Saturday, December 21, 2002

Back from the desert

Yeah, I know, it must have looked like we vanished off the face of the earth. And in a way, we did the exact opposite; we vanished into the navel of the earth. More on that in a bit.

We're back in Jerusalem, and the Armenian boys have their Internet cafe by the Jaffa gate full of hostel-dwelling backpackers and little kids playing games. The music when we came in was a pop Christmas song whose title escapes me. There is a Christmas tree here; one of the few we've seen. In the Tel Aviv bus station were about a dozen Russian venders selling Christmas items - reindeer, red santa hats, lots of beautiful tree decorations - and nothing at all religious. That's not too odd; former residents of the Soviet Union are known for celebrating a religious holiday in a secular (ie, government tolerated) way. Even the Jews.

Here in Jerusalem, we have to seek out the Christians to find anything that remotely resembles the decorations we find at home. And still, it's very understated. Possibly because of the lack of tourists, but I suspect this is just their way. (The song playing now is a hip hop piece titled "Doesn't Feel Like Christmas." Nope - the owner didn't like it, and now he's flipping through his CDs.)

It sure feels like Christmas tome, though, as I sit here in a t-shirt and my fingers are freezing. Indoor heat can be tricky, and it is also expensive. And, it's freezing out. Yesterday, Jerusalem suffered a deluge of - what else? - Biblical proportions. (She's been waiting to say that, I hear some of you saying. You're right.)

It didn't just RAIN - it poured. All day, and most of the night. Our driver, who was told to pick us up at the Dead Sea at one o'clock, 90 minutes from downtown Jerusalem, left at ten, worried that the roads might close.

You have to connect this all together, OK? The desert, the Negev, that place, as Cecil B. DeMille would put it, "where heroes and prophets are forged" is pretty much 20 minutes away from our sidewalk cafes and shopping malls. You leave green hills with leafy trees and flowers and turn into a terrain of rough sand and rocks, a desert of rubble. And then, an hour later, you are looking at mountains whose peaks are *below sea level* - the lowest spot on earth.

How do we know how hard the rain is in Jerusalem?

Because several miles away, water is trickling into the ancient riverbeds I would have sworn hadn't seen water in a thousand years.

This place is very, very tricky. But an amazing place, too. Where else can you spend the morning floating in the Dead Sea, unable to do more than that in the strangest body of water on earth, and then rush through a monsoon to go to a shabbat dinner overlooking the Old City? Ya gotta be here.

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