Thursday, 31 January 2008

Mother of all Taxi Rides

For over a week, snow has been forecast for Jerusalem. On Monday, whilst visiting Tel Aviv, I was told it would fall on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. After a very stormy night, the blizzard and the several inches of snow arrived as predicted.

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

Stamping Ground

Amazing how certain things in life are great levellers. Regardless of your education, politics or religion, you grow old.
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

Wailing Walls

There is a rumour going around Jerusalem that it will snow tomorrow. This has set off a whole load of nostalgia for me. I feel like staying up all night to see if it happens.
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

Oh Puhleeze!

One of the many fine achievements of the late Teddy Kollek was the establishment of the Israel Museum. Next to it, the beautifully designed "Shrine of the Book". It is aptly named, as the atmosphere both outside and inside invoke the kind of reverence normally reserved for a place of worship.

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

Mary Poppins goes Khaki

One of my favourite scenes in the film Mary Poppins is where Dick van Dyke dances with the penguins.In a marvelous combination of vaudeville, animation and unforgetable Disney, he lowers his trousers (in the best possible taste) to mimic the penguins.
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

Coffee Shops and Politics

I had a marvellous rendevous yesterday with a fellow blogger in Israel. I have hung out at her blog for almost two years. Yesterday we met face to face in a cafe on a busy thoroughfare in Tel Aviv. She and I didn't stop talking for nearly 4 hours! We covered politics mostly and laughed at our respective cat stories. I have two, she has nine (and about 70 street cats she feeds/neuters and tries to rehome).

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

On the road

Not sure when I will have access to a computer in the next few weeks, so I'll say "cheery bye" for now. Don't give up on me though. I hope to chat with you soon.

Not without my thermals

The last 24 hours have brought record low temperatures to Israel and several people in the desert areas have died of hyperthermia in the last 24 hours.

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

Erev Shabbat

The mild winter weather in Jerusalem (blue skies, sunshine, with a nose nipping chill in the air) has produced what I can only describe as a carnival atmosphere this Shabbat. The street vendors in the Old City are doing a roaring trade this evening. I enjoyed an early meal with a steaming hot cob of corn, which I tried to eat whilst being talked at by an Armenian carpet seller. I must have looked a sight, as I can never manage corn gracefully, but always end up with bits of husks between my teeth.
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

The Pipes are calling

Bonding with friends is truly deep and meaningful when it involves unplugging a drain, especially so when it is a bathroom drain interconnecting with two kitchen drains.
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

Is Nothing Sacred?

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

All the President's men

As from tomorrow, central Jerusalem (1.5 miles in every direction), becomes a pedestrian precinct. No vehicles of any kind will move. If you need to get out of the city, you will have to walk. Why? George W is in town. He and his entourage are taking over the 800 beds at the King David Hotel.
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

Time and motion study

Today I made an important discovery for keeping stress to a minimum. It is called an Israeli Breakfast.
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

A day to rest

Today I made a friend in Jerusalem. Her name is Shoshi.
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

Early bird in the City of Gold

Yesterday morning I managed to be up and about even before the cats in Jerusalem. I took a walk to the Jaffa Gate and watched huge sacks of flour being offloaded from a lorry at the entrance. It was very dark and no one else was around. Even the busy road that runs around the old city was silent. Later, I found myself ducking into doorways as small tractor units chugged past me, in some places practically touching both walls. I suspect they were taking the flour to the bakers in the middle of the old city.
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

The Longest Day

1st January 2008 has to go down as the longest New Year's Day in my life. I was happily watching the firework display at Marine Bay Singapore on the TV in the departure lounge, when we had a public announcement. The First Officer of our flight had become dramatically ill when he turned up to duty. Our flight was postponed until the following day. At 2.30am I was safely in a hotel bed. The airline were amazing (hats off to Qantas). The next day we arrived in Europe to be met by further delays because it was too late to board any flights. Another overnight stop.

But hey, I've had two half nights sleep and two showers I didn't expect, so I ain't complaining.