Lovely Getaway

Ok, I think there has been enough distance between my intestines and our little overnighter for me to blog about it without invoking any bad physical memories...

But our little trip up north was just wonderful (fever and sickness aside). We went up to Zippori where our initial intention was to go hiking and then get a massage. We decided to nix the hiking when I clocked in at 101 degrees, but the pampering seemed like a no brainer. It was pretty nice. There was as private jacuzzi and sauna (which Max kept telling me they use in Asia to 'get the flu out' as he put it) followed by a lovely couples massage, through which I shivered the entire time, and then we were fed a really lovely spread for lunch. I love meals where there are 40 plates of little things to try and this was the 40 plate meal of my dreams, but I was too afraid to indulge. Max tells me it was wonderful.

After our day at the spa we checked into a very quaint, very tucked little cottage where I took some drugs and went promptly to sleep. It really was a shame because the cottage was LOVELY. In the morning they left us a little basket of freshly baked bread, freshly churned butter, freshly milked goat's yogurt and cheese and various fruit and salad delectables. 13 hours of sleep had done me good and I was able to enjoy everything save the goat's yogurt...I'm not that brave yet.

(view from our little porch)
On our way back home we stopped at a little artist's village called Zichron Ya'cov where I had made an appointment with some paper making friend's of my bookbinding teacher. I kept it together as best I could and in a few hours we had made our own paper! Fun was had by all and now I have paper that we made with our own two hands.
(The AMAZING Tut Neyar paper mill and store)

Nerd Alert: The Making of Paper
If you have continued past this point I can take no blame for you falling asleep and drooling on the keyboard.   I thought I'd tell a little about making paper!  As our teacher explained, paper making is basically separating the fibers of natural things (trees) or cotton and putting them back together in a different order.  No glues.

He had already stripped the bark off of a Mulberry Tree and soaked it in a water/chemical solution before we got there.  We each took a glob of boiled tree fibers and hit our respective globs with mallets until the fibers were good and separated.  Then we put the fibers in a big vat of water, dipped our screens in, and when we pulled them out of the water we had...soggy paper. Max was really taken with the process (as was I) and whispered to me at one point "It's like a baptism... or a birth".  It was kind of intense.

After the paper is formed, then laid out on felt and pressed to eliminate any excess water, it is slapped onto large boards and left to dry in the sun.

Here are pictures of a real professional.


Teaching English Makes Friends

That's not why I started teaching English, but it has certainly been a wonderful side note to my teaching experience. I have made dear friends with some of my students AND people in the community. Just today Max and I took the bus into Beit Hanina to drop off my time sheet and we stopped at the little market I frequent to pick up a little package of my favorite little two pack of cookies that are only sold in East Jerusalem.

"What do you do here? Do you go to school, or teach?" asked the white haired man from behind the counter in almost perfectly accented English. I stop by his shop about 3 times a week to buy said cookies and we have become friends.

"Oh, I teach English just down the street." I told him. He then went on to tell me that he owned (?) the school across the street and was looking for teachers for the summer and the fall. I was sad to have to tell him that we are leaving in June and I wouldn't be able to help him, but he gave me his card and if we ever come back I just might give him a call. I'm glad that I have had the opportunity to teach English for what it has brought to me here, but also the opportunities it will provide for me in the future. ...in Lybia, or Egypt, or Saudi Arabia...

I gave a final to my level 6 students last week and a took a few pictures. Behold, my lovely class:

A few people declined to be photographed, and I forgot my camera when I gave the final to my other class - but you get the idea.

ALSO thanks to all of you sweet souls who wished me a fast recovery. I'm almost completely back on the wagon. I think it was a little foodstuffs gone wrong. Thanks!


Check List

Road trip to Zippori and subsequent overnight in secluded cabin in lush northern Israel - check

All day pampering for mere shekels at a country spa - check

Paper Workshop where we made paper from trees - check

Paper Purchasing - of course, check

101 degree temperature, vomit, and trips to the toilet in 20 minute increments for 4 days - check

I'm going back to bed for now.  Pictures and details to follow at an undetermined point in the future.


All These Things That I've Done

That's shout out to Beezer, and any other Killers fans out there.

This week Max's uncle has been in town and boy, have we been busy!  It's so great to have someone look at your city with new eyes so that you can wipe the tarnish away from your own.  We have seen oodles of things and have learned to appreciate Jerusalem even more than before.  The following list is an attempt to record all of the things we will have done and seen together after he leaves on Monday morning:

Wandered through the old city
Western Wall
Church of the Redeemer
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Russian Orthodox Alexander Hospice
Walked from Mount Scopus across to the Mount of Olives and down to the Kidron Valley
Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension
Listened to the most beautiful singing by Russian Orthodox women at the chapel of the Ascension
Mosque of the Ascension
The Church of Paternoster
The Cemeteries of the Mount of Olives
Ate a bag lunch at the Dominus Flevit Chapel
Russian Church of St. Mary Magdeline
Garden of Gethsemene
Mary's Grotto
Dormition Abby (Church)
Hall of the Last Supper
King David's Tomb
The City of David and its environs
Organ Concert at the BYU Jerusalem Center
Khalidi Library
Via Dolorosa
Kotel Tunnels
Animal Kingdom Felafel Joint (delicious, but a bit unsanitary to say the least - not really called animal kingdom...but you get the idea)
Syriac Orthodox Church
Hurva Synagogue
Delicious Delicious, Not so Kosher, Focaccia Bar (I had the roast beef salad, thank you for asking)
Dead Sea
Haram esh-Shariff/Temple Mount
Shaban's Infamous Shop

Pfew.  Needless to say, we are beat.  Max and I are actually taking a little trip up north after we drop Dan off at the airport.  We plan to eat fish in Acco (an old crusader port town), look at, and let's be honest, buy paper at a hippy dippy paper mill in Ya'cov Zirchon, and get massages after a long day's hike through Zippori National Park.  


Wares of the Old City


Spring Has Sprung...and It's Gross

We have a visitor coming tomorrow who will stay with us for a week.  We are very excited about this and we have been planning for weeks.

This morning, before I was fully awake, I made a trip into the bathroom.  As I was doing what people do in bathrooms my vision slowly came into focus (I'm a really heavy sleeper and it takes me some time in the morning to regain my human form) I noticed that the floor was moving.  Ants.  Big 'uns.  They were all over the bathroom floor and as I followed their trail down the hallway and into the kitchen I discovered that the kitchen floor was moving too. 

I was ooked beyond all ookiness and I sqealed and yelped until Max woke up and raced into the kitchen.  Then my McMan of a husband, still in his nightly attire, chased all of the ants around with a role of tape to squash and pick up their bodies in one swift motion.  It took maybe 30 minutes.

When Max was done and the kitchen fully sanitized we each had a piece of toast for breakfast.  When I handed Max his piece he looked up at me and said "Wanna toast our toast?"  And we bumped our little squares together.  It seemed like the most logical thing in the world and I only asked him why he proposed such a thing at dinner. "I don't know, I  had just defeated the ant kingdom and I wanted to celebrate."

If Max's Uncle wants a real taste of the Middle East, Ants and all, then he will most certainly get it this week!


Paper, Paper, Everywhere and Everything is Lovely!

A few weeks ago my bookbinding teacher, who is an amazing artist of many stripes and shapes, did a paper marbling demonstration at his synagogue.  Saying it was very cool is a gigantic understatement.  I'm pretty much obsessed with paper marbling now and already have plans to add a paper marbling bath to my home studio (which only exists in my mind at this point).  In case you were wondering about paper marbling, enjoy the following:

A Little Bit of History: 
The beginnings of paper marbling come from Turkish/Islamic origins.  The Turks were really the masters and developed the process and some of the tools used today.  Marbling was developing in parts of India and Persia during the 17th-19th centuries as well, though Europe has perhaps the most commonly known association with paper marbling as they have been doing it since the 17th century.

Evidently, the first American money had marbling on it!  Thank you Benjamin Franklin. I haven't independently confirmed this, so if anyone knows anything about it I would love to learn. 

The Wikipedia page has some good info and some great examples. 

A Little Bit of Process:
You take a large bath of a mixture of things - water &special chemicals - and then you drip special paint mixed with oxgall (just what it sounds like - gall of an ox) into the mixture.

The paint stays on the surface and depending on a few factors (how much oxgall, the thickness of the paint, the consistency of the water/chemical solution) it will spread out.

Once the paint is applied, you take either a single needle looking tool, or a large rake tool that extends the width/length of the bath and rake patterns into the wet paint.  This was my favorite part and each time my teacher would rake the paint a new direction there were oooohhhs and aaahhhhs at the result.

Then you lay the paper carefully down on top of the paint, making sure there are no air bubbles, and after a few seconds you pull it away from the bath.  The paper has been treated with alum so the paint bonds to the paper immediately.  You rinse off any residue on the paper and let the awesomeness dry.
I am so obsessed I made a cheesecake this week and tried to marble the top of it with chocolate batter. The marbling turned out fantastic...the cheesecake, on the other hand, was not so fantastic.  

I bought a few marbled papers from a local artist at the demonstration and couldn't wait to make a wee little book with it.  I am making a sister book to send to Rick Steves in thanks for spreading his travel gospel.  Is that too stalker-ish? 


On the Bus: The Car Edition

I ride buses a lot. Some are cold and sterile, while others are sticky and smell of body. But sometimes I am lucky and I get rides from people who own cars: saints.

Yesterday I was waiting for a bus on French Hill in front what I’m convinced is the most poorly placed bus stop in all of Israel when I was passed up by 3 Arab buses in a row. Depending on how my “street confidence” is on a given day, this kind of event will either roll right off my back or convince me that I’m a silly girl from Utah who should just stay at home instead of trying to catch crowded buses headed into areas on the State Department warning list. But yesterday I was feelin’ good. I had just come off of a successful venture in and out of Bethlehem with a few women from the branch and I was rocking the “Shukran” like I knew what it meant (and I do, but that’s about it).

When third bus driver told me he wouldn’t drop me off in Beit Hanina and pulled away, the gears grinding and sticking as he merged into uphill traffic, I heard my name being called from behind me. Max had already dropped me off at the bus stop and headed back home so it couldn’t have been him. But the voice was definitely male, and as I listened again I realized it was definitely that of an Arabic speaker. I saw an arm stuck out of a window a few feet up the hill and when I approached the car (understandably hesitant) I saw Radwan, the night “secretary” at my work perched in the driver’s seat with a cigarette between his fingers.

“Where you going, I’ll give you ride” He offered.

“…um” think fast Brooke “…um…I’m going to work.” Is this ok? “…A ride would me nice. Thank you.” Here goes

It might sound strange to balk at a ride from a co-worker, but I’m still trying to feel out the “acceptable” and “non-acceptable” behavior for a lone woman in public, and a Western Woman to boot. It’s not that I doubted his motives (he’s very nice at work while he puffs away in front of the “No Smoking” sign that he himself printed and put on the wall) but that I was concerned with how it would look for me to be cruising through East Jerusalem with a local Palestinian male about my age.

As we approached our work I had a sudden fear that my students would see me, particularly the conservative ones, and I would lose all credibility because of my loose behavior. And then I felt like I was being ungrateful for this free ride on a hot day. Living in Arab society would make me insane, I’m afraid. (More on that later – inspired by my discussion in class the other day about how “women can never be forgiven”) But I got to work on time and all was well. When you are somewhere foreign the smallest things really speak to your perceived values of the society.

The other act of vehicular kindness has come from Hakum, of the beloved orange coat fame. She has been giving me a ride home from class twice a week and I’ve come to really look forward to these times. Not only do I save 9 shekels a week, but I feel like I can ask the genuine questions I have about Islam and Palestinians and get thoughtful, personal answers. She usually listens to recitations of the Koran in her car and even though she turns it down when I get in so that we can talk, I can always hear its faint melody under the honking and screeching of the streets. It’s nice.

A few nights ago she told me that she only started wearing the hijab a few years ago and when I asked her why, she said that she just felt like she needed to. She wanted to be closer to God and show him that she wanted to follow him better. What could be nicer? One time we were talking about the outward symbols of religiousness (modestly in particular) and how it’s good, but it doesn’t matter if you are a bad person inside and do bad things. At one point she said something to the effect of “but Islam is not the end.”

So I leaned in closer to make sure I understood exactly what she was saying in her “level 6” English. She went on to say that what is most important is our relationship with God and the goodness in our souls, the connection being that Islam is how you get closer to God and cultivate goodness of the soul. Islam literally means “submission” and a Muslim is one who has submitted to God. It’s been such a treasure to have these kinds of discussions instead of just taking Karen Armstrong’s word for it. (Whose word I love, by the by. You should read,well, anything by her)

**I've just deleted a comment from this post and for all ye who tread the treacherous comment waters hear this:  I reserve the right to delete anything that does not foster thoughtful, compassionate discussion or that furthers personal agendas built on things I consider uncivil, unkind, unchristian, or stupid.  Furthermore, I abhor and reserve the right to delete anything that takes the worst expression of a religion and uses it as an excuse for hatred and intolerance.  If you have a problem with that, write your own blogs, people.**


Tu Bishvat (updated with video!)

Almost a month ago Israel celebrated Tu Bishvat - a spring celebration for the "New Year of Trees". Wikipedia, take it away:

"Tu Bishvat is one of four "New Years" mentioned in the Mishnah. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat."

It is also very common for members of the society to get together and plant trees in areas that don't have a lot of vegetation or that lack the means to plant their own trees and gardens. This year Max's choir was asked to sing at such a tree planting event and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Baraket, was the guest of honor. I sat right behind him but was too chicken to ask to shake his hand.

Here is the mayor...and here are his awesome shoes. (The guy on the left without the kippa)

Here is a video of Max's choir singing one of their songs. I'm not sure why I just stopped recording at the end, but be prepared for an abrupt stop.