JERUSALEM The most complex city in the world explained by an Armenian gentleman with disarming simplicity, or when a metaphor is more evocative than a thousand words.
It is not easy to look for the soul of a place so small yet so complex as is the Old City of Jerusalem. Four kilometres of walls, twelve gates, four quarters, three religions, almost forty thousand inhabitants, all in less than just 1 square km. A large elastic mass of human beings constantly moving, shrinking within their quarters and stretching out all over the town out of necessity.
This is the Old City, it welcomes you and rejects you, it attracts you and repulses you, it strucks you and overwhelms you. But the emotion you feel each time you pass through one of the gates is about people, not places. You are entering into a kind of parallel dimension, a suspended reality. You walk around from one quarter to another, watching curiously. You cross the old jew professor who tells you about his love story with an Italian lady, the Palestinian merchant who makes his propaganda through the souvenirs for tourists, the soldier praying with one hand on the Wailing Wall and the other on his gun, the host of the Armenian tavern that hugs you and welcomes you as if you were one of the family, the child playing with his rope isolated within the Armenian compound of St. James.
Everyone has their own story to tell, everyone has their own version of the events… everyone tries to carve out their own space. You listen to them all, try to get an idea, but there are too many definitions, too many nuances that you are not getting. How can so many “varieties” of culture and society, religion and politics, coexist in this busy crossroads where balance and tolerance are very precarious concepts, precious keys to survive?
You keep asking yourself these questions until you enter by chance in a small artisan shop in the Armenian quarter… and browsing through the shelves, in the midst of those old ceramics, you are approached by the owner. He’s an affable and elegant gentleman with a sincere face and the wrinkles of someone who has seen and experienced more than you’ll probably ever do.
He tells me about his family and the history of the Armenians in Jerusalem, about the conflicts, the misunderstanding, the everyday life. He notices that I struggle to understand, that I need something simple and easy to empathise with that reality. So he pretends that I am a child and pulls the classical rabbit (in this case a metaphor) out of his hat…
Suppose you are looking at a salad, he says. There are tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, onions, everything. If you mix them all together it comes out a very good mixed salad, full of different flavours that blend well together and that make that salad tasty and unique! But if you want to keep them separate, then they will probably become insipid, dull, boring and without taste. That’s exactly what Jerusalem is, a large salad made of many ingredients which are interesting only if mixed together and integrated with each other. And anyone who tries to separate them, risks to destroy the magic of this City. Because this is her beauty, the Old City belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to her.
Only with this in mind you will be able to understand the spirit of this little, amazing corner of the world. I know that this definition could be applied to any social reality, but for me it will always be tied to this place and to the wisdom of the Armenian gentleman who managed to make me smile with a metaphor. Sometimes the most complex questions require very simple answers.
Jerusalem | more photos on www.simonebardi.net