Explore Jerusalem, a city polished by time (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) BONNY REICHERT JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/12/12)
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Jerusalem is the kind of city where you want to walk everywhere in
bare feet. There´s no beach or boardwalk – nothing but Jerusalem
stone, which is used to face every building, and often to pave
floors, sidewalks and outdoor plazas. And when I spent my first
summer in Israel, I really did slip off my sandals at every
opportunity. The stones are big and square, smooth and warm and
polished by time. I was just a typical university student, away from
home and doing something that would make my mother cringe, but walking
everywhere with my shoes in my hand made me feel as free and wild as
a travelling hippie.
Warm stone underfoot is not the only feeling I associate with
Jerusalem. I loved the wind that would pick up out of nowhere and
blow through the hot city at dusk, suddenly cooling the buses and
crowded streets. The sounds were unforgettable, too – the rapid
Hebrew, the Muslim call to prayer, even the odd silence on Saturdays
when everything just stopped. You can´t understand a place without
knowing how it tastes, and Jerusalem was exotic that way as well. For
a few shekels, my friends and I would go to a falafel joint downtown
and load our pitas with fried chickpea balls, hummus, smoky eggplant,
cabbage, pickles, lemony salad, tahini and hot sauce. We smelled like
garlic all the time.
When my time in Jerusalem ended, I was sure that I´d be back soon –
and often. Was I ever wrong. I got involved in school, then marriage,
kids and work. Whenever it was time to choose a big destination,
Israel was always too … too far, too expensive, too political, too
dangerous. Exactly what drove me to get up and buy a ticket one dark
Toronto morning was not so much a quest for religion as a search for
a buried self.
And just like that, I was driving into Jerusalem on Route One, not
knowing what to expect. I´d more than doubled my life experience
since my last visit; how could anything about Jerusalem be the same?
At first, it wasn´t. I walked into the Mamilla Hotel with the thrill
of entering a sophisticated new space, rather than the comfort of
rediscovering a familiar one. The attached outdoor mall, full of
fancy international shops, seemed too slick. But as I walked under
its graceful arches and felt the tumbled stones under my feet, I
changed my mind. Maybe this was the real Jerusalem? Munching on a
flaky spinach boureka from Roladin, I strolled happily, somehow
managing to keep my shoes on.
To really get my bearings, I needed to walk. And so I walked – for
the next five days. I started by entering the Old City at nearby
Jaffa Gate, working my way through narrow paths and ancient sites
where time hadn´t made a dent. In search of a place where we used to
get hot flatbread topped with za´atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix), I
wandered from quarter to quarter, wondering if the sections had
become more distinct from each other, or if I just hadn´t noticed
their sharp differences before.
Mornings were a time of joyful overeating. An Israeli breakfast isn´t
a bowl of cereal or a little croissant. I loaded my plate with
cottage cheese, feta, cucumber and tomato salad and many types of
smoked fish, as well as my new favourites – labne, a thick and tangy
Lebanese yogurt, and ikra, a rich dip made with fish roe. To drink, I
ordered botz – literally mud in Hebrew, but actually Turkish coffee
made thick from boiling and lots of sugar.
Good thing I kept walking. I passed the stately King David Hotel, and
the Montefiore Windmill, poised above a valley that looked and
smelled just as I remembered. Setting out in the other direction, I
found bustling Ben Yehuda Street and the falafel places that were
still serving it up crispy with all the toppings. But the vibe felt
touristy, so I ate one standing up, and pushed on.
Evening was on its way when I walked up to the old central market,
Machane Yehuda, and the familiar breeze had started to stir. The
narrow aisles were as alive as I remembered, the produce piled high
and the customers in their modest dresses alongside the men in black
hats, the nuns, tourists and little kids. This was the place where
I´d tasted my first persimmon and fresh fig, a place where you could
still buy pomegranates the size of softballs for about 30 cents each.
But wait – what had happened to my ancient market? Where did this
stall selling extra virgin olive oil and trendy vinegars come from?
And I´m sure that cappuccino bar wasn´t here before? Certainly, back
in the eighties, you couldn´t get traditional halva (a dense, sesame
paste candy) in flavours like passionfruit, mint and coffee bean. Nor
would you have paid more than $10 for a thin slab.
I´d changed too. With chef school and travel under my belt, the
market´s brilliantly coloured spices and intricate Middle Eastern
pastries were no longer strange but sublime. Less self-centred than a
20-year-old, I watched people more carefully, and thought about the
places they were taking their market bounty. I wondered how it felt
to really live in a place as complex as Jerusalem.
Turning a corner, I walked up to a market-based restaurant right out
of an Alice Waters handbook. While sipping a cold Israeli rosé on
Machneyuda´s patio, I watched the waitresses hustling around in their
jeans and hoop earrings, and behind them, the Hassidic Jews in their
long coats and beards, averting their eyes and hurrying home with
their parcels. The old Jerusalem was exactly where I had left it, and
it still stirred in me those just-a-bit-wild feelings. And the new
Jerusalem? My grown-up self was in love, again, and would not be
waiting another 20 years to return.
Michael Bauer is an educator and adventure tour guide in Jerusalem.
Here’s how he’d spend a perfect day in Jerusalem.
“One of my favourite places to spend an hour away from the wonderful
but intense Old City is the Austrian Hospice. Behind an uninviting
door on the Via Dolorosa, you discover a peaceful building and
garden, built in the 19th century by Emperor Franz Joseph himself.
Climb a few steps into a relaxing Viennese atmosphere, get an
excellent cup of coffee or a delicious apple strudel. You can sit
around the little garden or even better, take your snack to the
rooftop, where you´ll find one of the most spectacular lookouts in
“The food that I would eat only in Jerusalem is meurav Yerushalmi,
which translates roughly to ‘Jerusalem mixed grill.’ The dish is made
on a flat grill and consists of chicken hearts, spleens and liver
mixed with lamb and seasoned with onion, garlic and spices. The best
place to get it would be one of the meat houses along Agripas Street,
where each proprietor would be happy to claim the dish as his
father´s original invention.” As told to Bonny Reichert
IF YOU GO
Air Canada and El Al both fly to Ben Gurion airport several times a
week. From there, you can take a regular taxi, a shurut (shared taxi)
or a bus to Jerusalem. You can also rent a car – the drive is easy,
at least until you get into town.
Where to stay: Mamilla Hotel is well located and beautifully designed
by Canadian Moshe Safdie. mamillahotel.com; from about $400 (includes
Where to eat: Don´t miss market restaurant Machneyuda for
contemporary dishes like fluke and watermelon carpaccio, steps from
ancient market stalls.
Emek Refaim is the main street of Jerusalem´s German Colony, a
neighbourhood that was first settled by the Templars in the 19th
century. Today, the street is trendy and buzzingespecially at night.
Try Marvad Haksamim (Magic Carpet) for delicious Yemenite food. 42
What to do: The nature reserve and desert oasis Ein Gedi is less than
a two-hour drive away, offering some spectacular hiking and lush
waterfalls. Just 10 minutes farther, experience the buoyancy of the
supersalty Dead Sea
Special to The Globe and Mail (© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia
Publishing Inc. 05/12/12)
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