Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Warm smiles

Early this morning, I walked to the pedestrian square to watch the city wake up. I was greeted by a warm smile of a shop keeper, which simply said, "I'm glad to see you, neighbor." That smile gave me just what I needed to relate to the city.

I noticed an absence of urban noise. In my room overlooking Abdali in Amman, the traffic noise persists throughout the night. Loud yells and incessant honks. However, in Jerusalem, the city takes a while to rise. I also noticed that as I walk along the road the absence of cigarettes smells. I did notice parking meter attendants because Amman does not have any working parking meters. They are missing out of great sources of funds and it would help improve the parking situation.

It is the season of morning glories. They line trellises and lampposts and fences. Nice. Trash collection and deliveries are made at night, which allows vendors to be stocked during the days. It is a sensible approach to let the graveyard shift prepare for the day.

I snacked on peaches and plums, which are in season. They are so tasty and ripe. I sat on a park bench as I enjoyed these luscious fruits. I watched the city come to life.

As I meandered back, I found my favorite street just off of Ben Yehuda. It is quiet and scenic and it is not far from my favorite coffeehouse. It is a smallish pedestrian walkway where a bar and a pedestrian could uneasily coexist. The art galleries have just enough goods in them to make them interesting and not overwhelming. A large photo of Bob Marley was plastered to a storefront and when a young woman turned around, her face was decorated with piercings. Two things I don't understand - piercings and the heroic stature of Bob Marley. I do like some of his songs a great deal, but I don't get into the cult of it.

Just as I was able to head back, I had another warm, natural smile by a different vendor. Smiles can be the best thing in the world.

The other night when I landed in the city, a young man from Austria had just come from Petra and was finding his way through Jerusalem. His name is Jonathan. I helped him navigate the area and lead him to a place with a selection of hostels so he could be all set. He was very grateful. I was glad to show him around a bit.

During the afternoon, I took the 75 bus up to the Mount of Olives to stop at the Church of the Ascension. I was frustrated because it was closed and no one knew why. Everyone told me it always stays open. I'll just have to be like Ignatius who had to return so he could see the direction the feet of Jesus were planted as he ascended into the heavens.

My goal was to walk down the mountain and visit the historical sites. I think I could write a travelogue on "out of the way" places because I seldom take the tried and true routes. As I descended, I detoured to take a look at the Mormon establishment that occupies a prominent part of the hillside. Next to it is a Jewish school, which is odd because it is in East Jerusalem.

I doubled back and headed over to a nearby Church. I talked with a Palestinian man for a bit before this young man came by. Her English was fairly good and I told her I wanted to walk down to the Garden of Gethsemane. She told me she would take me most of the way there. Deal. I asked her the name of the Church and she had no idea. She said they have a few animals there.

She took me to the Polish convent right next to the Church and she said that she is in training to be a sister. I asked her again about the Church saying the sisters must certainly know the name, but she had no idea.

She pointed me in two directions. I could take the narrow route down the mountain that led past the ghetto area of drug dealers or I could take the narrower rocky path where I had to watch out for snakes and I had to realize I was trespassing on Palestinian property. Wow. What a choice. This isn't in Fodor's.

I stumbled down the mountain and had to climb along the rocky wall. I decided it was easy to walk along the wall than to walk along the street with fast cars. The road is very narrow. They call it Palm Sunday Road because Jesus would have walked there from Bethany. A Protestant taxi driver pulled over and said I was on his land. He had the warmest smile and he loves his house on the Mount of Olives. His van was very nice as well. I could tell he worked hard at his craft and did well for himself. He was a respectable man. He offered me a ride to the Lion's Gate where I could begin the Via Dolorosa. I accepted because the Garden of Gethsemane was closed.

After a long walk home (over 25,000 steps in one day), I just about reached the crest of the hill where I stay. I was thinking about those warm smiles and how they made me feel very respected and welcomed. Just then, a man tells me I have a nice smile and I should always smile. How odd I thought. Then he asked if I would walk with him to the Old City. Of course, I wouldn't, but he wanted to show me his shop at 52 St. Mark's Street where he could make me some coffee and I could buy his goods. I simply replied, "Keep smiling" and I went back to my residence. I like the smiles that communicate warm, human acceptance of the "Other."

Life is not about which religion we belong to but whether we are honest, kind, loving, and caring people. These are my new categories to ponder.


  1. What a fantastic posting: a travelogue, travel diary, and spiritual nugget---all in one. Your descriptions of your surroundings bring the landscape to life.

    1. Thanks, Roberta. Thanks for your good words.