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Behind the Green Door

Mon Nov 9, 1992
Jerusalem, Israel
      Dealt with a lot of cranky, stubborn, wretched people this morning, and met some wonderfully helpful and friendly people in the afternoon. It's exhausting.
      Saw a guy with a UCSB t-shirt and approached. He's here for a semester abroad having a good time. I told him it was my first day here and he didactically told me what I needed to know as if this was my first time away from home. It was OK; I listened patiently and I liked the introduction. He then let slip the statement that Israeli girls were better looking than Santa Barbara girls. I couldn't let that pass. After some interrogation it came out that this was a women-in-uniform/women-with-guns fetish. Lots of young Israeli girls are doing military duty, strolling around town with banged-up guns slung low over their shoulders (I have heard unconfirmed reports of them dancing with their guns in discos), and this guy was into it. While many Israelis are good-looking in the same way as Arab girls are, with olive skin, dark, dusky eyes and hair and all this, nevertheless, there is no comparison.
      My favorite t-shirt I saw for sale today was of an American Indian sitting at a table with Yitzhak Rabin and saying, "Yitzhak, let me tell you about trading land for peace."
      Tons of Americans are here. Every Israeli I asked for directions today turned out to be American. Lots of people in yarmulkes were herded around the tourist sites, having a great time. It made me feel happy for them that they have this homeland to come to or seek refuge. They deserve a place--far from me!! No, just kidding.
      Met one American who has lived here 5 years. The conversation drifted to my travels and he asked how long I'd been away and added, "You look beat." I feel beat. I haven't slept well in a long time. I'm up by sunrise all the time.
      I haven't been engaged in a political discussion yet, thankfully. During Clinton's campaign drive recently he said he regards Jerusalem as Israel's capital and derided Bush for being "pro-Arab". "PRO-ARAB!?" the Jordanian newspapers cried when they heard it. I thought it was an odd assertion, too. Bush is so pro-Israeli it's not even funny.
      At Jaffa Gate in the old city there's a tourist information office staffed with cantankerous workers verbally attacking people who dare ask for assistance. I spent about 20 minutes with one such woman, alternating between being flabbergasted and entertained. She was about 45 years old and stereotypically Jewish: the perfect accent, smug, sassy, streetwise and absolutely on fire. I asked about attending the Israel/Sweden World Cup qualifying soccer match in Tel Aviv. She said cheap seats were about $10 and I feigned a heart attack since I assumed they'd be cheaper.
      Her retort was, "What? What do you pay to see a game in Yankee Stadium?"
      "It's cheap! My country's cheap! The least expensive seats are like $3.00."
      "OK, so I had a cheap date! But $10, it's not much."
      She scribbles some information down for me and I can't make heads or tails out of it. "You can't read that?" she fumes. "Can't you read?"
      "These hieroglyphics? Is it upside down?"--and on and on. Even though we appeared to be at each other's throats and attracting attention in the office, we were having fun. I tried to get her to come to the Green Door restaurant with me, and her interest seemed piqued, but after I described it in more detail, she begged off.

Tues Nov 10, 1992
Jerusalem, Israel
      In the Muslim Quarter of the old city a shopkeeper asked if I was scared to walk around there as an American. He explained that many Muslims are against America and maybe I could have trouble. He went on to say that he knew all about California; in Los Angeles everyone has AIDS.

     OK, Green Door. This is the greatest place. I have dragged several other travelers to witness it since they don't believe it when I tell them-just like the Big Fatty shawarma in Amman!
     If you enter the Old City through the Damascus Gate you descend about 60 or 70 meters until you come to a fork in the road. The right sends you to the main artery and the underrated Tabasco Hostel. The left sends you to the Wailing Wall and Dome on the Rock. There's a third, narrower path to the perpendicular left that at first looks like just a garbage-strewn alley for all the daytime vendors. This is the way to the Green Door. 15 meters through this at nighttime you come across the only place in the area to have a light on. Enter down though the (white!) door into a sort of sub-basement cavern where you see the chef busily preparing pizzas in a sunken area next to the brick oven. The Green Door! The atmosphere of the place isI don't know a good word for it. A sign announces:

Mohammed Ali
      The chef is the cashier is the maitre'd is the busboy is the owner. He has some plastic chairs and little plastic tables haphazardly tossed about, old pizza papers littered everywhere. He's got some other once-woven stools that are on the verge of collapse. On the wall is a frightful tangle of exposed electrical boxes and wires. A charcoal drawing of maybe Meryl Streep sits in a blocked window. About six cats roam around scavenging for what they can, treading on the flats that hold the pizza doughs. Next to the oven yesterday was a stack of wood to stoke the fire. It appeared that Mohammed was dismantling someone's house because this wasn't firewood. It looked like desks and bed frames were being sacrificed. Tonight a parade of people brought more dubious stuff to burn.
      The Green Door's popularity is, I am convinced, due to it being the only cheap place to eat in the Old City and partly because of this funky ambience. The pizza? No! The crust is OK, but the "meat", well, who knows what it is. He scoops it out of a green garbage bag and smears it around the crust. It looks and seems to have the consistency of cat food. Then comes the "cheese". This so-called cheese is that 55% fat processed stuff that comes in 8 foil-wrapped wedges in a circular container that the French fob off on the world. Yesterday was the classic day. A little kid helped out by squeezing off little chunks and trying to flatten it with his thumbs over the "meat". After the "meat" and "cheese" comes some tomato paste and if you want, two eggs on top. This concoction goes into the oven. The 6 or 8-inch, quote-unquote pizzas are about $1.25. The Green Door!!
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