Jerusalem is so contradictory. For all its deep, tangled historical roots and self-conscious cosmopolitan air, it’s still a small town. Sometimes, climbing onto a crowded bus during rush hour, squeezing past old folks laden with bulging shopping bags and tired soldiers talking into cellphones, hoping you’ll find at least a standing space with some elbow room, you feel like Jerusalem is just a dinky little Middle Eastern backwater.
Then again, sometimes the overwhelming sense of history rising out of every stone grabs you by the throat and obliges you to acknowledge that Jerusalem is indeed the navel of the world. Nowhere else do you feel so aware of your place in time. Aware that your personal life story pulses and flows with a million, million other stories – lives played out on this ground even before King David conquered it, up till this moment, as you cross the street.
A mundane errand took me to the navel of the world recently. Once it was done, I met a girlfriend for lunch on Agrippas Street, near Shuk Machaneh Yehudah.
We stopped in at a little place serving an Italian menu. My ravioli looked wonderful, and so did my friend’s -
but the chef must have been in a bad mood that day because the pasta was stodgy and heavy as bricks. Mine, stuffed with artichoke purée and bathed in lemon juice, was too sour for pleasure. I sent it back. The replacement wasn’t much better. Our stomachs protested and we didn’t order dessert.
On our way out, kvetching under our breaths, my friend remembered something.
“Let’s go to the etrog guy,” she said.
I had read an interview with Uzi-Eli Chezi about his medicinal juices based on etrogim – citron fruit. My curiosity was already piqued, so I was glad to walk up to the shuk and find the small juice stand on (where else?) Etrog Street.
The owner wasn’t there, but all the juices were. The salesman offered a variety of fresh fruit juices and refreshers: a goat’s milk yogurt flavored with passiflora; something called “Rambam’s Drink”; ginger and apple juice;
and citron juice mixed with other fruit and with wheatgrass. Even with Gat.
A sign claimed astonishing cures for every kind of ailment – from ringing of the ears to detoxication of vital organs and from increased virility to (logically) recovery after birth.
Prices are low, but I particularly liked the offer of a subscription for frequent customers.
On sale were also Yemenite Zchug, and Etrog Soap.
The salesman offered us a taste of a cool, sweet, dark green, citrusy juice. One sip wasn’t enough. It was so good, we each ordered a large glass. We felt refreshed and oddly energized almost immediately. My friend said that her stomach felt lighter. I noticed that too.
“Thank you,” I said as I paid the salesman. “What was in that juice?”
“Citron,” said he,
Well, I had to laugh. Never thought I’d take Gat in any form, but I did that day.
We stepped out of the shuk and decided to meander around the 19th-century neighborhood of Nachlaot. Crossing Agrippas street again, a shop window reminded me what it’s all about:
There are some lovely streets and courtyards in Nachlaot.
Here is the place where a well once existed. I imagined children hauling on a rope to bring up a sloshing bucket for their mother before running off to school- housewives pausing to exchange a word there in the afternoon – and maybe, towards evening, a 19th-century Rachel shyly accepting help from a dark-eyed youth who just happened to be hanging around there…
Then my eye fell on this little piece of graffitti.
Back to the 21st century, with a thud.
One last glimpse of the old, romantic neighborhood before turning on to King George Street and taking the bus home…
The house next to the well, all possible openings painted blue to avert the Evil Eye.
Jerusalem of Gold…till the next time.