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Teach your children well

I don’t usually pay attention to the people who are sitting around me at a restaurant. Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. But yesterday my mate pointed to me a couple sitting at the table next to ours. “Look what their baby’s eating for dinner” – he said.

And I looked. The German (or possibly Austrian) couple Mr. Fat Belly and his wife Even Fatter had filled their daughter’s bowl with French fries – and filled it to the point that said fries were falling on the table, on the floor and onto the baby’s lap. The baby, she couldn’t be more than eighteen months old or so, was having nothing else.

We are staying at one of those super-beach resorts where people help themselves to food and drink as much as they like. The food display was impressive, from fast food (pizza, burritos, spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips, roasted chicken, ham, hamburgers) to vegan (bananas, pineapple, watermelon, mangoes, melon, cauliflower, peas, carrots). And yogurts, jellies, smoked salmon, cheeses, chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake, ice cream, meat balls, coleslaw, tempura, fried or boiled eggs…. any food anyone could think of. Yet Mr. Fat Belly and Mrs. Even Fatter just chose to fill their daughter’s plate with fried slices of potatoes.

Oh well, not our business.

Today we were coming back from a late show when we almost collided with something small in the darkness. It was the baby, wandering about the garden on her own. The beach resort is huge, with each hut surrounded with palm trees and bouganvillae shrubs, and pools scattered here and there – so as to give the impression that you’re spending your holidays in a wild place. The only way to find your way to your hut is to check the zone (A;B;C;D;E…) and the numbers (100,101, 217,324…). The child was all alone, there was no other adult around. My mate and I were utterly surprised. It was after midnight. What the hell was doing that baby, still wearing her beach clothes, wandering in the dark?

My mate went to try to locate either Mr. Fat Belly or Mrs. Even Fatter. We didn’t want to leave the little girl alone, but I was well aware that I would frighten her if I picked her up. Being German, or possibly Austrian, she wouldn’t understand a word I said. So I just kept following her and making sure she didn’t go near any of the pools. Given the size of the resort we agreed on a 40 minutes wait before I called the police.

35 minutes later my mate appeared followed by Mrs. Even Fatter, who was holding a beer that kept spilling as she walked, or rather waddled. She picked up her baby (but she held to her beer with the same care) and I was so angry that I shouted “do you know that there are paedophiles out there, or don’t you even care?” but she just shouted at us something that sounded like blutigen ainmischung auslander.

I wish the little girl all the luck in the world. With such a  mother, she’s going to need it.

The Way of Sorrows

Via Dolorosa

We are, by now, in dire need of a drink. Mint tea for me, hot and fragrant. I retrace our steps on the map and paint the route we walked. I watch literally hundreds of people following our steps, the steps Jesus the Christ is supposed to have walked (some ten or maybe twenty metres below the pavement, bien entendu).

The route begins at the place where Jesus Christ was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate – note to myself: stop thinking of Bigus Dickus. Then it goes back to the flagellation place, where Jesus received thirty-nine lashes. Then it continues more or less in a straight line towards the place where Jesus fell for the first time; zigzags to where he met  Myriam (I still don’t know if this Myriam is Mary Magdalene or Mother Mary; my mates, all Christian, don’t know either). Then it goes on to the place where Simon of Cyrene took the cross, to where Jesus met Veronica, and to where Jesus fell for the second time. Simon of Cyrene apparently didn’t carry the cross for very long.

The path goes up to where Jesus is said to have comforted the women of Jerusalem and  afterwards  retraced his steps, cross and all, to the place where he fell for the second time. And no wonder. The Way of Sorrows goes straight for a while and suddenly disappears; against all probabilities makes half an U-turn to nowhere in special – there Jesus fell for the third time, got up,  retraced his steps  again, and headed on, at last, straight to the Golgotha, where he was disrobed and crucified.

I’m still trying to make sense of this absolutely crazy Path of Grief, Way of Sorrows, Via Dolorosa. And it does not make sense. The crucifixion place is now in the Old City center; sometime it must have been outside the city walls.

I do not doubt a dissident rabbi would have been crucified by the Romans; crucifixion was a common capital punishment and anyone who knows anything about the old Romans knows they did crucify people, Spartacus and his army of rebel slaves being the most famous of them all – if only because Kirk Douglas made a wonderful job in the movie. But this Way… well, this way makes no sense, not even twenty metres below the pavement. And Romans didn’t conquer half Europe doing senseless things.

Anyway, we followed the Path; and if we had received thirty-nine lashes before the start and had to carry a heavy cross we would have been dead long before arriving to our final destination.

Bethesda- Saint Anna

We hadn’t thought of visiting Bethesda. Fortunately – for us – one of my mates found that my street bought falafel was more hygienic than his restaurant-eaten food, and the bathrooms were too tempting for him. So we entered.

Apart from the church, which has been a cistern, a wall, a Roman temple dedicated to Serapis (Romans didn’t care much about whose gods belonged to whom: Serapis is an Egyptian god); the temple was destroyed by the Persians, and rebuilt as a Byzantine church, destroyed again by  Caliph Hakim and rebuilt by the Crusaders, who dedicated it to Saint Anne.  Salal al Din destroyed it and  the site was converted into a Koranic School.

From them on it has been a Church, and there are excavations all over the place.

A column from the crusaders’ time (easily recognizable):

Some of the excavations reach down to the original ground – again, hopefully: it’s not that easy to excavate a city under a city.

Or is it?

Originally there were some cisterns here, and around one of them the sick people waited to be cleaned, as they couldn’t go near the Temple if sick. So it must have been there, or very near there, where Jesus cured a paralytic, according to John 5,1-9. This information was painfully dug up by me in a Christian Bible; I just remembered the ex-leper dancing around Brian and claiming to have been cured by Jesus.

Anyway, this seems to be the pool – or what is left of it.

The water is stagnant.

The Holy Sepulchre

Now we have finally reached the sepulchre that is not a sepulchre because no one is buried here. I’m not sure anyone ever was. Long queue for entering, of course. There is a long line of  Italians all wearing a blue scarf following a guide. We wait. (Queue of Italians was skipped in the photo).

Inside there is a marble rock where I think I understand Jesus was anointed and prepared for burial.

Then there is the long queue of Italians with blue scarves patiently waiting to enter a subterranean grotto that is so small that only one person is allowed at a time. Apparently there is always a warden at the entrance, and there is also a strict roster of  monks, friars, priests, fathers of all Christian faiths to guard the entrance. The Italians having gone, the entrance is empty for a second. I suppose this might as well count as a miracle.

Inside the small cave, where Jesus was supposed to be buried everything is covered with candles. The light is quite bad and it’s impossible to use the flash. And the tomb is empty. I try to decipher what’s written on the walls. I come up with “He whom you search for is not here”. That’s news.

There are lots of chapels around but I don’t want to enter each and every one of them. The pilgrimage is over; it was senseless, it’s impossible that Jesus Christ or anyone else walked all this way carrying a cross. I’ve had enough of Christianity to last me a long time. And well, most of the Christian sites overlap Jewish sites, so I’m bound for another bit of Christianity every way I look.

We’ve reached (almost) our final destination. I’m surprised to find there are two crosses leaning against the wall. I mean, I know Christian wear crosses sometimes, but they could have chosen another symbol of their religion, couldn’t they? After all, a cross is an instrument of torture. What if Jesus Christ was guillotined or hanged? It mystifies me. However, it doesn’t mystify my mates at all: they run to the crosses as I would run to Captain Kidd’s  hidden treasure.

I assume they’ve proved they can carry – or at least hold – a cross for thirteen mississippies. The rest of the stations lie underground – where they should be from the beginning.

If there ever was such a thing: crosses are heavy, and Romans were a very organized people. If they had – and I do not doubt they did – a place for crucifying dissidents the most economic and easiest way would have been to have a handful of crosses all ready at the crucifixion place. Making prisoners take their own crosses to the crucifixion place would be a waste of time, resources and effort. And probably this means blasphemy to someone, so I’d better stop right here, on top of the Holy Sepulchre. Why does the Path end at the top of the Holy Sepulchre?

We continue through the market looking for markers, all right I confess I stop at every stall; I want to buy something for the kids and well, I don’t want a “I <heart> Jerusalem” tee-shirt.

Fifth station located. Now it’s time to know what’s it all about. Apparently someone called Simon carried or helped Jesus to drag his cross – the inevitable chapel is nearby and the inevitable Jew does not enter.

My Latin is not that bad; I haven’t studied it for years but I can still read it – a little bit. I doubt I could translate Cicero now.

Another stop now to drink more mint tea and buy some more water bottles. We need to drink a lot, it’s really too hot.


I don’t know what happened here (possibly some crusaders fought  some other crusaders) but there is a church nearby. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, I’m utterly lost. Bet the others are as lost as I am, though I am becoming an expert in Latin and decipher that someone called Veronica wiped Jesus’ face, er, “here”.

We need now to find the seventh, and we are getting hungry. I want to get some falafel from any of the street stalls, but my colleagues prefer a restaurant because they think it’s more hygienic or so. Anyway, while we discuss it we find the next station:

There is an old cross with a  hole under it; if there is a church nearby, I can’t see it (I’m too busy eating my falafel).

And, while I very unhygienically lick my fingers and drink the last of my water, we find the ninth.  Or quite – we need to go inside yet another church.  And then the rest of my mates decide to have lunch on a terrace.

We decided next to follow Jesus Christ’s walk  carrying his cross. It was my mates’ decision, as I cannot imagine how any dissident rabbi condemned to be crucified by the Romans could walk, crossed or not, through streets that were built during the Middle Ages.

Apparently each spot is marked:

so it should be easy to follow this alleged path. Well, it isn’t. Most of the marks are scattered through the market, and the market is more than full: it’s overbooked. So, armed with the National Geographic guide, we started our walk.  The Via Dolorosa, or the Path of Grief.

I’m not sure where they want to begin; according to someone we should begin the pilgrimage in the Garden of Gethsemane. But that would mean retracing our steps and gosh, it’s hot.  So, in the end, we go our own way. Flagellation Priory first. I don’t want to go in; all those images of a dying, tortured man sicken me. So I stay away of every church, priory, chapel or whatever that commemorates the stations.

We have to cross the Ecce Homo Arch (but this couldn’t be here two thousand years ago, not as it is now, OK, I’ll shut up).

And then we reach our next station:

(I am already lost with all the discussion about beginnings and ends but I trail along dutifully).

Apparently Maximilian of Bavaria reconstructed the site – Heaven only knows what it was in the beginning; now it’s another chapel – where I refuse to go in. After all, I already know what I’m going to find.

We are beginning to get lost at this point – the rest of the crew as well as myself.  Finally we find the next station:

:

Ha, it’s the third. There’s no mistake because it’s written down. Jesus falls. We weren’t as lost as we thought. Well, just a little bit.

I’m still wondering how can anyone believe a man could have dragged one heavy wooden cross all this way – and the original ground is dozens of metres below; but it’s traditional.

 

I’m not quite sure what this one is meant to represent. We’re now into the market. Jesus and Mary, or Jesus and the Magdalene.

 

We decide to stop now and take some mint tea. I prefer grenade juice with ice, I’m not worried about if it’s OK or not to drink something that it’s not bottled or sealed: I love grenade juice.

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