A miracle on the seam

There’s this place on the seam between the Quarters, and it’s my favorite place – it’s the one with the bombass view, with the room with the giant bed with the wrought iron posts, and the purple glass windows and a view looking onto the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The building grew out of a an old cistern 700 years ago.

And there’s wifi and hot water so basically #HappyPlace

The people who run it are Palestinians from Beit Hanina — we speak English when I come in — maybe “shwei Arabi.” I don’t hide that I’m Jewish or Israeli – ( I stayed here on Purim and paraded through in my mask and beads and shit, and wished everyone Chag Samayach and explained to the baffled backpackers from Holland WTF was going on) but once when I asked something in Hebrew, the guy running the desk said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

(When an East Jerusalemite says that, sometimes it’s because he literally doesn’t understand, and sometimes it’s because he does understand but prefers not to speak Hebrew. )

Whatever.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard Ofra Haza blasting from one of the dorms, and I’ve seen a guy in a yarmulke stay here, and whatever. This is Jerusalem in all its layers. It’s complicated and it’s fkn gorgeous.

Anyway, I’m staying there tonight: And while I walked down the street past one of the little allies leading toward the Jewish Quarter, a man with a yarmulke started following me:

“You’re a tourist?”

“Lo.”

“Oh, I thought you were a tourist because you’re so blonde, and your arms are so tan. I thought you were Swedish, you look Swedish. You look like someone I used to know.”

“Ok, have a good day.”

I walked a little faster — the tiny hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.

I got into the main room at the bottom and shut the door, and two minutes later he walked in, and started talking to me about some woman he used to know – a blonde woman just like me, maybe I’m her daughter? Or her ghost? Where IS she??? IT’S YOU! I KNOW IT’S YOU! WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME???

The woman working reception has always been courteous – but businesslike.

While the one guy who works afternoons has given me a discount, she is all business and by the book.

The man asked her in Hebrew “I want to stay here with her” he pointed to me.

“I don’t speak Hebrew,” the receptionist said.

“I want a room,” he said in English.

“We don’t have anything available,” she told him. “Do you know this man?” she asked me.

“No. He followed me, I told her.”

“I just want one room, I can stay any night that SHE’S here” he shouted.

(Oh HELL to the NO he is not staying here.)

Now, you don’t know this about me, but when I feel threatened, I turn into a she-beast that is part raptor, part libertarian. And suddenly I speak fluent Hebrew.”

“No,” I said. “You need to leave. There is no room here, and you cannot stay here.”

“Why not?”

“Because there is no room here. You need to leave right now.” my voice is leaden and cold – and every muscle in my face and neck and arms and stomach and legs and toes are flexed and ready to lunge if I have to. I do not want this man staying here. He followed me, and he frightened me, and I do not want him staying here.

“But I have a right to stay here!”

“If you do not leave this minute, I am calling the police. Get out.”

He left.

“Wow,” the woman running the hotel said. “Your Hebrew is great. Where did you learn it?”

“I live here – I’m Israeli. And my kids speak it.”

“Thanks for getting rid of that guy,” she said as she went back to the reception desk as the phone rang.

And it was only then that I realized she and I had been speaking Hebrew the whole time.

And you ask me why I love this place – this complicated, messy, ancient city of broken pieces held together by chance and opportunity, by fear and love, and maybe a few miracles, too.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer

Posted by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

Sarah climbs roofs and drinks scotch and takes pictures and writes and teaches her kids to ask questions. She is is spending a year in the old city (3 months in each quarter) where she is writing a book about her experiences and the people she meets. Sarah is a work in progress, and you can follow her on Twitter and via her Facebook Page.

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