Jérusalem la nuit.

It’s not a long ride from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem, especially if it’s 4 AM and there’s little, in terms of traffic, to slow down our yellow-and-white sherut van.
We weave in and out of the most conservative neighbourhoods of the city, our Haredim travel companions leaving one by one in the same order they’ve come on board. “Those who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” doesn’t work on the sherut and, besides, it’s the New Testament. No one reads the sequel ’round here. Soon it’s my turn: the walls, the moat still littered by the stone blocks tossed there by Vespasian’s marauding legions, can only mean Damascus Gate.

It’s quiet at this time on a Friday. But for a few cops all muffled up against the cold, I’m alone. It’s way too early for even the first bus. I walk uphill to get some blood flowing in the legs numbed by the flight and the Lilliputian sherut seats and chance upon New Gate.

Jerusalem sleeps. Religious nutjobs of all denominations are all in bed, dreaming of being right, and I share the street with the odd passer-by and cats. Drops of rain constellate the ageless stones as if the marble is sweating. Frankincense burns from a tin plate left on the steps of a building decorated with the insignia of the Franciscan order.

I fumble my way past the Ethiopian monastery, slingshot beyond the Holy Sepulchre and somehow land at the end of the road leading up to Damascus Gate. Day has broken whilst I ambled in the rabbit warren that is the Old City and now the sky is battleship grey.
Damascus gate has, for time immemorial, rhymed with Arabia. Its smells and perfumes are, through and through, those of Cairo, of Beirut: inebriating coffee, fresh bread with sesame seeds, the sweet decay of waste left behind from yesterday’s trades. Past the road are a motley crew of white-and-blue buses, those that don’t feature on the municipality’s luminous panels at bus stops. Some are Chinese Yutongs, barely six months old and already falling to bits; others are Israeli knock-offs. I board one specimen of this latter variant.

I hand my five shekels to the driver and I’m asleep before we make it out of the car park. A siren – loud, fast, angry – shakes me awake. I’m the only one left on board and the driver’s been calling out to me to get off; he’s still in the middle of the road, holding some significant traffic. A military jeep, insectoid in its beefed-up armour and metal grilles. I pirouette out of the bus and onto the tarmac, backpack in hand, disoriented and alone. Everyone else has either left or knows what they’re doing. As for me, I haven’t a clue. I’ve never walked through Checkpoint 300.

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21 Responses to Jérusalem la nuit.

  1. J.D. Riso says:

    Even in the quiet of the night, Jerusalem is intense. I wandered around during the day and it was mind-boggling. So many competing faiths in such a tiny area.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh this is fascinating. What an experience to see the city while it sleeps. I look forward to the next instalment.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful evocative description. Especially of Damascus gate. I lived in Israel as a young child (was there during the six day war) and always love going to the old city. Such a treasure trove of sights and sounds and smells. Look forward to the next installment.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lexklein says:

    Certainly a unique view of the usually crowded, raucous Old City. I never had much desire to go to Israel or Jerusalem, but when I followed my husband there for work one summer, I absolutely loved everything about it. I don’t totally understand why you were riding and then walking and then riding and then walking in the wee hours of the day to get to Palestine … I guess I need to stay tuned!

    (The checkpoint is so serious, for lack of a better word. Not really daunting or scary but very thought-provoking. I’ll be curious to read about your experience.)

    Like

  5. Dave Ply says:

    The flavors in this one are as strong as Cairo coffee. As for the nut-jobs, they may be well served taking guidance from the cats – they seem like they know something of the mysteries. And that ending was not tame; I assume your cliff hanger will proceed with a visit to the cliff?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Hook says:

    I really have to get out of North America soon.
    The world has so much more to offer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Come! There’s a lot of interesting places and we make up the lack of pancakes and big ass portions with good hummus (at least over in the Midde East. Britain doesn’t even have that).

      Like

  7. equinoxio21 says:

    I had to look this post up. You’re a brave man… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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