There is something unique about Southern California light. Morning light is too short for the gold, midday leaves the gentle colors washed away, but at sunset when the blossoms close the alluring shades of light are flushed with an apricot tint with a lovely hue of lilac and pastels colors are reborn – or maybe it’s just the smog.
Afghanistan: Kabul, Kandahar, and Bagram.
Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Gordonvale, Undara, Chillagoe, Mt. Bartle Frere, and Queensland Outback.
Egypt: Saqqare, Giza, Red Sea, The Nile River, Cairo, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut, Abu Simbel, Armant, Aswan, Luxor, White Desert, Thebes, Safaga, Marsa al Alam, Karnak, Al Harrah and Baharia Oasis
Fiji: Suva and Koro Island
France: Paris, Le Mans, Nice, Cannes, Toulon, Marseille, Toulouse, Montpellier and Corsica
Greece: Athens, Thessalonique and Island of Patmos.
Israel: Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Ramallah, Bethany, Jericho, Temple Mount, Nazareth, Gethsemane, Kasr el Yahud, Allenby Bridge, Caphernaum, Sepphoris, West Wall Tunnels and Judea.
Italy: Rome, Naples, Florence, Solerno and Island of Ischia.
Jordan, Mount Nebo, Tell Mar Elias, Mukawer and Amman Citadel.
Morocco: Quarzazate, Sahara Desert, Oued Amsailikh, Tagounite and Atlas Mountains.
Mexico: Chihuahua, Sierra Madre Occidental and Barrancas Del Cobre
New Zealand: North Island, South Island, Southern Alps, Mt. Cockayne, Lake Catherine, Lake Coleridge, Black Hill, Glenfalloch, Potts River. Mt. Peel, Forest Creek and Lake Tekapo.
Russia: Moscow, Murmansk, Severmorsk and Barrents Sea Artic Circle.
Scotland: Edinburgh, Inverness, Orkney Islands, St. Andrews Highlands.
Turkey: Istanbul, Van, Doğubayazıt, Tabriz, and Erzurum.
I believe that I am trapped in the thoughts of a writer with no say or way out, I’m terrified that at the end of the last chapter I will no longer exist. I can only hope that the author has a strong vocabulary and a bigger imagination to let me have a happy ending. This is my sentence, where I live life on the pages of white. The author writes words without risk as I am forced to walk his narrative day in and day out, but I forgive the author. I’m not sure if my story is being revealed to him or even if he has the final say. I can only hope that maybe, just maybe the author will let me know my fate. Am I fiction or non-fiction, I just don’t know.
“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
It has the longest night of the year,
but it marks the beginning
of brighter days ahead.
May the Winter Solstice bring you a new season
filled with everything bright, beautiful and perfect waves.
There is a great stillness in the sand and her sights and sounds are tastefully presented in an easy tempo to our senses. Long endless miles of sand dunes and scorching heat, this is the image one has in mind when one thinks of the Sahara.With the reputation for the hottest place on earth, temperatures can reaching up to 57.7 degree Celsius (135.8 degree F). Which makes working conditions uncomfortable and first degree buns common. I relished in shooting midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach. My camera would get so hot to the touch I’d soak my keffiyeh with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool. I learn to do this when I first came to the Sahara and rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. My face burned with such intensity that for a couple of days I had one large red rosy cheek. From that first experience I learned to have long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and a keffiyeh in my kit.
Our bodies are about two thirds water and when we get dehydrated, it means that amount of water in our body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. What is uncanny, is that it’s so hot sweat will evaporates before leaving a wet stain on clothing so drinking water at interval (even if you don’t feel thirty) is essential. Drinking to much water will washes away the electrolytes which is why I carry powder electrolyte supplements in my pack. In spite of all the discomfort the Sahara desert is my favorite place to work. The Sahara’s is one place on earth where all men become brothers to survive her embrace.
A silence so great that I can hear the earth breathing, I have found my Atlantis.
Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter Eight, Dog Biscuit and Noah’s Ark
We waited another half an hour after the Turkish patrol had disappeared out of sight before we hauled ass off the apron of Mt. Ararat and on to flat ground. My knees were shot and my feet were thrashed. We crossed numerous gullies, sliding down their drops then trudging back up their inclines, which rapidly depleted our remaining energy reserves.
Stumbling forward, my boots scraped against the rolling rocks as I repeatedly stabbed with the ski poles for an opening between the rocks to right myself. The flare must have burned out because it became dark again. I faltered a number of times but kept an eye on my fellow climbers Cronuck and Stublich and watched them move at a steady pace towards the faint yellow and white lights of Doğubayazıt on the horizon – which I affectionately call Dog Biscuit
My feet felt warm and soggy which was a sure sign of blood.
It was at this point – stemming from many things, such as dehydration and sheer exhaustion – that I fell into mild delirium and David Byrnes of Talking Heads became my chaperones.
‘And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?’
‘You know, David, you’re holding me hostage with that broken record. I mean, I can appreciate your words but after a while it gets a little old. Know what I mean?’
I didn’t get a straight answer from David; instead, he gave me his advice. ‘The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now…’
At that moment, a second flare burst in the night sky. It was a couple of seconds later that we heard the low boom of the flare gun, which meant there was a good distance between us and the Turkish military. I made it to the edge of the stone field; Cornuke and Stublich stopped long enough to ask me if I was okay. My lips were cracked, my tongue was swollen and all my saliva had evaporated. I could only answer with a nod and a whisper: ‘I’m okay.’
Ahead, I could hear Dick slapping the iridium satellite phone repeatedly, trying to get enough charge out of the dead battery to make a call to Micah, our Kurdish fixer, so that he could meet us at the predetermined rendezvous point.
George grumbled. ‘This is fucking stupid. Let’s go to the main highway and catch a ride to town.’
Dick stopped smacking the sat-phone and directed all his attention towards George. ‘Shut the fuck up, George. The Turkish military use that road all the time. What do you think they’ll assume if they come across us on that highway with all our gear?’
George didn’t listen and relentlessly argued his point as the sound of the dogs’ howls grew louder. There was a gunshot in the distance followed by the hiss of another parachute flare. That was all the motivation we needed; the five of us turned and hauled ourselves across the plain. David followed nearby. ‘We make a pretty good team. Don’t get exhausted; I’ll do some driving. You ought to get some sleep.’
‘You know, David, it must be Mercury in retrograde with all the hurdles we’ve had to clear,’ I muttered.
There was no response.
We’d been tramping about in the darkness for hours and we were spent, physically and emotionally. We walked on autopilot, using the light of Dog Biscuit as our beacon.
‘You know, David, I could’ve stayed in L.A. picking up work shooting a mindless sitcom and watching a celebrity with two soft, protruding organs give us the local weather report. I could have, but I wouldn’t have had this wonderful field trip to remember. Know what I mean?’
David paused then caught up with me. ‘You may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? You may ask yourself: where does that highway lead to? You may ask yourself: am I right; am I wrong? You may say to yourself: my God, what have I done?’
Written in 2012, “My Affair with Anita Ekberg, Sort Of ” is the most popular read of my blog. For your reading pleasure I extend to you without any significant changes or improvements my own awakening which is whatever young boy experiences when entering puberty.
This is the real story of my affair with Anita Ekberg. In 2012, I had written a very short paragraph of my first visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. I recounted how I found a spot away from the gaggle of tourist and for a moment had a short-term detachment from my immediate surroundings to relive the famous scene from Federico Fellini’s film, La Dolce Vita. In my daydream, I replayed the black and white scene of voluptuous Anita Ekberg wading through the fountain as her long blonde hair cascading down her back like the falling water’s behind her. The scene was glorious and lush with sensuality. Anita’s was wearing a strapless black evening gown with its plunging sweetheart neckline and seductively urging Mastroianni to join her in the fountain,
“Marcello, come here, hurry up!”
All that was missing was Nino Rota’s music when suddenly, I’m back to reality when a tourist with a New Jersey accent asked if I would take a picture of him and his wife in front of the fountain. I was happy to do so, but I remember thinking that I would have loved to stayed little longer in the fantasy corridors of my mind with Anita.
That’s what I wrote in 2012, but the real backstory is this. It happened one night at the age of thirteen when nature’s process of physical change presented itself while a tourist in slumber land. As I recall, I strolled from scene to scene of Fellini’s movie, La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life). I’ve always dreamed in color but that night of adolescent awakening, my dream was in black and white and was accompanied with a soundtrack of skewed martini lounge music – which only added to the surreal atmosphere of the celluloid dream. Thinking back, I can only guess that my dream may have been prompted by watching La Dolce Vita on the local PBS station before going to bed. But once in rapid eye movement of deep sleep, I fell from reality to a fantasyland that I can still recall to this day.
The transitions from scene to scene of my dream were preceded with burst of light from the cameras and flashbulbs of the “buzzing insects”, aka paparazzi. I would find myself in the background as a causal observer or a participant in each celluloid episode. Whether strolling among the ruins of Rome or on a luxurious balcony of Rome’s decadent and papered rich high above the City of Seven Hills. With another intense burst of light, I found myself on a Vespa speeding down the narrow lanes of Rome with a twin-lens reflex camera in hand as my fellow insects and I were in hot pursuit of Anita.
The climax of my dream came as I followed Anita down dimly lite cobbled maze of alleys while a tiny white kitten sat on her head,
“Oh hello”, Anita said turning towards me.
At that moment, my emotions and body began to feel different and quite strange. Here I was with the most unattainable dream woman of my youth, and to top that off, I was being acknowledged of my existence. Before me, Anita wades in the Trevi fountain in her black strapless dress, voluptuous, glamorous, and oozing with sensuality.
“David, come here, hurry up!” Anita’s urging me as she reached out to me
“Hurry up!” she repeated.
Even thought I was lost in my dream, I could feel my heart racing and a fever of heat building up the core of my body. As Anita touched the tips of my fingers, I stepped into the Trevi fountain and instantaneously in a whirlwind of flashing lights; Anita’s lips met mine. – I need not go any further, because it all about biology.
On January 11, 2015 Anita Ekberg passed away on a Sunday morning in her home near Rome. As most men my age would say, “Forse, quando un sogno diventa una memoria, la memoria diventa un tesoro per la propria vita più dolce. Grazie Anita come bella era, arrivederci e velocità di Dio.”
(Perhaps, when a dream becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure to one’s own sweet life. Thank you Anita, how lovely it was, goodbye and God speed.)
I was in seat number 33E, center aisle, in coach. Brown and yellow stains covered my seat and the tray table hung from a hinge so damaged that I had to prop it up with my left knee. I tried not to make eye contact with a frustrated mother who was stood in the aisle with her crying baby – her submissive husband in standby mode with the baby’s formula bottle in one hand and a clean diaper in the other. The poor man exemplified Henry David Thoreau’s quote: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. A renegade four-year-old weaved through the cabin and ‘tagged’ an elderly Hasidic man who was praying next to the emergency exit. I just prayed that my iPod wouldn’t die and that the Ambien would soon kick in.
Our flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv was a long sixteen hours. My in-flight entertainment was watching a live performance of Jewish cultural and family dynamics. There was some English spoken on the plane but mostly, a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish filled the stuffy air. The guy on my right was reading The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper and drinking a Sprite. To my left, and fast asleep, was a Teletubby of a man, whose yarmulke had slipped down to his forehead and who, on occasion, snorted like a hog. On my iPod, my Natacha Atlas remix played. Eventually, I entered the ‘twilight zone’ when the Ambien finally took effect.
As we approached Jerusalem on Highway One from Tel Aviv we could see the city lights reflecting off low-lying clouds. The first time I’d set eyes on Jerusalem was several years previously: it had been a clear night under a full May moon. The limestone walls of the Old City had been awash with blue moonlight and the air had been completely still, and uncomfortably humid. Klezmer music played on the car radio, which seemed appropriate as the streets pulsated with trucks, cars, city buses and pedestrians dodging traffic. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry with their cell phones attached to their ears.
On this visit, however, there was no moon. Jerusalem was quiet and room service was closed. I lay on the bed munching a Balance bar, stretching my legs and back when the peaceful night vanished with the screech of tires and a ‘Whoosh!’
Below my balcony, on Aharon Katsir Street, a van was on fire. I grabbed my Nikon and got a few shots of the van just as one of the back tires exploded from the heat of the fire. In the distance I could hear sirens as I watched the driver run and disappear into the night.
What if the van’s full of explosives and I’ve just watched the driver run away? The Hyatt Regency is full of tourists and here I am, on the balcony, shooting stills – the only thing left of me will be ash, meat and a Nikon F3T!
But that train of thought wouldn’t lead to the money shot, so I kept shooting until I heard chatter from a walkie-talkie above me, on the roof.
Looking up, I could make out the silhouette of an armed guard and the barrel of his Uzi submachine gun. He was dressed like a Ninja, all in black, and wore a balaclava. His conversation was in Hebrew but there was no alarm in the Ninja’s voice. The Israeli fire department arrived, as did the police. They were in the process of putting out the van’s fire when the potential terrorist returned to the scene, showing the police his driver’s license and some papers.
When I share this story of the would-be Jihadist and the van on fire, people often ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid when you go to Israel or the Middle East?’
‘I’m always very comfortable in Israel,’ I reply. ‘Besides, everyone carries a gun. But what does it say about your faith if you’re afraid to go where Jesus walked?’ Without a beat, I continue, ‘Quite honestly, I’m more fearful of going into a 7-Eleven in L.A. at midnight and getting shot, than I am about getting blown up in the Middle East.’
The fire of the van had been extinguished so the Israeli fire department left with the police. I watched the driver of the van hail a cab; the show over, I jumped in the shower before falling into a deep sleep.
I woke to the loud chirping of sparrows. The morning sun presented a new day as I walked out onto the balcony to greet it. Below me, the blackened shell of the van sat desolately. I looked beyond its charred skeleton to the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounded by its stone walls and the Damascus and Jaffa Gates. It was hard to imagine that within those walls so much bloodshed had taken place, given that it spanned only 220 acres. Jerusalem, for me, was the Disneyland of the world’s most sacred sites: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock. In spite of the many solar panels, satellite dishes and electrical wires cluttering up my eye-line, I could still imagine what the Old City of Jerusalem looked like five hundred years ago.
Our plan was to start filming at the Christian Quarter’s entrance of the Jaffa Gate, on the west side of the Old City. We would then shoot still images and slices of life throughout the Jewish Quarter before finally moving on to the Muslim Quarter. At that point, we planned to double back and follow the Fourteen Stations of the Cross of the Via Dolorosa, which would lead us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. The end of the day would be spent in the Armenian Quarter. With that in mind, I grabbed the Betacam, my Nikon camera, Sony Discman and a day-pack full of camera batteries and tapes, before heading out.
Jerusalem is a rich source of content for television news pieces and documentaries, as part of secular or religious programming – both of which keep me employed. The entire country of Israel is a treasure trove of archeological digs, ancient tombs, artifacts, current affairs and war. Standing at the Jaffa Gate, I watched a young American man preparing to perform and sing at the entrance to the Old City. He had a small consumer camera on a tripod and a silver, portable radio-cassette player. His blonde hair was coiffured within an inch of its life and didn’t move even when the breeze picked up. He was wearing a light blue polo shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers: the unofficial ‘uniform’ of most young evangelical Christian men in America. He held a microphone that wasn’t connected to anything and asked a fellow tourist if they would hit ‘record’ on his camera and ‘play’ on his cassette recorder. As a disco beat rang out, the young man raised a clenched fist, his index finger pointed to the heavens; with his fake microphone in the other hand he began lip-syncing to the music. ‘We were lost sheep in a dark, dark valley. Lost, lost, lost.’
During the chorus he danced. ‘He’s obviously not a Southern Baptist,’ I thought, recalling the old joke: ‘Do you know why Southern Baptists don’t believe in sex? Because it may lead them to dancing…..’
As the music built in tempo he was completely absorbed, twirling and bouncing around like Zebedee. Behind him, an old Palestinian man in a gray suit who’d been watching began mimicking the dancing Christian, nearly tripping over his own feet. Standing to the right of the Jaffa Gate, three young, female Israeli soldiers smoked cigarettes and giggled at the impromptu performance. Tourists stopped to take photographs before continuing their pilgrimage into the Holy City. The Palestinian circled the young Christian – now aware of his new backing dancer – upstaging his performance. Jockeying for pole position, the old man moved towards the camera. The young Christian tried to put his arm around his waist but the old man wasn’t having any of it. He pulled away, and when only inches from the lens of the camera, he shouted: ‘God is great! I love America! I love hamburgers!’
Upset, the young American stopped his performance. With his arms at his side he watched the old man praise America as the music played on. The Israeli soldiers, having enjoyed their unscripted reality show, turned towards the city to start their patrol. I tagged along behind them, past the Tower of David and into the Jewish Quarter.
Before entering the quarter I put on my Discman’s headphones and listened to my music which cut out external noise and distractions, thus helping me to focus on the rhythm of life inside the ancient walls. It’s amazing what you see when you’re immersed in music; it’s like your senses are heightened to compensate for the workout your ears receive. Sights and smells are more vivid and the trance-like calm I felt delivered a lucidity I couldn’t tap in to when people’s shouts and blaring car horns drilled into my skull.
Track one, Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the past’; ‘How appropriate,’ I thought, as I entered the bleached limestone homes and shops of the Jewish Quarter. It was spotlessly clean with pretty flower boxes and blue-and-white Israeli flags. Orthodox men wore black hats and coats; they rushed around as young Israeli soldiers stood sentry at every corner. Entering the vast space of the Western Wall Plaza, men prayed to the left while women prayed to the right of the huge stone structure, the retaining wall of the Dome of the Rock. A large group of American Christian pilgrims were stood in the middle of the plaza photographing each other with the Western Wall behind them. As they waved into the camera, Jewish men dodged and ducked around the group, covering their faces so that they weren’t also photographed. I heard one of the Christian women ask her tour guide, ‘Where can I get an iced tea, dear?’
I passed a contingent of Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. Unlike the sterile antiseptic Jewish Quarter, the aroma of grilled onions, spices and garbage filled the narrow stone walkway. Vibrant, noisy, crowded and intriguing, the Muslim Quarter is the poorest neighborhood of the four quarters. Darkened from age and smog, the limestone walls were covered in green, red and blue graffiti. I stopped to film children playing in the ancient streets and spotted an old man sitting on some alley steps, counting the ninety-nine names of Allah with his prayer beads. A young coffee vendor approached, wearing a Manchester United football jersey. He offered me a shot glass full of coffee which I accepted. ‘Shukran,’ I said.
‘Afwan,’ he replied. ‘Would you like to sit down?’
‘I would love to, but I’ve work to do. May I come back and join you for coffee?’
‘Of course, of course, my friend,’ he said.
At that moment, one of many self-appointed Palestinian tour guides in Jerusalem interrupted our conversation. ‘Mr. TV, you need me to get you in the Dome of the Rock. I know people. No problem, no problem. Come, it’s easy, Mr. TV.’
In Arabic, the young vendor started scolding the tour guide for his intrusion; their voices rose and spit flew through the air. Caught off guard, I stepped back as the veins in the tour guide’s neck began to enlarge.
Shit! I should be filming this.
I brought the Betacam to my shoulder, but the argument was done. The tour guide stormed off but not before he’d jabbed his finger at me and shouted, ‘May your children cheat you!’
I continued my hunt for the money shot through the ancient labyrinthine streets and alleys, amongst Jews, Christians and Arabs wearing variations of their traditional dress. Although I was surprised, others appeared unperturbed as a Christian pilgrim passed, wearing shorts and carrying a seven foot wooden cross with a wheel attached to its base. Two nuns shopped for pastries and four Muslim women pointed at a shop window, discussing which of the mannequins’ hijabs they preferred. The volume of banter from the local merchants as shoppers haggled only added to the bustling atmosphere, the smell of deep fried falafel deeply ingrained. Symbolic of a country with bipolar disorder, one nearby kiosk sold the CDs of American, European and Arab artists along with T-shirts bearing the Israeli air force emblems and prints such as ‘Free Palestine!’, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, images of Yasser Arafat and Che Guevara.
‘Mr. Mr….my friend, you come into my shop, please? Are you an American?’
In my best Barry White voice, I replied, ‘No, no, I’m Klingon.’
‘Oh, that’s okay. I take that money too.’
The Muslim Quarter overflowed with pure capitalism. I continued through the souks, occasionally stopping on Via Dolorosa, shooting video and still images of Christian pilgrims, IDG (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers and Muslims on their way to prayer. At Station Three, I found a multitude of Korean pilgrims with point-and-shoot cameras, all wearing the same bright yellow hats. They followed a guide waving a bright yellow flag as he spoke through a mini bullhorn. I swear I saw the same group of Korean pilgrims in Rome two months before. Those yellow-hat-wearing pilgrims – and the group of red-hat-wearing Italian pilgrims right behind them – were on a very tight schedule. I decided to wait them out at a nearby sidewalk café and enjoy a cup of tea, a ‘kanafeh’ and a smoke. As the mass of pilgrims finally passed, I noticed a tourist on the corner babbling prophecies with tears in his eyes. This wasn’t an unusual sight in Old Jerusalem: devout Christian pilgrims got quite emotional when walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
The ones you’ve to watch are the seemingly normal Christian pilgrims who suddenly become ‘inspired’. They shed their normal clothes and transform into biblical characters, garbed in nothing more than a toga made from their hotel’s bed sheets. We call this ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ and I wondered which of the biblical prophets the man opposite would become. Usually, it’s Moses, John the Baptist or Jesus Christ himself.
I’ve yet to find the woman who truly thinks she’s the Virgin Mary. It’s said that she walks the Via Dolorosa every day to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to sob at the altar of Golgotha, mourning the death of her son, Jesus. She may sound far removed from reality but there is another ‘Virgin Mary’ – she invited everyone to her son, Jesus’, birthday party in Bethlehem.
There’s a joke in psychiatry that if you talk to God, it’s called prayer, but if God talks to you, you’re nuts. There seemed a disproportionate number of those who contracted Jerusalem Syndrome that were American Evangelical Christians, though there have been reports of deeply religious Jews – and, in rare cases, Catholics – also contracting this strange affliction. Peak seasons are Easter, Passover and Christmas.
Over the years, Israeli police have come across multiple biblical characters running around in bed sheets and even goatskins, proselytizing to the citizens of Jerusalem. Tour guides are asked by the Jerusalem authorities to watch for these symptoms: agitation, singing/shouting verses from the Bible and/or religious songs, marching to holy sites, delivering sermons in a holy place and urging people towards a better life. People who fall behind the group and who want to go off alone are observed carefully because once they get to the ‘bed-sheet-toga’ stage, there’s no stopping them.
After the mass of Korean pilgrims moved on, and before the Italians moved in, I grabbed the cameras and continued walking the Via Dolorosa. A metal medallion hung next to patched-up bullet-holes bearing a Roman numeral; these indicated the historical events at each location, of Christ’s walk to Golgotha.
The church belonged to five different Christian groups: the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics (Franciscans), Armenians, Coptics, and Ethiopians. This makes for complicated arrangements; disputes are common, particularly over who has the authority to carry out repairs. There’s a wooden ladder on a ledge just above the main entrance that’s been left there since the nineteenth century, because no one can agree who has the right to take it down. It’s not unusual to see fights between monks from different sects in the Sepulchre. Passions run high, particularly on important holy days. All it takes is a monk in the wrong place at the wrong time in a religious procession and it’s SmackDown. Fists fly, holy water’s thrown, beards pulled and even candlesticks used to ram groups of opposing monks.
The Jerusalem police had enough on, patrolling the bed sheet prophets without keeping the peace at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A bit disappointed that there was no rumble between rival gangs of monks, I left the Holy Sepulchre and made a mad dash to the Mount of Olives, east of the city. This, potentially, was my last shot of the day and my first sit-down meal was patiently waiting for me. The Mount of Olives was the perfect location to shoot a setting sun over Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock, the Golden Gate and Lions Gate in the foreground. Sunset and sunrise both made great shots which meant my days were long. With copious amount of coffee and snacks to keep my sugar level high, I averaged a sixteen-hour day. As the sun packed up and left, dusk turned to night and jewels of light gave Jerusalem softness from its harsh reality. Maybe it would see a better day tomorrow. In spite of war, terrorism and the recent ‘intifada’, Jerusalem remained a devotedly holy place for the world to visit. As I left the Mount of Olives, I had to pass Bar-Ilan Street which could prove to be a harrowing experience, especially at night.
Ultra-orthodox Jews gathered on Bar-Ilan Street, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, to protest about driving on the Sabbath. They threw rocks at passing cars and trashed restaurants with non-kosher food; they slashed tires and set trashcans on fire. Proudly burning the Israeli flag, they also committed acts of violence on women they didn’t consider to be modestly dressed – all in an effort to influence how the secular Jews of Israel should live their lives. The Jerusalem police resorted to riot gear, club-swinging and water cannons to keep Bar-Ilan open. The ultra-Orthodox had an unlikely ally in their fight for religious observance in Walter Sobchak, the Polish-Catholic convert to Judaism from the Coen brother’s cult movie, The Big Lebowski. In the bowling alley scene, Walter explained why he couldn’t compete in league-sponsored bowling tournaments during the Jewish Sabbath. ‘It’s Shomer Shabbos. I don’t roll on Shabbos. Saturday,’ he yelled, ‘is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t get in a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as fucking don’t fucking roll! ‘I don’t roll on Shabbos!’ adorned T-shirts alongside Walter’s image cocking a 9mm Glock: it was on cups, aprons, posters, mouse pads, caps, bumper stickers, hoodies, dog tags, and even babies’ bodysuits. We approached the Orthodox neighborhood in a convoy of Israeli traffic. I could smell smoke; all I saw were trashcans with yellow flames vaulting upwards and men dressed in black standing about. No stones were thrown, there were no blockades, just singing and shouting as we left their civil war against secularism. We drove by Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital, for tourists with Jerusalem Syndrome, and turned northwest of the city, past olive groves, crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. Off Highway One was the village of Neve Ilan and the Elvis Inn. We were greeted by a five-meter tall golden statue of Elvis Presley. Inside were more life-sized monuments scattered in various poses, such as Elvis sitting at a table, strumming a guitar. The jukebox played his greatest hits on loop and even the napkins bore his image. The walls were carpeted with Elvis photos, movie posters, magazine covers, concert tickets, postage stamps and license plates.
A short, portly man stood at the souvenir counter waiting to buy a kitschy keepsake. He had greaser sleeves (extreme sideburns) and wore a white polyester jumpsuit with rhinestone shoulders; round his pot-belly was a crudely embroidered American eagle belt. He also had Elvis’ trademark gold-framed sunglasses. I felt I’d discovered a new psychiatric condition: Elvis Syndrome. I saw that another Elvis statue was sat across from me, staring me down as my spicy burger, (kosher beef, of course) French fries and Coca Cola were set down. ‘Thank ‘ya very much,’ I said to the waitress, giving her my best Elvis impression.
‘You don’t think I hear that every day?’ she scowled.
‘Must be the end of her shift,’ I thought.
The jukebox played Elvis’ ‘Viva Las Vegas’ as the front doors swung open and two truck drivers walked in, laughing and discussing something in Hebrew. The Elvis impersonator walked away from the souvenir counter, past the two men who barely noticed his get-up. There was shouting from the kitchen and the wonderful fragrance of fried food filled the restaurant. As I watched a young couple point and stare, open-mouthed, at the multitude of Elvis photographs on the wall, I ordered another Coke. It was the end of another perfect day, and as Elvis’ voice sang from the jukebox: ‘Bright light city gonna set my soul. Gonna set my soul on fire,’ I couldn’t have agreed more.