Our last day in Jerusalem started with a lovely vegetarian buffet breakfast. People are much safer serving vegetarian food in Israel, not just because of the manifold kosher and halal rules regarding meat being served with dairy, but also because anything made from a pig is fairly disastrous for Muslims and Jewish people alike. The mainstay of the UK fried breakfast is, of course, pig, so Israeli breakfasts have to go down a different route.
This morning’s offerings included a delicious potato and mushroom gratin and filo pastry parcels filled with something which tasted like feta. Heaven.
Our new friend, Asaf, the archaeologist we met last night, came to spend our last two hours with us, and very kindly offered to drive us to the airport, in the process saving us £100 in a private taxi, which is the ONLY method of transport available on a Saturday in Jerusalem! The ultra orthodox lobby is incredibly powerful in the city, and tends to rule the roost when it comes to making decisions with any sort of religious baring. If they decide that no one is to travel on Shabbat, then no one travels, whether they’re religious or not.
On route to the airport, Asaf took us into the mountains above Jerusalem to show us a number of Kibbutz and a wonderful vantage point with views across the whole of Israel. From the top of a somewhat peculiar, water-tower-esque, brutalist concrete viewing platform, you could very clearly see Israel’s border as it had been when the state was established in 1948. In order to protect the new country from Palestinian sniper attacks, the Israelis planted a wood of pine trees all the way along the edge of the land they’d been granted. These trees are now beautiful and fully mature, and they cut a very handsome swathe across the undulating yet often baron landscape.
Asaf is a deeply fascinating bloke. He could talk about history and ancient archeology until the cows come home. Wind him up, press play, and he’ll answer every question you have, in a deeply engaging manner. He is currently excavating King Herod’s Palace, near the Dead Sea, south east of Bethlehem. I learned more about the history of Israel in a few hours than I possibly have in the rest of my life.
It was also rather good to talk to him about politics. He’s a self-confessed left wing socialist, who struggles with the fact that most of the greatest archeological digs are in the West Bank. That said, his work in the West Bank means he spends a great deal of his time with Palestinians and Bedouin folk, and says that ordinary people on both sides are very open to conversation and compromise. It’s the leaders who are so much more black and white. He is conflicted about the presence of the wall, however, pointing out that, although it’s deeply incendiary, it has saved countless lives. His childhood was spent hearing countless chilling accounts of bus bombs and suicide attacks. No one in Israel is untouched by terrorism. And yet, since the wall went up, these attacks have largely stopped.
The flight back was with EasyJet, who’d entirely run out of vegetarian food. They were offering people - ON A FLIGHT FROM ISRAEL - either bacon or ham sandwiches! It’s this logic-defying (and culturally-insensitive) behaviour which tells you you’re flying budget! When I complained, the cabin lass told me that a veggie running out of vegetarian food was no different from a meat eater being told they’d run out of meat. “No” I said, incensed, “if a meat eater runs out of meat, he or she can still chow down on the veggie food.” The point about veggie food is that it’s an option for everyone (except, sometimes, vegans.)
As an outsider, I witness a lot of people fetishising meat. People seem to feel they have to offer consumers the choice of every sort of meat available and, to me, this feels rather distasteful. Meat comes at a high price and, in my view, it’s morally outrageous to waste it, or to charge too little for it.
As a non-drinker, I also see how the world has a tendency to fetishise alcohol. People start behaving so strangely and belligerently when they have the excuse of alcohol. It’s a little strange to me that some people can’t seem to have fun unless there’s a glass of something in their hand. They guilt trip others into drinking “just one more” and there seems to be a sort of machismo attached to being able to handle your drink. Many drinkers feel deeply self-conscious when there’s a non-drinker in their midst and try to claim that the evening isn’t going to be as fun because someone’s not drinking. Obviously, I’m not knocking anyone who likes a glass of wine of an evening, or a whiskey after dinner. But the older I get, the more weird and boring I think people get when they’ve had too much to drink. In vino veritas.
I was surrounded by children on the flight. The child behind me shat itself two hours in, and the stench of eggy shit wafted around my head. The mother had forgotten to bring nappies with her, which was absolutely bizarre. Even more bizarre was her refusal to accept the cabin crew’a offer to ask the other families on the flight if they had a spare one.
The little girl next to me decided to film the window of the plane (with me in the shot) for the whole taxiing and take off. As a fairly bad flier, I found the behaviour deeply unacceptable. I don’t need to feel self-conscious AND traumatised! I was even more horrified that the mother didn’t step in and tell her to stop.
We flew into Luton airport, which is an embarrassment, frankly. I feel ashamed when I think of anyone visiting this country and seeing that as their first impression. There’s a big sign which says welcome in many languages. The Hebrew is backwards. The whole airport is under tarpaulin for never-ending building work. They charge you to take the shuttle to the airport. The airport escalators are broken. The train station looks down-at-heel...
I could go on... but whinging would ruin my wonderful holiday.