Laurel and Hardy aren't the only comedians who had to eat shoe leather - but that was because they were too poor. The Armenian Quarter had more than its share of comedians - in their closed society, laughter was an indispensable binding knot. Jordan (Marashlian) Chilingirian was among the most accomplished and incorrigible pranksters. His performances could have qualified him for an Oscar with their impeccable rendition. There was the time the venerable matriarch, Anna Baghsarian (Im Arakel), lay in bed with a mild attack of indigestion. There was no real health issue, and she could have easily gotten over it by taking a pinch of cumin. Jordan happened to be visiting and he had a sudden brainstorm. "Let's play a trick on her," he whispered conspiratorially, out of her hearing, to Im Arakel's brood gathered outside the room. There were chuckles coupled with admonitions not to get carried away. "Don't worry," Jordan reassured them. "She'll be fine." He got the women to rummage around and find a white robe and a hat. Then he fashioned some sort of stethoscope out of a bit of yarn, and put on dark spectacles (he might might have painted a beard on, for good measure. [Burning the end of a cork from a drink bottle and using it as a brush was an excellent way of painting a face black. The strokes had to be applied as soon as the flame died - it would not work so well if the cork was left to cool. There was the smell, though, that one had to put up with, but it was a minor sacrifice for a good disguise]. Jordan was not worried about detection. Im Arakel had poor eyesight and he knew she would not be able to place him. Mimicking a Greek doctor speaking Arabic, with a lot of aspirant "Khabibi" [i.e., "habibi", the Arabic for 'loved one'), Jordan shuffled into the room and proceeded to examine his patient, surrounded by an audience of giggling relatives. When he had finished his ministrations, he dug into his pocket and came out with a 20 mils piece [the currently in use during the British Mandate of Palestine], and placed it in the palm of the astonished woman. "What a wonderful doctor," Im Arakel enthused after Jordan had disappeared (only to return and rejoin the group, minus the disguise). "He not only examines and prescribes medicine, he also gives out money to his patients." Im Arakel, the widow, was an insomniac. When the weather was amenable, she would go walkabout the alleys of the Armenian Quarter, sometimes losing track of time. As she grew older, she would push a chair ahead of her (there were no walkers to be had then) for support. There were few people about during her nightly peregrinations. But one night, as she made her way along the street, she happened to notice some unusual activities near the door of a house. Ever curious, she approached the group of men, their heads and faces hidden in the distinctive Arabic "kefiyyeh"s. Interrupted in their nightly malfeasance, the burglars paused for a second to deal with this unexpected complication. One of them detached himself from the huddled group, pulled Im Arakel aside, and whispered to her, in no uncertain terms: "Im Arakel, get yourself home." They knew who she was. They would have been casing the joint for some time before deciding to make their move. Im Arakel wanted to know what they were doing, but the burglar set her firmly on her course home. "It's better if you forget what you saw tonight," he warned her. The Armenian church in Jerusalem traditionally celebrates Christmas on January 19, following an ancient calendar. The day before, the Armenian Patriarch travels in an official convoy to Bethlehem, accompanied by members of the priestly brotherhood. They are met at the Greek Orthodox convent of St Elias (Mar Elias), a mile or so from the city entrance, by a cavalcade of mounted policemen, a guard of honor, and the mayors of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. The pilgrims are invited to break bread with the reception committee (they are welcomed with an offering of bread and salt). Then the entourage wends its way to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, through an avenue of pilgrims and Armenian scout bands. The Armenians hold their prayers in their convent there, then the Patriarch returns to Jerusalem by himself. The priests remain in the Armenian section of the Nativity church, awaiting the return of the Patriarch who will officiate at the traditional midnight mass. During the Jordanian administration, pilgrims would travel to Bethlehem in Arab buses, since practically few had their own private car. They would spend the rest of the day there until it would be time to attend the midnight mass which is broadcast around the world. In the old days, the Armenian church provided the pilgrims with dinner: usually "patcha" (mutton), boiled and seasoned in a huge cauldron which now occupies pride of place in the Edward and Helen Mardigian museum in Jerusalem. One Christmas, a group of enterprising Armenian youths staged a soccer match on the roof of the church, using someone's boot for a football. The game got quite spirited. The chef, stirring the "patcha" near the makeshift goal, paused to watch, before returning to his duties. He bent to pick up something, and it was at that precise moment that someone's energetic kick, propelled the "football" smack into the middle of the bubbling cauldron. It is said it was only when the chef was serving dinner, that the boot surfaced, on the plate of some hapless pilgrim. Among its many enterprising endeavors, the Jerusalem Armenian Benevolent Union (JABU) managed to obtain a licence to operate a movie theatre, making use of its grand hall. The first movie to be shown was The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Charlton Heston, Gloria Graham and James Stewart. It was in spectacular color, and tickets were sold out within minutes of its opening. A makeshift projection room had been constructed at the back, supported on pillars. There was also room for the projectionist (who happened to be Greek) to entertain special guests he had invited. But the architects and builders must have miscalculated, for one day, the whole structure came tumbling down, people "upstairs" landing in the laps of hapless members of the audience below. We were little children at the time, and a group of us hovered around the entrance to the hall, hoping to get a peek at the screen, without having to buy tickets for which we had no money. Kevork Kaplanian, a community leader who owned a shoe-making concern, and who was one of the members of the committee that orchestrated the rejuvenation of the JABU, acted as usher. He would not let any of us little bludgers in until after the film had started and the hall was almost full. But eventually, we were allowed to sneak in, and enjoy the rest of the show. And what a delight that was. When we grew older, the club caterer, "Abu Ishaq" (Hovagim Koukeyan), would task us with the job going around with a tray full of confectionery, melon seeds and biscuits for sale during intermissions. We were not paid for our work, but got to see the show for free. The day came when the last of the British prepared to march out of the land. We lined up the streets to see them go. I was standing next to my mother. As they trooped out, a young soldier suddenly thrust a package at my mother: It was a box of chocolates. Why he singled her out for his attentions remains a mystery: there were other young girls and women among the gallery lining the street and watching the exodus, some quite pretty no doubt. My mother stood there shocked and transfixed, unable to move. She was the bashful type and did not know what to do. But her neighbor, Anna el Deredereh, had no such compunctions. She elbowed my mother aside and snatched up the package. The soldiers had been housed in Beit Sirapion, a two-storey building in the Armenian Quarter. Chchildren were always crowding around the entrance in the hope of getting a treat. The soldiers obliged by tossing handfuls of crackers to them. The biscuits were a great luxury and helped assuage the pangs of hunger at a time when no one knew where the next meal was going to come from.