Travel Israel : travelogue :
unique experiences in the old city of Jerusalem, and on the via dolorosa
"I boarded a three day ferry for Israel- that land where the spirit had dwelt in matter for perhaps it’s most intimate and arduous episode. Upon arrival I immediately headed to Jerusalem, specifically Old Jerusalem, seat of the Father, the holy land.
There is no more fantastic, mundane, ironic, worldly, otherworldly, harmonious, inharmonious, and otherwise completely contradictory place on earth than Old Jerusalem. It is an impressive conglomeration of ancient Roman walls, early Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish holy sites, Arab markets, cobbled alleyways, and trinket shops, all packed into a few square kilometers of humanity, history, and hunger. Hunger for salvation, hunger for power, hunger for money, and hunger for peace. The entire occidental drama, with all its passion and angst, collides here in the throbbing epicenter of Old Jerusalem, where a neverending parade of Orthodox Jews, Muslim merchants, Christian pilgrims, and an eclectic array of travelers from all over the world come seeking God, redemption, inebriation, or truth. Whether any of them find any of these whatsoever is a mystery to me. If I found anything it was inebriation: two parts ethanol, one part ethereal, which is a proper human martini.
The first thing I did upon arriving in the Old city- after checking in and setting up a mattress on the rooftop of the Petra hostel- was to walk the via dolorosa …in reverse. This was a stroll partly intended, and partly not, for I had read about the via dolorosa a number of times, and had imagined it as a sacred path leading through a bucolic landscape, which would make for a pleasant walk and a unique historical pilgrimage as well. But in searching for the route, through the chaotic tangle of the labyrinthine Old city- which is not bucolic at all- I came upon the last station, Golgotha, first, and then, out of sheer pragmatism, retraced the entire pathway in reverse, to its origin, the first station of the cross, the betrayal. This act of heading up-stream, as it were, against the grain of history, was, as I said, unintended, though when I realized what I was doing, I was pleased. For though it is impossible to walk the world’s most famous pathway in the opposite of the normal direction, without knowing it, I did not do this as an affront to Christ and his ardors along this way, but was yet glad to symbolically scorn the agonizing, parroting, plagiaristic herd which walks this path now and every day. Enough, I say, of the crucifixion. Enough of the sorrow, loneliness, betrayal, and blood. The path Christ took ended two-thousand years ago, and He is no longer a dying God, not in my experience anyway.
I suppose that walk I took on my first day in the holy city was somewhat symbolic of my trip, which had very little to do with piety and alms, though I was certainly interested in the actual land the Man had once roamed free upon. I say free because, to me, Christ was the first libertarian man, for he was the most wild, most unkempt, most recalcitrant and most human being to have ever set foot upon this earth. And I wonder if it was the unrelenting freedom within him which terrified the others, who lived in cages of their own devising, and therefore they had to either destroy him or face themselves.
But I did not go to Jerusalem to alleviate such quandaries, nor did I go for a spiritual pilgrimage, because the only place to go for that is within, and no journey nor destination outwardly can get us there. In fact, during my time in the land of Cain, I found myself mostly hanging out with a couple of other lone wolves- a Danish and a South African man- both of whom had also left their mates, for one idiotic or perilous reason or another- and both of whom were therefore perfect unwholesome and ungrounded mirrors for the estrangement I was creating and feeling from my own lover at the time. Compared to these guys, however, I was like a tea-totaller and family man, as they were so far away from any type of unity in the flesh that only heaping doses of Vodka and Arak, the Arab liquor, could keep them functioning within their dull and relentless suffering.
The three of us were camped on the top of the Petra, a high point in the Old city, overlooking the whole vainglorious and groaning assemblage of zealous fanatics and penitent supplicants. I spent my daytime hours wandering alone through the catacombs and alleys of the many archeological and architectural sites in the area, hovering inwardly in a state of suspended awe and tension from walking the stone streets which were heavy with thousands of years of strife, struggle, and salvation.
In the evening I would return to the domicile and my brothers, and we would sit up on the rooftop overlooking the entire mad show, as darkness fell and a calm descended over the clangor, and we would remain there, putting back the beers, and soaking within the ensconcing mist of humanity’s highest aspirations and lowest depravations.
To sit up there, in an ancient land filled with modern conflicts, and to have the loneliness of separation eating away at you within- burning a slow burn that does not scorch but devours you unknowingly, like coals smoldering through the roots of a forest, until the forest is dead and no one imagined that it was happening- is to experience what happens when you have wings but no roots.
Those were hard and beautiful nights, staring out across that thick knot of aggression and ideology, crammed into the ruins of an age long past.
From where we sat you could see the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the four quarters, the Temple of Solomon- the place at which he is said to have ascended into heaven- and the Dome of the Rock- the second holiest site, after the black rock in Mecca, of Islam.
It was toward this mosque that my Danish companion- who had lived in Israel, off and on, for over a decade- pointed one night and asked if I could see the ‘black beam’. It took me a few moments to retrain my focus, but then I perceived what I could not understand, and what scientists have been making ad hoc hypotheses to explain ever since it was first recognized- a black beam, the consistency of light, but not light, in fact, its opposite- a beam of darkness, running from the golden pinnacle of the Dome of the Rock, up into the sky and disappearing into the very heavens themselves. Muslims claim this is their connection with God, with Allah, which seems to me as reasonable an explanation as any other. For the ‘black beam’ is a phenomenon beyond explanation, because, to the best of my knowledge, darkness cannot be projected; only light can be projected. But this was a beam of absolute darkness, blacker than the night, which is why it could be perceived only at night.
A very odd event, to be sure, and, to this day, it remains one of the most inexplicable peculiarities I have ever observed.
Let the physicists and materialists say what they will about such occurrences, for me the Old city of Jerusalem appeared as a confluence of many primeval streams, and the mysteries within and around it betrayed the profundity of such sublime convergences, whose turbulence creates and maintains the spirit’s tangle in the realm of time. A tangle which I have come to fear, abhor, desire, and cherish.
Were life for me but a mere unobstructed vantage point, like the Haas Promenade, on the outskirts of Old Jerusalem, where one can see equally in both east and west directions, I would no doubt ease into the spacious gap where struggle and temptation are but spectacles of no import but to color the show. Yet life for me, and I expect all others, is no mere vantage point, and is instead an intimate exercise of an all-consuming penetration into and through what can never be grasped but only hallowed, cursed, or avoided. And perhaps this is why the darkness is as necessary as the light, why the flesh is as required as the spirit, and why love is as essential as indifference.
Indifference is the vantage point from which we choose the targets of our arrows of love, hate, or ambivalence. Looking down from that height of carelessness we see a wretched ghoul and pass over, and then further on we see a tender child, to which we descend. Looking from the height of indifference we find the places where we will swoop down and enter with sword swinging, kisses flying, or boredom, or awe.
Without the vantage point the tangle is insurmountable. Though without love or anger in our hands, the tangle is but a knot of death. And so we need to be above, and we need to be of.
That we stand above, on a far-off hill before coming into life, and then, with a desperate mad plunge, take upon ourselves the ardors of this coat of flesh- which is no garment after all but an integral part of our true beings, and a part which we have returned to retrieve and claim as our own- it is only in this way that we can attain also to the transfiguration, the ascension, where the spirit and flesh are reunited and rise up together as one."
Books by Jack Haas
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