Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Shpongle

Well, shit. A few of us (Oscar, Sarah, and Jacob) went to see Shpongle this past weekend. Not your typical show. In fact, I've never really seen anything like this, despite having gone to a few festivals back home. The atmosphere was electric, the people were glowing.

The "secret location in the desert", advertised in the flyer, turns out to be a musical venue next to Mitzpe Gvulot. The desert here is a continuation of the Sanai Desert (due to its proximity to Egypt), and as such, is nice and sandy, not hard and rocky like the Negev. It was nice to walk around barefoot, although there were these spiky burs that kept getting lodged in my feet. Regardless, we were in the middle of nowhere. To the south and east of us was more and more desert, north of us was the kibbutz, then more desert, and west of us was more kibbutzim, then Gaza (yay).

A Burning Man "feel"
It was more of a festival than a show, to be fair. We got there are around 6 on Friday on a chartered bus organized by a man named Pinpin (Oscar knows him). The ride was pretty fun, and surprisingly enough, nearly everyone was speaking English. When we got there, the place was pretty empty, so we had a nice, relaxed dinner and met our neighbors. Turns out, Oscar's sister, who lives in Israel, came, and she set up right next to us. We explored the venue, etc. The place was really cool. The stage area had tents all around it selling Chai, clothes, and art. A few of the tents were just displaying art, and there were even a couple teepees there just to sit inside.

The grounds came alive as the night progressed, and I was incredibly pleased with the people that came with me. Oscar, Jacob, and Sarah are all independently-minded enough to go around on their own, meeting people in their own ways, that I didn't have to be constantly be with them (which is not the way to do a festival). It was great just to wander around the grounds, dancing, talking, not talking. There were people playing frisbee, giving out face paint, lounging in giant bean bag chairs, and doling out food. The people made this such a special experience.

At a Shpongle show anywhere else, you'd see every sort of drug being used and abused. You'd see people so fucked up that they don't even know where they are, or what they're doing. You'd get a bit of a misconstrued sense of the counterculture, that drugs come first and the music comes second. It's the other way around here. Sure, people are doing drugs, but you don't see them out in the open. Maybe the army conditions them to be more mature, or maybe that's just the culture here. I loved it. You could have interesting conversations with just about anyone (assuming they spoke enough English). People here have ideals and embody their lifestyle, not just a bunch of druggies throwing on hippie garb. People eat couscous and vegetables, not junk food. And the conversations we had were engaging and meaningful!


The show…Shpongle did not disappoint. At the very moment when Raj played his first flute note, the entire crowd of 6,000 strangers were united under one spiritual experience. We were Shnitzled in the Negev. It was awesome. The show started at about 3:30AM and concluded as the sun rose at about 6. I'm not even going to attempt to describe the show; words cannot do it justice. All I will say is that it was hands-down, the most spiritual and magnificent experience I've ever had. And that sunrise...

A Very Shpongled Sunrise

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Arad, in the Desert

Lunch at an abandoned hotel complex
Vistas worth fighting over

On Geography, Jerusalem

I love geography something akin to the way I love chocolate croissants or back massages. I think it's one of those subjects that school has never ruined for me, something that I've always taken upon myself to learn on my own time. This post will be dealing with the geography of Jerusalem (I'll save the geography of Israel for another post), and if you don't really care for maps and familiarizing yourself with your surroundings, this post probably isn't for you. Actually, I'll be a bit surprised if anyone even finishes this post, but whatever.

South Jerusalem

We live in Katamon, specifically, Gonen Bet, on Yose ben Yoezer. We're in southern Jerusalem, basically as far south as you can get within the city limits. South of us is the friendly Arab neighborhood of Beit Sefafa, and south of that is the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo. We live in a valley that extends south-west of us, and Gilo is on one hill and Malha is on the other. Through the valley, you get the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine. Right then. Here's a map.
Expand that shit. I am at the red blip marked A—Yosse Ben Yoezer 34. Across the street from us is Shalom Felafel, Pizza Oz, and Bar 55, respectively a felafel joint, a pizza shop, and a liquor store. The other blips represent places that I go on a regular basis. The green blip is the rock climbing gym, and I'm there about three times a week. The blue blip is our local library, a four minute walk. The yellow blip is the supermarket, Rami Levi. Between us and the supermarket is a defunct railroad that once served as the primary method of travel between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The purple blip, up top, is my favorite park within walking distance (Gehenna and Gan Sacher are my favorites in J-ru). The turquoise blip on the top right is Emek Rafaim, a street lined with restaurants and shops down it's length, a twenty minute walk. The red shaded area is Katamon, our neighborhood, essentially the largest neighborhood by area in all of Jerusalem. The blue area is Talpiot, which has an industrial area, along with many shops. The green area on the left is Malha, which has the Jerusalem Mall, the largest shopping area around. The yellow area is the German Colony, one of the most expensive and upscale neighborhoods in Jerusalem. This is southern Jerusalem, which is predominantly secular and has a pretty young crowd.

Jerusalem at Large

Here's another map.
Katamon is that yellow area at the bottom, my apt. still that red blip. Thumbtacks represent parks and places I go to chill. The yellow one at the right is Gehenna, a.k.a. Guy ben Hinnom, a.k.a. the place where, in ancient times, they threw the rotting corpses of those not fit to receive proper burial, trash, and sewage. And now, it's a beautiful park with the best grass to sit on in all of Jerusalem, and cliffs next to it that are bolted for rock climbing (still waiting to buy equipment). It's on the border of East Jerusalem, so you'll see a mixed crowd there, but it's a park so everyone's friendly. The pink thumbtack next to it is Bible Hill, an empty hilltop with wild grass and no development, which is remarkable considering how densely populated Jerusalem is. Only a matter of time...The turquoise one in the center is Gan Sacher, which is the largest park in Jerusalem, but not necessarily the nicest, see what I'm saying? It's fun, though. The green thumbtack on the left is the Jerusalem Forest, a great place to wander around and get lost in, although all the trees have been artificially planted by the JNF, so it's a bit bittersweet, adventuring there, that is. The blue thumbtack on the bottom left is by far my favorite place that's accessible by city bus, but I'm not gonna say what's there. I merely put that there so my fellow Jerusalemites have a cool place to try to find.
Blue Thumbtack
The blips. From the left of the screen. The pink blip in the center is the Givat Ram Hebrew University Campus, which is a beautiful place with a massive library (five million some odd books). The yellow blip is the central bus station, which is unfortunately far from our apartment. The red blip is Mahane Yehuda, otherwise known as The Souk. The blue one is Tsiyon Square, or Crack Square, as we call it. That's where all the Americans congregate at night, and I generally try to avoid it as a rule of thumb. The surrounding area, though, shaded in yellow, is the City Center, and has many bars hidden in all sorts of side alleys, resembling something out of Assassin's Creed. It's really cool. The green blip in the blue section is the Arab Souk, which has lots of tapestries and other hippie shit for sale, along with tons of cheap Chinese junk.
Typical Store at the Arab Souk
The neighborhoods. The green area is the German Colony, north of which is Talbia, another very expensive area. North of that is Rehavia, which is the most populous area in Jerusalem, and is relatively secular and well-to-do. Actually, all of Jerusalem is pretty well-to-do (save for East Jerusalem), and I find myself being able to walk to just about any part of the Jewish city without worrying about safety. North again, the small yellow section, is the City Center extending from the bus station to Mamila, and you'll find most of the bars and pedestrian traffic here. Rehov Yafo, the light rail / pedestrian street, runs the length of this section. To the south-east is Mamila, the upscale district with jewelry shops, expensive hotels, and multi-million shekel apartments. East of that, in blue, is the Old City, incredible, incredible place, surrounded by the red East Jerusalem (not allowed to go there...nothing really to see anyways...). And the light blue. Haredi-land, if for lack of other description. This is basically where all the ultra-orthodox live in Jerusalem, and my oh my are there a lot of them. I'd say essentially a third of the city's population is Haredi. I even got stoned once near Mount Hertzel on Rosh Hashana. I was walking back to our apartments from Ein Kerem and these two kids started throwing rocks at me...
Path through the Jerusalem Forest on the Jerusalem Trail
Aaaand that's basically Jerusalem, city of a million people, holiest city in Israel, denser than every city in the states save for NYC and San Francisco, and a pretty damn cool place to spend half the year.

He Tried to Escape - Midlake & Logos - Rodrigo y Gabriela

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Settling, settling, settling


Routine is yet again setting in, bolstered by the fact that I'm grounded this week from going out at night (I decided not to go to volunteering one too many times). I'm not sure whether I need this time to reflect and actually write something, or whether I'm yearning for last week or the week before, where each day brought a different story and each night, as I lay in bed, I felt accomplished. I did nothing of my own volition today. We went on a tsiyur to the West Bank, but I didn't chart where we were going, look up the bus routes, and hop on an Egged. I didn't have to pack a backpack and hope I'd find somewhere I could set up my tent. We went to a beautiful place, really, it was a spring in the middle of the arid Judean mountains, but it didn't have the same feel as if I were there with a sense of adventure. It just felt like everyone was dragged out of bed an hour too early and attitudes reflected that. We got back in the early afternoon and I've been here since, practicing my Hebrew, listening to music, and wasting my time away.

Aardvark has been assimilating with Year Course. There are some great people on that program (just as there is on Aardvark), but one thing I love about Aardvark is that it's so small that it doesn't make sense to always hang out with Aardvarkians. It gives incentive to meet people off the program. Year Course doesn't quite work that way. It's large enough that people seem contented to spend a year in Israel, with Americans, and as we hang out more and more with them, I feel less compelled to try to meet Israelis. That being said, I really do love the friends I've made on Year Course.


My list of places to go on weekends has gotten a bit too long, and it's been a while since I've actually explored. Time is scarce. I keep forgetting that I'm on a program, and as much as I'd like to do whatever I please, I still have classes three days a week and volunteering four days. It's becoming compelling to live for the weekends, but then I feel I've mismanaged my time something equivalent to the income inequality of Mexico. So I'm left with the challenge of trying to enjoy my week, despite the metaphorical corral (or barbed wire, if you're talking about Israel).  It's too easy to get sucked into the laziness of apartment life. My computer is too convincing to pick up and browse. Tomorrow, I'm not going to touch my computer. It's a start, I guess. I would really love to delete my Facebook again. There was a different dynamic without my "internet personality". I only had to worry about myself, not "myself"— there are no edits to make in real life.

Space (of a personal sort)

They're watching me…(Hey, guys). I understand it's their responsibility to keep me safe, and out of trouble, but I think somewhere along the line, they were convinced that this was a personal issue, or at least things have become a bit personal. I have absolutely nothing against our madrichim, they're great people, fun, enjoyable, and well-intentioned; the fashion of being a subordinate just doesn't look great on me. I'm going to try a lot harder to restore trust and curb my impulsivity, even if it means drowning my personality with methylphenidate.

Ari and I completely re-did our room, and it's actually a livable space now. We have a rug, and a beautiful tapestry on the wall, and lots of art (including drawings by Ari). We have a desk and speakers and candles and incense and a trash can and a little bookshelf. The place is comfortable.

Isaac's was shut down. The machrichim found out about it, and since they've been reading my blog, undoubtedly know who's responsible. That whole thing was a bit shortsighted (a profound characteristic of the youth). Oops.

I want a vacation (from vacation). Thank god I'm going to college in Colorado, where there are mountains to be climbed and skied, and not somewhere flat, somewhere normal, somewhere routine.

In lieu of whatever tone I may have conveyed amidst rambling, I'm somewhere around the happiest I've ever been. I would just like the opportunity to poke around the far reaches of emotion in this state. I think I'm going to add an extra couple hours to each day.

Falling Through A Field - Black Moth Super Rainbow