Saturday, October 11, 2008

This is becoming a habit

I should be packing, but true to form I am instead blogging - just like way back in July I should have been packing to come here but was instead giving a wee update to y'all. The plan was to blog earlier today, or yesterday, but I've done something to my lower back so the past two days have seen me in bed, in the most comfortable position I can find on said back. My convalescence has gone something like this: rub Ben-Gay onto my lower back, do about an hour of yoga stretches and breathing (see! the yoga mat was worth the schlep across the Atlantic!), then crawl back into bed with The Source, if any spasms occur then pray for the pain to stop, pop some ibuprofen and repeat from the Ben-Gay step. Now I'm at the computer, sitting as comfortably as I can and hoping that all the stretching (and Mary's generous back-rub last night) will buy me enough pain-free time to write this. Grrr.

It all started on Wed, as I was getting ready to head to Tel Aviv with Joseph for Yom Kippur. It felt achey, so I stretched and felt better. It got a little worse on the bus but nothing to write home about. We got to Tel Aviv and checked into Hotel Maxim on Hayarkon Street - two seconds down a set of stairs to the Mediterranean - and started walking south. It took an hour and a half to get to Yafo and I am so excited to see how the photos turn out. We had a bite to eat at an Arab restaurant and the neighbourhood itself is beautiful and old. It was a good thing that all the shops were already closed for the holiday; I saw so many amazingly beautiful things that I would have loved to pick up. Traffic was already thinning and by 4pm, the official shutdown time in the country, there were only sporadic vehicles still on the roads - the whole country shuts down at 4pm on Erev Yom Kippur and doesn't re-open until around 7 or 8pm the next day. This means no cars, no telephones/cellphones, no internet, no restaurants (everyone should be fasting, but some places, like our hotel, offered small breakfasts for non-Jews), nothing. You're not supposed to eat, drink, bathe or brush your teeth - it's the Day of Atonement and even secular Jews here honour this, from what Joseph was telling me. We walked back to the hotel through deserted streets.

At the hotel I had a small bite to eat - I'm not quite ready yet to fast (I'm taking baby steps in exploring Judaism), but didn't want to gorge. We then took our toast that we had brought from home and went down to the sea to break up and throw into the water. I don't quite understand it all yet, but Joseph said that with each piece of bread you think about what you'd like forgiveness for from any sin you've committed over the past year. I was a little worried that since this was my first time I'd have to ask for forgiveness for a lifetime of sins, but it doesn't seem to work like that. I liked this ritual very much, but would like some help deciphering it and its historical beginnings/legend.

Then, we started walking again: along Hayarkon to Allenby then along some sidestreets until we hit Dizengoff. Joseph took me past some of the apartments he'd lived in (he lived in Tel Aviv off and on for around five years, returning home to the States around ten years ago), and showed me where he was when the suicide bomber pushed past him and ran around the corner onto Dizengoff on Purim in 1996 and set off his horrible explosives. The sight on Yom Kippur while walking speaks to me of strength and life and community - Tel Aviv had been taken over by children on their bikes. Children of all ages, people of all ages, mostly in white (including me - a purely intuitive choice) had taken over the car-less streets and I was so excited and grateful to be a part of that crowd. One little boy, maybe 5, couldn't pick his bike up from where it had been dropped; there was no adult in sight who seemed to belong to him. He let out the saddest wail that was threatening to escalate into a sob when I walked over and picked up his bike for him. His mom wasn't far away - just that extra distance, y'know? - and she gave me a relieved 'toda.' It was so great to respond with a sincere 'bvakesha.' It was very exciting to be walking on the streets and Joseph and I made a compromise - he could talk as much as he wanted as long as I could stop and look at all the shoe stores. My back didn't like me very much and the spasms were getting pretty nasty when we stopped for a little bit and sat on a bench facing a designer's shopfront - the dress in the window was a strapless white wedding-dress with a big picture of Shimon Perez (ninth president of Israel) on the puffy skirt and a big 60 on the breasts. Only in Israel.

The next day we went to the beach. The great thing about being there on a holiday was that the concierge of the Maxim let us keep our room until five, instead of kicking us out at the regular checkout time at noon. I lay in the sun (fully covered in 30 sunscreen and had my bandana on my head) and read (guess!) The Source. I went swimming and it was amazing - the Mediterranean is much warmer and calmer than I remember it from Calella in Spain. My back didn't hurt much at all. But! I was stung for the first time by a jellyfish! The horror! So, I come back to our spot where Joseph is sleeping:
Me: Something just bit my leg. I'm bleeding.
Joseph: (not looking up nor opening his eyes) You probably got stung by a jellyfish.
Me: What? Aren't they poisonous?
Joseph: Yeah, if you're allergic.
Me: How do I know if I'm allergic?
Joseph: Keep an eye on it.
Me: But what does it look like? Will I see the poison going in a line up my leg, like when a spider bit my mom?
Joseph: Maybe. Here, let me see. Oh. That's a good bite.
Me: It bit me on my mole. Of course it looks bad.
Joseph: It happens all the time.

Basically, Joseph didn't change his tone, he stayed calm and even and half asleep through the whole exchange while I alternated between hysterical and relieved. And, nothing has happened to me because of the bite, although I was hoping for some bizarre unknown-till-now-inherent-jellyfish-medicinal-properties to manifest themselves and take away my back pain. No dice; back to yoga and ibuprofen.

We caught the bus back to Jerusalem at 8:05pm after a lovely picnic on the windy, chilly, almost deserted beach. Ok, a little sidenote: Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is one of the creepiest places I've ever been. Seven stinky floors, a maze that the most intelligent rat would have a hard time navigating, some of the worst shopping ever, and uninspiring security. I much prefer Jerusalem's Central Bus Station: clean, secure, a great bookstore - really, what else does one need in a bus station if not a great bookstore?

Yesterday, Mary and her brother David came for dinner. I was very excited to cook for them but my back was not. Yes, I realize that the suckiness caused by my achey back is a whiney theme in this post. Anyway, Peter and Joseph did the honours and dinner was fantastic: spicy curry with rice, salad with blue cheese and a balsamic dressing, a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of Shiraz, and burekas and coffee for dessert. We had a great time, and after the festivities Mary rubbed eucalyptus linament into my back and I think that's what really helped on my road to recovery - plus, she said a very nice prayer to help speed the healing.

And now, dear readers, I do have to pack. I'm expecting Tam's skype call in 6 minutes and plan on calling my grandmother to wish her an early happy birthday. Then, I have to call a sherut and hope that they can come and get me around 3am this morning so that I can catch my 7am flight to PARIS. (If I can't get a sherut I'll have to suck it up and pay for the taxi.) I'm quite sure I'll be able to find a funky internet cafe in Paris to give you updates of my adventures there with Jason, who I'm pretty sure is either strapped in to his trans-Atlantic flight or nearing boarding. A bientot, mes cheris!

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