Casa nova, but never giacomo

The Nesher driver claimed a “situation” prevented him from dropping me off adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Instead he pulled over to the curb in Mt Herzl. 

“It’s not far,” he said as he drove off, smiling and waving. “But you may want to take the train.” He lifted his eyes to the sky as either a warning or a prayer. I wasn’t sure which.

I was determined to walk. It had been a long flight and I was tired of sitting. So I cinched up the straps on my backpack and pointed my nose towards the “Chords Bridge” as it is sometimes called. The bridge carries the light rail in from Jerusalem’s west side. 

I hadn't gone a quarter mile and it began to rain. It wasn't the heavy soaking stuff, just the sputter that spoils an otherwise perfect walk. 


Mike, the ethereal receptionist.

Mike, the ethereal receptionist.

A reservation awaited me at a guesthouse in Jerusalem operated by the Custodia Terrae Sanctae. It's called the Casa Nova. The name makes me chuckle. It is difficult to think about a hospice for pious pilgrims without thinking of the 18th century grande amatore. His nickname was Casanova.

Over the years I had stayed many nights in the Tiberias version of the Casa, but had never managed to find a spot in its Jerusalem equivalent. Our Franciscan friends offer pilgrims a clean room at a reasonable cost. They fill fast. Knowing (an) Italian is a plus. Too bad for me.

The rain trickled down my face. I threw up the hood.

My arrival in Israel was not starting well. I had planned to land 48 hours in advance of a student group from Johnson University. As it turned out, their trip had already become much more difficult than mine. I was dealing with rain; they were up against its frozen partner.

A March snowstorm was bearing down on the northeastern United States. Newark was predicted to get buried under one to two feet of snow. United was already canceling flights. Some of our students were being diverted to Toronto. Others, to San Francisco (really?). I had no idea when our people would arrive or how. Unlike me, however, it was unlikely that they'd come on foot. I trudged on. The squalls came and went.

As it so happened, West Jerusalem was in Purim mode. Costumed mobs of soggy teenagers hung out at intersections and accosted motorists. Further down, near city hall, a band was playing.

At last I caught a glimpse of the Old City walls. Standing since the 16 century, they were impervious to the rain. I, on the other hand, was soaked. I made straight for the New Gate and followed the slippery cobbles inside.

Peter-Paul bids pilgrims to enter. Mary is on the other side of the room.

 Jerusalem’s Casa Nova did not disappoint. The building was amorphous, difficult to outline from outside. The entry door led past a statue and to the lobby. 

(Later I asked Mike, the receptionist, the identity of the statue. He replied with a shrug, “I think it's Peter or Paul. One of them. He scares me every time I come in.” Mike jumped a little to simulate surprise. Mike lived for a while in San Diego. Californians can be a jumpy lot.)

To one side of the lobby was a marvelous courtyard.

A marvelous courtyard is open to the sky inside Jerusalem's Casa Nova.

I got my key and headed to my room. It was spartan, but had everything I needed. It was dry, clean, had a window, a cot, a desk, and a bathroom with hot water. This will do, I thought.

All the luxury of home in a 10 x 10.

All the luxury of home in a 10 x 10.

Later that evening I went out to buy some necessary supplies. Laundry soap was at the top of the list. A shwarma decorated with hot shatta wasn’t far behind.

In the morning I would dine with the priests and the nuns.

And wait to see what happens with the rest of the group.

At our continental breakfast, I was the only English speaker in the room. Naturally the Italians brought the wine.