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Published: September 9th 2008
Shalom, mes amis.
I come to Israel with Fred and another Frenchman, Martin. Martin I am pretty sure is all over pictures from my 24th birthday. "Martin" in French sounds something like "Mahrh-tahn." He works for the European Commission and likes to debate, only wears collared shirts and cares strongly about the environment. He argues with me that I do not need two showers a day, which is I would say the norm for an American, while he only washes his hair twice a week. He has skipped many showers on the trip which I would have deemed highly necessary, ameliorating the by product of stench with a few spritzes of cologne in true French fashion. He only drinks wine and actually thinks cheating on your spouse is acceptable "if done in the proper way." He enjoys taking pictures of girls playing sports on the beach and is very comfortable in just boxers in just about any situation. I think a good general description of him is "proper but liberal." He is hilarious and for his company I give him two thumbs up.
In our little threesome, Martin serves as the tour guide which I am completely fine with.
He actually does carry the Lonely Planet EVERYWHERE we go, out in the open in his hands. He has no shame standing on corner after corner looking totally lost, may as well be putting the book on the street and walking through the maps. Fred and I tell him what we feel like doing generally, and Martin will choose the sight, the bar or the restaurant, gives a distance and time approximation to destination, and off we go. I'm not saying his approximations and directions are accurate whatsoever, somebody must have failed his cartography course. En route, he gives a synopsis either straight reading out of the book or paraphrased. Fred and I sort of just follow him around, I had completely forgotten how hot the Middle East is and can't be bothered to think for myself if another option presents itself. I normally don't like traveling like this, basically a tour page by page from the Lonely Planet, but it is fine for a week and I can't say I volunteer to get us anywhere in Jerusalem. We also happen to be in Jerusalem during Ramadan, so sleeping on a roof was a little noisier than it was even
in Damascus. The music and singing is louder, longer, and went later into the night. The prayer calls in the morning are more often, louder, and thus more annoying. Man, it feels good to be back in the Middle East.
Containing all of Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters, the city itself is amazing. Being in Jerusalem you feel like you are stepping into the Bible. You see places that you have only read about or heard in Christmas carols. Cobbled streets lead you from the Wailing Wall to the Dome of the Rock, from the souks of the Muslim quarter to the doorstep of your hostel, from Damascus Gate to Jaffa Gate. You can walk along Via Dolorosa, the walk Jesus is thought to have taken through Jerusalem while carrying the cross, all the way to the end at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. From the wall separating Old from New Jerusalem, you can see the beautiful churches, charming streets, contrasted with run down lots, ruined houses, buildings falling apart at the seams. To be honest Jerusalem really reminded me of Damascus. Bagel stands line the Jewish quarter while falafel carts the Muslim. Yes, the city is amazing
and holds a certain charm. But you can look at pictures to see that.
It is fascinating... that is until the fascination wears off and you get used to it a bit. There is probably no good way to describe what went on inside of me without offending anybody, so I apologize in advance but what follows are my personal opinions and the things that went on in my head, and I am going to jump right in. Many people hold Jerusalem in high importance because of its historical and more importantly religious significance. However as a nonreligious person it was really hard to stay in the mindframe for the overdose. Everything in Jerusalem is uber religious and I couldn't escape it. I know I'm not the only person that is a little freaked out by extremely religious people. Take a city of them and put them in a city full of sites whose authenticity may be questionable. After awhile, I began to feel like I was in a sort of Disneyland. Seeing places which around had been spun stories that to me, didn't really exist or carry any personal significance. I am all for respecting a religious site
when you enter, but in Jerusalem you enter sights where people are kissing things with their eyes closed, humming and signing out loud with their eyes closed, palms raised to the sky, some tearing out of the corners of their eyes. I almost felt uncomfortable standing there straight up on the side of the room just observing. It made me think of when I saw the Passion of the Christ in theaters and people were bawling and sobbing, praying right next to me, while I sat there feeling annoying there was really no plot to follow. I think I was a bit underprepared for Jerusalem in this aspect, and after a couple days I was ready to leave. Religion-ed out.
Another issue I had to cope with is that it is no secret that Jews have a more closed society than most other peoples. Imagine being in a city now, full of them where you are the minority. Countless groups of American Jews come to restaurants and bagel stands in hoards, they congregate and put tables together in circular forms. Groups of black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews walk by with a holier than thou air about them. And none of them
Dome of the Rock
view from our rooftop matresses
will pay any attention to you as a tourist or a gentile. It was also a bit surprising, but our experience through stores, bars, on the street, led me to believe that Israelis aren't really the nicest people in the world. I'm not saying they are mean or totally impolite per se, but I have encountered countless other nationalities who have been much kinder. Not too many smiles, succinct responses, sometimes no words at all. Maybe you can blame this on past persecution, the struggles they have been through, but either way they weren't very welcoming as a country. I found both just in my time in the Middle East before and in the Muslim quarters in Israel as well, the Muslim people to be much kinder and more welcoming. This based on personal experiences of course.
Somewhat of an eye-opening experience to say the least. I hesitate to elaborate much further on such a touchy subject in such a public medium. I also apologize if my recent posts have been lame, I blame this on nearly a month of no updates while I've been swirling about in seas of French. I'm working on it I swear.
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