Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Sunday in Jerusalem (I)

After a whole week of beautiful, spring-like sunshine, Saturday was fairly overcast, bursting out in heavy rain by nightfall. Today it only drizzled a bit, but the sun never really came out, and it was very warm and humid. Not normal for this time of the year, I am told.

This morning I went to Mass at St Saviour's church, which belongs to the community of Italian Franciscans who, among other things, maintain the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, of which I have written. It is a not terribly impressive 19th century attempt at the baroque, but not embarrassing. Sadly, though, the acoustics are absolutely horrendous.

The 10 am Mass is always sung in Latin, except for the canticles and hymns, which are contemporary Italian. For a community of at least 35 friars, mostly young, the singing was mediocre to poor, but there were a few good voices. Sadly, the acoustics don't help. A young friar seated in front of me turned around to me after the service and said "you have a beautiful base voice." (I was honored, but not suprised ). Meanwhile, I don't want to tell you about the celebrant, who used a microphone but was still basically inaudible and who, curing the sermon, spoke ... so ... slowly ... that ... he would have put you to sleep if you could have heard him.

Anyway, my friend and colleague Hazel and her husband Paul didn't turn up as planned, which cast a pit of a pall on an already gray day. We had planned to go shoppng and then have lunch. So I carried on alone. (I later made contact with them. They are moving out of their flat, returning to England, and today was Zero Hour. They just couldn't get away).

Aother colleague of mine, Ezz, is a Palestinian Muslim, and his immediate and extended families have various shops in the Muslim and Christian quarters. I went first to his father's shop to meet him, then went in search of Fayez's shop. I found him, and we spent more than an hour chatting (as business is always slow on Sundays in the winter). I bought the sandals I had been planning to get, and did a deal with Fayez on a narguila (hubble bubble). I then went to lunch at Papa Andreas', a popular eatery in the Christian quarter, before deciding to head back to the hotel for a rest.

But, as fate would have it, I was waylaid by Mohammed. I didn't know his name, but when I was last here, I often passed by his shop, which is on the Via Dolorosa, and consistently declined to go in. This time, I had no choice. He swore up and down he remembered me, which is possible.

It is a tiny place, only a couple of meters wide and not more than 15 meters deep. It is an absolute tip: I don't know how he knows where anything is, because except for some things that are hanging overhead, everything is just sort of lying in piles. If you don't watch your step, you will step on something. I forgot to say that he sells mostly Arabic-style clothes, but also backpacks, embroidered pillow covers and leather bags. A real dump of a place.

But after being waylaid at the beginning, and being offered the obligatory coffee or tea, I was trapped. In the end, I had planned to buy a jelabiya, the long gown worn by men that looks like a nightshirt, and which is what I use them for. So I got one for my son, too. Then starts the litany. He wanted way too much. I was shocked, even though I know this is the way things work. So I said no way, whereupon he says don't ruin my day, whereupon I say don't ruin mine.

This is all "commercial courtship," but I hate it. Anyway, I finally got him down to a price that I found acceptable, but not really pleasing ... to me. I am sure he was thrilled. I really need to brush up on my haggling skills. (BTW, can anyone tell me what a necklace of lapis lazuli might be worth with at least 25 stones? I think I got ripped off on that yesterday, but that's another story).

After escaping from Mohammed and promising to visit him another day (heaven help me), I dived into the Muslim souk (bazaar) where Ezz's father's shop is, and paid him and his son, Ismail, a visit. I got a lovely photo of papa, which I will share when I get home.

Enough. I made my way back to the hotel, only a five minute walk or so from Damascus Gate, and had a couple of drinks. The went out to find a money changer, which I did, before stumbling across a neighborhood barber, where I got my head properly shaved, rather than just close-cropped with electric clippers, as usual.

I feel like a new man, sitting here in my brand-new jelabiya. I'll sign off now, head upstairs and put some "proper clothes" on and go to the hotel restaurant for a proper Arabic dinner -- lasagna.

Ciao tutti.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Albion,
> (BTW, can anyone tell me what a necklace of lapis lazuli might be worth with at least 25
stones? I think I got ripped off on that yesterday, but that's another story).

That varies very widely, depending on the grade of the stones, size of stones, workmanship, the metal in the necklace (precious or base). At least twenty or thirty dollars, anyway.

I buy my materials for my beadwork at Fire Mountain Gems, among other places, though my antiquated browser won't let me into their website catalog, I think you can search there for lapis lazuli. Their page for beads of the stone is 101 of their current comprehensive paper catalog. You can get, for example, a 16" strand of 12 mm spherical beads, Grade A, of lapis for $83.41, or less if you buy a number of strands (these are ready for making into an actual wearable necklace). Likewise, you can buy a strand irregular "brickish" pieces, approximately 5 to 8 x 4 to 4.5 mm, drilled, B grade, for $7.97, down to $4.95 in a larger quantity of strands.