The Holy City

In July I watched the eclipse of a full moon from a kibbutz in Israel. In the dark of that same lunar phase, I watched the stars fall over the Arabian desert. This past weekend the Mediterranean Sea glistened under yet another full moon. The waning disc hanging in the early morning sky today seemed to be taunting me: time to write something!

I’m back on the dig at Zincirli in the south of Turkey where we’re nearly half-way through the 2018 season. After leaving Tell Keisan, I spent a few days in Jerusalem before flying to Jordan where I joined a G Adventures group tour, checking off a few items on the bucket list before heading here mid-August. It’s been a busy month.

Internet connection has been a challenge this summer. Or a convenient excuse. Add to that a busy dig schedule, an intense one week tour of a new country and the time needed to process the enormity of being in the Biblical landscape – and well, you have a pause in the reporting. I’ve opted for a quiet weekend to reflect and put together a few posts, hoping that without the usual crowd on the internet I may finally get my photos uploaded! 

Let’s start back in Jerusalem, shall we?

I found myself with mixed feelings during my time in Israel. Yes, I was in the epic land of the bible and all, but my limited time there was mostly in an urban setting. The shores of the Sea of Galilee were disappointingly littered and dirty, the landscape strewn with plastic scrap, the highways crowded – and weekend outings brought us within earshot of airstrikes across the border in Syria. All this made it difficult to impose the pastoral scenes of Sunday School stories on the sprawl of modern day and yet…

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I had booked an airbnb room just off Jaffa Street – a pedestrian mall steps from the Jaffa Gate of old Jerusalem. My dig director dropped me off nearby and I followed my host’s directions to a quaint courtyard. My room opened off an arched stairway and was all that was promised – rustic, cosy and clean. I showered, oriented myself with a study of online maps and headed off to old Jerusalem.

I’d heard stories of just how easy it is to get lost in the winding streets of the walled city, so I went prepared with maps loaded to my phone and a plan. It took a turn or two… or three…but I was very soon magnificently lost. I’m still not sure precisely which route I followed or which streets I was on. 

I was fighting the temptation to get caught up in the romance of the biblical city, but I lost the battle somewhere along King David Street. Threading through the crowd in this warren of tourist shops, dodging robed clerics of various faiths, awash in the scent of eastern spices and enchanted by the multi-hued goods, the haunting notes of the Muslim call to prayer stopped me in my tracks. I caught my breath, holding back tears, suddenly overwhelmed by the realization: I’m in Jerusalem. I am in JERUSALEM.

Leaning in a doorway momentarily to catch my balance, the shopkeeper noted my distress and urged me to come in, take some tea, sit down a moment. I think the streak of white hair that I sport may have garnered more sympathy than I was due – but I took advantage of the invite. I knew it was likely a sales pitch – and it was to some extent – but I decided to accept it as a kindness. 

I sat, sipped herbed tea, discussed the beautiful handmade silver pomegranate pendants on display and when I made it  clear that the price was far beyond my meagre budget, we spoke instead of our children and travels. Refreshed, I bid goodbye and continued my wanderings. I found the western wall, had a glimpse of the Temple mount but was unable to find my way there as the passages were barred inexplicably by soldiers. I was accosted by a vendor of freshly pressed pomegranate juice and when he learned that I was from Canada, he waved me in to the depths of his shop. Reaching in to a dusty cupboard, he retrieved an handful of well-thumbed photographs. There he was, pictured with his son in Vancouver, in Banff, in Ottawa, here with his grandchildren in Montreal…he’d seen nearly as much of Canada as I had! Further along there were sweets to sample and intricate embroidery to admire. I was unable to resist an elderly vendor of fresh figs, although I was admonished by a passer-by for paying far too much. I never recovered my planned route, but I found enough unexpected corners, sights and sounds to occupy several hours of wandering. 

Finally stumbling upon the Damascus Gate, I exited the walled city and headed back to my room. The quiet courtyard was now home to several little bistros opening for the night’s business. After dinner at a small cafe, I turned in for the evening. Conversation and music drifted up to my little room into the wee hours of the morning but, happily, I slept through most of it. 

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