Thursday, 31 January 2008
I had a shared taxi (Sheroot) ordered for 4.45am. At 5.15am the company called me to ask me to walk to the Jaffa Gate, as the police were not letting any vehicles into the Old City. So the night watchman from the guest house where I was staying dragged my 21kg suitcase through the snow for me.
At first the taxi driver wouldn't let me pay him, and mumbled something incoherent about the roads in Jerusalem being impassable. I thought he was going to drive me to the train station, or give me another alternative. But one and a half hours later, we were still skidding up and down the hills of the city, trying to find the other passengers. During this period, the driver conducted a fierce argument with his dispatcher over the radio and mobile phone, whilst waving his arms around, swearing and smoking. The van only hit something once, whilst he was trying to do a three point turn in foot deep slush on a hill.
When we arrived at the airport an hour late (me white as a sheet I'm sure), the said driver tried to charge us more than the usual fare for this exciting trip - no doubt trying to make up for the four passengers he failed to find on the streets.
I don't think I have ever been so grateful to see an airport before.
Monday, 28 January 2008
Yet another post about queueing at the Post Office. Today I joined the pensioners queue in the Old City post office. It was as slow as the central post office, and once again it took 40 minutes to reach the counter to buy stamps.
However, in that 40 minutes, I watched the world walk and shuffle by, queue, argue, pester, laugh and extend hands of compassion. One very sick man showed up in his pyjamas, accompanied by what looked like a grown up grandson. He was ushered to the front (rightly so). Another old lady wasn't tall enough to reach the counter to sign her paperwork, if she had been able to write. Most of the senior citizens were signing for their pension with a thumb print.
As all of my fellow queuers were Arab, I was around 10 inches taller than all of them, except one. He was a tall Ethiopian, with the bearing of a prince. He leaned on his stick as he gave his print. Another chap stood on the sidelines like a nightclub bouncer, making sure no one jumped the queue who was under 80 years of age.
The Postmaster remained cheerful throughout and disposed of me very quickly. 6 stamps, no problem, have a nice day.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
I remember well the pianissimo effect that heavy snow falls had in Austria where I lived many years ago. I think the last time I saw snow was on a month's trip to Germany and Switzerland in 1998, so that makes it nearly 10 years.
The chances are I will be kept up all night anyway, as the cat who lives in the Guest House compound is on heat and doing passable impersonations of June Sutherland underneath my balcony. Multitudes of Tom cats are appearing from the walls of the Old City to court her.
Sigh - I hope the snow fall deadens their ardour, or at least turns down the volume.
Saturday, 26 January 2008
I visited the Shrine of the Book this week, and marvelled at the extraordinary discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The largest exhibit of all is centre stage, up a flight of stairs, and scrolled around a massive drum; the Isaiah scroll (in facisimile).
I took my time to walk around it, not of course understanding the script, but loving its age, its beauty and all that it represented as the oldest existing scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
That is until I heard a loud voice behind me boom through the gloom:
"I've just bought the whole collection of Harry Potter for my grandchildren.....blah blah blah blah". Talk about the sublime to the ridiculous.
The nationality of the lady concerned will remain anonymous.
It is the closest I have ever come to hitting someone over the head with a blunt object.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Have you noticed this phenomena amongst teenage boys? Not only content to reveal their derrieres, boxer shorts are carefully chosen to peek over the belt, whilst the crotch and seat hang around their knees.
This fashion statement has made it to the Israeli Defence Force. In the last few weeks I have seen several Corporals and Sargeants leap onto buses with rucksacks, guns and regulation battle fatigues clinging to their hips, defying gravity.
The next time there is a war here, the ground troups will be seen waddling towards the enemy.
Thursday, 17 January 2008
I find it interesting that although the way we "met" was virtual, that the centuries old tradition of discussing issues of the day over coffee hasn't changed here. No casual topics or mindless ramblings in Israel. Everything is urgent, current and super relevant. How I wish she lived next door:-)
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
It pays to be a Kiwi and know how to wrap up warm. Thanks to Kathmandu thermals, I am really snug and the locals are amazed that I'm not turning blue.
Tomorrow I hit the road for my trek around the country, so the hot water bottle and thermals are packed. Fortunately, I go to the coast first, which is a few degrees warmer. I expect see snow in the City of Gold before I leave.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
Then, on the way home, I got chatting to the owner of the camel which gives rides around the walls. He was a really friendly guy, and I walked side by side with the camel as he started to lead him home to E. Jerusalem. The camel seemed to approve of being scratched on the soft spot on the neck. He was also quite cheeky and tried to kiss me several times (er, the camel, not the handler!). However, when I asked the camel's name, I am sure offended him because I roared with laughter. Kojak didn't want to nuzzle me any more after that!
Friday, 11 January 2008
Last night, my new American friend and I had to forgo dessert and try to unplug a drain which was gushing all over the bathroom floor. The house is historic and the drain was positively Maccabean in its rebellion. We tried almost everything, short of a surface to air missile, and failed miserably. But we got to laugh a lot and figured that we would be dirty for a few days until we could find a plumber to fix it.
Thankfully, just before Sabbath started, a plumber came to our rescue, and we can now shower with abandon.
I am trying to think of a way to blame President Bush for this latest adventure, but my imagination fails me.
Thursday, 10 January 2008
In November 2004, a new supermarket opened on King George V street in Jerusalem. It was located in the basement of a high rise building. In theory, you could reach it by going down a long escalator, but it, like many other things in Jerusalem, didn't work. So you were faced with huffing and puffing your shopping bags up two flights of stairs.
Over three years later, the escalator still doesn't work, and you can seriously throw away your gym membership - it is a real work out schlepping up those stairs.
However, I noted today an interesting delivery to King George V Street - the very day that George W Bush was due to drive down it, en route to the King David Hotel. A double, shrunk wrapped escalator, dumped rather unceremoniously on the pavement.
I guess George had some grocery shopping to do before he left town.
Oh, and speaking of the President leaving town; I could spit bullets! Tonight the President delayed my dinner. His cavalcade kept a stop light at red for a full 10 minutes, just as the "Meat Burger" delivery man drew up to them. My dinner was stone cold by the time it arrived.
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
Every street he will drive through has been scrubbed to within an inch of its life. This is only the second time since Independence (:-). I would venture to say that the city hasn't been this clean since the Second Temple period. Traders and residents are wondering why the Jerusalem municipality can't scrub like this more regularly, as their rates are high enough to pay for spit and polish on a daily basis. So there is at least one good reason why the President is in town.
Small challenge for my itinerary though, as I am hoping to assist taking the children who have had successful heart surgery back to Jordan. They have to come to Jerusalem first, then we drive them to Amman. Hmm, the weekend could be interesting.
Monday, 7 January 2008
This magnificent beast is a combination of eggs (boiled, fried or scrambled), chopped raw vegetables, cheeses, a variety of bread with jam and butter, mixed salad, fresh fruit juice and coffee. It is truly the best way to start the day.
Now fast forward to one of the chores of the day - a visit to the post office. I remember this from a previous visit as being an extremely long winded affair, so was semi prepared for a wait. It hasn't changed, only in the fact that you are now given a number for the queue and a seat to sit on. Today I bought 10 stamps after sitting for 50 minutes.
I worked out that it had taken me that long to plough through the breakfast. So next time round, I will take my ticket for queue position, then head off for breakfast. By the time I've drunk the last sip of coffee, I should be about ready to head to the counter for my philatelic transaction. Not bad huh?
Saturday, 5 January 2008
I walked into her very beautiful shop on a street famous for artists in Jerusalem. As I didn't want to knock anything over with my rucksack like bag, I asked if I could put it next to her counter. When I moved closer, she saw the brooch I was wearing - a silver cat. She immediately started to tell me the story of her beautiful white cat Bibi, who had died and whom she missed terribly. She said the brooch was just like him. I decided to give her the brooch. At first she wouldn't take it, but as I said it would give me pleasure for her to have it, she accepted, and put it on immediately. I was flattered. She told me that she was originally from Milan, and I have to say, she was dressed as only someone from Milan could dress - with style.
We had a long conversation about cats we had known and loved. She has asked me to come back to talk to her again, and I will, taking with me a photo of my two beautiful moggies, which I hope will get her to talk about Bibi again. I think she still grieves him.
The gorgeous weather on my first day here was obviously an abberation. Yesterday we had refreshing rain, this afternoon a deluge. Much needed as the whole country is very dry.
Friday, 4 January 2008
Next, the police started to arrive for duty, lighting cigarettes sleepily as they jumped off a van which decanted them at HQ.
When the "hole in the wall" grocer cum baker cum Turkish coffee maker opened his shutters for business, I was his first customer. Oh actually no, his first CUSTOMER was a large black cat, which he carefully chopped up a boiled egg for, and ceremoniously presented to him on a clean white sheet of paper.
By this time, the cats of the old city were chasing each other up staircases, hanging out at the door of Tourist Information (another provider of food?) and guarding the tomb of the Ottoman architect.
The weather is unseasonably warm. I was walking around yesterday in short sleeves without a coat. So, once again, 98% of my suitcase is unsuitable to wear. Sigh.
Wednesday, 2 January 2008
But hey, I've had two half nights sleep and two showers I didn't expect, so I ain't complaining.