And they returned by a different route

There was no Christmas music playing in Ben Gurion Airport at midnight last night.  Or was that this morning?  And how did it only take us five hours to make an 11 hour flight?  That’s dumb math, I know, but it is always striking to lose or save time so suddenly.  It’s also striking to go from one culture to another so suddenly.  JFK is full of Christmas music, albeit mostly stuff like Eartha Kitt singing “Santa Baby.”  That’s preferable to some crappy choral arrangement of hymns that are not really in season yet.  Not liturgically anyway.  I reckon liturgical time is as relative as any other measure of time (as Einstein wanted us to know.)

Einstein would have loved to make a thought experiment out of time in Jerusalem.  The west side gets dead on Friday around about sundown.  Cars disappear and pedestrians turn out in a place where many are shomer shabbos (cf. Walter Sobchak “Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit *don’t fucking roll*!”)  It’s a refreshingly peaceful time of the week that we got to spend stuffing our faces and enjoying the company of the Newlyweds and a bunch of other wedding guests.  There are, as I understand it, certain drawbacks to the practice — like the possibility of having rocks thrown at your car if you drive through the wrong Orthodox neighborhood.  But for our limited exposure to Jerusalem, it was a very pleasant way to wind down the trip.

Except for those few Einsteinian hours we spent in another time: the beginning of the Muslim work week.  Muslim prayer takes place on Friday, of course, so by Saturday morning they are back at it.  Travelling east to grab some breakfast at the only open spot, the sumptuous American Colony Hotel, we crossed an invisible but very real line into Arabic time in East Jerusalem.  (The sausage links and Christmas garland in the American Colony might constitute a third reality, but that’s too much for me to process at 10,000 feet.)  The swirls of dust kicked up by a heavy wind and caked into our hair by a steady drizzle did not deter a hearty bustle in the Arabic Quarter of the Old City.  Since it was our last chance to dance inside the walls on this journey, we dove in to the Damascus gate and let the calls of the vegetable vendors swirl around us.

Eartha Kitt they are not, nor is she them.  Her familiar voice is in many ways comforting, but the sensation of being hurled back in to some of the least palatable aspects of our predominant culture (the commercialization of Christmas and the TSA) is a bit much.  It was hard to leave Jerusalem.  Hard to leave friends, hard to leave such a powerful place, and hard to ride the 10 passenger bus through the Judean hills as the car sick woman in front of us retched into a plastic bag.  But it also feels good to be going home.  Chapters are ending and other chapters are about to begin.  This experience is probably way to fresh to have perspective on right now, but it will certainly be coloring our lives for a long time to come.