Sunday, 16 July 2017

The First Station of the cross and a pissy bus

Today was a bit of a faffy day which found us roaming the streets of Jerusalem in 34 degree heat looking for somewhere which would serve us food. It's Shabbat and nowhere is open. This is what the Midlands used to be like on a Sunday before they relaxed the trading hours! I guess, if you lived here, you'd rather speedily get used to the fact that nothing is open and prepare accordingly. It was a little painful for us. We skipped breakfast, had a chocolate bar at about noon and only properly ate at 4pm, by which point we'd both gone low sugar and sunburned!

We had back-to-back meetings in the morning about the project we're trying to get off the ground before deciding to take ourselves up into the old city, assuming the Armenian quarter might have places where we could eat because, for Christians, a Saturday is a day like any other. Sadly, both of us had run out of cash, and nowhere accepted cards, so we felt a little like a couple of losing contestants on Bullseye being told "here's what you could have won!" We'd run out of cash because the pound is worth jack shit these days. Three or so years ago, a single pound would buy you 9 shekels. Today it will buy you just five. Actually, just under five. Another reason to thank all those wonderful people who voted Brexit. It's funny: I took my passport out at the airport in Tel Aviv, and, for the first time in my life, felt ashamed. I used to feel this great rush of pride when I took out my burgundy British-European passport. Now I simply feel embarrassed. People I've met here have all taken the mickey. They think Brexit's a joke. They think Theresa May is a joke.

As we staggered up the slippery, careworn steps towards the Old City, two Americans called over to us: "where's Bethlehem?" They asked. It was such a daft question that neither of us managed to get an answer out. I've seldom heard such nonsense since someone on a London bus asked me the way to Liverpool. "Liverpool Street Station?" I asked. "Is that where the Cavern Club is?"

The Old City was buzzing with its streets and streets of tiny cave-like shops. It's very difficult to explain how the geography of the area works. You couldn't get a car or even a bike down the alleyways, all of which are entirely covered over. Some are completely underground - dug straight into the rock. Others are under huge stone roofs. Periodically, there's some sort of skylight, or gap in the roof and one walks into a pool of direct sunlight everything else is in the cool shade. The shops sell tourist tat: kippas with the Star of David embroidered into them with silver thread, mini-menorahs, purses made of ethnic fabrics with the word Jerusalem emblazoned across. The shop keepers are mostly Arabic. They hassle and hustle the passers by. Many have songs birds over their doors which sit in tiny cages tweeting their distress to the world. It's all a little grotesque. The Christian Americans in their ludicrous sports caps feel savvy and wealthy, and spend hours bartering with the shop keepers, thinking they're getting bargains which have made the Arabs weep. The Arabs, however, rub their hands in glee. They know they're selling tat.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I think it's where Jesus died. It's possibly also where he was reborn because there's a big flat stone which people douse in perfumes and rub lengths of fabric against. I have a feeling that it's the supposed door to the tomb which Jesus emerged from, but I'm basically more up on the story of Robin Hood!

As a non-believer, I felt a little bit removed from everything if I'm entirely honest, but the architecture is stunning, and, what's fascinating is the sheer diversity of Christians who range from Americans in their shell suits, through nuns in habits all the way through to heavily-bearded Greek Orthodox chaps. Robes, dog collars, wimples, crucifixes of all shapes and sizes... I saw it all today.

We missed our 5.30 film. The organisers of the festival plainly haven't allocated enough seats in their screenings for delegates, so we were sent away, tails between our legs.

We had an early evening meeting with a young drag queen back at the rather lovely First Station, which is the old train station we've found ourselves visiting rather regularly over the last few days. We were booked in for another film at 9.30pm, but Michael realised he'd lost his credit card, so I went in search of it, and sent him into the screening without me. It felt far more important for the chief executive of the UK Jewish film festival to watch a Jewish film than it did for me, and we needed to jump on the bus for Tel Aviv at just gone 11. I found his card back at the First Station. (Not the First Station of the Cross, you understand...)

So between us we've seen four films at the festival, three of which were directed by women and all of which featured female protagonists. I'm not altogether sure how to interpret this particular piece of information, other than to say that, if there still is prejudice against women in the film industry, it's certainly not been in evidence at the Jerusalem film festival.

It felt a little premature to be leaving Jerusalem this evening. The bus smelt shockingly of piss and deposited us in a very different, far more secular world, which is possibly the most humid place I've ever visited. I'm drenched in sweat!

But more about Tel Aviv tomorrow...


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