested, there’s a great history section on the town’s webpage. 

These days much of the brewing process is managed by Nadim’s delightful daughter, Madees. About our age, she was onsite the day we visited and we had a great hour or so chatting away, despite occasional visits from tightfisted, septuagenarian Italian tour groups and a working day that had kicked off at 4:30am. She poured us a wonderfully fresh Golden from the keg. It was refreshing and subtle – everything you want from this style of beer. A quality sessional, it has slightly sweet malts and some hops. My little notebook insightfully records: “It tastes like good beer.” 14/20. I brought some of the Amber back to Jerusalem (along with a poster, two stickers, postcards and a Tshirt, being the sucker for merch that I am); it’s more complex; not as successful as the Golden, but still very drinkable. 12/20. There’s simply no other amber or dark beer in the Middle East, so the fact that Taybeh is even attempting to turn people onto it is a victory for good beer.

The beers are available thoughtout Europe and the Middle East and are even brewed under licence in Germany. Despite some enquiries, it’s not been profitable to send it to Perthland just yet. Israel has signed a free trade agreement with the United States that covers the West Bank and would allow for the export of Taybeh, but so far the beer’s export has been blocked because of a labeling issue: the family don’t want to change “Made in Palestine” to the mandatory “Made in Israel”. 
A little part of me was worried about going out to Taybeh – would it be depressing? Good people with a good idea, going slowly broke under the stresses and vagaries of occupation? But we found a vibrant and happy family courageously working against the slow burn of the occupation and, seemingly, every wrongheaded stereotype of the Palestinians. But things are very hard. As I walked out of the microbrewery, I picked up a pamphlet advertising Taybeh’s annual Oktoberfest, which attracts thousands. I was stunned by the power of its closing words written by Dr Maria Khoury, David’s wife;
Taybeh Beer means everything right now. It means that we want to work for a modern Palestine where democracy, freedom, and human rights would encourage all to thrive. It means that we are just craving to be “normal”.