Best Pizza in the World
Some people swear by John’s Pizzeria on Bleeker Street. And many believe that there is no such thing as pizza outside the five boroughs, and definitely not in Chicago. But not so.
When I was living on Kibbutz Alonim in Israel, my girlfriend Hannah and I were looking for something to do on our day off together. I had the bright idea that we could go on a hike with my compass. Even though I had no map, we could just follow it west until we were ready for lunch, stop, and head back east. She was persuaded by my false sense of confidence that I knew what I was doing (after all, I had a compass), and we were set. We loaded up on wine and chocolate, and headed out.
We crossed the bottom of the Jezreel Valley heading west, ten miles north of Har Megiddo. To Christians, this is Armegeddon, site of the last battle. Which is not an unreasonable position. If Syrian and Jordanian armor were to break through onto route 77, this would be close to the last stop line before Haifa and the coastal plain. A trigger for a nuclear exchange. But despite the ongoing War in Lebanon, our thoughts were only on each other.
We arrived at what I later learned was the base of Mount Carmel, where Elisha fought the prophets of Ba’al—whose god could light a flame on the sacrificial alter? We were travelling cross country with no track, and continued straight up, as I had great fun teasing Hannah for being unable to distinguish between sheep and goats (admittedly, the coat of the Angora goats is somewhat confusing to the city dweller.)
Mount Carmel has an elevation of 1,800 feet, but it is a ridge running north-west to south-east, and I don’t think it was anywhere near that high where we were. As we climbed we joked that we would probably find a hot dog stand at the top, and in fact as we neared the summit we heard cars passing. A road looped around the top, and this was clearly a popular weekend outing for families from Haifa, seeing the beautiful views of the forests and farmland below.
We trekked a little further, and found a private patch among some bushes. In our hideaway we feasted on our wine and chocolate, lush oranges that we had found along the way were a truck had shed its load, a feast. And talked of nothing.
After a while, a large Arab family got out of a van to enjoy the view. The teenage boys started playing football, and I joined in, the universal language of sports. Eventually their mother decided that their time was done, it was time to head home. I suggested to Hannah that we hitch a ride with them in to Haifa where we could catch the bus back home, but she did not want to intrude. So we let them depart, wishing them well with signs and the broken English of the children.
With time together in the bushes, and time playing football, time was passing on. Time for us to leave. I brought out the trusty compass, sighted on a distant object, and we set off down the mountain. Before the days of the internet on your cell phone, I had no idea that sunset was at 4:30, and on the eastern side of the mountain that shadows were long and the light was failing. As we got perhaps a quarter of the way down, I realized that we were in serious trouble—in darkness, no lights, and away from any help, a fall could be catastrophic. I told Hannah that we had to return to the relative safety of the road, and try to find our way back from there.
Hitching in Israel was commonplace, and I had no doubt we could get a ride. But as darkness fell, there were no cars on their weekend outings. We were completely alone.
I remembered a story from a book I had read before about the beginnings of the SAS in World War II. A group of men had dropped into the desert in bad weather, and had wound up scattered into small groups, separated from their equipment. One group found itself led by an officer, and walking through the wilderness found a track. With no compass, no water, and bad weather blocking the stars, they had no way to decide which direction to take. One direction would lead to the coastal road and their rendezvous, the other would lead them only into the desert, and probablyh to their deaths. There would be no rescue, staying in one place was not an option.
All fell on the officer. He had to make a decision, and make it decisively, right or wrong. He chose, and chose right, and we therefore know the tale of how they failed in their mission to sabotage an airfield, but made their rendezvous with the Land Rovers of the Long Range Desert Group, and lived to fight another day.
I decided. We turned right.
As twilight ended, we saw lights playing across the hillside. Red lights winked at us from tall pylons. Dogs started barking. I became convinced that we were walking into an army base, which would be OK by me. We would be shouted at, interrogated, shouted at some more, and then someone would have to come and pick us up in the morning. Better than spending a cold night on a mountainside with no equipment, no food, no water, and only each other for warmth.
All of a sudden we turned another corner, and before us was a Druze village – Arabic speaking, but not Arab, an integral part of Israeli society often serving as police. The “searchlights” were cars passing on the main road. The red lights were from the TV and radio antennas broadcasting from the high vantage point of Mount Carmel. The barking was the village dogs.
We knocked on the first door we came to, and were greeted like long lost cousins. We were served tea, and the kids told us in English how they wished their father was home to see us—his portrait in dress police uniform hung from the wall. Eventually we parted, with directions for the road in to Haifa.
After hitching a ride in we went to our favorite spot in Haifa, and went to the usual hole in the wall pizza joint. Normally serving soggy slices of dubious parentage, this evening they must have had a different chef. The cheese was heaped on. The sauce was deliciously spiced. The crust was firm and chewy.
Best pizza in the world.