Friday, February 27, 2009

Important Weather Bulletin

I was just listening to CBC's Metro Morning. They said that the weather in Toronto was 9degrees celcius and raining. For all you schadenfreude-types out there, you'll be pleased to hear that it's 6degrees celcius, rainy and hailing in Jerusalem. At this moment, I feel my blood is justifiably thin despite the report that temperatures are predicted to drop to -16 (-24 with the windchill) by tonight in Southern Ontario. Jerusalem temperatures, on the other hand, will remain steady at 7degrees for the next few days before starting to climb steadily into the double digits again on Monday or Tuesday. I smell my tan fading.

My Highbrow Side

Monday past, I went to the Tel Aviv Opera Company's production of The Cunning Little Vixen by Janacek. Adrienne's husband Johannes is the baritone playing/singing the part of the Forrester and he had set aside two tickets for me, so Pieter joined me. Oh.My.Gosh. Everything about the production was pure magic: the music, the voices, the acting, the costumes and sets. I've now been to four operas, three of which were post-twentieth century: Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail (Mozart), The Handmaid's Tale (Ruders), Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Shostakovich), and The Cunning Little Vixen. As much as I love Mozart, I am drawn to the innovative sets and modern interpretations encompassing "opera." It's not just a stuffy, highbrow form of art; opera is more than this preconceived notion of a soprano or baritone or tenor walking on stage, singing an aria then walking off again.

Here's a little review of the Vixen, a la T. The music was gorgeous, and all the voices were wonderful but of course Johs and the Vixen really stood out. Dance and ballet were incorporated - the death scene of the mosquito was sooo sad, and the "dream vixen" was sensuous and made me long to dance topless in the forest (again). The sets and scenery were imaginative and inspired the imagination - the landscape upon which the opera played out was hilly terrain, piled with pillows in places to mark forest foliage and the front opened onto a 'room' that was used to mark either the inn or the Forrester's pen where he kept the Vixen; plus, large branches and the ornithological characters, like the knitting owl, were raised and lowered from the ceiling above the set. This production had beautifully choreographed expression and seasonal transition - the season of spring opened with 6 of the children who played different woodland animals holding umbrellas which they opened slowly into huge daisies. AND it was funny - the scene with the chickens was hysterical; the scene with the pastor lamenting his lost love and youth was wonderfully punctuated by the Vixen rolling around wide-eyed behind him, unbeknownst to him, almost taunting him with her young sexuality. I was amazed that the audience didn't warm up to the humour in Vixen until after the intermission. There were parts where I had to giggle to myself - heaven forbid I be shushed for enjoying the show! The goal is to see more opera, especially pre-twentieth century opera, so that I can balance the modern with the, um, old school.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Emily's a Winner, Baby, That's No Lie

True to Murphy's Law, the weather cleared up the day after Em left. She had arrived here in Israel on the 15th, and I took her back to Ben Gurion late Sunday night, the 22nd. We had a fantastic time while she was here - some much needed sister-bonding - and the weather was mostly overcast, chilly and rainy. Saturday was full of thunderstorms and hail, and in a country that needs the rain, I'd like to think that Em's presence was the boost the clouds needed to open up and give. It's easy to be optimistic after the fact; in truth, I felt bad that she wasn't able to experience Israel in its heatfilled glory. I felt a little like when Mom and I went to Ireland in the middle of a heat wave in May - how can you truly experience that country unless you get caught in a downpour?

But, back to Israel: four of the seven days she was here were productive and filled with (fairly relaxed) sight-seeing. Monday we walked to the Old City, entered through the Lion's/St. Stephen's Gate, walked around the Tower of David Museum then out Jaffa Gate. We walked through the mall, then up Schlomzion Hamalkah to Kadosh for dinner. Em had gnocchi with a mushroom cream sauce and I had a grilled cheese with blue cheese and figs. For dessert we shared a Napoleon, my latest dessert of choice.

Tuesday we didn't do much of anything other than go to the post office, where I picked up two parcels from Mom, one of which was my Christmas Stocking - Hershey Kisses and yummy teas! (The roomies and I are having almost-daily tea parties.) I'm still waiting and hoping for my gift from Gramma. Fingers crossed. We also went down to Hertz with Bea and picked up the car...

Because on Wednesday we roadtripped to the Galilee! Bea, Emily and I were up and gone by 7:20, drove north and travelled along the eastern shore of the Kinneret. We stopped at a little spot that Bea knows so that she could fill a bottle with Jordan water - her mad driving skills warrant another post entirely - then we made the rounds. First stop: Tel Hazor! Then, down to Tagbha, the Church of the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes, then to Caphernaum, the Primacy of St. Peter, and the Mount of the Beatitudes. Since we didn't have enough time to make it to Mount Tabor, we decided to stop in Tiberias for a walk-about and some coffee. As we sat in a cafe, I realized that we had forgotten to pay for parking...yup, a 100 shekelim ticket was waiting on our windshield.

We were home by 8pm and up again the next morning by 4:30 to roadtrip to Masada and the Dead Sea; Tessa joined the three of us for this trip. The goal was to watch the sunrise from the top of Masada. Instead, the sun rose as we were still on the highway, it was still glorious and, as it turns out, the cablecar at Masada doesn't start operating until 8am in the winter. Ordinarily, it starts a half hour before sunrise. Climbing the Snake Path - an hour and a half hike - was vetoed by all but Tessa, since we were exhausted to begin with and didn't want to be completely knackered before the day had really begun. Masada was incredible, much bigger than I had imagined. By noon we were at the En Gedi spa for massages, exfoliating facials and a quick float in the Dead Sea. We managed to get the car back on time by 5pm, despite running into nasty traffic once we were back in Jerusalem.

Friday morning Emily and I dragged ourselves to Tmol Shilshom for brunch and came back to the kfar right afterwards. I was worn out but Emily was feverish. We rested and relaxed, gabbed and read, surfed the internet and chatted with each other and folks back home. By Saturday night we were both rested enough to brave the rain and hail; we went for a gorgeous dinner at Canela, beside Kadosh on Schlomzion Hamalkah. We shared seared whitefish on a bed of rice to start, then Em had chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and I had the duck. MMM, duck.

Sunday saw us back at the Old City. First, we walked the ramparts then Emily visited the Kotel. Next, we went for an overpriced falafel lunch in the Arab Quarter, did a little shopping then we wandered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Again, this was much bigger than I thought it was when I was there back in August. We then went up to Ben Yehuda to shop for some more souvenirs. Emily was packed and ready for the sherut which picked us up at 7:45pm.

So, there's a grocery list of our time together. There are new photo albums and some wee films for you to check out. Em and I were pretty addicted to the films and watched them over and over. To close with today, here's my own little academy-esque speech: Thanks, Dad and Laura. Thanks Em, for your divine spark. I believe that, often, what it is I sense I'm missing or needing arrives when I need it most - and Em's arrival and the time we spent together was amazing, well-timed and a much-needed connection not only with her but with home. I'm reminded that being away from home for so long affects us more profoundly than I could have imagined. And I can imagine a lot.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Inclement Weather

Last week we enjoyed beautiful weather here in Jerusalem. I know what you're probably thinking: big deal. But, the temperatures did drop around Christmas-time, especially at night, and it's been chilly and rainy since then. My blood has thinned since my arrival, I guess, and I'm very grateful for the hat and mitts I had waited so patiently for from home. So, yes, last week the temperatures rose to between 17-25 degrees Celcius during the day, and on Monday it was very warm if overcast.

Then, Tuesday night we had a terrific thunderstorm. For several hours the storm was right on top of the city - incredible lightning was followed immediately by booming thunder during that time. Then the hail started and gave the landscape a coat of slushy snow. This aspect of Mother Nature seemed wilder than it would have at home: compared with a traditional Canadian winter when we live for snow days and pray that our pipes don't burst, this would have signalled the beginning of a season of storms. Even though it has been chilly for a couple of months, and Israel has received some of the rain it so desperately needs, for the most part it has been sunny and comfortably autumnal, from a Canadian perspective.

The view from the third floor:

The view from the safety of the awning at our building's main door:

Solid hail in the palm of Catherine's hand:

Yesterday it rained some more, was very chilly, and the walk to HU was a muddy mess. Today, I sat outside in a sweatshirt, yoga pants and flip-flops; there's a cool breeze but, when it's not whispering, the sun is warm. It feels like spring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh, Oh, Oh Jericho

There's a new photo album I've just uploaded - check the sidebar - to accompany this story. It only took me 7.5 months, but I've finally started the simultaneous photo/story thing here! - and, it hasn't taken me a month after the event to do it. I'm all growed up. For those of you waiting for the promised video "Around the Kfar" (or, rather, for my Mom who's waiting...), it's too big so I'll have to make some short ones, or just take photos. Sorry to have put your hopes up!

Anyway: Jericho. (I always sing Jimmy Buffet's "Mexico" when I think of Jericho...) Jericho is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world; its history dates back some 10 000 years. You can read an overview about Jericho's history here. The first place we went was King Hisham's Palace, where I took the majority of the photos you'll see in the album. It was amazing! We were the only ones there. So, the palace was built as a winter/spring get-away or hunting lodge during the Umayyad period in 743-44 C.E. and destroyed by an earthquake in 747. It was never lived in. What is interesting about the architecture is that it is Roman with a distinctive Islamic flavour. (Not that I know as much about Islamic architecture as I do Roman - and that knowledge is rusty - but the giant star that you see which was originally over the great entrance is definitely Islamic artistry.) The only sound we heard was the Palestinian police corps training not far away; they must have been going through drills because the shouting was very orderly like you'd hear in army movies. Otherwise, it was very serene and very warm. Since we were alone at the site and it was windy, I felt a little forlorn: Wuthering West Bank.

What I love most about being at these sites is that you can touch them: I love touching the walls, the stones, the carvings in the stones. We dug into the foot of dirt to unearth the mosaic floor and it was so amazing to see the tiles' colours as vibrant as the days they were laid only 1265 years ago. As much as I'm a museum junkie, I don't know if I can go back to not being able to touch these antiquities when I visit them. I've decided that this is a good way to be spoiled.

After wandering around the palace, and not wanting to leave but they were closing, we went to the cable car and ascended to the Mount of Temptation. This is where it's said that Jesus hung out fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in a cave being tempted by Satan (check out Matthew 4). A Greek Orthodox monastery was carved into the rock of the mountain during the 6th century, and monks still live in the caves not far away from the monastery proper. The view was incredible: Jericho, the Jordan Valley, Jordan the country, the northern tip of the Dead Sea off to the right.

So, that's it for now, darlings. Classes ended last week; I wrote my Biblical Hebrew exam today and am moving on to mad paper writing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Shabbat Goy for Hire

I had heard of this phenomenon, the "Shabbat Goy." The topic would come up at parties, after a coupla pints, and be discussed in hushed tones akin to urban legends. Everyone in Jerusalem knows what I mean when I say Shabbat Goy, but my friend back in Toronto who is Jewish, Tam, had never heard of it before. So, I'll fill y'all in: a Shabbat Goy is a non-Jew who, it is said, is kept on hand by Shomer Shabbat Jews in case they need something that technically they're not supposed to on Shabbat. For those of us who are new to all of this, on Shabbat the most important things to do are eat and pray; some of the forbidden activities for shomer (observant, keepers of) Shabbat are turning lights on or off, riding/driving vehicles, or riding in elevators is ok but pushing the buttons is not. Now, this is where the Shabbat Goy comes in handy, because this person can do all of these things for the shomer Shabbat Jew, but there is a special trick for the Jew in all of this, in that he/she cannot ask directly for what he/she wants.

So, let's say it's getting dark. A Jew cannot say, "Please, Shabbat Goy, turn on the light." Instead, the Jew might say, "I sure do wish it was brighter in here," in which case the Shabbat Goy could jump up and turn on a lamp. It's that easy.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's been a funny (haha) topic of conversation around our apartment. Lily, one of my roomies, is Orthodox and goes home every weekend for Shabbat. We miss her when she's gone - she's a wonderful spark of liveliness and loveliness. I have offered to be her Shabbat Goy in the hopes that one of these weekends she'll stick around and hang with us even though we never do much more than study. But, the other reason I'm telling you this is that recently I had not just one but two opportunities to be an unwitting Shabbat Goy:

The first time was getting onto the elevator on Saturday/Shabbat two weeks ago. Myself and two young ladies entered the elevator. I pressed "3" and the other woman pressed "7." The third woman said, "Shmoneh, bvakashah." (Eight, please.) The two of us just stood there. She repeated herself: "Shmoneh, bvakashah." The other woman just glared at her, but I leaned forward and pressed "8." My first Shabbat Goy mitzvah/good deed!

The second time was in the stairwell this Saturday past. The lights in the stairwells are on timers: you flip the switch when you enter and the light stays on for about five minutes then turns off again until the next person uses the stairwell. Very energy efficient. So, I go into the stairwell on my way down to the laundry room and flip the switch. I hear two female voices shout down to me from where they had been struggling in the dark a few floors up: "Toda! Shabbat SHALOM!" (Thank you! Happy Sabbath!) My second Shabbat Goy mitzvah!

I didn't get up those Saturday mornings thinking, oooh, today's my big day as a Shabbat Goy. But, I do think about making myself a special super-hero type suit and speaking in a deeper voice: "that's right, ma'am, I am your Shabbat Goy today." Or, I think about turning it into a money making business: Shabbat Goy for Hire. Or, I think that this character might be an excellent addition to "Jerusalem, the Musical."

And, the final reason I'm telling you this is because in the little video I'm hoping uploads ok (see the sidebar, I'm calling it "Around the Kfar"), I begin to tell you these stories then I cut myself off in obvious excitement at showing you our toaster and kettle. I'm nothing without a script.