Friday, March 7, 2014
Jerusalem - a Feast for the Eye
I find that I don't have enough eyes, here in Jerusalem.
The people, the buildings, the crooked alleys full of color. I don't know where to look first.
We traveled here by bus and train. Everywhere, people approach us asking how they can help. When we wear our big backpacks, they can easily see we are visitors. Strangers say 'welcome to Israel', 'welcome to the Holy Land' as we pass by. One train conductor really went out of his way and brought us a schedule, told us where to stand, talking very loudly he attracted a crowd. Then he whipped out his cell phone and shared photos of a cheesecake, saying he really liked to bake. Ha. Everyone was in stitches.
From the train station we splurged on a taxi to the 'old city'. My suspicions were confirmed at the old Damascus Gate: no traffic at all within the old city walls because
there are no roads! Through an absolute maze of alleys often not more than 3 meters wide, we tried to swim upstream against a solid stream of muslims in headscarves, running children, salesmen selling leather bags, rugs, oranges, nuts, spices, breads and kitchenware. Nuns and monks joined the steam, as did tourists speaking many languages. Orthodox Jews, Palestinians, everyone shoulder to shoulder.
The stones have been worn smooth by millions of feet over hundreds and hundreds of years.
Amazingly, we found a door, suddenly in the alley, to our hotel. Hotel Hashimi is three stories tall, rising above the shops and alleys with a fabulous rooftop garden. Our room is almost the same size as the bed, but the rooftop terrace makes up for the lack of space to move around. We sit here gazing out over the Mount of Olives, with its thousands years old graves, as well as over the mount of historic streets that is old Jerusalem. The jewel in this crown seems to be the golden roof of the Dome of the Rock. My favorite moment came when the Christian church bells chimed over the city, joined by the melodious chant of the Muslim call to prayer. If only people lived together as easily as these symbolic sounds.
Children run and play everywhere. It is hard to image growing up in this dark, cool maze of steps and alleyways. The vendors, by and large, do not praise their wares. But you are expected to hackle over prices. We ate fried chicken, wonderful creamy hummus and warm pita bread. Today I asked for pomegranate juice and the guy sliced four large, ripe ones and plunged them in a squeezer.
We joined the throng of people entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the holiest site for Christians, this is the purported site of Jesus' crucification, his burial site and the site of the grotto of resurrection. The light steaming into the church itself, the endless stream of faithfuls approaching the sites, the dusty stone corridors and staircases, all add to the special feeling that hangs in the air.
A highlight came when, once outside and following more alleys, corners and stairs, we stumbled upon the Western Wall, or wailing wall. Having seen photos of it for so long, it seemed surreal to be standing here. The people are fascinating and my photographer's heart beats faster, trying to capture their beautiful faces - shadows on the wall, children with prayer books. Rabbis were chanting, groups were debating, men rocked back and force, seemingly arguing with the wall.
On the way back, a stream of nuns, monks and Christians came by singing and chanting the Lord's Prayer. It is amazing to me how they live together, albeit uneasily I'm sure, and how each group seems to want the same: love their God and have a home and a healthy family.