USA! USA!

When I studied abroad in Morocco, I spent a lot of time reading old issues of People magazine. The library for some reason never had issues from the recent several months, but instead all the issues were at least 4-6 months old. There was something weirdly comforting about reading the old issues. I knew which of the marriages wouldn’t make it through the year, and which TV shows had already been canceled. I didn’t miss being the US while I was in Morocco, and I don’t now, but there was something reassuring about having a slightly outdated dose of American pop culture.

Before we moved to Tel Aviv, I wondered what our inexplicably soothing shot of American culture would be. I think the TV show “Friends” is kind of the softball solution for this. It seems to be (still) on (multiple) times a day in every country I’ve ever been to. It’s easy access, and I don’t really like it: seems like a very good candidate for a weird, bland American cultural nugget to hold onto. I wondered if there was a new “Friends.” My money was on “Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother.” I’ve described all of these shows as warm milk at least once: something that just sounds like a totally gross hot beverage with eerie filmy chunks, that I accidentally try.

I think, however, we have found our uncomfortable, weird, why-are-we-even-watching-this, (more than slightly) outdated, American crutch: the OJ Simpson trial.

Someone uploaded this touchstone of American culture to YouTube. In it’s entirety. 500+ hours. Will and I were around 8-9 when the trial happened so we were aware of it happening, remember seeing that it was on TV constantly, but really have no idea about the particulars of what happened.

So the other day, we heated up some frozen malawach, put out a bowl of honey to dip it in, and started watching the trial. I should add that the malawach, despite having no cheese, tasted unsettlingly like a quesadilla, which greatly enhanced this whole experience.

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I don’t think homesickness or nostalgia is quite the right word for this (filling a homesickness void with the OJ trial would be bizarre, even I’ll admit that), but it’s related to that. It’s definitely some sort of staying (21 years out of date) relevant to the US, even though neither one of us really has any desire to move back. And the OJ trial may be ultimate in this not-quite-nostalgia. Especially with the pathetic retaped-over VHS tape quality of the video. Also since the trial seems to be seemingly endless (6 hours down, 500+ to go), we can work on this for a long time, without ever having to choose another warm milk alternative.

The Holiest Rollerblading Day of the Year.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is always presented as the holiest day of the  year– a solemn occasion where you apologize to people, and spend the day fasting.

When I started Ulpan, we were given a schedule of all of our class holidays. We would have two days off for Yom Kippur, and we were warned that nothing would be open. Based on all of this, I assumed the city would be completely deserted, quiet, and somber. I even wrote a note to myself on the Ulpan schedule that nothing would be open.

Leading up to Yom Kippur, events confirmed that a serious holiday was approaching. Going to the market was a bloodsport. The markets were swarmed, and I waited in (kind of a) line to check out for a solid 15 minutes, after dodging what felt like half the population of Tel Aviv, and their semi-abandoned carts. Stores shut down early, and when we took Finnegan to the park, the streets were empty. By the time we left the park, it was almost sundown.

And I was not anticipating what I saw filling the streets: rollerblades. There were also bikes, dogs running around in the middle of the street, and skateboards.

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From when Yom Kippur started on Tuesday evening, until awhile after it ended Wednesday night there were no cars on the road the entire city (or supposedly the entire country). The airport was even closed; no flights in or out of the country on Yom Kippur. Apparently, the pollution on Yom Kippur plummets, due to the lack of cars/planes for (more than) 24 hours. All night/day, the street was packed with people riding bikes, walking, skateboardingand, of course, rollerblading. I have never seen so many rollerblades in my life.

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What was particularly weird was how quiet it was. Even though there were a million rollerblades, bikes, people moving couches into the middle of the street, the whole city was bizarrely hushed without cars. Our apartment looks over a major street, and it just sounded like there was a layer of cotton pads between us and the usual din.

A lot of my Ulpan class fasted for the holiday, but I think I’m on team Rollerblading > Apologizing.

Old Year, New Pics.

Since my last post was kind of a downer, here are some non-downer pictures. As of the other day (Rosh HaShanna), it’s a new year in Tel Aviv (5777), so here are a few pictures from the old year (aka the last month).

In my attempts to get a wedding present to send to the US, we went down to the Nachlat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall (which is cooler than the website makes it look). I ended up not getting a wedding present there, but we did walk by the Great Synagogue, which was not only a cool building, but had this super cool 3-D but very flat looking clock out front. It was a Cubist dream clock:

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We have discovered a very nice park + dog park overlooking the Mediterranean. I hope Finnegan appreciates these dog park views:

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I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned Cofix here, but I am in love with it. It’s a coffee shop, where everything is 5 shekels (like $1.25 USD). Muffins, sandwiches, carrot juice, really good coffee: it’s all 5 shekels. They also have a couple bars (again, everything is 5 shekels: beer, cocktails, etc), and markets (SuperCofix). The market is, once again, everything 5 shekels. Bread, yogurt, whatever. In the most exciting move of all time, a SuperCofix is coming in in our neighborhood. Not exaggerating, I gasped when I saw the sign go up, and have checked on the building progress multiple times a day, every day:

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And here is a spread of all the pastries we got this morning for a grand total of less than $2 USD, and Will looking VERY pleased with his Birds of Israel and The Middle East book (also shout-out to our apartment in this picture):

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Ulpan Has Taken Over My Life.

I’ve started intensive Hebrew (Ulpan). My class meets five days a week for five hours a day for five months. Getting back into the habit of going somewhere at a regular time every day, and then coming home and doing homework, meant that I spent most of last month shifting how I structure my days. Blogging took the brunt of the displacement, but now that I am a bit more comfortable in my Hebrew learning schedule, I can slip back into blogging more regularly again (hopefully).

I have always been kind of a language class junkie. I like to study languages, and I’ve taken quite a few of them to varying degrees of fluency and for assorted lengths of time. In chronological order I’ve taken: French, more French, Irish Gaelic, German, Arabic, Swahili, more Arabic, and now Hebrew. Tragically, my Irish Gaelic and Swahili are very limited (if you are looking for a weird song about greetings in Swahili, or need to know how to ask how to say something in Irish Gaelic though, let me know. I can hook you up with that vital information), but I feel pretty good about my levels of French, German, and (Modern Standard) Arabic.

With the exception of Irish Gaelic, I have taken all of these languages in an academic, university/school setting. Irish Gaelic I took in a theater in North Hollywood (right near the really good Gelsons, obviously) at the Irish Cultural Center (RIP, Irish Cultural Center. You seemed to have vanished while I was away at college). The class consisted of 16-year-old me, two retired couples, and one random older man. The teacher was a middle aged man from Connemara, and our textbook was a slim binder with the title “Irish for Parents.” During this time in my life, I never went anywhere without my DK Eyewitness Ireland travel guide, and my Oscar Wilde doll. When I signed up for the class (and the Irish Cultural Center membership), I was feverish with visions of learning of how stumble through the consonant-heavy Gaelic words. I drove by the Irish Cultural Center every day on my route to school, and I could not wait for the class. Unfortunately, it was not a very popular class at the Center (I’m not sure if anything was?), never touched on any grammar, and met probably once a week for like a month. The other attendees talked a lot about cruises. I was devastated.

Until now, my melancholy foray into Gaelic has been my only non-academic language class.

Before I started Ulpan, I did not really realize what taking a non-academic language class meant. In Ulpan (or at least the Ulpan I’ve been attending), grammar is doled out on a stingy, need-to-know basis. I have learned a lot of vocabulary, and I think the class is good, but it has made me think a lot about how people (or maybe just how I) learn languages.

I kind of feel like I’m circling Hebrew. Before we moved here, I tried to use some Pimsleur MP3s to learn some basic Hebrew. I ended up hating it since it was all oral; there was no written component, so I could not see the words written down. At the start of Ulpan, we had a substitute teacher for a couple weeks, who had us all write words phonetically in our native languages, instead of in Hebrew. We have finally graduated to writing things in Hebrew, but I do not recognize words that I’ve only heard or seen written down in my own phonetic English interpretation. Since we circumvent the stormy waters of grammar, I tend to guess more at prepositions, and lazily conjugate verbs poorly.

Being immersed in the language has been helpful, and I think it will smooth over these rough verb endings and preposition vowels, but I do not fully understand why the class is so grammar shy. I’m only a month in, so we’ll see if we start to build some sort of grammar escape ladder out of these conversational Hebrew confines as the class goes on.

And since this was a long, kind of cranky post, here’s a picture of the wine, jars of honey, and really good whipped cream + honey pastry bit thing that they handed out as a snack one day in Ulpan. I did love getting handed free wine as a school snack:

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My Kingdom For Some Soda Water.

Before we moved to Tel Aviv, the appliance I had the most angst about parting with was our SodaStream. The SodaStream remains my favorite and most utilized kitchen appliance ever. Yes it only did one thing (carbonate water), but it did it flawlessly, and it was a vital task in my life. I like to drink soda water plain, I like to drink it with bitters or lemon when I’m feeling bourgie, and I use it to make my alcoholic beverage of choice: the red wine spritzer (to be more exact: I mix it with box wine from Trader Joe’s. It is cheap, delicious, and hydrating!). We had limited luggage space for our move (why did I bring so many sweaters?), and I seriously considered bringing the SodaStream with us. There was no way this was going to work, so we ended up giving it to our friend Peter (Peter, if you are reading this, I hope you use that beguiling appliance every day and treat it in the exalted manner it is accustomed to).

Based on the fact that the SodaStream is actually locally made, we assumed soda water would be a part of the vernacular beverage culture. I also assumed that since Israel has a lot of European influences (and residents), soda water would be as plentiful as it is in many European countries. Maybe I’m just not going to the appropriate markets (I’ve tried probably 6 in a 4 block radius. Yes, we have a lot of markets near our apartment), but so far my soda water font has run dry.

At first, I actually thought we had moved to the land of inexhaustible flavored soda water. I was thrilled. The non-alcoholic beverage aisles are packed. Unfortunately, they are not packed with carbonated water. There are quite a few options of flavored flat water (have not explored this genre; not interested. Though I am semi-curious about the prevalence of the aloe flavored water). There are also quite a few options of beverages that I thought were flavored soda water, but turned out to be soda. Initially thinking these were flavored soda waters made the disappointment upon realizing they were soda all the more potent. Particularly when I went to the Schweppe’s website to try to figure out what the flavors like “Russchian” and “Riesling” were and discovered that Russchian (which looks like a watered down red wine spritzer) was berry/hibiscus/carrot flavored. And comes in a winking can:

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This seemed like my ideal drink. Carbonated, weird flavor combination, comes in a probably culturally insensitive can, and (I assumed) just sweet, sweet carbonated water. Alas, this was not to be. All of the flavored Schweppe’s here is just soda. Sugar is the first ingredient, followed by a litany of chemically sounding terms that I didn’t even read since I stopped at sugar. So far, I have found one brand of soda water, but I can only find it about 50% of the time at two of the six markets near our apartment. Here is the English label side of what I will be drinking non stop, when I can find it:

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Note that it is half full, because I have started rationing soda water. I am taking solace in the fact that it’s a great brand name at least. It sounds like the bubbles are keeping time.

LaCroix, if you would like to expand internationally beyond Canada and the US, please, please consider Tel Aviv as a first option.

 

Dogtown.

I’ve alluded to Tel Aviv’s dog-friendliness, but I do not think I’ve fully outlined it on the blog. This may, in fact, be dog utopia. There is a dog festival (Kelaviv–a portmanteau of Tel Aviv and the Hebrew word for dog) coming up this weekend, but I have been most impressed by the quotidian benefits of being a dog in this city.

Joyce’s pub puzzle for Dublin could probably be translated for Tel Aviv and parks. Seriously, it feels like there is a park (sometimes a mini park, but a park nonetheless) every other block. Within this plenitude of parks, 70 are also dog parks. Apparently, that is  1.3 dog parks for every 250 acres. When actually walking around the city, it means that we never seem to be more than a couple blocks away from a dog park. Many of the dog parks also have agility courses set up, which is great for Finnegan since his primary activity at the dog park is leering at the other dogs while they play, and periodically going up to them, sniffing them, and then running back to us with an expression of “can you BELIEVE I just did that?! Another dog! Their butt! Me!” Here’s a gratuitous picture of Finn being amazing at jumping on one of the agility courses:

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In that picture, you can also see one of the water bowl set ups. All the dog parks have at least one water source–some have dog drinking fountains, others have spigots with bowls and jugs placed around the park, etc. At least one dog park also had a bookshelf:

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More so than the dog facilities in the city, the responsibility of dog owners here has really impressed me. Everyone at the dog parks is very intent on making sure that the water bowls stay filled, or that there are full water jugs by the bowls so that it is easy to keep the water supply high for the dogs. Often at dog parks in LA, if dogs would bark or play a bit rough, their owners would immediately pull the dogs away, and leave. Here, people tend to let their dogs play a bit rougher, as long as the dogs are comfortable. If there are issues between dogs (either at the parks or in the streets), instead of pulling the dog away, people seem to let the dogs sniff each other and interact. Once the dogs realize everything’s fine, they chill out.

Dogs here seem to be a lot calmer than anywhere else I’ve ever been as well. I’m not sure if it’s due to the tactics described above, or just that dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere here. I think since the dogs are with their owners pretty constantly here (seriously, we brought Finn to the bank with us. Every bar and restaurant seems to have as many dog patrons as people), they just seem less anxious overall. I think wherever we move after Tel Aviv will probably be a serious downgrade for Finnegan, unfortunately.

Our block in LA had three poop bag dispensers along the sidewalk. When we moved there, I was thrilled that there were free poop bags on the street, and mentioned it to everyone as one of the selling points of our apartment. When the management of the buildings changed, they purposefully stopped stocking poop bags. The explanation was people who did not live on the street were using the bags as well (…to clean up their dogs’ poop on our street, but okay whatever. I’m over it. Not really). Here, in dog utopia, there are free poop bag dispensers in parks, on trash cans on the sidewalk, all over the city:

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I’m not sure what it says about me that poop bag dispensers are the ultimate in urban luxury for me, but if I get free poop bags, I do not even care.