Monday, September 26, 2005

Left and Right

So, I just finished the third level (kitah gimel) of ulpan (Hebrew school) and I still don't know my left from my right in Hebrew. I know the words for left and right, but I don't know which is which. Maybe I was out that day in kitah aleph (first level) or something?! When I taught Kindergarten I would teach the children that if you hold up your hands and extend your pointer finger and your thumb the left hand is one with the L for left - made with your fingers. Of course there were always kids that didn't know what an L was - but that's for another post. I haven't found way to make "yamina" and "smola" with your hands.

On my way home from the supermarket today a guy stopped his car and asked me in Hebrew, "Are you from here?". I said, "Yes," and then he proceeded to ask me directions to a particular street. I actually knew where it was and how to tell him how to get there. First he asked me if I was headed that direction and if I wanted a ride. I said, "No, thanks." (Don't take rides from strangers isn't a hard and fast rule for Israelis - but I am not "there" yet). I started giving him directions in Hebrew but when I got to the words for left and right, I just said them in English.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Another Year

My friend Ingra recently reminded me that I was approaching my year anniversary in Israel. It's amazing that I've been here that long. It seems like forever and a short while both at the same time.

Today I returned to the Interior Ministry office to finally renew my visa. I posted about my last trip there. The result of the previous visit was that I they wouldn't renew my visa until they had received a letter from the police indicating that I wasn't a criminal. We waited for a couple of weeks and then called the office - no letter, call back again. After a few weeks of calling back our letter arrived. I am not a criminal, so I really wasn't worried. I just wanted to have a current visa. We made an appointment and went to the office today. I thought that they were just going to put the stamp in my passport, but instead they interviewed us individually. I went first. The interviewer asked me all sorts of questions - all in Hebrew. Yaacov was next. I guess he said the right things because after about 15 minutes he came to get me and said I would get my shiny new visa. This time it's for a year. I have to go through this process once a year for the next five years. Then I will get permanent resident status.

Sunday is my cleaning day. I have done a couple loads of laundry - but I haven't been to motivated to do much else. Last night Yaacov and I stayed up too late watching television. I also did a really tough workout yesterday. My back and shoulders are sore today. Maybe if I put on some loud music and get up I might get some things done.

For those of you that read this blog frequently here are some of the stories that I am working on:
1. Next edition of the "In the Neighborhood" series. It's about owls!
2. Sharing my art (this post will not have commenting!)
3. Meeting bloggers in real know who you are...
4. A meme reply to Savtadotty- I wonder who I will tag...
5. And more random thoughts on a year in Israel!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Smells Like Duty Free

Yaacov's parents like to travel. This Thursday they are off to Italy to celebrate their anniversary. Just a few weeks ago they returned from a short trip to Turkey. Israelis love to travel to Turkey because it's cheap and fun. I haven't been yet, but I am looking forward to going (hint, hint).

Just like all good Israelis, Y's parents shop "duty free" at the airport. The new airport is like a huge mall that happens to have some planes in the parking lot. Duty free shopping at the airport is something new for me. I mean, sometimes picking up a bottle of liquor can be a good deal - but Israelis really shop. You can buy all kinds of electronics, wine, expensive sunglasses, music, books, and lots more. You can buy before you fly and pick up your items when you return from your trip.

On their last trip Y's parents bought us a new DVD player. Our old one was from the US and was not "coded" to play DVD's in this "zone". (Some tech person can explain this in a comment.) Now we can watch DVD's from the US and Israel.

We also got some surprises from duty free. They bought us cologne and other good smelling products. Israeli men love their cologne! The bus sometimes smells like an 8th grade dance. Now, I am not one to wear smelly stuff. I have allergies and it's tough for me to find a fragrance that I like that doesn't make my head ache. But I like what Yaacov's mom bought for me and I actually wear it from time to time.

I wonder what they'll bring home from this trip?...

Monday, September 19, 2005


I remember the jokes that went around school after the Challenger disaster. It was my first experience with the dark humor that sometimes helps us cope with tragedy. I think that I was 8 or 9.

I'm not on many email lists anymore and since I don't work in a big office I don't get the inter-office joke circulation. (When I worked at IBM it seemed like every other email was something "funny".) So it was fun to read the comments that follow in an article on CNN.

"Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, was nominated by President Bush in 2003 and plans to start the job any day now." -- Jon Stewart

"Experts say it could take 80 days to drain all of the flood water out of New Orleans. When President Bush heard this he said, '80 days, that's half a vacation.' " -- Conan O'Brien

"He could have started planning on Saturday when the radar showed that a hurricane was going to hit the city, but Bush thinks that the jury is still out on weather forecasting." -- Bill Maher

"To his credit, President Bush did respond quickly and he did send troops as soon as he found out Louisiana had oil." -- Jay Leno

It's All Going to Change

So, I think that I am tired of Haloscan commenting and that I am going to go back to Blogger commenting. I am probably going to take this time to change the template. I am no computer whiz nor do I have the inclination to do something "special". But look for changes in the coming days. Fair warning.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Out of Town

Last weekend Yaacov and I traveled with friends to Nahariya on Israel's northern coast. It was nice to get out of Jerusalem and to hang out with friends. That said, the whole weekend was in Hebrew and it sometimes felt like one long ulpan class.

Two highlights of our trip: Uri Buri and Rosh Hanikra.

Uri Buri is a great fish restaurant in Akko (or Acco or Acre - whatever). After a day at the beach, a beer and the tasty food was just fantastic. If you're ever in Akko, you should definitely visit Uri Buri.

Rosh Hanikra is the end of the road. It's the northern most part of the Israeli coast. It's a sheer, chalk cliff and collection of sea-worn grottos. The whole experience is a little cheesy, but it was still interesting to visit. The pictures that follow were taken from Rosh Hanikra.

This is the view from our parked car. If you click on the picture, you can see the small Navy boat hovering off the coast. There were some other Navy boats in view from time to time. It is the border area with Lebanon after all.

You drive your car to the top and then you take a cable car down to the grottos. On the right side of this photo, you can see the cables for the cars.

You walk through a tunnel to visit the grottos. It was very Goonies.

The tunnel takes you to magnificent views of the cliff and sea.

Leaving - looking Southwest over a banana farm.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Dusting or Dirting

When I was younger (I would say little, but I am kinda still little) I would help my grandmother dust and clean her house. My grandmother's priorities are good ones. She'd much rather do something that she enjoys than clean. (I hope that she doesn't get mad at me for writing this. Yes, my grandmother reads my blog!) It's not that she doesn't work - this lady has worked her whole life. The thing is that after working a full day then making dinner for everyone, well, if there is some dust on the furniture - heck, it can stay there. There are better things to do.

I think that I keep a pretty clean house. My Israeli neighbor came down once and actually complimented me on my clean house. I beamed! Yaacov and I have daily and weekly chore lists to remind us of the things we need to do. We don't always get to them all, but it's a good reminder. The weekly list is divided by room and one chore that has to be done in every room is dusting.

In NC, you could probably go for a couple of weeks without dusting and nobody would notice. Here dusting is a never ending process. I live on the edge of a desert and it hasn't rained here since May! There is so much dust in the air! Each week I am AMAZED at how much crap settles on everything. I dust it off. I vacuum it up. It keeps coming!!!! If you let it go, you don't get dust bunnies - you get dust elephants!

Well, I had a pretty good handle on the problem until they started demolishing a building a few houses up. Our neighborhood was developed in the 1930s and since then there have been phases of building that have added floors to older buildings to increase occupancy. Some older homes have been torn down completely and replaced by awkward, biggie-sized apartment buildings. That's what's happening down the street. Y and I knew that it was coming. We just hoped that we'd be in Tel Aviv by the time it started. Well, it started last week.

They tore the whole old house down and are excavating for the new one. All the new apartment buildings in Jerusalem have underground parking. Well, it's making a big, damn mess. There is clay dust everywhere. It's so fine it just floats in and coats everything. When I wipe the table after dinner it looks like a mud pie. Gross! I close the windows during the day but it still creeps in.

It will get better. They are working pretty fast. But the noise and dust/dirt right now is not contributing to my sense of sanity.

I am glad that the development is "in fill" instead of the gross expansion of Jerusalem that has blobed out all over the Judean hillside. Pretty soon you won't be able to tell Atlanta and Jerusalem apart.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Thursday, September 08, 2005


Ok - this is just going to be an update post. I am feeling a little nuts-o, so you'll just have to hang on with me.

I am really bored with ulpan right now. It seems like medicine. You know that taking it is good for you, but it tastes bad. Today we talked and read about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls - something I know lots about. I volunteered to talk about the exhibit project in front of the class next Mon. Fun.

I just remembered what I really wanted to talk about. On my way back from CD shopping today (Y is going to cut me off soon - I have been buying LOTS of music lately. I am still looking for DJ Cam's Soulshine - if anyone has it out there. Today I bought Texas' Greatest Hits.) anyway - shoot - I just forgot again - see nuts-o. I totally can't remember what I wanted to talk about.

Oh - remembered! So this week I have been trying to get in touch with someone from the photo archives at the Israel Museum. I need to get some pictures for the exhibit. Anyway, I called the person yesterday. Ok - her mother tongue is Russian and her second language is Hebrew - a little English. I started the conversation speaking in English and then quickly switched to Hebrew. It was about 3:00pm and she said that if I could come right then, we could meet and talk about the photos. She was going to take a long weekend and wouldn't be in the office again until Monday (maybe). I live about 30 minutes by foot from the museum, so I had a choice - either run or grab a cab. There are lots of taxis in Jerusalem and getting a cab would be no problem. To make a long story short - I got a cab to the museum, had a successful meeting, and walked home. I am tight like that and plus it's a beautiful walk.

Now to most people, that doesn't sound like a big deal - but I am going to let you in on a secret - I am scared to death of new things. People tell me, "Gosh, John, you're so brave for moving to Israel!" Most of the time they are talking about the unstable political/terrorism situation. They have no idea how scary personally this change has been for me. See, I am a small town boy from North Carolina. There are more people that live in my apartment building than lived on my entire street in Kings Mountain, NC. I am not used to this urban environment. I don't like to take risks and stick my neck out (not on the spur of the moment anyway). I like to be the expert. I like to feel confident in what I am doing. Let's look at the challenges that I faced in the two hours yesterday :
1. Cold calling someone I didn't know in a professional capacity. 1a. Talking with that person in Hebrew.
2. Getting a cab - there is no "cab culture" in Kings Mountain.
3. Negotiating the fare with the cab driver - I made him use the meter because I needed a receipt for reimbursement.
4. Checking in at the Museum and finding the hidden photo archives.
5. Having a meeting in Hebrew and scheduling a follow up.

Everything worked out perfectly - what's the worst that could happen right? It all stresses me out nevertheless.

I have been reflecting to see if I have always been timid like this - and yeah, I think that I have. In high school and college I was in performance groups - choirs and such. But you can spend a long time getting the performance perfect before anyone sees it. In college I was in several plays. I was "Mike" (the tap dancing guy) in A Chorus Line. I had never tap danced in my life. I learned the routine and did an ok job. But I had months to prepare. It wasn't like, "Here, take these shoes and dance! "

I knew that moving here would be a challenge - but I had no idea that I would be pushed in so many tough, new ways. The challenges are exhausting and probably hard for lots of people to understand. My passive, quiet, suburban way of life up to now didn't prepare me for all of "this".

Saturday, September 03, 2005


This past Saturday Yaacov and I visited Masada with my boss, Dean, and my colleague, Diana. It was a great field trip. You can read all about the history of Masada by following the link. For those of you in Israel or planning a visit to Israel - Masada is a place not to be missed! Click on the pictures to make them larger.

This is the view from inside the cable car. The cable car was an amazingly smooth ride. In the car with us were a group of tourist from Germany (I think - I mean, they were speaking German.)

The cable car rides up these threads to reach the summit.

Here's the view from the station at the top of the mountain. I just stepped out of the car.

Here's another view from the top. Those tiny dots at the bottom of the picture are palm trees. You can see the silver water of the Dead Sea in the background.

The view toward Jordan. The water in the picture is the Dead Sea.

This is a picture of the ruins perched on top of the cliff.

Yaacov and Dean investigate the quarry.


You can see the ruins of a Roman camp in the center of the picture.

This is a picture of the plain leading to the Dead Sea. There are little valleys that make interesting designs.

No post would be complete without a bird. Yaacov took this picture of a friendly one.

The tourists. That's me in the tank top. Y is in red and my boss, Dean, is in green.

This is a view of the reconstructed storerooms at Masada. They had supplies to last a long time.

Nice view!

The way down. We bought tickets for the cable car for the trip UP the mountain, but we thought that it would be fun to climb down. This picture shows the start of the descent.

See that little trail that is a lighter color than the surrounding earth? Well, that's the trail back to the visitor center. It's the first of September in the Judean desert at about noon - ok, it was HOT!

Here's a shot of the cable car station at the top of the mountain. It's a lingering glance from the trail on the way down. Did I mention that there are over 300 steps?

Here are the hikers on their way.

I am almost all of the way down. You can see Dean in the foreground way ahead of me. I took my time and took pictures!

The bottom and almost the end. At this point I was just about 5 minutes away from air conditioning. It was a nice hike, but if I go back, I am going to take the cable car back down. One thing that lots of visitors do is climb the mountain early in the morning and watch the sunrise. I bet that would be something to see!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mass Psychometry

Phychometry: the ability or art of divining information about people or events associated with an object solely by touching or being near to it.

I am exhausted! I have spent the past few days having too much fun and I am t-i-r-e-d!

The week has been a whirlwind of activity so I am just going to fill you in on the highlights.

I have seen several portions (remaining pieces of 24 scrolls) of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the pieces going on display in our exhibit have never been outside of Israel before. It was very exciting for me to meet the curators and learn about their work. There is a huge amount of painstaking restoration that is involved in the conservation work. At one point the scroll bits are sewn into pockets of nylon mesh. No thread actually touches the scrolls, they are just secured in the sewn pocket. One of the neatest things is that I can actually read parts of them! My Hebrew is coming in handy!

I have also seen the coin vault at the Israel Antiquities Authority. It's amazing to seen such a vast collection of important coins. Coins reveal so much information about the past. The materials, date of minting, location of the find, and the images and words on them help us to understand a lot about the people that used them. Just today I held in my hand coins from Qumran that are over 2000 years old.

I have seen countless pottery vessels, juglets, plates, bowls, oil lamps and such. Israel has a huge collection. I visited the warehouse that stores all of the non-organic antiquities. It was like the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where they put the ark away in a warehouse - thousands of items in a huge warehouse. The thing that I liked about it is that each piece is numbered, recorded, and filed in a very organized way. It was refreshing to be in an organized environment in Israel!

I've been in the "glass room" - where all kinds of ancient glass is stored. I have been in the "metals room" where bronze, brass, and even gold items are kept. There are drawers and drawers of gold and silver rings, earrings, bracelets, and other items.

It's been fun to be working again - and a thrilling to work in such a fascinating environment.

Stay tuned for pictures of my Masada trip!