Believe it or not, this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write about my recent vacation since I got back on the 21st. Jet lag + crazy amounts of work + exhaustion = no time for blogging.
If you want to see pictures of my travels, I've finally posted them on Facebook.
I was in Israel June 9-17 with Yuval and his family. A one-word summary would go like this: a-mazing. His parents have an apartment in Tel Aviv, so that was our home base for the duration of the trip.
However, we went all over the place. Let's see if I can remember all the cities: Tel Aviv, Be'er Sheva, Haifa, Tsvat, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Caesarea, Akko...I'm sure there are more I've forgotten, but that's the majority of them. I saw deserts, beaches, oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, mountains, valleys, fields. I saw wild camels roaming the desert hills outside of Jersusalem, friendly stray cats that camp outside cafes in Tel Aviv, and white cranes swooping over the Sea of Galilee. Like most people, when I think of Israel, I think of nothing but desert and sand. Turns out it encompasses quite the cavalcade of biodiversity for such a small land area.
The differences between life in Israel and life in the US were sometimes striking, sometimes subtle. Ice cream is hard to find, but gelato is on every street corner--and it turns out that it tastes way better than ice cream, anyway. While every store in Newton Center closes by 9pm, cafes in Tel Aviv don't start getting their second rush until 11pm. Fruit and vegetables are much fresher and more delicious because most of them are grown within Israel. The only kind of Coke to be found is sugar cane Coke (which I love rougly 100x more than the high-fructose corn syrup Coke that you find here in the States). Most signs are in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I never, in all my travels in cities and highways in Israel, saw a car any bigger than a Chevy Cobalt--parking is impossible, and no one wants the low MPG performance of SUV's in a land where gas taxes are sky high. All hot water in Israel is heated by solar energy. For water conservation, the toilets have two flush options: one for urination and one for, well, a really big Number Two.
Not all the differences were charming, though. I lost count of the number of security checkpoints I had to pass through by the second day. See, it's a common misconception that the only people who have to deal with heightened security in Israel are the Palestinians. But every mall, business park, beach, and tourist destination has a security checkpoint that everyone must pass through. It's not a big deal--they check your purses and your bags and occaisionally ask you what you're there for--but it's a constant reminder that, even in a metropolis like Tel Aviv, the people are always aware of the threats to Israel's tenuous existence. I think that's something that a lot of Americans don't understand when they criticize Israel's policies and politics: there is not, and has never been, a guarantee that the country Israelis live in right now will exist for their grandchildren to enjoy. Americans don't ever think of the possibility that New York or LA won't be there in 10 years, but Israelis have to contend with the very real threat that Tel Aviv may be destroyed in the near future.
On a lighter note, some other less charming differences between Israel and the US? People do not subscribe to deodorant as a habit over there. No one ever says "excuse me" when they bump into someone in a crowd. The rule of "standing to the right, walking to the left" has never been imported. You can only find supermarkets in big cities--everywhere else, you have to go to a souk (outdoor market) and a mix of smaller stores to get most of your groceries.
For those who don't know, I was supposed to go to Israel on pilgrimage the summer after I graduated high school. It was something my church in Cincinnati did every two years, and our rector always went with the group. I prepared for that trip for 4 years and was so excited to go. But that was back in 2003, and when the war started getting really hot and heavy, the parents said "no" and we went to Ireland instead. Don't get me wrong, Ireland was fantastic. But ever since then I've had a longing to finish what I started studying for in 9th grade.
When we took a day trip to Jerusalem, I wondered aloud to Yuval if my reaction to all the holy sites now differs greatly from how I would have reacted back in 2003. His answer was an immediate "yes," and he's right. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I saw Jesus's tomb and place of crucifixtion and the slab they laid him on after he was taken down from the cross. I walked along Via Dolorosa and stopped at each Station of the Cross. I visited the church that was built around the house in which Mary supposedly received the Annunciation. Everything was fascinating and I didn't want to miss a single thing. I took pictures of every nook and cranny.
There was no great rush of spiritual feeling. No sense of true awe to accompany my viewing of these holy sites. More than anything, there was simply a sense of historical curiosity and a desire to see where history was made. I watched people kneel to kiss the stone slab, saw the faithful lower their heads to the stone of Golgotha and pray. And I observed it all with a kind of clinical detachment, an interest stemming from watching religious-socio-anthropology in action. I was offended at the sheer amount of wealth and number of gewgaws that decorated these most holy places after the Greek Orthodox fashion.
I guess, in the end, I reacted the way I did because I see Jesus more as a historical figure whose lessons should be remembered rather than a super-human divine creature meant to be revered from afar.
That, and I couldn't stop thinking about the smorgasbord of germs and viruses crawling around on all the surfaces people were kissing. Seriously. Do they realize that no one wipes those stones down with Clorox at the end of the day? I won't ever kiss the Blarney Stone, either.
I returned to Boston around 3:30pm EST on Wednesday, June 17th and paid $77 for a cab home from the airport (the last thing I wanted to do was sit on the T for an hour). This gave me just enough time to do the following: pick up my mice from their babysitter, clean their cage, shop for supplies at CVS, do my laundry, charge all my battery-powered accessories, and pack a small suitcase for the next trip. I got to bed around 10:30pm after being awake for more than 24 hours (stupid time zones).
Then it was rise and shine at 6:30am on Thursday so I could pick up Anthony and drive to Cleveland for "Kenyon Reunion Part II: The Reunioning." Surprisingly, I never got the least bit sleepy during the entire drive because my body was too confused by the time zone changes. We rolled into Nate and Kari's place around 8pm and promptly headed to Ruby Tuesday's. Oh America!
The reunion was a blast. Folks from Kenyon and Denison were in attendence, and we were all exposed to a board game that will haunt (some) of us forever with its awesomeness: Arkham Horror (brought to you by the lovely folks at Call of Cthulu). We swam in the pond, played Mafia, dished out some Apples to Apples, played with the farm animals, attempted a few games of Ultimate Frisbee (poorly), played the requisite game of Never Have I Ever, and, of course, ate and drank copiously.
But it had to end, and Sunday morning saw me driving my sister's RAV4 down to Cincinnati, where it now waits in the driveway, breathless with anticipation for her return from Australia. I really miss having a car, which means I will have to start practicing my manual driving so I can drive Yuval's car come September 1st.
I'm hoping that the Reunion will continue as an annual tradition far into the future. It's become one of the highlights of my calendar year along with Thanksgiving and Christmas and my birthday (because I'm selfish). To all whom were in attendence: thank you for the great times, folks. To all who weren't: you better be there next year.
Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto