A Tear and a Smile: to Ramallah and back

A Journey to the Qalandiya International Biennial, Palestine

View from Ecce Homo convent terrace

HUNTLY – JERUSALEM: crack of dawn, 3.45 am, Deveron Taxis, get the gossip, driver dreams of the If, if it had been successful, if it had been 55, not 45, me too, will it stay a utopia?, next stop Frankfurt, wifi, read up on the basics, in Lonely Planet, the Crusaders, the Fatah, the Hamas, Sharon, Begin, 1948, 1963, Oslo, Arafat, Intifada, 1, 2, Knesset, Settlers, 6 day war, I should know all this, I know, lived half of it through it, Munich 1972, of course, I lived there, then, plane over Zagreb, last time there with Rachel, on our internet trip, over Nis, the Aegean, so blue, Rhodes, then, BEN GURION, airport, what do I do here?, I am a tourist, sherut, Christine from Ulster, compare stories of the walls, Berlin/Belfast/Bethlehem, enter the holy city, people intrigue, Damascus gate, down the alley, off the fork, Via Dolorosa, Ecce Homo, home for the week, the view, inexplicable, holy, dinner with pilgrims, from the US, GB, Singapore, they share their experiences from Galilee, Jericho, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Tim arrives, join him for kebab and pomegranate/orange juice shot outside the gate.

Sherut bus through Mea Shearim, Jerusalem
Sherut bus through Mea Shearim, Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Holy Sepulture, people carrying crosses on route, from all places, India, Mexico, France, Germany, Poland, crawling into the sacred site, once in their life time, holy smells, frankincense and bee wax candle, Ethiopian chapel on the roof, pepper tree, red and spicy, tower of David, meet Bea, curator and founder of Bait al Karama, women-led cookery school in Nablus, get essential information, on art, on Palestine, the situation, off to the wailing wall, security, need of scarf, I sit among the women, on a beach chair, now the Jewish quarter, steps up, steps down, through the maze of the old city, the holy one, the contested one, back to the convent, our wee sanctuary, dinner with Uriel Orlow and Andrea Thal, artist and curator from Switzerland, lemon juice.

view from Ecce Homo Convent Terrasse

JERUSALEM – RAMALLAH: 5am, muezzin calls, off to the Dome of the Rock, its eternal beauty, the blue, the gold, the ultimate aesthetics, we see Orthodox Jews, accompanied by soldiers crossing, the plaza, hear women calling Allāhu Akbar, some men say, its normal, the school girls pick the olives. Taxi bus outside Damascus gate, 12 shekels, through the city, pass Qalandiya, the wall, into Ramallah, quick bearings, busy place, many jewellery shops, lots of gold, in all shapes and sizes, chase Tim, who thought I was in front, among all the hustle, and bustle, Al-Manara square, lions like on Trafalgar, bronze man climbing up flagpole, Casablanca, there it is, a lonely palace, they install us the wifi, just for us?, off to meet Jack Persekian, the Director of the Palestinian Museum, in planning for 2016, introduces us to the essentials of arts/artists in Palestine, lunch with humus and chicken kebab, meet Tina at the art school, supported by the Kingdom of Norway, only 12 students here, every year, off to the opening, Archives, Lived and Shared, is the theme, skype connection to participating Gaza artists, some of us choke, Vera next to me gets goose pimples, she says, speeches, music with Arab lute, now the reception, with wine and beer, with Palestinian delights, savoury, and spicy and sweet ones, do we deserve this?, here?, any where?, what have we done to?

RAMMALLAH/NABLUS: meet Vera Tamani, founder of the Birzet museum, an anthropological institution that works with art, she makes us mint tea, and spicy cakes, with cardamom and dates, her studio, the pottery, the pomegranate tree, the pepper tree, the embroidery all over the place, potted history of Ramallah, of Palestine, and its art, learn about the people, and who can go in, and how can go out, and the Christians, not so many here any more, they left to the US, and other places, about art in Ramallah, and in Palestine, how it thrives, the contemporary art, writer Raja Shehadeh is her neighbour.

We head off to Nablus, twin town of Dundee!), past the settlements, the terraced landscape, into the city of the soaps, the bustling souk, big dates, nuts and a tray of sweets, mmmh, humus and salad, old soap factory, made from local olive oil, not Italian, he says, the soap factory owner, pomegranate/ginger/carrot juice,

Date trader in Nablus
Date trader in Nablus

off we go back to Ramallah, God’s Mountain, with another yellow taxi bus, and its green number plate, past the check points, settlements on horizon, back to the arts circuit, the Palestinian museum is just opening, with a show of all the museums in Palestine, superbly curated, by Jack, love the simple typed info sheets, nice, off to the young artists show, curated by Viviana Ceccia, great use of space, weaving in and out of the labyrinthious building, past the fish film, the paintings, the ancient pottery, collected, constructed by Hanadi Azmi, with diverse historic provenance, writing of history is always the prize of the strongest, she says, the old Russian classroom, the boxes of memory, I fetch the catalogue, lovely done, like a school jotter, with space to take notes, can I take it back?, off to the famous Sakakini center, design show, Museum of Manufactured Response to Absence, depicting Palestinians in Kuwait, big HOME soap, Hamas likes Humus, holed golden coin, passport of one person but many nations, curator talks, very eminently, through the beautifully presented display, off to the Quatan center, for another banquet of Arabian delights, savoury, spicy, sweet, do we deserve it?

RAMMALLAH – ABWEIN, a Shat-ha: crack of dawn, Palestine changed to winter time, clocks do auto-changes these days, confused at 5 am?, switch on the internet, google, what time is it now in Ramallah?, its just after 4 am, another quick snooze, off to Al-Manara Square, pomegranate/orange juice injection, see other hikers, hello, Samia, Ahlam, Christa,… taxi bus, orange, green number plate, sun rises over the Ramallah high-risers, with all their black water tanks, so many of them, because they only get water on Thursdays, we are told, how is it possible, half an hour, or so, drive, we stop, off we go, Tim switches GPS on, up, steep, along the terraces, of the ancient olive groves,

Olive groves north of Ramallah

Olive Tree

Olive Picking
Olive Picking

symbol of peace for many, war weapon for some, red earth, many species, a speckled spider, Samia our leader, Christa takes the photos, Ahlam Shibli is the botanist here, she spots them all, too many to remember, small oak trees, prickly acorns, thyme and rosemary, fig tree, near a well, goats, and olive pickers, we reach Suhweil Palace, in the circling terraces of Abwein, restored by Riwaq, a Ramallah based art/architecture organization, preserving Palestinian collective memory through projects that document and restore architectural heritage sites, across the West Bank and Gaza, come to fame for its socio-cultural conversions, through the big gate, chair on roof, now a picnic, under the big tree, the sharing breakfast, ensuring its not Israeli produce, a shat-ha, a feast for eye and mouth, mint salads, spicy yoghourts, fresh bread, herb teas, cakes and dates, nuts and humus make it to the cloth spread on the floor, some singing,

Picnic during the walk
Picnic during the walk

I wished I understood it, always wanted to learn Arabic, passed wish on to Rachel, once you have children, they are your future, they are your hope, to get to what you never manage, the knowledge, the peace, the group splits, we are off for some more hours in the heating up landscape, talk to Ahlam, she tells, showed at DCA, with Katriona Brown, in 2007, what’s your work?, you need to see it, she says, I won’t tell you, I am glad, artists often can’t tell you, you need to see it, another rest, they ask us whether we have already done some terror tourism, I schreck, not something, what I want to be known as, maybe we should leave it?, Hebron, many soldiers there, they say, we walk on, see the settlements, on the horizon, above us, past the olives, their terraces, the ancient soil, the farmer ploughing it with his donkey, the car, its hot, we head back, past the tomb of Yussuf Arafat, to Casablanca, get bag, the yellow taxi, with the green number plate, not to Jerusalem, to Qalandia, here we change, the security, all out, all through the iron curtain, the passport control, the x-ray machine, another bus, waiting, yellow too, yellow number plate, the wall, so many walls, Berlin/Belfast/Qalandia, its higher than Berlin, but has only one wall, but if you got over it, as one is not to, what would you meet?, better in or out?

beyond Qalandiya
beyond Qalandiya

Back in Jerusalem, off to Jerusalem VII/Fractures show curated by Basak Senova, walk about town, African Community Youth Centre, Arab Catholic Scouts- Jerusalem, Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, Centre for Jerusalem Studies-Al Quds University (Hammam el-Ayn; Hammam el-Shifa), Dar Annadwa, Dar al-Kalima University- College of Arts and Culture, French Institute-Gaza, Gallery Anadiel, Hammam Sitna Mariam, International Academy of Art- Palestine, Khalidi Library, Nicola Zaphiriades’ Shop, Patriarch’s Pool, Saint Francis Store, Swedish Christian Study Centre, we do first the hammam, with its splendid roof, the art?, then the library, the little shop with the timers, the Arab scouts, water runs through it, then the highlight, Persekian’s father’s booking binder’s shop, telling us all how to bind books, exquisite, wished there was a book of it, so nice, so delicate, so thoughtful.

Hammam a place for Art?

Al Ma’lmal foundation gallery, in the old tile factory, Jack’s place, a Norwegian film, dealing with history past WW2, a series of some 40 drawings, by Benji Boyadgian, Orientalist style of Wadi el Shami, a valley that soon will have to make way for a highway, scattered ruins of field houses from the Ottoman period, Qusurs or Manateers, in this terraced olive grove, humus and fish and pita, I hear fireworks at night, Tim films them, they are fired horizontally.

My room in Ecce Homo Convent
My room in Ecce Homo Convent

HEBRON/BETHLEHEM: we breakfast with the pilgrims, of the convent, taxi bus with green number plate, 15 shekels, my neighbor is a doctor, educated in Russia, he has special permission, his wife and children not, he talks about Bayern Muenchen, to another man, who is Tunisian, and his Bavarian wife, Hebron is fast there, where was the wall, off to the Ibrahimi mosque, the Synagogue is not open for us today its Shabbat, take off shoes, I get a cloak, feel like a nun, place is full of children, and women and men, Abraham’s footprint, and his grave, and that of his wife Sarah, and Isaac’s too, and Rebecca, it feels special, the children, greet me, ask my name, I ask their name, cant keep them in my head, they can, they want me to photo them, outside, people want to guide us, in the loo, many ladies, with their make up,

In the Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron
In the Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron

we walk through the souk and its former glory, many shops closed here, the settlement encroached on it, I buy a dress, turquoise and yellow with ample embroidery, who can do this, who has the time?, a spice shop, I get the cardamom, a woman’s handicraft shop, WomeninHebron, we get a Keffyeh shawl, used to be called a PLO scarf, in my time, they show us a house, its terrace is fenced, the living room has signs of fire, from 2002, they say, when their 2 babies died, little girl guides us, round their house, unease, we see the soldier, behind the wire, in the watch tower, the little boy shoots a photo, with Tim’s camera, we say and give a thank you, for letting us see, see the gravelled room on the way out, on through the market, with its pomegranates, and its guavas, and its other delights, hummus and kebab, overlooked by observation towers, orange bus with green number plate, to Bethlehem, settlements left, and right, on the road, the Church of nativity here, many people, from all over, Brazil and Nigeria, Romania and India, Russia and Germany, the priest sings, he is Arab, people cry, crawling down the spot,

Nativity Church, Bethlehem
Nativity Church, Bethlehem

In Bethlehem

where it all happened, the birth, 2014 years ago, its soon Christmas, need to get a present, for Mutti, we go to the Milk Grotto chapel, its all white, bar the orange light, from the stained glass, past a tourist shop, soldier gives me a cross, for Traude, she will like it, its imperfect, the olive wood, has a root, the roof, lets you see, through the fog, as far as the mountains in the Judean desert, also Masada in the distance, from the Roman-Jewish wars, on Manger Square, we see an info panel, about the plight, the geography of Palestine through the last 100 years, starting from a large green triangle, from the mediterranean to the dead sea, the green shrike over the years, today’s map freckled with inconsistency, bus again, orange plate this time, the wall snakes around the landscape, some Peace makers in the bus, from Norway, Bethlehem checkpoint, but we don’t get out, the Palestinians do, they come in again, off we go, to Jerusalem, we eat with the pilgrims, we look over the city, we sort our paperworks, will they take any references away, not let us on the plane?, with those business cards, those catalogues, the first fireworks are heard, over the city, the contested one.

JERUSALEM-Huntly: pre-crack of dawn, 2.45 am, this time the Jewish time change, taxi waiting, ride over the highway with nuts, checkpoint, who are you?, his mother?, the check-in is all a bit too easy, I sit between two people who ordered kosher meal, Frankfurt, Tante Traude, Onkel Peter, in Mainz, catch up on the family gossip, hear of their trip to the Holy land in 1987, with the local minister, off to Aberdeen 9 hours later, Nick waits. He bought a fruit juicer. But no pomegranates. If?

On the Via Dolorosa
On the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
Abraham's coffin in Ibrahimi Mosque
Abraham’s coffin in Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron
Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
Wailing Wall, Jerusalem









A Tear and a Smile

I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart
For the joys of the multitude.
And I would not have the tears that sadness makes
To flow from my every part turn into laughter.

I would that my life remain a tear and a smile.

A tear to purify my heart and give me understanding
Of life’s secrets and hidden things.
A smile to draw me nigh to the sons of my kind and
To be a symbol of my glorification of the gods.

A tear to unite me with those of broken heart;
A smile to be a sign of my joy in existence.

I would rather that I died in yearning and longing than that I live Weary and despairing.

I want the hunger for love and beauty to be in the
Depths of my spirit,for I have seen those who are
Satisfied the most wretched of people.
I have heard the sigh of those in yearning and Longing, and it is sweeter than the sweetest melody.

With evening’s coming the flower folds her petals
And sleeps, embracingher longing.
At morning’s approach she opens her lips to meet
The sun’s kiss.

The life of a flower is longing and fulfilment.
A tear and a smile.

The waters of the sea become vapor and rise and come
Together and area cloud.

And the cloud floats above the hills and valleys
Until it meets the gentle breeze, then falls weeping
To the fields and joins with brooks and rivers to Return to the sea, its home.

The life of clouds is a parting and a meeting.
A tear and a smile.

And so does the spirit become separated from
The greater spirit to move in the world of matter
And pass as a cloud over the mountain of sorrow
And the plains of joy to meet the breeze of death
And return whence it came.

To the ocean of Love and Beauty—-to God.

Khalil Gibran

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