Monday, February 02, 2004

This has been a fun and wacky 48 hours. Which beats the dull and uninteresting 48 hours that preceded it.

Left for Jerusalem with D in the morningish...took the sheroot (min-van thing which is safer (?) than a bus) into Jerusalem, and walked around the entire old city. Which really isnt that big. It's a crazy place though. It's just full of all these alley ways that you can get lost in for hours. Not that it's such a great idea though, 'specially in the moslem quarter. I actually had an old muslim woman tell me "don't go up there" when i was walking down some shady looking alleyway. I decided she was probably right. Then again, i think i may have gone down it the other way later on without noticing. I should have taken more pictures, but i HATE looking like a tourist. I realized my arabic is terrible, but i was able to use a couple of words, and learn some new ones. Most everything was closed because yesterday was the Muslim holiday of Eid, and it was sunday, so all the Xtians were out. I did go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Apparently this is the holy of holies for those having a special relationship with Jesus. D and i momenterily pondered if touching the slab of stone that Jesus apparently laid on would grant us special powers. So far, it hasn't. There are lots of weird little nooks and crannies in their too. Like these mini caves that some random mystery person has put candles inside of. Very very strange. The place houses something like half a dozen denominations, and they all can't stand each other. Rumor has it that the ladder above the enterance has been there for 150 years because no one remembers which group put it up there, and everyone refuses to clean up someone elses mess. It's a shame, it looks like a nice ladder. We also smelled weed coming from one of the little shops near the church. That was funny. Anyway, inside the church it's weird cos you dont really notice the nuns and priests and whatever other kind of religious ilk are there. They sort of skirt by very quickly and eerily. You just catch a glimpse of them as they go through a door, or in the shadows of one of these "caves" that have random alters and candles. Very very eerie.
We also stopped for coffee in the muslim quarter (ran into some NY times reporter that looked homeless and kept trying to compare israel to vietnam. how do you explain to someone that he has no idea what's happening if he's doing that?). There are entirely too many english speakers walking around the old city though. I'm glad to be back in tel aviv where it's normal hebrew everywhere.
I then met up with some family for some more coffee, hung around in their apartment, and then went to Josh's. We went out to eat something, talked about what's going on and whatnot. He's absolutely wonderful to talk to. I'm going to head out there for Shabbat in the next few weeks. I've never done anything religious, and certainly never really knew what i was doing if i was, so it'll be interesting to try it out.
In the morning i went back to the old city for a last walk around. Spent an hour in a cafe just inside from Yafo gate. It was empty save for me, two middle aged british ladies chattering in the corner, and a couple of older arab men near the enterance chain smoking and chatting with the owner and another guy that i'm guessing worked there. It's was really kinda beauiful. The enterance is all glass, with stenciled letters, like you'd find in an old cafe in europe, or a train stop in the midwest. Black letters vertically spelling "ESPRESSO" behind one guy, the morning light reflecting off his face and the long stream of smoke from his cigarette. The chatter of old friends, real old, sounds the same in every language. Spent an hour watching the five of them like this.
Finally left and walked through the market. One shop owner stopped me and we just started chatting. His name is Amor (builder in arabic) he's a kid, only 19, but he looks older. He also says he feels old, like he's 35 or 40. I believe it. His family is from Nablus, and he's lived in Jerusalem his whole life. Not the easiest places to have grown up in, especially the last 3 years. We just chatted and joked around, sat down and ate some baklava that i had in my bag. His english is very good, and he was saying how he likes talking with all the foreigners that come down there. He's met a bunch of american volunteers asking him about his experiences. It's a weird thing to do. It's like that reporter that stopped and talked to us. The reporter had asked me, "how do you see yourself?" How do i see myself? what do you mean? with a mirror, how else? Amor and i had a good laugh over this. We talked for an hour, just sitting in the near empty market. His family owns a resteraunt, but business has been terrible and they're closing it down. He says that in his store alone he used to make 5000 dollars a day, just profit. That was before the intifada. Now it's all empty. I asked him if he'd ever had problems with soldiers. He said, "yeah, once." Told me that he was driving and the soldiers were stopping cars. An ethiopian soldier asked for "his fucking citizenship [ID card]." Apparently Amor got angry and hit him. Broke his nose. The other soldiers beat him with clubs, "they took me to the hospital," he laughed, "they damaged me." He's not bitter though, and he emphasised that he has jewish friends. He doesnt have a problem with soldiers checking ID cards, but he wishes the guy had been nice about it. The fact that the guys an ethiopean was definatly a factor. He didn't say it, but a great deal of probably had to do with the fact that the ethiopeans are something relatively new here. Doesn't seem fair, huh? ah well. Amor says he wants to go to canada and study and work there. But he says he'll come back. I believe him.
Walked around more, took in the usual sites. Got lost in random quarters. The Muslim quarter is nice if you avoid the alleyways and stick to the thouroughfairs. The Jewish quarter is nice if you stick to the alleyways and avoid the thouroughfairs. The Xtian quarter is good if you like cheesy tourist merchandise and churches. The armenian quarter is good if youre armenian and your people have had the shittiest run of luck in history next to native americans. And they at least have casinos. No place is good if you need to poop, and i recommend bringing your own toilet paper. Also don't go if your sense of smell can't be killed off within minutes. The 400 year old sewage system may have been renovated back in the 60's...but the people there are still slobs. The arab kids seem to like playing with bikes and cap guns, the jewish kids seem more into basketball (there are a few random basketball courts in the old city, in the middle of archeological digs). Didnt see any xtian kids.
So now i'm home and i should go shower. I'm off to party in...the korean embassy? that's right. The "cousin" from the foreign ministry invited me. Should be interesting. I havent decided yet if i hope or dont hope that they'll serve dog.

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