Covering the Middle East is never boring. Threats of a summer war between Syria and Israel have been hanging in the air for the last three months, Gaza is on edge and as a journalist you need to stand ready. You never consider going anywhere without your cell phone or Blackberry and Saturday night was no different. But I never expected that the ‘story’ would be sitting a table away from me on what would be a normal dinner out with friends.
A buddy’s parents were in town and a bunch of us went to our favorite restaurant Chakra to spend a bit of time with the out-of-towners. It’s a place we go so often that when my wife Katherine and I walk in the door at Chakra, the hostess simply points to our table or where the rest of our party is waiting at the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Familiar faces at our favorite place. Again, this night was no different, well, until three quarters of the way through our dinner.
On a normal evening we would be bummed sitting upstairs, it’s less chaotic but you are a bit removed from the action. Chakra is one of the few ‘hot’ places in Jerusalem and we had no idea how ‘hot’ this Saturday night would be.
Between the fish and meat courses, I was sitting at the end of the table with my back to the main part of the dinning room talking to my friend Kevin when I noticed two big dudes walk in with curly plastic earpieces – clear signs that they were security. No biggie in Jerusalem. You see that all of the time with the constant flow of politicians and negotiators here for a photo op or while working on the peace process meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
But this night, a few minutes after seeing the audio-wired heavies, I heard a little burst of applause, like someone was celebrating a birthday downstairs. Again not a big thing…until someone at the far end of our table whispered … ‘It’s Madonna.’
OK, all of us here knew she was in town. She has come here a few times over the last several years to visit sights important to a mystical form of Judaism called Kabbalah. I knew she was in Israel for the Jewish New Year, but it was in the back of my head.
So, needless to say, we were distracted during the last two courses of our dinner. Trying to maintain a bit of cool, I spaced out the times I craned my neck to six o’clock to catch a glimpse of the woman who had inspired the ripped shirt and holey stocking look donned by all of the women in my high school in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, my quick looks were only of the stomach of one of the ceiling-scraping security dudes or the shoulder of one of the men sitting at the most important four-top in all of Jerusalem on this Saturday night. All the diners upstairs had positioned their chairs at angles so they could sneak a peek of the Material Girl like sunbathers following the sun on the beach.
All of us at our table had about enough. After plenty of wine and about two more courses of food than we needed (Kevin’s joke of sending the leftover strip steak to Madonna’s table was met with a forced sinker from the excited-yet-stressed waitress), we made the tough call of leaving our five-star table for home.
I kidded Katherine that I should throw my jacket over her head and dash out of the front of the restaurant to fool the no doubt gaggle of photographers who gathered to grab a shot of Madonna’s ‘private visit’ to the Holy Land.
As we left the place that we know so well, we were slack-jawed when we made it to the sidewalk. The photographers were five deep and funny enough, there was our buddy Emilio, a talented AP photographer who has captured history here in the region. But today, he is sitting there waiting for Madonna to finish her meal. We walked over and chatted with him, yes, still on the cool side of the rope line. I told him all I knew about when she might come down and that he was positioned well for the shot. I kidded that Katherine and I should have run through the rope line so people thought we were part if the glitterati.
Just as we were exiting the security buffer, flashes exploded from all angles. Their wait had ended. The photographers were getting the money shot. A slight woman was being ushered through the crowd with a scarf over her head. It was her. It had to be her. But, alas, it was not Madonna, it was some guy who had the same idea as me and actually did it. After they plowed through the crowd, the scarf came off and out emerged his giggling girlfriend. Their ruse was met by a hearty round of applause.
“OK,” I said to Katherine, “next time we are so doing that.”