Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ari's first day in Israel, and Aliza's major moron moment

My first two days in Israel were spent in Givat Shmuel, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Since trips to Israel (and my life in general) are often odes to really good food, I will note that Monday night, Yoel and I ate at Caffit, where I had Fettucine Rosa. I've always liked Caffit's pastas, ever since my year in Israel, and this one really hit the spot. I also liked their customer service, in that they did not complain about me ordering one pasta with a different sauce, beyond the menu combinations.
Monday night was Burger's Bar in Givat Shmuel, where I am often overwhelmed by choice. What if I ask for the wrong sauce? Then everything will be ruined! (My sandwich was awesome.)

On Tuesday night, I had what is now my fifth pretty-much-sleepless-night because I got to sleep late, woke up every 1/2 hour, and then ended up getting up 15 minutes early because I just could not sleep because I didn't want to be late to the cab to take me to the airport, even though I already knew that Ari's flight left Heathrow 30 min. late.
(For those of you not keeping track, Sara's and Aliza's 3 sleepless nights were:
Monday, June 22 - Aer Lingus didn't turn off the lights on an overnight flight to Dublin;
Thursday, June 25 - Harder to sleep on an overnight bus to Seville than you'd think;
Wednesday, July 1 - Sara and I didn't know to reserve sleeper seats on the train to Marrakech, so we were up all night in the train compartment.
I also added to that Sunday, July 5, when Iberia didn't turn off the lights on the overnight flight to Tel Aviv.)

I danced the dance of joy at the airport, where the coffee place was willing to put SOY in my cafe hafuch and give me salad dressing for the salad I brought with me, then waited for Ari. After he came and at a snack of his own, we wended our way to Jerusalem the super slow Nesher taxi way. (These shared taxis don't leave until there are 10 passengers, so we sat in the heat waiting a while.)

Our only formal activity yesterday was a tour of Ir David, suggested by Melanie, with whom Aviva and I went to the beach on Tuesday. The tour takes you through the ongoing excavations of King David's ancient city and shares its political and military significance over time. Then you get to walk through King Hezekiah's water tunnel. The thrilling part is that the excavations are ongoing so a lot of what we've seen has only been discovered in the last 5 years. To see the edges of the Shiloach pool and hear speculation as to where in the vicinity of the Gihon spring King Solomon was inaugurated pique my curiosity as a Bible teacher.

I also had my major moron moment. I have been super careful packing liquids and gels for travel, and have had no real shampoo or body wash disasters up till now. Due to a dislike of my current sunscreen, I had Ari bring a spray sunscreen bottle, which we took with us to Ir David. I didn't even think to double-ziploc it. Consequently, as far as we can tell:
a. The lid came off.
b. I must have accidentally depressed the spray button continously.
c. My purse oozed with sunscreen.
d. The bottle was emptied.
e. The snacks in my purse had to be tossed.
f. The pens in my purse came into contact with the sunscreen and stained my skirt, which will need industrial cleaning to be wearable again.
g. My cellphone is about as functional as a paperweight.
h. My purse's replacement date has been moved up to last night.

Sara and I always said that you don't bring things on vacation if you would be sad to return home without them. I feel really fortunate that the passports and digital camera were not in the purse at the time of the sunscreen explosion. Otherwise, what is gone is gone, but replaceable. In the case of my purse, already been replaced. Ari and I moved the SIM card to his phone, and I changed before dinner.

Ari and I had a truly spectacular meal at El Gaucho. We have not done something so fancy since Le Marais in Sept. '07. It feels nice to know that kosher dining out need not be mediocre, as it often is in Brookline, and I was alternately thrilled by the fact that they gave us an amuse bouche, the fact that there were items on the menu that I had never had before, the fact that the meat was excellent and well-cooked, and the fact that service was excellent. We give El Gaucho four thumbs up.

Strolling around Machane Yehuda, Ari got complimented for being the husband willing to stand around in the women's clothing store while his wife tried on skirts. All else is well in Jerusalem.

Portugal photos are online, here and here. It take a while, so more photos will be online eventually, and I still do hope to blog about the final days in Marrakech.


Monday, July 06, 2009

For mature audiences only: Hammam in Marrakesh

Sara and I took an overnight train to Marrakesh on Wednesday night, arriving in Marrakesh midday on Thursday. We spent the first day wandering the shuks, finding the central Place Jemaa el Fna and then heading to the mellah to see the shul and the cemetary. We discovered a lot about the Marrakech Jewish community, which I will blog later.

On Friday, our most exciting event was the visit to the Hammams. Hammams are gender-segregated bathhouses. Friday is the day off for many people, so the one we went to was quite crowded. The entire experience is like an immersion into Moroccan culture and sociology. It's only about 10 dh to enter, but through the hostel we paid 100 dh ($12.50ish) for the entire experience. One of the women who works at the hostel took us, bought the necessary supplies including an olive-oil based soap and exfoliating mitts, and brought us to the Hammam. After she paid the entrance fee, we went into the hammam. I am deeply squeamish, so it was a blessing in disguise that I was not wearing my glasses (one cannot usefully wear glasses in a sauna-like environment.) Given how many topless and entirely au naturel women were present, it was much easier not to be able to see. Thus, if you'd like a report as to how many women sported full bikini waxes, I am sorry that I don't have that information.

The hammam experience is centered around bathing: it comes from a time and a place where people didn't have running water in their homes. Even now, some people who live in the medina still don't. The full experience, though, includes a massage and what my people call "the shvitz". After a week and a half on the road, we finally felt clean, and after a tense couple of days in Fez, we also felt very relaxed. It was an awesome pre-Shabbat experience.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sara´s and Aliza´s trip goals: a review

Sara and I declared the following ten goals for our trip. In no particular order:

1. Avoid getting hit by a car.
In Morocco, where there are no traffic laws, and Gibraltar, where the streets are too narrow, this goal is harder to accomplish than it appears.

2. Avoid being hit by a moped or motorized bicycle.
See above: Really high numbers of small vehicles driven by people who appear to be stunt drivers.

3. Avoid falling off a Moorish castle.
This speaks to my ¨Lisbon, day one¨ post.

4. Avoid being bitten by a macaque monkey.
This, and the one above, were most relevant on the rock of Gibraltar. But avoiding being bitten by a monkey is good advice anywhere.

5. Avoid being grabbed by an unemployed Fassi man.
Sara would like me to point out that for the men to which this applies, grabbing tourists and extracting money is their employment.

6. Avoid being hit by a train.
If you wish to accomplish this objective, advise your travelling companion not to drop her train ticket on the tracks.

7. Avoid getting on the wrong train at 3 a.m.
Like #4, this is good advice any time of day.

8. Avoid being held up in an alleyway by Fassi men with knives.
This is just us being paranoid.

9. Avoid falling in love with, and marrying, a Moroccan man who is only in it for your Green Card.
This was Sara´s grandmother´s contribution to the list. I would like to point out that there was a Berber carpet seller in Chefchaouen who was quite determined to convince Sara to toss this one right off the list.

10. Avoid dying in an otherwise unspecified manner.
This falls into the category of ¨stating the obvious¨.

I am now in Madrid and fully aware that I have not yet blogged the awesomeness that was Marrakech. Sara and I will put up pics and discuss later, but for now, I will just articulate the following two deeply American words: Mission accomplished.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Night with Max

Wednesday night, Sara and I found the legtimately Kosher place in Fez, which is at the Centre Maimonide (the JCC, essentially). We were quite amused at how small the Jewish world is: while there, we met a family from Manhattan whose son goes to BU and has worked with my brother-in-law Dani. The Amzallags invited us to join them for dinner, so we had Kosher food and good company. There were also some other Jewish guys around, including someone from Cambridge. The guys walked us to the train, where we took a mildly lengthy and uncomfortable train to Marrakech; which we like much more. Despite the fact that the men on the train moved to make us more comfortable (one even slept on the luggage rack so we could stretch out...), we found that we were not sad to leave Fez behind for the relative gentility of Maraakachis.


An update about our scam artist

Sara found this woman's blog, where she writes of buying something from the guy we saw yesterday. She paid 700 euro for original Kabbalah doors over a year ago, and the guy in the site who sold them to her is the same one who showed us those doors yesterday.
Sara's purchase, upon inspection, had massive typos in the 10 dibrot; she left it behind.

We're glad we're not in Fez anymore.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fez: The good, the bad and the smelly

About once a day, I find myself saying, "Why on earth am I in Morocco?" This usually happens around 2-4 pm during the heat of the day. On Sunday, we were at the end of our harrowing taxi ride and walking through the crowded streets of the medina with 30lb backpacks on. On Monday, we were trudging up an impossibly steep hill on the way back from the bus station. (They said the walk was 15 minutes. It took us an hour and a half to go both ways.) Today, we were at the end of a long half day tour through a lot of really cool places, but we had gotten to the point where we were just going to all the shops that were buddies of our tour guide.
Paradoxically, the one day we had a nice time around the middle of the day was yesterday, when I spent the whole day being done with Morocco.
Scam of the day was this guy, who showed us a "museum" full of all sorts of "artifacts" collected by his grandfather, including all the items left behind by the Jews who emigrated in 1948, and who was having a liquidation sale because now he lives in France and doesn't want the collection. He told us he's Jewish; the tour guide who brought us there (and probably got a cut) told us that he has a gambling problem and spent all of his mother's money. Sara bought something, and we don't know what is its provenance really is. I am most upset that our tour guide was probably in on the scam.
Cafe Clock's owner told us precisely how to deal with sketchy Moroccan men: Basically, the F word is a universal sign for "go away". And the Cafe rocked.
Kosher meat for dinner? One can only dream.