Posts Tagged ‘orthodox’

day one in jerusalem

September 5, 2010

A siren sounds to mark the beginning of Shabbat and Jerusalem starts shutting down. As we amble up the stone steps of the old city, worn smooth and shiny with centuries of traffic, an Australian voice calls from behind: “Where are you guys from?” Two young Orthodox men overtake us, vaguely resembling hipsters in their skinny black pants, skinny ties and white shirts with the sleeves rolled up. They heckle us about being from Perth, joking that it’s barely even part of Australia – they’re from Melbourne – but concede “at least you’re not from Sydney.”
The next morning, we set off to follow the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Sorrows or the Stations of the Cross. Fifteen minutes of searching fails to reveal the location of the first station but we make do with starting at number two. By the fifth station, located in the heart of the bazaar, I find myself being slowly sidelined towards a stall selling men’s underpants by a geriatric Italian pilgrim group; after a string of prayers and a flurry of snapping cameras, their leader marches onwards, toting what looks like a tangerine impaled on the end of a long stick.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, is an absolute circus. Scores of Russian pilgrims, wearing yellow caps emblazoned with “Sunway Tours”, yell at each other as they queue. Most of the ladies have swathed themselves in lurid, gauzy sarongs to provide a degree of modesty beyond their pink hot pants and strappy singlets. They pose, unsmiling, for photos in front of the various altars and I imagine them explaining to their friends at home “… and here’s me at the place where they nailed Jesus to the cross…” The Greek Orthodox priest tending the area scoops up fistfuls of wax tapers, extinguishing them en masse barely seconds after their bearers light them in solemn offering. The crush of people is too much and we flee, vowing to return at an earlier, quieter hour.
Exhausted, we flop into the common room of our hostel and order some tea and hummus. As we breathe a sigh of relief, a guy using the computer in the corner looks over his shoulder and asks if we speak English; ten minutes later, we’re regretting answering “yes” as he regales us with details of how he worked as a secret agent for the US Defence Force when he was 14 years old but he still had to pay taxes until 2003 and how there are six branches of the US Marines, just like there are six points on the Star of David and, trust him, it’s no coincidence… He barely stops for breath as we grab our hummus and run away.