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Sometimes when I look at the view from the various hilltops where I live, I feel disbelief. (Disbelief in the most religious city in the world!) How can this be the view when only weeks ago it was lush gardens, clean parks, red buses, brollies and rain? The most sunny day in London could not match this brightness –the light in this photo is at the end of the day, around 5:00 PM.

Since coming to Jerusalem I’ve thought often of Playmobil dolls, the small plastic dolls that come in themed boxes. The farm-girl doll with her sheep and sheaf of wheat. The racer with his car and wrench. The knight with his horse and armour and spear. Because we lived in a country with castles when our daughter was Playmobil aged, we bought many knights. I think of them now, here, because of the crusades. Did she have crusader knights? Whether we thought they were good guys or bad guys didn’t matter, because she discovered that you could pull off not only their armour and helmets but also their hair. The brown-haired knight would, pop, become the blonde knight. All dolls swapped roles.

That’s how I feel when I look at the view here. Like someone picked me up out of my London theme and dropped me into ancient religious-land theme, and popped the top of my head off en route. Pictured on my box would be the wall (both the wailing one and the one that makes you weep) and the Dome of the Rock and Orthodox Jews and friendly Arab shopkeepers and me holding a pomegranate.

And you thought I was going to write about a car, the expat version of the popemobile.

Here’s another view, of the garbage-mobile:

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Look at the King the King the King

How could I resist an exhibition called “In the Valley of David and Goliath”?  The exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem displays artifacts excavated from 2007 to 2013 at a 3,000 year-old site today known as Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Elah Valley. But maybe, just maybe, it was the city of Sha’arayim, mentioned apparently in the bible story of David and Goliath. Why would it be that city, quite apart from its location between the Philistines and the Judeans (near the battlefield where David slew Goliath and thereby created the infinite Hollywood trope of clever little guy against big bad guy)? Because, the museum display posits, Sha’arayim means two gates in Hebrew, and the archeologists found two gates in the walled city they were excavating, and not many sites from that era have two gates, for security reasons obviously. Therefore…. Does this sound like a logic exercise in a philosophy class?

Despite my discomfort with finding biblical quotations as bonus information to the exhibits, I was fascinated. It is pretty cool that archeologists can gather up a bunch of chewed olive pits and use carbon dating to place the site in time. From the Bible Lands website: “Carbon14 dating, on charred olive pits excavated from the foundation layers of the site have determined that this city existed between the late 11th century BCE and early 10th century BCE, the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel.”

The Kingdom of Israel is also referred to as the Kingdom of David. I mention these kingdoms because I felt like someone was trying too hard to convince me. For example, a hand print on a clay wall could mean A or B, depending on what interpretation you bring to it and its context. This exhibition is presenting the artifacts as support for another city belonging to the Kingdom of David (and therefore Israel), although, to give the museum credit, the interpretation is presented as questions: Could this be etc.?

Item: a piece of pottery with Hebrew writing on it.

Item: three small shrines or houses for idols, one of which apparently resembles the biblical description of King Solomon’s temple and palace but looks like a doll-house to me.

Item: or the lack thereof. Bones were found in the food areas, but no pork bones, and the Philistines ate pork so they couldn’t have been living here.

Item: clay pots with thumb prints on the handles. Taxation? Valuation? These along with the walls of the town suggest an organized state.

Proof that this was the site of a city built at the time of King David or thereabouts? Maybe. Even the book about it by archeologists Yosef Garfinkel, Igor Kreimerman and Peter Zilberg leaves it open to question: Debating Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Fortified City in Judah from the Time of King David (Israel Exploration Society and Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

But tell me why do I hear Danny Kaye singing “Look at the king the king the king” as I write this?

Jerusalem

First impression, as someone at the handle end of a taut dog leash: walls, fences, and broken glass. The beige stones of the low walls have holes in them, look old, but they still block us from that apparent field of wasteland, from the hidden courtyards, from everything except this glass strewn uneven sidewalk.

Once the dog has found some dry [cedar? pine?] needles on which to relieve herself, I can notice local life. The people standing on the corner are not pub overflow, as in London. They have come to buy the oval bread a woman is selling from a basket. There is also a basket of eggs. Men speak to the dog but we do not understand. Across the street, a man splashes bottled water on the windshield of his parked car, while the wipers flap, removing dust. For there is dust.

 

Spiders and Art

Wildlife is and should be useless in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless. They are useless in the sense that they do nothing more than raise our spirits, make us laugh or cry, frighten, disturb and delight us. They connect us not just to what’s weird, different, other, but to a world where we humans do not matter nearly as much as we like to think.

–Richard Conniff, “Menagerie: Useless Creatures,” Opinionator Blog The New York Times, 13  September 2014. Brought to my attention by Alan Mattingly in “No Hurry for the Wandering Mind,” The New York Times International Weekly, Sunday 9 November 2014, p. 1.

Plastic land

From England to Canada, from the land of brick and gardens to the land of concrete. A cheap hotel near the airport for one night shocks me back into Canadian life. Carpet on concrete floors — that smell. Plastic cutlery at the breakfast buffet, styrofoam cups, plastic plates, plastic glasses in the room. Zap zap zap. Oh for the small stuffy mouldy room above the pub, with an English breakfast downstairs with real cutlery and crockery, a hot cuppa and no feeling of having violated the environment to eat cold eggs and tepid tea.

Featherlies

Seen from the bus (not today) on Kensington, a man in a cream kurta (long shirt) with matching cap, white embroidered, cradling in his arm a bundle, the white points of which must be sharp, as he twice tries to rest this end of the bundle in his palm then quickly shifts it up. A bundle of peacock feathers, the dark tips curling up over his shoulder. Peacock blue against his cream shirt. Who will buy?

The peacocks in Holland Park, in full feather, seek sunny splotches of grass on which to fan. Throat-piping to the hens hiding in the shrubbery.

White soda foam of a palm in bloom.

Evergreen hedges showing off their hair cuts with bright green new growth.

A tree unknown to me. Its long soft dark green needles fringe branches that hang like skirts lifted for a curtsy. 

Midsummer

Did you ever wonder how the fairies and lovers could, semi-dressed, spend the night in a woods in the third week of June in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? After three Mays in England, I can explain how June can be mid-summer. Of the four warm sunny days that occur each year, two fall before June 21 and two fall after. No, seriously, it is already summer here.

Lupercalia

After sunset, wind rants along the street, kicking newspapers and plastic bags ahead of it, snapping branches down. Into the lamplight hurry suited young men clutching flowers to their chests. Outside a restaurant a man in a car hurls words at a delivery man standing on the sidewalk, “Move your fucking bike, man.”

Reprieve

Tube strike from Tuesday evening through to Friday morning. Water causes natural disasters in areas away from London. The South Downs flooded. A rail line washed away in Dawlish on the south coast of Devon. On Wednesday it rained sideways. Yesterday in the park in the straight downpouring rain, empty of nannies and children, a gardener caught my eye. He said, “‘orrible weather we’re having. ‘orrible.” From under his rain-jacket hood he showed me his crooked teeth. I grinned back agreement, happy that 1) he spoke to me 2) in movie cockney English and 3) that he expressed sentiments I have pushed away all wet week long, for I am the Canadian and am not allowed to be affected by this mild [chill damp] weather. I sauntered on, smiling at pathways narrowed by borders of water.
And today, Friday, a reprieve. The strike is over, the sun comes out. Because I can, because the buses are not overcrowded with displaced tube passengers, I go to the library. Sunny days are so rare that I regret my research.
I have a favourite seat in the upstairs of the number 10 bus, the one with a foot rest. Favoured by others, too, as the window’s smudge of head-level grease shows. As does the food flotsam on the floor. I settle in for the hour-long ride, keeping zipped in the unheated pod rocketing through the city. From up here I can better see the buds on the trees, the Victorian flourishes on buildings, the two-tone brick designs around windows. The traffic chaos of Tottenham Court Road. The empty windows of a building under renovation stalked by a dried-blood red steel frame near Goodge Street Station.
There is a large terrace or court in front of the British library, which I have cursed as the rain swept across it. And the wind. Today it is calm, bright, a place of contemplation away from the traffic on Euston Road.

Street Candy

Ahead of me, a traffic warden in his nasturtium-orange rainwear walks beside a construction worker, his rain pants and vest the colour of an almost ripe lemon. The colours of candy, of a PEZ, of a sweet and sour. Slow in their boots, shoulders touching, they turn out of the rain into the organic coffee shop.

Sounds

Sounds of Spring in London. The leafblower replaced by the handheld pressurized water cleaner, cleaning slippery green off sidewalks. Birds turning up the volume, showing off. The clop clop of the hooves of the police horses soft under the jackhammering at the construction site. The park gardeners pause in their leaf-gathering to look at the neighbouring construction, frowning over why so much for so long.

Moss

In a January melt in Ottawa there would be sleeves of ice on tree trunks and ice varnishing sidewalk edges. After a winter of rain in London, moss slicks the bottom of walls and walk edgings, and adheres to tree trunks in a bright green, almost fluorescent. Not the deep soft green of moss growing on the earth in a woods. This green is like algae, new and greedy.

The park offered a fungal tour. I didn’t go.