Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Israel part 1: Jerusalem


After a 10 and a half hour plane ride and an intriguing but ultimately unrecommendable   proposition by one of the air crew, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv.
I was waived through customs, at my great surprise since I had a Lebanese stamp in my passport and no concrete travel plans.
Step 2: shuttle bus to Jerusalem. “where in Jerusalem?” the driver asked me . “where should I go?” I answered. He gave me the half puzzled, half uninterested and blazéed look that I would become accustomed to in the next 2 weeks and mumbled “jaffa gate” under his breath as he closed the door and started the engine.
The shuttle was filled with  Montrealers, I felt like I was in Outremont.
An old ultra orthodox who wouldn’t shut up and for some reason had set his conversation sights on me; a diamond dealer in town for an important conference; a young Jew who was coming to Israel to complete his Aliyah(or ascent*)The owner of a bagel shop and a tour guide who, when she found out I was coming to Israel for the first time insisted on going to work and telling me everything she possibly could about Jerusalem in such a short trip.
 Heeding to her recommendation, I set out to find “the best hostel in Israel”. 30 mins of walking around Jerusalem’s new city later… I remembered that I had not slept in over 30 hours and was decidedly “tired of this shit”.
I walked into the old city, where hostels abound, and stopped at the first one I could find. The Petra Hostel. This place had all the charm of a funeral home, without any of the “joie de vivre”.
The only other person in my dorm room was a very socially inept man in his early 50’s, from the United states who had grown up with his missionary parents in Peru. His dad had died when he was 17, which lead him to quit school and take a job waiting tables in order to support his family (which he continued to do for the next 20 years). He explained that he had been living in the hostel for the last 2 years, doing laundry and cleaning in exchange for room and board. When I asked him how long he thought he would stay in Jerusalem, he replied quite nonchalantly “until I die”. 

I mention this man and his story because he is a great example of these individuals that make you feel uneasy but engender a creeping feeling that you must talk with them, follow them a little down their road and explore their world. I have met quite a few of these people in my life and it has not gotten any easier to interact with them. However, retrospectively he was probably the most interesting part of Jerusalem for me.

I spent the better part of my time in Jerusalem wandering around the old city from sunrise til about 11 am then back to the hostel, sleeping til 3 or 4 pm then going out into the new city for supper and drinks into the night(which made me realize something I think few ppl realize; the old city is exponentially better to visit at night. No little trinkets for sale, unfettered access to a bounty of nooks and cranny’s, IDF soldiers creeping around every second corner that are strangely reminiscent of their Roman counterparts..).
 It took me a almost a week to regulate my sleeping pattern so I could sleep more than 3 hours at a time and as far as I can remember it is only the second time I have ever experienced jetlag.

Word to the wise, if you are an atheist 1 or 2 days in Jerusalem is enough. The crowds during the day in the old city are unbearable and the atmosphere is quite tense. My personal favorite Jerusalem site though is the western wall. The energy is amazing. If you want to feel absolutely out of place and unwelcome this is as good as it gets. In the 20 minutes I spent at the wall the following things happened; A old man spit on me(though I couldn’t make out if it was intentional or not), A young orthodox maybe 2 or 3 years my cadet started chanting AT me and followed me around for the better part of 5 minutes, a middle aged man, seeing that I was wearing the little visitors kippa, asked me with a half frown “r yu jewysh”, as I was resting my head and hands on the wall with my eyes closed old men wearing Tallis (the religious scarf for men) came to pray next to me, so close that I could smell their breathe, even though half the wall was free. There is much more to be said about this holy of holy sites but I believe you get the point.
On my last night in Jerusalem, the old city hostel atmosphere became unbearable and I packed up appendage and dragged my carcass to the new city where I found a more suitable hostel for a good nights sleep.

 In a nutshell: Jerusalem is a city primordially defined by its conflictual nature. Jerusalem  without some sort of conflict would lose its essence and feel. In a strange twist of fate: it is the very tensions that threaten to rip Jerusalem apart that keep it together…

Thoughts from the Road:
   an example of Israeli sarcasm and blasé attitude: -This is the Uganda right?(to bartender at a bar that was hard to find and had no sign out front)

            bartender nods
           "why is it that I asked the bouncer at the bar next door and he didn’t know where Uganda was?"
      because he is stupid…(he does not know said bouncer personally)

-       he who owns Jerusalem must play the roman. As the roman soldier patrolled the streets as Jesus ascended the via dolorosa, the IDF soldier patrols as the Palestinian drinks tea while trying to sell crap to tourists


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