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.