Jerusalem’s intangible culture

Jerusalems-Intangible-1
Lady Tansiq Mausoleum.
This article inspired by conversations in the UNESCO office in Ramallah.

By Ali Qleibo| This Week in Palestine| Mar 2020

The homes we live in, the neighborhoods, the services rendered, the consumer lifestyle, the values and norms, and the way people interact is a world view in which tangible and intangible cultural expressions interweave to impart Jerusalem its unique character.

The ever-shifting, elusive “character” of Jerusalem is a reflection of the dynamic needs, desires, and wishes of its inhabitants. Intangible culture is not merely the listing of professions and trades; it is the sung parodies that advertise the new seasonal cucumber (asabe’ el bubbu ya khyar), and the variety of recipes that Jerusalamites swap about the best way to prepare artichokes and ‘akkube (a wild form of artichoke) or preserve bitter oranges both as marmalade and sharab, or even how to construct a kite using dough instead of glue, bamboo, and newspaper sheets. It also includes visiting the cemetery to pray for one’s deceased close relatives after the early morning ‘Eid prayers and reciting the fatihah each time one passes by a cemetery, mausoleum, or maqam. It is the marking of the Muslim New Year with green olive twigs on house doors, the special sweets, and the family visits. The homes we live in, the neighborhoods, the services rendered, the consumer lifestyle, the values and norms, and the way people interact is a world view in which tangible and intangible cultural expressions interweave to impart Jerusalem its unique character. It is the human art of making life livable.

The memory of the Afghani and Indian knife and scissor sharpeners huddled under their respective tents around the water fountain in Suq Aftimos brings to mind a city and trades that have vanished. They stooped over their grinding wheels that hissed and sparked flashes of fire that quickly turned to black cinder. Customers watched as their kitchen knives, scissors, and shaving-knife blades were sharpened.

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