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2007-03-23 ó

Trip to Israel part 2

Israel Chapter two.

After the Ďuprisingí the five of us drove back through the roadblock and towards the Old City. Following a slight traffic Jam caused by a van full of police trying desperately to get out of the city and onto the road, we turned down a narrow street and I was surprised to see quite a few parking spaces. There was a nice view from there too, and apparently there was a temple there that had something to do with Pontius Pilate (no, itís not pronounced pi-lah-tee). I donít really remember the exact details of what Rafi told us. Rafi then paid some guy a few shekels to look after our van and we walked toward the Old City.

The first stop was near the edge of the Old City at Davidís tomb. Monsieur de Plume pointed out that the Hebrew letters for ďDavidĒ spell something that looks a lot like ďTITĒ. This pleased him greatly, since he is a tit. We went inside and the other gents got a paperboard yamika, since god cannot abide male pattern baldness. The yamikas looked sort of like the little paper food boats that egg rolls come in. I had on my Nina Storey ball cap, so I didnít need a yamika.

Properly attired, we went in to the male side of the tomb entrance. God cannot abide men and women worshipping within sight of each other either. Itís too distracting or something. So anyway, there we were walking into this tomb, which was really just in a regular room, and there was a group of Hasidic Jews having a little Torah study session inside. What I did not expect was the heavy Brooklyn accent of the one that was speaking. WTF?

So we continued in to see the tomb, which was covered by a black tarp and a bunch of signs, along with a few guys praying in front of it in their bobbing style. Not really what I expected, you know? Nothiní to see here folks. Move along now.

So we left, the gents relinquished their yamikas and we walked around, back outside, up some stairs, next to a few feral cats, then into the room where they say the last supper took place. Another bunch of American people, Christians this time, were singing hymns in this room. I didnít recognize the tune, but Iím sure it had ďbon appetitĒ in it somewhere.

There was some pretty cool looking stained glass above the doorways, but I didnít take any photos here. While I was looking around I kept trying to fit Michelangeloís painting into this room. Then something occurred to me and I went out the door on the far side, which was nothing more than a small courtyard, and I couldnít help but wonder where the kitchen was, and if there is a secret culinary society of the descendants of the Last Supper Chefs. Have you heard of one? I think if I cooked the Last Supper, people would damn sure know about it. But then Iím modest like that.

On the way out of the Last Dining Room, we entered a sort of alley that led to the Old City. It was here that I took the best photo of the whole trip. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the beautiful irony of what I saw. Even though this photo is in my photo album thatís posted in chapter 1, Iím going to post it here so you can get the full effect in the proper place.

After munching on a bit of Israeli marzipan sweet/nut candy stuff that Rafi bought from a local vendor, we headed for the Jewish quarter in the Old City proper. Near the bullet-riddled gate was an old man begging. He didnít look malnourished or underfed, though he was a bit cross-eyed.

What struck me about him was his metronomically repeated bark for alms. I donít know for sure what he was saying, but he said it about every 2.5 seconds. Arf! Arf! Arf! was all I heard. What? Iím not being mean, he sounded like a hoarse old dog.

We entered the Jewish quarter, bought some water, then went down to look over the new bridge construction and the Wailing wall. The police and military were everywhere in large and small patrols, clearly expecting a mob. Many of the patrols were women with semi-automatic rifle. Mmmm, chicks with guns. *drools*

So down to the Wailing Wall we went, and the guys had to don some new egg-roll yamikas, of course. Itís surreal to see so many men (since women are segregated to a different part of the wall) bobbing like a Japanese guy bowing to passing cars on the freeway. To see devotion to ritual like this was really something. So apparently the at the Wailing Wall you write some prayer for your loved ones or for yourself (you selfish bastard) and every once in a while a rabbi comes along and takes down the notes and buries them in the desert. An interesting side note, while I was there, I saw a guy pushing around a regular janitorís cart, pulling the notes out of the wall, and unceremoniously dropping them into the big yellow bag (where trash usually goes). Maybe they do get taken to the Ďdesertí and Ďburiedí. Iím not really sure.

After wailing for the allotted time, we worked up quite an appetite and Rafi took us to an Arab restaurant in the Old City called Al Buraq. It was here that I fell fat and happily in love with hummus and tahini. Hummus is, of course, ground garbanzo beans (go ahead and call them chickpeas if you want, I donít feel the need to euphemize), garlic, onions, and whatever else they put in it. Tahini is a very smooth paste that is made from sesame seeds. Holy shit, theyíre both so good.

Youíll also see a photo of Al Buraqís bathroom, which shows the typical Mediterranean propensity to have a floor-to-ceiling door in front of the toilet. I like this. When I go in to have it out with myself, I donít want to see someone elseís shoes, see someone else washing their hands through the crack in the door, or listen to someone else on his or her very private and personal struggle to attain gastrointestinal emptiness. Gimme a door, thatís what Iím talkiní about!

After lunch we meandered through the troops in the Old City and wended our way to the Via Dolorosa, which is the supposed path that Jesus walked with his cross on the way to be crucified. Youíve heard of the Stages of the Cross? You know, those pictures around every Catholic church in the world? The first four stops were in the Muslim section so we didnít go there. In those stops, Jesus got flagellated, sentenced, beat up, fell down and skinned his knee, then stopped for a sandwich and to wave and mouth the words ďhi mom!Ē to his mother. We started at stage 5 then proceeded up to the holy sepulcher. These were stages 5-9 where he Ďletí someone else carry the cross, fell down again, had some girl named Veronica wipe his face, fell down a third time, then winked and gave the Ďthumbs upí to the Ďpiousí women of Jerusalem. Stages 10-14 are the interesting part where he gets his clothes ripped off, crucified, dies, and gets Ďburiedí. Letís review:

1. Jesus is condemned to death (but promoted to king of the Jews!)
2. Jesus gets crossed
3. Jesus falls down
4. Jesus meets mom
5. Someone else carries the cross whileÖ
6. ÖVeronica wipes Jesus' face with her veil (kingly sweat and blood!)
7. Jesus falls down
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem!
9. Jesus falls down
10. Jesus strips
11. Jesus gets nailed! (to the cross)
12. Jesus dies
13. Jesus gets un-nailed
14. Jesus is laid (in the tomb)

On the way to the temple of the holy sepulcher, which is the edifice built around the last 4 stages of the cross, we were guided into one of many freshwater cisterns that are within the city of Jerusalem. Itís a big cave with water dripping from the ceiling into a big pool. Itís cool to have a freshwater supply for invasions, etc., but since the city is above, Iím loathe to know the actual source of the water. *shudder*

Right outside the entrance to the cistern room were two crosses leaning up against the wall. These crosses were about two meters high, built with screws and clearly meant to carry through the city so that you could walk the stages of the cross. Awesome. Of course, you have to stop at stage nine, so whatís the point really?

I fully intended to throw one of these crosses over my shoulder, flash a big grin and a thumbs up while having Blake take my photo, but he didnít want to offend the other people in our group so he pussed out. Weak. That would have been a great photo. Oh well, I can still see it in my mind, so youíll just have to use your imagination; I know that you have one.

So in the Holy Sepulcher, there were all sorts of different temples, since apparently 7 different religions are in charge of the place and take turns locking it up at night, etc. I can only assume that if we had a 9-day week that 9 religions would be involved, since itís preferential treatment to let one lock the door more than once per week.
Mosaics adorned the walls everywhere, some of which were a thousand years old. The Greek orthodox temple at Golgotha (where the cross was planted) was one of the most gaudy and over-decorated things that Iíve ever seen, but who am I to make such judgments? Downstairs from that was the purification or washing (anointing) stone, which was a slab with some rosy-smelling oil that people were bowing, scraping, swooning and sobbing to wipe on themselves.

Rafi rubbed his fingers in the oily, fragranced goo and insisted on shoving his fingers in all of our faces so that we could smell them. The scent was so cloying that it filled my lungs with its heady aroma before I even set foot inside, but I humored him. Blake made the mistake of touching it too, and Iím sure he stank for days.

Next it was off to the Ďtomb of Jesusí, which is really just an honorary building with a closely-confined temple inside housing a chunk of stone that was allegedly the stone that they rolled in front of his burial place before he arose from the dead and kicked the stone to pieces with his godly powers.

The cave where he may have been buried was in the holy sepulcher too, but even the guides there readily admit that they have no idea where Jesus was actually buried and that this cave, though it was used for the purpose of the temporary burials post crucifiction, was one just like many others. Itís likely that it was tapped because it was the closest one, thereby making the temple one neat little package.

After a trip to a gift shop of one of Rafiís Ďfriendsí (which contained the ďShalom YíallĒ sign in my photo album) we made our way back to the van and started to head out of Jerusalem. Rafi wanted to take us to some bar owned by an Elvis impersonator (or maybe it really was Elvis. This is the city of resurrections, right?) but since it was Friday, the bar had closed in the afternoon for the upcoming Shabbat. I didnít realize that Elvis was a Jew, but Iíll be the first to admit that I donít know everything.

We drove towards Bethlehem, which is in Palestine now and totally walled off. Then we left town and drove back to Herzliya, after dropping Blake off at his hotel in Tel Aviv, of course.

The final post in this religious series, or ďFlockumentaryĒ if you will, consists of Blakeís (I mean Monsieur de Plumeís) much more factual account of our trip, which I will be posting in very short order.


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