Old City, Fun Haunts

Today I visited the Old City and the Kotel. By the way, if you’d like me to stick a note in the Kotel please let me know. I will try to let you next time I’m going.

I haven’t been back to the Old City in a while. It’s funny that even though I am not ‘working’ I still keep busy and tend to stay in the ‘lower’ part of the city. For me that comprises Katamon, German Colony, Talpiot and Baka. It happened when I lived in DC too, and I usually stayed in the small slice of the city constituting the Connecticut Ave corridor between Van Ness and Dupont Circle. When you spend most of your time in a few parts of the city, it’s like the rest of the city ‘disappears’ and then you’re amazed to find it again. 

You can definitely feel the difference between laidback Katamon, for example, and the hectic city center. Or Baka and the aloof Givat Ram, where the Israel Museum and Knesset are located. I love acting like the tourist and visiting these other neighborhoods which feel like their own cities.

One of the things I enjoy about visiting the shuk is going up to the downtown area and walking past all the shops and cafes. The neighborhood was definitely hurt from the intifada bombings (which is probably why business sprouted up in the German Colony and Baka), but things seem to be doing well these days. A lot of the downtown area has also been rehabilitated over the last twenty years, and I see other projects are underway. Nevertheless, don’t expect anything like  downtown NY or DC here. Many buildings still have a grimy, falling apart look to them.

There’s one little alley that I really like walking down called Yoel Moshe Solomon Street. The street as well as the surrounding area contains pubs, cafes, small galleries and shops that lend a kind of artsy feel to the neighborhood–which is called Nachalat Shiv’a. One of my favorite cafes, Tmol Shilshom, is located on Solomon Street. I’ve only made it there a few times, but I love the Bohemian surroundings, and they regularly have book talks or speakers in the evenings. I just have to make an effort to get up there and fight my lame, stay-at home tendencies. 🙂

 But I really love my neighborhood, and everything I need is right down the street–a dairy cafe, 2 bakeries, a grocery store, a pizza place, an ATM, some small hardware stories, dry cleaners. When I went to the Old City today, I realized that while I like visiting, I wouldn’t want to live there. It’s too intense for me. (It’s interesting that Jerusalem itself is an intense city, but the Old City is definitely the most intense part.)  I’m not saying that it’s not a beautiful, fascinating part of the city. It’s just that I prefer a place that’s more laid back, more mundane where I can grab a coffee or a piece of pizza down the street. I need a place where I can just live.

Back to the Old City: as I was on my way out of the Old City, I peeked in a small shop with lots of archaeological artifacts. A bald-headed man was patiently painting one artifact with some type of liquid. “Come in, come in!” He shouted at me. I sat down next to him and introduced myself. He told me that archaeology was actually his hobby and that he was a professor at Hebrew University’s MBA program. He didn’t mind that people came in and didn’t buy anything because it wasn’t his livelihood so he liked talking to strangers.

I asked him about the artifact that he was ‘painting.’ He told me that he was using this liquid substance to preserve it because it wasn’t in good shape. He said the artifact could be a bucket or a helmet, but what interested him most about it was an Arabic inscription that encircled it. According to him, this inscription dated from the Mameluke period, a period when Arabic writing became highly stylized and decorative (because Islamic art forbids the use of graven images).  

After speaking with him for 20 minutes, I got his contact info and went on my way. I’m hoping I’ll run into him again when Eric is with me and they’ll be able to talk a lot more about archaeology.

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