Days of travel across distances at modern speeds become a blur of tiny anecdotes and waiting, of being taken, of being nowhere, until the end. And at the end, we are in Jerusalem.
The anecdotes of scene and people: We flew on Swiss, and it reminded us of airplane trips long past: enough space between seats to breathe and stretch, small meals in small containers with small utensils, struggling to taste real. But, to me, it still felt like flying in a metal tube with nowhere to go, an environment I can’t in barely any way control, sardines bent at odd angles lined up like dominoes, so close that tolerance of others is forced upon you. We had a short layover in Zurich. What a beautifully designed airport – how unique to two New Yorkers, an airport that wasn’t built to feel like a long passage between subway stops, stone and wood in Zurich more prominent than neon, construction barriers, and chrome. Breakfast of muffin or croissant at a little café with a display of beautiful European sandwiches and drinks that promise actual satisfaction. And the traveler’s pleasure at hearing new voices and accents and languages streaming around you. Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Not quite as beautiful but still more designed and welcoming than JFK or LaGuardia, airports that seem to know they got it wrong the first time, constantly remodeling pieces but without the sense of being a welcoming transition that we found in Zurich and here. Ben Gurion has a way of flowing crowds gently but firmly and very efficiently from plane through passport checks and baggage claim and customs to the door – with almost no niches or corners or blind hallways along the way. It shocked me how fast we were through.
And then the sherut, the van that took us and 7 strangers to Jerusalem, driven by a short and stocky man who seemed trained to fit the image of an Israeli van driver. Turning corners at full speed and braking at the astounding sight of another car, and not just once, screaming and laughing with a friend on his (hands-free) cell phone. Stopping in front of one building, then another, his female passenger says no, no, not here, and finally alongside the overgrown not yet green garden of a rundown building and telling his passenger, here, number seven. She’s a round robustly built woman with dyed orangish hair, a long coat, and accented English I can’t place. She is quiet and almost firm. No, it’s a different house. You wanted seven, this is seven. No I don’t think so. Yes, that was five, there is nine, what comes between them? Seven! I was here once, this is not the building. He grunts, argues, shrugs finally, turns another corner, goes further down the last street we had gone partway down, and there it is, the right apartment building and a small 7 on the wall.
But we are speeding and braking and debating in Jerusalem, golden stone and scenes of children playing, dogs being walked, and seen a few brief times between the walls of these shops and apartment buildings, a golden dome crowning terrible disputes about earth and god.