Here's the second blog by Gareth Gilpin, currently on a four-week travel scholarship to the JBG ...
Waking up in a warm, sunny climate is a wonderful thing when you have escaped England in January! My day started with a tour around the JBG, first led by Tom Fogel, the scholarship co-ordinator, who introduced me to everyone there, and then by Dr. Michael Avishai (the Emeritus Scientific Director) as well, who insisted that we commandeer one of the golf buggies.
Early on I detoured into the nursery and was shown the ropes by Maya, the super enthusiastic, bubbly and in control of the show nursery manager, who has created an oasis of plant life in such a small space, with cuttings/plugs/seedlings/stock plants/grown-on stock packing out every possible area. Apparently the pots cannot be put directly on the ground, since at night the kamikaze porcupines go on the rampage, and tear the place up.
Then I began one of the most interesting and engaging tours that I have ever been given! Michael gave the most personal and fascinating insight into how a botanic garden and a person (read: character, for Michael is truly a character!) can become fused into one. He and the Gardens are like a symbiotic organism, or maybe the JBG is his child that he has nurtured over the years. In any case they are inseparable, and it's reminiscent of the chicken and egg conundrum - you can't have one without the other; and it doesn't really matter which came first. It was a pleasure to spend so much time with this great man, and to feel his passion and care - it made me feel very, very lucky to be given this opportunity to work at the JBG, and proud too.
By midday I was ravenous. I had skipped breakfast thinking my visit to the JBG would be brief. It wasn’t, but my brain was certainly full from the amount it had been fed during the last few hours! I headed to the Old City in search of food.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have no sense of direction, cannot read a map, remember nothing of the way from which I came, and have fantastical notions on the route I must take next. I spent over 30 years in London and still cannot make a journey on public transport without becoming lost. I was deeply cynical about making it to the Old City. '30 minutes' they said. 'Take the bus 19, 32, or something else' they said. 'All you have to do is stay on this road, go straight, make no turnings, and you will be there' they said. 'It is so simple and easy, you cannot miss it!' they said. Yeah right, just you watch me.
After 30 minutes of taking my chances, my jaw actually dropped as I suddenly looked up, and there was Jaffa Gate! I decided to go off grid, and just followed my feet for a while, gaping at everything in a kind of wide-eyed awe. Eventually, in the Muslim Quarter, I realised I’d been going round in circles for about an hour and must have passed the same fountain at least 6 times. In the end, I got to know it, and every single street around it, really, really well. I settled for lunch there since I accepted I didn’t know the way out. I feasted and hydrated, and then recharged on Arabic coffee (which I dislike but felt obliged to drink. Damn my English politeness).
I then tore all over the place, making random turns, taking sudden detours. I think I covered it all. Some of it I aw more than once ... I saw the Western Wall four times (twice by accident). I watched the sun set. I left. I returned. I walked around the walls on the outside. I went in again. Then I decided I must get back.
I don't even have the energy to attempt to describe the Old City, and how can you, anyway? The place is full of contradictions. Beauty and squalor; ancient history and gaudy right-now; friendliness and rudeness; wonderful smells and incredible stinks; cosmopolitanism and separatism; joyous celebrations and sad resignations. It is a beast of an experience. An awesome, mind-boggling, emotional, rough-riding creature that takes you on its journey, for you are just a spectator, a visitor gazing from the outside in.