Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #200 – BBQs, bonfires, and family visits. the Omer in Israel.

A thick cloud of bar-b-q smoke hung low over Jerusalem Tuesday morning when I picked up my parents for what has become their annual ‘Yom Hatzmaut through Lag B’Omer’ visit. As they left this past Sunday night, the smoke was just clearing from a night of bon-firing that, in my totally-prude-about-fire opinion, bordered on the obscene.

To give you a flavor, in Brooklyn we used to drive around Mill Basin to see the over-the-top Christmas decorations – each house out-doing the next. When I picked up Barbara from her Lag B’Omer bonfire (yes, it is normal for children to have their own bonfire), we drove around Efrat looking at one bonfire bigger and higher than the next, some of them as tall as those Mill Basin houses.

As always, the visit was fun but too short. This time we had the added bonus of my brother and sister in law joining us so that it became a holy land family reunion. Complete with camel rides, Dead Sea floating, old city touring and lots of (you guessed it) Israeli breakfasting.

Cultural differences that I’ve gotten so used to I hardly notice were brought back to my awareness as my brother and his wife had the oh-so-familiar experience of wanting to buy something and the clerk refusing to sell it to them.
Mark: We like this shirt for Sarah.
Clerk: It is too big.
Sarah: Um, I like it.
Mark: Me too. I like it on her.
Clerk, decisively: No. It is too big.
Shirt is taken away.

Also I was reminded of the lack of formal definitions in this country. For example, wheelchair accessible.
Bob: I’m taking your parents to Gavna for lunch.
Me: But what about all those stairs?
Bob: I called. The guy said there’s a way to get a wheelchair to the upstairs.
Me: Wow. I had no idea Gavna was wheelchair accessible!
Me: How was Gavna?
Bob: Great!
Me: How did you get to the upstairs area?
Bob: We went up the stairs.
Me: But what about the wheelchair?
Bob: Yeah. The guy came to help carry the wheelchair up the staircase.

And then there’s the formidable sign prohibiting entry to everyone except for authorized vehicles. What exactly is an authorized vehicle? What constitutes authorization? Is there authorization after the fact?

Anyone who has been to the Kotel (Western Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem has either been dropped off at the exact entrance by a taxi or tour bus or walked through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City. Either way, you cannot help but notice the cars mysteriously parked right there at the Kotel entrance. How did they get there? Who authorized them to park there? In that ultimate dream parking lot.

I wanted to drive to the entrance of the Kotel. It’s been a while and I sort of forgot how. I drove toward Zion Gate. When faced with huge DO NOT ENTER signs, I realized that the route I wanted to take was one way. The wrong way. I pulled into the Zion Gate parking lot to recalculate my route. I asked a tour bus driver what to do.
I have my dad with a wheelchair and I want to drop him off at the Kotel entrance. How should I go?
You should drive in through Jaffa Gate.
Drive through the Old City?
It’s allowed?
NO! It is prohibited!
But it’s the best way to go. It’s how I would go.

And so we made our way to Jaffa Gate. Past signs in Hebrew and in English reading:
Entry for Authorized Vehicles ONLY
I figured I could get some ad-hoc authorization from whomever would dare stop me. I then drove in with so much confidence, no one would dare stop me.

We wound through the Old City on the road built in 1898 for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser, of course, traveling by horse back, and not by Mitsubishi Grandis. We all sucked in our breath. As if that would make our car thinner.

And sure as can be, we arrived, without incident, at the Kotel entrance. The car in front of me was involved in a shouting match with one of the police officers guarding the entrance.
Meleh! Ein macomb! (Full! No room!)
He wasn’t buying it and he wasn’t budging.
Ein! Ein macomb! (None! No room!)
I was holding up a line of (authorized) taxis who were starting to beep but I could go no where because of this guy. I was sure the police would be annoyed and frazzled by the time they got to me but no, the same police officer came to my window with a very patient, “ma?” (what?)
I started to explain.
My father cannot walk so well to the Kotel and so we have a wheelchair-
I was confused. I had listened to this same officer shouting ‘no room!’ for about five minutes.
Should I drop him off or park?
He motioned me to go around the car of the guy in front of me. He was still not budging.
And so it was. We were authorized.

* the fish pond is well on its way to full rehabilitation. picture of our new fish (and the 3 survivors from the original crew) to follow.
* paper towels are back in town
* my transplanted (from the drain) lentil plant is thriving in a genie bottle in my garden

1 comment:

  1. Back in the 80s we used to drive our car all the time through the Old City (Armenian Quarter) to get from the Jaffa Gate to the Rova. We always sucked in our breaths to make the car thinner. Glad to know the tricks works today, 30 years later.