Modest Tombs, Stray Cats, and Green Lights

October 29, 2009 - 2:46 am No Comments

A pretty full day today with perfect weather. Warm and sunny and dry.

Garry picked us up in the morning and took us to a mall to run some errands. Before driving into the parking garage, security guards gave the car a quick once-over and asked us to open the trunk to take a look, but it was hardly a secure check. After parking, we had to walk through another guard at a metal detector before going into the mall. Most of these guards seem untrained and look bored, and I am beginning to think that they provide the ILLUSION of security more than anything else.

From there, we went into the Old City to see ancient Jerusalem. Driving in was a nightmare, with impatient drivers making undersized and overcrowded roads even more stressful than they already are. And parking was even worse. Took a little while, but we finally found a spot. I was surprised at how little security there was as we walked inside.

Leading us along enormous rock walls and down the stone walkways, Garry pointed out some of the structures of historical significance. Kind of weird to be walking around a place so ancient. The Old City, and Jerusalem as a whole, really is a mix of Jew and Arab holy sites, people, and architecture. Most of the impressive architecture, it seems, can be attributed to the Arabs.

Inside the Old City

Many of the walls and gates have been damaged by centuries of warfare. Strange to see some of the outward-facing walls of the Old City pocked with bullet holes.

Our first stop was King David’s Tomb. Surprisingly modest for such an important historical figure in Judaism, but then again, most things in Judaism are surprisingly modest. According to Garry, it’s not where he’s really buried anyway.

King David's Tomb

Before getting to the Western Wall, we passed through a metal detector and handed our bags to guards who did pretty much nothing but wave us through. A pretty plain sight but a place with lots of historical and religious significance.

At the Western Wall

Some gross kosher shawarma for lunch.

Tourism in the Old City was about what I expected. Up and down a few of the alleyways, locals panned their pomegranates and spices and t-shirts and trinkets, but nothing too obnoxious.

There are some international tourists walking around, but not too many. They seem to be mostly older and quiet and respectful. Not many kids. Also walking around were young guys and girls in uniforms of various colors and big guns hanging from their shoulders. I guess that would be a deterrent for troublemakers. Stray cats everywhere.

Guys with Guns

Walking back to our car, I spotted a sign pointing to Oskar Schindler’s grave inside a Catholic cemetery. Excited, I hurried down the steps and got in just as the guy was getting up to lock the gate. He told me I had only five minutes, so I ran up and down rows of gravestones and sarcophagi before finally finding it. A modest rock slab covered with flowers and little rocks left by visitors as a sign of respect. I placed a little pebble of my own onto it. Pretty cool.

Oskar Schindler's Grave

Driving out of the Old City, we stopped at several traffic lights. After a few lights, we noticed a pattern. Israeli drivers behind us would honk the INSTANT the light turned green. Instead of hesitating for a moment to see if we would in fact be slow off the line, they’d hit their horns immediately. It is really quite amazing, almost as if the lights and their horns are synchronized.

Another quick shopping trip. Again, the car was inspected before the parking garage, and again, we walked through a metal detector. Found a sweet gray pair of shorts for 79 shekels (US$20). The XXL size was the only one that came close to fitting me. Are Israeli people small, or do I have a big ass?

Meandered around the mall for a bit. There are some familiar brand names in English (like Burger King and Office Depot and Ralph Lauren), but most of the stores have Hebrew signage. And most are staffed with young kids who speak mostly Hebrew. At one point, a girl who was serving coffee started talking to me in Hebrew. I didn’t understand, but I could tell by her stance and arm motions that I was not supposed to be sitting where I was sitting. Another was icing donuts and tried starting a conversation with me in Hebrew, but the conversation obviously didn’t last very long. I just took a picture of her donuts and smiled. Do I really look like a local? With the lost look on my face and the big-ass camera (and the big ass)?

Had dinner at a place called Karma. A guard out front inspected our bags and purses (not really) before we could go inside. Had some yummy salmon fettuccine. There’s actually a service fee on the bill for the guards (2 shekels, or about 50 US cents, per person), but apparently it’s optional. More stray cats.

So far, Jerusalem’s pretty close to what I expected. Every building is made of stone, whether it’s an apartment block or a restaurant or a shopping mall. Some of the stone is beige, some is brown, some is pink. Some is cut rough, some is cut smooth. The roads around Jerusalem, even the big, busy ones, meander up and down and around hills. It’s so easy to get turned around. All kinds of people: tall, short, fat, skinny. And lots of skin colors: white, black, and everything in-between. I’m actually surprised at the number of Africans here, both as residents and as tourists. I didn’t think Jerusalem was much of an attraction to them. Most of the people I’ve talked to seem friendly. And lots of stray cats.

And as far as the girls go… Yes, there are some attractive ones. The most appealing thing about them is that they don’t KNOW they are attractive. At home, if they are even mediocre, there is a whole attitude that comes along with it. Girls outside of the US are way cool in this regard.

More Jerusalem sights tomorrow.

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