Jerusalem is a place that was not on my immediate travel bucket list, but I got to go there recently for business.
At check-in, I was awed? impressed? by the vehement gesticulations of a rather tall woman a few ahead of me. Very ticked off because she was being turned away at the check-in for having 3 hockey bags and 2 suitcases, 3 lifelike baby dolls dressed in sailor suits (yes, it was that creepy), a guitar, and a black sombrero with orange feather trim. But no Ranch salad dressing. Given the glacier speed with which the lines move, I had some time to write little scenarios in my head that might account for what I was seeing. Best I could come up with is that she was desperate to get to a surprise Hallowe’en birthday party for triplets in Cuba.
Security was shockingly fast at Pearson, so I was at the gate way early. What was interesting was that the assigned gate was off in its own little wing that could be closed off with a big set of doors. About 90 minutes before boarding, some security staff came along and kicked us all out so that they could set up some additional scanning and then we had to go back in and get “wanded” – that’s the one where they check all your bags, especially the seams as well as the palms of your hands.
Plane was full and I was wedged in between young Apple douche-guy and a Russian real estate diva (as I would come to know). Next to her, across the aisle, was a very polite middle-aged man and then an older woman with a pony-tail at the window. So, from the minute we got on the place, pony-tail launched into a description of the conference she was going to with middle-aged man, at fairly loud volume and with no discernible pause for breath or response. Russian diva and I chuckled a bit. AT FIRST. Three-and-a-half hours later, when there has been no pause or alteration in volume, Russian diva was ready to lose it, as she whispered to me, “It’s a sickness. She cannot stop. But I am trying to watch this movie and then I will want to sleep, and for what will she stop talking!?”
Next thing I know, Russian diva takes off like a shot to the back of the plane and then the chief flight attendant comes up on the other side, listens to pony-tail for a bit and decides the Russian diva isn’t crazy. First time ever I’ve seen someone get in trouble on a plane for being a pain in the ass. It was awesome :)
Best part was that the Russian diva, in turn, was talking to me (quietly at least) about her mega-million deals in Vancouver, her escape from Russia when she was 21, her smartest, best looking son in the world and so on. Then she’d catch herself and say, “Ah, but I will be quiet now so I don’t have the sickness like HER.”
Things I Learned
1. Most of the cars here are white or grey. You see a red car and you think it’s just asking to get dinged.
2. Duh. Israeli breakfast means dairy and fruit. Like, NO BACON AND NO HAM. That’s a sad, sad thing.
3. The sport they seem most obsessed with? Basketball.
4. I can be mistaken for a Russian.
5. Lanes are just a suggestion when driving. Especially if you’re on a motorcycle.
6. It’s really hard to tell whom you can shake hands with and whom you can’t. Particularly if you’re a woman. And they don’t get the universal rock greeting \mm/ either.
While I was there, the anniversary of the death of Rabin. I was at an overlook with a local person and they were lighting fireworks, and later there were bagpipes playing the funeral dirge. It was weirdly comforting and anachronistic at the same time.
The Haredim live mostly in one section of town that I went through every day. What I did not know is that they don’t work and live on welfare, so their housing is a bit slummy. And in irony, some of them don’t actually believe in the state of Israel, so I don’t know where they think the welfare comes from. The newspapers were also covering a story in that there is an allowance for them to suspend their strict observance to volunteer for army duty (everyone else has a mandatory term), but very few are “taking the opportunity”, so to speak. One other tidbit: every once in a while they protest something or other…. by burning garbage in the streets. Lovely.
A few of us went for dinner on a fancy shopping promenade overlooking the old city. It was still 31 degrees at 9 at night. Then we walked over to the YMCA building to end all YMCAs. It was built with a lot of money, and has a beautiful carillon, Armenian tile work, painted ceilings and intricate Arabic woodwork. There’s also a mosaic of the Roman “map” of Jerusalem where they didn’t even put in the Second Temple.
My big tour was a walking tour of the old city. The guide said an Israeli poet described it as a “modest woman” with many layers veiling her intimate self. If so, I’m pretty sure those layers are for sale, when she’s not praying. Jerusalem is a warren of allies, congested with people from all of the world getting accosted by men of every quarter.
I thought small French towns were bad for city planning, but Jerusalem takes the cake. Even with a map, you can enter at one end of a “street” and find yourself somehow on the other side of the city or back at the same entrance without knowing how you got there. And the week I was there, some kids in the Muslim quarter were getting their kicks throwing stones at tourists who wondered in unawares, so it was kind of important to know where you were.
The guide did a good job of explaining different religious views and the history of the places we stopped at. Many of the places are “believed to be”, and in this time of facts, it’s just faith that makes them so. We did go to the Temple Mount, which was fantastic to see. The security going in is run by Israel, but the modesty police are Muslim – one guy in our party had shorts that were too short, so the guide lent him a pair of 80′s rocker pants with images of Bob Marley in Florida colours on them. How that was more respectful, I have no idea, but they were awesome!
There was a time in the long history of the Temple Mount (at the time of the moneylenders in the bible) when Jews were able to buy sacrifices in the square – a goat, or a lamb, or whatever you could afford. Kinda like the goats you can buy from The Plan at Christmas time, only not so much used for milk and food.
I also learned that Solomon had a magic chain that made people tell the truth – just like Wonder Woman!
At the tomb of David (not likely really the tomb of David), most of us were more enamoured of a small, newborn kitten who was sleeping nearby with her Mom.
We had a wonderful lunch in the Muslim quarter, family style with falafel and spicy sauce and pretty awesome hummus. And they made this drink that, as the guy with the Marley pants said, “was a whole new world”: fresh squeezed lemons with fresh crushed mint and crushed ice. Seriously refreshing. Especially since we had been in open sun and 34 degree heat for most of the morning.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most venerated Christian site in the city probably. It is, supposedly, where Christ was crucified and the body of Christ was laid to rest. The lines to kiss the Rock of Cavalry and to go into the sepulchre were crazy. And random people were kissing walls and genuflecting in niches. The church is in the templar style but is jointly “owned” by 5 Christian groups today. Which explains why some areas are half-burned. On the Saturday before Easter, the tradition is to light candles and circle the sepulchre, which has led to fires on more than one occasion. But the kicker is that not one thing can be changed in the church unless all 5 parties agree, so…. since that doesn’t happen, the charred bits stay.
On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas, according to Wikipedia. So yeah, harmony and all that. And in a land full of ironies, it’s worth noting that it’s an Arab family that owns the keys to the church, and only they can open it and close it each day.
After all of the hills-go-up walking, it was mandatory to take a shower and a nap, which I did, before joining a colleague and his wife for dinner and a stroll on a promenade overlooking the city. The night was so clear, we could see the hills of Jordan, which was cool, but also the lights of the Arab poor areas and that awful wall again, which was not so nice.
Here’s the photo album.
To end on a more positive note, I had great service from Air Canada. Really. Both there and back. They are in a new customer service campaign and it seems to be working. Also, on the way back, I was on an aisle with the middle seat empty. Score!