Sunday, 6 March 2011

Diary of my first journey to Jerusalem

Woke wide awake at 3.25 and got ready briskly.

In the street below my flat  the taxis waited outside Club A and I told my taxi driver this made me feel old. When you get to our age ...he said. How old? 53. He didn’t think the 6 year gap between our ages significant. 

Do I like people moving around visiting foreign countries? My very powerful inner child wants to swagger the nut-strewn roads, crouch in the fo'c'sle while my reactionary false persona disapproves of people gadding round getting ideas. Getting foreign ideas or new ideas is dangerous but actually new ideas would be much better than what they do get which is ideas that are not very new.  Mobile telephones are changing the last fastnesses forever. Is Burma still mobile free? Cuba and North Korea are of course. A shopping centre stands on Ferdy’s confiscated land in Burma. 

I think Jerusalem might actually be very wonderful with Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims. I hope it is not too touristy and tidy and painted.  In the Arab parts I hope to be happy. Especially the West Bank. Wish I could get to Gaza. 

People are never so human as when alone and never so human as when waiting in an airport for their transfer. Do I love the human race? When meeting one do I think what jolly fun? It depends. Travel puts one in touch with a large number of very vulgar people whose existence one had not suspected (I am a locksmith’s son) but not in Budapest at 9 am local time.

Wonderfully nice woman at information in Tel Aviv who called my business contact for me. Wonderfully kind woman at the station who put my banknotes into the machine and told me exactly what to do.

I see that I always carefully suppressed certain anti-Semitic prejudices: that Jews are tough; selfish; pushy; ungenerous. And these hidden prejudices are not true at all. And how odd to be surrounded by Jews everywhere. What a bizarre idea. And speaking a dead language Hebrew. And brought here from so many different countries. Poland, Syria ....

A very sweet couple on the train early twenties. The boy a waiter with an open face knows that everyone in the world hates Israelis. Is it exactly like this? Are they the new South Africans? Guess so and I am out of touch. The world is constantly persecuting (so said Arthur Balfour who is responsible for Israel’s existence and he was very right.) Because Israel is the antithesis of multiracial idea – the idea that a state should be an ethnicity is very unfashionable. The girl a very pretty blonde teaches English grammar and did 2 years military service which she enjoyed – in trousers not miniskirt. The boy did three. He had blue-violet eyes and was kind rather girlish. Her family was from Austria his came from Poland in 1960.

How new the buildings are - a bit like new buildings in Turkey.

The taxi driver sixties wise his 8th grandchild born three weeks ago left Poland in 1957 when Gomulka let the Jews go without any of their possessions. The only other Jewish boy read the Jewish Chronicle before breakfast, the Polish boys had nothing in their heads. The boy they called the professor is now a professor in Canada. A pang – this should have been my destiny.

This place is not Europe. A bit like Turkey. A  bit like Egypt but richer. Slightly like Greece?

The hostel where I pay $89.  Not cheap but the cheapest I found and my room very comfortable with bathroom, nice hard bed.

In the evening some of old Jaffa. The towers of Tel Aviv to the North. A charming place which reminded me of Amasra. The Balkans. Touristy but not insufferably so. A buzz. A sense of being slightly forgotten. Not many tourists on October 1. Later I was told parts of Jaffa are dangerous.

Some very pretty girls. Sense of a party.

Unexciting meal at kosher restaurant cost me 200 shekels = 150 RON with bottle of surprisingly drinkable Carmel wine, much better than Turkish or Syrian stuff. Behind me a man said the only danger you’ll face in Golan is that it might rain. I was pleased that the owner of the restaurant stuck his hand into the salad  to stir it into the humus for me. I told him I liked the warmth of Israelis. His reply was sublime; he said it’s the same in every Middle Eastern country.


Flea market. Stretching street after street in a slightly dilatory way. A bit like Caribbeans in Finsbury Park. I like Jaffa. An hour long walk along the front to Hotel Carlton not a good idea as I arrived late and very hot. Len’s contact a Jewish woman lawyer with an opera bag and dressed like a fairy from a Victorian pantomime. Keen to get on. Jews are the quintessential bourgeois – I remember I was surprised to find the middle class were eager to get on and make money when I came to Bucharest. Before that I saw them as my superiors, high-minded. You can take the boy out of a deferential working class family but....

I wanted to enter Jerusalem by train but it was not destined. At the station they asked for my passport and could not find the visa I had asked them to write on a piece of paper. Len whom I called said the woman must be a nutcase but he couldn’t help. Anxiety – where is the piece of paper? Did I put it with my receipts? Where did I put them?

The bus. The baggage holder unguarded and I could  easily have stowed my luggage laden with bomb and walked away. Slept till Jerusalem.

The hostel. A real one unlike the last one. Little room with no towel or soap or mirror. A Jew in a  white costume with a skull-cap from Ilford. He explained the festival of the tabernacles in a  voice that reminded me of Peter Cook in that sketch about waiting for the end of the world.  An American receptionist about to be circumcised and convert to conservative Judaism. He reminded me of Chris Harrison. But my instinct told me there was something  not ok about him. On the other hand was Chris Harrison OK? And Chris Harrison had no religion and voted Liberal Democrat.

Too many souvenir shops. Too much tack.

Do I feel anything here? Really? Beyond irritation. Irritation at the waiter not bringing me a Turkish coffee spoilt my first view of the Golden Horn just disembarked from the train in Constantinople in 1990.

The insolence of an Italian guide
Appears to have been the reason that he died.

Another place with the same tourist industry. Like some international chain store?

Black-hatted Jews scurrying through narrow streets to be back before the sun goes down and the sabbath begins. Why do grown men and women say shabat instead of sabbath when speaking or writing English?

Dusk gathering at the wailing wall and Jewish in Polish dress dancing, high kicking – men in one section the women on the other side. My feelings towards Jews en masse different from seeing then singly where they seem keen to get on unashamedly a bit pushy subconsciously do I feel they are an (albeit valuable and likeable) oriental intrusion?? Do I think any of this?

No idea.

After three glasses I announce on Facebook: I suddenly understand. I love Jews because they are Arabs.

Good wine in a  tourist cafe. An arcade a bit like and no doubt coeval with Pasajul Victoriei. Wonderful jazz played by an itinerant  French clarinettist with a charming smile. The Hotel Imperial, am elderly dowager very down on her luck indeed mixing in very low company. Exactly the kind of hotel I like. . Did it once house shabby Russians like Yakimov? The old town empty after dark but I finally found an Armenian restaurant. Pretty Armenian girl who has been often to Yerevan. Refused entry to Tbilisi and the Israelis could not help her because her passport was Jordanian so she lost $1000.

As well as tourists there were Arabs dining, handsome women, a chic about them and a warmth.  So I imagined from my solitary seat at the bar.


Woke at 5.30 and decided not to try to sleep. Waking at 3.20 has thrown out my rhythm.

Now I am here before the tourists and I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I received communion and hope I was in a state of grace. Brendan received communion with me in Antwerp cathedral despite coming into Mass at the end.

But the first moment of true happiness now sitting drinking coffee outside a lock-up house near the church. Because I smell that smell which every medina has. What? Not cumin? Some spice. The men beside me inhale tobacco from hubble bubble pipes. One wears a headgear of the Arafat type. The best time to be here is when there is trouble and violence. Firdaus understands Tony Gray does not.

Michael Grant is so persuasive against the Virgin Birth and when that goes so does Catholicism. The Church is not the infallible guide to faith and morals, no longer supernatural. This made me unhappy in Belgrade reading it. What is remarkable is that I think about these things without emotion or great interest today. Is this an anti-pilgrimage?

I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.

Lord I am self-indulgent and self-absorbed and over intellectual. Have mercy on my soul.

Walk a lot gorge at 12.30 on foul in a nice little very humble place recommended –Lina. Sleep. Then I didn’t go to Bethlehem.

I am full of anger I see, irritation. I am not in touch with my feelings. Think too much. Feel far too little.

A man in the bazaar called me Father. He did not make  a sale. He looked my age, probably 23. The age I think I am. I said why do you call me father? Because you look like a father.

Why am I not moved by Jerusalem? By the place where my Saviour was crucified  or even by the history architecture and current politics?

Too many tourists? It is not dying from tourism like Venice or the Baltic capitals or Dubrovnik’s old town. People live here, lots of them and sometimes they even fight each other.

If the Virgin Birth did not happen that does not mean the incarnation did not or the resurrection.

My feet ache. What am I doing here?

Tourism makes an adolescent of us all, staring at people, feeling different from them , picking at ones breast for emotions which are not there,  – except the relaxing at the beach kind of tourism. I am an adolescent anyhow. Puer not connecting – due to the anima putting a plastic envelope between me and life per von Frank.

The Hotel Imperial looks like it is noisy but single rooms cost $50 the same price as my wretched cabin. Allenby stayed there as an Englishwoman told me. Her black companion spoke with a broad Manchester accent.


Found by accident the hostel in East Jerusalem where I had booked. Then persuaded the old Arab manager at the Imperial to give me a room for 1 night for fifty dollars – no window. Very shabby genteel and pretty seedy – I love it.

The boy broke my wheeler- suitcase. ‘You must be incredibly stupid’ and he said what did you say and I found myself feeling I was in the wrong and a little scared. When will I be assertive? Andrew would have handled it differently. Instead I felt the weight of needing to struggle when I told the manager. And guilt towards the other hostel I walked there and paid them 100 shekels = €18. Was the boy breaking my suitcase divine punishment for my not honouring my bargain. Jon Rinnander would think this is superstitious. Jax would think you must stick to your word. I think: why am I thinking so much at the age of 47???

I took a bus for 4 shekels to the border near Bethlehem and walked across with a nice pair of German art students. The security fence looked very efficient rather like the Berlin Wall and a good idea but later I read that it does not follow the ceasefire line and cuts off some Palestinian farms, A sweet taxi driver took us to the town for 5 each – I love male Arab faces in their 50s and over. and we sat and chatted at his friend’s souvenir shop ad they decided they didn’t want to split the fare with me to go to Jericho which I would rather have liked.

The famous church of the manger. Crusader mostly but bits Byzantine including a 5th century mosaic. Shared by several churches. A wonderful reredos. The crypt with the star where the manger was where Our Lord was buried. Reaching my hand inside to touch the star felt somehow sexual.

Various other chapels whose meaning I did not understand. My fault I had no guide.

I cannot hide from myself that I do not believe that Our Lord was born in Bethlehem.  Doubts  about the Virgin Birth. The church does not move me from the religious or aesthetic points of view though as an historical monument it is something.

The rest of the town. Nothing of interest except a West Bank town populous poor and likeable once Christian now 80% Muslim.

I shared a taxi with two nice Eritreans the younger very pretty with a queenly rear (Meredith’s phrase) a la Zeinab Badawi. The other had been married to a politician who had been in prison for 13 years. She said she hated to think about what the British and Italians did but we are in the Holy land let’s forget. She found Israelis trying. You know what they are like. She was illegal for many years finally became a citizen. Her pretty cousin got a job in Macey’s in San Francisco without by her account much trouble.

I love Israelis but am becoming pro-Arab - boring though the whole thing is - not at all amused by the sign at the Royal David Hotel recording how sorry the Jewish terrorists were for the 97 people they blew up - including our soldiers. Which Austrian said in 1849 we shall astonish the world by our ingratitude? He should have been Israeli.

I walked out of a Spanish Mass this morning during the sermon thinking to find one in English and I ended up not finding one at all. And in the Holy Land! I love the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at night full of shadows exactly the kind of thing Spaniards love and American Protestants flinch from. I found a subterranean tomb in the near darkness. A Spaniard explained it might be the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea. I thought involuntarily of Gormenghast but Gormenghast is about something dusty and half-dead not something alive.

IHT read with my coffee

ASTONISHINGLY, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the groundbreaking BBC comedy series, is 40 years old this year, almost as ancient as the Beatles. As Terry Jones, one of the six-member troupe who created and acted in the show, said recently: “Time just seems to get quicker. You look in the mirror in the morning and you think, ‘I’m already shaving again!’ ”
The principals are all in late middle age now, jowly and graying, and have in some ways become the very sorts of people they used to poke fun at.

Fresh clashes at Jerusalem shrine
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem after police closed a compound with sites sacred to Jews and Muslims, citing security concerns.
The protesters threw stones and bottles at the police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Several Palestinians are reported to have been detained, including a former minister, Hatem Abdulqader.

Monday 5 October 2009

The difficulties of biblical scholarship. Yesterday at the chapel the story of Our Lady dropping a drop of milk on the ground that turned to stone is clearly a fable but the whole nativity story, her perpetual virginity, the location Bethlehem all seem fabulous, folkloric. Not like the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. But without the virgin birth  the church is not infallible and one is not  a Catholic for the virgin birth is a dogma. And how does the incarnation look if Our Lord is not born of a virgin by the intervention of the Holy Spirit? Lord I believe (do I?) help Thou my unbelief.

The ceremony of the blessing of the priests in front of the Wailing Wall – wonderful joyous occasion and wonderful singing of prayers the place full of children full of happy people. How right de Maistre was to love the Jews for their conservatism. I love them too for the same reason, the ultra religious especially. But unlike devout Catholics they are said to be astute at making money and do not esteem celibacy.

I found the Via Dolorosa which was invented fro mediaeval pilgrims and does not reflect the real path Our Lord walked with the cross yet His feet did walk this small town. Though the Romans razed it a generation later ( a strong argument methinks for believing He is God). 

Turkish coffee the Israeli paper in English baklava this is happiness sitting in the Muslim quarter. The best quarter because people buy things here for everyday use. Why does this make me so happy? Something to do with not taking part observing enjoying a drug enjoying a sensual experience too early to notice the lack of structure in my day.

A happy day. Happy in the Muslim quarter.

Foul again.

The Armenian Cathedral of S James. Both SS James – the apostle and the mysterious brother of the Lord  - the head of a Jewish Christian church that disappeared?

Gloomy, ancient, a sung Mass in an unknown tongue. The truth is closer here than in an English language Catholic Mass. The Armenian church makes me feel the Catholic Church has robbed her children of the beautiful Latin Mass and sense of mystery and majesty and immense antiquity. For something from Harold Wilson’s plastic world. And thereby made faith very much harder.

Finally Gethsemane glimpsed from afar but as darkness fell. A Russian couple living in Chicago explain things. I say all Russians seem nowadays to live in the States. No, only Jews. My husband is Jewish by descent but does not practice. She points out a gate where the messiah is expected to enter Jerusalem which the Muslims therefore bricked up. But he has already come she says.

I have moved once more to the hostel in East Jerusalem opposite the Damascus Gate – a tiny box without window but with shower (no hot water it seems) for $35. Real life untidy dirty lovely. Very happy to be here but I wonder if parts of London are exactly like this and suspect that they are. Nice Arab who runs the place reminds me of Murgur.

Ultraorthodox boys dancing in the street frenetically to the sound of a – what kind of musician? I am not observant. Whirling crazily forever endless energy. A small crowd looking on. Before the fountain near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Walking home after dinner musicians playing what I imagined was Russian Jewish music from the shopping centre by the Jaffa Gate. If I knew the real Israel of shopping centres I would not love it. But a great crowd. Lovely girls everywhere. My Polish friend: “the Jewish men are idiots. They do what their wives tell them. but Jewish women know everything. The greatest woman who ever lived was a Jewish woman.”

Christianity represents an absolute and this is deeply repugnant to relativism and the scientific method. But I do see the argument that St John's Gospel reads very differently from the other three. And where does this leave the resurrection and the incarnation. Can this
new scientific Jesus save us? By the way Jesus was not ecumenical at
all even if we discount John. Not ecumenical to the Sadducees and
Pharisees. No suggestion he wanted women priests or homosexual
marriage or thought slavery wrong or the Roman empire. (How tired I
must have been typing this.)

Am jealous of the pretty Eritrean girl yesterday and her cousin who
simply believe.

Mary Veal's view - you just have to believe me it all which seemed
silly when  she said at the time I was corresponding with Rinnander
then later seemed wise now seems to make no sense again. James told me
to settle on what I believer and then act it don’t try to be a
theologian. This too is unsatisfactory.

Maybe his suspicion that I am a dilettante is right. My politics are
the politics of an antiquary not an historian. I am deeply upset the
Jordanians s destroyed the ancient ramshackle Jewish quarter in
Jerusalem rather than the deaths and ruined lives. The disgusting
nature of politics and war as shown in Israel in Turkey Greece
Czechoslovakia Poland Bosnia etc etc etc

Enjoying Jerusalem. Back in the inauthentic bar beside the Imperial
Hotel where I like the food - canned jazz, almost empty.


The Mount of Olives. Gethsemane. What did I feel here? Not enough. Very little. The coach parties of couples in their 50s.

Everywhere here is for someone with a photographer’s eye. And a decent camera unlike me. Ultra religious caught against small stone houses outside the old city. Muslims in headgear. Greek priests. Friars.

Back. Should have made my plans earlier, was lucky to get my shuttle, was told off at the airport for not being there 3 hours ahead, moved up queues by clued up and very nice Israeli officials. 

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