Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dreaming in the Dark

A few nights ago I had a particularly strange dream. I was in a mall and I was posing as some sort of undercover investigatory agent--whether for the government, a private contractor, or my own needs, I don't think was made clear. But I knew that I was posing as a false version of my true self in order to get to the bottom of something.

The place that I was investigating? A food vendor in the mall, something like a pretzel shop or some kind of snack maker. I applied for the job and got it, then went into full spy mode. Even though I wore the emasculating uniform of the pretzel shop (I'll just go with pretzel for expediency here.), I knew that I was "more" than just a pretzel slinger. And I knew that to fulfill my mission, I needed to get below the shop, to see the seedy underbelly of the shop . . . the basement.

Never mind that malls don't have basements (as least that's what YOU think) or that individual vendors in the malls don't have individual basements. In my dream, I needed to get down there because it was there that the evidence I needed was stored.

So I found a reason to need to go down there, asked my manager, and he gave the okay. Once I went down the stairs, I saw that the basement was full of storage areas bored into the walls, here and there, also under the flight of stairs leading down from the main floor above. And, of course, it was dark. So I needed a light.

[Now, at this point in the dream, I'm sure you've all got your own theories about what this dream symbolizes in my everyday life. What does the basement signify? What is the evidence? Why a mall? Why am I a spy and not myself? But do you have a theory for what happens . . . next?]

So, I need a light.

And what do I get to light my way in the mysterious dark? Something like a ferret (that's right, a small, hand-held animal) and the way that you "turn on" the ferret . . . is to bang its furry head against the wall. That somehow makes a light emit from its noggin.

[Explain THAT.]

So, I'm blundering around in the dank, searching for evidence of some kind, trying to fulfill my covert duty, all the while banging this crazy ferret thing against the wall to keep the light going.

I never did find what I was looking for and all I succeeded in doing was giving this fictitious animal a weird sort of concussion.

[I look forward to your thoughtful interpretation in comments.]

Leap Day


Happy Leap Day, everyone.

How will you treat this day? Will you consider it a freebie? A day that doesn't exist? (Or one that comes around so infrequently as to not count?)

There is that tendency. But, since it is also falling during Lent . . . when believers try to make positive changes in their life, I think I'll try to use this day to reenergize myself in several ways. First, as you see here, I'm going to try and reintroduce original content creation into my digital spaces.

When I started all of this back in 2004, I was mostly putting my own content (such as it was) into these spaces. But in the last few years, when I do anything it was mostly reaction to something made by others. And that doesn't help anyone and it doesn't help me exercise my brain. I realize that I'm not going to become a professional blogger or do the sorts of things I used to fantasize about doing. But I can carve out a little space for myself that reflects me in a clearer light. So, here's to that plan.

As always I'm be ruminating about my family and obliquely thinking about work experiences, since those things take up a large part of my daily routine. But I'm going to see if I can come up with new avenues of creation that might be interesting.

Anyway, I've got to get to work.

Make today interesting, in some unexpected way. It's the only one like it you will get for four years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For those of you who aren't on Facebook, you can visit my Why Won't Your Photo?! site to see some of the photos that I took during my trip to Israel.

Today I've posted a series of shots taken during my first day in the country while Lynda was working. I walked from Tel Aviv, along the Mediterranean coast to the old historic area of Jaffa.

I created a sorted list of posts that highlight the photos that I took in Jaffa. You can access the site from this link: Why Won't You Photo?!\Israel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cesarea, Haifa, Acco

Thursday night after Jerusalem, some of Lynda's coworkers began their trip home to Ohio. On Friday, Lynda and I went with a few of our remaining trip-mates to take a tour north from Tel Aviv to visit some of Israel's Roman Era past.

We left the hotel at 7:15 and boarded the tour bus with some strangers, then left for our first stop at Cesarea, an old port city built from nothing by Herod the Great back in the First Century A.D. Herod built a sea wall and constructed a deep water port for trading ships, making Cesarea an important port on the trade routes between Rome and the Far East. With the port in place, the city grew large by the standards of the era. But, as I can tell from my visit, the Mediterranean Sea can be a turbulent place. 

Even though Cesarea grew to feature an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and lots of impressive buildings and towers, the sea won in the end. One storm that was too strong damaged the break wall and the harbor was also broken. Combined with the growing decline of the Roman Empire, Cesarea began a slow decline and the population began to go elsewhere. 

Our tour took us to the amphitheater, across the excavations of the remaining portions of the hippodrome, and gave us the chance to see some bits of the decorations from when Herod lived by the sea. The tour guide and driver--named Menachem--also showed us a cornerstone of a house that (supposedly) Pontius Pilate built to gain favor of one of his superiors. I admit that I wasn't paying as much attention to all that Menachem was telling us because I was intent on taking pictures and looking for interesting stones to take home. (Don't worry, I never pried anything out if a wall, but made sure to only collected rocks that we were walking on. This probably ensured that it was trucked to the site fifteen years ago during a rehabilitation of the tourist site.)

Also, Menachem was very conscious of keeping us moving from place to place. We did have a full schedule of places to see and driving in between, but there was the added pressure of getting places and finishing before Sabbath (Shabbat) began at sundown. Not that Menachem was particularly Orthodox--that I could tell--but when a fair portion of restaurants and services shut down for the next 24 hours, there was a stopwatch on us.

In Cesarea and for the rest of the day, Menachem would lead the group from location to location, give a five-minute lecture on why we were seeing what we were seeing, then let us loose to wander and take photographs. He normally gave us five minutes . . . ten if the spot was bigger or somehow more complicated. I tried my best to capture the feel of places, but the camera lens always narrows the field of experience and the eye's memories are always so much more impressive. (I also never figured out how to get the Panorama feature to operate on my camera.)

I also tried to keep including my touring friends in the pictures. Though it might make some of them harder to use later in my "btw" country profile on Israel, I didn't want my memories to be confined solely to rock, wall, and water. I am quite sure I got a large percentage of that, I hope the himan experience will also come through. (As soon as I can download things from my digital camera, I'll point you to those banks of captioned photos.)

After Cesarea, we continued the drive to Haifa, where we were supposed to see the Ba'Hai Gardens. But due to the rains that happened off and on during our drives, the series of steps that led down to the gardens were viewed as too slippery for touring and the gate had been closed before we arrived. So we took pictures from above, looking down at the crescent of the city built up along the shore of the Mediterranean and coming up the hills towards where we stood. It was a pretty remarkable view, even so. 

[Side note amongst all of the memories and thoughts--our guide told us of a saying about the cities I experienced during the week there: "In Haifa, they work; in Jerusalem, they pray; in Tel Aviv, they party."]

From Haifa, we drove to Acco, where we saw a former prison building from some time in the past--I don't remember what Menachem said about that. But what was especially interesting about that was while the prison was being used, one prisoner tried to tunnel out of this cell and in so doing, uncovered an entire underground structure beneath the prison that dated back to the Crusades. So we toured through the cavernous halls beneath the prison. I couldn't help but think of the halls of Rohan or the mines of Moria as I walked between the big columns, the vaulted domes in the ceiling above and the like. (And the fact that they were doing reconstruction and restoration work on some of the columns and areas around us emphasized the "unnaturalness" of the experience.)

Acco wasn't the overwhelming experience of Jerusalem or the scenic experience of Cesarea. But it was a nice place to walk, experience history, and be around the people of Israel. Tourism is an isolating experience, and at times, you can feel very foreign and very "managed." The anthropologist in me doesn't like to feel so separated from everyone around me, emphasizing my difference. But it was a bit unavoidable in this circumstance. And since this was my first immersion into a foreign country and I wasn't prepared to try driving a rental car on my own and didn't have the language skills to so it alone, I think this was a good first attempt. Maybe if I ever go back to Israel, Lynda and I (and the kids?) can do more exploration on our own. But for the first experience, being managed worked well for us.

After the Crusades experience, we went for lunch at a cafe in Acco. Here was one of the more enjoyable moments of this day, as we talked one on one with some of the other tourists on this trip. While eating falafal, I found out that I was sharing a table with a couple from Melbourne, Australia who stayed in our Tel Aviv hotel when it was first opened decades ago. We also got to know a young German man staying in a Tel Aviv hostel and traveling alone while he took a break from his medical studies. Finally, we met a young Chinese woman who was in Tel Aviv for business and had extra time to explore the country. There were all nice people and good lunch companions. It was pleasant to spend some time talking about our own experiences and breaking down the barriers of our diversity. Later that evening, when we all departed the bus, we could say goodbye to each other with a bit more meaning.

The last stop for this day of touring was probably the most interesting and impressive--the Grottoes at Rosh-Hanikra.

Supposedly, when he was young Menachem swam here with his friends, and based on the pounding of the Mediterranean Sea into the cliff-side, he must have been something of a daredevil during his youth. We rode the cable cars down to the grotto entrance and our guide informed us that when he told us to go, we had to walk quickly along the pathways carved into the cliff side going down and around at sea level.

I was glad that there was a handrail, because the tunnel floor was slick with rain and sea mist. In a few spots, I might have lost my balance if not for holding on. But I had decided to take my iPad down here with me, to capture video of the tide pounding in and out, so I was also worried about dropping it. (I didn't.)

Menachem was intent on hurrying us through, but at one point, he was paused right in front of Lynda. I think he was waiting on people in front of us to move. But as we stood there, the seawater surged up from a tunnel behind us and flowed down the tunnel towards us. With our backs turned, we didn't know it was happening until we felt the water hit our feet and soak up to our ankles. There was a lot of unexpected shrieks and laughter.

Lynda wasn't entirely happy about getting her socks and shoes wet, but I thought it was a fun surprise. When we got back to the hotel that night, we used the bathroom hairdryer to prevent the sneakers from mildewing and after all, everything worked out fine.

It was a long day of travel and sightseeing, and when we got back to Tel Aviv, the sun was going down and Sabbath was underway. This was driven home when we got to the hotel elevators and found this sign waiting for us.

Dear guests. The left elevator is in a Shabbat position. For your convenience, please use the right elevator. Enjoy your stay. The Management.

As Brian explained to us, an elevator in the Shabbat position moves automatically from floor-to-floor, one level at a time. This allows the Orthodox to ride the elevator without doing "the work" of pushing a floor button. I loved this small window into the culture all around me. Just another example of how fun a trip like this can be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jerusalem--the Old City

After Lynda was done with her work on Wednesday, the company paid for them (as well as Matt and I) to take a tour of Jerusalem. We left after a brief time at the Tel Aviv office and took a tour bus w/ guide into the city. Along the way we learned some brief history about Israel.

Once in the city, we stopped at an overlook of the many hills that make up The Holy City. Our guide--who's name I never heard--showed us the area of the Old City within the walls, as well as the hills making up the Mount of Olives and another Mount that I can't now recall. After this orientation, we drove down into the city and entered the Old City at the Jaffa Gate.

Then we walked through the inclined, narrow alleys that are lined with a dizzying number of merchants selling everything from scarves to jewelry to trinkets to olive wood carvings to souvenir plates, to food, to whatever. (You know, some people had warned me about security issues in Israel, but I was more worried about the merchants and the prospect of haggling than I ever was with muggers or terrorists or whatever. But, unless you saw something you wanted, you just keep on walking, right?)

And speaking of walking, there was a lot of it to do in Jerusalem. As I said, the streets of the old city were more like ramps going up and down. There were steps cut into the inclines, with narrow inclines set between steps. I thought that the ramps were placed there for strollers, but when I passed a mother lifting, lifting, lifting her own stroller I found that wasn't the case. Whether it was intentional or not, the moped riders were taking the most advantage of them, quickly maneuvering through the crowds and going up and down.

I wonder if the ramps were a new addition to the streets in a renovation some decade past. It is always a valid question when visiting a tourist city, even one as ancient as Jerusalem--and maybe even MORE valid in such a place . . . how real is what you see? Certainly the buildings are real, and that is a spectacular experience to see the inside of the Church of the Holy Sepelchure, when before you've only seen photos. The building has stood since the Middle Ages and millions have passed through it. The mosaic art on the walls and the architectural detailing are worth every moment. To count myself among those to have seen it is so meaningful. But, was Jesus nailed to the cross in that corner of the building, hung to die only five feet to the left of that, then laid in a tomb that is--unexpectedly--another twenty-five feet to the left of that and down some stairs? Really?

To say that the Bible never gives the impression of such proximity is, obviously, a useless argument for or against. I've always believed the Bible to be a good approximation of the life of Jesus and a guideline of how to live a Godly life. It can't be taken as a verifiably accurate description of how it really happened. And especially not for the most critical moments that must mean the most. As with other aspects of religion, the believer must act on faith and live in hope. So, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a shrine or an amazing museum and recreation? My historical objectivity must claim the latter, and that does not weaken my spiritual experience.

Maybe that is why it felt more meaningful to visit the Temple Mount later that day. Here was a historical place filled with actuality AND spiritual depth. Here I could take a short prayer, place a tourist yarmulke on my head, approach the Wall, place my prayer, touch the stones, and think about where I was, how I got there, say a prayer of thanks and hope, and look into the twilight with people all around me.

Thinking back, this moment, alone in my own personal silence, was the biggest blessing and the greatest gift. (I am choking up and tearing as I try to explain it.) I am so lucky to have the beauty of my life and to have the chance to have that moment is built upon the love, work, and friendship of so many people in my life, past and present. I hope they can be assured that I am grateful to them for the role they play in my life.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Old Jaffa on Wednesday

Karen's husband Matt accompanied me to the city of Old Jaffa on Wednesday morning. We walked along the paved walkway, south to Old Jaffa, which sits on a small promontory bluff above the sea.

I didn't read all of the historical signs available, but I think that among the many peoples that have lived and controlled Jaffa in the past, the French are among them. This assumption is partly based on the fact that the historical markers used to point out important sites is a statue of a Napoleonic looking soldier. The soldier stands with his arm out, holding a sign that says Historic Site and something in Hebrew.

Matt and I walked up and down the twisting alleys and steps throughout the morning, taking lots of pictures of the old stone walls, trees, doors, and things.

It is a funny thing that tourists do--what might I think if someone walked into my yard, stopped, and took a picture of my front door for some reason? But I've never lived in a historic, picturesque, town on a bluff above the Mediterranean Sea . . .

At one point, Matt wanted to takes picture of an interesting tree that was down some steps within a courtyard. We met a woman at an art studio that immediately began talking to us and ushered us into her studio, closing the door. We learned that she was the daughter of the artist who began the studio--lots of silhouette imagery of Jews in traditional black clothing in front of white backgrounds. Some had a layered, 3D effect. The art was nice, I guess, but felt a bit too . . . immigrant? Not native or based on history? Something that was aimed at tourists possibly?

The woman we spoke to was from New Jersey, actually. She seemed to enjoy speaking English to someone--but was also hoping to make a sale, I'm sure. Her elderly parents lived above and were getting to old to manage all the stairs up and down to the studio space. She was helping them sell the studio so they could find a more suitable place to live at that point. (She was not a recent arrival in Israel, though. She went to university at some nearby city and did seem to enjoy living in Israel. Things were just in transition for her and her parents.)

Matt and I left after a few more minutes and continued our wandering. It was a beautiful, bright morning with cool breezes coming through the alleys at some spots to keep us cool.

Just before noon, we walked to the Roman Catholic church that dominates the plaza at the top of the bluff. We walked in St. Peter's Franciscan church for a few moments and I took some photos of the painted ceiling (the Keys to the Kingdom among other symbols) and the altar decorations. After only a few mental, however, the Franciscan priest appeared and ushered us out. He said that the church was closing (for lunch, maybe?)

Matt and I then took a break, ate some fruit and nuts and drank water. We watched a family get some pictures taken by a fountain across the plaza where we sat. The fountain featured lots of kid-friendly, cartoonish characters, some with water coming out of mouths.

The leader of the group we were watching was very loud and boisterous, which I understand is very Mediterranean . . . but he was really telling everyone what to do in such tones! Quite dominating! It made me wonder if the family had been traveling and taking pictures for days and he was saying something like "Just ONE more by this fountain! Hurry UP grandma, over HERE! Yes, right HERE! Hurry!" (You know, like you do when you've been sightseeing a bit too long.)

On our way out of Jaffa, Matt was asked to take a group picture of some Israeli teens wandering through. (There was no school that day, or it was a holiday celebrating trees--sort of like our Arbor Day. At the Time To Know office where Lynda was working that day, they planted a new tree.)

Two of the teens were girls in the military, providing their mandatory service to the State. They were in uniform and one carried a rifle. I had been told it was not allowed to take photographs of the military, but Matt and I guessed that if they ask you--and seem to be off-duty?--maybe it's no big deal?

On the way back to the hotel in Tel Aviv, we wandered through the shopping district, a bazaar-like maze of shops selling everything from second-hand furniture of all sorts, to shoes, tee-shirts, restaurants, restaurant-grade kitchen equipment . . . everything with no rhyme or reason. Everything is so non-corporate and individualized, it appears strange and haphazard to me. But it had a fun energy as well.

Eventually, we made it back to the hotel, footsore and with aching legs. I went up to my room, got out of my sweaty clothes and lay down in the hotel bathrobe to nap and watch some TV. I dozed a bit and also ate fruit provided by the hotel in honor of the holiday being celebrated.

It was a great first day. Today, as I write this, I am in the offices where Lynda has been working this week. After they have a few meetings, our group is being taken to Jerusalem for the afternoon. So much more excitement is yet to come and be described. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


There were many varieties of food in the hotel restaurant today--eggs, pancakes, fruit, cereal in concession to westerners. But there were also quinoa salad, broccoli tops (spicy, surprisingly), creese spreads, sliced vegetables, salmon, and much more.

This is a fancy place, so I don't imagine this is "normal" breakfast. But it more closely resembled a swank church pot luck or a spread of hors de oeuvres at a party. An interesting beginning.

NOTE: I thought it gauche to take a photo of the food, so no picture. Maybe I'll get over some of that tourist hesitation or I'll have no memories.

Today, while everyone else is working, Matt (Karen E.'s husband) and I will walk to Old Jaffe and look around. More pictures will result from that.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Doorknob Incident

About a week and a half ago, I tweeted that I was the world's worst handyman. If you have been following me on Twitter, you might have had a few reactions--

reaction a.) What? No! Say it ain't so David?!

reaction b.) Well, of course you are. Have you not MET you, because I have . . . and, trust me that this is not news to anyone else. More proof that Twitter is worthless!

reaction c.) An interesting statement; can you provide more details to back up your assertion?

I am going to satisfy those who had reaction c. Reactioners A--thank you for you blind faith. Oh, and Reactioners B? A bit strong, don't you think? Do you have a show on the DIY Network that I am unaware of?

The Details:
A few weeks back, Sarah told me after work that her key had not been working and she couldn't get into the house after school. So, I took her key and tried it. Sure enough, the key wouldn't slide completely into the lock and resisted turning. I couldn't figure out what the problem was until Sarah admitted that she had--for some reason--stuck a twig into the deadbolt when the initial attempt had gone wrong. So, there was a bit of wood deep down in the mechanism jamming up the works. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to fix that, so I resigned myself to getting a new deadbolt and doorknob set.

Once I had bought the new hardware for the door, I set about doing the simple replacement work one evening after work. The kids got in and I set to work.

Taking the old stuff out wasn't hard. Just some screws to remove and the the knobs came off and the latch mechanism was freed. Similarly, a few screws turned and the deadbolt was out.


Then, I set to work putting in the mew hardware for the knob and door latch. I saw from the instructions that my old door had not utilized the faceplate on the side of the door, so I couldn't install it on this one without making everything too thick to allow the door to close. But the instructions showed me how to pop off the packaged plate and use an optional one in the packaging.

Done. Still easy.

So, I slipped the latch mechanism into the hole drilled into the narrow side of the door.And then I positioned the outside and inside parts of the doorknob in place and tightened down the screws. One half done, right? Well . . . no . . . because when I tried to latch the door, I found that I had positioned the latch facing the wrong direction. The little triangular bit that juts out from the door and slips into the hole on the door jam wouldn't slip because the sloped part was facing inward toward the house and not outward to the street. Dismayed, I loosened the screws, removed the knobs, and pulled out the latching piece. I checked the instructions to make sure that I was correctly identifying the problem, flipped the latch, reattached the knobs, tightened the screws . . . and then realized that I had unconsciously installed the knob pieces in the top hole where the deadbolt goes!

Pause . . .

. . . what?!

Seriously . . . what?!

It was at this soul-shredding moment that I sent out this tweet lamenting my ineptitude.But I managed to get over it and moved on. I (once again) removed the misplaced doorknob setup, moved it down to the proper hole, and did it all over again.

And then I got around to fixing on the deadbolt. It was a lot simpler, considering that I had already made just about every mistake that you might possibly figure out how to make. And eventually, it was all in place and things were set. But it was a cavalcade of errors to get there.

And if I can't manage such a simple task as this . . . then, well what else might I screw up next? Stay tuned to find out.