By Nicholas Belzer
The new year is going as planned, shawarma-free, as per my New Year’s resolution. It is precisely this shawarma denial which brought me to my current understanding of ‘the situation’, the implications of which we can only begin to understand, the consequences of which are potentially dire, and the reality of which is, at every turn, presented to the masses of diners as fable and hearsay only, and none dare call it conspiracy.
The situation is this: shawarma is in league with hummus.
The evidence is circumstantial, the scene is a bar called Uganda, just a skip away from Kikar Tzion. It is a bar accessed by walking up HaChavozelet street Yaffo, and making your first right into an enclave that harbors a parking lot and a nightclub called Tza’tzua. In fact, as Uganda seems to have no sign on or around its glass window wall whatsoever, the best way to identify this place would be to go to the nightclub Tza’tzua, liquor up, stumble out at follow the light emanating from the windows of Uganda, which I’m sure has no official closing time. The distance from club to bar is roughly two and a half lifeless bodies; but this figure is only an estimate, factoring in stilettos, and with no help from the strewn about figures (the bodies were in uncooperative contortions).
Back to Uganda: this is a place that I am not wont to frequent, as it can be fairly described as a hippy place. It draws hippy crowds. It has a hippy atmosphere. There is a picture of Theodore Herzl on a wall in the corner wearing a stern face. The place is called Uganda. I only ended up here because I noticed a Beck’s on tap for 24 shekel, two for the price of one, thanks to its late happy hour (until 9:30pm). I was parched. I was not lured in by the live DJ on the premise mixing Britney Spears with Rick Ross – but I was concerned.
The point is, here I am, in such an odd crowd, enjoying a Beck’s in Jerusalem, when inexplicably I need hummus. Why now do I need hummus, I have never eaten hummus for its own sake, after all, I’m a tehina guy. Hummus is ever present in this country, to a disconcerting degree. I tried to blend in once by buying a tub (or vat) of the stuff at the market, but it just seemed forced when I ate it. As a condiment mixed with meat or whatever, understandable. As a meal, criminal.
Long story short, the patrons are ordering plates of hummus en masse and this time, the hummus looks pretty appetizing. I order, the same shaggy chap who poured my beer is now on a side board pouring stuff into a plate and in 3 minutes, I’m looking at a fine paste of hummus, as if the chickpeas were taken to mortar and pestle, it was a creamy kind of grinding process that took place it seemed. Olive oil was drizzled over it, whole chickpeas sprinkled on top and chopped parsley mixed in….some lemon in the mix could be detected. A couple pitas, some chopped onions, tomatoes and pickles, and things were looking good. Nothing elaborate, it was hummus after all, but I really enjoyed eating the stuff, at a bar, as a meal, with a beer.
It was interesting, being among such an eclectic group of people, Uganda struck me as a nexus for the lonely traveler and the dejected townie. Its unofficial theme is counterculture, and still they serve good old pop culture hummus – so powerful is the chickpea. Did the lack of shawarma in my diet compel me to consume hummus? It is known that the two have a delicate symbiotic relationship, and keen observers have hypothesized that the one cannot do without the other. If I am now drawn to eating hummus, and plates of it, is it really so sinister? After my experience at Uganda, I think I can get used to this.
Finishing up (I literally licked the plate clean), I heard a middle-aged Korean looking man tell a couple of Italians, in English (with an Australian accent), that he was a linguist. He proceeded to name dozens of languages that he was fluent in, Norwegian being among them. As I passed through the group, I thought I would indulge in my knowledge of Bokmål and I approached him speaking only in the official Norwegian dialect. Caught off guard, he responded in kind and we had something of an interesting conversation going on. It wasn’t until about two minutes into speaking with him that I noticed that he was speaking Norwegian with a French accent, that the Italians were all crowded around a plate of hummus sans beers, and that I felt like I could order another round of hummus without the need for a beer as well.