Sunday, November 02, 2003

Old City

On Thursday night, Tammy and I had our first official party at the apartment. We went all out--three different types of pasta, fried eggplant, hummus and pita, mediterranean salads, foccacia bread with feta dip, and lots and lots of wine. There were a little over twenty people crammed into our living room, which we had hastily cleaned by moving all the still-moving-in boxes and trash into our bedrooms. There was a little too much Hebrew for my taste, but after a few glasses of Israel's finest I felt a bit more comfortable. Most of the people were Tammy's friends, artists from the Hebrew University's Betzalel Academy of Art, and they're offbeat and a little crazy, even in a foreign language. It was the most fun I've had since I've been here.


I spent most of the weekend cleaning and trying to catch up on my Arabic and Hebrew. I missed the first few days of Arabic, which put me further behind than I thought. But I have successfully mastered ten letters, and can now say simple sentences such as Bibayti tine wa toot. Translate: In my house there are figs and berries. (You only have so many words to work with using ten letters). Anyway, I figure I am well on my way to reading the Qu'ran. As for Hebrew, I missed the first three or so months of classes (after some sneakiness on my part--mainly, attending the advanced Hebrew classes for a few days before consultiing the director--I have been given permission to move up a level) which means that I understand about 1/16th of what goes on in the classroom. Never mind. How hard can it be?

On Shabbat--Saturday--I finally went into the Old City. I had to find one of the more adventurous types to go with me, since I am not allowed to take buses and had to walk. That wouldn't be such a big deal, except that to walk to the Old City the quickest way (about twenty-five minutes) means walking through Arab East Jerusalem and entering through Damascus Gate--again, Arab--and making one's way through the throngs of beggars and vendors in the Shuq (market) to get to the better known parts of the city. Most Israelis won't go this way at all, and very few students. I think it's ridiculous. Aside from the awesome religious sites, the Arab Quarter was my favorite part of the city. It was strangely familiar to me, maybe because of the time I spent in India and Morocco--the odd scent of sweat, spices, smoke, and shawarma, the jam-packed stalls selling entire carcasses of sheep(?) along with socks and makeup, the windows full of exotic foods and glass tea-sets and stone-carved chess boards and persian rugs, the vendors calling out to you in English (where you from? you buy nice gift!) or Arabic (I'd rather not know). It was a tangible change leaving there and entering into the quiet, clean, and utterly uncrowded Jewish quarter.

Of course we started with the Western Wall. I had thus far separated myself from the history of the place, content to enjoy the very much alive present, but you can't see the wall without going back two thousand years in an instant. I have much too much Sunday School and Judeo-Christian culture in my blood not to be immediately transported back to David and Solomon (never mind that this isn't the same temple) and straight on to Jesus Christ. I touched it. I put my face against it. I wasn't thinking anything at all. I wandered around the rest of the city that way, not really thinking, semi-aware that if I started to think maybe Jesus walked here or these walls have seen entire empires rise and fall or some philisophical/emotional whatever, I would never make it out.

Today I had my language classes, and now finally some time to catch up on this site before I go home and start studying again. I am knee-deep in Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha, Roux's Ancient Iraq, and figs and berries for my Arabic class. Hooray.

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