Complexity permits neither rhetoric nor synthesis: although Jerusalem may not be worth the journey nowadays, there can be no existence worth anything without Jerusalem. It is a land of borders and of war, a never-ending debate – and one where Christians should defer since our religion teaches us to turn the other cheek. No page in history can truly be exhaustive – and it is in these cases that literature is able to continue where reporting has to stop, if love has the ability to explain history better than reality itself.
The American Colony Hotel has preserved the neutral aura of a place of transit at the service of diplomacy. The entrance reminds one of crossing a frontier – the crumbling asphalt of a public highway cuts the hotel into two: with the main building to the south and the villa to the north. A herb garden, A herb garden, an outside staircase designed in case of emergencies or to look good, yellow roses and wisteria. The rooms wrap around the corners: a sleigh bed in solid wood, the mattress sinking below the bed frame as if in a film about admirals and pirates in the olden days – Frette linens and Acqua di Parma toiletries are the mark of a more attentive eye. A bottle of red wine, an Israeli Syrah, is the same deep red color of blood, the first dinner at dusk. The modern tiles, cut into a mosaic, black accessories in the bathroom on a Victorian bathtub. Some of the rooms have four windows looking out onto the treetops and enjoy the dappled light between the leaves in the morning; at the back, they are sheltered from the noise of the cars – at night you can leave the windows ajar for a breath of fresh air. The bedrooms have patios with pots cascading over with flowers, two chairs and a table where you can relax in the morning.
The aura of the Mediterranean reaches here from the coast to this hill, eight hundred meters above sea level, the object of dispute for more than three thousand years among every people – perhaps the only definition of nobility. The hotel is built around a central courtyard covered by pergolas and strewn with flowers, a fountain in the middle – snapdragons, roses, irises. The cat has not been neutered, it is an impressive size and makes its voice heard to welcome newcomers. The oldest rooms in the colonists’ house look out across this patio, both a courtyard and a veranda – there is a swimming pool at the back – but when you return in the late afternoon, after visiting the old town, the concierge says it’s late and it’s closed. There is a hamman and a sauna, it’s seven in the evening – the concierge once again shakes his head, too late. So you ask the concierge to book you a table at the restaurant – the concierge says all the restaurants are full. You ask the concierge for at least one, just one, positive answer – the concierge apologizes, smiling: in Israel there is no such thing as luxury, there is wealth, the prices are high – the Israelis say that for them there is no formality, and that’s how we like it.
The story of the American Colony starts at the turn of the 20th century. Anna Spafford was traveling from Chicago to Jerusalem in 1873 on a steamship that was shipwrecked after colliding with a sailing ship – her four daughters who were on board with her all drowned. Anna sent a telegraph to her husband Horatio, just one short, sentence: Saved alone – Horatio went to bring her home. Together they decided to stay. They created a community in their home within the walls of the Old Town, welcoming people from Sweden and other parts of the world whose faith required them to go to Israel and wait for the return of Jesus – at the time, the Middle East was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The colonists multiplied and Anna Spafford purchased the property we see today from Husseini Effendi, who had four wives but no heirs. The colonists went to live in what was then open countryside. Their conduct was considered scandalous: life in the community raised questions in the outside world as the Americans – as they were called – turned to celibacy and the control of wanton desires; the Jews accused them of promiscuity. Their activities multiplied – from artisan crafts to shops – from bread to eggs, sold on the stalls in the city that they opened like shops. The colony also welcomed people just passing through – before and after the World Wars – the hotel was more of an evolution than a mere idea, accommodating politicians, writers and intellectuals – from Churchill to Lawrence of Arabia, Chagall and Carl Bernstein.
The building was hit during the bombings, being in the line of fire targeting Jerusalem, it had the look of a defensive rampart. The house was also used as a school – throughout the last century, the American colonists taught their children and the children of their neighbors: relations between the Arabs and Jews were good. They were steadfast in their commitment to education – today, the hotel is still a benchmark for anyone wanting to stay in Jerusalem, Anna Spafford’s old house within the city walls is now a center for orphans living in the local communities: you can visit it and pay a donation towards its running costs.
Louis Vincent St 1, Jerusalem