Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Settling In

I've been in Jerusalem for 19 days. The steady routine now is:

6:30ish a.m. - up 'n' at 'em.
8:30 - 1:30 - Monday to Thursday, in the Ulpan learning Hebrew (and 9:30 - 2:30 on Sunday).
For the rest of the day, I'm studying, napping occasionally, catching up with family, studying some more, writing in my journal. Although I haven't been as steady at writing here, I have been writing extensively in my journal and am currently on my third one since arriving.

A few highlights:
Last Thursday, Peter and Daan from Holland, Joseph from Wisconsin and Mary from Texas (one of my room-mates) and I all went to Ben Yehuda and the Old City. Just up from Ben Yehuda Street, a huge pedestrian thoroughfare, Peter took us to a fantastic used book shop. It was mostly in the basement with all of these interconnected rooms with couches and chairs and ottomans stuffed where there weren't any books. There were so many authors I hadn't seen before, in Hebrew and English, as well as other languages, and I'm excited to read them (in my spare time...!) but it was seeing authors with whom I'm familiar that gave me a real thrill - books on the shelves by Italo Calvino, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Graham Greene. It was like seeing a dear old friend you haven't seen in a while, in a place you never expected to run into them.

Afterwards, we walked to the Old City as the sun was setting. We went first to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I loved touching the stone walls, especially the Greek letters carved into a wall in the Greek room. (Imagine!) (It wasn't very busy, but others had left their empty plastic water bottles lying around so I played clean-up...I know that location shouldn't matter when doing one's best not to litter, but c'mon. If ya can carry it when it's full, then carry it a little longer while it's empty - and, well, this is a holy place.)

Anyway, I liked the Greek room. I lit a candle and placed it on the scaffolding around the cave that is said to be Jesus' tomb. I'm not Catholic but it's become a tradition for me while travelling to light a candle in all churches that I go to, like connecting my thoughts with those I love who aren't with me. What amazed me most about the Church was that from the outside it just looks like any other building in the Old City - a part of the architecture. But once you're inside the ceilings are high and there are many rooms that have been constructed around the central cave/tomb. Plus, what added to the mystery, the experience for me was that it was all very shadowy, most of the light coming from candles or dim electric bulbs.

Then we went to the Kotel - the Western Wall. Mary gave me a quick clinic on what to do. I wrote a note, and signed it, "Love, Tanya." Mary said she was pretty sure he (meaning G-d) would know it was me, but I wasn't taking any chances. It was a small piece of paper, and I tried to include everyone - I think at one point, the wording was something like, "send love to everyone" - because as soon as I think of one person, then I think of another and there are so many on my list that I didn't want to exclude anyone. There was one line I remember clearly, though: "Tell Grampa I say "hi" and that I hope for his strength to be mine, and his pride to be earned." Maybe I shouldn't be blogging about a note written to a deity, but my deity understands that this is how I pray, this is how I connect with the divine in me and those around me. Enough said. I was modestly dressed that day: jeans and a cardigan over my sleeveless top, and I covered my head with a scarf (which wasn't necessary). If you're not modestly dressed (knees and shoulders covered), there are women seated at the bottom of the stairs, after you go through the metal detector and have your bag searched at security, who will provide you with a scarf/shawl. We went to the women's area of the Wall. The women's area is smaller than the men's, and reminded me of the book shop's feminist section, which consisted of one shelf in that whole maze. So, we made our way up to the Wall where many women were praying; en route, there were chairs set up where some sat and prayed, or sat with their children. One little girl had a camcorder and taped her mother praying at the Wall. I went up, waited patiently for a break in the women, got it and placed my note in a crack, touched the Wall briefly before backing away some distance and then turned around to sit at where we were all to meet. There is a tradition that one should not turn one's back to the Wall because it's so holy. I kinda fretted about this one, in my head: how many steps backwards before it's ok to turn around? I ended up doing a pseudo-crabwalk, so that I could both follow tradition and not step on anyone.

Then Joseph and I went looking for a 'get to know you' evening for the grad students at a pub just off Ben Yehuda. We couldn't find it, but did find Dublin Bar. All the writing/advertising is in the style of Guinness, and the inside is Irish themed. You can smoke inside in Israel. So, we sat at the bar, had a few pints and then the music started. You're thinking: how quaint, Gaelic music at an Irish-themed pub in the middle of the Middle East. No. The DJ played Israeli disco at such a loud level that we could barely hear each other speak. So we drank some more beer before finally calling it a night and going back to the student village to drink Joseph's room-mate's vodka with mint lemonade and killing ourselves laughing at the absurdity of our surreal experience that was Dublin Bar.

Class itself is great - I'm learning a lot from my two teachers, Ronit and Mayah. There are twelve of us in Alef Sheva (Alef 7) from the States, Korea, Poland, and France. Again, I am the token Canadian, and am often standing up for our coolness, and correcting one of the teachers: lo', ani' lo' m'America. ani' miToronto beCanada. I'm very glad to be in the ultimate beginners' class - I'm learning the modern script, am improving my vocab, and am speaking the language (it's very satisfying to finally understand how to properly pronounce 'r', for example). And! My training in Biblical Hebrew is coming in very handy, specifically when it comes to nouns which are irregular in the plural, and the direct object marker 'et. There is no equivalent for 'et in English, or any other language (maybe Arabic? since it's Semitic?) so I feel mighty smart and special knowing these things. And! I've made some connections with the language that I can use in my thesis - I'm still working it all out and will let you know once it's written...Speaking of Biblical Hebrew, I'm booked for a placement exam on 2 September. At Hebrew U, they won't let you take Biblical Hebrew until you've reached Level Gimel in the modern; I'm in Alef, next is Bet, then Gimel. I'll be lucky to reach Gimel by the time I leave. So, since I've been studying it for the past two years, I take the exam and they place me appropriately so that I can continue. Preparations have begun.

I love my classmates, my teachers, my room-mates from the States and France. I'm the youngest in my apartment, eat crepes on a regular basis, and am practicing my French as well as getting help with the Hebrew. The only sad part about the current living arrangement is this: the ladies from France leave at the end of August, Karen leaves in mid-September and Mary leaves at the end of that month. Wah! Whose gonna make me crepes? and buy me roses for Shabbat? and wash the floors (Annette gets up at 5:30 a.m. and cleans the floors. Yes, I love my room-mates.) Will my new roomies like "You Are So Dirty Rice," and "Special Colourful Pasta" as much as these roomies do? I will worry about it in October, and will probably have nothing to worry about. Fingers crossed, please, that T's run of good-roomie-luck continues! I do feel like I should be getting out more, but I am also very concerned about learning the language and doing well. It's very interesting to be one in a crowd of high-achieving perfectionists, regardless of our level in Hebrew. Now that I know we can go into the Old City on Shabbat, I'll be making more weekend excursions to poke around and get to know the place better.


Anonymous said...

Love your description of the old city. You must write a novel! Vodka and mint lemonade - sounds good - and I suddenly have a craving for crepes. Your letter was mailed Aug.19 and also your parcel. Talk to you soon. Love always Mom

Anonymous said...

I loved so many things about this entry: you have a roomie from Texas?; you cleaned up after evil litterbugs "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute"; your juxtapositioning of the visit to the Western Wall with a visit to an Irish pub; you're travelling w/ someone named "Joseph"; and that you're already so ensconced in your studies. No surprises. It's Tanya being amazing Tanya. Love, Bijoux

Anonymous said...

I loved so many things about this entry: you have a roomie from Texas?; you cleaned up after evil litterbugs "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute"; your juxtapositioning of the visit to the Western Wall with a visit to an Irish pub; you're travelling w/ someone named "Joseph"; and that you're already so ensconced in your studies. No surprises. It's Tanya being amazing Tanya. Love, Bijoux