In the previous night, and because we wanted to take a Bus in the next day to Jerusalem, our guides (not of the human kind) frighten us to death about Tel Aviv Central Station. So that you understand, its construction started in 1967 but it wasn’t completed until 1993 and here’s why: The complex includes a shopping mall serviced by 29 escalators and 13 elevators with over 1,000 shops and restaurants. Only three of the seven floors are used as a bus terminal. So apparently it’s impossible for a foreigner and even for an Israeli go get out of Tel Aviv on a Bus. This adds a lot of depth to the idea that Israel is not a country where you can get around easily, but not only for the enemies… for everyone.
Scared, we go to sleep with the mirage that there is another Bus Station in the city, quite close to our apartment in Arlozorov Street, but we were actually not expecting that it would be much better that the main one.
But morning has broken and we realize that G-d was on our side and the He definitely wanted us in Jerusalem that day. Bus number 48 was waiting impatiently in Arlozorov Bus Station to take us there and it was an easier task than winning a war against three countries in six days.
Inside the Bus we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we approach Jerusalem while listening to my Ipod and singing a new version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance: Ra-Ra-Ramallah, Ga-za- uh la-la…
As soon as we get to Jerusalem we take yet another bus the The Old City since we still had a couple of hours before our meeting with Emmanuel Witzthum at The Jerusalem Performing Arts Lab. Catarina is crazy about going straight to the Old City and me, like Moshe Dayan, just want to “keep out of all that Vatican”.
But so we go. A nice Arab school boy in uniform leads us to the Holy Sepulchre in change of a few shekels but he was too busy to lead some dumb Portuguese all the way, so we get lost and lost again until we finally get to “where we belong”. Having both been there in our previous trips to Israel we were not too impressed by the grossing image of people kissing the Stone and we go on making all sorts of jokes on Christians and Jews and Muslims and Orthodox and whoever crosses our way but we still manage to take silly pictures inside the Holy Place and live to tell the story.
Since we were now obviously late and my neurosis with the city is growing stronger and stronger and Catarina’s primal fear of anywhere outside the Jewish Quarter is also not helping we end up leaving to Old City through Damascus Gate, in the Arab side, and desperately try to take a Taxi to the (later famous in our talks) Hebron Road, 28.
In Damascus Gate, as Catarina was predicting all the way, the ambience changes immediately (it is Damascus after all) and suddenly we are in a chaotic hot city wanting to go to a place that nobody seems to know where it is. But finally we convince one of the taxi drivers to take us there for almost one million dollars and as soon as the taxi sets in motion we almost provoke a collision, it was not Car Crash TV, it was the Car Crash Reality of our trip.
So by this time I want Jerusalem to explode! Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Western Wall, Eastern promises, Western Spaghetti! And I want to run back to Tel Aviv as bad as a baby wants mommies’ lap. Give me the Jabotinsky Institute racist guide and I can cope with it, give me Hana’s internet chaos and I can cope with it, give me Tel Aviv’s heatwave and I can cope with it… But overwhelming Jerusalem killed me, and it wasn’t softly.
And to thicken the plot Catarina gives me a lesson on how to appreciate every step of our journey and the inevitability of dealing with all the religious mishmash (who would later tell that the religious mishmash would be for me the best of it all and that as I’m writing this I would, if I could, fly to Jerusalem in this precise second to immerge in the mess that, after all, I created… in my head of course).
So it’s with sheer immunity to the Jerusalem Syndrome that I arrive to Hebron (Road).
Catarina wants to enter some holly (as in inaccessible) place next door to the Theatre we intend to visit, but we soon find ourselves furiously knocking at the door, ringing the bells, to be finally welcomed by Emmanuel.
The Lab is a great theatre in the shape of an arena but somehow the people who use it more regularly don’t hold the architect that designed it in a very high opinion, and apparently so doesn’t the dog of one of the girls that pees in one of the walls as we enter the space.
Emmanuel introduce us to some of the programming that we has been doing in the space and we hear about an upcoming event where some Jewish orthodox dancers (does that even exist?) make a piece together exploring the relation between contemporary dance and prayer. Lost? So were we.
We have lunch with Emmanuel. He is an excellent listener and although we still don’t make much sense in describing our project he somehow seems to understand our intentions and the historical ambition of the piece, and in fact he would be the first, of many, to wish us luck in our task. We talk about the danger of our idea turning into a big fat cliché, how Israelis are perceived abroad, drag queens, the lack of information on the Israeli reality in general and even death threats... Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman sang Tammy Wynette, but Emmanuel could make his own version of the country classic. As for us we stand by our man, that very gently invites us to an opening later that evening in the oh so exciting and independent Museum on the Seam.
We go back to the Old City with another taxi driver that had just tricked two old British ladies with the “I don’t have change” strategy (oh Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv).
We strand around the Old City, Catarina is almost ran over by a couple of bicycles and this leads to a primal fear that we are going to be kidnapped and thrown to the sea (but this is not really our story), and so to take her mind out of a new Shoah Portuguese Version she buys a blue notebook that would be used as a diary and an excel sheet. Feeling a bit better because somehow we fed the Israeli economy (we’re fucked up people) we go straight to the Western Wall where it’s safe (right!) and, touched by the divine, we end up in the most amazing experience that we could have asked from our little trip to Jerusalem: Tekes HaShba'ah (yes I’m going to explain what it is!)
Tekes HaShba'ah is the “Swearing in” Ceremony after basic training of the Israel Defense Forces, where young soldiers after three months training swear loyalty to Israel in The Western Wall, and receive their M16 and their bible. It was a pretty amazing place to be: a live transmission so that the whole Square could watch (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was being broadcast live on IBA), entire families saluting their sons and daughters, cute boys singing Eurovisionesque songs (something that would certainly never happen in the Portuguese macho army), heart breaking speeches (not that we could understand a word, but the tone was really intense), and finally everybody in the large plaza singing the divine Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem, that so far I had only heard sang by Divas (Ofra, Rita, Barbra). It felt so wrong, it felt so right…
Smart as garlic (this is only for the Portuguese speaking readers) we left the Western Wall before everyone else, so this way we could find ourselves a Taxi to take us to our appointment in the Museum on the Seam.
Nihad, the taxi driver, once a true adorer of Ronaldo (before he came to the conclusion that Cri-Cri lost his humbleness), left us right at the door of the Museum built in one of the check points that used to divide the Jewish part of the city from the Jordanian side until 1967. The five dollar bill that he gave us as change for our ride has been ever since the marker on all my books about this project.
The exhibition had big names on it like Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Paul McCarthy, and the locals Yael Bartana and Doron Solomons, everything was kind of grand, but also kind of 90’s and it left us pretty cold, to say the least. So… we warmed up with a glass of hot cider and more pictures on the rooftop of the museum, that we shared with an ultra-ortodox Jewish mother and her daughters, a family from the neighbor houses that was invited to come to the opening. Orthodox art, orthodox viewers. As good as it gets.
It’s now time to leave Jerusalem and return to Shlomo Hamelech Street back in good not-old Tel Aviv but first we had to find how to get there. While trying to sort out and recognize some Hebrew names that we kept forgetting 5 seconds after we learned about them we met Pavel and Itai, two students that would be again in our way, a few days later. The two of them took us straight to the Sherut (the small yellow bus) that would let us in Tel Aviv and, while walking there, Catarina makes sure that she had invited yet another few dozen Jews to come to live in Lisbon, and in this way taking a first big step in the Portuguese solution for solving all the problems in the Middle East.
In the Sherut we get to tell the story of our project once again to a nice polyglot Israeli couple, and once again we kind of scare everyone when we say we’re going to Ramallah and Hebron in the West Bank. Catarina wins more and more respect when she says that the first time she was in Israel was during the second Intifada (what she never said is that this was her 3rd time in Israel, not the second… but you know… Intifadas… once you’ve seen one…). Speaking of War of Stones, we hear again about the notorious episode of the settler that tried to run over a Palestinian boy with his car while being attacked by stones. The couple have different opinions. He thinks the settler was protecting his own child, that was inside de car, from the stones. She thinks there is no reason in the world to try to kill a child. And this is a normal subject to talk about on a peaceful Sherut ride… Israel is Surreal sometimes.
The road is long, the conversation flows and we are again in Tel Aviv, right in the place we never wanted to be in the first place, the scary Central Station, the closest I’ve been to a Mumbai Slum. And since being a Millionaire becomes us but we’re no Slumdogs, we head straight to poshy Shlomo Hamelech to sleep in good sheets with dirty hands.