I had a chance to visit the Old City in Jerusalem last week. I haven't been there in months, everything being closed down, us being locked up at home. We finally found some respite, and I was eager to follow up on a meeting with a local priest, for a talk about a photo project I'm working on. And of course, to enjoy the bustling small streets of the Old City.
But my memories of the pre-Covid Old City of Jerusalem didn't come true. Obviously. Tourism is non-existent here, still, and is only supposed to slowly coming back during this and the coming month. And while some people from within the country, as well as local residents, were present, most shops were closed down, the owners simply not feeling it worthwhile to open for the occasional person interested in the usual stuff tourists are longing to drag with them home, as an attest of their presence in some place or another. Those shop owners have either found other types of income, or none at all.
It was admittedly relieving to a point. Normally, or pre-Covid normally, you would have to make your way through hordes of people, suffering both from the summer heat and the crowd of people either dragging you onward, or preventing you from getting where you need to go. But both were non-present on this day. And at first I enjoyed it. I had time to take my photos, allowing me time to take in the scene, before composing and push the trigger.
But soon the worried expressions and tone of conversations got to me. While this was good for me, it certainly wasn't for the shop owners. The Old City is empty on a scale, which is only rarely seen. And it is being felt. I talked with some of the shop owners, who don't want to sound like they're about to despair, but it was visible. No income means no money to pay for the rent, the food for the family, or even worse, the rent for the shop itself, which allows them to have an income in the first place. These are not good times.
The photo I have added to this post, was shot around 11 am, a time where the streets are supposed to be full of people. But it looks more like it was shot around 6 am in the morning, when the first owners are arriving, and the religious are walking to the early prayers. This is not a normal state of a city, which has gone through so much, and which deserves to have some years of calm stability, allowing people to breathe. But at this point, even the before normal is to prefer, with its heat, crowds, and spontaneous explosions of whichever local political conflict is relevant at that time. Now, not even the threat of annexation makes the angers rise, only subtle despair creeping in in all the corners of the city.
I will soon be going back to the Old City, to work on a photo project on Islamic architecture, which will be part of a larger project focusing on the Islamic vs Muslim Jerusalem. I will probably be talking much more about that, when I get there. But I hope and pray, that when I get there next time, I will again see the streets full of people, tourists and locals, enjoying this ancient, beautiful, and wonderful city, hiding behind the Ottoman walls of days past.