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Mati Milstein / Photojournalist

Shooting news, documentary and commercial photography from the Middle East to North America.

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."

Christmas by the Sea

Members of the Orthodox Christian community and other local residents celebrate Christmas with a parade in the seaside city of Jaffa.

Christmas by the Sea

Members of the Orthodox Christian community and other local residents celebrate Christmas with a parade in the seaside city of Jaffa.

REAL-LIFE LEVANTINE FICTION: In a cafe at the crossroads

When I first saw her, I noticed her eyes. Even though the winter sun had set hours earlier, the street was dark and the sidewalk café barely lit.


By Mati Milstein

I spent the last few weeks of 2009 in a place I hadn’t been in a very, very long time.

When I first saw her, I noticed her eyes. Even though the winter sun had set hours earlier, the street was dark and the sidewalk café barely lit. Even though she wore glasses. I saw her eyes and I couldn’t stop looking at them. I knew that from then on, whatever happened, everything would be different. Sometimes, in life, there are moments like that.

It was late and eventually the mutual friends with whom we had been sitting headed home and we were left, just the two of us, slowly wandering the streets of southern Tel Aviv. We talked, carefully and cautiously, and I kept sneaking glances at her face. She put chapstick on her lips. We walked to the bus station and she hopped into a Jerusalem-bound taxi.

As I walked back to my house, she sent me text messages that made me smile. She wrote to remind me of her name, but I knew it already.

I didn’t stop smiling for days. People looked at me funny on the street. Maybe they thought I was high. I suppose I was.

She was also a journalist and, as Christmas approached, we headed up north to write and shoot stories. We spent days strolling in and out of churches and chapels filled with the smoky scent of incense, interviewing and photographing priests and worshippers, climbing down into a newly-discovered 2,000-year-old house that Jesus might have played in as a child. We searched for the tallest Christmas tree in the Middle East.

I watched her from a distance as we worked on our respective stories. I, totally distracted and shooting out of focus, thought that I had never seen anyone more beautiful. More perfectly in their place.

But we did more than work. We lounged on sofas as warm sunlight streamed through the ceiling-high windows in a Nazareth hostel, sipping coffee and munching on pita and za’atar. We wandered through alleys and dined in restaurants. Sat by a deserted beach in the shadows of cliffs and Herzliya’s lone remaining mosque, watching the waves out at sea. Quiet, warming one another against the nighttime breeze.

There was music and food and holy places and long trips along winding northern roads that went on into the nights. Holding hands in the dim green light of the dashboard. Red wine in a little Haifa café where a curious and questioning barmaid tried to figure us out, Arik Einshtein on shared earphones in a coastal highway rest stop, Fairuz in quiet rooms, morning and evening.

For the last few weeks of 2009, life had more elements, more ingredients, more color, more thoughts, more words. Life was richer. Everything was better. I never stopped smiling. “Only, you. You, only…”

I spent the last few weeks of 2009 in love.

Now it’s January. Today on the radio I heard that same Arik Einshtein song we had listened to one night, her head pressed gently against mine, at the highway rest stop. “There was no white horse, no princess in the forest. There were never any fairy tales. It was all just a dream…”

Christmas week prayers

Kfar Cana

Christmas week prayers

Kfar Cana