Gates Of Zion - Streets Of Jerusalem
( Originally Published 1908 )
OUTSIDE the gates we ride, for the roads which encircle the city wall and lead off to the north and south and east and west, are fairly broad and smooth. But within the gates we walk, for the streets are narrow, steep and slippery, and to attempt them on horseback is to travel with an anxious mind.
Through the Jaffa Gate, indeed, you may easily ride, or even drive in your carriage: not through the gateway itself, which is a close and crooked alley, but through the great gap in the wall beside it, made for the German Emperor to pass through at the time of his famous imperial scouting-expedition in Syria in 1898. Thus following the track of the great William you come to the entrance of the Grand New Hotel, among curiosity-shops and tourist-agencies, where a multitude of bootblacks assure you that you need "a shine," and valets de place press their services upon you, and ingratiating young merchants try to allure you into their establishments to purchase photographs or embroidered scarves or olive-wood souvenirs of the Holy Land.
Come over to Cook's office, where we get our letters, and stand for a while on the little terrace with the iron railing, looking at the motley crowd which fills the place in front of the citadel. Groups of blue-robed peasant women sit on the curbstone, selling firewood and grass and vegetables. Their faces are bare and brown, wrinkled with the sun and the wind. Turkish soldiers in dark-green uniform, Greek priests in black robes and stove-pipe hats, Bedouins in flowing cloaks of brown and white, pale-faced Jews with velvet gabardines and curly ear-locks, Moslem women in many-coloured silken garments and half-transparent veils, British tourists with cork helmets and white umbrellas, camels, donkeys, goats, and sheep, jostle together in picturesque confusion.
There is a water-carrier with his shiny, dripping, bulbous goat-skin on his shoulders. There is an Arab of the wilderness with a young gazelle in his arms.
Now let us go down the greasy, gliddery steps of David Street, between the diminutive dusky shops with open fronts where all kinds of queer things to eat and to wear are sold, and all sorts of craftsmen are at work making shoes, and tin pans, and copper pots, and wooden seats, and little tables, and clothes of strange pattern. A turn to the left brings us into Christian Street and the New Bazaar of the Greeks, with its modern stores.
A turn to the right and a long descent under dark archways and through dirty, shadowy alleys brings us to the Place of Lamentations, beside the ancient foundation wall of the Temple, where the Jews come in the afternoon of Fridays and festival-days to lean their heads against the huge stones and murmur forth their wailings over the downfall of Jerusalem. "For the majesty that is departed," cries the leader, and the others answer: "We sit in solitude and mourn." " We pray Thee have mercy on Zion," cries the leader, and the others answer: "Gather the children of Jerusalem." With most of them it seems a perfunctory mourning; but there are two or three old men with the tears running down their faces as they kiss the smooth-worn stones.
We enter convents and churches, mosques and tombs. We trace the course of the traditional Via Dolorosa, and try to reconstruct in our imagination the probable path of that grievous journey from the judgment-hall of injustice to the Calvary of cruelty—a path which now lies buried far below the present level of the city.
One impression deepens in my mind with every hour: this was never Christ's city. The confusion, the shallow curiosity, the self-interest, the clashing prejudices, the inaccessibility of the idle and busy multitudes were the same in His day that they are now. It was not here that Jesus found the men and women who believed in Him and loved Him, but in the quiet villages, among the green fields, by the peaceful lake-shores. And it is not here that we shall find the clearest traces, the most intimate visions of Him, but away in the big out-of-doors, where the sky opens free above us, and the landscapes roll away to far horizons.
As we loiter about the city, now alone, now under the discreet and unhampering escort of the Bethlehemite; watching the Mussulmans at their dinner in some dingy little restaurant, where kitchen, store-room and banquet-hall are all in the same apartment, level and open to the street; pausing to bar-gain with an impassive Arab for a leather belt or with an ingratiating Greek for a string of amber beads; looking in through the unshuttered windows of the Jewish houses where the families are gathered in festal array for the household rites of Passover week; turning over the chaplets, and rosaries, and anklets, and bracelets of coloured glass and mother-of-pearl, and variegated stones, and curious beans and seed-pods in the baskets of the street-vendors around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; step-ping back into an archway to avoid a bag-footed camel, or a gaily caparisoned horse, or a heavy-laden donkey passing through a narrow street; ex-changing a smile and an unintelligible friendly jest with a sweet-faced, careless child; listening to long disputes between buyers and sellers in that resounding Arab tongue which seems full of tragic indignation and wrath, while the eyes of the handsome brown Bedouins who use it remain unsearchable in their Oriental languor and pride; Jerusalem be-comes to us more and more a symbol and epitome of that which is changeless and transient, capricious and inevitable, necessary and insignificant, interesting and unsatisfying, in the unfinished tragi-comedy of human life. There are times when it fascinates us with its whirling charm. There are other times when we are glad to ride away from it, to seek communion with the great spirit of some antique prophet, or to find the consoling presence of Him who spake the words of the eternal life.