I would appear to be in Jerusalem! We spent much of yesterday getting here, leaving West Hampstead at just before 10 to travel to Luton Airport, which is a spectacular dump!
We flew with EasyJet. Who'd've thought they would run flights to Tel Aviv? It's a 4 1/2 flight, which actually seemed to go by in the blink of an eye, largely because we decided to watch the film of Brass at the Hackney Empire. One of the benefits of having written a rather lengthy show is that it makes a plane journey seem considerably shorter!
The flight was somewhat marred by a number of high-maintenance mothers who plainly didn't understand that the world didn't revolve around their children. The safety announcement had to be paused whilst their cloying offspring were cleared from playing in the aisles. The same thing happened on landing. The crew were forced to rush to the children to scoop them back into their seats. The mothers looked confused and angry as though no one had ever said no to them or their children before: "my child wants to play. If you stop my child from playing he will get angry and then it will be your fault if he cries." At a certain point I feel that parents need to take responsibility for the decision THEY made to have children.
We took a shared mini bus taxi to Jerusalem with a curious selection of ultra-Orthodox Jews and a ghost. We know she was a ghost because a) she was sitting on our train from West Hampstead, b) she was on the plane in front of us knitting and c) because neither of us saw her getting into the taxi. She literally just appeared in the shadows of the back seat. We'll see her again, I have no doubt, muttering prayers to herself in a soothing voice!
We were the last to be dropped off by the taxi, which passed through a series of frum neighbourhoods in the city. I find the sight of men in their Humburg hats, their prayer shawls dangling around their thighs, quite compelling. It feels like such a curious way to express religion.
My companion for the trip is Michael Etherton, who runs the UK Jewish film festival. He speaks Hebrew and lived in Israel for three years, so I feel I'm in a very safe pair of hands.
We took ourselves on a lengthy walk yesterday night. Israel is two hours behind the UK, so suddenly the day seemed rather short. The sun, in fact, was setting as we touched down, and by the time we'd left the airport, it was dark, although still immensely humid.
The walk started with street food, Israel style, at the Old Station: Jerusalem's first train station, which has been converted into a sort of cross between Covent Garden and Brighton pier. We had hummus and falafel, and chips covered in paprika.
The old walled city of Jerusalem is a deeply, deeply impressive place which carries the heavy weight of immense religious significance on its shoulders. We entered via the Jaffa gate, and instantly found ourselves walking down a series of underground alleyways which, during the day, would be filled with market stalls: a riot of life and noise. At night, it's deathly quiet. The silhouettes of Hasidic Jews glide through the shadows, making their way to the Western Wall. The odd shop keeper closes his shop, water flows down the alleyways...
We appeared at the Western Wall - perhaps better (and more offensively) known as the "wailing wall" - at about midnight. As the only bit remaining of the old temple (destroyed by the Romans) it stands as the most important holy site for Jewish people in the world. We donned kippa hats and took ourselves up to the wall itself, which I found a profound and deeply moving experience. There is definitely an incredibly strong atmosphere there. Who knows if it's spiritual or simply an atmosphere which has been created by religious, psychological fervour. Men daven: rocking and bobbing, facing the wall. Some weep openly. There's a hushed excitement. The wall itself is enormous and formed of huge blocks of gleaming cream-coloured stone. Rather large circular plants grow through the cracks, their greeny-yellow fronds create an interesting effect against the sand stone.
From the Western Wall, we took ourselves around the old city walls, past the Mount of Zion whose cliffs were lit up with huge floodlights of ever-changing colour, and back to the hotel in the soupy air. A wonderful night.