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Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Unbottled: Dimona, Israel

So after getting the extended tour of Tel Aviv after missing my stop on the train and making my way back to the hotel with an honest taxi driver (who I swear didn’t speak a lick of English, making the dinero transaction kinda hard), we had our last dinner with my sister who was leaving a day early.  In the spirit of goodbyes I ignored the fact that it took 5 restaurants to finally get one that we all (“we all” meaning my sister) liked.  After going to many a restaurant where pork chops were on the menu and the chocolate souffle cake after dinner was (rightfully) served with good old fashioned vanilla ice cream, we actually ended up at a bona fide Kosher restaurant…right on the beach.  In fact that’s where this photo was taken.

Good meal. No ice cream with the chocolate cake (booo!). Managed not to strangle sister.  Put her in taxi. Go home and chat with mom.  Get most inoportune call from 22 year old Nigerian football player. Manage to realize in the nick of time and hang up before contact is officially made.  Say good night. Get good night’s sleep. Wake up next morning say goodbye to mom since I’m off with T to her hometown to view this festival they have going on and make my way to the airport later on that night.

So at 10 am sharp I’m standing outside of the hotel waiting for T, who promised to be there at exactly that time.  One full hour later she shows up with her cousin/brother/in law/whatever (you’ll find out that it’s hard to tell  the difference later on in this blog).  She at least apologizes profusely but gives no explanation. I assume it had something to do with the two riding in the front of the car.

We make our way through Tel Aviv with the radio blasting gangsta rap.  Side note: why oh why does the worst rap have to be the number one American musical export?  To avoid the dirty looks from old Jewish men driving around us, I decide to go to sleep…or at least pretend to.

At some point the music gets turned off.  I wake up to see what the deal is and find nothing more than the car entering the on ramp to the freeway.  All three of the other passengers have started praying, which was far more awkward to me than getting dirty looks from old Jewish men on the road. Of course as soon as it passes the gansta rap goes right back to full blast and the driver continues his litanyes of the Mother Fucker at everything that pisses him off on the road. 

The whole trip lasts a good hour and a half so we take a bathroom break during which they get french fries (which they then put ketchup and mayo on…yuck!) and I try my hand at the Doritos which have not a lick of English on them.  I have to choose between the yellow (plain I assumed), red, black with red peppers on the cover and this, which I, very mistakenly, assumed was guacamole:

It was some sickly sweet concoction which cemented my desire to return to the US and enjoy normal good old fashioned American fiery habaneros doritos.

I guess I should at this point explain what this whole trip was about.  Basically in Dimona, which is the bona fide desert portion of Isreal, there is a group of African Hebrew Isrealites.  Apparently way back in the 60s a small group of black people took Dr. King’s message about “getting to the promised land” a little too literally and decided to head over there. There being, of course, Israel.  Again, I’ll let Wikipedia explain it for me.  T, and her “relatives”, are all members of this community.  Which is apparently still going strong.

After a series of introductions to this family member and that one, I’m finally passed off to a cousin of T, Naomi, who turned out to be a very gracious (and informative) hostess…with the world’s most adorable baby.

Because T made it pretty clear that they were a “conservative” group (is there any group in Israel that isn’t?), I wore the one peice of “conservative” clothing I had, the black skirt which reaches firmly below the knees. She also made a point of telling me that “no one has to know about the nightclub!” Duly noted. I was feeling quite comfy as Naomi explained to me that on the first day of the festival everyone wears the same color (this year being red), and since I was dressed all in black she had some red  pants I could change into so I could fit in.  I got the idea it was more of a subtle hint than a suggestion. Sigh….

Because she was busy cooking she put her daughter (7 months) on the bed in her bedroom where I was changing. This is the part where all moms should take note: just because a woman has a vagina, does not mean she has a maternal instinct.  That stuff is obviously learned. Case in point:

My point of view: Baby crawls around on bed, gets to edge of bed, sees big drop, does what any rational human being would do…stop.

Mom’s point of view: Baby crawls around on bed, gets to edge of bed, sees big drop, doesn’t have the since god gave a rock and proceeds to “learn the hard way”.

Before you get to thinking I would have sat there and watched as the baby crawled right off the edge of the bed…I didn’t!  I’m not that lacking in maternal instinct.  I did however get a sigh and an “are you nuts” look from the mom as the baby started making a bee-line for the edge while I sat there assuming the above.  You can add this one to the list of reasons why I shouldn’t be a mom.

After changing into my non-sluttly clothes, I went back and sat with Naomi in the kitchen while she explained all about this nice little community of theirs.  You kind of have the jist of it from above.  Here is the rest.

They are vegan (boo!), English and Hebrew speaking, polygamous(!), all natural, non substance users (boo!), but they do make their own wine (thank goodness for the bible).  As it turns out Naomi was the second wife of her husband.

That’s why familial relationships there are so…complex.  Number one, it’s a tiny community of maybe 1,000 people.  So even if you aren’t directly related to someone…chances are you are still related somehow.  Add to that, the fact that most men have more than one wife (and thus most children have more than one mom), well you get it.  Oh, and the best part is…they aren’t allowed to practice birth control!  So there ya go.  Of course Naomi explained to me that if a woman is “especially fertile” they have a drink she can take to tone things down a bit.  Considering she herself had 10 brothers and 3 sisters, I hate to think what “especially fertile” means.

But I feel like I’m being unfairly judgemental.  Aside from this lifestyle obviously not being for me (I love meat and would go nuts from having that many kids), the only real issue I take is with the polygamy.  In actuallity I honestly don’t think I would mind it.  It’s just the principal of the thing. The vegan food actually turned out to be not that bad…despite making my digestive system a little too operational later on.

After we (as in she, while I sat there and watched) finished cooking we went over to the festival.  This was one of those fortuitous events that you are so glad you got to take advantage of because when the hell else are you going to be surrounded by a bunch of Hebrew speaking black vegans (and the sprinkling of open minded white people that always congregate to these sorts of things) while they have their annual day of celebration? It was so absolutely awesome.  The rest is just photos…which I originally hesitated to post because it had this whole National Geographical feel to it, but I’m open to sharing.

The sign over the village itself:

Part of the village:

Everyone dancing.  Two things to note: most of the women don’t relax their hair (god bless em!), they all went natural or had these intricate braids (all theirs, no synthetics), which must have taken forever to do, but looked amazing. Also, all of these outfits were hand made, which almost made me sign up right then and there. I love sewing!  Each family had it’s own little design sewn in with the standard red.  The white with red flowers you see between the two men was that of Naomi’s (that’s her bio mom dancing):

 

Watermelon was the food of the day [insert exasperated sigh here]. Side note: I hate watermelon. It’s disgusting and messy to eat, but I ate it to be nice:

It’s hard to tell from this but they are doing something called the Nations Dance…aka Soul Train Line:

This was the stage with some preformances:

Some teenagers rapping.  Naomi made a point of detailing how they didn’t use any curse words or racial slurs.  In fact the whole village is pretty much crime free:

The children (and believe me, there were A LOT of children, way more than this) dancing:

One adorable little kid nearby:

Later on there was the parade in which all the youths marched/danced into the center square. I wish I had video because photos don’t do it justice: These are the young men:

Young women:

The soliders (despite Israel refusing to acknowledge them as full citizens they do their duty to the country):

Teenage girls:

Teenage boys:

So obviously I could never join this community.  I refuse to dance in public…at least not sober.

Afterward they had this awards ceremony for the “veterans” of the community.  Apparently the first people to start the village stopped over in Liberia for 2 years to “cleanse” after leaving the US, which was a bit of a struggle.  People got really teary eyed over this.  Despite their rebellious tendencies to listen to gansta rap and go to night clubs, everyone really loves it here:

Then there were more presentations.

A group of women dancing to step aerobics:

Some guys doing martial arts:

There was a show that was set to start at 8pm.  I had to catch a 1 am flight, and it supposedly took 2 hours to get to the airport.  So I was supposed to leave at 9. We were all hoping that I could get to see some of the main event but, of course, it didn’t start on time.  No comment. 

But what a treat!  And totally a matter of being in Israel at the right time and knowing a local. 

After being handed off from one relative to another I finally ended up with the brother-in-law of somone’s cousin who drove me to the airport, making absolutely sure that I learned all the benefets of living in the community and listening to their gospel music all the way there.  He was a nice enough fellow but I was far too anxious about making my flight to care.  I wish I had though…I only discovered upon hugging him goodbye that he was a wonderful treat for the eyes.

In fact, one thing I took away was that everyone there looked superb.  Obviously vegan living has it’s benefits.  Maybe it’s that or maybe it was having been surrounded by them for a good 12 hours straight, but I came back with a healthy appreciation (and strong craving) for black men.

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Unbottled: Bethlehem, Israel

Word for word from MySpace

The next day was filled with more museums and a trip to Bethlehem. 

First stop, Bethlehem:

Preface: Apparently my week there was one of those phases where Bethlehem was in the control of the Palestinians.  Going there was a big to-do and frankly, even to a non-religious person such as myself, kinda sad.  First, our tour guide couldn’t step one foot iniside the city because he was Israeli.  We were handed off to some random man who led us away in the back seat of an early model Toyota. It almost felt like we were being kidnapped.

Second, the entire place is surrounded by a huge wall with all kinds of barbbed wire and alarms and who knows what else.  The only people inside are Muslims and Christians (the latter of whom are literally holding down the fort in dangerous territory for the rest of us).  Going inside was like crossing the border.  We had to show our passports (to prove we werent Israeli) and have our bags searched and questioned as to what our purpose was there.

This is walking back after our tour.  The man was our Christian tour guide.  Everyone makes a big deal about us sponsoring Christian tourist shops so 1) they will be kind enough to take over for the Israeli tour guides and 2) they will actually stay in that hell hole.  This is how you get in and out:

Another photo of the wall.  I actually wish I could have stood there and taken photos along the entire length of the wall since it had some rather interesting and artistic poltical statements.  But I got the feeling our tour guide wanted to gloss over this portion:

(Yes, the entire trip did feel like I was entering a war zone, which I technically was).

Views of Bethlehem:

 

More of Bethlehem.  This photo really makes it look much nicer than it was.  The whole city was pretty run down:

Finally we made it to the site everyone dares come to Bethlehem to see. The Church of the Nativity:

 

We had to go in through this tiny little door:

You’ll be happy to know that this portion actually struck me on a slightly religious level.  This is supposedly where Jesus was born.  Sorry for the crappy quality but I didn’t have time to adjust my camera settings since the mean Armenian priest overseeing the area begrudingly gave us “ONLY 1 MINUTE!” since (naturally) the priests were a praying nearby again.  And you wonder why I have a problem with organized religion. See if you can spot the symbolic visual here:

And right nearby was where the nativity took place:

Arond the corner you have the graves where all the children that were killed by King Herrod were placed:

And that was it.  Afterward we were taken to a shop where Christians used all their martyrish pressure to get us to support there continued effort to keep teh birthplace of Jesus from falling into the hands of “others.”  I went ahead and bought something since our tour guide did have to suffer the wrath of the church in order to get us to see what should rightfully be open to all.

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Unbottled: Jerusalem, Israel

Also taken word for word from MySpace.

1. It’s official…I caught something between Israel and here.  I’m sick.

2. I keep smelling Israel all over the place.  Maybe it’s me and the residue of me eating nothing but humus and gyros all day is still in my system.  But I swear everywhere I go I keep smelling saffron.

So here goes. The next day we went to Jerusalem.  We made our way through all the tourists to see all the holy sites and it was quite an experience…one I’d dare not do again, but an experience all the same.  It’s best told with photos:

We started at the Mt of Olives (or just Mt. Olives) to get a view of Jerusalem from afar.  This is a reaaaaly old olive tree:

Jerusalem from afar:

Yes, those are graves.  This is apparently primo real estate when it comes to being buried since, when [insert your preferred religious end of the world story here] happens, these souls will be first in line

Another not so glamorous view of Jerusalem:

Nearby we stopped at the church Jesus (supposedly) went to after the Last Supper.  It should be noted here that there is a church (or, depending on the current politics, a mosque) located on each site Jesus “did something.”  You have Constantine to thank for that.

Inside view.  Additional note: Each time we went to see something, some priest was praying/having mass/doing something else religious and they always made a point of making all of us tourists feel like we were intruding.  Yes, I’m intolerant…especially when it comes to organized religion and historical sites.

We then made our way to Jerusalem.  This is where it all happened.  “It all” being Jesus finally dying for all our sins. The Church of the Holy Sepuchre:

This is a map of the holy site.  Since the church is divided among 4 or 5 different sects there are a lot of politics involved in who gets control over what.  Apparently another church can’t so much as sweep the floor of another church’s area. And religion is supposed to be a good thing?

This is the point where it gets rather muddled.  I had it all in my head as it was explained to me despite loud and obnoxious toursists nearby and everything being in either Hebrew or Latin.  I think this is where Jesus was put on display to be mocked.

This is where he was actually nailed to the cross.  Like most of these sites, there is just a symbolic rock…and not even an original one at that.  Just imagine what is behind all the tourists:

This is (supposedly) where his body was washed after he died. Note how emotional people are over it.  I was too cynical to touch it.

I really wish I knew what this was…I think it’s important:

Ditto this photo:

The site of Jesus’ grave. This one is a BIG maybe.  No one really knows where his body was buried and many think this one is a guesstimate.  That didn’t stop there from being an hour long wait to touch the “symbolic rock” where he was laid to rest.  I’m not religious, but something about the grandiosity of this site seems sacrelige.  Obviously the Catholics at work again. They are big on that.

This is supposedly where the actual Crucifiction took place.  There was a long line to actually touch the rock itself, mostly because people lingered praying and crying and such.  I was more than happy with a simple photo.  For some reason the Holy Spirit didn’t think that was enough since everytime I took one it came out blurry.  I’m sure that’s a sign I’m going to hell.  As long as Falwell ain’t there…I’m good.

If you think I’m cynical…at least I’m not a vandal.  This is the sort of “art” that graced our holy sites:

You can’t tell here but these are the names of people and families telling future visitors “the Carter Family” was here in 2006! For some reason this seems far worse than the above:

You’ll note that all of these are out of order.  But you should know the story well enough to follow along.  Since most prisoners were held in stones like these before being crucified, they think Jesus might have been too.  Like all the suppositions here…when in doubt, assume it to be the God’s truth (so to speak) and build a church over it.

This is part of the path Jesus took holding his cross.  This one actualy got me the most…not because of the religious significance, but because I had spent a day squeezing my way through the crazy maze of this place filled with tourists and shops with owners who are one step away from draging you kicking and screaming into their shops to buy something.  I can’t imagine doing that with a crown of thorns and a cross on my shoulder while being taunted.  No wonder he fell so many times (each duly noted with a church built at each locale).

See what I mean?

This was actually taken on the day we went to Masada but is more relevant here.  This is the tree where the crown of thorns came from:

Up close:

This is where Simon finally gave Jesus a break and took over for him (there is a church inside):

This is a random picture of the “navel of the world.”  I don’t even remember why or when I took this:

This is David’s Tomb.  This part is owned by the Jews and they make a big deal about separating the sexes.  Our tour guide literally got chased away by the female guarding the ladies side:

Close to David’s tomb is supposedly where the Last Supper took place.  It was extraordinarily underwhelming.  The pictures do it far more justice than it was in person.  It was small and cramped and not much to look at.  In fact, most of the ornamentation you see was done after the fact by, ironically enough, the Muslims. But then Jesus was a simple man…and supposedly in a bit of a rush to find a place (he was after all on a timeline). 

from another angle:

This is the wailing wall.  This is as close as I dared take a photo since people had been giving me the evil eye all day for talking/snaping photos/not bothering to touch the “symbolic rock”/wearing a skirt that showed my ankles (gasp!)/etc.  For some reason this wall makes them seem especially sanctimonious.  One poor tourists who was having a hard time tying her shawl around her bare (!) shoulders got chewed out by some Ethiopian woman in Hebrew. I still wrote my prayer and stuck it in the wall (on the woman’s side).  You might as well take the chance that that stuff actually works right?

This is the spot where I finally saw all those much talked about Israeli soldiers.  Having seen them in person I can attest to their overwhelming attractiveness.  It’s something about their uniforms…and the superfluous wearing of designer sunglasses…and guns.  Guns are evil tools of the Right…but for some reason they look hot in the hands of an Israeli soldier.  In fact I think the overall strategy here is to disarm the enemy with their sexiness.   The women were especially hot…but I never got to snap a shot.  Do a Google search…it’s worth it.

Since my sister insisted on making us wait a half hour (since “outsiders” are only allowed in between 1:30 and 2:30) we also went to the Dome of the Rock.  I’m glad we did…it’s gorgeous!  This is where a) Herod once had his grandiose palace b) the arc of the covenant lay once upon a time c) the holiest place on earth because of that and d) the Muslims now own and have turned into a mosque.  So naturally I as a skirt wearing, ankle showing, hair and face flaunting female could not go inside.  But the outside was worth the wait.

Closer:

I wanted a good shot of the tile because one day when I’m rich I’m buidling a fountain in my back yard with something like it.

So that was Jerusalem Old Town.  I think I got it all.

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Bottle 3: Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv Sand

Tel Aviv Sand

After a day of swimming in the Dead Sea, my mom, sister, and I went to Tel Aviv, which is like the NYC of Israel…and the one place you don’t have to worry about how you are dressed.  This is the hotel we stayed at.

It was actually the residence of someone at the hospital my mom was teaching at.  But by golly the view was worth the lack of hot water:

Looking to the left. The beach nearby:

Continuing right:

My time in Tel Aviv was…ahem…rather exciting.

Back story: As you know my mom was there for a medical conference.  Side Note: Israel, which has more doctors per capita than any other country on earth has no official cytology accreditation training.  So one of the doctors there decided to go to the good ole US of A to pick my very own mom to spearhead the endeavor to get some.  Yeah…she rocks.

But the point is, she gets there and lo and behold runs into another black face in the audience.  As black people are wont to do when they represent less than 1 percent of the population in a given place…they honed in on each other.  That was a couple of years ago.  So naturally on her return the other lady (T for short) invited us all to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant near our hotel.

T and I just hit it off.  As it turns out at 35 she was closer to my age than my mom’s and despite her upbringing (which you will learn MUCH more about in a later blog) we both had a wild side to us. It’s so good to know that the train doesn’t stop tooting along once you reach “middle age”.

Having never tasted Ethiopian food I was hesitant when she suggested a drink that sounds like “teet” (I swear I tried to look up the official name online but to no avail…of course the (Ethiopian) waiter and T were both speaking Hebrew so maybe it translates to something like “really loaded punch” in English).  She kept going on about how it was “all natural” which automatically turned me off, until she got to the part about it being rather “potent.”

Ok, here’s the thing about “teet”, it doesn’t really hit you until after you insist, despite your mother’s protestations, on another pitcher and then  proceed divide the entire second round between you and your new friend T.  Then it hits you with a swift hard punch in the face with all the force of an 18 wheeler. And you go on to spend the whole evening discussing Mariah Carey’s new “marriage” and the pros and cons of younger men…among other things.

It was halfway through that second round that T suggested we go to a nightclub.  My mom and sister (who for some strange reason doesn’t drink..at all!) looked at each other like “are you shitting me?”  Usually I would follow suit.  I am most decidedly not a night person.  Or nightclub person for that matter.  Interestingly enough my internal clock was still on Texas time after 4 (5? 6?) days so I was wired and too drunk not to take advantage. “But no dancing!” I told her.  Adrienne can not for the life of her dance, like at all.

Famous last words.

So I haeded back to my hotel, changed into what at that point were still just my slightly-too-young-for-me shorts, strappy wedges I’d packed for just such an occasion and around 11 (10?) she picked me up in her little hatchback (everyone there drives tiny cars and honks for no reason…my kinda country) and we tried desperately to find this amorphous club which, she assured me, was a “black” club and where all the American basketball players went. 

On the way there we ran into a couple of Scotts who were coincidentally enough looking for the same club (which should have said something right there).  We finally found the place, called “Eggo” (I think…again it was probably Hebrew) and while we were walking to the place we chatted with the Scotts.  Apparently they felt that at 25 they were probably “too old” to be going clubbing. 

I was drunk enough to open my big old mouth to say, “Puh-lease, me and her we are-”

She, apparently, was not too drunk to give me a swift jab in the ribs to shut my mouth.

So we get into the place and apparently our “old hag” status was still good enough to get us in the front door ahead of the line (the Scotts were appropriately pleased). Sure enough this “black club” was wall-to-wall white kids (or Israelis, which are kind of a whole race unto themselves).  I didn’t care, it was really pretty inside and the balloons all over the place were totally messing with my buzzed head. Besides, nothing makes me feel like less of a schmuck dancing than watching some white guy try to get his groove on (for some reason white women are pretty darn ok at it). She got us both bottles of beer (which did neither of us any good the next morning…never mix drinks my friends!) and we headed to a booth. 

At some point my “no dancing!” rule went out the window as I couldn’t help but get up and move to music which I was disappointed to find out was your average run-of-the-mill American hip hop, with an occasionalsong in Hebrew, and weirdly enough The Wheels on the Bus (side note: that one totally screwed with my already dysfunctional head).

I’m not sure how it happened but as some point I was gyrating my ass against a very taut stomach  and rock hard erection.  He turned out to be a Nigerian “footbal player”. I guessed from the zero-ounce-of-fat body, and the fact that no other country on earth plays American football, he didn’t mean that particular kind. At some point I finally faced him (all the better to feel him up) and saw him up close and personal.

“How old are you?” 

“22!”

Dear God…

You know all that stuff they teach you during orientation in college about going out to bars and accepting drinks from men and flirting a little too much and giving out way too much information…it all pretty much goes out the window in the heat of the moment.  By the end of the evening he had my cell phone number (the real one which he used at exactly the wrong moment later on the next day), my home town (after finding out I was American he wouldn’t stop talking about moving to America to marry me.  Apparently we are really big with foriegners of all types…a fact which I totally plan to exploit on all my adventures abroad, and would probably be able to sculpt my body blindly after having groped each and every part.

But my God maybe there is something to young men…especially young professional football playing men. I’ve fucked a soccer player (they have stamina for days) and it feels so good touching their legs and ass. Had I had the hotel room to myself, the night would have ended in some other way than T and I making our secret escape at around 2:30 (much longer than the 1 hour she promised we’d hang out there). 

Her cousin (you’ll learn later on that she has “a lot” of cousins) met us at the front door.  He literally had to drag me back to her car.  I don’t want to think about how she made it to my hotel and then her own considering we had the same amount to drink…and we were driving the crazy-assed streets of Tel Aviv, where lanes, signals, and even streets themselves are mere suggestions and not rules.  But we both made it ok.  

The next morning my sister and I were to set off to Haifa in the north where my mom had her conference.  Naturally my mom had to literally kick me out of bed, my head pounding and then lug my sorry butt all the way to the station.  She was kind enough not to remark on the previous night.  I don’t think she wanted to know. 

Random Pic Time!

Israeli Mc Donalds!:

The Mediterranean from Tel Aviv (note: the American Embassy was right next to our hotel and on the otherside they had this view. Your tax dollars at work!):

at sunset:

Some pretty buidling on the beach:

Me standing in the Medeterranean:

This is miniature Jerusalem taken at King Herrod’s time.  From the Isreal Museum:

Close up of the palace:

Diet Coke!

Isreali Parliament:

Random Camel in front of bus!

Two things no Israeli hotel would be complete without:

a Mezusah by every door:

And the Shabat elevator!

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Unbottled: Haifa, Tel Aviv

So after that rather eventful night (don’t ask me how I remember all the details) I had a good hard sleep, or maybe I just zonked out. Usually I am the early riser but my mother had to actually drag me out of bed to catch the train to Haifa. W hopped into a taxi, paid the rip-off fare, got our tickets and barely made the next train up to Haifa.

Note to future travelers to Israel, going to Haifa is TOTALLY worth a side trip up. There are directions in English so it’s not too hard to figure out. It’s a town on a big hill but the beach is just gorgeous. The train literally lets you off right in front of the beach and as far as the beach goes, dress (or lack thereof) is not an issue (not so with the rest of Haifa I was soon to find out). I figured Haifa = beachy = shorts and flowy breezy flimsy top and flip flops. Or that’s what it would be in any other sane region of the world.

Photos of Haifa from the hills (on a clear day you can actually see Lebanon):

Our first stop was at the hospital where our mom was teaching. After going through a slightly too-thorough security check, we headed up to the conference room. My head had been pounding all morning and not even a nap on the train ride up helped things. But two cups of strong Turkish coffee and these wonderful little chocolate croissants that are so prevalent in Israel took care of everything. They should package it all as the perfect hangover cure. Slight detour: speaking of coffee, go to any shop in Isreal that sells cappuccino and I guarantee it will top anything you’ve ever had in the US. I don’t even like cappuccino and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Then my sister and I were handed off to a friendly old doctor who was our tour guide for the day. First stop: University of Haifa to see the Hecht museum. Our guide was an avid fan of antiquities and gave us a good bit of background on everything. Both my sister and I being history majors, we appreciated it.

Up until then I had been getting the subtle feeling that maybe I was a bit underdressed. I attributed that to my being in a hospital most of the morning and, naturally, people there would dress more conservatively. Then the good doctor asked us which one was older and was shocked to find out that I was not only two years older than my more conservatively-dressed sister (I swear she must be republican!), but was the ripe old age of 30. He made a point of looking at my outfit with an open mouth to cement his shock. What? 30 year olds can’t wear shorts and flip flops?

When we got to the university, my self-conscious fears were realized as every single friggen student was dressed in either jeans or a skirt that reached below the knees…in Isreal…in late spring…at a University…right next to the one of world’s most gorgeous beach! At any US university (except in Utah naturally) you would have seen the bikini strings poking out the backs of tank tops and over the waistlines of cutoff shorts. Not so in this quirky little area of the world.

As we were walking back down the looong hill to the car…I got my first honk. At first I didn’t think anything of it since people there honk for no reason at all…but the shit-eating grin from the driver gave me a clue. Then while the good doctor was telling us all about the Carmelites who have a base up on a hill there, a truckload of soldiers passed by and honked several times. We all turned to look at a group of smiling waving young soldiers hanging out of their truck. I thought that was a bit much but the sidelong glance at my shorts by the good doctor clued me in on the deal up there. Note to readers…don’t bother going into the town of Haifa wearing anything that doesn’t go below the knees.

At that point my shorts became tainted property. I could never look at them again in that country without thinking about how I had corrupted the youth and a kind old doctor who was only trying to show me around.

The point was made even more painfully pronounced when we tried to see the Bahai gardens. You can learn more about the Bahai here, but in short….yet another organized religion. I think this was the final straw in my being thoroughly turned off by organized religion. The gardens were created by some member of the faith and is so beautiful it’s called the 8th wonder of the world…but is totally closed to the general public.

How can someone create something so beautiful only to close it off to everyone, except by special arrangement? The public can view it from a special terrace above the gardens, which gives you kind of a bird’s eye view, but even then…only when dressed appropriately. The guard was much nicer than most people in that country in trying to help me with my “immodest” dress, but ultimately I was banned from even going to the terrace. So I sat outside and suffered the smug glances from tourists who knew how to dress while my sister snapped these shots with my camera.

Another nice guard blocking our way from the side:

If I ever start a religion, it will be one that appreciates the human body…in fact, it may be totally nudist! And women won’t be required to shave either.

Anyhoo, after a lunch of gyros and fresh OJ (squeezed right from the orange in front of us), which for some reason is very popular there, we were dropped off at the beach and left to our own devices. I grabbed an ice cream bar and sat in one of the free chairs they generously have on all the beaches in Isreal and sat back and took in the beauty. This photo does it no justice whatsoever:

Another view of me standing in the Medditeranean.

If nearby Lebanon, which I could actually see from the coast, has the same sort of gorgeous beaches, it’s no wonder it was once upon a time a vacation spot for Americans. Just further proof we desperately need peace in the Middle East. Such beauty shouldn’t be wasted. I was so mesmerized I forgot to get sand for my collection!

Then my sister and I caught the train back to Tel Aviv and hit our very first snafu.

While many of the directions are in English, for the most part everything over there is in Hebrew. The conductor didn’t even bother translating, so when we were stuck at a stop for an especially long time and he mumbled something over the speakers, causing everyone to groan I had no idea what was going on. It was only after another mumbled bit of gibberish and everyone started getting off the train, that I started to worry. Naturally that was the time when I couldn’t find anyone who wished to be bothered with speaking English. Finally my smile (and presumably short shorts) got me the most basic “Tel Aviv?” “Yes” and a subsequent point to Train 2…which is where everyone else was going.

My sister and I got seperated, which caused a problem as I desperately tried to hear the words “Central Station” over the speakers among all the babbling soldiers. Apparently she understood my mom’s directions of “the stop after Tel Aviv University” better than I did that morning (I blame the hangover) since I got off three stops too late. The funny thing is, my taxi ride cost less than her’s back to the hotel. Note to toursist: don’t bother getting off at the “stop after Tel Aviv university”, the taxis there rip you off.

That was the day my slightly-too-young-for-me-shorts went into my suitcase and stayed there. In the desert of all places!

Update: My mom later informed me that the good doctor didn’t think anything of my shorts and that I was not at all innapropriately dressed.

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Bottle 2: Dead Sea, Israel

I’m not the only late bloomer to travel in my family.  My mother has recently taken on travel, if by default.  It seems as though the past few years or so my mom has been asked to teach or serve on committees that travel the world.  She’s been to France, Germany, Hawaii, Alaska, and even Armenia. 

For a few years she’s been asked to teach a program to cytology technicians in a hospital in Haifa, Israel.  This year she treated my sister and I to join her. Naturally we accepted.  This was to be my first experience actually venturing out of the good old USofA (since Vancouver, Canada shouldn’t really count), and I was thrilled.

Our second day we toured Masada and then went to the Dead Sea, both popular tourist spots for anyone visting the Holy Land.

The story of Masada is better told by Wikipedia than me, so I’ll let them explain it to you. What is left today is not much, but obviously enough for some people since they kept occupying certain places singing religious songs and crying at each location, making it hard for those of us interested in it from a purely historical point of view to see anything. I’m of the latter sort, but fully grasped the notion that it was a rather emotional and spiritual moment and place for others…so I compromised.  

Masada is an impressive story in that it represents what usually happens when any group of people is subjected to slavery: fight or die. Freedom is important to us all but frankly, I was far more impressed with their building a huge palace in the middle of the desert with nothing for miles around except a salty sea where nothing grows.

In miniature

In miniature

We then went to go see some waterfalls, which required a lot of hiking.  All this did was prove to me two things:

1. All my efforts on the elliptical machine using interval training were for naught.  I’m totally out of shape!

2. I’m a victim of American puritanical influence.  The little springs were full of totally naked children (which admittedly is easier and cheaper than swimsuits) cavorting with big hairy men in nothing but speedos, who were obviously their dads…but even I got the willies looking at it. 

Along the way we saw the very trees that Jesus’ crown of thorns was made out of.

 

Up close:

Then we finally made our way to the Dead Sea, which I had been waiting for all day. Again if you want to know what the big deal is, trust Wikipedia.

It was a fun time with me, my sister, mom, and the other woman from our tour sitting around floating. We also covered ourselves with mud which is also supposed to be good for the skin. I didn’t notice a difference myself.

Having been in the floatation tank in Austin, I knew what to expect.  Not so with many others.  It was funny watching some of them try to get their bearings and failing miserably, made that much more tricky by the slippery mud at the bottom.  I’m evil, I know.

But hands down the best part of the whole affair was the life guard on duty.  He was some tanned, speedos wearing young stud with sunglasses and a half dyed Jew-fro sporting a megaphone which got used ad nauseam telling all the silly tourists to “Just Relax!”  But it was his accent that was the kicker. The R in “relax” was that sort of rolling R you hear some foreigners make. Think “rr” in Spanish.

Every 30 seconds it was another wobbling white whale of a body that needed to be told to Just Relax, meaning just sit back and let the water do it’s job.  Usually it was in English, since Americans and the English are apparently the stupidest people on Earth, but sometimes it was French or German.

At one point he finally had to tell and especially flailing man to just come to the shore since there was no hope of him cooperating with the water, and no one wanted to be responsible for lugging his rather large torso back to shore when he inevitably had a heart attack or drowned.

While I’m sure most people eventually got annoyed with the whole business, I actually felt sorry for the life guard. Imagine having to telling uncooperative tourists in inappropriate swimwear everyday to JUST RELAX. I found it hilarious…but I imagine it looses it’s hilarity after about the first week.

He also had to tell them to lay on their backs and not try to swim on their stomachs. And for Pete’s sake, don’t duck your head under water or wash the mud off your face with it! What part of 30 percent salt content (8.6 times that of the sea) didn’t these people get? Ouch!

Granted it’s been a while since I’ve been on an American beach, but with our puritanical slantings I can’t imagine the same sort of shamelessness I saw there on display here. The nice thing is, they obviously aren’t as hung up about showing rib cages, spines, and collar bones as we are.

Apparently this immodesty and lack of self consciousness is contagious since I had no problem stripping out of my swimwear and into my regular clothes in full view of everyone in the ladies changing area. Usually I hate (HATE) doing that and try to find a stall or something for privacy’s sake. But whatev…if the 300 pound woman near me can, rather embarrassingly, try to squeeze her naked torso into a swimsuit that was GLARINGLY too small without any shame whatsoever…who am I to be such a prude?

I didn’t feel healed or rejuvenated after the fact, which is supposed to be one of the benefits of that much salt.  And I don’t think the mud helped my skin any. What I did get was a layer of sticky salty skin and hair for days that seemed impossible to get off.  This was the same day we discovered that we had no hot water in our “hotel” (i.e. a room rented in a hotel by a woman who was out of town and graciously let us stay there).

But it was fun all the same and if you ever make it to Israel, it definitely goes on the to-do list.

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