Sunday, 6 January 2013

Back to Jerusalem

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Back in Jerusalem. Crossing from Jordan by the King Hussein (a.k.a. the Allenby) Bridge is a huge achievement, not to be attempted light-heartedly.


Dear reader, if you find yourself in Petra and want to go to Jerusalem, take a taxi for JD50 to Aqaba and walk across the border to Eilat, whence buses go regularly taking four hours. It takes an hour by taxi or shared car or bus from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge where you wait (for more than an hour in my case) for a bus that takes takes you to the border. On the other side, I waited an hour after passing immigration (which for me was easy) for my luggage to appear. (I had handed it in as we entered the Israeli customs building). I was completely zen, unlike the impish American geezer in his late 60s, who was rolling from one heel to another with impatience) and the Australian journalist based in Jerusalem who was trying to lodge a formal complaint.


Then easy to catch a minibus and at chilly Jerusalem I was, I felt, completely at home, though it seemed months not three days since I was last there.. A nice Christian coffee shop owner whom I knew made me coffee, sent out for a falafel sandwich and made me feel like family. He told me that the Allenby crossing is NOT closed on Saturdays, despite what the people at my hotel in Amman told me. I was zen about this too. It turns out from looking it up on the net that the Israeli side closes at lunchtime on Saturday and so I had already missed my chance by 1 p.m. Jordanian time. But this too is life.


The dear old Hotel Imperial.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Armenian priests, dressed in black, processing around the holy sites. Trying to get past a vast giant of a bodyguard, the name Alexei on his wristband, nonchalantly put out an arm like a tree trunk to stop me. I looked at him and at the weakling boy priests and reflected that the intellectuals need the loyal heavies and that my place belongs with the savants not the thugs but in fact I failed to find my place.


A Catholic Mass in Spanish which I decided to skip and so I tagged onto a tour party. The guide was explaining that almost every tourist group 'You are the one exception' that comes to Jerusalem comes for a pilgrimage, whether Christian or Jewish and for a life-changing experience. (Why were they the exception? Were they an atheist tour group, or Marxists or pagans? They looked far too respectable.) I reflected that my first visit to Jerusalem had not been a life changing experience. I hope this second one will be but I still react in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre first to the darkness, oddness, strangeness and mystery of the ancient churches which share the church (though the Catholic Church no longer feels ancient but 1960s modern), the Mrs. Radcliffe Gothick-Papist feel of the place, before I reflect on the site of the crucifixion and what it means.

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