Pages of Euphoria
My Own Four Walls
On this late January morning, I watched the suns' light fill an American sky through my wannabe venetian blinds. A flight only just recently swept Wes and I away from Ben Gurion international airport, located just on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Irsael. The flight took me direct to Los Angeles and lasted about 16 hours plus change. The flight was made funny by the older lady who sat in the aisle seat of our row. She looked to be early to mid 60's, slightly snooty and really liked to make some exaggerated movements. When a larger, somewhat clumsy passenger made a quick turn with his baggage in hand and struck her directly in the head, she careened forward with her head bobbling like she had just been gut checked from Japan's greatest sumo wrestler. "Oooh my God!!!" she blurted out, aghast at her own misfortune. Physical comedy at its greatest.
Wes and I landed in somewhat of an organizational mess, as we both had not yet formally planned out our next steps. I had to catch a train to San Diego, he had to try and jump on an earlier flight to Seattle. And displaying a frequent occurrence of men, or perhaps just Greenberg men, the both of us did not foresee the moment of terrible reality arriving, the true end of our journey, the time for saying goodbye. The moment struck with a horrible abruptness, and when the realization dawned in our minds, I think we both stood frozen in silence for a few seconds. I gathered my bags up and glanced at where I had to go, and then came in for a painfully short hug. Hearty clap on the back, traveler heart to traveler heart, soul to soul. I told my brother I loved him. He spoke a few short words about how incredible the trip was, yet the words did nothing to console the stinging shittiness that our trip was over.
Saying goodbye is an artform. There are those times when you say all the right things; you skillfully disclose those words in turn that are funny, or that are an overwhelming combination of charm and kindness, or that can convey with conviction how much you appreciate the person or persons. However I think for most and I, those smooth operations are few and far between. When saying goodbye to someone close, I have to keep that exchange short, or emotional ships will be wrecking. I am and remain at times, the most sentimental of schmucks.
I caught a bus to Union Station in downtown LA, and from there hopped on a Pacific Cruiser Amtrack train for San Diego. After arriving it took a few pay phone calls to reach my roommate Alex, and the third call finally got through. When he picked me up, it was around 12pm PST, the San Diego sun was shining, and I had been on the road and out of a comfort zone for upwards of 30 hours. The only stop I wanted to make on the way home was at Romero's Mexican Restaurant to get one of their breakfast burritos. Those damn burritos ooze with deliciousness and I had been thinking about getting one for the past few days. I think it will now be a Pacific Beach homecoming ritual.
The apartment was a site for sore, swollen eyes, and mine were smiling. I was only gone for 6 weeks, but the last 4 weeks knew a road that was at times hard and grueling: living out of backpacks, sleeping in ratty bunk bed hostels or army cots, eating shotty or even skipping meals on occasion. Wes and I were in each others presence, and I really mean PRESENCE, as in nearly every sleeping or waking moment of the day, for four weeks straight. For these reasons and more, it felt really good to back at my place.
I ate my burrito while watching TV with Alex, catching up on news and trading a few stories. Afterwards I took a long, hot shower, not wearing sandals or worrying about what I might contract from the shower floor. And finally, it came time to go into my room, my four walls of private, personal, woomb-like space, and shut the door on absolutely everything in the world. I shut the door and locked it, savoring the latching sound, my mind rife with excitement to be in my own bed again. I needed to unplug from everything, not see or hear another human being, and get some much needed rest. I didn't leave my apartment for almost 24 hours. They were a solitary 24 hours I was most happy and comfortable to lose.
Courtesy Lacks, Hospitality Flows
This place glows like an ember, no flame visible at the moment but still white hot and ready to kindle. Thoughts in Israel course through my head at an uneven pace, all day; completely unlinear, in a fashion like exploding fireworks. When it comes time to just sit down and channel them, it can be somewhat challenging. Even in an internet cafe with keyboards whose keys are splashed with asdfgh;lkj right along with שדגכעיחלךףץ.
My lungs feel different after smoking my traveler days away. Not sure why I smoke (at a snails pace) in other countries, I guess it just adds more to the traveler high. It's still pollution, and the smoke from the tobacco competes right along with the pollution of stimulus emitting from Tel Aviv streets. These streets that are comprised of a frenzied chaos, at times friendly, at times ugly, just ready to spill. Wes and I walked down Ben-Yahuda street this morning, looking to post up in a cafe for coffee and people watching, the sun radiantly shining, air as crisp as it was in times BCE. The walk was made memorable by the sight and sound of one Israeli aggressively barking out chunks of Hebrew, hearty and heated in tone, at another Israeli nonchelantly leaning on a kiosk counter giving no response. The cereal of the agitated Israeli must have really been shat in, because he was pissed. It did not turn violent and it was nice to see the passion.
The culture of Israel has this passion. That somewhat "in your face" kind of colour, which comes through in the absence of American politeness. Go ahead and tell me I am full of shit, that that phrase is an oxy moron. Ok it is. However I feel in certain ways it has merit. This kinda feels like walking through a minefield. In my little corner of white bread, corn fed and coffee satiated America, "pleases" and "thank yous" echo off walls adnosium, places in supermarket lines are respected, the other guys' time is just as valuable as my own.
Israeli culture just barely lacks this little area of courtesy, but I think it adds to the overall flavor. And its not to say that it isnt made up for in other ways. Israeli hospitality is warmer and more bountiful than the sun's solar energy, (assuming you are first their friends and you are not firing rockets into their lands). My brother and I have been sitting under the blessing of Israeli hospitality, completely shocked and bewildered at how much love we have been treated with. We have been taken in a number of times now, by distant family relations, by soldier houses, by volunteer acquaintances, by a soldier named Noam, by a girl named Effie who I met in some distant Argentinian town and her friend Imbal. We were fed, housed, bedded; given a warm place to relax and feel good, free from crowded hostel dorms packed to human bunkbed capacity. Effie and Imbal made us t-shirts, Noam (a masculine, ladykilling, medic from our birthright trip) made us pita and hummus sack lunches with an extra serving of soul, Nancy and Don showed us what a family Shabbat was like in the holy land.
I am still left reeling from all we have recieved, and I can only hope to give back as much as was recieved; to give more would simply be an impossibility. Well this has been therapuetic, nice to just get my thoughts out for one day. My trip is nearing its end, America is less than a week away. Jerusalem, a city of Gods, of both martyrs and machine guns, will be our last destination. I cannot wait.
Kabbalah and Ghosts
The bus weaved left and right, following the serpentine curves of the road. Very few roads in the state of Israel follow a strait course for very long, and this one did nothing to buck the trend. Sitting in the bus seat, my back and shoulders throbbed with a dull pain from carrying my 60 something pound backpack, or bag of my life, and tinges of nausia began to unfold from the base of my skull. My middle brother and travel partner Wes, sitting to my right across the aisle, looked to be in the same state of anguish. I at least had the luxury of an ipod. We were both ready to get off the bus.
We were headed for Svat, a city located in the northern part of Israel. It is a city aged with the history of millenia (plural), a city of antiquity, fought over by Jews, Arabs, and Knights Templar just to name a few. As if this historical soap opera wasnt enough to make it interesting, it
became a center of Jewish mysticism and seemingly magical spirituality, or Kabbalah. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the population of Svat was enlarged by an influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing the Inquisition and persecution in Spain. Many of the new arrivals were Kabbalists, or seekers of mystical truth. The movement of Jewish mysticism in Svat apparently started long before this migration, but never the less, mysticism began to take stronger root and flourish like it had never done before. In the city's hills are buried the famed figures of Judaism's Kabbalistic past, whose places of rest are visited and prayed over in regularity.
Now, everyone I am sure has been through a town, or the street of a town that claims to be magical, or channel spiritual energy; this claim is usually backed up with a decent number of shops that sell all things crystal, items that naturally heal, a huge heap of tarrot cards, peculiar jewelry, and managed by some spacey white lady with a flowing tie died forest green dress (hiding crocs), all to the background noise of flowing water or flute music. I know these shops well, as I am a repeat customer. While these towns are fun and entertaining, they are the most of them false backed. Tourist ploys. You don't come away feeling impacted. Svat takes this same principle and makes it serious with an almost 2,000 year old history. A history of blood, of swords and scimitars, of occupation by Arabs, Turks, Mamulucks, Crusaders and of course Jews. Svat is a throne of mysticism with the weight of one of mankind's oldest religions behind it. Ladies and gents, Svat is the real deal.
All of this, unconsciously I believe, began settling into my mind. Weighing upon my mind. Whether I knew it or not, after just setting foot in the hill-top city, I had began to feel it's presence. My brother and I got a clean, quiet and cozy room to ourselves in a Kabalah school/boarding house called Ascent Institute. As per usual, after a particulary grueling day of backpacking, I fell into a deep sleep before my head hit the pillow. However my sleep was not pristine, and it was disturbed. I remember being pulled out of sleep
by a feeling of fear. In my dream impaired state, I felt and feared the presence of something supernatural in the room, or in the school, or maybe just the aura of Svat itself. I did not come fully awake, and soon fell back into a deep sleep. But I do remember feeling that airy and gnawing feeling of anxiety, that feeling just before fright, while lying in my hostel bed. While not a traditional believer in mysticism or magical realism at the moment, I am a believer in the power of Svat. There is no other city like Svat in the world, and those places claiming to be so simply cannot hold a candle to it.
סבאבה יגוזם, or just plain cool
Blogger.com has indicated that this post represents my 100th entry, allow me to issue a "holler at ur boy" with zeal over the internet loudspeaker. The pages of Euphoria is now centenial, and I can only hope that the US treasury will mint a coin to be sold on QVC...one with Arnold Schwarzeneggers face on one side, and a pirate ship on the other. If someone feels like leaving a comment on this, please reply with how you would design a coin that would commemorate your existence.
It is quite appropriate that for my 100 entry, I find myself in a situation of extreme interest, at least to me. It has been at least 18 months since I have found myself in a situation of such counter (american) culture, the only thing coming close in comparison was my time on an animal reserve in the Ecuadorian Jungle.
Dear friends, for the last 6 days, I have been volunteering on the Khetziot military base, in service of the Israeli Defence Force, or Tsava Hagana Layisrael. I would write out the name in Hebrew, but annoyingly, the function is turned off at the current computer terminal from which I am writing from. The base is about an hour south of Gaza, right on the Isareli-Egyptian border.
I arranged the volunteer placement about 5 days before the Israel began checking the actions of Hamas in the Gaza strip. Notice my tone of voice, which I wish other reporting news stations would adopt as well. How sheerly insane it is to find myself on an Israeli military base, organzing spacious hangers of old military equipment, packing kit bags for soldiers, and other tasks that take the status quo in their sites, and obliterate it like the most hostile of targets. I sleep on an uncomfortable cot, with other dudes who snore like their playing shitty trumpets, and eat three square meals a day with a mish mash of young M16 toting Israeli youth canvassed in olive green. All the while I simply try to make sense of just what the hell I am doing.
Although I do hear gun fire and bomb concussions reporting back frequently during IDF training and my base is about an hour south of Gaza, I am relatively safe. My only worry is packing on pounds due to the unexpected goodness of base food. For our service, we volunteers get those three meals a day and place to sleep. And it is nice to get those daily requirements free of charge, as Israel has proven to be fucking expensive if I may be frank. However there is a kind of emotional or mental payoff as well. Sort of. In a minute and microscopic way, I am giving service to the state of Israel, giving my support to the lone nation of the Jewish faith, and that feels good. We are performing tasks in aide of the IDF, in fact directly in support of reserve soldiers. I will go into further detail of what we do in the next post.
One of my favorite sayings, one that for whatever reason plays in my mind often is "all is fair in love and war." I have done some ridiculous things when under the influence of the former, and I am getting first hand experience of the latter now. And without assigning justification, I feel like the phrase rings true. Hamas is a terrorist group that needs to be dealt with, and they have left Israel no choice but to answer with military force. However innocent people are also losing their lives. It has been sobering yet educational experience thus far, which I know will get more intense. A happy and safe new years to everyone, you are all in my thoughts. Peace in the real sense, J.