Monday, May 14, 2007

25.04.07, Jerusalem

Shmuel takes us on a tour of the old city, and the old city is great.

Parts of the walls are rather new, built in Middle Ages when city walls became obsolete anyway.

Near the Jaffa gate there is a monument to a Crusader and a Muslim warrior. Shmuel disapproves.

Jerusalem has funny alien-looking fire hydrants with two eyes.

There are bits of Roman ruins, and a part of an old city wall.

At some point I see a guy who totally looks like an evil henchman from a Hollywood movie: a big rifle, a surly expression, tattoos, sunglasses, a wifebeater shirt, you name it. A bit of observation reveals that the guy is the responsible adult of some kind of a school trip. He has a group of 20 or so schoolchildren aged 9 or 10 and keeps showing them places and explaining something.

Shmuel disses the guy's gun, saying that an M1 Carbine is only good for school trips.

The Dome of Rock is beautiful from outside, but the whole Temple Mount is currently closed for tourists. Couldn't visit Al-Aqsa Mosque for the same reason.

The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the place where all the really cool religious Jews get buried, because that's where the Messiah will start raising the dead from. I am not sure I understand the point: if you are dead anyway and have been probably for hundreds of years, what's the rush, can't you wait a few more days? It's not like they are gonna run out of parking spaces and sale items in Olam Haba.

Arabs sell weird huge elongated bagels and some green powder everywhere. They are quite insistent, and have learned to advertise their bagels in Russian. One of them screams in Russian: "hot bagels! I love you in Russian!" and we wonder which one of us he loves. I vote for Oska.

Somebody should really teach these Arabs the Yiddish song "Koif meine beygele", this is very on-topic in every way.

For some reason it's still difficult to get accustommed to the opening times written in the wrong direction.

We take a look at the East Jerusalem (here be dragons) from afar, and get to listen to the horrible sounds coming from the minarets, howling almost like Serbs at Eurovision.

Then we go the Hezekiah tunnel, a 2700-year old water tunnel. The water is still there after all those years, and electricity mostly isn't, so we put our water-unfriendly valuables such as cell phones in plastic bags, put on some swimming shoes, and arms outselves with flashlights. Shmuel lets me borrow a tiny blue LED light which I hang on my shirt and which mostly just makes my breasts look blue. I take my pants off, too, and replace them with a shawl/skirt thingie which dries way faster than jeans.

The tunnel is 533 meters long. The first 50 meters are kinda fun, especially the deep bit that makes you wonder whether you can make it out with dry underwear. After that this view starts getting old (no offense, Oska) and so does hitting your head on the ceiling (the ancestors could have been more considerate towards tall people). Shmuel impresses us with "that part here is quite new, built during the times of the second Temple".

We get out into the dry-off area where 15 or so Hassidim are already trying to dry themselves off, and I promptly lose my skirt (it became have from all the water and slid down). The Hassidim decide they are dry enough, and retreat in a quick but dignified way.

After we get out of there we thank Shmuel and say goodbye to him. He was a very good guide.

No visit to the old city it complete without Ha-Kotel, the Western wall of the Temple. This is the holiest place on earth for Jews, the place of God's presense on Earth. People come to the wall and write messages to the God on little pieces of paper, like the Japanese. The wall itself is divided by sex (and men got a bigger part!), but the plaza in front of it is quite co-ed. We approach the most holy wall, touch it, and I make a very abmitious wish (somebody here is supposed to be omnipotent, no?) without a piece of paper. Benka writes God a note.

(We - or at least I - do all of the above with the same mixture of reverence and humor with which I am writing this right now.)

The plaze also contains a few yeshivas and a toilet, which is most surely the world's holiest toilet, but even the divine presense turns out to be unable to make the Most Holy Toilet flush.

We try to move from the Jewish holy places to the Christian ones, and get lost in a huge market where Arabs advertise their souvenirs to us in Russian. Their souvenirs include a t-shirt saying "Israel: Uzi does it". I consider buying it, then decide to look for the sweatshirt version, then forget about it.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Oska is uncomfortable, feeling as if we are interrupting something, although we aren't. We decide to come back tomorrow.

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