By Nicholas Belzer
If you have ever summered, then you have likely brunched; that is to say, those who are accustomed to the former, make a habit of the latter. It’s just the way things are. But it’s winter in the hills of Jerusalem, and it’s stormy, and it’s windy, and breakfasts are being missed on account of the tempest. And it’s chilly and I’m out of Nescafe. When 2pm rolls around, this means that it’s ripe for a mad dash to food – To Brunch. This last part was literally put to words, audibly, authoritatively, equal part declarative statement and political slogan. Think “To Brunch, Democracy, and the American Way!” This was thundered in a paisley robe, and not in a cape, unfortunately.
Brunch is, of course, an august and venerated tradition in civilized Christendom. In Jerusalem, we are making inroads. Going to brunch state-side in pajamas is a statement, a mark of identification that you are in fact a bruncher. To do so here, in such attire, would be lost on the good denizens. Wearing clothing of any sort, in fact, would be construed as a pretense – or worse, as if you are above wearing the trendy potato sack, which seems to be the current fashion in this font of culture.
Of course the entire concept of brunch in Jerusalem (pronounced “b(R)aunsch”) is devoid of any real meaning. Here, starting your day at 2pm midweek, is not reserved for the refined and carefree lifestyle of the bruncher. Rather, this sort of behavior is characteristic of the unemployed and bewildered. Needless to say, I can break my fast, but cannot truly brunch in a quarter stack-T-bone steak-hash browns-bloody mary sort of way.
So naturally the question of brunching takes on the significance of how I can cleave the trajectory of my day from that of the rest of the city folk, and the answer to that seems obvious enough – I will start this dreary day with tea time. This takes us back to that nicely paved road called HaChavozelet, just across the street from Zion Square, to a place called Racheli’s.
In addition to the ever present Israeli Breakfast, this place offers an English Breakfast. As I walk in, I’m confronted with a good dozen or so choices of tea, some exotic herbal blends, some bulwarks of the old Empire – I simply choose the English Breakfast blend. I never deviate from this choice. The restaurant is a café feel, small, even cozy. There’s no fireplace, but it would definitely add to the warm tea-house atmosphere. It would be a great place to bring a book, like a reading room. But there are no books, and of course, literacy would be pretentious. The woman behind the counter who helped me select my tea is Israeli, but was definitely a Welsh inn-keeper in a former life.
The trick to tea time at Racheli’s is to follow the brief corridor toward the back. It doesn’t seem like there is a back, but the door leading outside is in fact a patio of sorts. You will find about 7 small tables, a small bench, and a brick oven in the corner. It really is interesting to find this ‘backyard’ to the place; tea is almost inappropriate in this setting. A hammock would be just right however. Under the shelter of the wooden sukkah-works and hard plastic roofing, I see what happened here. The stucco apartment buildings towering above and around hint that this breezy respite was once the common plaza of the residents, now annexed and tiled by the restaurant. But at what cost?
Periodically, a slim white door, with opaque slits of tarnished window opens to release a cat onto this patio. The beasts always seem to wear an expression of shock – not the typical feline inquisitiveness, but a baleful kind of shock. I continue to smear jam and cream on my gold-toasted scone as the cats amass in the floral periphery. Yes the periphery, this is also notable. The wood and wicker set patio is encompassed by a garden lining, beneath the half plastered orange wall which encloses this outdoor sipping area. After my personal pot of tea has yielded its third thimble sized demitasse, my rightly caffeinated person takes in the full scope of my surroundings.
The partially salmon colored caulked coral outgrowth jettisoning out of the floor tile, a lonely vine dangling from a pot, absorbing a blue floodlight resting below on the soil. The lanterns posted round the woodworks seem commonplace enough; I’m brushed from behind – a fern? The cats continue their escape, or release, from a netherworld behind the slim white door. A striped yellow pot grounds a series of tree stalks cruelly twisted together in a bonsai latticework, unnaturally tortured, given the occidental temperament of the plants.
When intending to brunch ,the most honest thing one can do in Jerusalem is to tea. You will do well to have a pot and a plate of scones at Racheli’s, a place with no beer on tap, and 18 shekel Pelligrino. In my experience, all of their breakfast options are about a shekel less most. Of course their brick oven in the ‘backyard’ is not just for show and is put to work when they prepare pizza and focaccia, both recommendable.
The cost of the English Breafast is 32 shekels, decent enough given you are provided with a personal pot of whatever tea exists, and two sizable, muffiny, warm scones.
The cost of providing patrons of this place with a quaint patio, well….the nexus between our world and whatever ring of hell the cats in this town hail from has at long last been identified. As to the certainty of which particular ring of the underworld from which these menaces are spawned – let us content ourselves for a time with but a willful ignorance, and a strong cup of tea.