The light relief in my progress around the streets of Jerusalem today has been provided by my attempts to run the gauntlet of souk traders and taxi drivers.
The art of not getting waylaid by traders is almost as fine a one as the art of haggling. By nature I do try and avoid being rude to people. So, if someone wishes me a good morning my reflex is to wish them one back. However in a souk that isn’t always a good idea because the average souk trader is a fly operator and he knows very well that ‘good morning’ leads ever so readily to ‘and how are you?’ And before you know where you are deep in conversation and once he’s showing you pictures of his son or daughter in England it becomes extraordinarily difficult not to buy something. Take my word for it. Actually in my case today such a conversation after buying something I did want distracted me sufficiently to forget about collecting eight shekels (about a pound) change. But the funniest incident of all related to my walking stick.
I have rather a nice brass headed walking stick which unscrews in four places. I imagine the sale of such sticks has gone through the roof since the recent increase in the restrictions on what may be taken on to an aeroplane came into effect. Although I’ve never seen walking sticks per se listed as restricted items, I cannot imagine it is possible any longer just to walk on to a plane with one. Four short pieces of cylindrical wood packed with one’s socks is a different matter. Anyhow, I have such a stick and it has been much admired since I bought it late last year. ‘Where did you get that from’, a voice behind me this morning piped up. ‘How much do you want for it?’ In spite of my repeated protestations that it wasn’t for sale, the price was at four times its value by the time I realised the only way to extricate myself from this one was to remove myself (and the walking stick) as quickly as I could. And a good thing I did because less than five minutes later it saved me from an undignified tumble on an uncommonly slippery paving stone.
Taxi drivers around here are even more of a menace. During the afternoon I walked to the top of the Mount of Olives and on the way up I was accosted more than once by three or four different drivers who were firmly convinced that this particular Englishman, mad dog or otherwise, simply ought not to be out in the midday sun. And indeed it did beat down as my pink brow this evening attests. Needless to say when I did want a cab once I had got back down from the Mount, there wasn’t one to be had. ’Twas ever thus.