Saturday, February 25, 2012

FTTN: Fictional email from Jerusalem / A plan / Reduction

[While in Mendoza, my mind was still very much occupied with the issue of tourism, how I perceive the places I visit, and how traveling means constantly having to reduce them into the "main attractions". The next three fragments in the tattered notebook reflect that. In the email I took the liberty to invent some mistakes based on what I think can be common misconceptions. I hope I don't make such blatant mistakes about the places I visit...]

A fictional Email from a tourist visiting Jerusalem

Hey Everybody,
Well, you don't have to worry, I haven't been blown to pieces yet J (I'm just kidding, calm down… it actually feels pretty safe here).
So, what's happening now? After all the beaches and partying in Tel Aviv, we came to Jerusalem. It's actually kinda cool… and kinda weird. Not like I had imagined it. To really feel the city's actual vibe, we chose a hostel in the old city. It's about 3000 years old! A bit mind boggling, to stay in a building that is that old. The place itself is built in a very interesting way- little alleys and cobblestone stairways, lots of arches, lots of stone. Of course, we went to visit the dome of the rock, the wailing wall and the church of the holy sepulchre.  Very cool, especially the dome of the rock which is a huge, beautiful building with all these mosaics and a big golden dome (obviously). Besides that we went to the market in the old city and bought a lot of stuff for really cheap (don't worry, little brother, you'll get your hookah…), and we ate a lot of local food. It's not bad, but all the restaurants are pretty dirty. It's strange, the mix of new and old.
Outside of the old city you can find… the new city! Who would've guessed?! We went to a couple of lookout points on the city- it's all built on hills, and of this pinkish-brown stone. As always, you can check out the pictures in my Picasa page.
The centre of town is like every city, pretty much: noisy, dirty, lots of shops and people, some OK bars. There is some nightlife, too, but nothing special. The people from the hostel were pretty cool, too, and we went out every night. All in all I had a good time.
Some weird things, though: they have a security guard that checks your bags in the entrance to… well, everywhere. It's understandable, but still a pretty weird feeling that takes some getting used to. And there are a lot of soldiers just walking around in uniform with machine guns! Even in the bank, when I was taking money out, this guy came in with this huge gun. Also, they don't have any buses on Saturday, so we had to take cabs that cost like ten times more. Very annoying, but oh, well
So anyway, it was really nice, but after 5 days we felt we've seen everything the city has to offer. Next on the list is the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth, plus a sea where the water is so full of salt, you float on it) and then back to the beaches, this time in Eilat. So life is good

I love you all. I'll write more later. Kisses

A cool plan that will probably never happen  

When I get back to Jerusalem, I should do a pseudo-touristic week in the city. Sleep in an old city hostel, do stuff according to Lonely Planet or other travelers' recommendations, walk around the city in fake aimlessness... it could be a quality experience, and a great way to reunite with the city. Of course, it will almost definitely not happen. But I think there is some quality in the idea itself.

[It did not happen]

It’s all a matter of simplifying every place you visit and reducing it so it will fit into a little box. Turning a city of millions into a dot in the map, into a check-mark, into something you “do” in a few days. I’m not necessarily criticizing it- it makes a lot of sense, and probably can’t be any different. Even somebody who has lived his whole life in a city hasn’t experienced all of it, and I’m probably experiencing things that a resident of the places I visit has never experienced, or has already forgotten (3 uses of the verb ‘to experience’ in the same sentence… -5 points on my creative writing grade). But it’s important to understand it and keep it in mind: you never “do” a city or an area, and you definitely don’t “do” a country. You don’t see all there is to see or do all there is to do. You just catch a short glimpse of a few sides of the place, and get a small whiff of its ambient. And in many cases you see no more than what has been highlighted, what they (whoever “they” are) want you to see. Which, in a way, is exactly what you want to see anyway. It’s a kind of tacit agreement to ignore all, or at least most of, the rest.
I’ll take this opportunity to present the ultimate association game of the Israeli South American backpacker, where each site that manages to receive more than one word is receiving quite an honour.
Ushuaia: end of the world, penguins
Punta Arenas: duty free shopping
Puerto Natales: Torres Del Paine (or torrusim, in Israeliadish)
El Calafate: glaciers
El Chalten: Mt. Fitz Roy
The Carretera Austral: hitchhiking
Futaleufu: rafting
El Bolson: “the farm”; the fair; drugs
Bariloche: chocolate, ice cream and Don Alberto restaurant [not the actual name of the restautant, but never mind…]; lakes; Habad house
Osorno: buses to Pucon or to Puyehue
Pucon: Volcan Villarica
Mendoza: wine
Cordoba:  skydiving
Salta: beautiful desert; on the way to Bolivia
Mar Del Plata: beaches
Puerto Madryn: whales, penguins and other water animals
Iguazu: waterfalls
Buenos Aires: tango; meat; Boca-River
Brazil: beaches; carnaval
Bolivia: salar; death road
Peru: Machu Picchu; Huaraz
Peru and Bolivia: cheap; dangerous; “authentic” South America
Colombia: cocaine and prostitutes
The far east: drugs; spirituality

Of course, you can clearly see in this list my own personal biases, and sense which places (or countries, or continents...) I have been to, which ones I've been close to, and which ones barely exist for me as a far away idea.

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