Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Israel, Jerusalem Shuk (Souk)

Faithful Reader,

Firstly, my apologies for the lack of an update this past week. Life post-move has been quite hectic, but I'll be doing my best in the upcoming weeks to keep the posts at least semi-regular.

The first place we visited in Jerusalem was the Shuk, or market. The word in Arabic is Souk; I was continuously struck by how similar the two languages are. The example most people know is, of course, the word for peace: In Hebrew, shalom; in Arabic, salaam.

A shuk is an open-air street market where you are expected to bargain with the merchants, who are constantly shouting goods and prices at you in Hebrew. My Hebrew at this point, having been in Israel for all of two hours, was nonexistent, except for "yes," "no," "hello/good bye," and numbers one through ten. So you can imagine the mental overload upon being set loose here for almost two hours:

The sound of the shuk was almost unbelievable: a cacophonous trainwreck of transactions, arguments, languages falling over each other. But the smell of the market was something else altogether:

Spice merchants abounded, hawking everything from coriander to sage and about a thousand smells I couldn't identify. I'm not sure how much of this was the extreme sleep deprivation (awake clock: 41 hours), but everything seemed to be richer: smells, definitely, but also sounds, colors, tastes. The food had layer upon layer of spice that came at me like waves of different colors, and Hebrew has a primal, guttural quality that's like listening to English in high definition.

In the midst of my olfactory reverie, my friend Karen (also a New Yorker) remarked, "Doesn't this remind you of Chinatown?!" And, sure enough, right next to her:

Fish! The other smell that seemed to be everywhere in the shuk was coffee:

I didn't notice this until after I took the picture, but the man in the center of this shot, sitting outside a café in the shuk, was staring right at me. I guess I did kind of look like a tourist:

Maybe it was the backpack? Or, perhaps, the constant smirk of giddy elation. Awake clock: 42 hours.

Even from the beginning, we could all see that Israel (and Jerusalem in particular) is a place where the old and the modern are in constant collision. Case in point (Melanie, this one's for you):

On a decidedly un-lofty note, Israel is also home to the largest produce I've ever seen. This pumpkin was seriously intimidating:

... or is it a squash?

This man's picture is plastered all over walls throughout Israel. Is he the messiah?

The ancient and the modern is far from the only open contradiction in Israeli society. Military service is mandatory for all Israelis, even women, and everywhere I looked I was confronted by the reality of a militarist culture borne of necessity:

But the balance to the constant threat of war is still difficult to describe. It was the sense that, even though I didn't speak the language or know the culture, even though I knew I was a foreigner, I never felt like one. This sight, just outside the Israeli equivalent of a dollar store, was a sign of things to come:

Another sign of the future: new friends!

Next time: Shabbat, and a gorgeous Ethiopian church.

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