Monday, June 20, 2011

Jerusalem Illuminated

I'm not sure my favourite (leather) walking sandals will ever quite recover from the soaking they had last night, but it was worth it. I should have thought to remove them before wading, sorry - "walking on water" - through the giant geodesic egg exhibit in Jerusalem's Old City, but J was standing next to me hopping from one foot to the other in excitement as the bizarre sculpture changed colours from muted magenta to blue to two tone red and purple and an ethereal mist wafted out from its apex (do eggs have an apex?), lending the whole scene an almost supernatural quality.

She couldn't wait to walk through and see the egg from inside. So I tossed caution to the winds, believed the guide that claimed visitors would "walk on the water" (I assumed some kind of stepping stones) and waded in with her on what turned out to be slightly raised rubber mats that weren't quite raised enough to keep our feet out of the water.

It was worth it though for the heady joy it gave J. She revelled in the sheer oddness of the whole thing, being bathed in gently changing jewel toned lights while walking through a wooden cut out egg perched on an artificial pool on a platform in the Southern Kotel archaeological park within sight of some of the most sacred and contentious places in the world.

She insisted on walking throught the exhibit three times and would have gone back a fourth only it was midnight by then and they were closing the gates of the archaeological park.

It was the perfect end to a curious night time adventure following the "orange trail" through the maze of old Jerusalem, one of several possible routes through the walled city, each leading visitors on a light themed treasure hunt of sculptures and installations adorning the historic buildings, courtyards and the ancient walls themselves.

The variety of ideas and media within the rubric of light was fascinating. We saw a short film expertly screened onto the arches of the Rothschild building, perfectly aligned so that the character appeared to be walking from arch to arch. Some alleys were lined with quirky illuminated shapes or light filled flowers.

One structure was decorated with brightly coloured neon letters in at least four scripts meant to symbolise the need for dialogue and listening to one another. Junior commented that it made her think more of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps that was the point.

Then there was a rainbow hued " light cake" made of over 200 drums, filled with pingpong and LED balls which every 15 minutes or so erupted from the "cake" in what was meant to represent a shower of coloured sweets transporting the viewer back to his or her childhood. Or just delighting the many visitors who still were children, judging from the crowds of youngsters.

For the past few years though the late June/early July light festival has become a city fixture drawing crowds of thousands to pack into the Old City's narrow streets to marvel at all manner of beautiful, bold and some just plain weird light creations and installations among the the ancient stones.

We had arrived just after dark and were met with a glorious giant tree of light just outside the Jaffa Gate. All around the gate futuristic looking "light palms" mimicked the more traditional date palms that line the promenade.

The whole area was teeming with people, locals, tourists and pilgrims. Once we entered within the walls though it wasn't so crowded that you couldn't enjoy the exhibits, as people split up to follow the different trails, each marked by a different coloured row of neon lights.

J loved the idea of the different routes: "Just like the Yellow Brick Road, only in lights" said she.

The only problem was there was so much to see and way too little night to see it in. No way could we have managed to see the orange, blue, yellow and red trails in four short hours, even without two little kids in tow. Eight to midnight just isn't enough time. And it isn't even that easy to come back another night - the festival is only on for a week.

I guess late June seems like an odd time for a Jerusalem light festival. It isn't as if there is anything light related in the calendar this time of year, well, other than the shortest nights of the year. Would seem to make an after dark event rather counter-intuitive as a June event, would it not?

The problem is that Hannukah is (drought years excepted) during the rainy season, the big Jerusalem pilgrim festivals and the High Holy Days already draw huge crowds to the city, as do Jerusalem Day and Independence Day.  The period of mourning leading up to the black fast of the 9th of Av is not an appropriate time period for such an exhibit and the relatively quiet period between Hannukah and Purim is usually right in the peak of the rainy season.

What's left? Some of the shortest nights of the year. And some of the most pleasant Jerusalem evening weather.

Not a bad way to spend a summer night. Not bad at all.

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