I recently rewarded myself by booking a day off from the proverbial office for no reason whatsoever. On said day, I woke up to hours of nothingness stretched out in front of me. Like an empty canvas in an artist’s studio, the day was brimming with promise. After a glorious few moments of relishing the unfamiliar feeling of being bored, I got, well, bored.

What to do? I decided to get on my trusty bike and see where it would take me. It took me to the Carmel shuk, which today seemed to have more weirdos than usual loitering around. With flowing blond hair cascading down his red robes, Jesus Christ sat cross-legged in the square holding a sign that kindly informed shuk-shoppers that the Messiah had finally arrived and was residing in Tel Aviv, no less. An old man with salt-and-pepper whiskers pushed along a shopping cart stuffed with a mountain of clothes, upon which a small terrier sat and barked at hapless passers-by.

The woman with the organ was belting out Naomi Shemer. ’Nuff said. Anyone who’s ever been to the shuk knows who I’m referring to. I’m sure I’m not the only one wishing for the day she finally lands a break and talent-spotters come to whisk her away to a packed auditorium in some exotic location – far away from here. Failing that, a sore throat might do.

THE CARMEL shuk isn’t a patch on Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, but the neighborhoods surrounding it are delightful. Nahalat Binyamin and Kerem Hateimanim are full of cobbled sidestreets that seem to have charming little eateries hidden in every crevice. Old men sit outside and while away the time smoking and drinking Turkish coffee, laundry hangs off a random tree in the middle of the road, and people wave and say “hello” to each other.

For those who dwell in Kerem Hateimanim – or “the Kerem” as it is known locally – living anyplace else is unimaginable. Sort of like the way Nahlaotdwellers feel about their neighborhood in Jerusalem. In both Nahlaot and the Kerem, it is the shuk that provides the community’s heartbeat.

I stopped off for lunch at one of those no-frills eateries that doesn’t feel the need for trivialities such as a name or a menu. Delicious aromas emanated from a row of pots that were precariously balanced on gas burners. The elderly owner, Shimon, asked me what I wanted, and after a moment’s pause he gave me a reassuring smile. He knows my type. I can’t make decisions – especially those that involve food.

“Don’t worry, I’ll bring you a plate of something nice,” he said.

After finishing a plate of rice and okra, fishcake, fried eggplant and a small salad (all of which set me back a heartwarming NIS 25), I cleared my table and returned the plates to Shimon’s sink. Somehow it’s understood that this is a be-your-own-waitress kind of establishment.

My stomach appeased, I moseyed on and found myself climbing the stairs up to the Little Prince, another of my preferred quirky locales. The Little Prince is a bohemian coffee-shop-cum-book-seller-cum- bar that has a gorgeous balcony overlooking Nahalat Binyamin Street and is the place where writers and artists escape to work on their craft and discuss the meaning of life. I opened my laptop and a bottle of Goldstar, and allowed the decadent wiles of social cyberspace to seduce me for a few moments.

A message popped up on my screen from a newly acquired friend: Would you like to go sailing for an hour this afternoon?

LOL, sure. Tell me when and where.

Two hours later, I was in the marina by Gordon beach, woefully unprepared for a sailing expedition – my first, I might add. And it wasn’t my first unexpected “first” of late. A few weeks earlier, I had jumped out of a plane in honor of my birthday. It was only when we had reached the hangar that it started to dawn on me that my birthday surprise was a skydive.

So I wasn’t nervous about sailing today. Being out at sea seemed a lot less daunting than plummeting to the ground from a height of 4,500 meters.

Oh, how wrong I was.

YOU’LL FORGIVE me if I happen to use words like “thingamabob” in lieu of nautical terminology. I am, after all, not much of seafarer. I was not aware, for instance, that sailing includes getting wet, nor was I aware that it was probably not a good idea to keep my camera and other personal items on the boat. I was wearing the most ridiculously inappropriate clothes for a sailing trip: boots, leggings and a woolly sweater. All of which got soaked through the first time the little boat capsized.

The clouds had come in, so the water was very choppy and the waves were high. I’d like to say we were nervous we wouldn’t make it back to shore, but we had only advanced about 5 meter away from it. The boat hit a small wave and didn’t quite make it over, so I fell out. I was wearing a life jacket, which would’ve proved quite useful had the water been higher than waist-deep. I stood there, submerged in water from the waist down while the exposed top half of my body felt the beginnings of hypothermia seep slowly in, and I laughed hysterically. As did all the people on the beach who were watching and pointing at us.

Employees from the marine club were standing on the rocks waving frantically to get our attention. They shouted to us that we needed to release the wooden thingy that was wedged on the floor of the boat into the water. By this time, the boat was flooded through and way too heavy to sail. We dragged it back to shore and emptied it out – a process that took another 15 minutes of the allotted hour and almost caused me a hernia.

Once we got the boat the right way up, a gust of wind swung the sail right toward me so that the metal base smashed into my forehead. I yelped in pain and ducked my head as the sail swung on behind me. I picked my head up just in time for another gust of wind to hit the sail from behind, giving me a nice dent on the back of my skull. It was as slapstick as Laurel and Hardy, except by this point I wasn’t laughing anymore.

I decided I’d done enough sailing for the next few lifetimes, and thanking my sailing buddy (who looked positively catatonic), I headed off home.

ON AN ordinary day, the cycle home from the beach can take up to a couple of hours due to the myriad distractions, but then, on an ordinary day, I’m not usually in danger of death by chilblain. In an effort to preserve my body temperature, I cycled as fast as I could. I did not stop by my friend Shaul’s new gallery on Bograshov Street to observe the artist at work on a canvas while biding his time until tourist season; nor did I pause to listen to the jazz musicians who sound like they should be playing in Carnegie Hall but play instead on the corner of Ben-Gurion and Dizengoff streets. I even rode past the wedding-dress shops without so much as glancing at the window displays to laugh at the latest batch of ludicrous bridal-wear concoctions.

That night, as I lay in bed battered and bruised and thoroughly spent, it occurred to me that there probably isn’t another place in the world where a random day off work could unfold in such an unexpected manner. Except, perhaps, Jerusalem.

Deborah@jpost.com

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