zondag 12 juli 2015

J-Town



As exciting as a field excavation can be, it is also a very taxing endeavour. So halfway through the season, the volunteers and the staff get a long weekend off to unwind a little bit. This year, the destination for most of them was the Holy city: Jerusalem.

Dome of the Rock. THE landmark that characterizes the old city
As a place of religious importance to the three great monotheistic religions, Jerusalem is a city with an interesting dynamic. The Old City, confined within walls that have been torn down and rebuilt a dozen times, is bound by a strict set of rules ranging from who can live where to what type of stone you must use to build or renovate in the city. There are four well-defined quarters for various religions, yet they all seem to merge fine within the crowded streets. The streets themselves busy and noisy but follow a side street and you end up in a small square or patio that is all but deserted.

Compared to the Old City, the New City appears to be worlds apart at first glance. Whereas you have to barter fiercely with shop owners to avoid being ripped off in the souk, the New City is all about the price tags and attempting to barter is not considered funny. The limestone and plaster within the walls is a far cry from the concrete and glass of the postmodern architecture outside. In the evening the Old City closes down for the night, whereas bright spots of bars and hangouts light up in the New City. Yet there are some similarities to be found between both the city within the walls and the one outside of them. The Old City is considered to be at the heart of culture, but the New City is littered with galleries and street art throughout, putting it on equal footing in terms of cultural diversity. Furthermore, life in both sections seems to run more on people time, rather than clock time. Both areas are also equally suited if you enjoy ‘people watching’. Just sit down on a crossroad or square with some coffee and watch the broad plumage of humanity that calls the city home, whether it is only for a few days, or for the rest of their life. 

Celebrating the building of the light rail
Jerusalem has a very particular charm to it. The bells of the churches and the adhan of the mosques sounding at the same time have the appearance of a shouting match, with each trying to outdo each other. This is just one example of why Jerusalem seems like a surreal paradox: it is a city wrought by conflict since the first time someone decided it would be nice to have a wall around the place, but also a crossroad of many cultures that share more similarities than some wish to admit. It is a city of both spirituality and trade, of old and new, of habibi’s and enemies, of peace and violence. It is a history that can be read on the visage of the city and the people that live in it.

Umbrella installation. Both beautiful and functional
But more than its sights or sounds, I will always remember Jerusalem by its scents and smells. The Old City is a giant souk and as such it gives one the impression of walking through clouds of scents at every new street and shop. The bouquet ranges from the sugary sweet smell of candy to the nauseating stench of meat going bad. The New City smells like the hot steel of the light rail on Jaffa street. It smells of the sweat of volunteers taking a wrong turn and making a scorching detour along the sun-baked streets. It smells of strawberry slushies that are the perfect treat after a long hot walk. It smells of freshly ground coffee and of melting chocolate in the corner store. It smells of hookah smoke on a balmy night outside the Damascus gate. It smells like a vacation. 
 
Signing off

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