We recently wrapped up a three-week stay in Washington DC. And man, was it hard to leave (even though I was heading to Paris, oh beloved Paris).
The three weeks was filled with catching up with good friends, family, cocktails, dinners, strolling the beautiful DC streets, museums visits, a ballet, a musical, and lots of yoga. It made me miss America; it made me not too excited to return to Jerusalem.
There’s an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It features artwork that looks completely different depending from which angle you viewed it. I stood in what appeared to be an empty white room until, like a Magic Eye puzzle, all of these other angles popped out and I was overcome by the dizzying sensation that I didn’t know where the walls, ceilings, and floors end or begin. A curator’s note said the work explored “the transient nature of perception.”
I’d been thinking about perception a lot lately in terms of Jerusalem. It’s a place where any opinion expressed can rub someone the wrong way and I often find myself on the defensive thinking “Well, that’s how I see it, so it must be true.” But then again, how other people see the city is no less true.
And the same person can also see a place through a different lens at various points in time. When I was 22 and had just moved to Washington DC, everything was new, exciting, but often difficult. I had to navigate getting lost, getting a job, finding a good grocery store and decent apartment, making friends, handling my liquor, dating, dealing with loneliness, and being broke. Six years later when I left DC to start this life of moving around, I didn’t realize that I’d never see DC in the same way again.
And the city is different now. It’s gentrified fast and neighborhoods I’d never heard of are now the up-and-coming spots. More new restaurants than you could try in a just a few weeks, and endless try-one-class-free fitness options. This time, I paid especially close attention to all the 22-year-olds in DC, seeing my old self in each and every one of them but not being envious of their youth, but sending them good vibes and hoping that the egg-headed, fit, foodie, center-of-the-universe city feel shapes them in the way it did me.
There was also something so comforting about returning to a city, that, for all its changes, still feels like home in a way. These days, when I arrive to a new place, it takes forever to get my bearings, to feel like I know anything at all.
Now, I’m back in Jerusalem. Just landed late last night. The plane ride felt familiar – how everyone stands up once we reach cruising altitude; how Jewish women offer me food from plastic grocery bags ; the smell of onions; how strangers shout their unsolicited opinions on how to stop the six children from crying: “You need to separate the children! Move one to First Class!;” the adjusting of headscarves and kippas and big black hats upon landing. In the cab on the way home to Jerusalem, the cabbie said he didn’t mind dropping me off in the Holy City but that he hated to stay for more than a few minutes. “The buildings are all the same. The Jerusalem Stone. I don’t know. I don’t like it,” he said.
I think I felt the same way when I arrived. I found the stone monotone and too easy to look at and to think that everything’s serene. But as all that smooth stone started to appear last night, I thought it looked beautiful and actually quite filled with character, instantly recognizable as this place and no place else. Has my perception changed?
Will continue to ponder this and more, but in the meantime, here’s some photos from Washington DC.
To the changing nature of perception,
Em in Jerusalem
And now, the things I ate: