April 01, 2006

Can you say 'it's only water' if you're in the Middle East?

I arrived in Tel Aviv, at 11pm, and around midnight, my taxi driver dropped me at the Dan hotel, instead of the Dan Peninsula as I'd asked. The man at reception was very sweet. It was midnight, and he couldn't find my reservation, and started looking for alternatives. Eventually he wanted to know again where my reservation was supposed to be and I told him the Dan Peninsula. We figured out the problem; he called a cab. I asked for some water. And he said, "For you, I'm going to bring you two glasses." After drinking them, I said, "Thank you so much." He said, "It's just water." I replied, "Can you say 'it's just water' if you're in the Middle East?" He smiled.

Israel is really an intense place. I didn't consciously think about it as an experience for travel or a country when I bought my ticket. Afterward, I was going to cancel up to the last minute because of my work, but everyone at home said to go anyway, that we were at a stage beyond where I was needed for a few days, and I should just do it. So I left them.. and it was only about 5 days away, before I'm back in the US and doing my regular work again. It's kind of hard to turn down a trip to Israel that once you arrive is all arranged.

It's a beautiful place. The road to Jerusalem is like Tuscany. The Sea of Galili (which is really a lake) and the surrounding green hills, wildflowers and farms are like California, (except for the guns a few people sport). I'm at Kinnernet, a camp conference made by Yossi Vardi, talking with people about their projects, my work, what's going on in the world of tech, and playing with robots and gadgets. It's held at a place on the edge of the Lake. There is snow on the Golan Mountains, to the north which I can see across the Lake through the window of my room. Jordan is over the next hill.

It's also been an opportunity to look up my relatives, some of whom disappeared in WWII but some of whom are alive and living in Slovenia. I can't find the main person I wanted to, but I did find some people in Jerusalem I can email later to keep researching. Being here and seeing the Holocaust museum was not depressing, as my hosts suggested it might be. Instead, I felt like I was more connected to my family and had a better understanding of what they experienced. That has been the most changing feeling I've had here.

The food in Israel is amazing. I wasn't expecting the croissants to be so good. Like Paris. Or the artisan cheeses and salads to be so subtle and delicious.

People have made art projects and are playing music, a woman who designs unusual kites is flying them in a field, and there are loads of interesting 'projects' much like Burningman without the dust and naked people around. It's a laid back environment, and maybe a much needed rest after working around the clock for months.

At one point, someone told me about how the evening news reports nighly on the water-height in the Lake of Galili. The water level doesn't look low at all, but it's a big concern. People talk about the snow melting on the Golan mountains, and we splashed water in the Jordan River. These were mythical places in my mind, coming from the US. Somehow the myths ended up there, through a combination of media and some religious references, but seeing these places and hearing people speak so matter of factly about them was dissonance inside me. Snow doesn't melt in a mythical place. I was listening, but also feeling the myths unravel.

Posted by Mary Hodder at April 1, 2006 11:50 PM | TrackBack

Mary, nice to meet you at the Marker Conference in Tel Aviv. I did a short post about you on my blog and have a photo of your very cool Mac.


Posted by: Alan Weinkrantz at April 2, 2006 11:04 PM

This post was awesome. I have heard this about Isreal several times, and this further instills in my that I definitely want to get there before I die. Traveling overseas is such an eye opening experience. I had that same feeling when I went to Venice-just the realization that these things that you see in pictures are so real! The smells and people, and energy that pictures lose. Thanks for the post!

Posted by: Navy nanny at April 9, 2006 02:23 PM