Thursday, March 13, 2008

Observations on Jerusalem

' Last leg of the 10-day trip: winding things up in Paris, but thoughts are still lingering back to the visit to Jerusalem last week. It is an amazing place to visit: I just wanted to include a few illustrated reflections.

  • Israel is greener than I expected.

The drive up into the hills from Tel Aviv leads from grass- and farm-land up into forests and rockyJerusalem 071 scrub. It's a cooler, wetter time of year, but I was expecting high, hard desert. Instead, the hills and, especially, the gardens (illustrate) were lush, reminding me a bit of the orange trees and palms of Seville.

  • Israel is more compact than I expected.

I remember the mental change in scale that I had to execute when I arrived in the Netherlands from the US: there is another step-order-of-magnitude that you have to make in traversing Israel. Places that sound like regions are actually hillsides just outside the city, perhaps a kilometer away.

This picture is of a settlement on the West Bank, taken from Jerusalem.

Jerusalem 065

Israeli and Arab settlements crowd onto adjacent hills, the Fence snaking along nearby, Jordan just past the next ridge. It seemed to me that the political situation can't be solved by dividing things up: it's all a neighborhood with everyone literally down the street from one another.

  • Religion defines culture and history...

Jerusalem 174More than anywhere else I've been, the immediate and omniscient presence of God's artifacts defines the city. I was constantly arriving at places of great significance that I didn't know existed.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was eye-opening; I had no idea that the actual tomb, the spot of the crucifixion, and more, were all compacted together there. Similarly at the Western Wall, or around the Dome of the Rock, legend became tangible.

Jerusalem 228Too tangible, sometimes: I backed out of the way of a procession bearing a cross along the Via Dolorosa, only to have them turn to me and start praying. I quickly found out that I'd accidentally backed into the Third Station of the Cross (who knew...).

You can't help but feel it: there are signs reminding you that here, Heaven and Earth touch: Divine Presence always rests close by.

  • ... yet it's all a bit Dutch sometimes

I instinctively pronounced 'ch' the Dutch way, and got every Hebrew word right. The people are simply DSC05129direct in business and conversation: the Dutch meetings are good preparation. And they close down as thoroughly on Shabbat as the Dutch do on Sundays.

There was even my beloved Random Road Art.

Despite the terrible school shootings that took place during my stay, I also felt wholly comfortable walking on the streets or visiting the bazaars. DSC05103Police and soldiers were everywhere, but people were friendly and people didn't seem to be challenging one another.

At the same time, everything from shower handles to calendar pages flipped oppositely to what I was used to, and there we a curious abundance of cats (strays and pets) and virtually no dogs.

  • Do the Old City !

I loved wandering the passageways of the Old City, haggling in the bazaar, and sampling the foods. Jerusalem 274 The corner shops and alleys are a bit like Istanbul, and it was fun haggling for crafts and candies. The bus tour that I took was nice as a general orientation, but I never feel like I've seen a place unless I've walked it thoroughly and met the people along the way.

My favorite spot was a rooftop restaurant called Papa Andreas: I sat up there with some hummus and lamb skewers and watched the sun go down, the twilight deepen, the chants mark the moment, the lights twinkle on. Absolutely magical.

Jerusalem 273

  • and, There's No Place Like...

I wearily returned to Amsterdam on Tuesday to change suitcases, 10 pm, dusty and tired. The customs agent checked my passport, noted that I was a resident of Arnhem, and gave me a wonderful "Welcome home!" greeting, in Dutch.

It made my day, on so many levels.

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