Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest post part two, by Rick Halmo

If you missed it, part one of Rick's account of his recent travel was posted on this blog on Nov. 25th. Enjoy!

Jerusalem: The Holy City

I had the opportunity to spend a full day in Jerusalem, although given how much Jerusalem has to offer for a history buff like me one day was not enough in this intriguing city. The security presence was apparent everywhere once we entered the city limits. Coming off the hour-long bus ride from Tel Aviv we were immediately subjected to a security screening into the bus depot/full-scale mall. In lieu of describing the history of the city, I think it is more interesting to discuss the manifestations of “modernity” that have been attempted in the “Holy City,” particularly in the realm of architecture and infrastructure.

One of the more astounding things I had learned during my trip was that the city of Jerusalem has a law stating that anyone wishing to put up a building within the city limits could do so but if they hit an archeological “dig” site that company would have to stop its construction and finance the remainder of the dig. Also, the new buildings would have to be built with the same old-looking stone with which the rest of the area is built. What an interesting roadblock to future development and construction. Only currently is Jerusalem putting in an aboveground rail line (think of the T train in Boston’s suburbs) through the city, and the project has apparently taken a long time to develop.

As I was leaving Jerusalem, I had the sense that this city had trapped itself in the past. Proud of its immense history, I felt that it attempted to retain that history by keeping the city’s entire character contained in the past as well, as if its incredible history could not stand on its own. More likely, perhaps it was just that the city’s inhabitants yearned for the past, a point that gains even more credibility when you consider their reaction to a place like Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv: Sin City

Tel Aviv is your standard beach city. Its characteristics mirror that of other beach cities that one can think of; the city is relatively more progressive than the rest of the territory, people regularly walk around in bathing suits, and there are abundant clubs and bars that you certainly would not see in other parts of the country like Jerusalem. Tel Aviv has corporate parks and a highly developed, futuristic downtown. Balancing this modern flare, there are a plethora of quaint marketplaces where bargaining is also part of the culture. Around the city there are a number of large parks and exercising areas, and while one may not feel alien in this area coming from America, the feeling of separation between Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel seemed quite palpable.

One of the more incredible things I picked up during my trip to Israel was a free magazine in the Jerusalem tourist headquarters. It was from the “TimeOut” publishing group (from “TimeOut New York”) and they had a magazine cover with the headline “JRS vs. TLV: Holy City vs. Sin City.” Two of their comparisons will do just fine to show how the area views these two distinct cities.

Under the comparison of “Architectural Trademark,” Jerusalem’s section describes, “Jerusalem stone and ancient ruins,” while Tel Aviv’s states that they have, “Bauhaus alongside indistinct contemporary architecture.” In the “religion” comparison, Jerusalem is said to be a place where “Judaism, Christianity and Islam are practiced in synagogues, churches and mosques, built in the name of God, Jesus and Allah, respectively,” while Tel Aviv’s religion is “Hedonism. Practiced in bars and nightclubs. God is a DJ.” The comparisons seem to reflect a kind of distaste for the modern and a preference for the past. Given the history of this region, it is hard for me to blame the inhabitants of the region for that mentality. Even so, I felt my experience of these two cities to be enhanced by experiencing the other one.

As you can see, a weeklong trip provided a lot of memories and lessons that one can only get by living what they learn in class. The trip gave me a better perspective not only on what I am learning in my classes, but also on the way in which people interact in other societies. I look forward to applying what I learned here to future scholarship and future travels.

Special “Thank you” to my professors, Mrinalini Rajagopalan and Maia Ramnath, for being so supportive of my travels to this incredible area.

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