Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day in Jerusalem


My wonderful guide, Joseph Graf, finally makes sense for me of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Mr. Graf is a retired Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel who puts absolute passion into his work. His parents escaped from the the USSR, where his father would have been sent to the mines and his mother far away to a factory, thanks to friendly Jewish NKVD officers. The NKVD men gave them two sets of false papers and detailed instructions on how to slip onto the train for Romania, where, several years later, Mr. Graf was born.

Then, thanking him and saying good-bye, I wander, which is the only way to see things. 

The Egyptian monastery in Jerusalem is exactly the kind of obscure thing I love. The aged caretaker shows me a wonderful hand-written illuminated manuscript - the illustrations are mainly of a jovial looking boyish ochre-coloured St Michael and I did not ask what the book was.

I drop into the shop where I met Maro yesterday and Julienne is there and tells me I am expected at Maro's house this evening. 

The Armenian Quarter is for me the most beautiful of the four quarters into which Jerusalem is divided. It is good to be among Christians and good to be far away from polite, sotto voce Anglican Christianity. The streets and squares have the eerie poetic look of a surrealist painting.

Is the reason American Protestants (unlike liberal Episcopalians) side with the Jews in Israel because the Arab Christianity is so very far from Protestantism? Is it subliminal anti-Catholicism, even though most Arab Christians are Orthodox?

Maro and her husband Michael, an American-Armenian who returned here after decades abroad, live in a wonderful house with a very large garden hidden in the Armenian Quarter and tell me sad stories of how the Armenians were dispossessed of their properties by the Jews in 1948. 

Dinner around the corner with Julienne, in the Armenian Tavern. I remembered Armenian cuisine with affection from Yerevan but the menu seemed unexciting and as a favour to me they made the Friday special, Termed Sinyeh, a stew made with meatballs and potato slices cooked in a tahini (sesame) sauce, but though I like most new dishes I try this was too sour for me. Nevertheless the Armenian Tavern was lively. The nearby Bulghourji, which Maro recommended, I know is good from three years ago but was forbiddingly empty.

A profound conversation with Julienne about things that matter. Everyone here talks about religion almost at once which is a reason to love this city.

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