Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #200 – BBQs, bonfires, and family visits. the Omer in Israel.

A thick cloud of bar-b-q smoke hung low over Jerusalem Tuesday morning when I picked up my parents for what has become their annual ‘Yom Hatzmaut through Lag B’Omer’ visit. As they left this past Sunday night, the smoke was just clearing from a night of bon-firing that, in my totally-prude-about-fire opinion, bordered on the obscene.

To give you a flavor, in Brooklyn we used to drive around Mill Basin to see the over-the-top Christmas decorations – each house out-doing the next. When I picked up Barbara from her Lag B’Omer bonfire (yes, it is normal for children to have their own bonfire), we drove around Efrat looking at one bonfire bigger and higher than the next, some of them as tall as those Mill Basin houses.

As always, the visit was fun but too short. This time we had the added bonus of my brother and sister in law joining us so that it became a holy land family reunion. Complete with camel rides, Dead Sea floating, old city touring and lots of (you guessed it) Israeli breakfasting.

Cultural differences that I’ve gotten so used to I hardly notice were brought back to my awareness as my brother and his wife had the oh-so-familiar experience of wanting to buy something and the clerk refusing to sell it to them.
Mark: We like this shirt for Sarah.
Clerk: It is too big.
Sarah: Um, I like it.
Mark: Me too. I like it on her.
Clerk, decisively: No. It is too big.
Shirt is taken away.

Also I was reminded of the lack of formal definitions in this country. For example, wheelchair accessible.
Bob: I’m taking your parents to Gavna for lunch.
Me: But what about all those stairs?
Bob: I called. The guy said there’s a way to get a wheelchair to the upstairs.
Me: Wow. I had no idea Gavna was wheelchair accessible!
Me: How was Gavna?
Bob: Great!
Me: How did you get to the upstairs area?
Bob: We went up the stairs.
Me: But what about the wheelchair?
Bob: Yeah. The guy came to help carry the wheelchair up the staircase.

And then there’s the formidable sign prohibiting entry to everyone except for authorized vehicles. What exactly is an authorized vehicle? What constitutes authorization? Is there authorization after the fact?

Anyone who has been to the Kotel (Western Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem has either been dropped off at the exact entrance by a taxi or tour bus or walked through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City. Either way, you cannot help but notice the cars mysteriously parked right there at the Kotel entrance. How did they get there? Who authorized them to park there? In that ultimate dream parking lot.

I wanted to drive to the entrance of the Kotel. It’s been a while and I sort of forgot how. I drove toward Zion Gate. When faced with huge DO NOT ENTER signs, I realized that the route I wanted to take was one way. The wrong way. I pulled into the Zion Gate parking lot to recalculate my route. I asked a tour bus driver what to do.
I have my dad with a wheelchair and I want to drop him off at the Kotel entrance. How should I go?
You should drive in through Jaffa Gate.
Drive through the Old City?
It’s allowed?
NO! It is prohibited!
But it’s the best way to go. It’s how I would go.

And so we made our way to Jaffa Gate. Past signs in Hebrew and in English reading:
Entry for Authorized Vehicles ONLY
I figured I could get some ad-hoc authorization from whomever would dare stop me. I then drove in with so much confidence, no one would dare stop me.

We wound through the Old City on the road built in 1898 for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser, of course, traveling by horse back, and not by Mitsubishi Grandis. We all sucked in our breath. As if that would make our car thinner.

And sure as can be, we arrived, without incident, at the Kotel entrance. The car in front of me was involved in a shouting match with one of the police officers guarding the entrance.
Meleh! Ein macomb! (Full! No room!)
He wasn’t buying it and he wasn’t budging.
Ein! Ein macomb! (None! No room!)
I was holding up a line of (authorized) taxis who were starting to beep but I could go no where because of this guy. I was sure the police would be annoyed and frazzled by the time they got to me but no, the same police officer came to my window with a very patient, “ma?” (what?)
I started to explain.
My father cannot walk so well to the Kotel and so we have a wheelchair-
I was confused. I had listened to this same officer shouting ‘no room!’ for about five minutes.
Should I drop him off or park?
He motioned me to go around the car of the guy in front of me. He was still not budging.
And so it was. We were authorized.

* the fish pond is well on its way to full rehabilitation. picture of our new fish (and the 3 survivors from the original crew) to follow.
* paper towels are back in town
* my transplanted (from the drain) lentil plant is thriving in a genie bottle in my garden

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #199 - the one before 200

Things I never knew

Rosie would fail a simple zoo trip in English.
Rosie and Bob saw a beautiful colorful bird outside my window this past Shabbat.
Look, Aba! A tookie!
Um, Rosie, what’s a tookie?
That bird, Aba! It’s a tookie.
Do you know what a tookie is called in English, Rosie?
It’s a parrot.
A carrot?
Look, Aba! A carrot!

Living here matters. But not in that lofty spiritual way.
Ani gara po b’aretz! (I live here, in the land).
I never said that when booking a Florida hotel for Winter Break. What a weird reaction I would have gotten! But I sure did say it today when booking a Dead Sea hotel. I saw those internet rates in dollars. Ouch! Yes, it seems Israeli’s get different rates on Israeli hotel rooms than Americans. Better ones. But then they pay the VAT tax so maybe it’s a wash. Maybe. But can you imagine hotels in Manhattan charging different rates for Americans vs. foreign tourists?

Medicine is medicine. And as such, it is never full price.
The big bottle of Advil costs 85 shekels. I was ready to pay. They asked for my cartis.
My Kupat Cholim card.
Um, okay.
Suddenly the price was 40 shekels. Half-priced Advil – an unexpected perk of socialized medicine.

They say Gd protects children and stupid people. Where do fish fit in?
When I called the electrician the first time, Bob was shouting in the background.
Tell him it’s a matter of life and death.
Of course he was referring to the fish, dying at an alarming rate (we went from 10 to 3) in our fishpond, now overgrown with algae since our pump stopped pumping, due to some unidentified electrical problem. Hence the call to the electrician.
I said no such thing and just asked when he’d be coming.
Tomorrow, ma’am.
He did not show up tomorrow and so then Bob called himself.
It’s a matter of life and death.
The electrician was here the same afternoon.
He apologized to me for not coming right away.
Huh? Oh, because the husband called you with the life and death thing you thought the wife was freaking out about some electrical problem. Of course! Not!
No, no, it’s Bob’s fish. They are dying. It’s real life and death. Not sarcastic life and death!
Relief, mixed with panic. The fish!
A plan was formulated. That was 5 days ago.
I was not involved in the plan but I think Bob needs to go the fish farm store to replace the pump before the electrician can work his electrical magic. In any case, the broken pump is still sitting on the side of the algae-ridden fish pond. Bob is close to 6000 miles away. I peek in on the remaining three fish each day wondering if they know their redemption, while on hold, is at hand. They are oblivious. And alive.

I thought paper towels were among the random household supplies that could appear to be seasonal (like 409, trash bags, & toilet wipes). Now I know the truth (they really ARE).
I went to the makolet yesterday with a short list which included paper towels. The makolet had none. I asked.
Literally, 'they finished on us'.
I went back today. Still no paper towels. I asked again.
This time, a woman who seemed really interested in helping me.
Haser kol ha’aretz. All the land is missing them.
Kol ha’aretz? All the land?
With a totally straight face she answered me.
Yes. After the Passover holiday, you know…
Wow. All that Passover cleaning takes its toll. The run on paper towels really is a nation-wide seasonal phenomenon.