Archive for August, 2017

Joseph’s journal: 17

27 Tishrei, 4808 (September, 1059)

Ahmad Ibn Abbas was brought into Granada defeated, disgraced, and humiliated. He was forced to walk in chains in front of the very man he railed against for so long. My father told me that when he was mounted on his stallion, with Abbas dragging his chains and shuffling his feet in the dirt in front of him, his heart soared. He was as content as any man could be, but troubled  because of those emotions.

Badis ordered that Abbas be imprisoned in the house of the chief of one of the smaller tribes. This was an honor shrouded in a threat. The jailer was told that Abbas was to be treated as a guest, but he must be watched, not allowed to escape. If ibn Abbas escaped the chief understood that he would pay with his life.

Ibn Abbas was a haughty Arab overly proud of his education, intellectual achievements, and heritage. He was not of royal blood but he was a very wealthy man. He knew that King Badis was, as were all rulers, avaricious, and always needed cash. He offered to pay Badis a huge ransom for his freedom. My father explained to me that Badis prevaricated. His excuse was that he needed to consult with his chiefs and with his viziers.

Despite my father’s victory this was a difficult time for him. He knew Badis was tempted by the magnitude of the ransom. If ibn Abbas was released he would do everything in his power to once more conspire against my father, whom he had even more reason to hate. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Abbas held my father responsible for his defeat.

Ibn Abbas had always considered himself destined to be King of Almeria. My father felt it was necessary to remind Badis, at every opportunity, that ibn Abbas was an Arab and a sworn enemy of the Zanhadja. He was also vindictive in nature and would, as long as he lived, seek revenge for his defeat and humiliation.

During the time ibn Abbas was held as a prisoner, various kingdoms and principalities throughout eastern Andalusia sent emissaries to our court. Some of these emissaries requested that ibn Abbas be set free, others asked for his death. Badis listened with a serious face to all the entreaties, nodded his head, but said nothing.

Rosh Hashanah came, then Yom Kippur, and still Badis made no decision concerning the fate of ibn Abbas. Succot arrived and my father was unable to maintain the normal light-hearted banter and good spirits he felt for this holiday. He was preoccupied and concerned about Badis’ decision on the fate of his enemy.

Every year, on the 15th day of Tishrei, we celebrate Sukkot. Sukkot is the Hebrew word for a hut. Each family builds a small temporary structure and lives, eats, and sleeps in the hut, for seven days. The purpose is to commemorate forty years of wandering in the desert, and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai because during this wandering the Israelites lived in frail huts. This is a festival, a season of rejoicing. It also celebrates the fall harvest. The sukkot is decorated with fruits and vegetables. We also make a lulav, a combination of date palm, willow, and myrtle branches held together by a woven palm branch. The lulav is held in the right hand and the Etrog, a lemon-like fruit with a strong citrus smell, is held in the left hand. The two are waved simultaneously in six directions, north, south, east, west, up and down, symbolizing that God is found everywhere.

That year our feast at the table set up in the succot built in our courtyard, was somber. The celebration fit father’s mood.

My mother closely supervised the preparation of the Succot meal for the first night and prepared the main course herself. It is called buraniya and consists of layers of fat lamb, eggplant and spiced meatballs made from veal. It is still one of my favorite dishes but my wife’s version does not compare favorably with my memories of my mother’s. One of my favorite memories is sitting in our kitchen watching as my mother prepared and cooked this dish. First she cut up the lamb into chunks and put them in a large pot sitting over the fire after the olive oil she put in the pot first started to smoke. She stirred the meat while adding coriander, cumin and saffron. After the seasoned lamb was browned she added a spoonful of soaked almori.

Perhaps you are not familiar with our almori. It is a mixture of salt, honey, raisins, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and a small amount of flour. This is all pounded into a paste and formed into a roll that is allowed to harden in the sun. Many of our dishes contain this ingredient. The cook breaks off as much as needed for the dish, soaks it in water and then adds it to the dish.

After mother added the almori, she added a couple of spoons of spiced vinegar. Perhaps that is the difference. I think my wife uses less of the amori and leaves out the vinegar, or maybe uses the wrong vinegar. The mixture is cooked until the meat is about half done. While mother prepared all the initial ingredients, our cook mixed the veal, onion, garlic, and parsley, chopped everything together into small pieces then made meatballs and fried them in olive oil.

Next mother dipped slices of eggplant in boiling water then grilled the slices. She selected a large pan and made alternating layers of eggplant then lamb then more eggplant then the meatballs. Each layer was seasoned with saffron. She covered the dish with chopped almonds and poured whipped eggs with lavender and cinnamon over the mixture. Finally, she topped everything with egg yolks and put it in the oven until the ingredients blended together and all the wet ingredients were dry. After this, she put the pan on the edge of the embers of the kitchen fire to keep warm until it was time to cut it into slices and serve it. My mouth is full of saliva as I write this.

Father’s worries about ibn Abbas persisted until the nightfall that heralded Simchat Torah. That is the holiday when we complete the annual cycle of Torah readings and begin a new cycle. King Badis was out strolling that evening with his brother, General Boluggin, and one of his other viziers Ali ibn al-Karawi. They passed the house where ibn Abbas was being held and Badis decided to enter along with his companions and two bodyguards. He instructed the chief to bring Abbas before them.

Ibn Abbas, arrogant as always, thought Badis was going to accept his ransom offer. He decided to make his release more certain by doubling the offer. Badis was incensed. He considered Abbas’ arrogant demeanor, and the increase of the ransom offer, as denigration of his hospitality, and his honor as King. He grabbed the spear from one of his bodyguards and stabbed ibn Abbas in the abdomen. Boluggin quickly grabbed the other guard’s spear and struck to the chest. Ibn al-Karawi joined into the slaughter with his knife. The jailer chief covered his eyes to avoid watching the butchery. The three of them stabbed ibn Abbas seventeen times before he finally died.

The same evening ibn Abbas was murdered, but prior to my father learning of it, he gave me the following instructions:

“Joseph, I want you to take this to my students and I want each of them, and you, to make copies of the poem. You will check all copies for errors and make any necessary corrections yourself. I will send copies of the poem to our courts and yeshivas in Jerusalem, Baghdad, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere informing them of our victory at Alfuente and what it means for all our people.

The poem was written in Hebrew with an Arabic superscription explaining that the poem was a description of the malicious plans and actions of Zuhair and ibn Abbas and how God was instrumental in rescuing my father from their evil intentions and punishing them. His title for the poem was Shira. He wrote it in one hundred and forty-nine lines, each stanza ending in words with the sound “ruh”. I also noticed the poem had the same number of lines as the number of Psalms. I am certain this was not a coincidence. After I started making my copy I observed there were numerous references to the scriptures, drawing parallels to his story and those told in the Torah. Later he instructed me to have his students make more copies and I was to distribute them throughout the Diaspora. He intended this poem to be used in a celebration to rival that of Purim.

Only a month after the death of ibn Abbas and the final victory over Almeria, Granada was buzzing with the news of the arrival of Abu l-Futuh Thabit ben Muhammad al-Djurdjani who entered the city with a dozen well-armed warriors. The writings of this dignitary were well known, as was his reputation as a mercenary of great skill. When I heard of his arrival I asked my father about him.

“Ah yes, al-Djurdjani. He is, a furious and skillful warrior, Joseph. His writings indicate he is also a formidable scholar, thinker and writer. I am concerned and somewhat anxious to know why he came to Granada. He asked for an audience with King Badis, but Badis, after our victory and all the adulation from his peers, has become even more distracted and difficult than usual. He avoids the day-to-day obligations of his position forcing me and the other viziers to make decisions he should be making.  His chiefs and their men are flush with spoils from the capture and appropriation of several of Almeria’s towns and fortresses. Notables, including myself, have been given many appropriated estates. Our traders have benefited by gaining direct access to the sea and trade. With all of this distraction Badis has neglected to pay some of his chiefs the attention and acknowledgement they feel they are owed. He is too preoccupied with hunting, his harem, wine and other diversions to cultivate his friends.”

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