Category Archives: Photos

The Most Awesome Photo Ever

Too tired to write, so here’s your update: the most awesome picture ever taken. *lol*

wow. just wow.

Yes, that bicyclist just shot out into oncoming traffic without pausing one bit, all the while balancing a tray of bread on his head. I couldn’t help picturing the car hitting him and the bread flying everywhere…

My First Visit To Hebron

I have fallen way behind on this lately. In my defence, some of that time I’ve spent out of the house on other wee road trips, and most of the rest on Hebrew study. But still. I have to fill you in on my run down to Eilat soon, but first we should catch up with the Hebron post I never got ’round to! I mean, hell, the following story comes from 18 July!

Right, so the day started at Jamil’s house, where I had stayed the previous night. We got ready and headed out to Hebron to get him to hospital for his injured leg. (Incidentally, Hebron is the English; it’s Hevron in Hebrew and al-Khalil in Arabic.) We rode a service taxi (what Israelis call a sherut and Palestinians a servees) down to the city, then stopped at an intersection and transferred to a regular taxi. At this point I had the bright idea to take off on my own into the city while Jamil went on to hospital. I wasn’t going to do him any good in a waiting room, and it seemed a shame to waste the day that way. I got back out of the taxi, went back to the main road, and caught another service taxi to the old city.

End of the line.

The taxi stopped at the end of the line, just as you enter the old city. I got out and headed down the street, taking pictures, looking in shops, etc. I was pretty conspicuous, and I got plenty of awkward glances, but also some smiles and nods. Several people stopped to talk to me briefly, and one made a determined effort to ingratiate himself — a fellow name Jad. I ended up spending the next few hours walking around the city with him, talking about life and such. He’s a management student and talking to me was good practice for his pretty broken English I’m sure. He’s in his last year at the local university and is hoping to get into an MBA programme somewhere. Anyway, we talked a bit about ourselves, sure, but also about the city and stories of people in it.

A shot from the old city.

Jad wonders why I take so many photos.

Another shop-lined old-city street

Jad and I wandered through the old streets as I snapped photos, and slowly made our way towards the Ibrahimi Mosque. Now, I am aware that just using that designation is a political statement, but I do so because of who I was walking with. The Ibrahimi Mosque (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) is also the Me’arat HaMakhpela, and in English the Cave of the Patriarchs.

The Cave and the structure above it has been divided in various ways for close to two millennia, since the Byzantine era, when it was both a synagogue and a church. With the initial Arab conquest the church was replaced by a mosque, and with the exception of the Crusader period it has stayed that way since. When the Mamluks came to replace the Ayyubids in the 13th century Jews were barred from the Cave, being allowed only up to the fifth, or later seventh, step. It remained a mosque, with the Jewish sites outside but nearby, until the 1967 War. After that it was divided, with about 20% turned over for a synagogue. Until 1994 it was at least open between the two sides; now, access to the cenotaphs and holy places on either side are restricted to one religious group and there is an ugly separation barrier run down the middle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stairs up to the Mosque/Cave complex.

By the time we had reached the mosque I really wanted to use a toilet. There are, of course, no public toilets in the old city, though there is one just outside the mosque for visitors. This was by far the worst restroom experience I have had. The toilets were the squatting kind, basically holes in the floor. There is no toilet paper and no way to flush, just a spigot nearby and a small bucket. You’re meant to squat, shit, then use the water to clean yourself — with your hands. No fucking way. Luckily, I am a clever traveller and I had a roll of t.p. in my backpack. *grin* The process was still awful, as was the stench; I have a massive natural gag reflex, and I was heaving. *sigh* Anyway, let this be a lesson to anyone travelling in the area — be smart and also bring your t.p., and use the toilet before you leave any place that actually has a real toilet!

holy shit! no way!

Heading up to the mosque itself, we had to pass the ubiquitous security check. I had to remove all my junk, hand over the bag, and take questions about whether I was Jewish (since I was headed to the Muslim side and was not obviously Muslim). I lied. *grin* The inside was impressive, and hard to describe so I’m going to put up a few photos. I’ve gotten lazy since the first time I used photos, so no compositing.

Coming onto the main floor of the Mosque.

You can see here the minbar, courtesy of Salah ad-Din.

We wandered around, talked a bit; I got to see the cenotaphs built in the Mamluk period, and place my hand on a stone where Adam’s footprint was left. *cough* A Jewish tradition has the cave as the burial place of Adam & Eve and the gateway to ‘heaven’. An older tradition has this as the burial place of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and their wives (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah), which is the basis of its holiness. So that’s kinda nifty to see, eh? The minbar in the mosque was built at the order of Salah ad-Din. Ah, and there’s a covered hole into the deep cave below the mosque, where the tombs would be found, I imagine. There’s a metal cover over the opening with small holes in it, and if you look through them you’ll see a candelabra hanging from a rope in order to add some light to the space.

Peering into the Cave.

One of the cenotaphs and its enclosure.

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit was to see the site of the 1994 Goldstein killings. It was an emotional moment for me, standing in the space where 29 people were gunned down and over a hundred others shot. I paused for some time thinking about the scene and what it must have been like to go through something like that. The ancient sites hold a historical interest for me, but no religious draw. A visit to the site of a massacre, perpetuated in the name of twisted religious faith, is a pilgrimage that makes much more sense to a secularist like me.

I had wanted to see the Jewish side as well, but with Jad along with me it would not have been possible. I may do that the next time I’m in Hebron. Just outside the mosque we picked up another party, a short Arab fella whose name I have forgotten. The three of us walked and talked through along some of the spaces adjacent to the Jewish section of Hebron, AKA “H-2”. This section of the city houses some of the most radical of settlers — a group of people who are drawn by a sincere religious connexion to the ancient sites, but who are also animated by an extraordinary level of racism. I won’t go into any of that here, though.

Settler compound right outside the Mosque/Cave.

A street divided and once-busy shops abandoned.

The long road leading up to the mosque is lined with shuttered shops. This was once a thriving Muslim neighbourhood and market, but nearly everyone has moved out of it because of conflict with the settlers. There is a dividing line in the road and Arabs can only walk on one side of it or risk being shot. There are no cars in this area save those driven in by settlers. We passed two schools that have been closed down, and the large empty square that used to be a bus station.

Neighbourhoods deserted on account of settler threats.

An ethnic-cleansing graffito, the Jewish settler counterpoint to maximalist 'Free Palestine' calls.

An Israeli car on a Jews-only road passing the shuttered Arab girls' school.

Finally we stopped into a ceramics factory and shop, the only remaining business in the area, and the workers there offered us tea. Interestingly, they make a large number of Jewish-themed items like seder plates and little ‘shalom’ signs for your wall. These items are sold to tourists in Jerusalem, not to the settlers, but it still says something that — even a stone’s throw from a radical settler compound — these men make their living catering to the Jewish economy. Twenty years after the “peace process” began, this remains a fully colonial relationship.

Painting ceramics for Jewish tourists.

Jad asked for a photo -with- me and folks back home ask for photos -of- me, so here we are -- the second photo taken of me this trip. I've since trimmed the beard considerably; it was getting very warm...

We parted ways with our companion at this point and Jad & I made our way back through the old city. I stopped to buy a water, which Jad said would be expensive here but I was parched by this point. The vendor actually refused my money, though! It was a unique surprise. We passed a little further along and suddenly I saw something I needed to stop for. I’ve always wanted to pick up a keffiyeh, in large part because of the modern-historical association (Arafat, etc.) but had never gotten ’round to it. I stopped because this hawker had great deals on some in the right colouration, but they were of pretty thin material with bad stitching. I ended up getting one that was still very reasonable but was in the better of three piles. Not having a local political reason to, and not being an Arab meself, I can’t imagine actually wearing it — I would feel utterly foolish or pretentious — but it will be nice to hang up somewhere. Cheesy, no? Shut up, you! It’s better than collecting thimbles. *grin*

Jad and I stopped into a café he knew to rest and refuel. I had a couple of large mint teas while he puffed away on a nargileh. I have many times been offered a drag on one of these and it always seems subtly rude to refuse, but I’ve never smoked a thing in my life and I’m not about to start now. The teas here are amazing, with long strands of mint running the length of the glass and providing an incredibly rich taste. Jamil offered me tea like this at his place, too, though in a more traditional setting — on a silver tray, with tiny glasses — but the taste is what matters, right?

I sipped tea and we chatted about girls and music. He asked to see pictures of Amanda (my ex) and told me how beautiful she was — he kept trying to get me to show him more. *lol* We talked about how different things are in our respective love-lives, as in his culture men and women will not sleep together until married, period. He was unbelievably jealous, and didn’t want to stop talking about girls or sex — it was really funny. *grin* So I indulged his curiosity as best I could given our language gaps, and we moved on to music.

Having my iPod with me I tried to explain how common it was now to collect diverse forms of music. He found it odd that I have several Arabic artists on there when I understand so little. (Truth be told, -I- find it odd that I can pick up as much as I do from conversations, given how little time and effort has gone into it.) I noted that people around the world listen to and appreciate music from English-speaking nations without understanding the words, and said that listening to music in languages I am studying or wish to study helps to train the ear; you begin to pick out automatically those words you do know and it starts to build a context for them.

New friend at an old café.

When it came time to leave, Jad refused to let me pay for anything. He went in to talk to the proprietor, and then we headed out. He walked with me a little while longer, until we reached the main road. We had exchanged Facebook information at the café and he made me promise to look him up when I was next in town. (He had asked me to stay the night at his place then, but I was worried about Jamil and decided to go back and make new plans.) I then hopped into a service taxi and headed north.

Ah, that reminds me — I forgot to mention that I had spoken with Jamil about an hour earlier. He had found out that his leg was in much worse shape than he thought and he was supposed to stay off of it. He had gone back home to al-Aroub without me, so I had to get back on me own. This was, of course, great fun.

When I got back we discussed what to do. I did not want him to exert himself on my account, and was prepared to leave for Bethlehem immediately and return in August after he’d had time to recover. I wanted to do a lot of walking still, both in the camps and the villages surrounding, and at the nearby settlements, and he said that he would walk with me around the places he could (the Arab parts). Obviously this would not happen now, and I did not want to risk his feeling obligated to show hospitality and take me anywhere in his condition. Besides, he had a couple from Germany coming over that night and it would have been even harder for him to entertain us both, though he protested and thought I should be able to stay. He did convince me to stay a little longer and go with him to the neighbouring village of Beit Jala to meet with some friends of his. I am very glad I did.

He had his car this afternoon, so we drove to Beit Jala. There we stopped into Mousa and Becca’s house. Mousa is a Palestinian man and Becca is an American Reform Jew who moved to Israel originally as a committed Zionist. Obviously, things changed for her, and she later married Mousa; they have an adorable little girl. Both work for an organisation called The Center for Freedom and Justice, which works with rural Palestinian communities and helps them to resist the settlement enterprise through non-violent means. They plant trees (and have added 3,500 trees in the Saffa region of Beit Omar), operate a free library and youth centre, organise a women’s embroidery collective to raise money to support extended families, run summer camps and a preschool, and are trying to raise money for a greenhouse.

The group relies on a rotating cadre of international volunteers, many of them American; I met a few of these as they came back from an ‘action’ somewhere (I could not understand what it was they were doing that day). They teach strategies of non-violent direct action to youth from the Hebron and Bethlehem areas. I would love to chat at length about what they do, given how interested I once was in anarchist direct-action politics, but we’ll see if I have time. I’m intending to return to the area in a couple of weeks to explore the settlements down there, so perhaps it will work out. Either way, Becca’s story was fascinating — her odyssey from Jewish nationalism to resisting Israeli policies and marriage to a Palestinian — and I was happy to have met them.

Okay, that’s about all you get of that story. I made my way back to Bethlehem, hopped the bus to Jerusalem, passed the security check-point, had a long conversation on the bus with a young British archaeologist who had a day off and ran down to see Herodion, and made my way from Jerusalem central station to Rekhovot. I have a few other stories to put up, so that’s the end of this one. Time to go and find something more substantive to do than wonder what I’m doing! *lol* Have fun!

Nes Tsiyona, Photo Collections, And My Muse

I haven’t been writing here in the last few days, as you may have noticed. I’ve not been in the right frame of mind, I suppose, because the desire just hasn’t been there. Reckon I lost my Muse or something. Anyway, I’ll be back on track shortly. I need to put up the third Lior piece and my Hebron story, both of which there are notes for but I need that creative vibe to write out. Soon, my pretties, soon.

Yesterday I took a nice long walk north from Rekhovot and into the small city of Nes Tsiyona. This is one of the old communities in Israel, settled in something like 1883 during the First Aliyah, but it never grew into a bigger city. Until recent years it was decidedly rural, and it has retained a bit of that character with large fields open to view and some old farm houses scattered about.

There is a large technical-industrial park in the far south of it as it borders Rekhovot (the complex is shared, in fact) with gleaming tall buildings. But there is apparently a deal in place to keep residential buildings at eight stories of lower. A large new neighbourhood being built in the south-east of it seems to be all of about that height.

The core of the city looks like almost any other Israeli city, with shops along a central drag and side streets filled with housing blocks. There’s a larger proportion of small, single-family dwellings, though. It also has a large fountain, which you don’t see very often, and a petting zoo with ostriches and tortoises and lambs, etc. It’s really quite cute.

I have filled a lot of my bad mood with productive activities aside from day-tripping and writing, though. I’ve continued my Hebrew study, since this environment does seem to foster the drive there! And I managed to sort and upload my trip photos to date. There are albums for all of the cities I’ve been in this time so far. I’m trying not to duplicate shots that I’ve done in the previous couple trips, so my Tel Aviv album will not have pictures of the beach, for example.

I still need to finish uploading photos from those two trips, in fact, and I did a bit more of the 2008 one when I was caught up here (the rest of my Nazareth and West Jerusalem shots are now up). All that 2008 now lacks is the rest of the Haifa pics and the Druze towns, plus the big archaeological museum I photographed fully. As for 2010, I never did the last card, which means I haven’t gotten through my pictures from Mount of Olives and Gethsemane and a few others places in the Old City. Not much, and I might get it done during this trip if there’s another down-day.

To-morrow I’m meeting a fella to discuss subletting his place for August. It’s even cheaper than where I am now, and located pretty close to the central bus station in Tel Aviv, which should be convenient. I’ll talk about it later if I end up taking it.

Dinner’s done, so I ought to attend to that. Then, some more Hebrew and off to sleep. I’ll get the Hebron and Lior posts up soon, I promise… *lol* Good-night, World.

A Totally Boring Post

I feel totally uninspired and uncreative right now, so it’s odd that I’ve picked this moment to write here. But then, I haven’t had much inspiration for the past 24 hours, so I have to push it out regardless or it’s not gonna happen. *grin*

I’ve taken long walks yesterday and to-day, this one longer than the first. I’m using the cane less which is a hopeful sign. I struggled with bus schedules and saw the new Harry Potter film with Hebrew subtitles. I embarrassed myself with some of my feeble attempts in new situations, and with the fact that I keep forgetting things that I know when I need to use them. Practice, practice, practice, that’s what we’re here for.

I also used yesterday’s walk to snap a bunch of photos of some of the northern part of Rekhovot that I see a lot. Now I need to decide what to do with them! I was asked what things here look like, but I can’t seem to make choices about what photos are worth sharing. Maybe that’s part of the general creative exhaustion. Hrmph.

There were a few other things I had thought I should share but now I can’t think of anything and I’m bored of this so I’ll just hit ‘publish’ and do something else….

About This Site

I figured I should take a moment to say something about this Website for those fine individuals who are seeing it now because I am about to leave the country again! I will get around to the new ‘about this site’ page eventually, but for now this will do…

Why is this site called “Liam’s Laconic Lyricism”, you might be asking, The title is obviously nonsense, since a laconic person is seldom lyrical, and I am not often either! At this point is just sounds comfortable to me, but it used to mean more than it does. Many of my early Web posts were very brief, hence, laconic; and I used to post my poems on-line. The name may not fit the character of the site, or it may — I let the reader judge whether I say a lot in few words, and whether my prose has an appealing sound! *grin* But given my penchant for irony and the absurd, it still feels more than appropriate.

I have had a Website since the mid-90s and it went through many iterations, in the early years hosted by me on a home server, but since 2003 or 2004 hosted professionally. I suppose I should have said, I have had Websites; there were others, some of them defunct, others I will eventually link from this one. The main site I had for a long time was at morthaur.net, but it now redirects here. The content on that site was pulled in 2007 and I’ve been without a main Web presence aside from my travel journal (and facebook, heh) since then.

Recently I have taken that travel journal and moved it to this new database and new site, and I will be adding content to the database slowly from the previous iterations of my journal. I kept a Weblog off and on since 2001. Well, more times off than on, and many of those entries were pithy personal comments of only historical value now! Still, I feel like consolidating, so there you go; eventually, I will leave myself hanging out here, bad poems and all.

In addition to my journal, I intend to get to regular commentary on the news, and to posting book reviews that I like to write as mental exercises. It will therefore mix professional content with personal. I will be posting my CV here and information about my work. There is also a photo gallery up, though most of its folders are still empty as it is a slow process working through thousands of photos and formatting for the Web! It can be found at liammaheriv.com/gallery. More things will be added, I’m sure, but that should keep me busy for now. And if you enjoy my pieces on the news (like the recent Syria’s Folly, for instance) please say so in the comments field — I would love to hear from you!

Okay, that’s enough of an introduction for now. I will be leaving the country to-morrow and be gone until September. You an expect regular updates on my adventures here, just as in previous summers. Until next time…Your humble host, Liam.

Disclosure and Cleaning House

All right, I admit it: I’ve been cagey about my illness here. I’ll come out with it now because, well, who reads this thing anyhow? *wink* I have stayed sick pretty consistently, with close to two days that felt semi-normal, but even then my headaches and back-pain were annoying. It is bad again to-day, so I reckon I need to make an appointment to see my GP when I get home. I think this country is trying to kill me. First the profiling, then comes the poison… *LOL*

But you know, at this point it’s hard to care much. I am having my caffeine to-day, no matter what they say. More than a week without a latté is just too much to bear, *wink*. I also had pasta for lunch, so sue me. I did blow yesterday off and took it easy all day, and what did that get me: sicker than I have been in almost a week! Fuck this thing.

That lunch discussion went very well, I thought; I’ve made another interesting contact in country. And each of the people I’ve met has offered to put me in touch with other people, so my insecurity in this field aside, I am off to a good start!

I still have a hard time believing I am doing this study, but I’ve been encouraged by everyone who’s heard about it. It is such a world apart from European intellectual history. I mean, look at my prior track-record: eighteenth-century British politics; nineteenth-century German and British biology; twentieth-century French and German philosophy… That I would be writing about the rôle of religion in Israel is certainly not obvious! Yet it seems that with this topic–both in practical, empirical terms, and in the theoretical/analytical realm–I will be breaking new ground if I pull this off. Still a big ‘if’, but a good sign that I can at least pick something new and interesting to do!

I have decided, again after this afternoon’s long chat, that I really do need to set aside my being sick and hop the bus up to Modi’in Ilit. It was on my original short-list of places to see, but given that it’s a little further out I had been wavering, both on spending the money (a minor matter) and on being that far from home-base, given how crappy I feel. I just can’t miss the opportunity, though, to see the place for myself, as it is at the forefront of what I am thinking to do.

I am going to be sad to leave, but I have accomplished most of what I set out to do. I am energised and excited about my work for the coming year, and I have a long list of things to do. I have been getting in regular language lessons again, both on computer and on tape, and am working in reading exercises. If I can set up a good schedule when I get back, I should have no trouble getting my (for-pay) work done, keeping up the exercise, and running full-steam ahead on my studies. I came back from Israel very excited last time, too, and what did I do–I took my Ph.D. exams a few months later, without stopping my non-exam reading or working for a living. This last year has taken me off track (falling in love does that to everyone, it seems! *lol*), but in addition to everything else accomplished, this trip should have helped to right the ship.

I mean, aside from the studies, though, this trip has been good for me emotionally, too. I feel more calm and relaxed than I have in a good while. I have a good idea of the problems I need to work on, personally and professionally, and feel confident about tackling both. I still believe it’s possible to have it all: pursue love and life, and still stay on track with work, without losing your mind and your head in the process. I made too many excuses for myself in the past year, and I have been tearing into those excuses with gusto in the last month. So, realising that I fucked up a lot, and that I’m human and flawed and will keep fucking up, I need to be more conscious of some of the areas I have found lacking.

I have a busy year ahead of me if I want to get confident in Hebrew, master the secondary literature, send out grant applications, write and teach a new (and an old) course and TA another class, et ceteras, ad nauseam! I can whine about how hard that is and stay stressed out, or I can take my time and stress management deficiencies more seriously. Inshallah, I will take a stab at the latter… *lol*

Postscript: Foreign Corporations

Perhaps it takes a foreign company, because this seems anomalous from what I can tell… I am sitting again in the Coffee Bean location on Yafo (Jaffa) Street, and it has finally struck me that all four of the men who frequently work behind the counter are Arabs! Not just one or two, which I had guessed from the way they chatted up Arab girls who came in, but all four.

I wonder if that has any impact on the clientèle here: many of the people who stop in for coffee seem to be tourists, who could be counted on not to notice the difference anyhow. Yet I have heard plenty of Hebrew-speakers come in to order, including IDF soldiers. I don’t know that there’s anything to be made of this observation, but it did seem remarkable and that’s what blogs are for. *grin* Thanks for listening, world + dog!

Winding Down…

Okay, just five more days in country and I’ve surprisingly ambivalent! I want to stay because I get a lot out of being here, but being sick also took a lot out of me and I’ll actually be happy to be home. I have work to do there anyway that I’m not doing a terribly good job on here, heheh!

Yesterday I met with another academic from the Hebrew University, and coincidentally met another American graduate student studying religious Jews–though in his case the Zionist settlers, not the Haredim. I think the meeting went pretty well, given what I had hoped to get out of it.

After the meeting I took another long walk, this one north from the Givat Ram campus all the way to Kiryat Belz. I enjoyed my walk through this hassidic neighbourhood immensely, and was astonished at the size of the community centre they’ve built. A combination yeshiva, synagogue, and administrative building, it’s quite impressive from the outside and I can’t wait to explore the inside some time. But that will wait until I am much more confident in my Hebrew!

As often, I was snapping photos along the way, collecting images of daily life on the streets there. And yet again, I ran into a bit of israeli security paranoia. A policeman stopped me and demanded to see my photos, asking their purpose, etc. He had no English at all, which made the encounter interesting to say the least! I managed to explain that I was an artist (true, in a way! *lol*) and that I thought all of Israel was beautiful (definitely true). And I really do: from the buildings and people, to the rocks and the trees, to the stray cats and piles of garbage in the streets. *grin*

I ended up clocking just over six miles yesterday, which was fairly mild. All the same, I was well and worn out by the evening. To-day I have just been lazing around, doing some Hebrew study, writing some notes down, making plans, writing to people, etc. I am meeting with another contact to-morrow afternoon to discuss my project, which should be fun.

After that, I really don’t know. I had thought to take some day-trips out of the area and see places like Modi’in Ilit or Bnei Brak, but I find myself deeply reticent to spend the money for some reason. I know it’s expensive to get here and I don’t do it very often, but this trip already cost more than I wanted it to, and I have to keep my eye on the coming year, too. I have been worried about this for some time, and it is really sinking in how expensive the next few years could be. I’ve consequently been chewing on various ways to cut costs when I get home. I fear some of the changes may be fairly drastic…

Post-Illness Catch-Up

Okay, it’s been a few days. I have a good excuse, though! Not long after the last post, as I left the coffee shop and headed back towards the hotel, I realised that I was too weak to make it. I was dizzy, faint, and literally staggering. “Something’s not right!”, thought I! So I took the advice of some kind-hearted friends and decided to seek medical attention.

I had, on a couple of previous days, passed by a hospital near Mea She’arim, so I combined recovery with research and headed that way! The visit was expensive as all hell for what I got, and I was there until midnight, but it turns out to have been quite valuable. As it happens, I was severely dehydrated, to the point of delirium. I took several IV bags of fluid, but was otherwise none too worse for wear. They told me I had a viral infection, but they tend not to prescribe drugs as a first order (in contrast to American, or wealthy-world hospitals; most of the patrons were poor Arabs, as it happened). So in the end I was free to stumble, exhausted and a bit hungry, back towards my hotel–about an hour’s walk. *grin*

To-day was my first real walk since visiting the hospital. I finally got a good night’s sleep when they fixed the air conditioner in my room. The combination of ear plugs and cool air did wonders to block out the misery of living in this neighbourhood! *lol* I woke up feeling more refreshed and peaceful than I had in more than two weeks. So after screwing off for most of the morning, I set out to climb a mountain…

Specifically, I went east down the Via Dolorosa to the Lion’s Gate and out into East Jerusalem. Just outside the walls of the city on that side is a Muslim cemetery (Yusifiya, I think it’s called), which was cleverly placed up against the (sealed-up) Golden Gate. According to Jewish tradition, haMoshiach (the messiah) will ride into the city and up to the Temple Mount through that gate. But since the priesthood–and the messiah, presumably–cannot come in contact with death, placing a cemetery in the way neatly prevents the messiah from entering! Sultan Suleiman was presumably hedging his bets.

From there I descended into the Kidron Valley all the way to the floor, and explored the monumental tombs in the side of the Mount of Olives. This was good fun, as–in typical Israeli fashion–there was nothing to prevent me from climbing all over them and exploring the insides and standing on rock ledges. Then, I climbed said mount in order to visit Mary’s birthplace and the ancient Jewish cemetery. The churches I saw were kinda nifty, but the Garden of Gethsemane was disappointingly small. Still, to stand and face olive trees as old as Jesus was a bit humbling. You’ve never seen a tree trunk as gnarled and twisted as these ancient beasts!

By curious coincidence, I ended the day’s explorations in a cemetery, just as I did the last walk (that one in Sanhedria). The Mount of Olives was chaotic and filthy–a bizarre blending of the ancient and the brand new. In short, it was perfectly Israeli. Whilst in there I asked a cute couple to take a photo of me (since my pop and my girl have been telling me that I should care about such things!). Interestingly, she was Czech and he was Mexican, neither of them looked remotely Jewish, and they were speaking a mix of Hebrew and English. Very weird… but also perfectly Israeli.

A Mixed Bag

This has to be one of the most polyglot places on earth! First of all, there are six alphabets in common use by residents: Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, and Ge’ez. Think about that for a second–I frequently see storefronts with signs in four scripts! On the streets and in the shops you’ll hear residents speaking Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, Armenian, Yiddish, Amharic, Tagalog, and I’m sure many others I have not heard. As for the tourists, I have picked up conversations in German, Spanish, French, Polish, Italian, Danish, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Korean, and probably others I have not recognized.

What there is not so very much of is food that Liam can eat! It’s a hard place to be a fussy vegetarian. There aren’t even the fast food places that you see in some other Israeli cities. Everywhere you turn there is hummus, falafel, bread loaves, pickled vegetables, ice cream, bagels, coffee, and various meats–and not much else! No rice, no green salads, no soups, no Italian, no Mexican… in short, almost no Liam-food! Needless to say, I am not eating very well.

But whether the two are connected or not, it’s not been a huge problem because I have very little appetite and have been sick a lot the past few days. Something here has not agreed with me. Last night I hardly slept a wink, a combination of construction noises, loud kids, and feeling sick as a dog. So to-day I feel predictably weak and listless. *grumble* I am having a great time intellectually, but my body is saying “take me home NOW!”

As far as the brain-work goes, things are proceeding tolerably well. I had my first meeting to-day with an Israeli academic, and that seemed to come off smoothly enough. He gave me a lot of great leads for works to read and people to contact, and a lot of excellent advice about working in Israel. He put my mind much more at ease vis-à-vis actually spending time here talking to the Haredim and working with Israeli resources. Not that the project seems any easier: far, far from it! But I am learning what I need to do, and that’s an excellent step in itself.

I did some walking to-day again after the meeting, heading over to the Zionist Central Archives and attempting to speak with the curator of the photo collection. And from there I walked up to Jaffa Street at its northern end and walked down towards the part I already know. On the way I slipped into a few markets, including the large shopping spread on Ben Yehuda Street where I finally had lunch. Right now I am sipping a drink at a coffee house, and when it’s done and the camera has finished dumping the day’s photos, I’m probably going to stumble back to the Old City and try to get to sleep early. Maybe if I can sleep early enough in spite of the light & heat, I’ll be able to sleep through the obnoxious construction noise…

In spite of it all, though, this is shaping up to be a great trip. Sure, I’m sick as hell, and tired, and it’s damned hot, and I can’t get good food; I miss my animals, my girl, and my family. But I am learning a lot, collecting photos (many of them research, as I’m studying the social construction of space), meeting people and having interesting conversations, getting a lot of exercise, studying Hebrew through my tapes and practising it everywhere, picking up more Arabic incidentally, enjoying the people-watching, and getting in a tolerable amount of reading. I even picked up a couple of Hebrew books to study with, and one that’s important to my research and not being translated. I am physically and emotionally exhausted, but in many ways I am revved up and enjoying myself immensely.

Are We Even Surprised?

After two months of almost daily posts in this journal, you might think I’d finally gotten the habit firmed up, right? Wrong! I’m home not yet two weeks and this is only the second time I’ve thought to pop on here and make an update. Not that I’m short of things I’d love to write about; I just can’t ever seem to get in the habit of writing things down when I think of them. *grumble*

I got home to find my house had been completely thrashed. There’s a long story there involving a certain individual of, shall we say, imperfect sanity, but I shan’t write about such things. Insert awful rumours here.

I’m almost finished sorting out my photo from the trip to Israel, but still need to post those from the last two weeks, and all of the ones from Nazareth and Haifa. Give me another week and I’ll be done with it. All told, it’s a helluva cool record of the trip, with more’n 5,000 photos selected from the over 20,000 taken. Aren’t digital cameras fantastic?! Long gone are the days when you have to choose targets with only 26 exposures per roll, and knowing how expensive it will be to develop your collection. For most people I expect it’s not such a big deal, since they tend only to want pictures of themselves and their friends. But for someone who wants to look over the architecture and the background details of everything he comes across, it’s a gift from the gods.

It’s been almost two weeks and I’m still not over the shock of this Sarah Palin chick getting onto the Republican ticket. It seems that the McCain camp only cares about having someone that’s youthful, dynamic, and might be able to steal the Clinton-feminist vote. But that mantra of “experience” that McCain was thumping Obama with for the past few months, hell, I guess that was just a load of horseshit, eh? I mean, here’s a 72 year old man, who’ll be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency, and whose running mate is therefore of unusual importance. So if the experience of a commander-in-chief is of such importance, why has he chosen the most under-qualified candidate in modern history?

And not only does Palin have almost no experience that matters, she’s a typically opportunistic politician of the old school, changing her positions to suit the audience and dealing in influence and money. I have to wonder just how well McCain examined the background of the woman he’d only met for 15 minutes before the day he offered her the job… And given all of that, I have to womder at the man’s judgement (or lack thereof). At least Reagan got through his first term before his mind began to fail!

Y’know, given the incredible advantages the Democrats had starting the election cycle, and the incredible blunders of the McCain team throughout this campaign, if the Republicans manage to hold the presidency I think my last hopes for this country’s political future will have been squashed. If all it takes is a lot of flag-waving bullshit to win the White House, I ought to think seriously about emigrating… *smirk* It makes you wonder, I mean, is change of any sort even possible? Obama’s platform is not exactly radical. On the European political map he’s not even on the left! Like William Shirer opined all those years ago, maybe this great country of ours will manage to elect a fascist government one day…