Israel/Palestine: Day 16-18

Sunday, June 3rd and Monday, June 4th

On Sunday we agreed to get up early to try to beat the heat, but only three of us made it out to Petra - my roommate decided to sleep in and ended up sleeping all day.  That was probably the healthy decision, but I was determined to see as much as possible!  So my two traveling companions and I went on to Petra, arriving around 9a.  Our plan: make the trip up to the Monastery, requiring a hike up a rocky, unshaded mountain trail.  My friends decided to take the offer of a Bedouin youth we had met the day before to ride donkeys up and down the trail, and then were picked up by his friend and driven back to the park entrance.  The reason to drive back rather than walk is that it takes hours, literally, to walk from the start of the trailhead to the entrance.  I decided to walk the whole way.  It turns out that our two trips took almost exactly the same amount of time - I arrived back at the entrance only a few minutes after my friends!  Partly this was because I got a short-but-significant head start, and partly because I didn't stop as often to take pictures.  But in case you want to compare the time it takes to climb versus ride, it's the same, because the donkeys only travel as fast as their guides, who are on foot.  Don't believe the Bedouin guides who claim you can make it up in 20 minutes.

A further side note on how profitable Petra is as a business venture: my friends paid their two guides 50 JD each for the 4 or 5 hours that the trip took.  To put this in perspective, that's a better rate than I earn at my job here in the US as an architectural intern, and these young men probably had little to no schooling and might make two or three trips in a day, resulting in a very high rate of pay for a country whose cost of living is much lower than here.  To be fair to the guys, though, they asked for 35 JD apiece, and my friends gave them the rest as a substantial tip.

Back to the story:  We got to Petra around 9am, as planned, so by 10:30 or 11am I arrived at the foot of the mountain trail, a few minutes ahead of my friends on their donkeys.  The hike up was beautiful, although I wished we had arrived even earlier, since by 11 there was very little shade and it was getting hot.  I climbed together with an Australian couple for part of the way, who kindly took my picture at the top.  The Monastery, the main attraction, is very similar to the Treasury down below, except that it's on top of a mountain.  Like the Treasury, it was a tomb, nothing more, with a relatively shallow interior and nothing inside.  I was exhausted but determined to get all the way to the top, so I made the extra effort to climb up to one of the look-out points, as I was advised to do by several climbers on their way down.  The view was of endless rocky desert.

Back down at the level of the Monastery, I drank a well-deserved overpriced Dr. Pepper (they had every kind of soda at the snack shop, of course) and waited for my friends.  Apparently their donkeys had gotten loose during one of their stops, so they took longer to get to the top, but I enjoyed watching the interesting assortment of other tourists there while I waited: Germans, French, loud Americans from somewhere in the South, etc.  Finally my friends arrived, I took their picture for them, and then began my descent.  Twenty minutes down.  And then, the hour-and-a-half walk back to the gate through the blazing desert afternoon.  I was absolutely miserable.  The climb and view from the trail over the valley only barely made that walk back worthwhile.  I took the rest of the day off, checking e-mail in bed.

My shoes:  Petra-fied

On Monday, the two friends who went with me on Sunday left for home, and it was just me and my roommate for an extra day.  In retrospect, we should have left on Monday as well; the extra day wasn't worthwhile.  My friend decided to make the climb to the Monastery, which I wasn't about to repeat, so I spent my third day at Petra climbing solo through the tombs along the main trail.  The trails, if there are any, aren't really marked, so you can climb over most of the area.  I tried to take it very slowly so as not to overexhaust myself.

I saw the main tombs from the map, checked out the mosaics in the Byzantine church, and then journaled while waiting for my friend to return.  We then slowly made our way back to the entrance - not quite so bad this time since it was already 3pm, later in the afternoon, with more shade - and back to the hotel.

In all, I can't say that I would recommend the Petra experience, unless you're a serious hiker or outdoor enthusiast, or if you go in a cooler part of the year, and even then, it's outrageously priced and full of annoyances.  The animals everywhere mean animal leavings are everywhere; the constant hassling was hard for me to take; and there are ugly abandoned shacks in front of every view.  Without a guide or guidebook, it's hard to imagine what life there was like, since all that's left are empty tombs.  It's not much of an historical site or archaeological site, really; it's more interesting for its current inhabitants (the Bedouin who run the show) and its rugged natural beauty.

Tuesday, June 5th

And so, on Tuesday morning, we were ready to go home.  We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up through our original taxi driver.  At the Allenby Bridge, the same rigamarole, but even more, to cross back into Israel: surrender your passport to the Jordanian authorities, get a retina scan (?!), pay the exit tax, wait for a bus, load your luggage, then wait on the bus.  Finally they bring back your passports and the bus makes the 7km trip to Israel across the so-called "bridge."  In Israel, everything gets x-rayed, more passport control, lots of teenagers guards with machine guns.  Once on the other side, we took a shared taxi to Jerusalem, where the driver dropped us off at a hotel with instructions on how to call for the (different) shared taxi service that goes to the airport.  The hotel clerk helped us out by calling, and within an hour (after having a snack at the hotel bar) we were on our way to the airport.  We had to go through a passport checkpoint just to get in to the airport.  Once there, to our unhappiness, we discovered that one cannot check in more than 3 hours in advance.  We left at noon from Petra because there's no way to tell how long it will take to make the trip to Tel Aviv - in our case, we arrived by 7:30p, which was pretty good time (for perspective, it's 128 miles, which in the US would be a 2-hour drive on the highway).  My flight was first, at 12:40am, five hours later.  So we waited in the terminal, had dinner, and finally around 10pm I went to check in.

Since I didn't have any luggage, I tried to find a way to print my boarding pass and head into security, thinking that that would be the normal way to do things, but not in Israel.  Everyone goes into the first security line, where the young Israeli officer asks you questions like:  "What is the origin of your last name?  Did you visit any family or friends here in Israel?  Do you know any Hebrew?" and is extremely surprised if you don't know any Hebrew.  (I also surprised my seat-mate on the plane by explaining that I had never studied Hebrew in school, and didn't know many people who did.)  I suspect that something about my lack of Hebrew knowledge got me flagged for special search, since after finally getting my boarding pass, I was put in the much shorter, but much slower, Line #2.  At first others wanted to join our special shorter line, but as it grew obvious that their longer lines were moving much faster, those of us in my line realized we were in for special treatment.  My bag got put through the x-ray machine twice, then checked inside and out with the gunpowder wand, and I then had to remove all my electronics from my bag and have them scanned twice on their own.  (You can imagine how many electronics I had - netbook, cameras, lenses, etc.)  Finally, my safety scissors were discovered.  "Why do you need these on the plane?" the security guard asked.  I was confused, and replied, "Because I need to take them home with me."  (These types of scissors are allowed on all US flights.)  Apparently they wanted to know why I hadn't put them in my checked baggage, but I didn't have any checked baggage.  "Then they're going to stay here in Israel."  Ok then.  Goodbye, safety scissors.  Enjoy Tel Aviv.

At last I was through, and the rest of my trip home was uneventful.  I suppose I should be grateful that I didn't get any further questioning, since it's common for people who are known to have visited Arab countries (like Jordan, as I had that same day) to receive special questioning.  I had the comfort of knowing that my US passport would be enough to get me through, no matter what.  What's most disturbing is to think that many residents of Israel and the West Bank cannot do what I just did - cross from Jordan to Tel Aviv in a day.  They cannot cross into Israel at all without special permits from the West Bank, and Arab citizens of Israel receive "special treatment" at every turn, especially at the airport.

To my friends and family, thanks for reading along with  me so far - this nearly concludes my special segment on Israel/Palestine!  Look for one more post in the next week or so of my concluding thoughts about the trip, and some more architecture-related reflections.


Book Review: De Architectura (The Ten Books of Architecture)

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books of Architecture (De architectura), trans. Morris Hicky Morgan (1914) with 68 illustrations drawn from a variety of earlier translations of the text (page numbers from the Dover 1960 edition).

For summer reading, I doubt this is high on anyone's list, but I found it interesting enough!  I picked up the ever-so-famous Ten Books when I started auditing Mark Wigley's lecture on architectural theory this past semester; Dean Wigley is the dean of GSAPP and a flamboyant and provocative speaker who can somehow make even architectural theory seem interesting and controversial.  Of course, the semester begins with Vitriuvius and De architectura, as this is the earliest (at least, earliest complete) treatise on architecture to have survived.  Wigley, in his inimitable fashion, waved the book around throughout his lecture, in which he instructed us all to read the preface, maybe the first chapter on the education of an architect, and nothing else.  His argument is that the treatise as a literary form is about establishing credibility for the author as an intellectual, and that as soon as the treatise is successful in this, it is no longer needed.  In Vitruvius' time, the position of the architect-as-intellectual was not yet fully accepted, so De architectura was needed to convince readers, and Caesar, that architects and architecture needed to be taken seriously.  The preface is where this credibility-building takes place, so it is, in Wigley's opinion, the only theoretical part of the text, and the only part worth reading.  After flailing the book a good number of times, he moves on in the same lecture to describe the architectural curriculum, as typified by the Cours of Blondel in the French academy, as the next historical step in the development of architectural theory.

But not so fast, I thought - what is it that you don't want us (or don't think we need) to read?  Turns out it's a lot - and I mean a lot - of lists of proportions for all the bits and pieces of Classical architecture, plus nearly unintelligible descriptions of various kinds of machinery, plus descriptions of building materials based on the EWAF (earth, water, air, fire) theory of the composition of material.  This theory will be familiar to anyone who's studied ancient Greek philosophy, and Vitruvius even conveniently summarizes it.  But there are also many interesting asides about the role and purpose of the architect that show both what has changed, and what hasn't, over the past 2000 years.  Eg:  "When it appears that a work has been carried out sumptuously, the owner will be the person to be praised for the great outlay which he has authorized; when delicately, the master workman will be approved for his execution; but when proportions and symmetry [meant in a different sense than we mean now] lend it an imposing effect, then the glory of it will belong to the architect" (192).  Some things never change.  In Roman through Renaissance times, architects were also builders of military equipment like siege machines; hydraulic devices; stage sets; clocks and sundials; and more.  Thus, the book describes a good deal of Roman astronomy, music theory, military theory, theory of climate and weather, etc, to provide the architect with all the background information he would need to build catapults, aqueducts, theaters, sundials, and hoisting machines.  Urban planning principles, how to find water, and how to lay out various types of buildings are all given in detail.  All of this is pretty interesting to a contemporary architect-in-training who is taught to leave all of this to specialists and engineers.  Two really annoying aspects of the book are the lack of illustrations for the complicated geometric figures described (some have been supplied from later Renaissance manuscripts or reconstructed, but not all), and the horribly repetitive "introductions" to each book which summarize everything that has come before and what is coming after, together with a justification for why each book is in the place it is within the whole and/or why that book is necessary.  Eg, to pick a section at random:  "I have observed, Emperor, that many in their treatises and volumes of commentaries on architecture have not presented the subject with well-ordered completeness [...].  Hence, Caesar, in my first book I have set forth to you the function of the architect and the things in which he ought to be trained.  In the second [...].  In the third [...].  In the present book I shall speak of the established rules for the Doric [...] [etc]" (from Book IV, Introduction, 101).   Yes, I know what you already said, already.

To give Wigley his due, the other nine books after Book I are really only historically interesting for showing what the Romans thought about various architectural problems.  Book I is the most theoretically interesting, since it describes the proper education of an architect and gives the rules for architecture (including the famous trio of firmitas, commoditas, venustas, or durability, convenience, and beauty, p. 17), the "departments" of architecture (building, time-pieces, and machinery), and how to lay out a city.  Vitruvius concludes that architects need to know a little of everything, from mathematics, to history, to music, philosophy, literature, and astronomy, without knowing any of them "perfectly":  "It appears, therefore, that he has done enough and to spare who in each subject possesses a fairly good knowledge of those parts, with their principles, which are indispensable for architecture, so that if he is required to pass judgement [...], he may not be found wanting" (12).  I think this position is still the one taken today: we're required to know a little bit of statics, a little color theory, a little lighting design, a little of this and of that - but in the case where we're called upon to build something unusual, we're supposed to hire an engineer (or two or three).  I wonder if this attitude is what has brought trouble, and leaks, to the works of so many famous architects, who knew a lot but never quite enough about structural engineering or acoustics or what-have-you to ensure that their buildings avoided major problems.  I don't know whether the solution is to hire better engineers - and actually follow their advice - or to require architects to be better trained in more areas of expertise, but this is clearly an attitude that's entrenched in the profession.  And, I must admit, it's what interested me in architecture to begin with: the possibility of finding an application for all kinds of knowledge, the requirement of knowing something about everything in order to build something that takes everything into consideration.

To conclude with what was, for me, the most entertaining part of the book, I thought the preface, written by one Albert A. Howard, to be especially memorable for its description of Vitriuvius' prose style.  As Professor Howard takes care to note in his defense of Morgan's translation, "Vitruvius was not a great literary personage, ambitious as he was to appear in that character.  [...]  In his hand the measuring-rod was a far mightier implement than the pen.  His turgid and pompous rhetoric displays itself in the introductions to the different books [as noted above], where his exaggerated effort to introduce some semblace of style into his commonplace lectures [...] is everywhere apparent.  [...]  The translation is intended, then, to be faithful and exact, but it deliberately avoids any attempt [...] to give a false impression of conspicuous literary merit in a work which is destitute of that quality" (iv-v).  Here's to hoping that we, who are both architects and writers all, avoid a similar damning judgement by our future readers.

Book Review: Brunelleschi's Dome

Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (2000).

In this brief and generally entertaining book, Ross King describes the building of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence with much deference to the genius of chief architect Filippo Brunelleschi.  For those already familiar with the story, there are many additional anecdotes about Brunelleschi's designs for the machinery used in the construction, his ill-fated military work, and his similarly ill-fated attempt to build an amphibious vehicle to transport marble blocks.  For those who are new to Renaissance architectural history and the history of Florence in particular, King describes the process of building the cathedral and dome clearly and with an eye to the important economic, social, and political factors.  Those who have read Vasari's account of Brunelleschi will recognize most of the stories, but not all, and it's helpful to read a less-biased modern view of some of the events of the day.  Finally, for those who have never been to Florence and climbed the dome, this little book will not only make you an expert when you go, but will help convince you that there's no time like the present to make the trip.  My only criticism is that King sometimes throws in his own conjectures just to "spice things up," so to speak, since the real answers are often known (and revealed, once he's finished laying out his possible alternative), and I wasn't convinced that Brunelleschi "reinvented architecture" simply by constructing a very large dome using a clever combination of Roman, and possibly Arab, techniques.  Still, there are plenty of interesting stories in here, and the best part is that they're (probably) all true.  Recommended.

Israel/Palestine: Day 15

Saturday, June 2nd: Off to Petra

I felt much better after getting nine hours of sleep, although I wished I could have felt better sooner to give everyone a proper good-bye!  We left the hotel around 6am to catch a shuttle to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan.  Our plan, cobbled together from internet suggestions and the recommendations of other travelers, was to take a shared shuttle to the Allenby Bridge, cross into Jordan, then take a taxi for the long ride to Petra.  We had originally hoped to have a driver from our original tour company, but their offer was much too expensive.  In the end, our plan worked fine and was cheaper.  With taxis both ways and shuttles from the bridge to Jersualem (and then further to Tel Aviv on the way back), transportation (including exit taxes and bus fees) cost me $220 round trip.  It can definitely be done for cheaper, but we opted for convenience over cost since there were four of us traveling together.

Many accounts of the process of going through the Allenby Bridge border crossing (also known as King Hussein Bridge - not to be confused with the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, a different border crossing) already exist online, so I'll try to keep my own account brief.  I think this elaborate choreography does reflect some of the crazy tensions in the region, though.  This crossing is the only one in the West Bank, so Palestinians use it to leave the country since they usually cannot get to Tel Aviv.  Thus this crossing point is known for its long lines and crowds.  We left Jerusalem at 6:30 and arrived at the border 40 minutes later.  Once there, our shuttle sat in a line of vehicles waiting to be allowed through the first of a series of checkpoints on the way to the Israeli terminal.  At the terminal we had our passports checked, paid Israeli exit taxes ($52!), and waited for the bus to take us across the "bridge" (the tiny river is barely noticeable as you go by) to the Jordanian terminal.  The bus ride isn't free, despite being mandatory, since personal vehicles are not allowed through the crossing.  On the Jordanian side, our luggage was x-rayed, our passports were checked again, and we were through.  In all it took about an hour and there were no lines, so we must have gotten in early enough to avoid the crowds.  At the Jordanian terminal, all the taxi drivers seemed to be friends or colleagues; they agreed among themselves on who would take us to Petra, and ushered us into the waiting car.  Our driver was very nice, but told us at the beginning it would be a 2 hour drive - it's actually over 3 hours.  At least we stopped a few times along the way to take pictures (below).  Finally, six hours after leaving Jerusalem, we arrived at our hotel in Petra!  The hotel, the Amra Palace, was nice, but too far from the site to walk, so we had to take taxis to get back and forth.  In all it was still cheaper to do this than to stay at the much more expensive hotels right across from the site, but a lot more hassle.

After dropping off our suitcases we left to get some lunch and head into the site.  A few words about costs seem appropriate at this point.  Tickets to Petra are insanely expensive, especially if you're only staying one day; the prices have been raised consistently over the past years to ridiculous levels.  Price-gouging became a constant feature of the trip.  I have come to the conclusion that the entire economy of the town of Petra/Wadi Musa (Wadi Musa is the "real" town where Jordanians live, Petra is the area with hotels where most foreigners stay) is based on the supposition that tourists will spend only one day there.  Thus, everything is priced many times what it is actually worth or should cost for that part of the world.  Although 1 JD (Jordanian dinar) is actually worth a lot to a local, all the souvenirs, water bottles, taxi rides, etc are priced in multiple dinars on the assumption that a visitor will spend anything on a one-time purchase.  A further example:  We were encouraged at the ticket office to get a guide for an extra 50 JD ($70), which isn't too bad split four ways, so we decided to do it.  But then after showing us through approximately half the route, our guide wanted us to pay him an additional fee to see an extra part of the route.  Half of us didn't want to go, including me because I was still not feeling fully recovered, and this seemed to upset him, I think because it meant he wouldn't make the full extra fee.  Personally I wouldn't recommend getting a guide - get a guidebook instead, read it before you go, and you'll be set.

Petra was the capital of a native Arab group called the Nabateans, influenced by but autonomous from the Greeks and Romans, and occupied from the 6th century BC through Roman times.  It was an important site on Middle Eastern trade routes.  What remains today are a large number of rock-cut tombs, the theater, some temples, and some parts of the water system.  The tombs are generally very shallow, with small interiors compared to the large, elaborately-carved facades.  The Treasury, the Monastery, and the other named sites are all tombs from around the 1st or 2nd century BC (Hellenistic period).  The local stone is beautiful and red, and dust will coat everything you wear there.  The Treasury is famous from being featured in a number of films (including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  The Siq (the canyon) that leads to the valley is also amazing.  For locations of the various monuments, see this map.  The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking toward the entrance to the Siq

The Siq

The Treasury
In front of the Treasury

Petra is apparently operated mostly by Bedouin, who manage the various animal rides, snack bars, souvenir shops, etc, throughout the site.  The area is set up as one very long path from the entrance to the Monastery at the top of a mountain, meaning that as far as you walk in, you must walk out.  It's a physically exhausting place to visit, requiring visitors to walk miles and climb up and down, all in a sandy valley without shade.  The Bedouin have capitalized on this by setting up animal rides (horses, carriages, camels, donkeys) that you can ride, for a fee, from one part of the valley to the next.  You can see nearly the entire place by riding.  This increases the cost of the visit significantly because the rides aren't cheap, and even the "included" horse ride isn't free because the men leading the horses expect, and demand, a tip.  I decided from the outset not to pay for any rides, not only because of the cost but because I didn't want to touch any of the sad-looking menagerie of overworked animals; unfortunately, this meant that every day's visit was an exhausting workout.

Walking through Petra felt like being a character in a video game: whenever I came within earshot of someone working there, he/she accosted me to offer rides, invite me inside, sell me something, etc.  I did my best to ignore all this because it made me distinctly uncomfortable and irritated to be assailed constantly for money.  Everyone was friendly and few people were rude, but the continuous demands wore me out.  The site seems to be a great business for everyone involved, since over the course of the three days I spent there, I heard many stories from the young people about trips to visit friends in the US, traveling abroad, etc.  It seems that there is a hierarchy of positions within the park that a young person works through: selling trinkets and postcards, then manning the different animal rides, and so forth.  I saw mostly young men working and some women and children; I'm not sure where the adult men work, or perhaps they work behind-the-scenes somehow.  I think Petra would make an interesting sociological study.

Readers, you are probably wondering when I'm going to talk about my impressions of the site itself, the architecture, ruins, and rocks.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves.  It is really a beautiful site, difficult as it is; still, as I wrote in my journal, "I have a feeling that the things I will remember most are not the ones I want to remember..."  The Bedouin, the scraggly and abandoned huts in front of every monument, the oppressive heat and sun and sand, and the sickly animals, are what I will remember best.  The photos will have to remind me of why I went to Petra in the first place.


Israel/Palestine: Day 13-14

Thursday, May 31st

On Thursday and Friday we were able to observe perhaps the entire spectrum of Israeli thought about the occupation in the course of two days, without really intending or planning to do so.  We spent the morning on a tour led by Ruth Edmonds of ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions.  ICAHD is a radical left-wing Israeli group that participates in direct action to end the occupation - that is, group members sit in front of bulldozers to prevent houses from being demolished, and assist homeowners with rebuilding their (illegal) homes.  Ruth was a self-proclaimed Jewish Israeli anarchist and a strong opponent of the occupation.  She directed our bus driver to various sites around the city: to a view over land that's slated to be settled by another illegal Israeli settlement; to a demolished apartment building; to the Wall where it cuts off the road to Jericho, dividing a Palestinian neighborhood in half; to Ma'ale Adummim, the third-largest settlement and the one furthest inside the Green Line, which looks and feels entirely like an ordinary suburb, except for the limited access roads and soldiers; and more.  Ruth even advocated for BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) of Israeli state-sponsored and settlement products, which is extremely contentious for an Israeli to support.  She drew the line at a blanket boycott, however, urging interested people to permit Israeli intellectual and cultural trade as long as it does not aid the occupation.

After our tour with Ruth, we had lunch at a food court in a random mall in East Jerusalem.  To go in to the mall, one must pass by guards and through a metal detector.  But inside this suburban-style, air-conditioned, multi-story shopping mall, there were youths in t-shirts and shorts walking around with machine guns slung across their backs, clearly not part of mall security, but just hanging out.  I don't understand the point of the metal detectors if you can bring your automatic weapon inside...  Very strange.  Other than that, it looked like your average American mall.  The food was decent (pizza with sweet potato on it? not bad!).  I count this as the "neutral" portion of our visit to Israel that day, where probably no one was thinking about the occupation, and we ourselves were mostly interested in looking for women wearing wigs over their real hair that exactly resembled their real hair.  Apparently this is an option for women who don't want to wear scarves but want to cover their hair.  (We saw several women doing this, for the record.)

Following lunch we visited the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, built by Moshe Safdie and opened in 2005, replacing an older 1960s building.  I wish they would have let me take pictures inside because the building was beautiful.  I wrote in my notes, "spare but not brutal, sufficiently monumental" - a concrete bar dug into the hillside and projecting out at one end into space.  The museum was full of multimedia presentations, screens with interviews of survivors, personal effects, artwork, etc, trying to present what happened from a multitude of viewpoints.  There were clusters of Israeli soldiers there apparently on tour, perhaps as part of their training or education.  As I walked through the exhibits, I couldn't help but think about the similarities between the ghettoization of Jews during WWII and the present ghettoization of Palestinians into areas A and B, surrounded by walls and checkpoints, soldiers and guns...

This was a tough day.

Friday, June 1st

Our final day together as a group.  The morning was some rapid-fire sightseeing, followed by a difficult afternoon to conclude our "tour of viewpoints" regarding the conflict.  We were up early to visit the Armenian quarter and Mt. Zion, beginning with the Syriac Orthodox church of the Last Supper (aka Monastery of St. Mark).  This was the first of two churches we visited commemorating the Last Supper.  The church was itself unremarkable, including its miracle-working icon, but the little round nun who showed us around stole the show.  After Ibrahim found her somewhere on the premises, she unlocked the church, ushered us in, went to the front, and proceeded to describe (in accented English) her witness of the most recent two miracles worked by the icon.  She sang the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, allowed us to look behind the curtain concealing the altar and take "one picture," and forbid us from crossing our legs in church or taking pictures of the icon.  And that was that.  Her devotion to the little church and its icon, supposedly painted by St. Luke, were amazing, and she shared her stories with gusto; I don't think any of us will be able to forget her!

Next we walked through the Armenian quarter and out the Zion Gate to Mt. Zion.  There we visited the Church of the Dormition of Mary, big and fairly nice, now a Benedictine monastery known as the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey; and the Crusader church of the Last Supper (the Cenacle, or Upper Room) with Islamic stained-glass windows and mihrab from when it was temporarily converted to a mosque, all sitting atop a current synagogue considered to be (one of the) tomb(s) of David.

Hagia Maria Sion Abbey:


Finally, we visited the church of St. Petter in Gallicantu.  This last church was the most interesting to me architecturally, but we only had five minutes to see it, so I didn't have much time to look.  Really interesting interior supports, and located on the hillside with a great view back toward the city.  The church commemorates Peter's triple rejection of Jesus on the night of his betrayal, which took place "before the cock crowed," "gallicantu" meaning "cock-crow."  The current building is from the 1930s.

After our whirlwind tour we drove back into Jerusalem to attend/support a silent protest by the Women in Black group at noon (see also here), a group of women who have been protesting the occupation for more than twenty years at this same intersection.  They wear black and hold signs that say simply "Stop the occupation" in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, and English).  We were given the opportunity to hold signs and stand with them in silent solidarity if we chose.  On the side of the interesection where I stood, not much was happening - cars drove by, a couple of people waved positive or negative hand gestures.  On the other side of the intersection, across the street, a group of counter-protestors had gathered with a megaphone and a large Israeli flag; that group was mostly men and shouted at us in Hebrew only.  I gathered from the women that they were being called traitors and worse.  I was amazed at the courage of the Israeli women who have been staging this vigil, week in and week out, for so many years in the face of so much opposition, and despite the anger that came from across the street.  Apparently the megaphone was new this week, but the counter-protest was not.  I can't imagine how hard it must be to face your own people calling you a traitor to your face.  Towards the end, a group of three young men went around the vigil asking apparently open questions about the goals of the group, and engaging the women in discussion.  I heard one of them say something to the effect of, "But the Palestinians don't want peace.  Why should we negotiate with them?"  I wished I could have introduced them to all the people I had met in the preceding weeks who work for peace every day...  but their further questions revealed a hidden agenda, and we had to leave before I could listen to the rest of their discussion with the women who stood nearby.  I can only hope that their discussion opened some minds.

The several hours of standing in the hot sun, followed by soda and ice cream for lunch (the place where we had hoped to eat was closed), left me feeling horribly sick.  I had a hard time making it through the afternoon and evening.  I said goodbye to everyone who was leaving that night or early in the morning, and went to bed as soon as I could after our final meal and communion service together.  A rather anticlimactic way to end the two weeks, sadly, but for the four of us going to Petra, there was more to come!