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 (www.salambethlehem.com, 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.