The17
TOURS / COAST-TO-COAST / DERBY England & The Holy Land / The Holy Land

Sparrows

23 March 2011

I am dreaming about sparrows. And these sparrows are nesting in the steering wheel of my Land Rover. But it does not look that much like a steering wheel. For a start it is about four feet in diameter and is not in my Land Rover. In fact it seems to be floating and not connected to anything. But I do know it is what I steer my Land Rover with. As for the nests, they are very small and are somehow built into the circumference of the steering wheel. I can see the baby chicks and the un-hatched eggs. My major concern is that if I grip the steering wheel as I have to, to steer the Land Rover, I will crush the baby chicks and break the un-hatched eggs.

The dream shifts. I am now digging up nettles that are growing in a clump around the back of a house that I used to live in. I have sunk the fork into the ground and I am attempting to turn the soil over so that I can remove all the roots of the nettles. But the roots are thick and white and intertwined and will not budge. And I know that even if I get as many of the roots out of the ground that I can, there will be some left and from them fresh nettle plants will grow and replace all the ones that I have removed.

Then I awake. I am lying in a bed. The bed is in a hotel. The hotel is in Jerusalem, not far from the west wall of the old city. This was my first night here. Never been here before, or for that matter, I have never been to the Middle East before.

From where I am lying in the bed I can see an olive tree growing outside of the open window. In the olive tree are a number of sparrows, chirruping and squabbling. I lie there and listen to the sparrows and try and hold onto the dream before it disappears. Obviously the sound of the sparrows had entered my sleeping mind and encouraged the dream.

For whatever reason birds have been a big part of my life ever since I can remember. Like the lives of fish, the lives of birds have formed an integral slice of my internal myth. But it is only in the past few years that sparrows have begun to take a central role in that internal myth.

When I moved to London five years ago there was this hawthorn tree that grew by the bus stop across the road from where I live. In this tree there always seemed to be a bunch of sparrows chirruping and squabbling. The hawthorn tree is still there, but a couple of years ago the sparrows upped and left. It is a well-documented fact that the sparrow population of London has plummeted over the past few decades. This once most ubiquitous of urban birds is leaving our capital city and there does not seem to be any one conclusive reason why. There are plenty of far more polluted cities than London supporting huge sparrow populations. All the more reason why my mind cannot help turning their disappearance into something symbolic.

I may have written in my book 17, about the sparrows in a tree outside of a cafe in Moscow back in 2005. And maybe I have written about the ones in a tree in the Grand Rue area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when I was there in late 2009.

But as I lie here in bed listening to the sparrows in the olive tree outside my hotel window in Jerusalem and the dream is still hanging in my head, I realise this is the first time that I have ever dreamt about sparrows. It may not be the last.


The above all happened a couple of weeks ago. I am now back in my flat in London writing it all up from the notes I made at the time. From the window next to where I am working I can see the hawthorn tree that no longer hosts a squabble of sparrows and by my side is the Bible that I was given at the age of eleven in 1964. All the kids were given one in our first year at Beanfield Secondary Modern School. Or they were when I was living in Corby. It is always the Bible that I use. It is well thumbed.

Throughout this Bible are drawings of scenes from the stories. All the usual ones and some of the ones that are not so usual. I remembered that there were some of these drawings that depicted sparrows. It was thinking about those drawings of sparrows that prompted me to pull the Bible from the shelf and flick through the pages until I came to one of the drawings. And I quote from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter Ten, Verse 29 – Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

After reading that, I put SPARROWS and BIBLE into Google to see what it would throw up. And there within less time than it takes you to read this sentence were all the quotes from the bible that mention sparrows. There are six in all. I read them to see if they throw any new light on my relationship with the bird. Nothing beyond what we already know, that being, the sparrow is always used in literature to symbolise the lowest and commonest of life forms. Wherever we are, so are sparrows, getting on with their lives. Maybe we sub-consciously identify with them. They like us live sociable urban lives, but always seem to be arguing with each other.

There was another train of thought going around my head other than sparrows. The day before I flew out to Israel one of my teenage daughters had torn into me challenging my whole rationale for going to this country that should not exist. Her argument was the usual one – I should not be going to work in a country that is not really a country but land stolen from people who were already living there. And we in the West had turned a blind eye to this theft, because we were so tied up in the post war guilt about the Holocaust and our part in two thousand years of antisemitism. By me accepting the Shekels I was being paid was like accepting blood money. Artists and musicians from the West going there are being used as propaganda tools. These artists and musicians supposedly normalise the position of the state of Israel. I should be actively boycotting the place, not going there to further my career.

I knew all my daughter’s arguments, probably better than she did. Somewhere in my head I knew I was no better than the band Queen going over to play Sun City in South Africa at the height of apartheid or the Kerry Packer cricketers.

I gave her some mealy-mouthed half-baked justification. But it did not wash with her. She wanted to know why she should respect her father when he does things like this. I reminded her that I had to earn a living and that every time she goes to Tesco’s some of that money goes to the Zionist cause via Dame Shirley Porter. Or at least I think it does. But my daughter knew that I knew I was clutching at straws.

None of it was going to stop me from wanting to come to Israel so that I can sort out what the finale of both The17’s City-to-City and Coast-to-Coast world tours will be. In my head both of these ongoing but sporadic tours have been wending and snaking their way around the world for one reason – to climax in Jerusalem. The real reason that I was over in Israel was not just to do the three performance lectures that I was booked into be doing, but to make contacts and set things up for the final part, the grand crescendo of The17’s two world tours. These, if it all works out, will be happening in late 2012.

As much as I try to put to one side the history of this small patch of earth over the past 60 years, or even 3,000 years, I know it is that history that is all part and parcel with the relationship I have had with the place for most of my life. But none of that relationship has actually been about the reality lived in a day-to-day relationship. It has been just something that has existed in my somewhat unfocussed imagination.    

So while I was lying in my bed listening to the sparrows I tried to bring a rationale together.  One that I could offer my daughter, on my return to London. For as long as I can remember Jerusalem has held a central place in my imagination. Bible stories were the first stories that I ever knew. There was no television in our house until I was nine. Neither were there many children’s books. Thus the bible stories had an almost free reign in my imagination.  They were what informed me about the weaknesses of humankind. And our strengths. They gave me a basic moral code to live my life by. I instinctively understood at an early stage that it did not matter if Mary was really a virgin, or if the Red Sea did part or even if Jesus rose from the dead. One knew and got what these stories were about.

But central to many of these stories was this place called Jerusalem.  It is where the Holy of Holies resided. It is where you went to turn tables. If there was anywhere on earth that symbolised the meeting of the vanities of man with whatever the eternal other is, it is Jerusalem. And as I got older, I became aware of how we in the Western Christendom viewed Jerusalem via our art and literature – The Celestial City, the New Jerusalem. The very opposite of those Dark Satanic Mills in whatever form they take, in your day and age.

As a wayward teenager, much of the music that I was into, be it folk, soul, blues, country, reggae or rock ’n’ roll referenced those bible stories I knew so well. The bible was still the common reference point across Western culture. Sometime around the dawning of the age of punk and disco it began to slip from view.

In the past I have often gone on about how both Belfast and Jerusalem seem to be built on fault lines of the human soul. No, I cannot really give a rational explanation to what that means other than saying that I like the vague poetry of the statement.

Did the Crusaders, 1,000 years before me, ever expect to get to the real bricks and mortar Jerusalem? And what did it mean to them once they got there?  The journey always more important than the arrival etc.

The sparrows kept chirruping and it was time for me to get up. The next six hours were taken up with walking the ancient city walls of Jerusalem. I had been vaguely planning that the last performance of Score 328: SURROUND, in the City-to-City world tour would be performed around these walls. As I walked them, I could look down into the backyards of the various communities that were living below. There were real people living real lives. Washing was being hung out, stray cats on the prowl, kids playing, old men being old men. I was glad to see it was not all just a tourist destination under a bell jar, as so many of the places that I have visited have ended up becoming. But even with all this reality going on, nothing instinctively made me feel this was the place that I wanted to end the tour.

On my walk back to the hotel, I heard a loud thud from a few streets away, but thought nothing of it. In every busy city there are loads of bangs and crashes, it is part of the modern urban soundscape. But as I was about to enter the hotel reception I got a call on my mobile. It was Ilan Volkov and he wanted to know if I was ok. Ilan was my host, the man responsible for bringing The17 to Israel. There had been a bomb in the Central Bus Station on Jaffa (Yaffo) Road. As yet he had no idea how many people had been killed.

As I lay on my bed, back in the hotel room, texting friends and family to let them know that I was ok, I was listening to the distant but persistent screaming ambulance sirens, mixed with the close and equally persistent chirruping of the sparrows in the olive tree outside my window.

Then came a phone call from Marie Wennersten. She is a director for the drama department at Sveriges Radio (Swedish National Radio) and over the past few months she has been putting together a documentary about The17. As well as taking part in the first ever public performance by The17 back in 2006, Wennersten has interviewed me on several occasions – a couple of times face to face, but mainly over the phone from Sweden, often the morning after I have led a performance in some distant land. On this particular day, she wanted to record my thoughts about how the performances had gone so far in Israel.

But I was not interested in that. I could not help launching into telling her about my dream and how I was now lying here listening to the sirens and the sparrows. And how in my head they were about as powerful a soundtrack to life as anyone could ever experience. Far stronger than anything that I may have done on either of the previous two days with paying members of the Israeli public. It is only now in typing this that I am thinking that I should maybe construct a score out of it. It could read:

SCORE
385: SIRENS & SPARROWS

Whenever there has been a bombing
And you are in close proximity to the bombing

(But not so close that you are dying
Or involved in the rescue of others
Who may be dying)

Lie on your back
Close your eyes
And listen to the sound
Of the sirens
And the sound of the Sparrows
Chirruping in a nearby tree.

But back to Marie Wennersten trying to interview me. It was a while before she could get a word in edgeways. I needed to pour all of this stuff out. But when she did it went something like this:
“Bill, you know what this dream means?”
“No.”
“You told me a few months back, how The17 is to end at the stroke of midnight on the 28 April 2013, because at midnight you turn 60. And that is the date you have decided will signify the beginning of a new chapter in your life.”
“Yes.”
“And then the last time I interviewed you told me how in the film that the German director is making about The17, your plan for the closing shots of the film is to be on the morning of the 29 April 2013, your 60th birthday.”
“Yeah, but what has this got to do with my dream?”
“Just listen and I will tell you. You said it would be film of you driving your Land Rover into a wild and open space somewhere in Scotland.”
“Yes.”
“You park up, climb out, take a jerrycan from the back of the Land Rover. Then you douse the inside of the Land Rover with gasoline from the jerrycan. Then leaving the drivers door open you walk away with a Molotov cocktail in your hand. After a few yards you light it and throw it into the open door - the closing shots of the film being the Land Rover burning. Thus you destroying the place where The17 began and symbolically destroying any way back for you into The17.”
“Yeah, I know. But like I said, what has this got to do with the dream?”
“Well you think you can control things in your life. What you do. When you do them. But at a deeper level, you know you cannot. Even the sparrows have more control over your life than you do. That is what the dream is telling you.”
“The sparrows?”
“Yes, the sparrows and all that they represent.”
“And what’s that.”
“The force of nature. Bill, you think you can grasp the steering wheel, decide which direction you are going in. When you can stop and start. But whatever you think, we are never even fractionally in control, be it volcanoes, earthquakes or falling in love.”

Look, I do not know if that is exactly how the conversation went. But it was something like that. And anyway she has it all on tape and maybe it will one day be used on her documentary about The17.

Later that evening (in Jerusalem and not after the Land Rover gets torched) I was giving a performance / lecture at the gallery Yaffo 23. The name of the gallery is in fact also its address. It being only a couple of hundred yards up the road from the Central Bus Station where the bomb went off, I assumed that the performance might be cancelled. It wasn’t.

Where I was to give my talk was on the top floor of the building. I was there an hour or so, before I was supposed to start, thus before any of those who might be turning up, were turning up. I spent this hour sitting on a balcony looking out across the rooftops of Jerusalem while the light drained from the day. The sounds of the city seemed muffled and distant even without the squabbling of sparrows or the occasional scream of a swift as it tore across the darkening sky. It was then that I knew exactly how I wanted the final performance of Score 328: SURROUND to be performed.  The 100 local members of The17 that will be needed for this planned final performance, will each position themselves on rooftops across Jerusalem. The first will be on the balcony of Yaffo 23. The other 99 will form a sweeping ark across the rooftops. Well not exactly an ark as they will form a complete circumference that will end back up at this balcony. The Way-Ho cry will make its way five times around the rooftops of the city. It seems like a far more inspiring way of doing it than around the city walls.

By the time that I came back in from the balcony, the place was packed. The lecture I gave repeated nothing from what I had said in the previous two talks in Israel. I improvised the lot, starting with telling them about the dream and the sounds of the sirens and the sparrows and the interpretation of the dream and how I want to do the final performance of Score 328: SURROUND across the rooftops of Jerusalem starting from the balcony right here. Almost all of those there, signed up for taking part in the final performance of Score 328: SURROUND.

I finished off by leading them in the performance of a number of scores. Beginning with the new one that had come together the previous week in Cork International Airport – Score 384: ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES. This was followed by the now standard crowd pleasers - Score 13: CELEBRATE and Score 327: DIVIDE & COMBINE. I ended with one that I have been ending with at each opportunity since I wrote it last October in Austria; it is Score 361: AT THE CONCERT. Basically this involves me getting someone from the front row with a watch that has got a second hand, and getting him or her up in front of the brand new members of The17. He or she instructs the choir to close their eyes and after counting them in, in German - eins, zwei, drei, vier -  all of them start clapping and they listen intensely to the sound of the clapping.  After 17 seconds, the person calls out SCHLUSS or just STOP. And that is it, the evening is over.

But it wasn’t, after the lecture I was taken for a meal in a Japanese restaurant. There were people from the gallery and the British Council and of course Ilan Volkov and his colleagues. They were in a mood for talking and drinking and general merrymaking. I was a spent force and in need of my bed. I made my excuses and started the long walk back down late night and empty streets in the vague direction of my hotel. I got lost. Wondered if there might be another bombing and how I could explain my obvious involvement with it all to my family. It took over an hour to find my way back to the hotel. There was not another bomb. But I later learnt that there were reprisals in the Gaza Strip.

Early the next morning I was woken by the sparrows in the olive tree. Then some church bells started to peel.  And then some others. And then some more. Until I could hear at least a dozen churches ringing out across the city. When they finally all stopped, there was silence. Even the sparrows had been silenced. It was some minutes before the sparrows in the olive tree started to chirrup again.

Over the last couple of weeks, between then and now, I have filled in my census form and been working in Boston, MA (not Lincs) and New York. On my first morning in Boston I went for an dawn walk, I passed a tree full of sparrows celebrating life and all of those things we have no control over. In New York I did other stuff that will be written up about elsewhere. And once back home I had to face a cross-examination from my younger children as to why I had ticked the box next to Christian, while filling in my census. Tomorrow morning I will walk the first of my 40 Sparrow Walks. And to know what that is click on the link below.

More later.

 

The Poppy

24 March 2011

I had been warned. But I really did not understand what I was being warned about. I mean, I am Bill Drummond, you cannot out reckless me. I can take things to the limit and then even further. Or that’s the impression that I would like to give at times in my writing. But these are just words.

When I met up with Rafram ‘Rafa’ Chadad earlier today, the one that I had been warned about, he just looked like an amiable, dare I say almost avuncular man in his early thirties? Of medium height, carrying a bit of weight, heavy black-rimmed specs, a shock of black wavy hair and a friendly grin. No outward signs that this was the man with whom I was going to meet my match. But now as I sit on the bus that is taking me from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv and making these notes, I have to conclude he completely trashed me.

The plan was that Rafa was to act as my guide into the West Bank. In 2012, I am to be leading a performance of Score 317: REPEAT across Israel and Palestine (or parts of). I was wanting to get some idea of the landscape in all the ways that we understand the word, of what Israel and Palestine looked liked, away from the cities and developed parts.

He picked me up from the hotel early this morning. He was with Roy and Sagit who are from the Yaffo 23 gallery, where I was working last night. The dream of the sparrows and the steering wheel had been put behind me. I was ready for this new day.

‘So where do you want to go Bill?’

‘I want to stand where Moses stood, on the banks of the Jordan looking across to the Promised Land, the night before he died.’ And just to remind you, this was after Moses had lead his people out of slavery in Egypt and the subsequent forty years in the wilderness he made them do. I wanted to know what the Promised Land looked like.’

‘Yeah, sure Bill. But you wont see a land flowing with milk and honeyjust a bit of scrubby desert.’ I knew this would be the case. I also knew I did not want to be one of those tourists that come to this part of the world wanting to stand in all those various spots where the Holy Land tourist industry has decided that all the biblical incidents took place. In fact, I was not that bothered about standing in the exact spot where Moses stood, it was just the answer that I gave for us to get going somewhere out of Jerusalem. The city was beginning to get to me.

As we got onto Highway 1 and started heading east out of Jerusalem and into the West Bank, Rafa began to show his personality and reveal some of his background. But first, back to his physical appearance, there is nothing about Rafa that fits with our pre-conceptions of what a Jewish person looks like. He would have never made a model for an anti-Semitic cartoon of earlier times. And I guess that is because he is not part of the Ashkenazi Diaspora but the Sephardic. He was from Tunisia, his family moved to Israel when he was younger. This meant that he could speak both Arabic and Hebrew without an accent. And because he does not ‘look’ Jewish, means he can go anywhere in Israel or Palestine without folks knowing who or what he is. This seemed like the perfect guide to have in a place like this.

As we were speeding out of Jerusalem and into the Wilderness the conversation flowed. I was interested in what Rafa did when he was not showing someone like me around.

‘I am an artist.’

‘What kind of an artist?’ I naively asked.

‘The kind of artist that goes places and meets people and has conversations, gets into trouble and eats food. I like food.’

‘So where have you been and who have you met lately?’ I asked good-humouredly

‘Well last year, I went back to Tunisia. I have dual citizenship. Two passports. It means I can go where I like. In Tunisia, I crossed the border into Libya. But not at a border crossing, just in the desert. It is how most people cross the border. But after wandering around Libya, taking photos, meeting people, talking to them and eating food, I got arrested.’

‘For what?’

‘I was watching the Simpsons on the TV in my hotel room.’

‘You can be arrested for watching the Simpson’s?’

‘Is there a better reason?’

‘No but...’

‘I was in my hotel room; it was the day before I was going to be heading back to Tunisia and then back to Israel. The authorities wanted to know who I was and where I came from. I told them I lived in London. But they knew I was Jewish.’

‘How did they know that, you don’t look obviously Jewish?’

‘Is that supposed to be a compliment or an insult?’

‘No but...’

‘Every second person in Libya is an informant. I had been photographing areas of Libya where Jewish people used to live. I was asking locals about the former Jewish people and what had happened to them. There used to be a big Jewish population there. They put two and two together and got...’

‘So you were a spy or something?’

‘No, but that is obviously what they were telling me I was doing.’

‘Did they torture you?’

‘Of course but that is their job and they told me beforehand. After three days of the worst possible torture, which it may be somewhat indelicate to go into now, it could put you off your lunch and I can guarantee you, you will have one of the best lunches you have ever had with me today.’

‘Yeah but what happened after those three days?’

‘Ah yes, it was then that they told me “Welcome, you are in custody of the Libyan secret police. We are the cruellest secret police in the world. If you had heard stories about us, you would kill yourself now. You are all alone. No one knows you are here. We told the Tunisian embassy that you died in a car accident. By now your family think you are dead. So you better cooperate with us.”

Now I am thinking, do I believe this Rafa? Maybe he is just making it all up. Maybe making up stories is what he does as an artist. I mean, all the while he is telling me this, he has this big warm smile on his face. There seems to be all these artists today, who think it is clever to make scams and pranks. Using the internet to spread word of their japes. Maybe all this was just a version of that particular genre of contemporary art. Maybe it is what they all do in Israel. 

‘So what happened next?’

‘They blindfolded me and took me to another prison. Threw me in a cell and left me for over four months.’

‘Solitary?’

‘Of course.’

‘What did you do?’

‘You’ve seen the movies. I created a regime. I got fit, running around and around my six feet by six feet cell for two hours every morning. Then two hours of lifting my water jug. And in the afternoon, making art from the tinfoil and plastic trays that my food came in. Then at night, lying on my mattress, remembering every street that I had walked down in Paris and the girls that I have known.’

‘So how did you get out?’

‘One day I was blindfolded again. Thrown in the back of the car and driven off. I thought it was going to be more torture or the firing squad. I could hear aircraft. There I was un-blindfolded.  It was an airport. And there was this man coming down the steps of a private jet holding and Austrian flag and he said “Hello, I’m Martin Schlaff. Do you want to get on the plane?” And I say yes.’

‘So who is Martin Schlaff and why did they let you go?’

‘You not heard of Martin Schlaff? You must know who he is. He is the Jewish Austrian billionaire. He was a spy for the East German Stasi. They paid him millions for American technological information. Then after the fall of Eastern Europe he bought up all the rights to the mobile phone networks across Eastern Europe and then sold them a couple of years later, making him a multi-billionaire. And then he went into partnership with Yasser Arafat, setting up a huge casino in Jericho. The laws in Israel prevent gambling, but it is allowed in the West Bank. Jericho is in the West Bank. So he built this huge Vegas style casino in Jericho, so Israelis could go there to gamble. Qaddafi’s son is also a co-owner of the place. We can go there later if you want, after we have been to the Jordan River.’

‘Hang on a minute, you got on this jet...?’

‘Yes, Martin Schlaff’s private jet. And he flies me out of Libya.’

‘Why, is this bloke involved?’

‘Because, Schlaff does deals with people. Where there is money to be made out of doing deals with people, people that will not talk to each other, Schlaff will do the talking. Make things happen and make himself millions. He is a friend of Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi’s son, and Berlusconi you know the prime minister of Italy.’

‘So what kind of deal was done to get you out?’

‘The Israeli government had to pay him $50,000,000. This was then handed over to Qaddafi, who then handed it over to his charity that builds houses in the Gaza strip.’

‘And what did you say you do as an artist?’

‘All of this, I meet people and things happen. The things that happen are the art. Today I am meeting you. Whatever happens is the art.’

‘But you said something about food?’

‘Yes, I am the leader of the Middle East section of the Slow Food Movement. Later we will eat.’

This is all a bit much for me to take in. So I look out of the window of the car. We are out of Jerusalem and well and truly in the West Bank. There are barren hills, total wilderness, nothing; it looks like one of the bleakest places in the world. There are some shacks made from rubbish and pallets and containers. These, I learn are the homes of the noble Bedouin Arabs. It seems they no longer live in those tents you have seen pictures of all your life, but they still roam around this wilderness with their flocks of sheep and goats, like they have done since Abraham’s time. I make an instant mental note that I would like one of the 100 choirs of The17 to be made up of nomadic Bedouins and to do the performance of Score 317: REPEAT.

It is now pouring with rain. No, not pouring, the rain is torrential. The windscreen wipers are going full tilt. None of this is making sense. I don’t know what we are doing or where we are going or why. I let my mind drift. I return to being a nine-year-old boy in the back of the family car, trying to stare out of the window at the passing landscape. But instead of a rather dull bit of rural Scotland, all I can see is desert. The others are chatting away in Hebrew; I am wondering what episode of the Simpsons he was watching when he got arrested.

But then suddenly we are at a border crossing. There are young sexy looking Israeli women dressed in military fatigues and holding submachine guns

‘Come on Bill, time to get out. You and I are going to cross into Jordan.’

‘What?’

‘You wanted to stand on the East bank of the River Jordan and look over to the Promised Land? Then first we have to enter the country of Jordan.’

‘But I have not got my passport.’

‘Bill you are with me, you do not need passport.’

‘Hang on a minute. I am not going into a foreign country – an Arab country, without my passport. I might not get back in.’

‘It is ok Bill, I can sort it out, I know these people.’

I get out the car. It is still pissing down. I try to pull my mind into focus. I must be firm.

‘No, Rafa, I have changed my mind. It is ok; I do not need to stand where Moses stood. I do not need to see the Promised Land.’ And I wish I did not think these girls with their uniforms on brandishing automatic weapons looked sexy.  It is usually me that is trying to push the boundaries, test the limits, but this Rafa is miles ahead of me. Maybe I have just been watching the wrong episodes of The Simpsons. If this is all some sort of game of poker then Rafa has won.

I get back in the car. Rafa smiles, the other two say nothing. The car is turned around and we start driving back to Jerusalem.

‘Lets go into Jericho, I know a great place to eat there.’

‘No Rafa, we are not going to Jericho. Did you not see the news this morning?’ Sagit is laying down the law.

It seemed that after the bomb that had gone off in Jerusalem yesterday, the Israeli army drove some tanks into the Gaza strip and blew up a house. Then Hamas responded to that by sending a couple of missile over into Israel.

‘Hey, it will be fine and the food is so good. They are all my friends.’It is time for me to put my foot down. ‘Rafa I promised my children, that while I am here, I will not get into any trouble. I promised them I would be back by tomorrow.’

The car falls silence. We head back along the highway to Jerusalem. We are back in the hills. There is Jewish settlement on top of one of the hills to the left of the highway and a Palestinian village in the bottom of the valley, to the right. There is also a bridge crossing the highway. This was the perfect place to do graffiti. Not today, but when I return next year. There would be two graffiti, one in Hebrew and the other in Arabic.   

‘Can you pull up, I want to have a look at this bridge, take some photos.’

They do and I climb out. The rain has passed. I tried to see if there is a position where I can take a photo looking through the bridge, where you will be able to see both the Jewish settlement and the Palestinian village and both planned graffiti all in the one shot. It is going to be difficult. But not as difficult as other things. I look around at the barren landscape, where nothing seems to grow. I mean, why does anybody want to kill or risk being killed over such a desolate looking place? Then I noticed a lone poppy growing at the side of the highway. I looked straight into it. It was perfect, but knew if I were to pick it, the petals would fall off immediately. It was like a common poppy in England, but with a different black bit in the middle of it. I took my mobile out and took a photo of it.

Back in the car we drove into the centre of Jerusalem. Rafa had decided where we were to eat. We parked up, outside the city wall and walked through the market. The lanes of the market have not changed for hundreds of years, if not thousands. It was crowded. This city, or the ancient part of it, is built in layers. The market is the bottom layer. Rafa lead the way. We arrived at a small cafe. There is nothing outside it to entice trade. Inside it is bare, only three tables, overhead strip lighting, no menus, nothing at all welcoming in any way. But the aging proprietor welcomes Rafa in like a long lost friend. They chat away in Arabic. It seems the place only sells one dish, but according to Rafa, it is the best in all the Middle East.  It also seems that the boss if having trouble finding a wife for his son. The son is working with his father in the cafe and has obviously got some issues, be that autism or something else. The one dish is a very thin and stretched pastry with sweetened cheese as filler.  And it is very good, but can not decide if it is supposed to be a savoury or sweet dish.

While we are waiting for it to be made, Rafa took whatever the conversation was, into another direction.

‘Do you know what the Sepulchre is?’

‘Yeah, Golgotha and the tomb where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead.’

‘Well can you hear those footsteps above us?’

‘Yes.’

‘Those are the tourists in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That is directly above us. They think they are in the place where Jesus was dead and then came back to life. But they are not.’ Rafa got up, moved the table next to us. This was to give access to a small door in the wall. Rafa opened it and beckoned me in. I stepped through the door into a cellar with some very ancient looking arches above us. The only light was what was coming through the open door. There were some boxes and a few bits of wood but nothing else.

‘A few years ago, archaeologist dug all this up. These walls and arches are over two thousand year old. They were built as tombs. This is where Jesus lay. Not where the tourists are above us.’

‘So why does nobody come here? Surely this has got to be the ultimate point of pilgrimage for any Christian wanting to do the pilgrimage thing.’

‘Yes, but nobody knows it is here. And the people who run the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, who do know, certainly do not want to let on, that the real place is down here. They want the tourists to keep coming into their church.’

‘But what about the bloke that runs this cafe? Surely he could do with the trade?’

‘No, he does not want all those hundreds of people. He wants a quiet life. Find a wife for his son, so then he can retire and let his new daughter-in-law run the place. His son knows how to do the cooking, but cannot run the business.’

We returned to our table to drink the fresh mint tea that had just been poured. I get my phone out. Click on the photos section so that I can look at the photo I took of the Poppy. I might not have stood on the banks of the Jordan where Moses stood, but I have breathed almost the same air that Jesus breathed when he first rose from the dead. Or was that just a story?

And now, two hours later, I am sitting on the bus heading from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, making these notes, and considering the day. Rafram Chadad is one of those rare people you meet in life. As an artist, he does not have to physically make anything that you can see or touch or even write about. It is just his approach to life, that somehow creates situations that then go on to affect the lives of all those around him. It is those affects that are the artwork. He may never be an internationally regarded art super star, with retrospectives in all the right museums, but in my imagination he is one of the greats. I started this piece, by making those claims, about how I could never be out-recklessed, but then this Rafa bloke went on to trash me. Of course these were just hyped up words to get your interest, but there is no doubt, Rafa has humbled me. I mean, what must if feel like to have a $50,000,000 bounty on your head, and it gets paid? What kind of responsibility must that be, to have hanging around your neck for the rest of your life?

I get my phone out again to have a look at the photo of the Poppy. This Poppy seems to be the key to whatever has been going on. I text it to Tracey Moberly, she is always photographing poppies, maybe she will know what sort it is and what it means.

As we are pulling into the bus station in Tel Aviv and I am about to put the note book away, the last thought I want to record is this: I have to find out which of the 450 (and counting) episodes of the Simpsons, Rafa was watching when he got arrested.

Post Script: Roy and Sagit, who were mentioned briefly at the beginning of this text, were major players in the day’s events, but for the telling of this story, their input has been marginalised. When I return to Israel in 2012 or 2013 their input will not be marginalised.