During a brief stop-over at Hong Kong this week I found that the two things that made a particular impression on me on my last brief visit to that fascinating city a half century ago are still very much present. The first is a degree of humidity that, having at the age of sixteen spent most of my life in a far more temperate climate, was an entire revelation to me. Stepping out of the plane I felt bowed down by the weight of the moisture-laden hot air. Indeed, at the time I did not understand what exactly it was that caused this sensation. As, since then I have become better acquainted with humidity, on this recent trip it was, if no less unpleasant, less bewildering. The second thing that I discovered was that the delightfully chaotic canopy of incomprehensible neon signs that extends out over the streets was still, after fifty years, a distinguishing feature of the city.
Even medieval cities must have occasionally had in their more central precincts modest equivalents of Piccadilly Circus or Times Square, with advertisements, less flashy and intense perhaps, but with an appeal that was enough to attract visitors to them. After all, as we know from some quite "colourful" examples at Pompeii, Roman cities were so adorned. At the end of the nineteenth century a stone was discovered in a mason's yard, which may perhaps have originated in Jerusalem's famed, if not quite gourmet, dining district, Malquisinat (the Street of Bad Cooking). It was incised with a partial inscription ". . . UUS II D(?) . . . II . I . . ." which the nineteenth century Jerusalem scholar and archaeologist, Charles Clermont-Ganneau identified as probably reading [COQ]UUS "cook" a suggestion supported by what appears above the inscription; a number of incised drawings of implements of a master chef's art: his strainer, ladle, chopper, a pair on tongs and a knife in a sheath. This stone in now, sadly, lost.
It is of course possible, as Clermont-Ganneau suggested, that this was the tombstone epitaph of a cook, or of someone whose surname preserved a former family profession, and indeed tools of trade often appear on tombstones, but the rough appearance of the inscription seems to suggest otherwise, and I prefer this alternate and more enticing interpretation.