Monday, August 30, 2010

I Can't Keep Up

I take it as a good sign that I can't keep up with daily virtual postcards. We've been packing in the sightseeing at a pretty dizzying pace. A few days ago we visited some 2,000 year old human-made caves, carved in bell shapes from limestone. They are lined with thousands of niches, aka pigeonholes. The caves were used to raise the pigeons for meat and fertilizer and also served as cisterns. On the drive home we stopped at a little farm and bought a ton of fresh cheese and yogurt, including mozzarella that had been made that day from buffalo milk.

Then we took a road trip up through Haifa and on to Galilee, which is very close to the border of Lebanon. There we visited an amazing natural bridge, came across a herd of goats crossing the road under the watchful eye of a shepherdess who appeared to be from Biblical times, and my love for goats is such that I nearly blew a gasket thanks to the excitement of it all. Then we ate at an incredible Middle Eastern restaurant. Then back to Rehovot.

Yesterday Warren and I stole away alone, no camera, to a long long day at the beach. I think I could live in the Mediterranean. It happened to be our three year anniversary and I won't complain if we mark all future anniversaries by the sea. You'll just have to take my word for it that the sunset, which we viewed sitting on chairs in the water up to our waists, was likely the most magnificent sunset of all time. In thirty-eight hours I hope on a plane for the long flight back.

Up above is a picture of Benny. He's got a cafe down the street from Warren's sister's place and I visit him, sometimes twice a day, to use his wifi and get a little alone time. I'm going to miss Benny who kindly treats me like a regular. I walk in in the morning and say, "Boker tov, how are you?" and he says, "Thank you very much. How are you? A strong coffee?" Excellent way to start the day. Here are more pictures:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Life's a Beach

The day after Jerusalem, we cleansed our emotional palates with another day frolicking in the Mediterranean. For all the stress I felt about being engulfed by so many pilgrims in the Holy City, I myself fast fell into the role of worshipper-- sun worshipper-- at the beach. That's one place I know I can always rely on to fill me with a sense of wonder and mystery and total chilled outedness and every time we visit an ocean Warren and I both wonder aloud what the hell I'm doing living in a landlocked city.

Years ago, I showed Warren's dad a picture of W making sand castles in Hawaii and he said that while the beach there was nice, the sand in Israel is much nicer. This is very typical of Israeli opinion-- everything here is better. (Wheatsville actually sells a product labeled Superior Israeli Sheep Feta.) I don't know if I'd go so far as to say the beach here is better, but it sure is nice. And it's the one place I encountered anything even remotely ambiguous. Opinions here run even stronger than those of the clerks at Waterloo Records, and if you are having a hard time making up your mind about something, no problem, somebody is always waiting to tell you what to think. But I did spot a slogan for Carlsberg beer on one of the ubiquitous umbrellas -- PROBABLY the Best Beer in the World. My theory about this slogan is that, since the beer is made elsewhere it cannot be advertised as DEFINITELY the Best Beer in the World.

Swimmers are required to stay within zones marked by flags. Up on the beach, the lifeguards sit in these stands-- like announcer booths at a football game-- and provide a running commentary, shouting at various people how if they don't come in closer, the lifeguards are going to have to come out into the water and kick some ass. Only it's really hard to understand them, not only because they're speaking Hebrew, but because their PA system so distorts and muffles the message it makes subway announcements in NY seem crisp and clear. Warren does a great impersonation of these guys by clamping his hand over his mouth and shouting indiscernible garble. I like to think that each time they yell they're saying, "I'm going to count to three and then I'm going to come in the water and haul your ass out but lucky for you counting to three in Hebrew takes about twenty minutes given the complexity of the language." (On an earlier trip to the beach, I watched a pot-bellied lifeguard-- his stomach like a personal flotation device-- come down off his perch, get into the water, and literally start pushing around some non-compliant bathers.)

And then there is the paddle ball, which is second only behind arguing here as a national favorite sport. In fact, the paddle ball is a lot like the conversation here. An excellent metaphor if you will. People smash a little black ball back and forth, it makes a loud noise, but in the end it's pretty harmless even if you get hit, and often enough the ball gets dropped.

I've only got a few days left before the seven million hour flight back. Here's hoping there's at least one more beach day in the works. Oh, and I keep meaning to mention that, when on the beach, I am reading (and have now finished reading) a totally vacation-worthy beach read,Georgia's Kitchen, written by my friend Lenny's friend, Jenny Nelson. It's one of those books where you know, going in, nothing bad is going to happen, the heroine is going to overcome her obstacles, and it's going to be all happily ever after.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jerusalem Syndrome

Yesterday we headed over to Jerusalem to walk through the market and check out the Wailing Wall and some Very Important Church and to be told we weren't even allowed to think about getting near the big mosque seeing as we're Jews (or in my case, a Jew-by-proxy). Warren's dad told me about this affliction called Jerusalem Syndrome, which is a real thing. Apparently more than a few people, upon arriving in the city, become psychotic and suffer delusions that they, personally, are being spoken to by god.

I personally became afflicted with a number of feelings, the predominant of which was a mashup of disbelief/fascination/freaked-outed-ness about how many people make a pilgrimage here to pay homage to their one true god who is not the one true god of all the other pilgrims. It reminded me of a U2 concert where Bono (who apparently also believes he is god) gets all under everyone's skin and has every audience member thinking that if s/he could just get a five minute audience with the guy, they'd be bestest friends forever. Then you look around at the other audience members and think, "Ugh, I could NEVER relate to THAT person," and yet, there you all are, thinking the very same thought.

It's really interesting how irritable and impatient a lot of these pilgrims seem, all in a hurry to touch a wall or a stone or light a candle. Everyone wants everyone else to get out of the way. When I got to the Wailing Wall, some security chick told me I needed to do a better job covering my boobs-- and to think I actually put on a TUNIC yesterday with the intent of being more covered than usual. I also needed to cover my head and the only spare hanky we had came from Warren's dad's pocket and was imprinted with the Western Union logo. I couldn't do much about the cleavage situation and wanted to point out that my top shelf was a gift from god and Oy, Can I help it if god chose to give me such a big gift? And I did note, with curiosity and confusion, that immediately after telling me to cover up or else, the guard WINKED at me. No really. She WINKED.

The marketplace, where money is the focus of worship, is a textile whore's dream. I mean I never so saw much beautiful fabric in one place before. Of course a whole lot of it is offered to provide head coverings for women who seem to have a lot more rules to follow. I didn't spot too many wigs, but noting one woman wearing one sort of called to mind vegetarian "meat."

This all sounds judgmental-- and before I let myself get too far into thinking about how ridiculous I find religion, I reminded myself that I did attend a Buddhist retreat a few years ago and that was very moving for me. And in Tel Aviv there was an astrology bridge where you could find your "sign" and touch it and make a wish and, hey, that was sort of appealing. So I guess we're all looking for something to believe in. But in Jerusalem, the sheer concentration of so many devout people swooning is so intense that even if you don't feel the hand of god reach down and chuck you under the chin, you cannot escape the feeling of all that human energy in one place.

Which all calls to mind Dan Bern's excellent song Jerusalem, in particular these lyrics:

Everybody's waiting for the Messiah
The Jews are waiting
The Christians are waiting
Oh so are the Muslims
It's like everybody's waiting
They been waiting a long time
I know how I hate to wait
Like even for a bus or something
An important phone call
So I can imagine how darned impatient
Everyone must be getting

Oh, and then there are all the uzis. You pass lots of young soldiers casually strolling around with their guns hanging off their shoulders-- in the grocery store, on the streets. I saw a gaggle of young women soldiers in sandals and loaded for bear, heading for the Wailing Wall.

One other thing before we get to today's photos-- I could never live here because it would hurt my feelings way too much. The direct-- nay, confrontational-- way a lot of people address you is (even with my NJ upbringing) forever startling. Maybe if I stayed a few months or years I'd grow desensitized. But really, if one more person yells at me to put my camera away (in a public place) I'm either going to burst out crying or yell back. On a lighter note, there is also this constant, low-level pissing contest going on. For example, when we first arrived in Jerusalem, somebody said something to me in English and I jokingly asked Warren how they knew I was American (I mean, come on-- it's obvious). A passing Orthodox dude turns and says how very American we look. Which was all Warren's mom needed to let him know in no uncertain terms that HER SON was BORN IN JERUSALEM so there. Alrighty then.

I think I might go back to the beach today where the fashion crimes remain abundant, the water warm, and the plunk, plunk, plunk of paddle ball lends a nice secular rhythm to the day.

Warren bought us one of these bread things-- Jerusalem's answer to the soft pretzel. After paying ten shekels, he overhears the vendor try to get that much from the next customer who responds, in Hebrew, "I'm from Jerusalem, don't fuck with me," and thus pays far less.
I really think it's time for Vibram to sponsor me-- everywhere I go people get freaked out by my monkey shoes.

I found Baby Jesus hiding out in the marketplace.

Forget the golden arches-- Jerusalem put the arch in architecture.

It's a trap-- a trash can planted in front of a sign warning you that if you throw anything out you will be in BIG TROUBLE.

The lemonade is served with fresh mint-- very nice.

When traveling, it's always fun to look for typos and translation gaffes. I have no idea what the Mutable Salad is, but it sounds quite adaptable.

I made friends with a soldier who did not ask me to cover my boobs.

My Western Union head scarf.

The Wailing Wall.

Warren captures a nearly full moon for me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Caca Tov & Yam Yom

When we went to France in December, the first few days were a little rough. I know, I know,poor Spike, cranky on the Riviera. But flying a gazillion miles does take it's toll and I remember being really frustrated. We'd heard over and over you can't get a bad meal in France, or at least that doing so was a particularly hard task. But the jet lag had us waking up at weird hours which, combined with the fact that restaurants close for a few hours in the middle of the day, left us with limited options. The lack of real food and the sleep deprivation left me wanting to scream and, as Warren was the only person I knew, I found myself venting in his general direction.

I sent a note home to a friend then, bemoaning my circumstances, including (especially) my own shitty attitude. He sent me back a note reminding me that one should never, everunderestimate the power of jet lag to wreak havoc. I kept that in mind this time around and the advice has served me well. When I feel myself getting a little edgy, I contemplate the realities of traveling far, far away and having an upside down internal clock and not speaking the language or knowing how to get around. Really, I think it's a lot like being a little kid strapped into a stroller, at the mercy of adults. On the one hand, you get a sense of wonder-- everything is new and interesting. On the other hand, you must relinquish any sense (real, or more likely false) of control you rely on in your day-to-day life in more familiar surroundings.

So okay, good, all that knowledge helps. But one thing that cannot be gotten around, at least not for me, is the GD constipation that comes with flying halfway around the world. Happens every time. David Sedaris has a great essay about a trip to summer camp in Greece, about not shitting for an entire summer, and about winding up with his intestines "packed like a musket." About three days into my own musket experience, I was seeking a good remedy, preferably one that did not involve Ex-Lax. And I found it-- FIGS my friends. Lots and lots of figs. I bought about four pounds at the market and ate about three pounds that very night. Let's just say I'm clean as a whistle now. Thank you figs.

To celebrate my victory over the musket, I created a new holiday, which we are referring to asCaca Tov-- which translates roughly to Good Poop. This holiday, or at least the name of it, has gone over very well with Warren's niece, as we continue to work on teaching one another words in English and Hebrew. I'm up to about seven words now and figure if I stay here for another thirty years I should be able to ask where the bathroom is and be able to order my own falafel sandwiches.

I also learned that "yom" is day and "yam" (sp?) is sea. So when we were in the Mediterranean, it was our Yom Yam. Or maybe it was our Yam Yom. Or, as Warren explained, when you put both words together it means, "Delicious!" (So funny, Warren.)

Here are some more pictures:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eat Pray Love? How about Eat Eat Eat.

Shalom from Israel, Y'all.

Warren's niece is attempting to teach me Hebrew and I'm trying to teach her English. I'm "winning" in the sense that I have such a hard time with that ccchhhhhhh sound, and such an inability to grasp new languages that she, in desperation, is coming up with ways to communicate with me. Today, after a good long frolic in the Mediterranean, she gestured at me and then said, after searching for it, "Beautiful!" And I got all choked up and told Warren that his niece told me I was beautiful. And he said, "You are!" And while I was busy getting stillmore choked up, Warren asked his niece, in Hebrew, what she'd actually said to me. Apparently she was trying to tell me my TOENAIL POLISH IS BEAUTIFUL. Okay, I can accept that.

We are having a great time. I said, before heading over, that growing up in NJ prepared me as much as anyone can be prepared for a full-immersion Israeli experience. After 17 hours of flying, broken up by 8 hours of layovers in Atlanta and Paris, I got stuck in the passport line in Tel Aviv behind a group of Russians that were having a very difficult time getting their paperwork in order. Finally it was my turn, and the young passport stamper guy tells me two things:

1) Never get stuck behind Russians. They're the worst to deal with.
2) (After noting I was born in NJ) "Oh, from Jersey? It's a lot like that here."

Boy I'll say. From the fashion crimes to the pushy lifeguards, to not understanding a goddamn word anyone is saying, I feel almost like I simply took an extra-extra long flight to South Jersey. Although the water is prettier (apologies my beloved Atlantic) and the food, oh god theFOOD. Anyway, I'm not going to post too many words while I'm on vacation but I am hoping to put some pictures up as I go. And so, today, images from the open market and the beach. I should be a professional vacationer. I'm really quite good at it.