Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's gonna be a long walk home (Hey, pretty darling, don't wait up for me)

They built a bridge in Jerusalem, which is slightly imprudent considering the fact that Jerusalem is a city situated in the middle of the desert. But they built it anyway. It is white and monumental, and it dwarfs its squat surroundings. Most people, when asked about it, will say that they hate it, or in the very least are actively indifferent to it. I love it. Yes, it is incongruent, and yes, the light rail system it is ostensibly part of won't be completed until 2011 and has done nothing but make navigating the city by any means of transportation near impossible, but this bridge, tall and elegant, with a central mast and clean lines, gives the perception of fluidity and paradoxically, of a fixed skyline. It draws your eyes upward. Cities should do that.
I grew up in Chicago, a city that historically has been a mecca for architects. A skyline rife with skyscrapers pulls your eyes up and out- towards the sky and the lake. It gives a sense of liberation; a thrill of power; an unfettered joy. Anybody who has driven north down Lake Shore Drive with the windows open and Led Zeppelin on the radio will know what I mean. Come around that bend at 35th street and let the city greet you, ever changing and constant.
Jerusalem is jagged-edged and labyrinth like. It sinks down into itself-it grows downward rather than up. It is rife, not with skyscrapers, but with ghosts and tension. Sometimes it feels like a city that is slowly choking itself on an excess of religious sentiment. But there are moments of grace here too, usually at dawn or dusk, in soft light. There are old Arab houses shielded by a deep green- fruit trees and climbing bougainvillea, rumors of the orchards they once were. There are courtyards and children, and quiet places that you can find if you know where to look. And at night, in my old apartment, I was sometimes woken by the sound of muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and then again by bells of the Byzantine monastery in the Valley of the Cross and then yet again by the voices of a couple or just some kids chattering in Hebrew among the young, growing things in the garden below. I didn't sleep that well, but that's ok.
A few weeks ago my sister and I celebrated 5 years of being Israeli citizens. Since then I have been trying to worry out how I feel about this anniversary. I miss Chicago often. And usually at this time of year I would be there visiting my family and friends. By now I would have done my typical Chicago things- I would have dropped my suitcases (had they arrived with me, which they usually don't) at my parents' house and ran out to the public library with my oldest friend to stock up on all the books I had wanted to read over the course of the year. They don't do public libraries around here. I would have driven down to the University of Chicago to use their stellar academic library; to breathe in old books as I walked through the stacks; to see the ivy turning red like I did when I was an undergrad. I would have given my nieces a bath. I would have watched the first Bears game of the season with my brother. I would have taken the Red Line down town and stood among a mass of humanity on Randolph and State near Gallery 37, where I learned how to write.; seen a play; heard some music and bad open-mic. I would stood in a late summer rain. I would have slept in my childhood bed with my grumpy old man of a cat at my feet. But I'm not there and it doesn't rain here- not until October.
So why am I in Jerusalem? Sometimes I ask myself the same question. This is what I have here: I have those moments of grace. I have a new apartment which I share with my little sister, with wooden floorboards in my bedroom and a pantry in the kitchen. I have a mural that I painted with a rediscovered friend. I have a job, which I sometimes like. I have a thesis that is more than a small part of myself. I have a new foundling cat, who I am trying to learn to love as much as I do my grumpy old man. I have little cousins who run to the door when I arrive at their house (when they're not too busy watching tv) and an uncle and aunt who appreciate me for the adult I am becoming. I have friends- many friends with whom I have laughed and learned and sat in restaurants too expensive for us, eating churros and drinking beer on new years day. I have a cohesive sense of religious self and a dynamic sense of inner self. Some days I ache for the lakeshore. Some days I think that I ought to move to Haifa. But until that time I have these things and a bridge reminding me to look up.

Cubbie Watch: Can you say, we clinched the division? Why, yes. Yes, I can.

Music Rec: Magic by Bruce Springsteen

Thesis Watch: 13 pages


Tobie said...

That bridge always puts me in mind of a calculus textbook, and makes me want to do complex calculations to describe its arc and angles. But in a good way.

(I know, ignoring the main point of the post, but there you go.)

Rogue Unicorn said...

I'm not a math person, but yes, I get that

Miri said...

Whenever I get homesick for Chicago, all I have to do is remember the bitter bitter cold that freezes your fingers in the minute and a half it takes to walk from the parking garage to the movie theater. I love that city, but it's too damn cold!

Rogue Unicorn said...

I love the cold. It's one of the things I miss- but we've had that conversation already. Have a great trip.