So good they named it twice.
It was English John, a 70-something stranger to the joys of salty mud and free wifi, who bemoaned the lack of things to do on a free day at the Dead Sea resort. I put it to him at the end of our first day that a free day in Jerusalem was a different proposition and he emphatically agreed.
Jerusalem is one of those great cities, like London, Rome, Athens, Paris, Vienna, Berlin or New York (and pardon me if I’ve left out your own personal favourite) of which you could paraphrase Samuel Johnson and say ‘If a man (or a woman!) is tired of Jerusalem he (or she!) is tired of life.’
We drove in through the West Bank from the Jordanian border, through a landscape so dry you wonder how it could ever be productive, but it is, through the use of underground aquifers and desalination for irrigation.
Apparently dates are a good earner for the Palestinians.
New guide Adel pointed out Palestinian ‘villages’ and Jewish settlements, but they mostly all seemed to look like this (above) – everything mid-rise and built of these pale rocks and clay…..
…except for these rough camps which Adel said belong to Palestinian bedouins who’ve apparently abandoned tents for slightly more permanent corrugated iron.
Adel, incidentally, is not the straightforward Jewish Israeli I assumed he’d be on first meeting. He’s a Muslim Palestinian Arab, born and living in Jerusalem, holding a Jordanian passport and an Israeli ID who could apply for Israeli citizenship if he chose but already enjoys all the advantages of residence in Israel. He has three daughters – Noor, Leen and Mariam, and a teenage son called Joseph, an interesting cross-cultural mix of names, I think. His oldest daughter is at university, the youngest is a baby. He showed us photos of his children (all staggeringly beautiful with creamy skin and dark eyes) and is obviously intensely proud of them. He talked freely about the situation in the West Bank, the lives of the Palestinians and the political history of Israel and I gather we were getting fair reportage. I’ve gotta hand it to him for being able to do so without seeming partisan. He was a very knowledgeable and helpful man and I liked him very much.
Next to him, incidentally, is Jean, one of the Canadian girls. Because we arrived on the Sabbath, we were told we may not be able to check in to our hotel rooms till after sundown. I’m not sure why, because the front desk was (under)staffed and there were cleaners at work when we arrived about lunchtime. I was one of the lucky ones and was handed my room key straight away. The Canadian girls, Jean and Susan, didn’t get their room till after 7pm! They did have a crash on someone else’s bed (not mine – I was off and out as soon as I could dump my stuff so I didn’t know about their plight) during the afternoon but otherwise stuck it out in the crowded tiny lobby where hordes of mainly Italian tourists were also scrabbling for rooms and the attention of the overworked girl at the desk.
Adel had suggested maybe a visit to the Israel Museum. I had downloaded a digital offline map to my phone so I wouldn’t get lost while wandering hither and yon in this new city but I hadn’t yet twigged that the damn thing was pointing south instead of north like all good maps should. This was easily remedied by hitting the switcharound button but I didn’t realise that till yesterday, ahem.
Anyway, in short I got a bit bamboozled and it was too long a walk so I ambled back through Mishkenot Sheananim, the first Jewish neighbourhood built outside the walls of the Old City, in 1860. It even had its own windmill. The sign says it was successfully defended by the Haganah during the ‘disturbances’ of 1929, 1936-1939 and the War of Independence (in the late forties).
Not everywhere was clean and unlittered.
So back to the hotel for a pitstop, then out again for the shorter walk to the Old City, much of which was open for business on the Sabbath. I presume it was the non-Jewish businesses because you have your Jewish, your Armenian, your Christian and your Muslim quarters in the Old City. On second thoughts, I take that back. I don’t presume ANYTHING in Jerusalem!
I entered through the Jaffa Gate, as did lots of Jewish people of varying degrees of orthodoxy on their way to synagogue inside.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and I think I can get away with it by applying a feminist spin, but Judaism is the one religion where it’s the men, not the women, who get the rough end of the pineapple for once when it comes to wearing …..interesting costumes and um, awkward headgear.
All very well for these young fellows to wear kippahs, which they attach with small metal clips. Saw one nearly bald bloke whose kippah looked as if it had been attached using a staple gun. I was of course too gutless to ask. Just as I’m mostly too gutless photograph people face to face.
[I’m writing this on Tuesday morning in my hotel room in Tel Aviv where we arrived last night. We just had an alarm! A voice from the corridor announced that there was an alarm and would everyone please go to…..I didn’t catch exactly where but I scrambled to put on some underwear, shoes and lipstick because no way am I going outside with no lipstick on, terrorist attack or no terrorist attack. Then there was another announcement: Please stay in a safe place for the next five minutes. Hmm….. that’d be my room? I looked out the window and the citizens and the traffic of Tel Aviv appeared to be going about their business quite oblivious to any alarm. Then came a final announcement: Thank you, everything is back to normal, you may now go outside.
And all in the time it took to make me presentable!]
One last post from my first day in Jerusalem. You walked through a very upmarket mall with galleries and boutiques to get to the Jaffa gate from our hotel neighbourhood. There was lots of really interesting modern sculpture, mostly figurative and naturalistic (the way I like it!) but I loved this one depicting … let’s say as many of the Children of Abraham as the artist felt would serve his ecumenical purpose. I recognise an orthodox priest and I think a Franciscan, and I presume the others are a Shia and a Sunni muslim and a rabbi. No guarantees on that presumption, of course.