Monday, April 09, 2007


Perhaps the most interesting thing about time is that it is always relevant. And nothing represents that more than entering the Old City of Jerusalem to cover the Easter celebrations for work than entering via “The New Gate”. How old is “ The New Gate” in a city that traces histories by the centuries rather than by the year, was something that fascinated me for a day and half before I borrowed a travel book to look up the history of the gates to the Old City.

Now entering the city via this gate involved running a cordon of Police all armed with guns, tear gas launchers and convenient wooden sticks stuck in the back of their flak jackets. At every corner and intersection of the old city there were police and security services not alone but in numbers.

No doubt the threat of terror determines their numbers in normal times but over the Easter period they are there more for crowd control rather than bad boys carrying suspicious back packs or wearing heavy coats on a warm weekend.

You may be scared of masked gunmen covering events over here in the Middle East but trust me they do not have the drive or determination of a group of Greek Orthodox Grandmothers determined to get a candle lit from the passing of the holy fire procession.

These pilgrim grandmothers are so obsessed that even hour later after the flame passed they still block the narrow streets outside video shops showing the video of the parade, almost weeping with devotion they kiss the glass of the store when they see the holy flame pictures.

This is a procession and ritual that again dates back in centuries, in a city where time is meaningless.

But time in our business is measured in minutes across time zones and I have spent the last two days on the roof of a restaurant in the old city a stone throw away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre trying to get my head around dealing with three time zones. From local time in Jerusalem to local time in New York and then co-coordinating bookings in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) for satellites. I put the camera down this weekend and was assigned to working on the uplink. You might remember the posts from last year when I went to Cyprus for a training course in learning uplinking, well the Channel called in the cards and I was the Engineer for the weekend.

I actually did manage to pick up the camera for a few minutes and film some classic on in the Unholyland scenes like Priests singing behind loves of Arabic bread and women trying to blow out their sacred flames before setting everyone around them alight.

There is no doubt that running a Sat dish is a boys dream, you get lots of boxes with lots of bits and pieces, you then build to your hearts content this machine point it at the sky and get to play with more toys which to be honest I understand about 70% of. Then you ring foreign countries and talk to people about real technical stuff and before you know it. Providing you have followed the instructions all of a sudden in a Television station on the other side of the world they see you. Look I am not a geek but it still amazes me how this TV stuff works.

You get to write down all these technical stuff, which to the passing Layman or TV producer means very little but it all relates to time measured in minutes not centuries.

The worst thing is that once it is working you have time on your hands because there is very little to do. This is based on the premise that if it is working do not alter or change anything. So you sit and look at the machine that goes ping and wait for your assigned time and satellite window.

Then at the end of the day you pack it down into 15 boxes and cart it all downstairs again ready for tomorrow, and then do it all again.

There were some classic scenes amongst the pageantry over the last couple of days, every meal involves eating humus which after being away for two months from the Middle East is like an Australian craving a meat pie and sauce, except humus is just that humus and not a “dogs eye and dead horse” which is Aussie slang for a pie and sauce.

If you ever think Easter is a quiet time for reflection and contemplation, think again in the old city it means every church bell is clanging non stop and the Mosques crank up the volume on the call for prayer to the Spinal Tap Volume 11 to counter the pagan Christian churches efforts to compete, and the Mosques win by a whisker and two panadols.

In its own way, you do feel part of history covering events like Easter in the Old city next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, like Christmas in Bethlehem. You get to witness something special. These are rituals and ceremonies that date back two thousand years plus and will do for the centuries to follow. They are moments in time that I get to experience and treasure.

And as I walked out of “The New Gate” tonight I reflected on the fact that “The New Gate” was built in 1889. Here in the Old City “new” has a different meaning.

Old City of Jerusalem
April 8, 2007


Anonymous said...

You've come a long way baby! Seems we remember you and a fellow name of Steve Harrigan leaning out an upstairs window with an antenna in Pakistan to transmit. Ah progress! Maybe some things do change with time. Funny blog. Just don't burn your candle at both ends, Mal. Thanks for the report from Jeruselum.

plaid said...

Thanks for the humor and showing us a glimps of what things are like in the Holy Land.