Life in the Center of the World: the “this is cool” version

I live in the center of the world.  That is, if you’re going by this ancient map of the world.

jerusalem map

Ancient map of the world depicting Asia, Europe, and Africa, with Jerusalem in the center

The mosaic of this map is in the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and there is a new tiled version outside of City Hall.  My memory of historical facts is poor, but I believe that this map wasn’t symbolic: people actually believed “all roads lead to Jerusalem.” (Please correct me if you know the real history of this map).  Of course we have all seen a modern globe and know now that Jerusalem is not in the center of the world.  But I tell you, sometimes it feels like it is.

Although Jerusalem isn’t in the center of a map, it is often the center of attention and has been for centuries.  Because of this, I really feel sometimes that I live in the center of the world.  Oftentimes I am overwhelmed by this feeling and living in the tension breaks me down (note: I had a huge emotional breakdown over it last week).  But sometimes I think, “I live in the center of the world.  That is so COOL!”

I had that thought recently because I was seeing my “world” in public places:

1)  A Cookbook

The new best-selling cookbook, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi references my school and my church. And I’m not even joking when I say that the pictures in the book are so familiar that I’m looking to see if I’m in any of them.

jerusalem cookbook with words

My school and church are discussed on the page about Lamb

2)  A Commercial

I went to the movie theatre to see Jurassic Park in 3D (best movie-going experience of my life) and was surprised when I saw a commercial before the film that looked familiar.  First I shouted, “Hey, that’s my neighborhood!”  Then I shouted, “Hey, that’s my street!”  And finally, “Hey, that’s my HOUSE!”  It was cool.  If you want to see what it looks like where I live, just watch this commercial.  I know every place in it.  *Note: where the kid rolls around in grass doesn’t actually exist.  I saw them filming one day and was happy to see we had a new patch of grass, but when I came back later it was disappointingly and suddenly gone.  At least now I know why it was there for a day!

3) A Movie

An Israeli movie came out this summer and is being shown in every theatre I know of.  It’s cool because it has Patrick Stewart in it, but also because all of the hospital scenes were filmed at my school!  The filming took place last year; school started a couple days late because of it, they used my classroom for props and whatnot, and Patrick Stewart autographed a copy of Romeo and Juliet for me.  And now, the movie is out and my school is in it!  So cool.  Here’s the trailer, however our school didn’t make into the trailer itself, just the film.  But watch the trailer anyway, because it’s good.

Hunting Elephants Trailer

4)  A Conclusion

I remember when I first moved here a friend of mine from college was passing through the city.  I was taking her to the main sites in the Old City when she asked me, “What’s your favorite thing about living here?”  I replied, “There is always the potential for something to happen.”  At that exact moment, we saw Bill Clinton walk down from the Dome of the Rock and over to the Western Wall, where he impeccably proved my point.  I am excited about moving back to the States eventually, but I do wonder if I’ll find myself a little bored after living here, in the center of the world.

Clinton 018

Bill Clinton at the Western Wall (being guarded by an extraordinarily furry policeman)

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Michigan and Other Places

With all the news about the bankruptcy, I’ve been thinking about Detroit lately.  Actually, more accurately, I’m trying not to think about Detroit.

I’m not from Detroit, but since living overseas I find myself identifying with the city and claiming it as my own; to me, it has come to represent Michigan as a whole, and my home.  I used to be excited to read about Detroit on the rare occasion it popped up in the news, but these days I cringe when I see a headline and immediately turn elsewhere.  What Detroit is going through pains me.

The news is reporting what I’ve been aware of anecdotally — Michigan is dying, almost dead in fact, and on life-support.  I’m often nostalgic for my home, but what I miss doesn’t exist anymore.  I used to go home to visit a multitude of friends and family, but if I were to go back now I would have only one friend to visit, only one friend who hasn’t yet emigrated elsewhere to a better place.  On Facebook I saw pictures of my old group of friends “up north” for the fourth of July weekend.  But the group has changed a lot so that I only recognize a smattering of faces, and they’re of people I’m not in contact with anymore.  It makes me wonder if I did go back to this place I miss, Michigan, would I be accepted?

There’s a deep part of me that wants to return home, but alongside that desire is a fear that that home doesn’t exist anymore.  Michigan is dying, friends have moved, and I abandoned the state and those that remained.  I wonder if they could forgive me for that.  I wonder if I could fit in again, and find a home again.

I expressed these thoughts to my boyfriend of almost four years when in a flash I finally understood an infinitesimal part of what his life is like.  Anis is Palestinian, and for the first time I was able to feel genuine empathy for his situation.  I asked him how it felt to not have a recognized country, to have a land that is not technically his, to be homeless.  I finally began to understand.

Geography is important.  I have great respect for my father and his opinions, but one I don’t share is his thought that geography is irrelevant.  He travels a lot and he says that all places are the same and if you’re there long enough, you’ll like it just as well as anywhere else.

I disagree because in geography you have cultures, societies, languages, landmarks, people, and atmosphere.  Every city feels different.  When I visit a place I am able to learn about the people and culture based on how the city feels.  Switzerland is xenophobic and dull, Lithuania is depressing and defensive, China is ignorant, Paris is haughty, Marrakesh is traditional, Istanbul is modern and diverse, Jerusalem is mentally ill, and Detroit is struggling against itself.

I realize that I’m rambling; I apologize.  To sum up what I’m saying, geography matters to a person, and I think it matters a great deal more than we credit it.

Detroit’s problems are obviously affecting the people currently residing there, especially the senior citizens, but they also affect all of Michigan, and anybody who has a connection there.  I don’t think all of my friends wanted to move away, but they were literally out of options.  Ideally I would love to move to Dearborn, near Detroit, because there Anis and I could live in both Michigan and Palestine at the same time.  But that will never happen, because there’s nothing there for us.  There is no industry, no jobs, no life.  I wish I could say, “I’m going to move back to Michigan one day!”  But I won’t. Because that would be going backward.  I want to go home, but my home is dying.  And even though I’m far away, and possibly not even accepted by my home anymore, it still pains me to see it like this.