Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Olive Princess

Pic:Sara Refai

 Aisha held out her hand to brush against the leaves as we passed them. ‘I used to play in these olive groves as a child. They were monsters or soldiers in my army, sometimes they were courtiers in my court,’ she said, smiling.
   We crested the hill to confront the shocking scar greyly dominating the green-flecked earthy brown landscape. The Israeli security wall.
Olives, Page 168

Olives – A Violent Romance came within a whisker of being titled ‘The Olive Princess’. Although the book’s working title had been Olives for seven years, I was keenly aware that the book title was an SEO disaster (SEO, for non-geeks, is Search Engine Optimisation, the science of Getting Found By Google). Sure enough, if you search Amazon for ‘Olives’, you get those smug bastards Crespo and a load of Mediterranean cookbooks before you ever come across any violent romances.

I wobbled for a while, but got talked down off the ledge by friends who’d always known the book as Olives and who thought ‘The Olive Princess’ looked like chick-lit. And so it was to be.

Aisha’s little game of pretending the olive trees were her courtiers is both a connection to her heritage and to Paul. The olive trees of Palestine are a potent symbol of the past, of their heritage and of their identity for Palestinians. Tens of thousands of these magnificent old trees have been uprooted by the Israelis in land clearance for the ‘security wall’ as well as in the clearance of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements (they live hundreds of years and it’s possible that many of those uprooted trees were there in Jesus’ lifetime). The trees remain critically important to many Palestinians, who farm them for the fruit and the oil they give.

There’s no taste in the world quite like unfiltered ‘first cut’ olive oil from Palestine.

I was at St. David's cathedral in Wales over Christmas and found a number of olive-wood Christian themed souvenirs in the cathedral gift shop. I had to check and, sure enough, they were made in Israel. The irony bore down on me like a physical weight.

While the connection for Aisha is to her heritage, the connection with Paul is loneliness. As a child, Paul used to play alone:
“...pretending trees are tanks and sheds are submarines. It had left me with some funny habits, including one of predicting outcomes through random events. If the red car lets me cross the road then I’ll get off with Sonia Smith.”
And so Aisha’s olive courtiers are an imaginary childhood game she shared in common with Paul, two lonely children who found company in each other against all the odds.

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