Thursday, May 05, 2005

Back in Blighty

I am now back in Blighty after 10 wonderful days spent in Jerusalem. I toyed with the idea of updating the blog every day. A kind of Holy Land travelogue. But to be honest, that was far too much like hard work. And I was on holiday.

In retrospect, a daily update might have been a better idea than trying to cram a fortnight's worth of sights, smells, aggravations (there are always aggravations on a trip to Jerusalem) into a single post. But there we are.

The first thing I noticed - almost immediately - was the lack of mangy cats. Not a complete lack. There are still stray cats wandering around most streets. But far far fewer than there were when I spent a year in Jerusalem in 1991-2. Back then, the cats would jump out at you from every corner and spring out of the public dustbins when you walked past. They would even curl round your legs in outdoor cafe's. Mind you, for obvious reasons, the outdoor cafe's have largely disappeared too. I'm not sure where the cats have gone. I hadn't heard about any feline extermination plan. Maybe they've been frightened by the heightened security risk. Or maybe the women's fashions have scared them away.

Israeli women, or more correctly, religious Israeli women, have taken the latest gypsy look to a whole new level. Here in the UK, the ethnic/gypsy/can't-find-the-iron look is the trend of the summer. Celebrities are spending millions trying to look like they dress at Oxfam. But in Jerusalem, the fashion trend has reached epic proportions. It's difficult to properly convey the sight of hundreds of women wearing eight layers of clothing all at once. Kaftans over short skirts over long skirts, with their heads covered in colourful, knotted scarves. At times, I felt like I'd wandered onto the set of Moses the Lawgiver. During the holiday, I took Scrappino to a hands-on museum, on the site of an original Roman settlement. The children were able to weave carpets, make mosaics, press grapes, paint frescoes etc, all according to the original Roman methods. To make the experience even more authentic, actors wandered around the site, dressed in 1st Century AD/Jesus style clothing. The only problem was that all the women visitors were also dressed in this bizarre flowing-robe craze and I couldn't tell who was an out of work actor (paying off their student debts to the Israeli equivalent of RADA, no doubt) and who was a ridiculously gullible fashion victim. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and stood out like a sore thumb.

A trip to Jerusalem wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Western Wall. I will spare you my more radical views on the Western Wall, but they touch on my fears that the Wall feeds religious superstitions, is actually little more than a pile of old rocks and has been hijacked by a misogynistic orthodox establishment. Apologies if that offends. But I'm not the first to feel that way. Superstitions notwithstanding, I did want Scrappino to see the Wall. (Hypocritical? Moi?) The security was tight. Very tight. We were frisked, electronically and physically, on the way in and scrutinised by policemen in shades on the way out. But the Wall itself is an incredible sight and Scrappino was suitably impressed. He asked me why the lower stones were so much bigger than the higher ones and I explained that the bottom of the Wall was built by Herod 2000 years ago while the top of the wall was added by the Crusaders. Or was it the Ottomans? Either way, they added much smaller bricks than the original Temple era stones and the addition is not at all in keeping with the original style. It's the kind of building extension that would never have been passed by Barnet Council Planning Department.

Of course, you can't visit Israel without considering the security situation. Especially when traveling with children. For the most part, I felt safe and secure at all times. But the holiday was not without incident. Walking down the road towards my sister's flat one afternoon I heard gunshots. Have you ever heard actual gunfire? It's a lot louder and scarier than you think. And as you get nearer you can almost feel the reverberations. Scrappino and I stopped still and waited to see what was happening. A policeman came over and told us that someone had thrown out an old suitcase and a passer-by had worried that it was a suspicious package (for which, read bomb) and had called out the bomb squad. They closed off the street and sent in a little robot on wheels that's programmed to shoot at the suspicious article. That was the gunfire that we heard. A small yellow robot shooting at an abandoned Antler hold-all. It's not exactly the Wild West. But it did unnerve me. On the way back I wondered if I'd done the right thing bringing Scrappino to Jerusalem after all. Then, two hours later, reading the BBC website, I found out that a man had been shot dead in the back of his car on Hale Lane. Literally, yards away from where I live. On the same road as Scrappino's school. Maybe Jerusalem isn't so different from NW7 after all.

Being away during the election campaign was an added bonus. It was wonderful to escape all that childish bickering and point scoring. When I was at university I went to a couple of Union Society Debates. It struck me that they were little more than an excuse for public school boys (and the odd public school girl) to argue banal points of irrelevant crap (which they referred to as 'tosh') and laugh hilariously every time one of them makes a quip (which we referred to as 'bollocks'). The houses of parliament - and the BBC news studios - are just an extension of that. In some cases, it's the same public school boys and girls, still bickering over nonsense after twenty odd years. But this morning, there was the obligatory embargo on political debate. Fabulous. Did you notice how interesting the news was this morning? Listening to the Today programme was a real pleasure, which makes for a welcome change. No squirming politicians avoiding questions and giving answers that only just touch on the truth. No interviewers with egos the size of Argentina interrupting every fourth word. Just the news. From all over the world. Marvellous.

It's good to be back.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Baldricka said...

Two of the cats are in my house but I can't account for the rest! Glad you had a good holiday.

3:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, you've been sorely missed, interesting i kinda feel, maybe i've heard similiar stories before,perhaps its just my subconscious fuseing with reality.
Keep up the sterling work, its been a right riveting read as always, looking forward to the next insertion.

Px

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, you've been sorely missed, interesting i kinda feel, maybe i've heard similiar stories before,perhaps its just my subconscious fuseing with reality.
Keep up the sterling work, its been a right riveting read as always, looking forward to the next insertion.

Px

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, you've been sorely missed, interesting i kinda feel, maybe i've heard similiar stories before,perhaps its just my subconscious fuseing with reality.
Keep up the sterling work, its been a right riveting read as always, looking forward to the next insertion.

Px

11:50 am  

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