A collection of writing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hotel Zefania

Jerusalem, December 1985

Stephen had always been generous when it came to Georgie’s little idiosyncrasies. He lived in what he called, ‘the house of urine’, cohabitating, mostly happily, with as many as five cats after Isabella had her first and only litter. Where most people liked the idea of the cat’s inherent right to roam free, Georgie had lost two to hit and run and had decided that the rest of her kitties should stay indoors for ever and ever, amen.


He had also graciously tolerated her earthquake kits in the trunk of the car of the car and box of emergency supplies in their Southern California apartment. Her motto, ‘safety first’ followed them on their travels and kept him from doing some of the more adventurous things he most likely would have enjoyed had she not been his travelling companion.


He did not visit as much of Israel as he would have liked as she had been paralysed by the rising intifada movement during their visit to the Holy Land, nor did he venture out most nights when she was sleeping back at the hotel room for fear of her waking in worry. It was true that the climate in the Middle East was unnerving at times and they both hastened their step while passing Jerusalem city bus stops every few blocks or so, fearing booby-trapped explosives or abandoned bags that blew up during the heaviest commuter times of the day.


They were staying in Mersharim, the orthodox section of the city, in the Hotel Zefania, a family owned hostel which forbade sleeveless t-shirts, short trousers or skirts in favour of more pious attire. On the Sabbath, the place was a tomb, void of television or radio noise; the only sound being grandmother, and family matriarch, shuffling in her slippers from kitchen to dining room and back.


The streets were filled with covered ladies pushing baby carriages and devout men with or without beards, solemnly walking from place to place, dressed in long black overcoats against the harsher winds of December.

The city proper was a plethora of markets, holy grounds, halva bread stands and Georgie, Stephen, Mark and Julie often walked through the maize of labyrinthine alleys looking for new foods to try and visiting churches, synagogues and mosques in the afternoons.


They had met Mark from Wisconsin months before in front of the American Express Office across from L’Opera in Paris and becoming fast friends, had already been to the South of France, Spain, Italy and Greece together. Julie, a painter from San Francisco, had joined them on Crete and the four, agreeing to visit Israel together, had taken two long boat rides to reach Haifa, picnicking, playing cards and talking with other voyagers late into the night as the ferry of mostly young budget travellers made its way East on a dark sea. They passed bottles of Greek wine back and forth, hsaring stories and making the quick friends that travel encourages.


In Zefania they shared a room with four beds and bath. One morning Georgie and Stephen awoke to Julie and Mark making love in the next bed over.


For Georgie, no place in Israel was safe and hoping to leave soon, she had been secretly happy that the group’s wishes to work on a Kibbutz in order to stretch their money further had fallen through upon arrival. The signs warning the citizenry to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour, abandoned bags and boxes haunted her at night and for the first time in her life, she had trouble sleeping, fixated instead on the sound of military unit practice which was taking place far from the city limits but could still be heard at night when Jerusalem was quiet in slumber.


On this particular evening, she had fallen asleep with a book in hand and awoke feeling hot, pushing off the covers, her book falling to the ground. Stephen did not stir. Jules and Mark deep in sleep.

Rising to go to the bathroom, she sat on the toilet, her hands resting on her thighs. At first she did not feel the welts on her legs, but switching the light on in the bathroom, she saw her body covered in hives- welts the size of quarters all over arms, between her fingers and toes, inside her mouth, nose and ears. She touched her scalp. It too, was covered in bumps, hot, risen fleshy areas over every inch of her skin. She stood in front of the mirror and saw that her eyes, swollen and half mast were red and irritated.


She must have uttered something aloud for after a few seconds, Stephen was there, telling her to sit down, sit down. Let me see.


He took a sheet off his bed and put it in the shower and wet it with cool water and told her to strip, then he placed it gently over her, the sheath, covering her head and going to her feet. She stood in front of him, shivering.

She climbed back into bed an hour later, the welts reduced to red splotches, and spent, curled up next to him, in the crook of his arm, she slept.


Next morning they cancelled their trip to the Dead Sea. That same day three buses from Jerusalem were blown up, triggering land mines in the road, most of the passengers seriously injured, a few, fatally.


When they finally left Jerusalem by plane, Georgie was taken aside and interrogated for over half an hour by Israeli police. Stephen said it was because she was ‘too polite’ and, so, inspired mistrust.

Mark, out of money, went back to the States. Jules accepted their invitation onward to India.

They flew back to Greece and bought their tickets for Bangladesh.


A few years later, Stateside, Julie would write a letter to Ste and Georgie inviting them to her wedding in Yosemite to Arnd, Zefania’s young, German night watchman and they flew up to Northern California and stayed the night with the newly married couple in their cabin in the middle of the Sequoias, marvelling over wine and memories, the strange and long journey that had carried them many miles away from where they had first met.

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That's my fabulous dog, Martin, who models the 'downward-facing-dog'yoga posture for me each and every miraculous day. He is a great companion, stellar traveler and all-around lovebug.