George Seferis, A Levant Journal
24 July 1942
The Dead Sea is another story. The mountains that enclose it in the distance are pale blue. As you approach, looking across at them, it’s like entering a spa bath. We stopped at the hotel, a modern contrivance. We were very thirsty. Further down was a harbor for sea-planes. The first thing you notice about the Dead Sea is the silence. Its water is almost the color of lead, it repels the human in you. Still, I decided to try it. I undressed in a bathing-cabin. On my way down, I could feel the dry salt on the boardwalk, thick and sharp. When you try swimming, you feel as though you’re not in water but in a different element that obstructs you and pushes your body upwards towards the surface. Only your head is at liberty to sink. But then, when you let it, your eyes, nostrils and palate are seared by the salt, your hair feels as though it’s clogged with glue. It has a bitter taste, this liquid. But what makes the greatest impression of all, an impression almost of horror, is the total absence of any living thing around you. Not only are there no fish or water-insects, but no seaweed either, not the slightest fuzz of green on the pebbles at the bottom. You feel yourself to be a grotesque exception, a living being, in the midst of this liquid death.
At the Monastery of the Forty Days, they showed us the rock where Christ had been sitting, when he was visited by Satan. A tiny church was built over the rock, and on the wall, to the left, was hung a notice with the relevant passage from the Gospel, in English, and beneath it, in block capitals, also in English:
THIS IS THE PLACE GENTLEMEN
This “gentlemen,” that you’ve gotten used to seeing on notices in other places in England, and to hearing in other circumstances, came as a slap in the face. A symbol, too, of the impenetrable mess we’re living through now: a prank of the crudest kind.