In July 2011, I made my first trip to Jerusalem; the four days are recalled in an equivalent number of stages: sharing a shower with a bulbous hissing cockroach; staggering in 40*C heat; a class rebellion at midnight and sitting in a coach for three hours awaiting my colleagues after crying too much at Yad Vashem.
The ignominy of my trip crowned Tel Aviv the city of joy and it was with reluctance that I booked half of this month in Jerusalem, and the other in Tel Aviv.
Experience confides that return visits to cities rarely end well – the city that once awed loses its shine, while those disliked first time round usually reaffirm the primary disappointment.
And yet, only four days into the three-week stay, I have fallen in love with Jerusalem’s sights, sounds and scents.
Staying in Rehavia (sans beasties), the evening walks are passed tearing redolent leaves from garden bushes, chasing uncooperative cats and ruing that I cannot pluck the plump pomegranates, oranges, prickly pears and lean carobs hanging overhead.
Whether suburban/professional/institutional, the architecture is stunning – the 1920s villas festooned with purple, orange and blue flowers, their pillars propping gnarled Teutonic balconies bearing sculptures, hammocks and instruments.
In the evening darkness falls fast and as the air cools, neighbours play the piano, guitar or trumpet and bats careen around the tips of pine-trees.
The idyllic surroundings are deceptive, however, and it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of tranquillity that is stymied by reminders of conflict’s proximity – both in Syria and the day-to-day unrest in Jerusalem.
In the week approaching my departure I swung between going and not going; now I repeat that ‘I have never felt so safe anywhere at any time.’
Nevertheless, work is on hand to affirm that the utopia in which I am living is but an illusion; not 10 miles away (maybe less) Palestinians struggle to access basic resources as their land and water sources are blocked.
The checkpoints are frequent sites of tension and yesterday the Old City (20 minutes walk from here) saw clashes as Muslim worshippers were denied access to pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque.
In some ways I am reminded of my visit to Libya – the fine edge between conflict and beauty, heaven and hell.
During the day, I was drunk on the loveliness of Tripoli; by night, guns echoed outside the hotel.
The streets were adorned with bougainvillea and empty cartridges.
Jerusalem, likewise, treads a line of tension, now entrancing, then appalling.
And it is that dichotomy, which leaves you with the feeling that you can never truly be done with her.