Monday, 20 May 2019

Jerusalem day two

Breakfast in the YMCA Three Arches Hotel was very good. They had a whole table with different dairy products including what was either camembert or brie, a nondescript cheese cut into small, bite-sized blocks that was labelled “yellow cheese”, cottage cheese, and other things the name of which I knew not. After this we went to the reception desk with some laundry in bags that we wanted to have washed and paid 50ILS for a bagful each.

It was fine and sunny, as they day before had been, as the past week had in fact been, although you want a jacket when you go out in the evening if you have a view to eating at a restaurant other than the one located off the hotel lobby.

We left the building at 10am and headed across the road to the petrol station where I got more shekels from the ATM. (This time I worked out how to display English instructions.) I also bought a bottle of water for 8ILS. Then we headed north down the hill where, at the corner where we wanted to cross the road, a taxi driver hailed us from the carriageway and offered to take us to the Mount of Olives.

The old town, he said, would be deserted today as it was Sunday. We politely refused his offer and headed on our way but he called out insistently from his seat, urging us to stay and talk even though we didn’t want to do so. This kind of conduct was very reminiscent of how locals treat tourists in Petra. In Amman they don’t do this. Later in the day, as we were on our way back to the hotel, we came across people in the Christian Quarter who asked exorbitant prices for goods they had for sale, or who, when they asked where you had come from (meaning, which country), displayed annoyance if you didn’t answer them truthfully. The Christian Quarter in the old town is particularly poor in this regard. There are countless shops selling various kinds of tat for tourists there and the crowds were ruinous all day.

After escaping from the pesky taxi driver we made our way to a paved pedestrian thoroughfare named Mamilla Avenue and headed east until we got to the Jaffa Gate. Near the entrance to the old town we ducked into a tourist information place to get maps, then headed east again on David Street. We then turned south toward the Jewish Quarter, much of which had been destroyed when it was under Jordanian control following the 1948 war, which saw part of Jerusalem lost to the enemy. We saw a group of about 50 Indians many of whom had red caps on their heads that had “Royal Omania” stitched on them with light-coloured thread.

A local man in his fifties who had an American accent and who introduced himself as Shlomo suggested that we go into the Hurva Synagogue located next door to his shop to see the view from its roof. He lured us into his shop with the promise of a view of some ancient ruins, visible through a glass wall at the back of the store, and tried to get us interested in an illustrated book of psalms priced at 450ILS. There was a smaller version too but it also didn’t appeal. But we ducked into the synagogue as suggested and paid 20ILS each to gain entry at the front door of the building. After visiting the main room inside as well as the viewing gallery, at 11.30am we also went to the basement where you can see some of the walls of the old town as it existed millennia before.

Most of the Jewish Quarter was damaged or destroyed by the Jordanians in the 19 years they controlled this part of Jerusalem after the 1948 war, but in the basements of some buildings remain intact ruins dating from at least as far back as the time of the Byzantine emperors. The tabernacle in Hurva Synagogue has some parts of its rear wall intact that had survived the destruction meted out by the Jordanians and which had been incorporated into the new build. From the building’s roof we took more photos, including one of the mosque next door.

We headed to a small room around the corner from the synagogue where you can see a movie with subtitles that describes the events of 1948 from the Jewish point of view. There was an oldish man with a yarmulke on his head sitting at the back of the room who seemed to have been stationed there to helps visitors. He was eating food from a Tupperware container held on his lap. The air-conditioning was on and it was very cold but we stayed in our seats for about 15 minutes in order to get the gist of the film. While we were there a group of students aged about 14 and wearing identical green T-shirts came in and sat down.

Outside, we bumped into Shlomo again as he was hanging around the entrance to his shop as usual and I asked him what had started the war but he said that it would be impossible to adequately communicate the reason in two minutes, which I thought a bit slack. He lost interest in us quickly and bid us goodbye but we stopped in at a kiosk where we bought a slice of pizza and a Coke (24ILS). Then we continued south until we got to a carpark, turned west, and at 12.30pm headed north on Habad Street. At its corner, an American or Canadian aged about 55 or 60 asked us if he could consult our map and I let him browse the thing as it lay on a wall while describing how we planned to proceed. He thanked us and went on his own way alone.

A bit further along an old man with red eyes gave us directions to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and then, turning back, at 12.50pm we entered a Korean restaurant we had spied and ordered some soup with rice and a bibimbap. With a Coke the tab came to 103ILS and after eating we headed north on Habad Street then west on St Mark Street. We had seen lots of young soldiers and police walking around in uniform, some of whom carried automatic weapons. It was evident that they were off duty and probably sightseeing, as we were.

After about five minutes’ walking we turned north on Christian Quarter Street but went too far, so turned around and headed back south until we came to a nondescript laneway at the end of which is the Mosque of Omar. Next door to this around the corner is the entrance to the church that was our destination and we went into a crowded courtyard past a sign that contained a number of instructions, including one not to use mobile phones inside (an exhortation no-one obeyed). People from all over the world visit this site, many of whom have black skin. We got to the front door of the church and proceeded inside.

Here, there is a flat, reddish slab of granite having the dimensions of a grave that is set in the floor and at which people were praying. The stone had glass lamps hanging above it, some of which were lit inside and all of which were decorated with crosses. Some people had left photos of loved ones on the stone. Others kissed the bare rock with their lips or placed their bare hands on it.

To the left of this installation ancient flagstones led to a round chamber with a high domed ceiling allowing light to stream down that had come in through openings in the roof. In the middle of the space was a square box-like structure with a door, and a stream of people snaked from its opening, around the curved back of the chamber, past the entrance and out the door into the courtyard. All of these people wanted to go inside the box, which had round viewing portals in its walls that attracted some people to come and pray. Nearby, a dish on a pedestal held candles that people lit from a handy flame. Others lit incense. To the east of the box was a nave with an altar at the end, all of which was richly decorated. Here and there, painted on icons or carved in stone were words in Aramaic (I guessed).

Priests walked around the place from time to time swinging censers heavy with incense smoke. To these devices were attached bells that sounded as the arms of the priests moved rhythmically. At 2.10pm one of these men came through the crowd asking people brusquely to move aside so that they would not impede the service. This is a working church and there are no signs on anything. The meaning of things is opaque unless you have prior knowledge and there is nothing posted anywhere to tell you what anything represents. In front of a wall with a mosaic representing the death and burial of Christ stood an aluminium ladder. Next to a wall in another part of the building stood a forklift truck.

At 2.25pm I sat down to rest opposite this machine on an ancient marble column that was lying on its side. There was an enormous crush of people at the front door to the church when we chose to leave the building with its numerous rooms, many altars, and thousands of devout followers of the old philosopher. The building was consecrated, Wikipedia tells me, in 335AD and legend has it that it contains both the site of Calvary as well as the place where Jesus’ body was buried after it was taken down from the cross. I had no evidence to convince me either way of the truth of this claim but the fact remains that the place is important for Christians all over the world. The range of accents and languages used by people in the building when we were there would defy the most assiduous attempt at making a catalogue.

We got outside and at 2.50pm I sat down for a few moments on a ledge in the courtyard. We then headed east out a different gate from the one we had used to enter the courtyard and after passing the front of a Lutheran church we bought a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice (that was made using four oranges) and a bottle of water (23ILS for both). This was on the corner of Al Lahhamin Street. When we had drunk our fill we headed south on this street past fruit sellers, butchers, shops selling pancakes, and a shop selling olives and pickles that reminded me very much of a stall I had seen in the vege market in downtown Amman and of which I had taken a photo to put on the blog.

When we got to David Street we headed west through the crowd and a pair of police walked past us up the stairs. They were clearly on duty: the man had a baton sticking out of his rucksack and the woman had a pistol in a holster at her right hip. We went out of the old town through the Jaffa Gate and got back to the hotel by 4pm. On the way up the stairs from the lobby we passed a number of young parents leading small children by the hand down to the ground floor. There was evidently a kindergarten or childcare centre on the first floor. We had seen a crowded room full of children in the basement of a shopping centre we stopped at on Mamilla Avenue where we used the WCs. We didn’t see small children out in groups like this in Amman, although in that city children as young as 10 years can be seen on the street either alone or in pairs, or walking with a parent.

At about 5.10pm I headed downstairs and bought two bottles of Goldstar beer for 44ILS, which is a price comparable to what you find in Sydney for the same kind of thing. At about 7pm I went down to the lobby to collect the laundry we had left at the front desk in the morning, and also bought another bottle of Goldstar. I used the stairs each time in an effort to avoid the lift. Some of the clean clothes were still a bit damp so I lay items out on the furniture in my room and hung most of the shirts in my closet on coat hangers brought from Sydney.

Later we went out to have dinner and walked south along King David Street to George Washington Street where we turned west. The restaurant I had picked up from Google is named Angelica and it is located inside a limestone building on this street.

We sat down without a booking and I ordered a Shapiro beer, which had a sweet, rich taste and was a craft beer brewed locally in Jerusalem. I ordered a main of salmon and my friend ordered a bowl of zucchini and mushroom soup and an endive salad. Before this arrived we got some complimentary dips and fresh bread rolls. The dips were basil aioli, eggplant, and dried tomato and when we had finished the rolls the waitress brought us some more (at 9.05pm). We shared the salad and for dessert we ordered tapioca pearls with coconut cream and fresh fruit. With this came some dessert wine (two glasses for me) that was also on the house. It was called “Ice Wine” and was made at Hevon, a town located about 30 minutes’ drive south of the capital.

The stereo in the restaurant was playing mainly recent pop music although at one stage ‘Cecelia’ by Simon and Garfunkel came on. The meal came to 365ILS, which was about the same as we had paid to get from the border to the city. After eating we walked for three minutes to get back to the hotel.

Above: Looking south near the Jaffa Gate.

Above: A laneway near the Jaffa Gate.

Above: A tunnel in the Christian Quarter.

Above: The view from the roof of the Hurva Synagogue. The building shown in this picture is a mosque.

Above: Hurva Synagogue seen from Habad Street.

Above: Some local tourist tat in the Christian Quarter.

Above: The courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Above: The entrance to the church. 

Above: The shrine in the church.

Above: The domed ceiling in the church.

Above: The main nave and altar in the church. People cannot enter here.

Above: People taking photos of the shrine, where hundreds of people at a time queued to get in to pray.

Above: The installation next to the entrance where people prayed at the "grave" of Christ.

Above: Graffiti on the wall of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Above: An icon on the wal showing the three Marys meeting the Angel Gabriel in front of the tomb.

Above: Olives and pickles for sale on Al Lahhamin Street in the old city.

Above: A busker on Mamilla Avenue. I gave him a pocketful of coins and asked if I could take his photo using gestures. He sang in Hebrew.

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