On the Farm

On the Farm

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Shopping in Jerusalem's Old City

Today David and I went back to the Old City to get our groceries, not just because it's one of the few places to buy food on Shabbat, but because the choice is so interesting and the quality is good. The passages and shops are jammed with people but everyone is good-natured.

The shopkeepers, all of whom have okay to excellent English, are happy to explain what everything is, will even let us sniff and taste. One man insisted we smell his freshly ground Turkish coffee; another made us sit down for plates of his hot dessert - a base of cooked cheese topped with something orange-coloured along with hot orange-flower water ladled over it, topped with chopped pistachio. (I am searching the Internet for the name.)

He couldn't serve it fast enough for the crowds who hustled trays of it to their tables and gobbled it up. It was ... odd. I can't define the taste, but we decided, finally, that is was terrific. It's just that it tasted slightly of cooked lamb - but that was probably because there was a guy next door grilling kebabs.

Speaking of lamb, we bought fresh chops from a man who was butchering the lamb as he went along; people like us kept asking for different bits.

We bought fresh strawberries, persimmons, apples and pears and bread from vendors outside the Damascus gate - a zoo of people hawking goods, a place where you could buy a stereo or a pair of socks as easily as a carton of olives or an armload of fresh mint.

Today our errand was grocery shopping, but I want to go back to the souks , especially to the shops selling the beads for necklaces and to the place that has the wonderful men's hats. The vendors are persistent, but polite; they take no nicely and are happy to talk about their goods and let me take their pictures.

It's been such a hard time for these people. We had lunch last week with a friend who works at the Israel Museum; he tells us visitors dropped from 800,000 to 400,000 during the Intifada.

But things are getting better.

Today we saw more tourists and pilgrims than we've seen since we arrived Today in the Old City, there were crowds today in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which is in the middle of this bustling area with the shops), even tour groups with leaders holding up their little flags, and we haven't seen crowds there for a long time. Last year David was in the church in July and there were only half a dozen people inside instead of the hundreds and hundreds who normally are pushing their their way around the site.

Everyone talks about the economic devastation of the Intifada, a nightmare for Jews and for Palestinians. Now, a week after the Tel Aviv bombing, it feels okay here, really okay.
In fact, it feels just fine.

I have started driving and despite a few hairy experiences, it also feels fine. Most cities have a grid system for their streets. Not Jerusalem. When I stop getting lost I am pretty sure I will enjoy it.

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