I got my second impression when I woke the following morning and
looked out my hotel window at the Mediterranean. Having spent most of
my life near one ocean or another, a mere sea didn't seem such a
significant body of water. I was forced to revise that opinion pretty
quickly. The scene reminded me of my first visit to my grandmother in
Miami Beach in '69: highrise hotels along the beachfront and tacky
lowrise apartment buildings everywhere else.
Things start to look a little more interesting once you get a couple
of blocks from the seashore. The architecture starts to look a lot
more Mediterranean or Middle Eastern or at least less like
transplanted Florida condo. It also shows signs of its battle with
the elements. A lot of the buildings have experienced far more wear
than I would have expected. After all, Tel Aviv is a contemporary of
Los Angeles, not Jerusalem.
The architecture I encountered in Tel Aviv runs a range from the practical and boring through the ethnically quaint to the downright peculiar. The tower on the right is an example of what I mean: it looks like a modern version of the Tower of Babel. I'm guessing that the designer was having either a very good or a very bad day.
Jaffa is just down the road from Tel Aviv, a hot and sweaty walk on a
late June afternoon. Although the two cities
have been growing together for years, historically they couldn't be
more different. Tel Aviv is a product of the twentieth century; Jaffa
has that beat by a few thousand years. (Jaffa/Jappa is credited as
Jonah's departure point for his legendary encounter with the whale.)
A portion of the old city was renovated during the sixties and turned
into a rather pleasant tourist area. This Old Jaffa area dates back
only seven or eight hundred years; far newer than
the bits of first century structures in the visitor's center. With its
history as the target of one conqueror after another, it's surprising
that there's anything from that earlier time.
If geography is destiny, it's no wonder that Jerusalem has been the
center of history and conflict for so long. To the ancients, its
location, relative fertility and mountain security made it the land of
their dreams. And what one has, others want.
No longer a divided city, Jerusalem still maintains its distinct
neighborhoods: Christian, Moslem, Armenian and Jewish Quarters. The
last is the most modern, having been destroyed by Arabs after Israel
won independence in 1948 and built fresh after Jerusalem's capture in
Jerusalem has expanded dramatically in recent years, its new suburbs
coming into view many miles before you reach the old city from the
Fortunately, most of the new architecture maintains a connection to
the past through the use of native stone, like these buildings at the
Hebrew University to the east of
the city. You can almost forget that this land was reclaimed from the
desert. And then you look to the east of the city where Israel ends
and the vast wasteland begins.
A lot of people expressed concern about visiting such a focus of
violent activity. But once I got past the sight of police armed with
Uzis, I felt safer and more relaxed than in many a Western city.
My more religious colleagues were affected deeply by their visit to
the holy sites. For me it was more a connection to the past and
perhaps to family I didn't
know I had than it was a religious experience. The Western Wall is
interesting and all, but I don't believe that God listens any closer
in one spot than in another, fax and
prayer services notwithstanding.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California