Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Old City Stroll

After a huge and delicious lunch with Alan's visiting family members, we changed our mind about toddling home with our full bellies and instead turned left out of the hotel and headed to the Old City. How had we managed to spend two months together here and never done this before? We walked toward the Jaffa Gate through the new and fancy outdoor mall that sits just outside the Old City.

One interesting thing about this holiday of Shemini Atzeret is that all the sukkahs stand empty, not yet disassembled but no longer in use. As we've noticed throughout the last week, the sukkot vary from makeshift to fancy. In the mall, we saw an excellent example of the way that holiday observance and commerce intertwine here. It's something I feel joyously alienated from during the Christmas season in the United States. But here it was: a sukkah outside a coffee shop that is part of a growing and popular chain whose walls were gigantic banners advertising the chain. Not quite McDonaldization, but pretty close.

Most of the boutiques in the mall were closed for the holiday, but we saw people coming out of the Old City with goods they had purchased there. Passing through the Jaffa Gate we moved into the lively shuk where all the shops were open and catering to both foreign tourists and secular Israelis visiting the city. Here, one could buy any number of varieties of shofar...if one spent money on the holiday. Making our way through the crowd, a bit unsure of the best way to the Western Wall, we decided to start following the growing stream of Orthodox Jews holding prayerbooks and heading intently past all the open shops -- they were not here to shop.

We spent a little bit of time by the Wall. Being there with Alan makes it all the more distressing to me that we can't go up to the Wall together. Last time my parents visited Israel, my dad just stayed with my mom and they went up to the Wall on the women's side. I'm honestly not sure that would be safe at this point. I found the feeling of being under an Orthodox regime saddening, angering, and decidedly unwelcoming.

Leaving through the Dung Gate, we then walked along the outside of the Old City walls, down a street that was better-suited for tourist buses than pedestrians. The sidewalk disappeared and we walked atop low wall, looking out over amazing views of both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods. Suddenly we were walking high above a park in which a young man was riding bareback on a white horse. Our stroll continued but the young man on his horse sums up for me the evening's magical quality.

Here's the route we took:

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