Forget opium: Italian Kubla Khan turns on Jerusalem

Magic descends on Jerusalem’s Old City, ‘with walls and towers … girdled ’round / And … gardens bright with sinuous rills.’

A stately pleasure-dome shining with blue, green, red, and white lights has sprung up outside Jaffa Gate, at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. Created for the week-long Jerusalem Light Festival by the Italian Luminarie de Cagna, the installation’s 63,000 bulbs are mounted on a frame that is as high as it is wide, like the Pantheon of ancient Rome.

The three festival routes wind through the Old City, each studded with innovative light displays. The orange route, which I followed last night, goes from Jaffa Gate through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter. In the Armenian Quarter, the narrow street was festooned with plastic pipes lit with white and yellow LED bulbs, resembling a cross between pollen and jellyfish, created by the French group Pitaya.

At the eastern edge of the Armenian Quarter, above the remains of a 6th century CE Byzantine church, constantly rapidly patterns of white light appeared on the Old City walls, accompanied by music. This interesting work was the outcome of a collaboration between an Israeli artist, a Turkish musician, and a German light expert.

These are but a few of the very attractive installations in the festival, which include works by artists from Israel and eight European countries. The festival continues through June 14 and is open to the public free of charge. Now in its fourth year, it appears to be immensely popular: I saw thousands upon thousands of visitors, both locals (including Israelis and Palestinians) and tourists, thronging the Old City streets. A friend pointed out this week that Israel is awash with festivals, including the Israel Festival (mainly in Jerusalem) and the Opera at Masada festival, both under way now, and film festivals scheduled later in the summer in several cities, to name but a few. Judging by the crowds, they meet a need.

The Jerusalem Light Festival also includes two performances for which tickets are sold. I saw a light-and-sound show titled Currents, by the Israeli Mayumana (pronounced Mah-YOO-mana) Group. The show combines percussion, dance, acrobatics, original music and video (screened on the Old City walls). The story line (the contest between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla) was lost on me, but I very much enjoyed the show, which is the perfect complement to the light installations. I couldn’t help wondering, however, how the very loud percussion sounds were affecting the Old City residents.

Text and photo copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.

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3 Responses to “Forget opium: Italian Kubla Khan turns on Jerusalem”

  1. An tea cap Italia st Says:

    You ask “how the very loud percussion sounds were affecting the Old City residents”. What is far more concerning for me is even though you write that the event in the old city “is open to the public free of charge”, there is no mention of the fact that for any non jew in jerusalem, crossing over from east jerusalem to west jerusalem is not like crossing the street, as some nutcases would like to have us think, watching yet another festival – the fanatical right wing militant jewish flag march of the national holiday of the unity of jerusalem.
    And if you are a palestinian living in east jerusalem, a festival of lights created by israeli and european artists goes nowhere in illuminating the the very real and extensive darkness they are living in under the israeli occupation.

  2. Tamara Says:

    Ah, Esther: Love your comparison here with Coleridge’s poem that’s an old favorite of mine – “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree” – I can’t resist inserting it here for the comparison, thanks for reminding me of the poem here today.

    Great detail in your writing, you’ve exhibited your appealing descriptive powers as usual – and it sounds like fun festivals aplenty are there in Jerusalem now, so I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying them! 🙂

    • estherhecht Says:

      Thanks, Tamara. From the minute I saw this installation, I couldn’t think of it as anything but a pleasure-dome. The people were so happy; everyone was taking pictures. There was a truly festive air.

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