Thursday, October 02, 2008

Naughty Blogger!

Wow! It's already 2 October and I have left y'all hanging for two weeks! I am a naughty blogger, indeed, and starting today will remedy that.

The Ulpan ended last Thursday. When I had last written, I was embarking upon a supplementary program to complete the final 6 chapters of the textbook for Alef with the goal of writing the level exam. This did not happen. I did do the supplementary program, an extra 2 hours per day of Modern Hebrew instruction, and watched myself become stressed and anxious and trying to cram so much into my head that my head erected a wall and nothing more could be crammed. I spoke with the woman heading our level, Michal, to see about my options. As it turns out, I can write the level exam 30 October. This is what I'm doing. Shortly after speaking with her, I felt my brain resume its regular sponge status and I was able to walk into our final exam with confidence, the head holding that brain held high. I have all the materials I need to study for the exam, and have Joseph to study with. It's all good.

The day after the exam, Mary and I hosted Shabbat dinner. Peter, Joseph, Adrienne and one of my new neighbours, Joe, joined us. Adrienne is an opera singer; she's an American ex-pat now living in Copenhagen with her husband and children and is here studying as part of her anthropology degree. She sang the Kiddush (sp?) and it was truly beautiful. An added bittersweet ingredient in our little party was the fact that this was our last Shabbat with Mary. She left yesterday morning to do a month of volunteer work with the Israeli army in their Sar-el program. It was getting late at our dinner party, around 11:30 pm, when we noticed that it was raining. I have been here for almost three months now and this was the first rainfall in that time, a rainfall this country desperately needs. We all ran outside and like children ran as it fell upon us. Jerusalem is a little cooler during the days now, the blue skies are constantly populated with clouds, and the nights are downright cold. I laugh at my meteorological arrogance remembering the question I asked before coming here: How cold can it possiby get in Israel?

Adrienne, Mary and I decided to roadtrip. Originally we wanted to rent a car and head north to the Galilee but we had left our planning late - understandable, since we were all studying in preparation for the aforementioned exam - and there weren't any cars left whose rental fees we could afford. No big deal. Instead, we rented a room at the En Gedi Youth Hostel and hopped a bus down to the Dead Sea on Sunday. We got there around 2:30 - only an hour away - and high-tailed it to the spa. Unfortunately, we arrived late during their operating hours and I wasn't able to head to the Dead Sea proper to soak and mud-up. I did, however, soak in the mineral pool and went for a very heavenly one-hour massage, then paddled in the pool for a little while. I didn't get down about not going to the Sea - I'm here for while and know that I'll be back.

There were no restaurants in the area but the hostel provided us with a box meal. I was expecting a sandwich. We got bread, chicken schnitzel, fries, some sort of salad that was very yummy (a root vegetable in creamy dressing), chocolate wafer cookies, an apple, and of course hummus. Adrienne had brought along a bottle of shiraz from the Golan that was perfect, medium to full body and very smooth. We sat on the terrace of the hostel's common area, the Dead Sea before us, the mountains behind and around us. It was so warm and the wind so welcome - the leaves rustling in a near-by tree sounded like rain - and the smell of sulphur was distant and not unpleasant. One of the guys staying at the hostel (he looked like he was in his late twenties and a total surfer dude) poked his head out onto the terrace and said, "You live like queens." Yes, yes we do, and I did feel like a queen sitting with my royal friends. One of the highlights of the evening was Adrienne singing part of the love aria from The Marriage of Figaro. And! As it turns out, Adrienne's last role was the soprano in Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail - the opera I had seen with Julie in New York in May!

The next morning we were up and hiking in the En Gedi National Park. Photos are pending development! There were pools at the bottom of waterfalls where you could swim; none of us wore our suits but we swam all the same in our clothes. I had to be coaxed in, I admit it. At the second pool, Mary waded in right away to her waist and a few minutes later excitedly called to Adrienne and me to join her. On a rock half in and out of the water was a freshwater crab. We called him Rabbi Crabby. It was just us three splashing and revelling in where we were until a huge group of Swedish students invaded. That was our cue to move on. We hiked until noon, up as far as the Shulammit Spring when we turned back (the last bus to Jerusalem was at 2:30). From this height the view of the Dead Sea and Wadi David was spectacular. We didn't make it as far as the Ein Gedi Spring, but like I said, I'll go back.

Sightings of note at En Gedi: Nubian ibex (wild goats), rock hyrax (conies; they look like groundhogs), eucalyptus and fig trees growing out of the rocks, my first Israeli hummingbird - all black with an iridiscent blue/purple head.

And now, I'm all on my own in my big five room apartment here at the Kfar Hastudentim. Joseph and a couple of other friends, Jacob and Paul, are having a male bonding weekend in the Negev riding horses and hanging with alpacas. I wanted to go, but need the time to study for the Biblical Hebrew placement exam that I don't want to postpone any longer. I'm looking forward to having this time alone, to getting some work done and to meeting my new roommates when they eventually arrive.

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