Monday, September 14, 2009

Girl's Day in Kensington Market

Yesterday, Mom, Claudette and Bridgette drove to the big city from the wilds 45 minutes north. Our mission was to have lunch and check out some scarves that Mom has her eye on, specifically in Kensington Market at a spot called The Blue Banana. Kensington Market is the name of a wee, funky, eclectic neighbourhood, not a "market" in the sense of "farmer's market" or "flea market" as we might recognize it since it's not housed in one large building on only one day or over a weekend. Most of the shops, especially along Kensington Avenue, are on the ground floor of beautiful, old, brick townhouses. There are vintage clothing shops, an army surplus store, grocery/produce shops, cafes, a coupla gorgeous cheese shops, bakeries, and more. You get the idea: This ain't a high-end, cookie-cutter-style-mall area. There's even an after-hours tucked away somewhere in a basement - at least, there was ten years ago. (I'm not so much into after-hours haunts anymore. I like to get out of bed at 6am now, not be crawling home at that time.) Unfortunately, my favourite shop, Courage My Love, was closed when we were there. We had so much fun poking around in the shops that were open, especially in a vintage clothing store with a huge Hallowe'en costume section in the back.

Bridgette tried on a whole bunch of wigs for us (what a good sport!), but would only pose for photos in the cool ones. She refused to have her picture taken wearing the curly pink clown number.

I've decided that I'm in love with these glasses. Even though I don't need specs in my life (yet), I'm now jonesin to own a pair like these. My Mom will shudder at this: she wore a pair of 'pickle stabbers' growing up and hated them. If you want to imagine her in them, picture me with blonde hair and blue eyes minus the goofyglam pucker: poof! a vision of my Mom!

We came across a table with cheap-o shades so Claudette treated us all to a new pair. In honour of TIFF festivities, we felt we owed it to our city to pose for the paparazzi. Well, ok, the paparazzi = Mom.

By the time we made it to The Blue Banana we were starving. It turns out that The Blue Banana is a huge very cool store, but its cafe is a coffee-counter with pastries and fun but not very suitable for lunch. Bridgette would have been happy eating cake (especially in the Marie Antoinette wig, not photographed) but we wanted something more substantial. We ended up here:

Wanda's had pizza, quiche, sandwiches and, well, pie. I had an avocado sandwich, Claudette and Bridgette shared a brie sandwich, Mom had the quiche and we also had a few little coleslaw-type salads. And the pies! Wow! Mom and I shared a slice of wild blueberry and Bridgette had a vegan chocolate cupcake, which we all had to try.

I love this big table where you can stretch out with your morning news and enjoy your coffee. I also love how you can stand at it, like a bar.

We almost forgot to tour The Blue Banana, and by the time we got there, the girls were getting a little tired so we didn't stay and poke around for as long as we would have liked. We decided to cut our losses and plan for another day in Kensington, walked back to University (amongst those walking for a breast cancer cure) and hopped the 5 Avenue Road bus home.

Monday, September 07, 2009

No Love From the Digi

I had grand plans to give you a pictorial feast of all the cool stuff I've been doing in my spare time around the apartment: my sewing corner, my balcone, furniture painting projects, baking (with recipes), blahblahblah. But, for whatever reason, my little digi won't give up its photos via USB...I don't get it but that doesn't mean I won't. Eventually. This seems to be a recurring sentiment in my life lately. Instead, I'm going into my archives and showing you some cool shots from my last days b'Yerushalayim.

This is a shot of the front corner beside Qadosh's window looking out onto Shlomzion HaMalka. I love the old radio and the little lamp. It was the second thing I noticed the first time I went here with Adrienne on St. Sylvester's Day way back on December 31st. Our New Year's Eve is called St. Sylvester's Day in Israel, since they already have New Year = Rosh HaShanah.

The first thing I noticed - that anyone notices! - upon entering Qadosh is the bar/dessert cases. Um, I could wallow in their decadent baked-goods heaven forever. I would like to find a sweet (decadent, ambiance-filled, affordable) little cafe like this in Toronto, which I could both frequent and work in.

Down this little alley and to the left is Tmol Shilshom. This was also a favourite little spot with books, ambiance, and tastytasty food - like their all-you-can-eat gorgeous pre-Shabbat buffet brunch. I took one of their menus home with me one day (on the back of each is featured a different writer) and was very excited to have scooped one with Yehuda Amichai. One thing I really liked about Tmol's is that it is tucked away, like a great, happy secret that only the cool kids know.

You'll find this on Tmol Shilshom's home page: "There're places you never forget. There're landscapes and views you keep missing your whole life. Likewise there're coffee-shops you treasure and long to revisit." That's exactly how I feel about both Qadosh and Tmol Shilshom, which is why I'm returning to them again after already having mentioned them in this post from February. I think I'd really like to combine the vibe from both these places in the hopes of re-creating the wonderful times I shared there. We don't really have a cafe culture here, not like in Israel or in the European cities I've visited. It looks, though, that this is changing: I just found an article that Toronto Life magazine did back in February about the changing cafe culture in Toronto. I like standing corrected on such subjects. Hmm, I smell a series that I can bring you on a very regular basis. It smells like latte/kafe afouk/cafe con leche/cafe creme...and pastries. With Chocolate. And with photos, if the digi ever decides to love me again.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Batting Cage Match

Today I went to the batting cages at Playdium in Mississauga with Deb, Sarah and Nina. Last summer was my third season playing softball with the Rebels. Last summer, before heading to Israel, my batting had improved dramatically and I was hitting well, compared with my previous stike-out queen status for the two seasons before this. As you can imagine, this was frustrating - letting both myself and my team down - and hitting well last summer was just so great. Well, now that I'm back on the diamond Tuesday nights I seem to have returned to this state of non-confidence in myself while at bat and am striking out more than I'm hitting - despite the fact that I'm fielding well in my position at First Base and can throw well to almost anyone other than Deb. And, I'm still striking out despite all the advice and support I constantly receive from the women on my ball team, women I look up to and who inspire me in more ways than they do on the field and in the dug-out.

So, last week Deb said calmly and matter-of-factly to Nina and I, who have not been hitting well, that we were going to the batting cages. For 10$ each, we rented one of the cages at Playdium for an hour. When we got there, there was a problem: there was a leak from all the heavy rain the night before and all the balls were wet which plays havoc with the automatic pitchers. The guys working there were furiously drying each ball by hand so they'd be ready for us, the only people to have booked a cage.

My second turn in the cage, I thought what the hell: I'm going to try batting left, when I usually bat right. It felt funny, but I started to hit the balls more regularly and further than I did when I was batting right. This might seems strange, to just switch things up like this, but when I was playing ball in a mixed league fifteen years ago, I was switch hitting. Playing on a mixed team can be a mixed blessing: on one hand, a lot of guys will treat you with kid gloves or won't give you the respect you deserve as a player just cuz you're a girl. On the other hand, a lot of other guys I played with challenged me to try things like switch hit. I was no hotdog then, I'm not now, but I sure did mess up the other team when I went up to bat and hit a little green regardless of which side of home I stood on - not bad, for a girl.

Batting left today, I hit more often and better than I did at right. I've changed my stance so that I stand straight instead of crouched. I hold the bat up high at a right angle to my shoulder. My stance has my legs closer together so that I can more easily take a step, and I swing with my body and not just my shoulders. It felt good, dinging all those balls, some of which had some air time before hitting the overhead nets. I'm hoping to maintain the confidence that I can translate from this practice to the play-offs which start next week.

I think that's a pretty big intro to what I'm about to tell you next, but to me it's pretty important. I take my baseball seriously - not in a professional, sport-is-life way, but I love to play, I am competitive, and I like the mix of competitiveness and playfulness that I enjoy with my awesome all-women team-mates. We have fun, but we have more fun when we win. So, here's the story, as told to me by Deb:

I got out of the cage after my second-to-last at-bat. Deb asked me if I'd seen the little girl standing with them. I said, no. It seems that a little girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, was there with her dad and she told him that she wanted to play baseball, she wanted to get in the cage and hit some balls. Her dad, who was in his late thirties or early forties, said, "You can't do that. You're a girl." Deb heard him and turned to him and gave him a very dirty look. Right in front of him were three women waiting their turns to bat while giving encouragement to the fourth in the cage, me. (Who was, at that point, hitting every ball that was pitched to her, and hitting them well, while batting left.) Dad caught this look that Deb threw, and he suggested to his daughter that she move a little closer to our cage so she could watch better. While she watched, the little girl looked at my shoes (tri-colour-pink Chucks), looked at her shoes (pink sneakers), back and forth, until she finally grabbed her dad's hand with one of her own, and pointed at my shoes with the index finger of the other: "Look, Daddy, she's got pink shoes, too." (And she's belting balls while wearing them.)

My Dad bought me my first glove when I was around 8. He told me I threw like a girl. The glove he bought fit on my right hand. He assumed that I would throw left, since I write with my left and he was a southpaw pitcher in his day. I finally threw down the glove and whipped the ball to him with my right hand. Two of my four siblings and I are ambidextrous. Dad says we're just mixed up. Anyway, my father neither stopped nor discouraged me from playing sports just cuz I'm a girl. My athletic pursuits, and my sister's, were supported as equally as those taken up by my two brothers. Deb's father was the same. These two men, and many others like them, encouraged their daughters to play whatever sport(s) piqued their passion. These two men are a generation or two older than this father Deb told me about today. Maybe today changed him. But, what I really hope is that today changed his daughter: you can play ball and wear pink shoes. No one said you have to give up being a girl to play ball.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Has It Been So Long?

I have a few good excuses:

1: Settling back into my apartment.
2: Being a tourist in my own city.
3: Catching up with folk I haven't seen in a year.

I had only meant to take a week off from working, two tops, and here it's been three and I haven't looked at any of my translations, nor have I written much creatively aside from editing and revisiting a few poems written in Israel. Today I get back into it all as well as updating y'all on the last three weeks. Heads up: four new photo albums have been added.

The non-stop flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto on the 5th was pretty uneventful except for the sweet 24-year-old dude from Montreal who insisted on switching seats to sit with me, kept me company on the flight, and refused to believe I was over 27. Sigh. Beware my big ego.

Julie was sprung from Ashbridges Bay for a few hours to come with Brandon to the airport to pick me up, with Timmy's doubledouble in hand. Welcome home, indeed! Mom popped by first, then the girls, then Dad, Laura, Seb, Em and I went to 7Numbers for dinner. I had sexy duck leg, of course, and experienced yet another inclusio to this year abroad: the night I flew out, all of us minus Seb (who was then in Barcelona) went to 7Numbers for my send-off.

My Mom threw me a fantastic "Welcome Home/40th Birthday Party" with her side of the family and some of my friends. The kids were a riot. Bridgette, my niece, and I have this thing where we go up to the cake (there's always a cake at our family gatherings) and take a fingerful of icing off the back. I've instructed her to lie if we get caught. So far, it works, even though she usually gives us away with stray icing on her face and I'm pretty sure our faux-innocence and giggling doesn't help our case. I went up to Mom's the night before and she must have really missed me because that night she gave me a particular pair of her boots that I've been coveting for 25 years. The party itself was great, complete with awesome gifts including Time and Life magazines which were published on the day I was born, a fancy lamp, and a drawing and a poem from Bridgette.

After Mom's party, we went to Dad's where they were throwing a "This is not a retirement party" party. Laura retired this year but is not a fan of a hullaballoo being raised about her. It was so much fun, too, and I had the honour (?) of naming a new shooter: it's made with espresso, vanilla vodka and something else...regular vodka? Anyway, Laura was handing them out saying, "Here! It's espresso!" while her pal Caroline was saying, "You have to name it!" I said, "Espresso, my ass," and a named shooter was born.

Adrienne and Johannes came to visit a couple of weeks ago. We didn't do anything majorly touristy since they were only here for two nights and we're leisurely morning types, but we did walk along Bloor in the Annex and we also went to Chinatown and Kensington. It was great, because it's been so long since I've been to these places that they felt rather new to me, too. So, um, when did Dooney's go? Does anyone else remember their big fight to stay in the 'hood when, I think, one of the big coffee chains was trying to take them over? I was pretty shocked that something new was in its place. The new place is nice but it's weird, to me, not to have Dooney's there. Do you ever get a sense of the guilts when something like this disappears in your city? Do you think: if only I'd gone there more often, maybe I could have saved them with my more-than-occasional coffee purchase? I do.

The girls and I went down to Harbourfront to their Mexican-fest - yum! - then Wednesday Daniele and I trekked back down for the free outdoor screening of "Desperately Seeking Susan," which I'd never seen. Fun! Afterwards, we were up at The Press Club on Dundas to listen to jazz and hang with my pal, Mikie, who owns the place.

Friday was Laura's birthday so she, Dad, Seb and I (minus a working Em) went to Frank at the Art Gallery of Ontario for lunch (on the phone, I thought Dad said "Rank" and I thought was a pretty lame name for a resto) then to wander in the new art gallery. It's great, and in my opinion is finally of a world-class calibre. I love being impressed with this gallery now that I've experienced others especially in London, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and Jerusalem. Now, I can't wait to get me back to the ROM, especially now that the Dead Sea Scrolls are on exhibit.

Saturday saw me at a BBQ at Sonny and Jen's with folk I haven't seen in forever, and it was especially great to see Derek. Again, plenty of kids and plenty of fun. There's not much that's better in this world than hanging with folks whose company you truly enjoy, drinking a few Cinquantes, and eating BBQ...although, now that I think of it, I didn't have any hot dogs and that's just wrong. I will have to remedy that this coming weekend at Rahmer's belated birthday rooftop BBQ.

And now that you've had plenty of left to right, I'm heading off to translate a few verses of Judges 5. My shiny new BDB Biblical Hebrew-English lexicon arrived last Thursday and I'm dying to crack it open.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Between Jason and I, we snapped over a thousand photos during our first four days together. I'll be putting together albums and posting them for you after I know (inside and out) the different ways of picking up on Aramaisms in the Psalms and also all about parallelism in biblical poetry. I love parallelism. So, these albums may not be posted until I'm home...

Oh! Remember when I told you that I often feel that I'm living in a dream here? I thought there was something very dreamlike about the quality of some of the following photos. Initially, I thought it was the quality of the light that day - it was so bright that we were literally pointing-and-shooting because we couldn't see the screens of our cameras, and when I transferred them to my Angus/computer I thought it was pretty cool that this light also transferred. The down-to-earth explanation is that I must have touched the lens of my digi with my sunscreened finger. I'm digging the effect, though.

Jason taking a wee rest on an overturned stone trough near the south stables in Megiddo.

Me, at the south stables.

The entrance to the bath-house at Caesarea.

I thought: ooh! wedding! No, it was a photo shoot, but there were wedding photo-ops going on in other areas of Caesarea. To the right of the photographer are Claire and Alain. I love their expressions.

Relaxing above the beach. Me, Alain, Jason hiding behind Bruno.

Too Much Left to Right

That's Jason's way of saying I write too much. I've decided, therefore, to make the next few posts pictorial - for your waning attention spans and/or time constraints that don't let you currently sink your teeth into a meaty post. Instead, here's a feast for your eyes.

The following photos were all taken at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, where we stayed for two nights.

This is at the top of the stone stairs.

The main room.

Here's Jason looking relaxed at around 7:30 or 8am on Sunday morning before we adventured to Megiddo and Caesarea. Notice his lack of reading material.

The door to our room, taken from the wee sitting area where you see Jason in the above photo.

A very flattering shot of pigeons.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dear Diary:

This has been a full week of Dear Diary Moments. Here's a list of the highlights:

The Shreddies that Richard and Tzippy brought me from home were devoured weeks ago, but I hadn't mentioned them earlier and thought I'd better: Yum! Thank You!

Last Saturday night, Jason stepped off his 11 hour flight from Toronto and into a rental car. Driving north on the 60 about an hour and a half later, we entered the tunnel before Nazareth and he did a spoken word version of The Band's "The Weight:" I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead.

The greatest wrong turn: last Sunday, we convoyed behind Alain, Bruno and Claire (The French). First, we went to Megiddo - wow! - perfect site to visit for my research. Then, to Caesarea on the coast: we should have turned right but Bruno turned left and we ended up at a yacht club south of the ruins. There was a little restaurant on the beach where we had burgers with fries and salad and went for a swim in the Mediterranean. The water was clear and warm, the shells were plentiful, there weren't many people. Jason didn't want to leave, and I can't say that I blame him.

On Monday, Jason told me that I embarrassed him at dinner the night before because I only had one beer: "What kind of Canadian are you?" I redeemed myself the next night by having a very large vodka with fresh-squeezed oj.

All driving is now compared to the insanity of navigating Nazareth's Old City streets. We now say things like, "What? Do you think you're in Nazareth or something?" when we see crazy vehicular antics.

Best dessert in the world: a custard base very much like crème brulée, in a shallow dish with what looks like pistachio soup floating on top. It's sweetened with honey and flavoured with I don't know what else. We had this in Nazareth at a gorgeous café/restaurant. I asked the waiter what it's called and he said Kushtarelleh. I asked him what was in it and he laughed at me and said it's a secret.

Pseudo-synchronized swimming in the Dead Sea: I was floating, minding my own business, when I looked at Jason lying on his back in the water with one leg in the air, "using my abs to stay balanced," and seeing how long he could stay like that without rolling over. Of course, I had to try. It's the best Dead Sea floaty-game ever.

Dinner on the rooftop patio of the wee apartment The French had rented in Montefiore overlooking Jerusalem's Old City walls: For dessert, Alain had bought what he thought was a cheesecake in the was not cheesecake. Cheesecake in Israel is very light and fluffy, not as rich or as sweet as it is elsewhere. We don't know what this was, but it was very heavy and rather bland with a rubbery texture. Bruno's reaction - very much like Tom Hanks in "Big" wiping his tongue with a napkin - kept us laughing.

Yesterday was Jason's last day b'Aretz. We went to the northern-most beach in Tel Aviv = Hof HaTsuk. It was hot, it was packed, it cost 16 shekelim to get in and another 30 for lounge chairs and an umbrella - and worth every agarot. Although crowded, the beach is clean and very inviting. I couldn't have stayed in the sun for the three hours we were there without that umbrella. We met Laryn and Adi from Hebron, who were our lounge chair neighbours. Jason swam but, as much as I love to swim, I have this thing (um, fear?) that prevents me from sharing soak-time with jellyfish. I have a good reason.

Bacon and cheese burgers at Moses on Rothschild in Tel Aviv: 200 oz. of sloppy, too-big-for-your-mouth, red meat goodness. I was rather unimpressed, though, with the waitress who failed to tell us just how much food we were ordering - we did not need the sides of fries and onion rings. But, back to the point: cheese AND bacon on a burger! I wouldn't eat it at home but it's such a treat here!

Finally, I had power-struggle issues with our GPS which we named Zivah - she made me doubt my savvy navigational skills. She was really great for inner city driving, or for getting us out of a place and back onto the highway which was where I took over. If, however, we didn't go exactly where she wanted us to go (read: where we had programmed - or thought we had programmed - her) she got really mad. Once, she took us right off the highway down a bunch of sidestreets in some little town when we were en route from Nazareth to the Galilee. But, she had a nice voice and I was really happy we had her for getting us in and out of Nazareth, Tiberias and Tel Aviv.

And now, after a week of road-trip, sightseeing fun, I have to get back to work! First on the list: translating Psalm 145:11-17. I'm so over the Psalms. But, classes end this week, we have exams next week, and then I'm home. True home. Like true north.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just Another Day at Home

Living with Kyle and Lily can be challenging, but it's a good-natured challenge. I say this because I'm not accustomed to a) living with a group of people, and b) being consulted about every topic under the sun from the weather to what time the gym closes on Shabbat. They look to me for advice, they assume I know the answers to everything and being a smartass sometimes is fun when I don't know the answer, give one that I know is wrong, then when they ask, "Really?" I always say, "No." For every question I do know the answer to, there are two or more I don't - "Ani lo' yoda'at" is the sentence I know best in Hebrew - but they still ask me. It's actually a lot of fun, sometimes exasperating, but I have to admit I like the feeling of being needed.

So, Kyle and I share a similar love of dressing like 80-year-old men around the house. Today's fantastic question from Kyle: "Do I look dorky in this?"
Kyle is cute as a button. What started me laughing was the black socks:

She's taking her inner-80-year-old-man out for a walk.


Today at 4:45pm, a sherut is coming to fetch me. It will drop me off at Ben Gurion airport where I'll meet up with Jason whose flight from Toronto lands at 5:50. He has rented a car and I'll be happily reprising my role as Julie, the Cruise Director for the next week. I've already spoken with my profs and have received the green light for missing classes on monday and tuesday. I wasn't expecting to see Jason again until my return home and the last time I saw him was in Paris back in October (I feel very cool saying that!).

Our first stop = Nazareth. We're booked into the Fauzi Azar Inn for the first two nights, and the third will be spent in their sister guesthouse, the al-Mutran. Alain arrived last night with his two friends and are also staying at the Fauzi while we're there. I'm hoping to travel with them for part of our time there, at the very least enjoying their company in the evenings. It's really interesting: I asked Jason last weekend if he had some ideas of where he'd like to go and what he'd like to see because everyone who visits Israel has an agenda, whether it's religious or not. He only said that he'd like to see the historical sites and the architecture, and of course the Dead Sea. That's right, folks, I have free reign here! So, the goal is to visit Megiddo, Mount Tabor, Caesarea, and the Jesus-sites at the top of the Kinneret/Galilee (I haven't yet seen the "Jesus boat") while we're based out of Nazareth. And, of course, we'll see Nazareth, and on the way back to Jerusalem I'm thinking we'll stop in at Bet She'an, which I haven't seen, and hang out at Sachne. Mmm, Sachne! Back in Jerusalem, Jason will crash at my place and from here we'll go to the Dead Sea and tour around Jerusalem. He doesn't know this yet, but I'm dragging him along on a class fieldtrip to the Biblelands Museum on Friday morning, and I'm hoping that there will be enough time to have brunch at Tmol Shilshom that day. We'll see!

The coolest part of all this? Two of my three siblings have come to see me. I'm sad that Seb couldn't make it, but maybe someday I'll return with him. The other coolest part? Nazareth was the first place I visited, I've been wanting to return and it looks like my Israel adventure is about to be bookended by this city. I like it when things come full circle. It's like living in a novel or a really great short story.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Alchemist

When I arrived here 11 months ago (almost to the day), I went straight to the archaeological dig at Tel Hazor, as you already know. One of the women I met there, Jess, became an instant and fast friend. Jess is from the States, and is now living in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is, without doubt, one of the most amazing people I've ever met - and I've met many amazing people. What makes her so amazing? For one thing, she taught me that there are many aspects to archaeology that I'd never thought of before, specifically the restoration side, something Jess is intensely interested in. She aspires to eventually return to Israel and help rebuild structures like the temple/palace at Hazor. Another thing she taught me was about strength and limits: when I had arrived, she was under the weather with a stomach bug and when it got to be too much, she'd head back to the kibbutz to rest; the other times, though, when she didn't feel her best but she wanted to keep digging, she'd take a deep breath, reach into herself and say: "You will run and not be weary. You will walk and not be faint." This is taken from Isaiah 40:31, and as soon as she said it, you could see renewed strength flow through her. It was pretty cool. She called me a "get-along-bear," meaning I got along with everyone, and she gave me my favourite nickname yet: Canadia. The last facebook-message exchange we shared was started by her: "Is it uncool to say I deeply and profoundly miss you?" You'd have to have a more than solid, more than Grinch-like heart to not be instantly melted. The other amazing thing about Jess is her unbridled enthusiasm for almost everything, and she often would look at me and say, "You're living the dream!"

I have to be honest: until we had that recent facebook exchange, a part of me had forgotten that I am living the dream. I had forgotten that not only am I living my own dream being here, but I am also living the dreams of others. There are very few people who can truly say they are following their hearts (as I am), and doing so in a land that is very close to so many hearts. So, when Jess asked the questions, "Are you returning to the continent soon? Or shall you set up shop there permanently?" - I provided her with two immediate answers: "I'm home 5 July. I don't know if I could set up shop here permanently - but you've inspired a blog post."

This started me questioning myself: why not set up shop here? Israel is a beautiful country, the weather is stable for 8 months of the year, the healthcare is great, the universities and their libraries are enviable, the diversity of the people is interesting. The cultural palate is colourful and engaging - concerts, theatre, religious and historical and touristy attractions, the literary scene, hiking and nature. Plus, the sheer weight of history in each square metre and the stories held in each grain of sand would be more than enough to keep me here, as well as living in a city boasting not just hundreds but in some cases over a thousand years of architecture. The media-painted picture of Israel isn't entirely representative: I have met and enjoyed the company of both Israelis and Palestinians. I have encountered a desire and quest for peaceful co-existence expressed in the conversations with these people that isn't always presented by mainstream Western news sources. Bombs do not go off in every bus, on every street corner. I like the energy and smells and exotic atmospheres of both the Arab suk and Jewish shuq (but not on Fridays). I like the call to prayer - all five of them daily. I like saying things like, "That's Israel for ya," when something isn't as organized, as precisely advertised, as fast as what we 'organized' folk from across the pond are accustomed to.

So, why not? The biggest reason: As I said to Jess, "Living the dream is only as wonderful as the people you're living it with." Living the dream was more fulfilling when I was living it with Jess, Adrienne, Debbie and Mary. Living the dream would be more realistic if my closest friends from home and my family were here. It occurred to me today as I pondered that statement (that living the dream is only as wonderful as the people you're living it with) that this past year has been a break from my reality. I'll try to explain this as best as I know how, by first stating that I've never been very good with temporal perception. I'm an excellent time manager, but when it comes to perceiving and absorbing large spaces of time, I suck. This year has been a prime example of this: I didn't pack until the night before my flight because it didn't seem real. I looked at the calendar given me of important dates for religious holidays and university closures and never believed Shavu'ot, the last holiday listed, would arrive. Shavu'ot was two weeks ago. Emily came and went and it was a wonderful interlude and connection with her and home when I was feeling low after passing my 8 month anniversary abroad. Jason arrives tomorrow and it hasn't sunk in. What has just sunk in is that yes, I'm living the dream but a greater part of me feels that I'm living in a dream.

My academic reality revolves around texts that, in many ways, are dreamlike in quality. I'm reading and translating stories and myths which were written thousands of years ago so that we guess at their meaning, their intention, their cultural milieu, antecedents and allusions. My solid ground is based on this. Daily-life-perceived-negatives are really more funny than anything else, like the non-existence of lining up for anything, stereotypical Israeli aggressiveness, the expensive toiletries and packaged food (a bag of frozen peas is about 4$CND), the feeling like you're waiting for Godot when you're waiting for a bus. Some not-so-funny stuff? Obvious racial profiling directed specifically to any man who remotely resembles an Arab, the normalcy of walking through metal detectors before entering any public space, the normalcy of seeing people armed in the streets, the normalcy of checkpoints, not knowing whether those bangs are fireworks or gunfire, men hissing at you on the street because your hair is uncovered, feeling better about walking around when you're in a group in which at least one man is present.

What adds to the dreamlike quality of living in Jerusalem for me is the sense of exclusivity here. The city is divided into East and West, with the Security Wall marking areas of that division. The people are identifiable by their dress: for a non-exhaustive example,the Haredi men in their black hats, their wives in wigs; the Muslim women covered from head to toe; the Copts in their black frocks and flat-top hats; the orthodox Jewish girls and women in calf-length skirts and long-sleeved shirts, the men in kippas; the young Palestinian men in tight, bright tshirts and jeans with embroidered pockets; the tourists in large, tightly-knit groups. Secular folk stand out because they don't look like any of the above. Looking at all of this through my Canadian/North American eyes, my cultural background promotes inclusivity (melting pot/cultural mosaic, anyone?). I am an interesting outsider here: I am not Jewish nor Muslim nor do I consider myself Christian. This sense of exclusivity extends to the academic world, as well: I was told by professors on several occasions that a degree like the one I am pursuing would never be acceptable in the mainstream programs of HU. This is fodder for another post, or for my meeting with my mentors back home, and doesn't change the fact that the professors I'm currently studying with have taught me amazing things, turned me on to fantastic resources, have helped my thesis take shape in ways that I never could have imagined before my arrival here, and have been supportive in their own way. What this has provided me with, more than anything, is a strength of purpose and belief in what I'm doing, that I'm not a traditional academic and that it's ok. I can't imagine what my life would be without this thesis - it has taken on a life of its own and is an important part of mine.

So, long-winded as that was, I think my final answer would have to be, No, I shan't set up here. If I ever have another opportunity to visit, absolutely I'll return. I'm beyond grateful to be here. I'm beyond amazed that I'm here. Israel is an incredible, frightening, strange and wonderful place, and there's not much I would change about my experiences here - both personal and academic. But, even though this is where I am now, this is not where I belong and maybe I had to come here to realize where I do.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Latest Goal

I'm getting a Tshirt made when I get home. Or, I'll probably make it myself.

"My Mom Thinks I'm Cool"

I think it'll be a big hit.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

On Being Red

Today when I logged on to Angus (my trusty laptop), I was greeted by this headline on my sympatico/msn homepage: "Should you go red like a read head?" Obviously, I was intrigued. What's a "read head"? Should one's hair colour match one's voracity as it relates to the written word? Was this, yet again, another rumour matching this hair colour to preconceived notions of the bearer's personality or personality traits? Yes, I was curious: being a natural redhead, I've dealt all my life with preconceived notions of who I am, made lickety-split-snap, by people I've just met. Whether I live up to these notions or not depends on who's doing the judging, and I don't know if I could be or would be who I am if I had any other hair colour. What I do know is that people often will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what I say or do. I'm just me, and being a proud member of 2% of the population naturally born with this colour suits me fine - it's just the way it is, y'know?

Anyway, I checked out the link provided which took me to Elle Canada's webpage. It's all a bunch of hype for the "new It colour for Spring 2009." Huh? Redheads are in fashion right now. I didn't know they'd gone out. In Israel, being a "gingi" is a big deal: when the last Israeli dude I met (at the Macy Gray concert) saw my hair colour his eyes went wide and he breathlessly said, "Oh, you're a gingi!" Yeah, it was a total ego-boost considering that I haven't put any helper-copper-dye in my hair for a year, but his behaviour then became entirely inappropriate. See? A preconceived notion had entered his thinking which I was powerless to change, and frankly, I didn't have the energy to do so, so I walked away from him. The point is, being a redhead - or, perhaps, a perception of redheads - is kind of exotic and always has been. Seeing it advertised as a New Spring Trend makes my (stereotypical) redhead red blood boil. But, what really made my blood boil was the obvious typo in the original headline: wtf does reading have to do with redheads? Add "grammar/spelling/punctuation perfectionist" - so that such a headline is, as a hook, not so glaringly and weirdly stupid (where's the editor?) - to the long list of what would be in this case an accurate automatic assumption made about this re(a)dhead's persona.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Last Weekend's Excitement

The photos to accompany this post are here and you can also find them on the right.

Last Thursday and Friday (28-29 May) was Shavu'ot. As I had told you earlier, Richard and Tzippy are visiting here from Toronto. The Tuesday before Shavu'ot, they met me at Aroma near campus and I gave Richard a tour of campus then he sat in on two of my classes: Ugaritic, then Canaanite Literature and the Bible. (It's kinda funny: back home, my shofo "CanLit" meant "Canadian Literature." Here it's shofo for "Canaanite Literature." Happily, the two aren't being mixed up in my overworked brain.)

Richard and Tzippy invited me to spend the holyday at Tzippy's home kibbutz of Nir David. We drove up with Tzippy's sister, Nurit and her husband, Dudu. R and T met there in the early '70's: Tzippy was raised on this kibbutz and Richard had gone there to work. A kibbutznik love story! I stayed with Tzippy's aunt and uncle, Jael and Moshe (Moshe is very close in age to Tzippy, so she considers him to be more like a brother). So, Moshe is a photographer and Jael is a naturopath. Jael worked some of her magic natural healing on me and, although I wasn't cured, I did feel a thousand times better - I slept soundly through the night without coughing or nightmares plus it was wonderfully quiet there without late-night partying undergrads. (I sound older than I feel typing that.) (Update: the cold is pretty well gone. I only have a lingering, if expected, irritating cough. Brenda-Vaccaro-voice is gone.)

If there is a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), I think it just might be at Nir David. The landscape is gorgeous, with Mount Gilboa rising in the south and the Asi river flowing through green lawns with beautiful trees and gardens at every wee house. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and everyone spoke at least some English but I found that when they spoke Hebrew I could follow the discussion. Richard put it well: I felt a little embarrassed speaking with my limited knowledge of the language, but we all got along well and our points were made. On Friday night there was the Shavu'ot festival, which was very much a harvest festival - Nir David is not religious. I couldn't help but think about how it was celebrated here: no rabbis, no priests, no prayers, no books, but rather a community expressing their gratitude for the goodness of the earth around them, goodness they had produced with the work of their own hands. I loved the interpretive dances and especially loved the parade of children: Parents with children from each age group, beginning with the recently born, parading their little ones for the whole kibbutz and each group was met with resounding applause. What a true testimony of fertility, hope for the future and pride in family.

On Saturday, Richard, Tzippy and I walked to Sachne and went swimming in the natural spring/river. Gorgeous and warm and lively and filled with Jews and Muslims having a lovely day at the park. This, to me, is a true example of peaceful co-existence in so contentious a geographic arena. After our swim, we visited the little museum and I was enthralled: housed here are artefacts from many eras, unearthed at nearby Bet She'an. There was also an exhibit of Etruscan artefacts, including the coolest warrior's helmet ever:
The whole weekend was wonderful: getting out of Jerusalem and being back in the Galilee area which I love so much, meeting new and amazing people, being looked after, spending time with Richard and Tzippy who have become great friends, hearing their stories and the stories of those I had met, finally seeing a festival from the Jewish calendar, feeling like a part of something greater than myself. I think my sense of thanksgiving matches the spirit in which it was presented at Nir David: pure, simple, not complicated with magic words interpreted from a book but so very evident in the connections among a community of people.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Distraction(s) du Jour

This is my reading list for the weekend. In each of the following books are sections/chapters devoted specifically to Judges 4 and 5, Deborah and Jael:

Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament. Theodor Gaster (1969).
Sisters at Sinai. Jill Hammer (2001).
Judges: A Commentary. Susan Niditch (2008). (I'm particularly excited about this one: it's brand new and her translations of Judges 5 are amazing, making me want to use her interpretation to inspire my own.)
The Sanctuary of Bethel and the Configuration of Israelite Identity. Jules Francis Gomes (2006).
Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel. Kenton L. Sparks (1998).
Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Ethically. Gordon J. Wenham (2000).
Divine Presence and Guidance in Israelite Traditions: The Typology of Exaltation. Thomas W. Mann (1977).

For fun, I'm also devouring The Oldest Stories in the World, by Theodor Gaster (1952): interpretations/retellings of the myths and legends from the Babylonian, Hittite and Canaanite cultures. My bedtime reading is Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto. This parody of medieval romantic epic from the Italian Renaissance was finished in 1532; the prose translation is by Guido Waldman, published in 1983. I'm loving it: the storytelling has the best cliffhangers ever and the plots are a riot as are the characters, especially Orlando who can't seem to keep his sword in its sheath (no, this is not a euphemism), and Bradamant and Marfisa, the two very ladylike, chivalrous, warrior-women.

There are two things currently distracting me from all this fantastic reading. First, I found a pair of take-away chopsticks in our cutlery drawer. Lily thinks me very clever for the use I have found for them:

To the untrained eye, this is the same hairdo.

Second, I listened to/watched Henry Rollins Letter to Ann Coulter. I did this while experimenting with the chopsticks in my hair. (Yes, multi-tasking takes on a whole new meaning now that I have long hair again - and chopsticks.) Then, I decided to check out Henry Rollins and came across some of his quotes. Current favourites:

"I believe that one defines oneself by reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. To cut yourself out of stone."

"Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on."

"They say true love only comes around once and you have to hold out and be strong until then. I have been waiting. I have been searching. I am a man under the moon, walking the streets of earth until dawn. There's got to be someone for me. It's not too much to ask. Just someone to be with. Someone to love. Someone to give everything to. Someone."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

This Makes Me Happy

My orange tree is having babies.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On a Weirdly Prophetic Note...

Last Tuesday night I had a pleasant nocturnal dream episode. I remember it precisely because it was so pleasant. As I see it, some people suffer from migraines, I suffer from nightmares. Yes, even when I'm not stressed, when my life is going extremely well and my positive positiveness is cresting wonderfully, I have nightmares that wake me up, keep me up, and make any horror/thriller flick look like a Disney movie.

Anyway, back to my pleasant dream: the night before the Macy Gray concert (Tuesday), I dreamt that Radiohead made a surprise guest appearance at the Yom haStudentim festivities at Independance Park. Understandably, I lost it, I was so excited. That's it. That was the episode from this dream I chose to remember.

On Wednesday night in real life, halfway through her show, Macy was chatting to the crowd and I was trying to place the music playing in her background. It was not a Macy song. When I did place it just before she started singing it, well, let me tell ya: If I was sitting on a chair, I would've fallen off it (but would have done it in such a way so as not to cause bodily injury...). Macy covered Radiohead's 'Creep' and she did a fantastic job of it. I lost it, I was so excited. So, even though Radiohead themselves didn't make a guest appearance, one of their songs did. Yup. Weird.

Suckypants Sick Girl

I feel like dirt. I have a cold. It's a really nasty, painful cold. It's entirely possible that I'm blowing this way out of proportion, but the amount of kleenex I've gone through in the last 48 hours says otherwise. And, it's also possible that I'm blowing this way out of proportion because I'm rarely ill. I do have cold medication here but I'm avoiding it - I'm gargling with salt water, drinking lots of different teas, and eating as many Vitamin C-rich foods as I can stomach. I'm hoping to build up my immunity and not have to deal with this again for a long time. In my current state of extreme self-pity, the question that has been voiced in a Brenda Vaccaro-esque whisper is: why, oh why, if I have to be sick, why can't I get one of those rapid weight-loss bugs that cleanses the system and when you're well again you're like 30lbs lighter? I know, I know: be careful what you wish for...but, really, come on. Feeling like dirt sucks, but a positive (if entirely shallow) light at the end of the tunnel just makes the suffering seem worth it. I know I'm being ridiculous and I don't even have meds to blame.

And, of course, I went through my activities for the past week trying to analyze HOW I caught the cold. Was it because I was out till 3:30am watching Macy Gray, dancing with 6000 other people at Independance Park? Was it because I drank some beer and sat in the grass? Was it the nightmares and late-night party-ers on other nights, keeping me up and my immune system didn't get enough rest so it's now rebelling? Is it the extra piece of Qadosh dessert? Or, well, maybe I just caught it - no reason, it just happened.

Now, I'm trying to rest which is difficult considering all the work I have to do. I'm trying to feel better because Richard and Tzippy are here and I don't want to pass this on to them, or to anyone else. This was why I stayed home from class today - it's bad enough hacking in public but the worry of infectious behaviour kept me in bed, hacking by my lonesome. Wahwahwah!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Birthday

Today is my fifth day of being 40. I'm feeling pretty good, peaceful with myself and with the world. It's very satisfying to say that, and I make sure that I'm not smug about it because, well, arrogance is anathema to feeling peaceful and I don't always feel peaceful. But! My classes are going well, I'm very pleased with my marks from last semester (including 2 As), and I'm coming across some more fantastic ideas and material for my thesis. I'm very excited about the future: the rest of my time in Israel will be balanced between classes and homework/essays, visiting and roadtripping with: Alain (my pal from Paris), Richard and Tzippy, hopefully Jason, and Annette Metzuyenet who returns to Jerusalem for the Ulpan on 22 June. And, of course, I'm looking forward to my homecoming in July. I've already started re-arranging my apartment in my head.

Tuesday evening before my birthday, Joseph made a four-course fantastic dinner as a kick-off for bday celebrations. In attendance: me, Pieter, Jacob, Staz and Stephen. On the menu: chicken matzaball-type soup; salad with avocadoes, roasted red peppers, romaine, blue cheese, bocconcini, and something else; bruschetta with fresh basil, tomatoes and garlic; ravioli stuffed with cheese; and multiple mushroom risotto. We had Israeli Pinot Noir and another lovely red whose grape/name escapes me.

Thursday morning at 11am I got a phone call from Richard's Florists saying they had a delivery for me. For me? From whom? How exciting! The roomies and I had been wracking our brains: Mom? Dad? My girls? Adrienne? A boy? (A huge whatever for 'the boy' guess!) At around 4pm, this huge, beautiful orange tree arrives for me! From Julie, Julie, Daniele and Erika! Yes, I cried and Lily was there to witness my ultimate girlish reaction. THEN I checked my mailbox: I got two things. First, the card from my Grandmother - just in time! (The cards from my parents had arrived a few weeks ago.) The second thing: a slip saying I had a package waiting for me at the post office. For me? From whom? How exciting! So, I raced down to the post office, there was no line (total shocker - usually you're in there for at least 45 minutes waiting) and it was from Daniele! I raced home, ripped it open, and promptly made myself a cup of Tim's! Thank you, Dan, for this fantastic anticipation of home!

Thursday evening, Lily, Kyle and I went for dinner at Qadosh, one of my favourite restaurants here. I promise to start taking photos there, especially of their desserts. I had my favourite dessert, Napoleon, and the girls gave me a gorgeous journal that Kyle had picked up for me at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Paris.

My birthday itself was relaxed and great fun.I was up early and Pieter and I walked down to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. It was fantastic! All of the artefacts were numbered, but there were no plaques or written guides in the North or South rooms telling you what the artefacts are. So, I went to the front desk and inquired and the guard gave me three notebooks, circa 1961, softcover and bound with string, which provided the details we were looking for:
One isn't supposed to take photos in the museum itself, but one is allowed to snap in the courtyard. Pieter and I, however, were naughty: I'd look casual, keeping my eyes peeled for the guard while he pulled out his camera-phone and took some stealth photos. Yup, I'm gettin' old: my naughtiness is relegated to an obscure realm, just as my studies are.

After the museum visit, Pieter and I went for birthday schwarma on Salah Ed-Din, a street in East Jerusalem just outside the Old City walls. Then we decided, spontaneously, to visit the Garden Tomb after walking through the Albright Institute. This was the only photo I got of Pieter smiling, and being silly/funny Pieter:
We then hopped an Arab sherut, got out just before we ended up in Beit Hanina, and I was back in time for mid-afternoon (in Israel) / early morning (in Barrie) birthday chats with my parents. I also spoke with Adrienne and that led up to birthday dinner.

Alex, Jessica (my HBO Rome pals), Joseph, Pieter, Gavin (my movie pal) and I went to the Armenian Tavern, just inside the Jaffa Gate. It was yummy food, and great conversation in an amazing atmosphere of old Jerusalem stone and Armenian artefacts everywhere. Afterwards, Gavin and I went for ice-cream on Jaffa Road, then down to Cinemateque to see "The Divine Weapon," a Korean film. Um, yeah, bad movie but it was fun. I loved how all the male characters punctuated each sentence with a masculine guffaw, and the female characters were either fueled by their tempers or were very demure. The fight scenes were cool but too short; the slow scenes were weapon-making montages in lush mountainous scenery set to a patriotic score.

Yes, I had a lovely birthday. This is my second birthday abroad - I celebrated 32 with my Mom in the Boyne Valley in Ireland. I feel very grown up but don't look so grown up; Adrienne and I joke that people think we're younger than we are because we're immature for our age. If a sincere joie de vivre is equal to immaturity, then I'll take immaturity any day. But, I don't think that's it. I'm still trying to figure out what 'it' is. I hope it takes a lifetime. As my Dad says, "Any age is a good age." As my Mom says, "You're a free spirit." A birthday is a good time to reflect on the journey so far, and the journey to come. Like I said, I'm figuring it out, and am happy that I have so many people to help me and travel with along the way.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Catholic AND Jewish Fun!

Today's post is brought to you by helicopters, bullhorns amplifying a Hebrew voice, and by the smell of BBQ lighter fluid.

First, helicopters and bullhorns.
This is the view from my bedroom window this morning:

The scene was similar late morning/early afternoon on Monday. From my bedroom window, I have a view of the helipad across the street. On the other side of the helipad is the Hadassah hospital, situated between us here in the kfar and the Hebrew University. The helipad is very rarely used. This week, however, it got a lot of action: The Pope arrived in Jerusalem on the 11th, and just left, travelling by helicopter to and from this point. (As I type, the soldiers, police and secret service personnel are packing up and leaving.) Today was a little more sedate than on Monday. In the past few weeks, there was a greater military presence in our little suburb than during the Gaza flair-up in December/January. Leading up to the Pope's arrival, the helipad was decorated with Israel, Jerusalem and Vatican flags; banners of the same were hung from the streetlights. As well, there were more police and more military in that area, especially at night, with their irritating barking dogs. All last week we knew when midnight had arrived because the dogs started barking in a wild nocturnal chorus. Thoughts of yelling at them crossed my mind, but, well, dogs at the end of leashes held by dudes with big guns just seemed too risky a confrontation, even for me. Almost as creepy as seeing snipers on your village's rooftops:

On Monday, Kyle, Jacob, Anna and I (two Jews, one Catholic, and one pagan - all of us pretty excited) watched the arrival from our prime location in our apartment. The different types of security personnel were distinguishable by their attire: police in their navy uniforms; soldiers in their fatigues; and we're assuming the suit and tie guys, one of whom was wielding the bullhorn, formed some sort of secret service. Via bullhorn, in Hebrew, we were first instructed to close our bedroom windows. Then, the kfar was cleared of spectators and Kyle and Anna were made to close their bedroom window blinds, so we all ended up in my room. For whatever reason, I could keep my blinds open. A convoy of four helicopters arrived, the last of which delivered the Pope. We saw his hat. The cardinals were easily distinguishable in their black robes and red sashes: "Oh, there's a cardinal. And, there's a cardinal. And, there's another one." On the streets, traffic - both vehicular and pedestrian - was stopped until the Pope was safely en route to the Mount of Olives. Lily came home in a tizzy, having been one of the people made to wait in the noonday sun on the street: "All this fuss for one old man!"

Second, BBQ lighter fluid:
Monday evening/Tuesday was Lag B'Omer: In the Jewish calendar, there is a countdown between Pesach and Shavu'ot when tradition has it that Moses was given the Torah. Lag B'Omer celebrates several events, and is also called "The Fire Festival" (so Lily tells us) and is celebrated with bonfires and BBQs. In the kfar, many people were out BBQing, and the smell of their BBQ lighter fluid was overpowering - the wind carried it right into my room. I had been invited by Rabbi Yossi to attend this function: "Jewish Woodstock Celebration! Lag B'Omer in Meron, together with R. Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, and thousands of Kabbalah buffs from all over the world!" I did not attend the festival, mostly because it was an all night affair and I had class the next day. Rabbi Yossi suggested I just sleep in class - obviously he doesn't know that I'm much older than my peers and am, perhaps, a more serious student than he thinks. But, our new roomie, Katya, did go to Meron and she said she was disappointed because there was nowhere for the women to dance, only the men. Thousands of people and nowhere for the women. The thing I love the most is how this event was advertised: "Jewish Woodstock Celebration!" The Woodstock-inspired-free-love-drug-taking-hippies-dancing-and-running-around-naked mental images we have don't really go with the Orthodox Jewish, black-clad, modest, women-can't-dance-with-men, in fact women can't dance at all, celebration in Meron.

This advertising technique is not unique here (I will find some more examples for you) but my all time favourite is the food-lure. Everyone does it and I think it's hysterical: Free pizza (and the seven Noahide laws) ! Sushi (learn Torah the right way) ! Free four-course meal (a special message just for you from Jesus) ! Food and religion = the opiate of the people. And a few helicopters, for fun and excitement.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coffee With the Pope

The Pope is scheduled to visit Israel between, I think, 8-15 May this year.

For those of you who haven't been subjected to my countdown, every year I get mighty excited for my birthday on 9 May and, well, today it's only 18 days away. I thought: how cool would it be to spend part of my birthday with His Holiness? So, I sent off the following email to him:

"Dear Pope Benedict XVI,

I am a Canadian graduate student, affiliated with York University in Toronto but currently studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a Visiting Graduate. My Master's Thesis focuses on Judges 4 and 5, and learning in the land where the biblical narrative occurred is what brings me to Israel for a year. It is with great excitement that I am sending you this email: your visit to Israel in the second week in May coincides with my birthday. I am aware that you will have a detailed, busy schedule during your time in the Holy Land, but would love to have coffee with you. Obviously, this would be a great honour for me, but I ask for this privilege not only as something special for myself (since turning 40 only happens once in a lifetime) but moreso for my Italian Catholic grandmother and the Roman Catholic members of my family and friends. Although not a Catholic myself, my ancestry as an Irish Canadian includes great-grandparents who were Catholic and this would also honour their memory.

I completely understand if you are unable to accept my invitation, but still wanted to extend it and do hope you consider it. I wish you a safe journey and thank you for your time and consideration in granting a humble birthday wish."

Obviously, I stretched things a bit...ok, a lot. I might be irreverent, but I am not insensitive. This is the reply that I received today:

"This is the mail system at host

I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be delivered to one or more recipients. For further assistance, please send mail to postmaster. If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the attached returned message.

The mail system

: host[] said: 452 4.2.1
mailbox temporarily disabled: (in reply to RCPT TO command)"

"Temporarily disabled"? Does this mean that if I send a message later that it'll get through? Or, is this the Vatican's passive-aggressive way of saying: "Nice try, kid"? I sure am glad I didn't have any pressing, grandiose theological problem, or an exorcism I desperately needed help with. Although, from what I understand, Jewish tradition relies on legal contracts drawn up by a rabbi and served to a demon, like a subpoena. Anyway, I guess I'll try again, otherwise I'll have to see the Pope in the streets, like everyone else.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Back in February, I had submitted a poem to a contest. The winner of this contest would win an all-expenses paid trip to the Summer Literary Seminar of their choice. When I submitted, the choices were: Italy in May, Lithuania in July, or Kenya in December. Almost 900 submissions by around 800 writers were sent to this unified fiction/poetry contest. The winners were announced on 1 April. I wasn't one of them. I thought, "Oh, well. At least I finally started sending my work out."

Then, on 9 April, I was checking my email at Adrienne's:

"Thank you for participating in the annual Summer Literary Seminars-2009 Unified Fiction and Poetry Contest. As indicated previously, we are offering some merit-based fellowships for our contestants whose work placed beyond the mean of contest submissions. Our judges were strongly impressed with your writing -- Exilic is a beautiful, haunting poem -- and we are pleased to offer you an SLS fellowship. This offer is being extended to the thirty contest finalists in each category.

SLS programs are renowned for the exceptionally high quality of their workshops, taught by some of the most innovative, interesting and talented of international writers and poets -- and in order to maintain that level of excellence, we need participants of high caliber of talent and dedication -- which is why we'd be happy if you could join us in Vilnius, Litnuania, this summer. We hope you will seriously consider this offer."

So, yeah, I've been short-listed. Holy shit. Excuse me while I mildly gush, but this is the first time I've ever been short-listed. As great as Lithuania looks - I did some research, and there was an article on Vilnius in a travel magazine in the Riga airport - realistically, I can't do it. I seriously considered their offer, but the timing of the workshop is not cool: I will have been back in Toronto for only two weeks, funds are tight, and I will have some serious catching up and re-bonding to do with family and friends after this year away.

I can, however, apply the fellowship to their workshops being held in Kenya in December. By that time, I will have saved for the flight, the workshops/seminars, etc, and for the safaris (!). More importantly, I will have a larger body of work available to workshop, specifically work that will be directly related to my thesis, on which I can receive a greater amount of feedback. Plus, it's KENYA!

I'm going to watch "Out of Africa" when I get home, with a big box of Shreddies to snack on.

You've Been Missed, Leavened Bread

Pesach ended yesterday. During the past week, it has been against the law to sell leavened bread products. That's right: against the law. No cakes, cookies, pita, Cheerios, nothing with a leavening product. (By the way, the first thing I'm going to buy when I get home is a big box of Shreddies and eat the whole thing. I can't find Shreddies here and they are my cereal of choice. I will have gone a year without the diamond of breakfast foods. I know: wah.) From what I was reading (scroll down to "Twenty Ways You Know Passover Is Coming In Israel"), though, this law was overturned but good luck anyway buying any of these products in Jerusalem. So, today was very exciting at our local grocery store, Mr. (Lo) Zol's: all of the thick plastic sheets covering any products with leavening agents have been removed, and cereal is back in its regular aisle where matzo everything had replaced it on the shelves during the days leading up to Pesach. Being in Copenhagen for most of Pesach, I missed most of the bread-withdrawal that I've heard others had to deal with, so really my sob story is a minor one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Pesach Vacation, So Far

The high point of coming to Israel, especially to Jerusalem and obviously especially for Jews, is being here for Pesach (Passover) to celebrate the Israelites' freedom from slavery in Egypt and their journey to the promised land as told in Exodus. For Christians, the high point this time of year is Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We students get two weeks off for these holy days. Since I don't belong to either a Jewish or a Christian community, these holy days for me - both in Israel and at home - are special times to be with family and friends. And, since I couldn't make it home to be with my family for Easter or Tammy's family for Pesach, and I really needed a vacation, I decided to head north to Denmark to be with Adrienne and her family for a week.

I arrived on 6 April, and from what I was told, my timing was perfect, seasonally speaking. The heavy gray clouds and fog and rain of a Danish winter had lifted and we had sunny days punctuated with fluffy white clouds in a blue sky. The temperature there had warmed to about 15degrees celcius, so very much like Ontario (although I heard it snowed at the beginning of April back home) but chillier than the 25-30degrees that are again the norm in Jerusalem. This was my first time flying with a stopover, which was in Riga, Latvia, and the logistics of it all were easy to deal with but my ears would strongly disagree. I was in a lot of pain on the way there during both take-off and landing. Argh, stupid ears. But, it was worth the discomfort:

Copenhagen is a lovely city, quiet but not sleepy. Being me, I was most impressed by how well-shod everyone is! The buildings aren't taller than 5 stories, so there is a cozy, old-world feeling in the architecture. There are more modern (often ugly as compared with the older) buildings but not highrises, so to speak. What struck me most upon my arrival was how quiet the streets are. Other than normal traffic noise from the cars themselves, the only sounds were the occasional bicycle bells signaling that a faster rider was coming up to a slower one and could they please move aside. This might not seem like a big deal, but Jerusalem's drivers are pretty funny and pretty vocal in several ways: they honk when the wind changes direction or if someone is too slow to accelerate when the light turns green or if they want to get someone's attention. Many of them blast their music. Plus, they drive really fast, so often you'll hear tires screeching along the road especially just outside the kfar. Copenhagen, in comparison, has much calmer drivers, it seems, and it is a bicycle culture. Everyone rides their bikes everywhere. Plus, the public transit/metro system is excellent and is set up like London's Underground using a zone plan where one pays for one's ticket depending on how many zones one is travelling through. And, like London's, Copenhagen's transit is expensive. Plus, it was really odd not hearing the Muslim call to prayer five times a day.

I met Adrienne at her office on campus, the building of which was originally an insane asylum. I stayed at her place in Hvidovre, a suburb just outside the city's limits. She has a comfortable, cozy house with a huge yard. Our morning coffees lasted the entire morning. Her kids, Emile and Ella were great fun to hang out with and talk with. One afternoon we went used-clothing shopping, another to the mall to grocery shop, and a huge highlight was driving up the coast to Elsinore and visiting Hamlet's Castle. On the way back, we stopped in Elsinore for fishcakes and chips and a beer and Adrienne pointed out Isak Dineson's house. Saturday we attended her nephew's 20th birthday brunch, and Sunday her father-in-law's 85th birthday celebration. The second party was back in Elsinore, about a half hour drive from Adrienne's, and I met most of the family: Adrienne's husband, Johs, (who is currently in Seattle for "The Marriage of Figaro") is the youngest of 8 or 9 kids so it was a pretty monumental undertaking to remember everyone's names, even for me who is really good at remembering names. Everyone was warm, welcoming and thankfully fluent in English. I now know maybe four words in Danish, three of which escape me right now. Adrienne's friends, Stefan (who is Danish) and Luli (who is Israeli) and their two kids came for Shabbat dinner. They live in Jerusalem but were visiting family in Denmark, so I now have new friends at home in Israel.

Wednesday night we attended the Pesach Seder with Adrienne's progressive congregation. There were around 50 people there, and it was so much fun. And funny. The meal was catered, and the ladies doing the catering didn't realize that matza-ball soup is supposed to be served hot and the gefilte fish is supposed to be served cold. Yup, we had chilled soup and warmed fish...horseradish was included with more bites than in just the haroseth sandwiches. Rachel, the woman who conducted the Seder, is British but now lives in Stockholm where she's a cell biologist looking into cures for cancer. She asked me if I would like to read a portion of the Haggadah and I was very tempted to read the Hebrew, which I can do now, but most people there knew only English and Danish so I thought I'd stick with English.

I have to go to develop the photos I took with my 35mm, but have already added the digital camera's photos to the blog. "Sing-along" fun has two little videos, one from Pesach and the other from our picnic in the King's Garden with a group of Asian Christians singing in a circle and our running commentary on it. I like Israel very much, but love Europe even more. Being in Copenhagen and with Adrienne was wonderful, relaxing, and is a place to which I anticipate returning. Aside from the architecture, the urban ambiance, the homey atmosphere, the yummy food, the best part of the trip was spending time with my new friend, whom I feel I've known forever, and being irreverent and serious and laughing and being one of the locals, sort of. I can't wait to introduce her to my 'old' friends. I've always had this thing (that's the technical term, of course!): if I can go into any situation and walk away from the experience with one great friend, I've done well.

I've done well.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Apartment Hoopoe

This is a Eurasian Hoopoe.

For millenia, Israel's location as a crossroads for three continents has meant that human activity in the form of armies, cultures, religions (mono- and polytheistic), and merchants have traversed its small square mileage. Because of this same geography, Israel plays host to bird migrations. The Eurasian Hoopoe is one of those migratory birds. I've always heard 'hoopoe' pronounced 'hoo-pee' but according to wikipedia, it's actually 'hu-pu.' Tomato/tomato, I say. (Digression: that reminds me of Tshirt I saw that said something like, "Tomato/Tomato. It's not the same in print.") The Eurasian Hoopoe, as you can see from the photos, is a beautiful bird. Why am I suddenly so taken with the hoopoe when I should be writing my paper on depictions of Deborah in kabbalistic literature? Is it because the hoopoe was declared Israel's national bird last May in celebration of this country's 60th anniversary? Is it because there's a character in Michener's "The Source" who was given this as a nickname, a character who was one of my favourites in the novel because his awkward physical appearance hid his cistern/well-building-engineering genius? No, I'm introducing you to the Eurasian Hoopoe because last night one of them came and hung out in our apartment for a few hours. I'm assuming he got tired and needed a rest from travelling between his winter home in Africa and his summer European digs.

I was taking a break from translating Exodus 15 (The Song of the Sea) and went to the kitchen to make my 50th cup of mint tisane. There was a bird in the living area, freaking out flying around and this freaked me out. I walked back to my room, put down my mug and went back to the kitchen. As it turns out, our latest flatmate, Anna, was also home and she joined me. We stood there watching this poor bird fly into the ceiling, then attempt to fly out the open window but aim too high and bounce off the wall above the open window, between it and the ceiling. He also kept aiming for the light so when he had finally settled on the kitchen counter, Anna ducked down and raced across the room to turn off the light. Our hope was that he would go toward the lights outside the apartment and make his way out. I went to my room to find my flashlight to point out the window, but it was broken. Back in the living area, Anna and I hung out in the dark for a while. No flapping-wing-bird-movement; we figured he was gone. We turned on the lights, looked around and no sign of our beautiful, tragic, mystery bird. I made my cup of tea and we returned to our rooms.

I went online and did some googlesupersleuthing and discovered our bird is the Eurasian Hoopoe. Lily and Kyle came home and we told them of the evening's excitement and the mystery. We all agreed that it was better Kyle wasn't here for the festivities: she has a bird phobia. While making my 51st cup of tea (btw, it's herbal decaf), out of the corner of my eye I saw the hoopoe.

As it turns out, he hadn't left the apartment as we had thought but had wedged himself into a tiny spot on the kitchen counter, hidden behind an empty plastic milk-bag jug and a huge egg carton on top of which were some prime organic dates. He would have gone completely unnoticed. Barely breathing and terrified, his neck was arched backward so that his chin was flush with the wall and his longlong beak in the corner along the tiles pointed at the ceiling. I told the girls: Kyle and Lily promptly started screaming like an axe murderer had just walked in the room, and Anna sauntered out of her room, "No way, really?" The next 20 minutes entailed Tanya speaking in (hopefully) calming tones to diffuse the potential hysteria, getting everyone to stay focussed ("No, Lily, the bird's not dead." "No, I'm not going to get the neighbours - just because they have a penis doesn't mean they can help." "Yes, I'm sure there's a number we can call but I still have homework to do and don't want to wait." "No, I don't think pipe cleaners will be effective in this situation. But thank you for the suggestion.") and trying to devise a plan. Eventually, we (Anna and I) took an empty box of Kyle's, slid it under and around the bird, used a towel to cover the top, then walked over to the window and released him. Thankfully, he was so scared and shocked he was docile and the trap-and-release was easy. Anna and I, however, were shaking. Kyle kindly overcame her fear of birds long enough to stop screaming and video-document the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Card That Started It All

Here's the card. It's not exactly the way I had described it, but we all know that memory is a funny thing. I filched it from The River City Church blog, not a greeting-card-website, hence the penned addition of "Andrew" beneath "Brian" (way to take the fun out of it - Andrewtology does not have the same ring to it. I'm sorry, it just doesn't.). The Brian who received and posted it seems genuinely unimpressed by it; but, that could just be my interpretation of his words on the flat page/screen. Note to self: no proselytizing in Missoula.

The real life Brian, posed here with his awesome wife/my step-mom, Laura.

I've been thinking: I think the first commandment of (our) Briantology, though it could be placed anywhere along the hypothetical, eventual list, will be:
"Thou shalt embrace thy inner gnomeness with aspirations to being as gnome-y as The Brian."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Nativity Story of (our) Briantology

Google "Briantology." You'll see that we're not original in our name but it is dear to us, as will become apparent in this post. Of course, The Life of Brian is the first point of departure for most upon hearing this moniker for my paternal family's gaff-religion. But, the story itself and the 'religion' itself has taken on a life of its own.

It all started last year this time when I was looking for birthday cards for my brothers, Jason and Seb; their birthdays are in April. I came across this gem: on the front cover it said, "Not satisfied with the state of religion today, Brian decided to branch out on his own"(or something to that effect). Underneath this message was a simple cartoon drawing of a man wearing glasses standing behind a lemonade-type-stand which said on it "Church of Briantology" and a jar sat on the stand: Donations Accepted. Inside the card it said something like "May the force of Brian be with you." I'm pretty sure I wet myself in the Hallmark store and bought two.

What makes this so funny is that my Dad's name is Brian, and we've always had a running conversation that often turns into joking about religion in general and spirituality in particular; such conversations usually end with the general consensus that Dad is god-like in nature, and makes Emmer and I wonder what we would do without each other to discuss this (and, keeps us all in fine eye-rolling form). One of my favourite conversations with him about this opened with him telling me that he had just "come out of the closet": he did indeed have a faith but was still trying to figure out just what it is.

When I presented the cards to my brothers, my step-mom loved the card so much that rumour has it she went around to all the Hallmark stores in the Greater Barrie Area and bought them up. The modest spreading and proselytizing of Briantology had begun.

In the meantime, Briantology is now a fairly regular topic of skype conversations between my father and me. We have already decided that Sean Connery is our first saint. Briantology does not believe that candidates for canonization need to be dead already for X number of years before nomination. Sean's three miracles are as follows:
1: Greatest James Bond ever.
2: Wearing that outfit in Highlander without losing a shred of his masculinity.
3: Regardless of how shitty the movie is that he's in, he makes it respectable. Ok, if not respectable, then it's a downright cool flick just because he's in it.

Also, I have decided that I am the President of Briantology. Dad protested this decision, saying that he should be president, until I explained to him: I am the eldest child, therefore it is my prerogative to be president; he can't be the president because he is The Brian. That satisfied his vanity. And, we decided together Briantology's motto, if it ever has a motto, will have something involving capitalism with a socialist conscious. I'm even debating adding my idea for an NGO to the Briantology mandate/manifesto: Sustained Altruism Without Politics (SAWP).

Further, the topic of Briantology was raised at a December dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant here in Jerusalem. I told my gang the story of Briantology and Daan (one of The Dutch) asked if the position of Messiah was open. I told him, "No," because I'm reserving it for my kid, since if I ever get pregnant and become a mother, it'll be a miracle. Daan is instead our first prophet; what better place than Jerusalem to find our first prophet, or rather to have our first prophet find us? Daan is balanced enough, after being here for seven months already, that he shows no signs of Jerusalem Syndrome. I would be worried about the speaking-in-tongues thing, but Daan speaks something like 12 languages and about two-thirds of them are dead languages anyway so I'm not mother-henning this one.

So, there you have it. From his modest beginnings in a farmhouse in Flesherton, ON (pronounced fleshurt-un), to his childhood in Creemore, to his highrolling life in the thriving metropolis of Barrie, Brian's spreading his word of peace, love, and, um, European football. He's a bit of a cinephile, and we forgive him his transgressions of Louis L'Amour novels. The best of Briantology is yet to come, when we publish a songbook of all popular favs rewritten with improvisational irreverence; I think the first fifty copies will come with its own glow-in-the-dark SweetBabyJesus, just for fun.

Your Friendly Brian and Humble President: