I am sitting in an empty Jerusalem "sherut" van at 1:00 AM, waiting for it to fill up and take me to Tel-Aviv. It doesn't fill up, not even partially. I am the only one there, the last man in the city. The driver is smoking outside when I decide to leave on foot. Naturally, he begins yelling at me.
"Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say nothing, it's nothing, just sad dreams, or something like that... Swing low in your weep ship, with your tear scans and your sob probes, and you would mark them." I've quoted these words of Martin Amis once before, blogging from an internet cafe in West Berlin. I'm crazy about daylight, make no mistake, but there's something about being stranded too late at night in a moody city with nowhere to sleep. You get a free, precious lesson in the blues, and what could be more precious?
Jerusalem by night. The "Bass" is closed. The "Uganda" is melancholic. The green neon lights of a mosque over Silwan distinguish a finger pointing to God from the darkness about it. At dawn the song will rise from its tip to mix with others in the brightening sky, but dawn is far.
Someone lets me into the old Ron Hotel, today the "Jerusalem Hostel". The staircase over reception is still stately and lavishly carpeted as in the glory days. Reception itself is closed. In the lobby sits a silvery-bearded American, clearly a religious eccentric, across from an attractive girl in her early twenties. She's his daughter. They couldn't get a bed and decided to sit the night out.
I remember doing the same at the Genoa railway station, talking to a crazy Canadian neurologist in a bright red nylon rainproof jacket about some scary research he was conducting. What was scary about it? Can't remember, but the old unease follows me outside to the silent roadwork barriers on Jaffa road.
This is only the beginning. The ghosts of other nocturnal towns will haunt me as I walk. Where was I? climbing up the silent hallway of Bulgakov's Moscow home with Vola, whom I had just met at a club, her pointing out the passages inscribed on them by his fans: a black painted cat, a love letter... Scaling the walls of the Foro Romano at 3:00 AM and bumping into two slum rascals who did the same, a drunken boy and girl. We wandered into a garden where huge roses grew. I picked one and presented it to the girl. She laughed and warned me not to approach a certain fallen pillar. "This is a cursed place" she said, "people who go by it later die in strange accidents."
And there was the cold night in Frankfurt, watching television through a shop window on the Zeil and shivering. I could not afford a hotel, having spent my last pfenning on airfare, but at sunrise the airplane was to take me Utah, where the most dramatic love story of my life was to begin in earnest.
This is how it works. The loneliest, awful wee hours sometimes remind us how rich life is, and if they don't, dawn would, and if dawn won't, maybe the morning's first coffee, in my friend Keren's kitchen, with Glenn Gould playing on the old boom box.