Thursday, 26 May 2011

Access Delayed

In six hours I'll fly away to Madrid, and from there on to Buenos Aires. In three months' time I'll come back, so this is the last time in a while I'll find myself sitting at my undersized desk tapping away on this particular laptop. Blogging is still of course on the cards, but not quite sure how well I'll manage it all without my own computer to lug around with me; mobile posting with poor formatting might well be all I'm left with. But how else to share all I want to share? Postcards are so twentieth-century; not even two-thousand-and-late, while writing a blog is very 2008. But the sense of history isn't quite as intense as it was this time last week, in the narrow corridors of Jerusalem.

The Old City's divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Arab. Each has its own feel, each its own people, its own churches, mosques, synagogues, cuisines. In our little hostel, tucked away outside Damascus Gate, firmly in the Arab quarter, we had a fairly decent if narrowly-bunk-bedded base from which to wander around the dingy little streets. Israeli solders at every corner, all young, and the women far to darn attractive for armed people you probably shouldn't stare at. We'd already played the eye contact game earlier, at passport control, which wasn't too much fun.

Turns out that having an entry and exit stamp from the U.A.E. both entered in the same fifty-hour time period marks you out as suspicious to the state of Israel. Who knew? The lack of accommodation, a visible return ticket, an obvious connection to Will, and a barely decent reason to visit the place (sightseeing? tourism? in a poltical hotspot that also happens to be the one of the most significant site in the world's three largest religions? really?) as well as Will's numerous Malaysian visas left us high and dry for a few minutes as they worked out what to do with us. But we made it in, packs were carouselling and we were in the minibus to Jerusalem, just as your god intended.

If I'd had one of my own - God - then I think the city would have been terrifying. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was supposedly crucified, was one of the most godawful places I've been to in a long time - almost up there with the Japanese immigration centre on Tennozu Isle (see below). The whole city in fact was bizarre. The Wailing Wall had a ring of absurdity to it, watching as we did the Jews pray at the beginning of Shabbat on Friday night. The Dome of the Rock? vast, stunning, and perhaps the most intriguing if only because we weren't allowed to go inside as non-Muslims. Couldn't even go down certain streets that led to various entrances to the place.

Mark Twain, whose Innocents Abroad chronicles a trip from New York to this Holy Land, gets across what struck me most about the place:

Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small!  Why, it was no larger than an American village of four thousand inhabitants, and no larger than an ordinary Syrian city of thirty thousand ... A fast walker could go outside the walls of Jerusalem and walk entirely around the city in an hour.  I do not know how else to make one understand how small it is.
It's oddly minuscule. The whole place has the feeling of a storm in a teacup. The Mount of Olives is really more of a molehill. We did go outside, into the new city of Jerusalem, around its hallowed walls, and that was fast-take-out hummus and American teenage Jews enjoying the drinking age. Don't get me wrong; I'm not decrying the place, only its reputation. My guidebook recommended reading the Bible as a primer to the city. Wouldn't bother. See it for the history and what it is now.

Along the way also popped into Palestine, took a quick peek around Bethlehem. Separation Wall was awful, quite literally - was in awe at just quite how determined the Israelis must have been. The Palestinians we met were charming, friendly, welcoming, etcb. All you could really want in hosts at your hostel. Had wander around the city, even finding a shopfront sporting the name 'Nazi Dental Laboratory'. Thought we'd leave that for another day and went back to the leopard-print beds in what is apparently the only hostel in Palestine: the House of Peace (, if you're passing by). Still think my hostel in Okinawa has spoiled me for the rest of the world. We'll see what they're like in South America. But now I really must go.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Green And Pleasant Land

Home for a month, and have posted nil up till now. This has been sufficient time that I feel I can stray away and onwards from Japan, with no tedious lists of what I miss or rants over our failings as a nation and a people in comparison to them folk. Instead, a humble insight into the stop-gap between adventures. It all goes seem to go a tad more slowly here, but that's been quite nice, really; home-cooking never did anyone any harm, and handing over my laundry instead of washing it all myself is a distinct advantage of returning to the family seat. The present's also been ticking by rather lazily perhaps because I've spent a fair part of it thinking of the future, with decisions having been made on the further education front and plans on the next few jaunts off out of Blighty.

Although I could walk almost everywhere I wanted to go in Tokyo - and I do miss that - I couldn't drive anywhere, and I did miss the easy independence that a car gives me. I've flitted hither and thither in my bright red little motor, although with it's meagre engine (at less than a litre she's hardly one for the fast lane) I fear 'flit' may be too optimistic a verb. Perhaps 'trundle' would suit better. Before getting back in my car though, I had to face British rail travel, and up to London at that. The Tube doesn't have much on the JR Yamanote line - no jingles at all to be heard, let alone different ditties to tell apart Green Park and Victoria,  and certainly no signs to tell any bereft little girls that dropped teddy bears can be retrieved from the tracks with a claw-like implement, never you fear little lady.

But London. Into Charing Cross, past Trafalgar Square after a call in a red telephone box, a coffee in the café downstairs at the National Portrait Gallery, across to Holborn for lunch and then over the Thames to the Hayward Gallery, then an early dinner on the South Bank and a Tube journey from Waterloo out to Islington for a play at the Almeida before back to Victoria and a train home. No kanji, no Tokyo crowds - a whole different plodding breed - and coffee and sandwiches and pizza and just that view down the river as the sun is coming down. There ain't a city like it, I think. But no, I'm not going to university there after all; that will be over in Abu Dhabi, thanks for coming.

That was only the first day back. The following week had Brighton with M, after a few renditions of classic musicals' best numbers with a healthy dose of nostalgia (we weren't singing, never fear) and then off to Hants for beers and a pub pint and more golf than I've managed in years. English sun isn't quite like that anywhere else as well; it comes out with a vengeance, and it doesn't like pussy-footing around. Despite radiation jokes on all sides, been most pleasant not to have been pussy-footed around myself, as straight back into life as we know it (or I know it) it was. Parents even upped and left for a week, leaving me again back in London a few times, and of course there was some wedding on the Fri.

As public holidays go, it had a vaguely Marmite-tinge to it, but I loved it, no shame in saying so. Tell me all you know about that dress and I'll throw in a factoid I picked up along the way. The hats? The swords? The trees? The children? The crowds? I only really saw the latter, but it was a fine end to a few days of all I like in London. Anything that gets that many people excited that doesn't involve any sort of competition is good enough for me - no-one loses at a wedding, but the city doesn't see crowds like that 'cept for marathons (pure one-up-manship) and I suppose it's up there with the World Cup for international viewing figures. On my front, throw in Frankenstein at the National (literally spectacular), an afternoon at the Udderbelly and a filming session at the Tate Modern for a few days of fun.

A night out in Sidcup washed down the week up until the wedding - drama students reach a full enough bloom for me on a Thurs night out with the inevitable theme of Kings & Queens, and I was happy to get back to the normal reserved quiet British masses on the Fri. That night had seen a 3 am call to the M&S garage for a sandwich, noodles and curry after Pete and I had raced (trundled) up the M25 for a two-hour delayed arrival in Plastic Red, a club that knocks Womb into a cocked hat by all accounts. Fuelled by that late-night carb fix and the two or three hours of sleep that came between hitting the sack and up again for the train, we made it through the happy day at Hyde Park and then back to home and some sleep. Fair bit of that in Blighty these days.

Two birthdays later - my own and my Gran's, though she does trump me by sixty-one years - and that's a month in England. Where next? Not very far away if that bloke William Blake was writing about had stuck to his word. I suppose he might still be mentally fighting away with his insomniac sword (though perhaps he left it somewhere so it could catch a few Zs), but it seems more likely that he didn't manage to build Jerusalem over here, so I'm off to Israel and Palestine for a few days come Friday 13th with a good pal of mine. Especially excited by the prospect of eating at Holy Bagel. And all the churchy/mosquey/synagoguey stuff too.