For everyone who is concerned that technology is taking over the world, I would like to put forth the argument that Google maps cannot tell you like it is. Here is how Google Maps says you get to the Church of Gesthemane from my house.
But I'd like to offer up a slightly more accurate snapshot of the trek. I say snapshot because the stones are the same, resting there for centuries; but the smells and sentiments and travelers are as variant as the wind that carries them.
Take a right out of the apartment building – not the quickest way, but we must factor in a prettier walk and the proximity to the Supersol for a late-night snack. Abandoning your hopes of acquiring peanut butter during Passover and paying too much for a bag of apricots, proceed down the hill then up the hill then down the hill past the mall and the light train to the Old City’s Damascus Gate. Pass your friendly neighborhood falafel man who remembers not only your preferences – no onions, extra spicy – but also your zodiac and the name of your first boyfriend. Walk firmly through the Muslim Quarter looking determined so as not to engage the men selling fabric and TV remotes. But do pause to wonder why on earth there are so many Haredi Jews (ultra-orthodox – big fuzzy hats) in the Muslim Quarter. Easter miracle of coexistence? – is suggested by one friend; We (Israelis) do it occasionally just to taunt – rationalizes another. Feel free to ponder, but you must acknowledge that there are far too many idiosyncrasies in this city you will never ever understand, and to try to do so shaves years off of your inner child. Speaking of inner child, maintain speed or slow for a small indulgence because the knafeh salesman is looking hopeful.
Finally, you’ve gone too far. It’s okay – don’t get exasperated. This happens no matter where you’re going and from whence you’ve come - it is part of the Old City vortex and luckily you left early to account for this (and of course by early we mean you left late as usual, anticipating that the rest of the world would be even later than you. And thus, the clock ticks more slowly in the Middle East.)
Stop to ask a group of young Muslim guys for directions. You must carefully follow their words as one tells you straight then left and the other tells you right then straight. Look cross-eyed and smile politely. Inevitably, they will switch from English to Hebrew, the latter of which you must feign understanding until you hear buzzwords that you recognize (i.e. Austrian Hospice! Right!) “Shukran” is thank you in Arabic. Huff back up the mild incline past the chanting nuns following a hefty cross along the Via Dolorosa and turn right at the massive gathering of Israeli soldiers, down the hill and out the gate to an intersection. Name of the road? Unclear – it’s printed in 3 languages and most likely a different interpretation and transliterated spelling for all 3, so it’s best just to know it by the view of the Church of Mary Magdalene outside of Lion’s Gate. Keep right and follow the pilgrims. You shall know you are in the right place by the incessant honking because no one thought to close the road whose name no one can remember.
And once you adjust to the honking (we recommend thinking of it as celebratory…because you cannot change a culture with a death glare), look up at the Mount of Olives and the Sacred Garden and the space where Jesus hung out in his final hours (most likely playing Catch Phrase with his disciples). Look up at the worshippers’ candles lining the processional down the walking path to Mount Zion. Look up at the skins and robes of many colors, worn by hundreds singing the same chorus in a different tongue. Look up at the unity, brief as it may be; in this moment it is everything. You are here.