On Noticing Things and Taking a Different Perspective
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
It is a lazy morning, the first in some time when I do not have enough urgent to-dos to make the obligation to get up overcome the compulsion to remain just a little bit longer in bed. The curtain is open, bright sunlight streaming in and the sharp line of the wall frames a small but vibrant bit of the world that greets me every morning but never fails to stun me with its beauty - a simple triptych: a cypress, a palm, a pine. The cypress is closest, its dark heart revealed behind the gold-brown of dead branches and last year's leaves. Of the fan palm, only its truck is visible in this cut-off view; a work of art, complex in the weave of its cut frond stubs. And further back the tall canary island pine stretches out its dipping branches like gestures of query. The cypress has recently developed small fruit and the fresh emerald of its new growth is sharply contrasted against a patch of deep blue sky. A climbing rose, long past its peak, its leaves covered with fine dust, has given a last effort, producing a single red flower high up, an even bolder clash of ruby against the blue.
We are so often tied up to distractions, expectations and commitments, that we miss seeing things around us. I thought of this the other day when observing how the sunlight struck an old, moulded-glass windowpane high up on the wall of the synagogue. It suddenly burst into a heavenly light that transformed part of the green glass to a glare with no colour, no edges, no form, but where its impact was less direct it picked out the brilliant jewel-like emerald hue on the moulded pattern. An object formerly prosaic took on great beauty. Its age, its cracks, the cobwebs, momentarily dissolved. This phenomenon that occurs daily at a certain hour is rarely noticed or thought about. But it is celestial and of such magnitude that observing it made me look at everything around me in a different way.
Under a continual assault of sensual stimulation, we learn early in our lives to filter our observations. We learn not to notice things. Taking a different perspective can enable us to recover our ability to observe. It may be that we discover beauty, or simply become aware of things that were there all along. An excellent example of this is the study carried out by Benjamin Kedar in the late 90s and published in a paper titled: "The Outer Walls of Frankish Acre".* Acre's fortifications were among the most remarkable and advanced of any city in the crusader states, not a surprising fact considering the importance of Acre as the chief port in the Latin East and sometime capital of the kingdom. But they had been entirely dismantled on two occasions: first when al-Ashraf-Khalil took the city in May 1291, and a second time in the Ottoman period when the town of Akko was built over the city's long-abandoned ruins and the surviving remains of Frankish fortification were levelled along with any other medieval ruins outside the new defences so that they could not be used to facilitate an enemy's unobserved approach towards the new fortifications. As a result, until this new investigation, no one really knew exactly where the Frankish fortifications were, and many very different theories were proposed. One of the means used in this study to great effect was aerial photography. Making use of photographs dating from the second and third decades of the last century, Kedar was able to show that it was possible to observe on them a number of parts of Acre's defences that in spite of the intensive destruction of the past were still partially exposed, though difficult to distinguish at ground level. Most of these features are no longer visible today, even from the air, having been subsequent dismantled, built or paved over, or otherwise hidden from view. These include the city's northwest tower, sections of the wall and moat extending diagonally from that tower in a south-east direction, and a section of the moat of the old north wall extending further to the east. Combining this formerly unnoticed evidence with other types information; textual, pictorial, cartographical and archaeological; Kedar was able to present for the first time a sound hypothesis of the position of these long-vanished fortifications.
*Benjamin Z. Kedar, "The Outer Walls of Frankish Acre" Atiqot 31, 1997, pp. 157-80.