Soundtrack for a night in Jerusalem: The Muezzin's loudspeakered call to prayer. A group of Armenian nuns singing hymns. A radio playing Arab pop music -- celebrating sundown on yet another day of Ramadan. Children playing, snapping caps.
The sight of a child with a toy gun more unnerving
around here than most places. The souq store owners calling out to entice us in. "Where are you from? Can I help you?
Come and see my store."
Men and boys loitering on the street call out: "Need a guide?" Merchants push wheelbarrow-carts up and down the rocky steps of the Via Dolorosa, echoed by the marching feet of Israeli soldiers and extra police security detail for Ramadan and the Jewish New Year.
We can hear all this from our corner room in the Austrian Hospice, on the border between the Muslim and Christian quarters. Sounds waft in with the cross breeze. The window knocks against the dusty sneaker I used to prop it open. The curtain flutters. We try to sleep while on the street below men argue in Hebrew, Arabic, in the imperatives of parents. Little girls skip and screech. It’s two am and the soundscape works its way into our dreams. No cars in the Old City, but we can hear the honking of cars and buses from beyond the Damascus gate. Church bells ring the hour. At four a.m. a cannon goes off to warn the Muslims that they have one hour before sunrise and the start of today's fast. The sun burnishes the roofs, silence finally reigns and we can sleep.
By six thirty a huge crowd passing by under our window, children running. At first we think they are playing, then we realize they are all heading up to the Dome of the Rock. A massive army of them, in white, black, street clothes, fez caps and bareheaded. Once they are gone the birds finally start chirping: dawn is here. Roosters crow.
We go to the Armenian church for an early service. It's pitch dark inside, no electricity here, just a few candles. The service begins, black capuchined monks stream out and position themselves in corners around the altar where we can't see them. Tenors on one side, altos on the other, there is one with an almost soprano voice. They each take turns going up to a book on a central stand and singing or reading a few lines. This is the oldest Christian service in existence; they’ve been doing it just like this, in Greek, for over seventeen-hundred years. As the sun rises light comes in the glass sides of the dome. First the dozens of monstrances in front of the altar light up, glowing golden discs, as if they were emanating light instead of reflecting it. Then the glass globes hanging over our heads light up. Then the oil lamps that are on pulleys, and the glass in the candle-filled chandelier starts to reflect the suns rays. The singing changes as the sun rises: light has a sound here. The golden haloes on the painted icons gradually start to gleam. The service ends just as this dark little church is fully illuminated by the sun. Now we can see all the paintings, and they all feature the spirit of God coming down like a flame of gold and touching the heart or the head of a human. At the end of the service a monk with his peaked hood still drawn over his face turns and blesses us.