My travelling companions are buying Hand of Fatima bracelets. A few yards away, I am standing still in a small square of one of the holiest cities in the world. Two kids are running around me, holding an evidently doped bird.
– “We are zeroing your sins”
– “What? I don’t understand!”
Thanks to GoogleTranslate, we cross the linguistic barriers. On this side of the bridge, there is me and my utter ignorance of the Hebrew language. On the other side, there is them, speaking little to no English. They furiously tap on their IPhones, and then they show me the screen: the poor hen, gravitating around my head is magic. It is supposed to cleanse all my sins. At least, my past and present ones.
I have often said to be an embarrassing ignorant. I should probably have more sublime memories of Jerusalem, the Immense. If I close my eyes, however, the first frame that comes to mind of my trip to al-Quds is that night , just before the start of the celebrations of Yom Kippur. Some travelling companion and I venture among the crowd that pours into Israel from all over the world during those days in September 2013.
We hold hands not to lose anybody from the group, but in fact we have already let go. Travelling to me is a leap of faith. Let go of baggage. When you travel, you become lighter and wider and in Jerusalem, you feel your soul is expanding somehow.
I tried to paint that journey to the Holy City with the brush of rationality, but my mind fragments my memories and logic fails.
“Tell me something else about that evening, about those days”
The fragrances. The confusion. The machine guns hold by very blonde army women and by muscular soldiers. They smile and laugh, while they hold on to those war machines. Would they be able to live another life, I wonder? A life without barriers, atomic shields, attacks, victims and perpetrators, bombs and fears, blood and unwelcoming receptions? I kept on observing those machine guns, those backpacks decorated with awkward batons. I almost felt charmed by their sight, with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Is this how wars taste like? They tell us that in the end someone wins. I do not think so. I think everyone at the end of a conflict loses. I think that wars are dirty, and they smother the beauty of this world.
Then again I can probably comment on those weapons from a very privileged position. The last person who took part in a war in my family were my grandparents who lacked the strength to speak of the battles of the Second World War. Over the years, however, in Bosnia, Palestine, Jordan, Russia, Northern Ireland, I asked myself: “What would I be capable of if they killed the ones I love?”. Would I still believe in Gino Strada’s words when he warns us: “Do not believe them when they try to explain how beautiful any future war will be”. Would I be able to remain calm and say “I repudiate wars” as is tasted in our glorious Constitution? Or would I take up a shotgun, toss a rocket, or launch a Katyusha? We believe we are reasonable people. Until proven otherwise.
Of those nights and days, I have another shining memory. We are in front of the Wailing Wall . We are sitting among Believers, with capital B. Among this powerful crowd, I turn around and behind us there is a couple, hugging each other. He is wearing a turtleneck sweater and she is wearing a white jacket. Their sight reminds me of one of the letters to the Corinthians:
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong “, or something like that. Of that night, I remember hundreds of hands. They were holding their prayer books, containing hymns I cannot read, with respect and love, nearly.
If only it were possible to relive certain moments forever. Jerusalem, the Immense.
Other two photos, in my mind. On one side, thousands of headstones stacked, stacked in front of the Golden Gate from where, they say and hope, past the Apocalypse some sort of God should return to save us all. Will everyone be saved? Or someone, as usual, will lose the road or choose not to be chosen? On the other side, I see the Esplanade of the Mosques filled with women who come together to learn how to count and men are whispering under a hot but delicate sun. Faraway they stand, these two cultures, so close.
We keep on walking and in a matter of minutes, we get to the Dome of the Rock. This place is not only one of the symbols of this mythical city, but also one of the oldest Muslim buildings in the world. While I am gazing at the past, I come to think that our IPhone-drive civilization cannot invent anything anymore. Those who came before us have reached unreachable heights of perfection and creativity, with their bare hand, and no computer or customer assistance.
In front of one of the most unforgettable urban landscapes of my life, I wonder: are we really so different? Us, them? The Berlin Wall , the wall around Palestine, Mostar bridge, the bridge to Sicily, your boyfriend that was born in Palermo and you in Milan, machine guns in Jerusalem, bombs in Iraq, the children laughing in Kabul, the H-blocks in Northern Ireland? Their veils, our veil-less lives, your blonde hair and my brown eyes, their eating habits and our funeral banquets, beer in a pub on the coffin, and abortion protected by the law, your prayers in the morning and my espresso religiously enjoyed at breakfast? Are we really so far apart?
Then – by magic, we are on the roof of the Austrian Hospital, from which you can almost see it all, Jerusalem and you know this city will stabilize within you forever. You see the Holy Sepulcher, fractionated as an Italian geopolitical map, among different beliefs. Funnily, during my visit to this vital mark land, I did not realize the divisions, probably because of blissed ignorance and probably because again, I choose not to appreciate the beauty of a real or imagined border. I rather improve my knowledge of the Indefinite and of the Untouchable, somewhere among these holy candles. I stand there, observing faiths, desperate request and joyful signs of appreciation, instead of indulging in division.
Nearby the Holy Sepulcher stands the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, present in the Holy City for more than 1500 years. According to the Ethiopians, their peaceful, quiet and silent presence in the Holy Land dates back to about 3000 years ago, when King Solomon met the Queen of Sheba. From the outside it does not look like much. It is dark, and it looks like you are descending to see some sort of catacombs. Stairs, steps and uneven porches and door frames, different roughness of the pavement and varying use of mats and carpets help to emphasize the gradual nature of the approach to sacred spaces. When you begin to go down the steps, everything changes. Is this feeling due to auto-suggestion? I still do not have an answer, but the world outside seems to vanish. I saw so much gold in other places of worship around the world, screaming lust and opulence. Here, in this dark alley, instead, I only feel Silence. The harmony of Faith, I guess. Believers with capital B do not need anything but these dark walls.
We all bleed the same color – Palestine Wall – somewhere around Aida Refugee Camp