Monday, December 25, 2006

(not celebrating) Christmas in Jerusalem

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like Christmas here. It's work as usual. Nothing is closed, except for the US consulate (and other consulates of course) and the Filipino caregivers have their day off today.

Last night two Breslov Hassidim, with long earlocks, came to my door to ask if I want to buy this ridiculously gigantic book of Psalms. I have Psalms thank-you, but I opted for their charity box. They took out their notebook to jot down my address and all that. It was cold outside so I invited them in. They seemed happy to get out of the cold. The men hardly looked at me (some ultra-Orthodox men do not look directly at women) even though I was modestly dressed but were friendly none-the-less and were grateful for an opportunity to say a blessing over the glass of water I gave them and blessed me and thanked me for my hospitality.

"Funny those guys coming over Christmas eve" said Hubby.

"Huh? You even think they KNOW it's Christmas Eve?" I answered - they may not have a clue being that they probably don't read the papers and don't watch tv.

"They're probably from the Tax department snooping around"

I rolled my eyes. I blame the Holy Ganga for Hubby's paranoia.

"Yeah, looks like we'll get a reduction on our taxes then won't we" I retorted. What's on display at our house, other than torn sofas, broken dining room chairs and a color tv that displays only a blue and red picture.

I added to the fun. "Maybe they're the Three Wise Men, only one is missing, so only Two Wise Men showed up at our home."

Today at our staff lunch, the president wanted to hear from us immigrants how we saw Christmas once-upon-a-time. I told her about one of my fondest memories of my two Catholic friends who, years ago, fought with their respective families and had nowhere to go for Christmas dinner. Seeing their distress, I ended up making their festive meal, turkey with all the trimmings. Despite the lack of Christmas tree and decorations in my house, I think we had a damn good holiday meal together. And it was pretty funny for them to be hosted by their Jewish friend and it put us all back in a good mood. The next memory was of my Sicilian friend's family's dinner where we pigged out from 4:30 pm until 10:30 at night, while her grandmother gave me a verbal thrashing for not going to Church, while the rest of the family chuckled and tried to tell her that I was Jewish and that's a good reason not to go to church.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tel Aviv and Borat, the Movie

Ahhh. Nothing like a Sunday off. Reminds me of the Old Country. Today my work gave me off for Chanukah vacation - not all 8 days but 1 measly day. Better than no days at all though.

My daughter had to take her university/college entrance exam that morning. This exam has nothing to do with how intelligent you are because she is very intelligent and got the highest marks in her high school, but she feels like a complete idiot after studying for 3 months for this exam. English was easy, she told me but math and Hebrew were difficult for her. I spoke to some people who said these exams just show how quickly and accurately you can do these tests under pressure. And you learn how to solve mathematical problems quickly. Big friggin' deal. She lives in my house. She can definitely work/learn well under pressure. Who are they to judge.

But never mind the results. I celebrated the end of her tedious studying day and night and we went off to Tel Aviv to look at the sunset

and to go further north to Ramat Hasharon to Cinema City, a huge complex of 21 or so movie theaters. I hadn't been to Tel Aviv in 1 1/2 years. It's an hour away, but I never find the time to leave Jerusalem.

We got to the cinema just in time for the show. We laughed our asses off and I was surprised to see the audience about my age with few young people. Borat was hysterical speaking in Hebrew when he should have been speaking Kazakh and I'm thinking - man, has this guy put Kazakhastan on the map. Their government should go with it and do "Borat tours" of the country - it would be absolutely hilarious.

Funniest part was the nude wrestling, where it was difficult for me (but I managed) to get my bladder under control, I was laughing so hard.

Also hilarious was the part where he thought the bed and breakfast Jews were poisoning him with their deli sandwich they insisted that he eat. It reminded me of the time when I took my first trip to Israel when I just turned 17 -waay back in early 1973. Our car got stuck in the mud in an Arab village and one of the villagers came out of his home to help us up the hill to his home. They sat me down and served me tea. I had never heard of herbal tea back then especially not flavored teas like mint. So needless to say when I took a sip of it, I truly thought they were trying to poison me and I wouldn't drink it. I was terrified. It wasn't until a year later that I acquired a taste for it and realized that it was the tea of choice for many Israelis, especially of Moroccan origin. Just goes to show...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A tale of two towns

I went hiking last Friday with Jerusalem's Mosaic Club. We were a cozy group and began our trek from Mevasseret Zion, a now-wealthy suburb of Jerusalem, and the place where I began my life in Israel in its absorption center, where the sole occupants now are Ethiopian immigrants (perhaps the only non-well-to-do residents of the place). We passed by burial caves from the 2nd Temple period, and the tour guide explained that only wealthy people dug out their own burial caves and reused them for generations, while the rest buried their dead out in the field.

Our hippie guide apologized profusely for his not excellent English, but I really enjoyed his guiding - as he referred to abandoned settlements as abdomened homes and where the farmers grew weed, instead of wheat, and where we had to squish the red berries with our toes (instead of fingers) - stuff like that throughout the tour. He told us Bedouin tales in one of the caves of female demons and showed us the odd nest that the sunbird built.

Down in the valley between Mevasseret towards Jerusalem, we walked passed the newly built bridges (a sore spot with nature preservers) and highways, and a previously unknown place(to me) called Einot Telem where there was a small Jewish settlement up until the Arab riots of 1929. The soap factory was the only building left standing. Because of the springs, there was settlement there for hundreds of years. Right now there were unsightly water tanks and a big electro-magnetic-field-cellphone-transmitter on the site. We sat in the shade of the back of the former factory, where there has been some recent restoration done on the site to have our lunch.

We walked on the dirt road towards Lifta dodging cement trucks building the new highway fast and furious today. It ruined the serenity of the place.

I was always curious about Lifta, the abandoned Arab village of pre-1948 and in my 11 years here, never had a chance to roam around it.

It has been left abandoned and I was grateful that the picturesque buildings hadn't been razed. The place has a long history and we could peek inside an ancient building to see the Byzantine stones inside.

But don't lean on the walls of these buildings, they are in danger of collapse, warned our guide. Some of the better maintained buildings are now squatted in by hippies, junkies and a drug rehab center. The guide said he wasn't sure if the Arabs left on their own or were forced out in 1948 (I tend to think they were forced out by frequent attacks on them), but I do have an Arab friend who was born there who now lives in Jerusalem. Perhaps I'll one day go with her, if it's not too painful, and get a real tour of the place.

In the early 1950s immigrant Jews from Arab countries were placed there until enough room in the tent cities of that time became available. In 1967 the IDF did practice runs in that village and thus ruined many of the buildings.

The government/municipality doesn't know what to do with the place. One idea was to tear it down and build a shopping mall there (horrible idea), another was to make it into a upscale residence for Jews, another was to make it into an artists village. I think they should renovate it and use it as a tourist site (a living Palestinian village) the way they redo ancient Jewish villages and have descendants of the village guide people around in native dress. I don't see the Israeli government okaying this idea. It's too "political". But I still think it's a cool idea.

Monday, December 11, 2006

And the madness goes on

It started out mad - I woke up before six am, cooked up a macrobiotic storm for breakfast and lunch (miso soup with squash and wakame, tempeh, grilled tofu, brown/wild rice stew with cabbage, onions and celery) only to realize when I got to work that, hey! its Monday and that's when we order sandwiches/salads on the company account.

We finally found a place to rent for a few months. There are very few places that will rent to you for less than a year. The owner took full advantage of this and raised the rent $50 more a month for that privilege. It's a villa - private home - big and old and shabby and cold. But it's got closets and we could live out of boxes and leave the rest of our stuff like wardrobes and summer stuff and books fully packed until our permanent move (whenever that will ever be). Hubby wants to go through a lawyer for this lease, but the owner is saying she will just come with me to get a standard rental lease at the print shop and sign it. I spoke to others and for not complicated cases such as this, you don't need a lawyer. But as Hubby says he doesn't want to get "fucked" so he wants the lawyer. I called said lawyer today and he's out sick. He's a man. He could be sick for days. You know how it is - probably just a head cold.

So I don't want to get "fucked" by the landlord and have her sign up with someone else which will leave us stranded, so I may just get the darn thing signed just between the two of us this afternoon and screw the men. They make things so complicated.

At home- tried to get the 17 year old to wash dishes so that she could get her phone charger back from Hubby who took it away on Friday for not doing laundry. She was in a rush to go to a party.

"At 5:30 in the evening you're going to a party?" I asked.

Since when do parties for teens start at 5:30 pm? It's more like 11:30 pm until the wee hours. It's wonderful. These teen clubs in Jerusalem have parties till 5:00 am and the kids can't wake up to go to school or work or whatever it is that keeps them occupied.

She swore at us using the English "F" word, and ran upstairs while we went off to see the rental apartment.

Meanwhile, our present landlord thinks we're leaving the end of the week - he doesn't know it's mid-January. I'm too nervous to approach him until I get the rental agreement signed so he can see that we're just not apartment squatters. All this friggin chaos in my life. I should be thrilled actually because I have a light work week this week while all the bosses are away at meetings for an entire week and there's no pressure to get 100 things done in 1/2 hour. But I'm not.

And when I think of that fucking Iranian Ahmadinejad trying to blow us up in Jerusalem so he can bring on the Mahdi - I just think - "Man, go ahead. Make my day."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Pills for Life

I think I have the writer's block. I haven't been inspired to write. My family's getting on my nerves. All of them.

"Oprah said you don't just give kids an allowance. They have to work for it" said my 20 year old as I gave my 17 year old 30 NIS ($7) for her weekly Thursday night outings.

I should have thrown out the TV. It's no good for kids. They were right. They'll only learn how normal families work and it'll make us look even more dysfunctional. And the kids are right. She gets money for doing shit around the house. I ask her to do stuff like put on a tablecloth and she puts in on halfway and runs out of the house. I give her the cash to keep her quiet. I don't want her bugging me or stealing from her sisters or borrowing from her friends. I do everything the books (and Oprah) say I shouldn't be doing.

Hubby was threatening not to buy any apartment, which will leave us pretty much stranded. At dinner same daughter said - "You know, if you get mad at him these days, you can always wash his teeth in the toilet" - and we all laughed like madwomen.

My neck is killing me and it's from stress. The only thing I can do is try and listen to Johnny Cash or the soundtrack from Walk The Line to calm me down.

Emails and SMS's are coming in - help needed with olive picking in Palestinian territories, house demolitions going on and people needed for support, and interfaith stuff going on left and right and I'm not joining in on anything - just deleting the messages, as I would for something I see for sale and cannot afford. I'm restless and we've overstayed our lease. I'm nervous. And it's catchy. My married kid had excrutiating stomach pains and went to emergency this week, just when I had wanted to begin packing. They perscribed antacids, after checking her thoroughly. A nervous stomach they tell her. I gave her the number of a homeopath, feelig that I just about had it with the conventional medical profession. Shame that's it's a fortune here. Seems the homeopath did the trick. He seemed to have "felt her pain" and gave her tiny homeopathic pills which calmed her tummy right down. Maybe I should go see him - perhaps he has a few little homeopathic pills for my psycho life.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

words of wisdom

It was one rough week.

We are still hoping for a miracle that the Landlord will sell us our present abode at a reasonable price. We had hoped by spending the last Day of Rest cleaning our place top-to-bottom and having it sparkle that the landlord could sell it as is. But he walked through the home quickly on Sunday to say he can't sell it without renovation and he would like us to leave as quickly as we can. It's now the end of that week and not a box is packed.

Which means we will have to look for a place for rent for four months, until we move into our new place - that is, if we can get the new place.

We are hoping that one bank will give us the OK to get a mortgage with them. It's an easier process than it used to be. You used to have to put 40% of the price down and above that get two guarantors to sign. So if you run away to America or Europe and leave all your debts behind, the banks would run after your guarantors. I've heard horror stories of guarantors that trusted their best friends and close relatives, only to find that they were stuck with the mortgage. Nowadays that has all changed and the banks will take back your house. But it's not that easy to be approved for a mortgage. Not all banks will approve. They have different criteria.

And all through this chaotic week I worked like a slave/dog at my job and Hubby had four teeth pulled. It wasn't easy. The freeze didn't take and he sat there for two hours writhing in pain because he didn't want to ever go through this again. Not to mention everyone called for him that Thursday. The seller of the new apartment who wanted us to sign the contract that day because it was the end of the month, potential clients, new immigrants who wanted to brainstorm with him about finding work, you name it, they called him. My son fielded the calls and told everyone that dad had his teeth taken out and couldn't meet them or greet them or come to the phone. No secrets there.

And my married kid was traumatized by her crazy Orthodox new sister-in-law of hers in the US but in Jerusalem for a visit, who decided that she had "ruined her child" because my daughter photographed her teen kid with a cigarette in her hand during a two hour outing last summer to our home.

"You piece of shit" (daughter recorded this conversation). "If I see you, I'll slap your face. You've RUINED my daughter. You took her to your home and let her hang out with your sister who looks like a street hooker!!! Your family are a bunch of low lifes (how on earth could she have found that out!!??)....." and the conversation went on with more threats between the two.

I told my daughter - not to worry. If I have to call that crazy woman I will and I'll tell her it wasn't a cigarette, it was a joint and that we're not street hookers, we're high-class escorts, and she should damn well know the difference.

Hubby, still suffering from his dental trauma, managed one sentence to calm my daughter down which proves you don't need a full set of teeth to sprout gems such as this.

"My shit in the toilet this morning looked better than her face."

And he laughed, and she laughed and I couldn't stop laughing looking at him...