Friday, September 30, 2011

On Isaac's, 2.0

We've been doing some renovations
Isaac is no longer "my" space, but now "our" space. It's become a group effort. We always keep our eyes out for things with the mindset, "that would be great for Isaac's." The comfy chair was a bit difficult to get up, involving hoisting it up the outside of the apartment complex with a rope. It's fun, though. Last night, Andy and I were out snagging some signs when this group of seven-ish ladies accosted us in Hebrew. Me: "Ani lo medaber ivrit!" So we explained the signs are for the roof, and they got curious, so we brought them all up to the roof. They are now the first Israelis to experience Isaac's, and they loved it. It's both my, and all the other kids on the program, sincerest hope that the machrihim don't find out about Isaac.
Ethel and her parking spot

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Ya'aretz Street, Left at Yafo

We found this really cool bar. I mean really, really cool. It's called Djembe Bar. It's basically an indoor/outdoor set up with couches all over the place. There's a firepit and they regularly have bonfires outside. Inside, there's a room full of djembes and more djembes (if I had to guess, I'd say 25), and you're welcome to just come and jam. The staff working there are really cool people who just made Aliyah from the states, but they don't have work visas so they live off tips and sleep in tents in the backyard of the bar.
Cozy couch with Gabz and Andy
Whadda crew

It felt like I was back at Max's Garage, minus street signs. We'll definitely make this a regular spot.

The Shrine / An Argument - Fleet Foxes

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On Names

The Hebrew Noah (pronounced no-ACH) comes from the root word menuha (מְנוּחָה), which literally translates to rest, relaxation, comfort, and tranquility. I think it's a bit fitting. Just some food for thought.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Shenanigans

Volunteering…kind of boring at times. The archaeological dig kicks ass, but that's only one day a week (cause we have to be there until 3pm and we have classes starting at 2pm and whatever), so the other days we're stuck at the soup kitchen. Meh.

So the boss man (no speak-a-da english type) directs me and my boy Andy to the warehouse, where we're to separate the good eggplants from the bad eggplants. There's a solid three hours of work there. Got off to a good beginning, but boredom settles, and we start dicking around a bit, tossing eggplants, carving faces out of eggplants, dumb shit. I go explore the warehouse a bit and come back with this awesome wheelchair, buried pretty far back, clearly in disuse. We get to thinking: this would be incredible for Isaac's. The only problem is, how do we get the wheelchair out without being spotted? So we're a bit discouraged, but I'm determined…we need this wheelchair. There's a ton of clothes for donation in the warehouse, so Andy's all like, "why don't you just dress up as an old lady and I'll wheel you back." Now I'm a pretty impulsive person, so after laughing a bit, I'm like, "why not."

Time comes to put the plan into action. Andy distracted the boss man while I wheeled the chair onto the street and home free. We duck into an alley and I dress up as an old lady. Long, flowing skirt, old-lady sweater, and a white veil covering my head, but not quite enough to hide my beard. Pretty ridiculous. Now our route back home takes us through essentially the busiest, most crowded section of all Jerusalem, the Mahane Yeduha Market, otherwise known as The Shuk. Everyone stared. Literally, everyone. And we made it through The Shuk to the bus stop and waited a solid half an hour for the bus, getting "the eye" from everyone.
A few stares here and there
Getting on the bus itself was great because there's this nifty handicap ramp that folds out of the mid-section that I now can say I've used. After I got off the bus, I took off all my lady-clothes and the bus driver started cracking up and gave me a thumbs up. A few engineering moves later (involving hoisting the chair up the outside of the building), we now have a wheelchair (named Ethel) on the roof. Hell to the yes.
Handicap ramp status
 On another note, I did a fair deal of exploring today. I went to Gan Sacher (decent park) and set up my hammock for an hour or so and got some reading squared away. On my walk back to the apartment (about an hour and a half), I heard some loud psytrance music. I'm thinking, "tha fuck?" I walk closer to the sound and see a massive tarp in this botanical garden. I went to go check it out. Big nature party, what's up. Few hundred hippies just dancing and relaxing with some crazy awesome decorations on these trees surrounding a stage. There were a ton of dogs just running around, being pet by everyone. I met some really cool people there, danced a bunch, set up my hammock yet again and vibed out for a while before continuing on my way. I fucking love this city.

Alsatian Darn - Panda Bear

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Tiberias and Escapism

I've been trying to make time to get another post up, but I've been incredibly busy between travel and classes and cooking and cleaning, but here goes, I suppose. I'll just give a recap of my weekend, because I'm too lazy to pick and choose.


Andy, Ari and I went in on a rather expensive bottle of absinthe, which we thought to contain the elusive wormwood, but alas, Israel has not legalized true absinthe. Regardless, this beverage was 70% alcohol content, much more than traditional hard liquor. We drank it in a traditional manner (with the optional fire).

Absinthe flambe
The three of us went downstairs to the girls room to find them beyond smashed, and literally smashing things. Anyways, the capable ones of us went out on the good ol' eighteen bus line to Ben Yehuda street (yucky). I hung out with my friend Oscar for the night, a very down-to-earth dude from Muncie, New York and we explored the area a bit, went to a pretty cool, secluded courtyard, and chilled for a while. Oscar heard about this DJ called Captain Hook (he's on YouTube somewhere) at a club called Bass. Sure...why not? So we went there with a few other Aardvarkians at about two in the morning, raged for a couple hours until four, and then went back home.

Club Bass, notable for the absurd ratio of dudes to chicks

I had the strangest dream ever that night, involving an evil resort manager, a strange spirit world, and faeries (possibly the absinthe?) Anyways, I woke up surprisingly refreshed despite the mere four hours of sleep I got, and started packing for traveling the weekend. Ari's friend Franco (who I've hung out with on a few occasions...great guy) made Aliyah and is studying Hebrew at Kibbutz Degania Alef, on the south-western coast of the Kinneret, before he joins the army. So we went up to visit him. Degania Alef is a really incredible place. To boot, there twice as many dogs as there are families, and people here don't believe in leashes and caging their dogs, so the dogs are a part of the community. The area where Franco was living has a few hammocks set up, a firepit, actual grass, and some really cool trees. It's such a change of pace from urban life; people seem leisurely and more carefree, but maybe that's just me assigning emotions.

Degania Alef
Ari and I got to Tiberias (the main city on the Kinneret) at about three, got down to the Kibbutz at four. Franco is in a group of twenty-two "lone soldiers", or soldiers who are here without their parents. Their group is made up of Canadians and mid-westerners. The three of us, along with about four of the other soldiers had dinner of sorts at their "matriarch's" house, a really nice lady who is in charge of the group. All the other kids I met were really quite interesting, incredibly intelligent, and all had their part to say in every conversation we were having, which made for some great conversation. Afterwards, we all had drinks (a common theme) and went out to this very ritzy bar in hopes of avoiding the Arsim (Israeli guidos) infected bars that dot the area. It was a beautiful restaurant/bar on the Jordan River, fifteen minutes north of the Kibbutz by foot. We had some food and drink, and hung out by the Jordan for a bit. Ari and I went skinny dipping.


We woke up early in order to go on a hike and beat the heat. The "matriarch", a word that doesn't really describe her properly, as she's a really sweet lady, gave the three of us a ride to the north-eastern side of the Kinneret to go on a really unique "hike". The trail was called the Zaki Stream Trail, which follows the Zaki Stream (surprise!), a tributary of the sea. Essentially the entire hike is just walking and swimming down this stream. It was a pretty unique experience, as the entire river was fucking gorgeous. We met some young people escaping Tel Aviv for the day at a swimming hole, one arguing that Israeli girls are not very attractive (lies). The trail ended in a mango grove, where we picked mangoes from the trees and ate the most savory, delicious fruit I can remember. I'll definitely be back to the area with a tent at some point.

Zaki Stream, not us, Ari lost the memory card
We went back to the Kibbutz, had lunch, and I said my goodbyes. Off to Tel Aviv for the night. I got to the city around 7 and went to my friend Mika's house, where I was to crash for the night. She, I, and one of her friends all went out to a bar with her brother (really cool guy, a few parallels to my brother: same age, bio and psych) and her cousin (really cool gal, she's writing a book on streets in Jerusalem). I was really too exhausted to make it a long night, so we went to bed around 1.

I caught a train back Sunday morning, in time for classes.

All in all it was a very fun, low budget weekend. More to come. I'm making it a goal not to spend a single weekend in my apartment for as long as I can. People camp everywhere in Israel (on the beach, in the woods, on streets), so I'll always be able to find a home as long as I bring my tent.

Blessa - Toro y Moi

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Apartment 13, Isaac

I've successfully moved onto the roof, in a blatant act of defiance of the rules (not quite, but we're not supposed to be up there). Getting up and down is really the only downside, as you have to climb through a pretty high window, but if it were any easier, I definitely wouldn't be able to get away with my new home. The place is codenamed Isaac, as it's a pretty common Jewish name ("hey, wanna go to Isaacs?") There were six or eight or seven of us up there last night, hanging out over a session. Good vibes. I'm nowhere near complete with the pad though, I need to get some carpet (I found some for free on Janglo) and I would love to put in a couch up there, although logistically I have no clue how I'd manage to bring one up. It gets hot during the day, and I really can't sleep past nine, but to be completely honesty, I don't want to be sleeping past nine, and I still have my bed in apt. 12 should I ever want to sleep in (or be in a state of mind that prevents me from climbing through a high window).
Isaac by day...he comes alive at night

My room, tapestry as carpet
Aardvark went to the City of David today, a pretty cool tourist hotspot that follows an archaeological dig. The highlight of the trip was a 20 minute walk through an ancient aqueduct way, way underground with water up to our knees at times. The corridor we had to walk through was barely wide enough for one person, low ceiling at times, and pitch black. But the trip was a bit boring as we were force fed information that I got the sense was mostly speculation. Oh well.

And I bought a really awesome hookah today, named Esau.

Quantock - Bibio

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Ein Gedi, the Desert Oasis

Early this week, Ari and I decided to go backpacking (huzzah!), but the almighty question of where to go arose. We originally planned on going to this place deep in the Negev, but alas, transportation issues and a general lack of information of the area prevented us from going there. Rats! So we decided to go to Ein Gedi, a place Ari has been once before. Essentially Ein Gedi (wiki link for those who are curious) is a desert oasis on the west bank of the Dead Sea.

I'm having trouble deciding where to start detailing this adventure.

Jacob, the eager Dane, accompanied us on our journey. Jacob spend the year prior traveling through New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. He's a really cool guy, and was great company. The three of us left Jerusalem at 8:00 AM Friday morning for a bus to Ein Gedi. After driving through the West Bank (fun!), we were dropped off to an incredibly foreign landscape, the likes of which I'd never seen in my life. To boot, we were at the lowest point on Earth (-423m). Some of the peaks of the mountains around us were still below sea level, if you can imagine.

View of Wadi Arugot (goes into the gorge) from the Ein Gedi Kibbutz
We originally planned on camping out on top of some of the mountains there (the one on the right of the valley in the picture above), laying underneath the stars in the open air of the desert, but when we got to the national park (oh yeah, the place is a national park), we were told that we have to leave the premises by 6 PM, to allow all the wildlife their proper space (mountain goats, poisonous snakes and spiders, and the nasties: hyenas, caracals, and wolves), so retrospectively I'm glad we didn't camp among these beasts. Instead, we were told there's free camping on the beach of the dead sea. Awesome.

The Park

After ditching most of our packs in a locker at the park entrance, we set off to explore the Wadi David (wadi is a stream). The place itself is pretty touristy, but to be quite honest, it was too beautiful for me to be put off. We swam, we relaxed, and since we weren't camping out on the mountain, we took our time, something I am all too grateful for, as the stops we made were just incredible. The David climbs up pretty steeply through the gorges and the path follows a series of waterfalls. I'm not sure if you've ever seen a waterfall through a desert, but it is really something else. For a few meters on either side of the water, everything is green, luscious, and alive. And then death. 

Swimming hole on the Wadi David
The heat. It was, at midday, 45˚C, which for you crazy Americans is a hefty 115˚F. It was hot. The water felt so great between hiking I can't even begin to explain.

After exploring the David, we ditched the main path in lieu of one of the hiking paths (peace out tourists), and climbed a fair deal more, and more, and more, until we were on top of a prominence. I say prominence because we were nowhere near the tops of the massive peaks west of us, yet the view from the top of this hill was an incredible panorama. The Wadi David to the north was clearly visible, as was some of the hills on the other side of the gorge. To the west was the Dead Sea in all it's salty glory. To the south, you can see the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, a topic I'll get to in due time, perched on top of a mountain, a la Masada. Words do nothing to describe the views. There was a park ranger killing some time, reading a book on top of this hill. She was friendly.

Me, all dolled up, with the Dead Sea in the background
Ari and Jacob climbing
A bit further on the trail from the hill was the Ein Gedi Spring where we had lunch in the shade and drank water from the spring (no dysentery as far as I can tell). All around the trail were ruins of buildings thousands of years ago. There were ruins of an ancient synagogue, and as our friend from the Kibbutz later told me, the Dead Sea once upon a time was all the way up the hill to the synagogue, but has since been shrinking at an alarming rate.

Ein Gedi Spring with a ranger filling up water
We descended back down the other side of the hill at a leisurely rate, stopping at various ruins, to the Wadi Arugot, which put the David to shame (shame on you, David). This side of the park had a less developed feeling. After about 30 minutes of walking, the path split into a ridge path, following the gorge into the mountains, or a river path, following the river. River it was, and we spent the next 15 minutes jumping from rock to rock up the stream, until we found sweet paradise, my Elysium. A swimming hole ten feet deep, surrounded by high rocks, perfect for cliff jumping. The next hour was pure bliss: rock climbing, back flips, and cool, but not too cool water, not to mention that we were in the middle of a valley with a couple-hundred-meter sandstone cliffs on either side. Of all the places I've been in my life, I can't think of a more perfect, picturesque spot.

Ari mid-flight
*Tarzan yell*
Phew. Our mission on the Arugot was not finished, however. The map cited a Hidden Waterfall an hour up the trail, so we set out again, a bit wet, in search of this waterfall. We took the river path again, this time following it for a good half an hour, until we found a 10m fall set back in a very isolated gorge. Incredible. Also, I almost killed myself climbing into a cave next to the falls, but like the boss I am, I'm alive and well. Jokes.

Jacob relaxing under the Hidden Waterfall
Why the waterfall is hidden

The Kibbutz

We got to the beach after a fair deal of walking back from the Arugot at around 4:30PM and set up a small camp underneath a giant beach umbrella. All of us agreed that we should go the kibbutz (for those that don't know, Wikipedia) that night, as there's a bar there and we wanted to meet some locals. The man staffing the concession stand at the beach, Ido, I believe, offered to give us all a ride up to the kibbutz at 6:30, so we had a few hours to kill. Mac and cheese for dinner, yum. And then there's the Dead Sea...what the fuck, God. That is all.

Making dinner, avoiding heat
Ido introduced us to Gal, a man of about 22. His hair was awesome. Gal gave all of us a ride to the Kibutz and let us put our bags in his apartment. The four of us got to know each other a bit over a hookah session with Shpongle in the background. One thing I've noticed about Israelis is the depth of conversation—we never really talked about the weather, or celebrities, or television. We traded stories and talked about the state of affairs in the area. He told us about his time he spent in Oceania and Indochina. He told us about his stint in Gaza as a tank operator, and how he pressed the trigger on his tank and took down a three story building that was providing refuge for terrorists.

Gal showed us around the kibbutz, which doubles as a resort for wealthy tourists. As such, the entire kibbutz is brilliantly landscaped, with the most exotic slew of trees and other greenery I've ever seen.

Some of the exotic plants around the kibbutz

He brought us to the bar and we bought him a drink and talked for another hour or two. Exhausted, we walked back to the beach around 10PM (a 45 minute walk), and I collapsed upon setting up my mattress pad. I wish I had enough energy for that night, I really do. There were about thirty other people camping out under the trees by the beach, drinking, smoking hookah, and socializing. It was a beach party in the middle of the desert, on Sabbath no less. I'll definitely be back with a group of people at some point to do the beach party properly.

The Beach

First and foremost, fuck every insect with wings that has every existed and will ever exist. I now know why everyone else there brought a tent. We woke up with flies everywhere, landing on every exposed bit of skin available, and pissing the hell out of us. We grudgingly got up, made eggs, and tried to figure out what to do with our day (the bus to Jerusalem wasn't until 7pm because of Sabbath). So we just lounged around the beach for a few hours, listened to some music, climbed a few trees. We ditched our bags with the Ido, chatted with a few Israelis, and went down to the sea.

Dead Sea mud is famous worldwide for its healing properties and whatnot, and goes for outrages prices in the states. We found a bucket of it for free at the beach. After blacking ourselves in mud (a really awesome feeling), we floated around the sea for a while. Dropping trow in a super-salinated body of water is recommended. The word great does not do the feeling justice.

People floating on the Dead Sea, Jordanian Mountains in the background
Anyway, we ditched the sea in fear of getting burnt and hung out with Ido and a few other people that came to hang out with him. We decided to spend the rest of our time (about 5 hours) at the kibbutz, so we walked there in the heat of day, trying to hitch a ride the whole time to no avail

Doing our best to hitch a ride
And we just lounged around for a while. We played ping pong with a group of Israelis. The arrogant one decided the loser of each round of ping pong had to do 30 push ups and 30 squats. I'm a pretty good ping pong player, but one of them was just a bit better. I love doing push ups...

All in all, it was really an incredible adventure, and I can't wait until traveling next weekend.

Ari and Jacob at the Kibbtutz, B'nei Havonamsheim in the background
Levitation Nation - Shpongle

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On the Roof

Yesterday (like most days) was incredible in its own sort of way. We all went to the shuk, which if you read the link, is a giant marketplace, with no plausible comparison in the states. I think corporations stateside ruined any opportunity for small vendors to operate the way they do in Israel. We bought: a couple kilos of chicken—30 sheks, a kilo of avacado, red peppers, onion, green peppers, and a few cloves of garlic—20 sheks, 36 eggs—26 sheks, etc. For reference, one US dollar is 3.6 shekels. Food prices here are incredibly cheap. So Ari and I made a massive dinner to feed most of the apartment complex (about 12 people ate). We made both chicken fried rice and beef fried rice (with all the aforementioned veggies), as well as french fries and fried Jerusalem artichoke.

Shuk on a busy day
After dinner, we (a pronoun I'll address in a bit) all went out to try to find the Yellow Submarine bar, where there was free jazz night. Trust me, I spent a solid hour and a half trying to find this place, but Jerusalem is laid out the same way a 5 year old draws squiggles on a sheet of printer paper. Nothing makes any sense, and I'm usually pretty good at navigating. It also doesn't help that everything is in Hebrew, and I still haven't picked up any of the language. Thank god I have my first day of Ulpan (intensive Hebrew class) today. The other classes I'm taking are Genesis Parables, basically a continuation of my Torah study that I've done the last nine years of my life, and Hasidim: a study of Jewish mysticism. As fate would have it, the mysticism class is offered in the same time slot as the Israeli polysci course, and the bulk of people are taking that one. So there's three of us, and when describing the course, the Madrichim went on and on about how great of a teacher this guy is. Needless to say, I'm excited to be back in a classroom with an engaging teacher, with a subject I'm really interested in, with a class size of three. Ahh!

I got my first choice for volunteering too: working at an archaeological dig. According to Paula, the Madrichim, this is not just any dig, it's the dig. The man in charge of the dig is one of the most prolific figures in the excavation community, so needless to say, this is going to be fantastic experience if I ever decide to become an archaeologist (hey, why not?). We're excavating a parking lot right in the Old City of Jerusalem. Of course there are pros and cons. The best part is that we only meet twice a week, where the other volunteers meet four times, so we get two days to sleep in and relax (as is the case this morning). The other side of the coin (ancient coin?) is that the man in charge is no-nonsense, and I am almost too nonsensical for myself to handle. But it'll be a fair amount of physical labor, and I've been doing a great job of getting in shape so far; this will only help.

We. I'm not sure if I like all the "we" that's been happening. There's a sort of herd mentality from the group here at Aardvark. I understand it's completely natural for people to congregate, but I'd much rather be out exploring the city either alone or one or two other people, not a group of eleven, as was the number that set out to find the jazz night last night. I feel awkward in such a large group, and I've never, ever been able to relate to that many people at the same time. If I'm to be engaged in producing a decent conversation, or providing decent company, I need an intimate group. Otherwise, I clam up and just stay locked inside my head. That being said, there are some incredibly interesting people on this trip, and I'm excited to get to know them.

As always, I feel like I'm the odd one out (look towards the trees). Not necessarily a bad thing, though. Swag has been maxed out.

All 42 Aardvark students
Well I have a lot on my plate this morning so I must be off. The apartment has gotten too messy, and my overdrive (otherwise known as methylphenidate—a topic for another day) is about to kick in full steam. Oh, and I might get a small tattoo of the Hebrew word תמשל, roughly translated to "thou mayest", as described in detail in East of Eden. Essentially, the word's usage in the Torah establishes the idea of free will, that we are in charge of our fates. Further Reading.

Measuring Cups - Andrew Bird

Monday, September 5, 2011

On Heights

The program took us all (the 22 Jerusalem track kids as well as the 20 Tel Aviv kids) on a magnificent, four hour hike through the Golan Heights—the northernmost section of Israel. First and foremost, you must understand how drastically different the landscape in the north is in the summertime. There is no greenery...everything is brown. The air is so crisp that you can see for miles from any vantage point.  At times I had trouble believing I was in the Middle East and not Central Africa. I expected to see a pack of hyenas or lions off in the distance. As soon as the rainy season hits, everything breathes green. I can't wait to return then. The hike, called the El Al trail (of no relation to the airline), began following a sharp ridgeline for a few miles before dipping towards the only river around for miles and miles. The river snaked through this valley, or rather a rift as the savannah plateaued on both sides of the river. After following the trail for a few miles, we followed a spur with makeshift stairs down to the river. There's a marvelous swimming hole there with a waterfall feeding it. I was able to, much to the chagrin of the program leaders, climb the cliff face and jump into the pool off it. A meager five meter jump, but still it brought great back memories of this summer. The hike continued following this river, until we hit a similar pool, and swam in a similar fashion, and then we hiked out of the rift. Everyone looked exhausted. I was just warming up.

All in all it was a remarkable hike, completely marred by the fact that there were 42 of us. I'll be back to the Golan Heights on my own terms.

Ari's going back home for winter break, so that leaves me with countless possibilities. I might go to Thailand for a solo backpacking trip, expenses permitting. We'll see where that goes.

Directline - Boards of Canada

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On Introductions

I have 8 minutes before I have to be downstairs, so I'll try to make this ceremonial first post as concise  as possible. Now the reader (that's you) will know exactly what 8 minutes of work means for me.

Israel so far is beyond anything I could have imagined. I can see why people come here and stay here. My favorite feature of the city is the architecture. Everything is made out of Jerusalem Stone, so all the buildings have the same external facade. It represents a unity of culture, something unheard of in America. Man, this place actually has culture!

The people here are something else. Obviously there are a few bad crops with every harvest, but on the whole, people seem to get along much better. I've danced circles around rabbis while embracing total strangers (uniformed men, with guns too), and we'll smile at each other and laugh like we've known each other all our lives. Last night, we went to Ben Yehuda Street (Shakedown Street, Madison Ave, Lake Shore Drive, etc.) and even there, people were incredibly friendly.

My 8 minutes are up, but I'll be back here later hopefully to flesh out some details, and maybe share a story or two.

We've Got Maelstorm - Blockhead