On Monday, I went to town early to explore it on my own. Most of my day was spent in the old town.
Although there are a few gates which lead into the Old Town (which is enclosed by a wall, which you can walk on, but I was so lucky with the weather I just didn`t find the right moment to go up there into the blazing sun…), the Jaffa Gate seems to be the most important one – the tourist office is located here, most tours start here, and as soon as you pause and look around, someone comes to offer assistance – either for direct payment, or they turn out to have a shop around the corner, which they invite you to have a quick look into before you move on. Eventually, someone said what I had already figured out for myself by that time: if you want to have peace and quiet, don `t sit at the Jaffa Gate.
A glass of freshly pressed pomegranate juice, which was on offer everywhere. They did it right in front of me, and even where they didn t, it was totally undiluted – thick, red and foamy.
Jerusalem waking up
The man was posing for the photo, which I thought was lovely. I wish I could sent him the result.
Mother Mary Day
This man noticed me taking a photo of him, so he stopped and said I should stay around for an hour or so, if I have time – it was Mother Mary`s birthday, and there would be a big party, with crowds gathering, drumming, chanting…
I didn`t stay all that long, as it was getting really busy indeed but there were indeed entire school classes turning up, and I took a rather funny video of a young man taking selfies while having a conversation with another…
Don`t they look wonderful?
But believe me, after just one day, I was exasperated. It` s not as fun as it looks to walk around there as a sole woman who is not interested in shopping. Initially, I engaged in the conversations, politely accepted invitations for coffee promising to come back for it later, and I smiled at everyone who said hello. But every smile was taken as an invitation to chat and then invite me into their shop, and although I managed not to buy a thing, such a “brief look” was never less than 10 minutes. The coffee man recognised me when I came past again a few hours later and demanded that I come into his shop now, and he became annoyed when I declined. One man wanted to give me something I liked as a gift, when I said I haven t got enough cash on me, but I didn`t want to raise expectations that I would come back to make a larger purchase instead. Bandora confirmed later that, while it was fine to accept coffee, this was indeed strange and unusual.
I actually understand them. They are all selling roughly the same things, prices are largely down to negotiations, so they have to use their charm and personalities if they want to make a decent living. And a sole woman, who is very obviously a touris,t seems an easy target. The men are really charming as well, and I often felt bad for letting them invest time in me and then not giving them a sale, so towards the end of the day, I no longer smiled or engaged in a conversation. I have to say though, they never come after you, and they don`t touch you (although they may shout after you).
On my second last day, I went back with the intention doing quite some shopping, and I really enjoyed myself. People spent a lot of time showing me what they had, made delicious cardamom coffee while I was browsing and were happy when I bought just one thing. A few times, I think I overpaid, but this was fine. By this time, I had realised what being a shopping in the Old Town is all about – I wasn`t just paying for the spices but for the whole experience. Those men were really good at their job, so they deserve to be rewarded, and it wasn`t megabucks.
I thought the spices were expensive, but I hadn` t asked in advance, and when I was handed them ready packed, I was embarrassed to complain. I was still thinking about it, though, when his colleague, who was sitting in the back, started to engage me in a chat about Scotland, and as soon as I knew it, we had said our friendly goodbyes, and I was standing outside again having paid almost £20.oo for four small pots of spice.
The next day, I briefly went again, with Bandora`s Arab husband and their mixed race child, and I was totally left alone. This was somehow expected, but I still found it funny.