4 - Dispatch From an Infidel

Jean has hunted down another perfect spot - a hostel/hotel, built by knights, that has been sheltering pilgrims since the crusades. We are inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock. The bell towers and minarets flip-off the skyline with threats of competing calls to the faithful at all hour of the day and night. Three star rated = earshot of 3 mosques. The Jews threaten to weigh in with ram's horn bugles hanging from shop stalls like noisemakers at a football stadium. But it is in the Christian Quarter where beer is allowed - the dry sects have no bridgehead here … yet.

Every possible attraction in this biblical theme park is own and operated by one or more of these groups of the righteous - several famously coming to blows over which brand of Prince-of-Peace followers should be (and should not be) allowed to sweep the steps to a particularly popular Jesus ride. The Protestant latecomers are thinking up some new sites to help drum up business. Even a church designed like a synagogue to help ease the converts onto a new team.

The tension of this competition is everywhere. Worry beads and rosaries click, black frock coats, veils and fedoras, Haji caps, turbans and yarmulkes - each faith/denomination/sect/sub-sect emphasizing its specialness with its own distinct robes and headgear - I should have brought my kilt and a Stanford cap!

Behind all this, or rather under it, is the history of this place. When someone says something is "older than dirt" - this is the dirt they are talking about. If the stories are true, it is the dirt that Jehovah used in his Adam recipe, and the dirt Jesus spit into make eye salve for the blindman.

But this dirt is mixed with blood. History here is all war and conflict. A list of conquerors of this holy city would eat up a page. Moshe Dayan's paratroopers were the last ones, and before that it was the British General Sir E. H. H. Allenby, GC, MG, KCB - my Granddad's boss.

Armed with guidebooks, maps and an old photograph - we will join the timeless tide of tourists who have Sunday school memories to fuel. But we also have Granddad. Now we just need to find him.

- Secular Stew