Saturday, May 23, 2009
Compared to when I lived in town, the Somerville/Cambridge/Boston area is crawling with bicycles. The cyclists, most of whom do not look like serious athletes, usually wear padded spandex bike shorts. And helmets. Where are my Parisian bikers in their peacoats and stilettos, with hair flowing in the breeze? Are these Bostonites all training for a race that I don't know about?
Today I'm heading to the beach in Maine to camp with some old college friends. It should be like my night in Versailles, round two, except that this time there'll be friends and tents and fires and hot dogs and beer. It's good to be back.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
That I'm in France fantasizing about an American breakfast pastry must be a sign that I am burned out on travel. But here's the truth: there's nothing I'd like more right now than a good, firm cake doughnut. The croissants, pains au chocolat, pains au raisins, chaussons aux pommes, all with delicious buttery pastry, inimitable outside France, leave me indifferent. I'm salivating at the thought of this lovely cake doughnut, with a little clear glaze, and a good cup of coffee.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I´m sorry I´ve neglected you for so long! My very valid excuse is that I was stranded at a beach resort on the Costa del Sol with my dad and his gf, and we were busy dodging Brits. The only internet at the place was in the office, which was open six hours per day. The computers were coin operated. Picture me feeding euros to a computer while trying to do my taxes and find a place to stay in Málaga, and maybe you´ll be more sympathetic about my lack of blogging.
Well, I´m in Granada now. Today I went to the Arab baths, which is a spa lit by candles and star-shaped ceiling lights, with beautiful tiled walls, fountains, and arches. For 23 euros, I got to soak in all the tubs, hit the steam room, lie on warm marble slabs, and get rubbed down with oil by a masseuse. If you come to Granada, GO THERE.
There´s something about Spain that makes me want to go shopping. I can´t resist the colorful clothes everywhere, and the huge Zaras in every city don´t help. Consequently, I´ve totally blown my budget and am going to have to scrimp if I´m to keep traveling until July! Fortunately, I´ve had delightful couchsurfing hosts in Málaga (an American who teaches English) and Granada (a Spanish guy who is a day trader), so I haven´t had to lay out too much cash for housing. Hopefully my couchsurfing luck will continue this week in Valencia and Barcelona!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I´ve spent the last three days wandering as if in a dream through the streets of Sevilla. It´s a city where flamenco dancing is a legitimate profession, where during the hottest half of the year women, young and old, fan themselves with abanicos, and where people eat dinner standing up in crowded bars and throw their napkins on the floor. Four years ago I lived here for a semester with a Spanish couple and took classes through an exchange programe at the Universidad.
It is a trip to be back. Every time I set out walking in a direction, I manage to intuit my way to exactly where I want to go. And every couple of blocks, a stray memory pops out at me. I had hot chocolate here once with so and so when we were trying to find the flea market. I called the States on this payphone my first week here, when I was miserably homesick. I got 1 euro coffees here between classes. I almost want to leave immediately, for fear of creating new memories that will tread on my old ones. It´s like I´m watching a huge soap bubble drift in the breeze, but if I stare too long, it will pop.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
Afterward, we continued down to Eilat, at the bottom tip of the country. Based on the folks we encountered there, "bottom tip" might be a frighteningly accurate description of the city's inhabitants. At the Egyptian consulate, a couple of batty Brits wandered in to demand whether they needed new visas for Egypt, since they'd just been there. They discovered that they indeed did, and also needed passport photos, so they left in a huff to get pictures taken. "If you see an old man with white hair come in, that's my uncle. Tell him we'll be right back," the woman instructed. They returned twenty minutes later with the uncle in tow. He wore a crew neck sweatshirt, dark aviators, and had chin-length white hair. Apparently, the guy had disappeared forty years ago and the batty Brit couple had traced him and found him hiding out in Eilat. Kyle and I weren't sure he looked happy to have been found. After we got our visas, we went out for breakfast, where we encountered crazy old guy #2. He had buzzed grey hair, was chubby, and wore sweatpants with a t-shirt and enourmous, clown-sized sunglasses. He ordered a latte and a couple of pastries, keeping the sunglasses on all the while. He stirred sugar into his latte and set his pastries carefully on the chair next to him (for safekeeping? to protect from pastry-klepto's?). The sunglasses never came off.
After Egypt, we headed to Haifa, on the Mediterranean, in the north. We couchsurfed with a 23-yr-old married couple. They'd met when she, an American, had done a high school exchange program at the school on his Israeli kibbutz. After high school, she'd immigrated to Israel, where they both joined the army (mandatory for most Israeli citizens). They got married last year.
From Haifa, we went to Tsfat, a town full of mystical religious people. Tsfat looked the part, thanks to clouds of fog that rolled back and forth through the hilltop. We stopped for lunch at a tiny store that sold local music, mystical books, and "ancient bread." The guy at the grill, dressed in a white robe with some sort of head wrapping, asserted that the food he served was the first bread that man ever made. I'm sure he knew. It was a sort of savory pancake with onions, cheese, tomatoes, and spices on top. As we ate, he showed us a book that talked about crystals and bean sprouts and the magical power of words.
Last Thursday, weary after our travels, Kyle and I went to the Ein Gedi Spa on the Dead Sea. We floated in the indoor warm mineral baths, covered ourselves in mud, then walked down to the Dead Sea and rinsed it off. The "beach," rather than sandy or rocky, was made of hard, white mineral crusties. Floating in the sea and the mineral baths was incredible. One literally doesn't have to do anything to stay above the surface. Lie on your back, your belly, or just kind of sit suspended in the water. Read a book, close your eyes, relax--do whatever you want, just don't get the water in your eyes or mouth. My favorite floating activity was to roll from my belly to my back, round and round, on the surface of the water. Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop.
We popped in the outdoor sulphur showers to finish the day. Back home, four days later, after numerous fresh water showers with soap, we still smell like two bad eggs.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
France: French coffee isn't bad. It's just tiny. And not really portable. At every Brasserie (cafe slash bar slash restaurant) in both Paris and rural towns, one can exchange about three dollars for a one-ounce cup of freshly brewed espresso. The quality varies from tasty to bitter. If you're a latte kind of gal or guy, you can get a cafe au lait, which will cost between three and five dollars and will be served in a 2-4 ounce cup, depending on whether you ask for a "petit" or "grand." It's satisfying, for about three minutes. Then, with the cup drained, you're left to entertain yourself until you can find the waiter again and ask for the bill. Fortunately, French cafe culture doesn't frown on loiterers.
Israel: The Holy Land brings coffee trouble of a different sort. The bean quality is usually good, and sizes are little bigger than in frog country--a whopping ten ounces or so at largest. Like France, no one cares how long you stay. There are coffee chains everywhere. They serve espresso beverages and (less frequently) filter coffee. The problem with drinks in Israel is that they are never, ever hot. Coffee is generally served on the hotter side of warm, so that the first sip of a latte here is the temperature of the last sip of a latte in the States. Within a couple minutes, the small drink that you just paid over three dollars for is tepid. Oh, but this place is plagued by an even more gruesome demon: Nescafe. Apparently this youthful country didn't develop a real cafe culture until recently. Before Cafe Hillel and Aroma dotted the Jerusalem streets like off-duty soldiers--i.e., they're everywhere--Nescafe was ubiquitous. (I don't just mean any old instant coffee; it's literally Nescafe.) Now, the same shops and restaurants that serve espresso also have Nescafe on the menu. And to further the insult, it's usually more expensive than real coffee! What sort of deranged sap would choose to purchase a lukewarm, 10-oz mug of bitter, disgusting Nescafe when there were perfectly respectable caffeinated alternatives available for 25 cents less?!
Egypt: Your only option here, unless you want a Nescafe, is "Arabic"/"Turkish" coffee. It's like the Turkish coffee available in the US except that it isn't sweetened or spiced: it's strong, served in a tiny glass with the fine grounds still in it. Smart people skip the last two sips, or wind up with a mouthful of grit. It's not bad. At least it's hot and cheap. Cairo, however, as a huge, international city, is home to ten branches of a terrible, local-cafe-crushing, American coffee chain. Yes. For our first excursion our first day in Egypt, Kyle and I went to Starbucks. More photographic evidence is available in the slideshow at right. I'd like to call Kyle the fink, since it was she that insisted we go, but I can't deny that I enjoyed every burning hot sip of that enormous, slightly over-roasted latte. Or that we went back three times.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
More on all this later.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Will try to blog from Egypt, but in the meantime, check out very new photos from our trip to the zoo last week and our valentine's day excursion to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. Slideshow's in the sidebar at right.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The plan from here is to travel around Israel a bit, maybe go to Egypt for a week, then fly to Madrid in March. I'll travel to a few spots in Spain, see some friends and probably my dad there, maybe meet Kyle in Barcelona, spend a week with her family in Paris, and reevaluate. Paris puts me at the end of April. I have a wedding to attend in Chicago at the end of July. The months in between are up in the air.
I'm almost caught up on photos. Check out my cheese-making adventures at the last farm in France and my family Christmas outside Paris.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Thanks to my dad for pointing out that Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven, body and soul together, and therefore they think her "tomb" is not a tomb at all. (This is called "the Assumption.") According to Wikipedia, some Catholics believe that Mary never died; she just zipped right on up to heaven. Other Catholics and other Christians think she died, was buried, and ascended three days later. Either way, my Streetwise Jerusalem map labels the spot as "Tomb of the Virgin Mary." And, apparently, I'm a bad former Catholic.
Please enjoy a slideshow of photos of my last French farm, to the right. You can hit the larger slideshow on Picasa with a click.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Today I took my bike out to try to visit the tomb of the Virgin Mary and the room of the Last Supper. As in the Virgin Mary and the Last supper, which is kind of hard to wrap my head around. Mary's tomb was hidden away, across the street from the church where I thought it would be. One had to enter a dark doorway and descend two levels' worth of stairs to get to the tomb. Here's a visual of the decor at the bottom:
My search for the Last Supper room was less fruitful. I rode around the east and south sides of the Old City walls, enjoying lovely views of the Mount of Olives (the enormous cemetery on a hill where Jews think the messiah will come first to resurrect the dead) and Jerusalem:
The building that allegedly held the Last Supper site was dim, sketchy and under construction. Men wearing hardhats were walking around showering plaster bits everywhere. A Jewish man greeted me at the entrance and took me to King David's tomb, then offered to show me the LS room if I paid him afterwards. I told him I'd brave it alone. I wandered around this very odd building, which seemed entwined with the Mt Zion Yeshiva (religious school). I never got to the Last Supper room, or at least not a room that was labeled as such, but I did make it onto the roof:
Saturday, February 7, 2009
This Monday, Kyle and I went to Tel Aviv to visit a couple of her friends there. What a relief it was to get out of Jerusalem! We found our way out of the Tel Aviv central bus station--a veritably creepy maze--and stepped out into a real city. For the first time in a month, I felt like I could breathe. People walked the streets wearing all sorts of fashionable and trashy clothes--the sorts of clothes that real people wear in real places. There were no black-clad orthodox Jews to be seen. The subtle tension in the Jerusalem air was palpably absent. The sun was a little hotter. We took off our coats and walked down the street holding hands.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Our service ended so early that we had time to head back to the student village for the free Chabad dinner. The Chabad (a certain type of Orthodox) rabbi was theoretically there to try to get secular Jews to become more observant, but the dinner turned out to have no more of a religious bent than any other Shabbat dinner. This one just included lots of poor students trying to mooch a meal. Let me tell you about the rabbi, though. He gave the impression of a doofy, bumbling American guy in this mid-thirties wearing a rabbi costume. He kept asking Kyle and I if we were sisters or roommates.
Midway through the meal, he brought out two huge bottles of vodka and two smaller ones of banana schnapps, and announced that everyone was to order a shot and then introduce himself to the group. We proceeded, one by one, to tell the rabbi what we wanted (half a shot of vodka, half vodka-half banana [ew], etc.) and say our name to the group. This took a good half hour. The rabbi announced that the second round was "self-service." More food came out. I had thought the rabbi was joking about seconds until he started taking more shots. Then he stood on his chair to give a little talk, during which people were passing the vodka around. Every time it came within arm's reach of the rabbi, he would grab it and pour another half shot. He'd toast, drink, and continue. When people started to get rowdy, he pounded the huge bottle on the table to get their attention. The guy was trying so hard to be heard that he started losing his voice, which prompted even more frequent vodka shots--as much as one every half sentence--in order to moisten his throat.
By the end of the talk, of course, the rabbi was drunk as a skunk. He started singing traditional Shabbat songs and pounding on the table with his vodka bottle. A pipsqueak adolescent who was at the dinner (why? I dunno) had had his own shot of vodka, and had weaseled another shot or two from the crowd. This kid decided that the bottle-pounding was a great idea. He picked up an empty schnapps bottle and imitated the rabbi. By the second or third tap, the bottle shattered and everyone shooed the kid away. The evening concluded with the rabbi dancing with three of the male students, who took turns wearing his hat.
So that was Friday.
Saturday evening, Kyle and I went to Bethlehem for a party. Long story short, getting home was something of a production. Around 2:30 am we got a ride to the checkpoint , where there was a little market set up outside with everything from coffee to canned tuna. We had to step over about fifteen men lounging on the entrance ramp outside. Whether they were waiting for an appointed time to cross through, were homeless, or just thought it would be a great idea to take a snooze there, we're still not sure. We proceeded through the deserted, fluorescent-lit checkpoint maze as someone yelled in Hebrew over the loudspeaker. There were no soldiers in sight at most of the expected places, but they must have been watching us because they buzzed us through a couple of doors. Finally, after watching a Palestinian guy have to show his ID, special papers, finger prints, blood type, and DNA swab (kidding on only the last two) to a nineteen-year-old soldier who was paying more attention to telling a story to her colleague, we gave a quick flash of our US passports and exited.
On the other side, we started walking toward Jerusalem in search of a taxi. A medium-sized, collarless dog came bounding up to us just outside the checkpoint and Kyle and I each tried to jump behind the other in fear of a canine attack. Rather than biting us, the mutt was just running up in greeting. He ran ahead a bit and sniffed around, then continued forward. Kyle noticed a similar dog several hundred meters behind, who kept trailing us. After a few minutes, we realized that effectively, we were being escorted by the two mongrels. It was 3am, the streets were deserted, and the evening was starting to feel surreal. Our buddies escorted us in safety for about 20 minutes until we flagged down an off-duty bus, who whisked us farther toward civilization, where we picked up a cab.
Thanks to Kyle's new video camera, we have these lovely grainy movies of our protectors.
Friday, January 23, 2009
My resume of previous Jewish religious experience was short. I went to Friday services at Tufts U Hillel a couple times freshman year with friends. The first time, I was the only one in the temple with bare shoulders (a result of seeking wardrobe advice from a guy so gay that he didn't even know what women wore to Temple, he was so busy checking out the men). After the service, when the guy with whom I was mildly obsessed wished me "Shabbat shalom" and tried to kiss me on the cheek, I had no idea what was going on and accidentally turned my head away. On another occasion freshman year, my blonde goy roommate got drunk on two glasses of Manichewitz and spent the rest of dinner flirting with the rabbi. Then, for much of my junior and senior years, I served as unwitting Shabbat goy at the weekly Friday night dinner. On the upside, all of us student caterers got to drink bellyfuls of (kosher) Dr Brown's cream soda and eat leftover latkes.
Tonight, I am willingly being dragged to a different Shabbat service, which might be followed by dinner at the rabbi's house. If anyone out there believes in some sort of god, please pray I dont make an arse of myself!
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I've been going to Bethlehem twice a week to volunteer at a small nonprofit that does recreationel education for Palestinian kids. It's run by some conservative Christians from the states, which has been a sort of culture shock of its own, despite the fact that the org itself is not religious. Whereas my last job conditioned me to cringe at any mention of religion in a grant application, now I'm editing proposals to Christian foundations that ask questions about our org's "statement of faith," "systematic prayer," and philosophy on converting the "lost." Oy vay. To further offend my American penchant for separation of church and, well, everything, Israeli ID cards include the bearer's religion. I miss the French and their laspsed Catholicism. (And their croissants. And pig products and soft, salted butter.)
Saturday, January 10, 2009
We spent New Year's Eve in Tel Aviv at a tacky British pub that had Strongbow on tap. I was still in the thick of the "French Crud"--the potent, fever-inducing cold that wiped out the whole family over Christmas. On Jan 1st, we reassembled my bike, which had been taped up for the plane in a box that was my approximate height and about three times my width. We wheeled the baggage-laden bike to the central bus station. A security guard at the door was checking everyone's bag on the way in, but Kyle sweet-talked him into letting us in with the bike, and the guard didn't even look at any of the huge bags strapped to it. So much for security.
Getting onto the actual bus was trickier. The bags fit into the cargo space easily, but the space next to the open hatch was filled with huge suitcases from all the other passengers. The hatch doors on the other side of the bus, where there was space, were closed. Two thin, middle-aged Asian men saw Kyle and I trying to figure out how to fit the bike. "Push!" one of them said. The two of them proceeded to wave us out of the way, bend 90 degrees at the waist, and shove the heap of suitcases toward the back of the cargo hold. The bus driver started honking at us, and finally, with a little more shoving, we fit the bike. As soon as we got to Jerusalem, Kyle fell victim to the French Crud.
A few days later, when Kyle had started to kick the Crud, we ventured out to the Old City. In one afternoon, we saw the holiest Jewish and Christian sites in the world: the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The 2000-year-old W-Wall was part of the retaining wall that held the Temple Mount, on which the Second Temple was built. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and this bit of wall is the holiest part of what's left of the original construction. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built over the places where Jesus was crucified and buried. One can actually go see his tomb.
The day after our trip through biblical history, we decided to try a more modern excursion: to Jerusalem's mall. The way there involved a minor bus mishap, where we went to the northern outskirts of the city, only to find ourselves at the end of the bus line opposite the location of the mall. When we finally arrived, we had to stand in a ten-minute line to have our bags checked and walk through a metal detector before we were unleashed in a huge, US-style, indoor mall. We made a bee-line for the food court and were rewarded with lukewarm, kosher Chinese food. Delicious. We walked around the stores for awhile and then saw a bad American movie. Halfway through, a Hebrew word flashed on the screen and the lights came up. Was the film broken? Did we have to evacuate to a bomb shelter? No one around us seemed to be alarmed. It was only intermission.