Saturday, April 10, 2004

Via Dolorosa

Yesterday was--again--quite a day. I am emotionally spent. At eleven thirty Ksenia and I headed into the Old City for the Way of the Cross, the procession that travels the route of Jesus to Golgotha. The experience is difficult to describe. The day was hot, a bit fierce even, and we were standing on the border between the Christian and Arab quarters. To our right, the Arab suq was in full swing, with merchants crying out and people making their way through shops full of baklava and jewelry and pottery and sheep heads and underwear and stalls full of almonds and cucumbers and popcorn and multicolored spices. To our left groups of pilgrims stood whispering, leafing through guidebooks or Bibles or maps. And everywhere there were people wandering about in the traditional dress of a hundred denominations: Catholic priests with white collars, Coptic Egyptians in white cotton, Men all in black with pointed hoods, Jesuits in brown robes reminiscent of Robin Hood friars, Polish women with their heads wrapped in scarves clutching crosses, Americans in shorts and tank tops, Ethiopians wrapped in yards of white cloth. It was like a gigantic Christian costume party, and the air was one of anticipation.

Soon the priests formed a line and announced the first station, where Jesus was sentenced, and the long solemn parade began. We were all smashed together, walking slowly behind the line of priests who announced each station as we passed it--here is where Jesus was whipped and beaten, here where he fell the first time, here where Simon volunteered to carry his cross, here where he saw his mother in the crowd. People were carrying crosses, some so large they required four or five worshippers to hold them. We were winding through the market, passing electronics stores and butcher shops and music stores with bootleg copies of "The Passion" for sale. The procession must have been a mile long, and every few yards or so a different group was singing a different song in Latin, Arabic, Russian. I was furiously taking pictures, with the result of feeling even more disconnected from what we were actually doing, but such is the way I deal with things like this. I don't really know how to keep myself from feeling removed.

Finally we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. While it is disputed, archaeologists generally believe that this is the actual site of the crucifixion. I made my way up to the chapel over Golgotha, and read the crucifixion chapter in John amidst all the noise and chaos. I walked around the church, to the slab where his body was laid out for burial--around which a crowd was gathered--everyone waiting their turn to kneel at the slab and cover it with perfume, incense, rose petals, kisses. Then I walked to the tomb, where ceremony after ceremony was taking place, one after the other, each in different languages, singing different songs.

Somehow I had managed to lose Ksenia and two other friends. I left and wandered the Old City, a bit overcome, and ran into Luise and some others. We had a bit of lunch outside on a roof overlooking the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulchre, sipping Arak with water and generally trying to calm down. The Arak helped, of course, and soon I felt almost normal.

The rest of the day played out in typical incongruous Holy Land fashion, with a birthday party for Luise on the terrace of her house, where we ate shashlik from the grill, drank wine, and danced to Arabic music. At three in the morning, Shadi dropped me off, and I stumbled into bed, called Jef just to hear him say goodnight, and fell promptly to sleep for ten hours. I am tired. I have very few emotions left to feel.

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