A Walk About
When I visited Jerusalem last December in our whirlwind tours of potential schools for Josh, we spent a bit of time in this neighborhood. It was disorienting: small streets, major streets, no grid I could understand, deadends, old beautiful houses, small cramped apartments, new construction, very old construction, construction that looked like it should be torn down, little parks in odd places. I couldn't seem to grasp where anything was in relationship to anything else.
Then we found a school in Katamon, and we moved to the edge of Baka. We're actually in a new high rise along Derech Chevron, which we cross daily to make it to the Teen Ulpan and my own ulpan at Beit Mitchell. Not only are the roadways beginning to make sense, but walking and bussing through this end of Jerusalem is finally paying off: I'm learning where the small shops and neighborhood stores are, who has the best coffee and ice cream, who has ready-made for Shabbat, which store has the freshest pita, where the most convenient pharmacy is for my medical plan (yes, the pharmacies cater to specific plans--fortunately, my clinic and my pharmacy are both only three blocks from our apartment), where the hardware stores and produce markets are.......and a bonus to walking is that I find the short cuts. Well, Mike really found the short cuts but he showed me some and I later discovered others. There are 'streets' that would, in other places, be called alleyways--but they are alleyways redolent with jasmine, hibiscus, eucalyptus -- and oftentimes, on pick-up day, with week-old garbage. Okay, its NOT the City of Heaven--it's a very earthly place that has the beautiful next to the mediocre and sometimes it smells bad, too.
And then there are the small streets, especially in Baka and Moshava Germanit. The latter, literally "German Colony" in English, contains the old Templar houses built by devout German Christians who made their homes on the then-rural outskirts of Jerusalem. These devout Christians lost their homes here and in Bethlehem HaGalit during World War One when the British seized them as 'enemy aliens,' later deporting them and keeping their properties. To their east and south is Baka, which was once largely Arab and Moslem with a scattering of Jews. There is still an Arab population here, and we can hear the call to prayer some evenings when the wind blows from the west. To the west of Moshava Germanit is Katamon, also once largely Arab but Christian. Jews lived here also, but they weren't a majority in these neighborhoods like they were in Talpiot and Arnona to the east and south of Baka. These neighborhoods became overwhelmingly Jewish between 1948, when Arabs fled from the war zone and throughout the 1950s, when Israel housed some of its hundreds of thousands of "Arab" Jewish refugees who arrived penniless after being expelled from the Arab countries in which their families had lived for generations.
When I walk home from ulpan, there is a downhill stretch that is open field with an old oak tree and what I think is a tamarisk. The field itself is unkempt and full of knee-high grasses. There is an olive tree in one far corner next to the ruins of a some kind of building. It's impossible to tell if this was a house or just an outbuilding. There's no construction in this field because the neighborhood is fighting the erection of a 14-story hotel here (rightly so--the original plan approved was for seven stories) which would overwhelm the neighborhood housing and the small Armenian church across the street. What I love about this stretch is the view: from the sidewalk I can look across this field towards the Old City of Jerusalem, and past the convent church on the far hillside bordering the Old City walls, and I can imagine what this area was like one hundred years ago when it was largely rural. There are few places like this in Jerusalem any more.
Slide off the main roads into the small streets: Shemayya, Shimshon, Gedaliahu, Hananya, Lloyd George, Cremieux, Emile Zola, and you find a world of alleyways with high stone walls, tumbling flowered hedges, mature trees, and between the slats of a gate, a glimpse of a cool green garden with a patio. Some gardens are well-kept and inviting; others are run-down and neglected. One of the things I enjoy most about walking home is that I can take my time and meander through the small streets, glance into the gardens, admire the architecture and wonder what the people who live in these homes do with their lives. It isn't meant to be intrusive; it's just that anyone who lives in such an interesting place must also be pretty interesting themselves, right?
The picture above is a home in Moshava Germanit by Egle, who posts at Jerusalem Shots. He also took the photo of the street below.
Moving into Katamon along Rachel Imenu (Rachel Our Mother) Street will bring you to Josh's high school, the gate to which is just to the right beyond the round-about in the street. This is the road we walk every Friday, his one day out of ulpan, so he goes to high school on Fridays. The street is never this sedate on the days we go there, so this must have been an early morning shot, but the neighborhood is lovely. One of these days, I may be able to wander through Katamon and discover its side-streets and alleyways in addition to those of Moshava Germanit and Baka...