Travel notesIssue 15 | June 2012

Xavier Meets the Wall

by Heather M. Surls

Xavier made this pilgrimage from Ireland to Jerusalem for her. When the cruise liner docked in Ashdod, on the Mediterranean coast north of Gaza, he got off, found a public bus, and rode seventy kilometers east. He found his hostel within the walls of the Old City, in the Muslim Quarter, and then he and an American couple he’d befriended on the ship went looking for a drink.

The sun was setting. It was the end of September, Rosh Ha’Shanah, the Jewish New Year. They exited the walls at Damascus Gate, walked west and crossed the street at a four-story stone building. The restaurant on the top floor, staffed by a white-hatted chef, sold platters of cheese and fruit. Xavier let the Americans choose the cheese (they chose French), and he paid for it—twenty dollars, plus a glass of wine for them and a beer for himself.

From the balcony, they could see everything they’d read about in their travel guides: the walls of Jerusalem, built in the 1500s by Suleiman the Magnificent; the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the brilliant gold Dome of the Rock; and, in the distance, the Mount of Olives, crusted with white tombs and gravestones.

She didn’t tell me she was Jewish
, Xavier said, slurping some of his beer. I didn’t know until her funeral.

The Americans asked how she had died. Cancer, he told them. If I’d known, we could have done this trip together. They nibbled cheeses and slices of late-season melon, fragrant and soft. The sun was down now, and darkness amplified the sounds below—honking drivers, hissing brake systems on buses, Arabs shouting in the market to the east.

When he’d finished his beer, he asked them to walk with him to the Wailing Wall. Together they re-entered the Old City and navigated the streets, unnaturally bright with fluorescent bulbs, flashing with mirrored tapestries and hand-painted baubles. They hesitated at pyramids of spices and dates, sticky trays of baklava, hurried past bloody meat markets. Foot traffic thickened as they approached the plaza, descended stairs to the security check. A sign read in Hebrew and English: You are approaching the site of the Western Wall where the Divine Presence always rests.

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About the author

Heather M. Surls was a Californian until she got married. Since then, she’s been a semi-nomad, first living near gloomy, coffee-addicted Seattle, then spending two years in Israel, where she worked for a study-abroad program and visited Jordan and Egypt. She now lives in the Chicago suburbs, where she continues her international experiences among Burmese, Vietnamese, Turkish and Liberian neighbors. You can find her work in Prairie Light Review and Relief .

Read our current issue:

Poetry

Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok