Went through the desert in a car with no name....
© David Volk

I was informed today that the reason Jerusalem and all of the area surrounding Israel has been the center of so much controversy, so many wars and so much passion is that it is believed to be the place where the world began.

In fact, the Temple Mount where the original temples once sat and the Dome of the Rock is now located is the holiest place on earth because it is situated over the very rock where the planet got its start. I learned this particular piece of information when my relative (who is actually my wife but doesn't like to have her name mentioned) and I took a tour of the tunnels that run underneath the Old City in, you guessed it, The Holy Land.

Although the caverns run the length of the Temple Mount's Western Wall, most people didn't even know they were a going concern until the Hasmonean Exit opened out onto the Via Dolorosa in 1996, about the time I was working on a kibbutz in Southern Israel. Then, the proverbial fecal matter really hit the spinning ventilator.

Palestinians began rioting, members of the Palestinian Authority's police force turned their guns on Israeli soldiers (which is why many Israelis opposed arming Palestinian police in the first place) and dogs and cats began living together...in sin. Okay, I just threw that last one in to see if you were still paying attention.

Guidebook writers would call the tunnel tour a good value. It not only explains the religious significance of the Mount, it tells the story of how it came to be in the first place. Since Jerusalem itself is located on such hilly terrain, much of the rock had to be dug up, the stone for the bricks used to build the temple quarried on the very spot and then the structure built above it.

If you have trouble picturing it all, don't worry. The helpful guide starts the tour standing in front of a flat sculpture showing the original contours of the city, then scoops off a hill as she talks and replaces it with the fortress like Mount and First Temple. It may not be real high tech, but it gets the point across before the tunnel tour begins.

Along the way, tour participants learn that there used to be a bridge stretching from the Old City to the Temple Mount, that there once was an open street and market area running the length of the Western Wall and that the area was essentially paved over in 1187 when Saladin retook the city from the Crusaders who had captured it. Heck, venture far enough into the tunnel and you can even see where Roman legions (who may or may not be related to the French Foreign Legions) pushed the stones from the Old Temple down into the street in their effort to destroy the Temple and the stones that had been used to build it at the same time, giving birth to the phrase " killing two birds with one stone." The presentation is so thorough it could easily be called the " Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Western Wall But Were Afraid To Ask" tour..

It does leave one important question unanswered, however.

And that, simply put, is why in the heck did the lord in his infinite wisdom chose this place of all places to start his (or her) work? I mean, it's hot, it's dusty, it's brown, and it's in the middle of the desert for crying out loud (which would be praying). And if it weren't for the fact that the almighty was the one who chose this place, I'm sure some would call it 'god-forsaken.'

Why couldn't the almighty have chosen a location that was slightly more hospitable? Say, Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Australia or even Vancouver, British Columbia? After all, cool, occasionally rainy weather isn't necessarily a bad thing. It keeps people off the streets and out of trouble so there wouldn't have been so much of that nasty smiting and smoting going on.

Besides, the temperatures get so cool at night even in the summer that the only way to keep warm is through layering clothing and that makes the tallises (the prayer shawls men wear in synagogue) the perfect accessory for a prayer-filled night out on the town.

I'm not saying Seattle is the ideal place, however. After all, I get the impression that if the world had started here, religion would have never taken off. Instead, Adam and Eve and their descendants would likely have been so busy sitting around in cafes sipping lattes, talking about their relationships, worrying about treating each other with respect and wringing their hands over the likelihood of corporate takeovers of small independent faiths that a bigger spiritual system would have come in and started running the place before we'd even set a date for the first meeting of the human rights subcommittee of the committee on interfaith relations run by the Council on Spiritual Correctness. All of which is not to say that the people here never would have gone outside. They would have, but only to kayak, hike, bike, walk, ski, jog or to complain about how hot it is when the temperature soared above 70.

In fact, they would have been so busy doing so much other stuff there never would have been time for all that necessary smiting and smoting to occur. Not only that, but so many people here kayak that the great flood would have been seen more as just another opportunity to engage in extreme sport rather than a biblical cleaning of house. And I don't even want to think about the difficulty Noah would have had trying to build an ark by committee all the while steering clear of old growth trees and the spotted owls that live in them.

I'm not saying I have an answer here. I'm just posing the question.

And while I'm at it, I have an even more puzzling question that's been gnawing at me since my first trip here. What is it about former British held countries and their beverage of choice? It just makes no sense to me in hot climates like those found in India, Hong Kong and Israel, especially in the middle of the day. Yes, it's 125 degrees outside, there's no shade, the camel's tongue is dragging on the sand, people are swooning from the heat. At a time like this, what could possibly be more refreshing and cooling than a CUP OF SCALDING HOT TEA?

What's the logic here? Did a bunch of people standing around in the heat decide that the only possible way to feel cooler was to make yourself so incredibly hot that you were almost greatful by comparison when you finally finished? Or was it just another way for those wacky colonials to torture and abuse unsuspecting locals for fun and profit?

I could just see one of them now saying to his man servant, 'Yes, I say Jeeves, drinking this Earl Grey is a dash uncomfortable just now, but think of the fun we'll have when we convince the natives to do it. They'll think they're acting civilized when all they're really doing is being bloody stupid.'

Despite the idiocy of the idea all his butler would be able to say would be, 'Right-o, sir.' And his sycophantic, overly inbred best friend would declare the idea was 'positively BRIL-LIANT.'

Of course, it's just a theory. Or it could be that the heat's getting to me..

From a man who's too damn hot,

David G(et thee to the Galilee) Volk