Today I went to the Dead Sea for work. I hopped in the car in Tel Aviv at 9 am, and by 11 am I was glimpsing the sparkling water through the haze with the Jordanian peaks behind. Ten hours later, I was back. Why I put such thought and detail to my Facebook status update before I left last night, I don’t know, but it summed my sentiments about this experience totally:
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a grownup and they entrust things like automobiles, giant hunks of fast-moving metal, to me. Tomorrow I get to drive for around 6+ hours, through what look like alien planets’ deserts, through the land where the world’s most prominent religions were born, through to the lowest most desolate place on earth, and even though I’ve done it before, it terrifies me. I will counteract it with vast amounts of singing – silly pop, rock, jazz standards, musicals – and coffee and junk food. All of you in Europe and the Americas may think the image quite odd. I will actually be driving past camels and date trees and Bedouin camps. All in a day’s work.
And I somehow survived: sand dunes, soldiers, camels, cliffs, rocks, sink holes, and speeding mac trucks on a winding two-lane highway (it’s honestly not as dangerous as it sounds, for anyone thinking of visiting – though I suggest taking along an experienced driver). I will not bore you potential readers with the mundane aspects of the wine training sessions I ran today (funny, as now that I think of it, wine tastings must seem like great fun to the rest of the world – not that they’re not – I just happen to do them on a basic level day in and day out – my bread and butter). I did, however, have some lovely “enlightened” thoughts, of the sort that come to me much more regularly when I’m not a stressed blind-sided zombie. Thoughts that would make a good short story.
The thought: a reinterpretation of SODOM and GOMORRAH
(cue lightening bolt)
Tatooine, from Star Wars
I camped on top of Mount Sodom once, and it wasn’t a bad experience. It’s really white and crumbly. And there are scorpions. And gorgeous sunsets and sunrises. It looks like the surface of another planet, like it could not reasonably belong anywhere on earth. It resembles Luke Skywalker’s planet, Tatooine, more than a little bit, minus the second sun. And it rises a few millimeters every year. Great view of the Dead Sea. You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger place. It was today’s inspiration.
The bible story goes something like this (entirely from memory, biblical scholars and bible readers who know far better than me, please pardon my relative ignorance). Lot (Abraham’s nephew and “adopted” son until Isaac comes along) and his family come to town, an evil town with bad, bad sinful people – and God tells him he’s going to destroy it. Lot urges God not to do it, and begs him to spare the town if he can find 10 good men. God agrees, but of course Lot fails to find even one good man. A couple men (angels in disguise) come to lodge with Lot and his family in Sodom, and the townspeople surround the house, demanding Lot to turn over the men so they can rape them. Yup. Rape them (origin of the word Sodomy, folks). Lot offers his virgin daughters to the townsmen instead of giving up his guests. Yeah. They refuse. The angels reveal themselves, protect the family, and then God proceeds to destroy the town, in full fire and brimstone fashion. Lot’s wife looks back, against God’s orders, and she turns into a pillar of salt. The story gets creepier still when later on, Lot commits incest with his daughters who believe themselves to be the last human beings on earth. Someone’s got to repopulate, right?
My thought – doesn’t this kind of sound like a Western? Picture this being in Utah (or similar), some 150 years ago. What kind of settlements would you find there? Teeny tiny backwater one-street towns, that’s what. Sand, dust, tumbleweed, hot hot sun. Disney’s done wonderful treatments. Sound familiar? Woman to man ratio? Probably 1:20. Of course I’m speculating – I’ve not done even the least bit of googling on this yet. What if a holier-than-thou preacher type (from a yet unheard of “religion”) rolls into town with his wife and children one day, claiming they are followers of the one true god. What would they find? What would they think? Bars and brothels would kind of freak them out, right? More than a little bit. Though I bet it would never in a million years be spoken of, I bet there was some “fraternization” going on among those cowpokes, given the lack of female companionship, (of course). Yeah, yeah, I weep-wailing adored Brokeback Mountain like the rest of us all. Just riffing here. I’m just about the biggest gay rights advocate you’re likely meet. I’m being writerly. (Isn’t writerly such a writerly word?)
Imagine us transplanting the biblical story to this more “modern” setting, at least one in our relatively recent past. In all seriousness, let’s put as realistic a spin on it as possible. Poor Reverend Lot, showing up in his covered wagon, dead set on trying to convert the beastly sinners. Nothing works. His family is harassed, and he’s constantly on the lookout trying to protect them. He tells himself that if he can convert 10, or even 1, it will have been worth it. Alas, he has no luck. Some important visitors come, the head of his sect here to judge him, there is a scuffle, a showdown, a fight, something… something… something… Lot “hears God’s voice” and knows the town must be destroyed. He is conflicted. Will there be a miraculous lightening storm? A tornado? Or maybe he facilitates the destruction himself, unbeknownst to him, a la Oedipus. I’m seeing a fire in the granary. Or an arson attempt on the watering hole going wrong, alcohol bottles exploding every which way. Etc. Etc. Maybe Mrs. Lot dies as she runs back to save someone from a burning building. Maybe that’s Lot’s punishment for offering up his daughters. I could go on. And on. And on.
To make a long story short – to the victor go the spoils, and in this case, the winner gets the copyright to the book. Well, “Lot’s” version of the story gets passed down for generations until it gets written. Growing up, this story really seemed to be talking about truly evil people, and God’s brutal eradication of them for not changing their ways. Old Testament at it’s very best. However, behind a story that is nearly 3,000 years old, there must be some truth, and also myriad other “sides” to the story. How large could a “town” or “city” be back then? And have you seen the Dead Sea region? How much more inhospitable a place could you get? To this day it can get truly “hellish.” Mount Sodom is literally made almost entirely out of salt. (Aside: the words Sodom and Sodium aren’t so different…connection?). Of course there would be “evil” men, trying to survive, coping by doing whatever they could to distract themselves. It was a warlike time. Rape and pillage and murder and all that goody bag of stuff. Doesn’t sound like geographically it would have been a nice place for an ordinary thriving community, anyway. No agriculture. Little water. Of course there weren’t very many women. Logic, people. It was the Wild West.
I resolve to write a story. All excellent fodder. If you steal the story, I will know…
Non sequitur – while googling Sodom, the first entry was surprising: Sodom Mountain Campground in Massachusetts. Who on earth names a place Sodom in the New World? Who would go camping there? Satanists? Occultists? Is this where the witches of Salem came to find refuge? It boasts being the nearest campground to Six Flags New England, and sports free wi-fi, a swimming pool, and organized activities. Do people just ignore the name? Are the people who stay there Sodomites? A particularly pleased guest wrote in the comments section:
“The Pig Roast dinner was excellent. Continued success for the next 25 years. The bear sighting was an added surprise.”
Beelzebub and his employees must be doing an exceedingly good job. Kudos!