A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Birthday to me!

As is typical for me, I am awake early and will take this opportunity to offer some observations on the

Call to prayer.

While we were walking through the neighborhood yesterday, at one point we heard the call to prayer from the local mosque. Probably was from multiple mosques; it was hard to tell. We heard it yesterday evening as we were walking to the restaurant. That time we saw the minaret illuminated by bands of green neon lights. And this morning, as I was lying awake around 5:00, I heard it. We've all heard this. But it is really a different to hear it in its natural setting in the activities of a busy day. (No, the people around did not stop and whip out prayer rugs.) The sound is quite haunting, and I think, beautiful. I am not about to separate myself from the rest of my day's activities to formally pray, but the periodic reminder of the sacred is lovely. Traditionally in Christianity, it has been done by Angelus bells, and I think I have heard them, though rarely.

Today, incidentally most such calls are delivered, not directly by the muezzin but by a recording. There has been a lot of outcry in European countries--Switzerland comes to mind--against mosques, and one objection is that the Muslim call to prayer is intrusive and of course, an attack on the "Christian" identity of the community. Of course, outcries against mosques are common in the U.S. though I haven't heard of them specifically attacking the call of the muezzin. I find it something I would readily become accustomed to. As a human voice it is a lot less intrusive than church bells--not that I mind them. (As it is a human voice, it would be less likely to wake one up once one got used to it.)

A busy day

Once normal, sensible people got up, we had breakfast. It was super and very Middle Eastern. It had the usual juice, cereal, and sweet bread. Then in another room there were eggs, boiled and scrambled with tasty looking seasonings, though I forgot to try them this morning. Then they had the kind of sliced cold cuts you get in northern Europe. Then they had an array of raw veggies and two different kinds of hummus, two different yogurt dips, olives, seasoned olive oil, feta, a little bowl of zaatar spice. There was pita and whole wheat bread and a toaster. They had the kind of nifty coffee & cappuccino machine we had at our hotel in St. Petersburg. All served in a charming breakfast room looking out on the courtyard of the cathedral.

After breakfast, Nadine, Barbara and I took a walk along about a mile of the ramparts above the Old City. It was challenging, as the stone was quite uneven and there were many extremely steep, uneven stairs. But it was well worth it; you had beautiful views over the city. AND my cardio rehab therapists will be pleased!


Okay, I am going to start to recap some of what I lost, but I shall be briefer.

After we came down off the ramparts, we wandered a bit in the old city, largely through the souk. We saw innumerable tiny shops, all crowded together as we moved through narrow streets thronged with shoppers. I would have expected more tourists and tourist items, but this was not the case until we got closer to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and even then it varied street by street. Shops clustered generally, though not exclusively, by types of wares--marzipan, spices, gold. Clothing stores seemed to be scattered throughout except for the ones that sold glittery harem-type stuff. (Presumably this targeted largely tourists.) At one point we turned on to the Via Dolorosa, on which the souk continued. Stations of the cross were indicated by small signs. One did have a narrow passage leading to a small chapel, so we went in.briefly. At several points we ran into other people from our tour group and exchanged notes with them. That was fun.

All this walking took place over large, uneven stone blocks. I suddenly remembered seeing them in those old biblical epics. One of my friends said her guidebook said the pavement had been uncovered under the ancient Roman pavement.

At 3:00, we met friends at the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of St. James. During the week it only opens for vespers. The church was reminiscent of many I had seen in Russia. The service was solemn and beautiful with deep voiced chanting by an excellent choir of seminarians.

Afterwards we went shopping, led by our friend and tour organizer Karen Getman, who with her background selling artisan works, seems to be friends with half the craftspersons in the city. I bought a plaque from the pottery shop pictured below. I also bought birthday present for myself from a dealer in antiquities: a tiny pendant with a Roman mite coin--the widow's mite--set in silver by the shop owner himself.

For much of the afternoon, we had seen increasing large numbers of Orthodox Jews thronging the narrow streets, mostly young families with children in strollers and held by a hand. By the time we came out of the Armenian church, there were huge crowds, all moving in the direction of the Temple Mount. The proprietor of the pottery shop told us that for the past few years, groups of Orthodox Jews had at this time of year brought a large stone into the precincts of the extremely sacred Al Aqsa Mosque as a way of starting to build the Third Temple. This of course is an extreme provocation to the Muslims, many of whom make a pilgrimage to this site. There is considerable potential for violence. So Karen led us through a shortcut, and avoiding the Damascus Gate, we went back to the guesthouse when we had finished our peregrinations for the day. We know there were explosions and puffs of smoke near the gate, probably tear gas. But we never actually saw anything, nor did we feel threatened at any time.

Just a bit of local color for us. I hope nothing worse for the locals who have to live with this sort of thing. That evening, we dined at Askidinya, an Italian restaurant. It was a lovely place with delicious food. There were eleven of us, which was jolly. A toast was offered to the two birthday girls present. I had risotto with calamari and shrimp.

View from ramparts above Old City

View from ramparts above Old City



Happy shoppers

Happy shoppers

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel

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