It is never easy to begin an intelligent line. Cycling around for poetic thoughts grips your energies. Writing is compromising your brilliant unwritten thoughts, making space for banal overused phrases. Windows to your soul are always made of blurry clichés. You see them only because you’ve been trained to appreciate their repetitive triviality.

Keyboards are the witnesses of modern insomnia. I drank a cup of black coffee before bed, and, instead of sleeping, I spent the night away stencilling Umlauts, Cédilles, Ra’s, Double U’s, and Bet’s into different words. When you shut your eyes with your arm, sparkling stars light up the darkness, eventually diminishing into a black-grey aroma. Despite the whiteness of “grey”, we see “grey” as a closer variant of the darkness. Its paleness requires a usurper – an engulfing imminence of control.

Keyboards replace the pen. I play the piano on my laptop’s black keyboard, writing music in five different phonetics. Arabic, English, and Hebrew predominate the Indo-European figures.  I’ve never been an expert on choosing the right phonetics, and so I let the white contrast decide.

You don’t talk about grey in “thank-you land”, where the wind whistles on the native farmlands of North America. Tents paint the roads and piazzas of occupied Palestine. There they shout for justice and fair public housing. Old and young come together to celebrate their solidarity through an organically-inflicted homelessness. Here, when in pubs and extracurricular hubs, all that awaits you is a glass of foaming beer and a long ringing “thank you” from the smiling lady in black. All you can do is smile back, and see cartoonish white bubbles as the tents dissipate into your glass.


A Jerusalem Bus Ride

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Bus Rides, Jerusalem

Why is it that the last spot one scans on a bus is the first to be avoided? Is it not the intimate contact with a stranger? A passing glance that crosses the glance of another is one of the most personal encounters. Through that split-second of visuality, you have managed to invade someone’s privacy. Sitting on a bus – the bus experience – is that of avoidance. The first thing you do once you’re inside that rumbling machine is look for an empty place surrounded by much empty space. Your first objective is to find a sanctuary of privacy.

With a stranger, your glance is the most expressive of all – with no reservations, you allow your thoughts and existence to seep out and find a reader in a stranger. Lack of context engulfs you with a chimera of safety. No context is good impression – a clean slate of superficial prejudices. In a stranger you encounter an objective reader – no biography or certificate is provided. He knows no name of yours to feed into a search engine in Wikipedia. That is why, once glanced at, you change your location. The person who has just internalised you has become a factor in the history of your sacred glances. Once a stranger enters for the first time, his right to another glance becomes conditional – dependant on the potential of a trusted friendship, allowing you to masquerade new characteristics and histories.

I Look to the left and look to the right, check the front seat and check the back seat. I check the caller ID and the back seat again. Upon finding a soulless space, I press the ringing “Answer” button. My auditory and visual Arabesque-ness cannot impose itself upon strangers aboard a Jerusalem bus.  I cannot scorch the ears of the shattered original immigrants of Jerusalem, nor spark an ominous vision for local commuters.  Arabic holds too many painful connotations to the Jerusalem bus rider, so I use it sparingly.

Speaking that devilish, threatening, unofficial language, and here I apologise for interspersing politics with poetics, would usually strike you with a troubled look, unless your neighbour is a young man who thinks it is exotic and a la mode to befriend an Arab, thereby striking a conversation that proves his cosmopolitan grasp of reconciliation. When he ascends, I descend. Substituting the intonations of my vocal chords, I use my pattering shoes to drum the beat of his refined anthropological research, outside of a halting bus.

Sore Throat

Posted: July 19, 2011 in Jerusalem
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So Jerusalem has finally aborted me and my throat has become the first bearer of symptomatic nostalgia. I have eaten the apple of escapism, and the allure of Jerusalem returned to blind my sore eyes. My mind wanders back to the charm of the old market merchandise, ridiculously overpriced to suit the touristic ebb and flow, only to be immediately dropped with the first mention of “Marhaba” or “Ya’ateek el ‘Aafyeh” (Hello, and May you be strong and healthy). Yes, I am bearing the soul of efficient bargaining to you; so go ahead and use it, then come back and thank me for the discount.

Within less than 24 hours, I have become an Orientalist. I do not wish to leave the warmth of the East, nor enter the fake lustre of the West. I want my baker, greengrocer, and bookseller to accompany me to the far end of the Western world. I want to eat my Hummus in the old city and indulge with a sweet Mutabbaqah from a 150 years old raw and untouched kitchen. I want to be able to buy my mint and parsley from a lady farmer patiently sitting at the side of the market’s pathways. I want to be able to drift through the Lions Gate and observe the majestic chasm between the golden Church on the Mount of Olives and the holy smell of garbage containers right outside the ancient walls.

I wonder when the next time I climb up to the Mount of Olives will be. And here I will disclose another secret. The view they show you of Jerusalem, that with Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques in the background, is nothing compared to the serene view of the Desert and the Dead Sea on the other side of the observation post. There you’ll get to see the beauty of the pale colours of the sand, sea, and the separation wall that envelopes the grey Palestinian villages. It is pure poetry.

I mix one tablespoon of apple vinegar with another tablespoon of honey into a cup of warm water. This home remedy is supposed to soothe my aching throat, but sipping it takes me back to the steps of the Austrian Hospice, where I would always have the pleasure of feeling like a tourist in my own city (maybe it’s because of the overrated Apfelstrudel they sell there). The coldness of the estranged walls of this building that engulfs dozens of tourists and German-speaking residents seeps through to my secret touristic cells and rejuvenates them.

I will miss walking around the streets of West Jerusalem and being marginalised into a tourist or an immigrant Jew who speaks Hebrew in a funny accent – garbled enough to sound like a foreigner, yet not rough enough to sound like an Arab. It is always a pleasure trying to explain to them that I’m neither French, Argentinian, nor American, but that, surprise surprise, I was born in this most beautiful land, where the Arab guard greets me with “Shabat Shalom” (may your Sabbath be peaceful) on a Friday evening, to which I reply “Shabat Shalom” as well, neither of us realising or caring about the origin of the other, because we all want to live in peace and harmony.

In Jerusalem you do not have to fit into the hegemony of the masses; it matters not to which religion you belong, and it matters not which language you speak, but when you ride out of it on a bus full of screaming babies and cell-phone crazed passengers, you’ll realise their hegemonic attempt to get rid of a sore throat, or maybe just remedy it.

The view from the Austrian Hospice rooftop

Moving Out

Posted: July 2, 2011 in Jerusalem
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I moved into this house 9 months ago, and today I give birth to a bitter Palestinian presence on the bed of a personally customised attic. My attic allows 1.67 meters of human flesh in height and sets no restriction to width or volume. Anyone beyond that height will have to stoop.

Right next to my Leonard Cohen poster you will find postcards from various cities from around the world. Mahmoud Darwish poetry is taped on the wall, and creeping up next to it you will find a light-mustard sticker with the shaded map of historic Palestine captioned: I AM FROM HERE!

Too patriotic for a countryless citizen I’d say. Yes, I am one of those. I am one of the happy few holding a blue passport with the chandelier of Judaism printed on its cover and my grandfather’s name added to my ID (for security reasons, of course). My window overlooks the Russian Compound of West Jerusalem, and my neighbour’s window overlooks the Damascus Gate – the entrance to the East Jerusalem colourful market. East and West still exist – Beirut and Berlin might be free of them, but Al-Quds is doomed to use them for many years to come.

Yesterday I was told that our apartment, located in the beautiful neighbourhood of Musrara in Jerusalem, has to be vacated by the end of next month. No, it’s not one of those evacuations where Israeli soldiers stand by and watch a poor Palestinian family move out. This is merely a business transaction. The owners of the house wish to sell it to richer people, and we, the tenants, need to find another place to live.

My counter-occupation plans will have to wait I guess. I’ve always wanted to re-occupy this Arab-style house occupied in 1948 and declare it as the capital of the lost property of Palestine. An Arab living in a Jewish-owned house is a rarity in this city and I need to seize this opportunity and take the first step towards Palestinianizing the neighbourhood.

No no, I’m not one of those self-victimizing creatures claiming the loss of land. The reformed history books tell the truth; my grandmother’s family didn’t run away in 1948. That would be a stark lie. During a quiet and nice evening when the Haganah soldiers were razing houses and killing their residents near Jerusalem, my grandmother’s family sat in their living room in the green and peaceful Baqa’a neighbourhood (now called Ge’ulim) and decided they were going to reward such gallant deeds by leaving Jerusalem without taking any possessions from their house, preferring homelessness in Lebanon.

They left the key as a gift on the threshold. They figured the soldiers shouldn’t waste their time looking for it or waste their energy knocking down the door. They figured they must rest after such a productive day.

So yes, my plans of re-occupying the once functioning Palestinian hotel in Musrara have failed. I will leave my key on the threshold of the apartment so that the new religious owners don’t waste their prayers on looking for it, but instead save them for scrubbing off the wall where my light-mustard sticker gasps in surprise.