Monday, August 27, 2007

Premium New-Apartment Boozefest

Part of the thrill of moving to a new, larger, more conveniently located apartment is planning the larger, actually-attended cocktail parties. That's right, this past weekend was our First Official Uptown Boozefest. But seriously, it was a classy affair:

Fresh lime, a $200 bottle of Milagro tequila (it's wonderful having friends who work at magazines and get tons of free stuff, no?), antique silver-rimmed shot glasses, and a Spiderman paper plate. Tequila this good is for sipping. And by the time the official housewarming rolls around we'll have real plates and coasters. Promise.

My friend also scored us a bottle of Lillet, a lovely (and purple!) French apéritif wine. Again note the silver-rimmed antique glasses, the amazing color combination of the wine and the lime (thanks, Canon DSC 1000!), and the trash bag cooling its heels in the background.

And today's Art Shot: white wine, Lillet, and a spent shot of Milagro, complete with mortar-crushed sea salt (and Laura). Requisite bohemian touch: bar coasters!

To top it all off, the original plan was to get together and watch the Vienna State Opera's production of Lohengrin, starring a young Placido Domingo, but we somehow talked the summer night away. Truly lovely.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Israel, Jerusalem Shuk (Souk)

Faithful Reader,

Firstly, my apologies for the lack of an update this past week. Life post-move has been quite hectic, but I'll be doing my best in the upcoming weeks to keep the posts at least semi-regular.

The first place we visited in Jerusalem was the Shuk, or market. The word in Arabic is Souk; I was continuously struck by how similar the two languages are. The example most people know is, of course, the word for peace: In Hebrew, shalom; in Arabic, salaam.

A shuk is an open-air street market where you are expected to bargain with the merchants, who are constantly shouting goods and prices at you in Hebrew. My Hebrew at this point, having been in Israel for all of two hours, was nonexistent, except for "yes," "no," "hello/good bye," and numbers one through ten. So you can imagine the mental overload upon being set loose here for almost two hours:

The sound of the shuk was almost unbelievable: a cacophonous trainwreck of transactions, arguments, languages falling over each other. But the smell of the market was something else altogether:

Spice merchants abounded, hawking everything from coriander to sage and about a thousand smells I couldn't identify. I'm not sure how much of this was the extreme sleep deprivation (awake clock: 41 hours), but everything seemed to be richer: smells, definitely, but also sounds, colors, tastes. The food had layer upon layer of spice that came at me like waves of different colors, and Hebrew has a primal, guttural quality that's like listening to English in high definition.

In the midst of my olfactory reverie, my friend Karen (also a New Yorker) remarked, "Doesn't this remind you of Chinatown?!" And, sure enough, right next to her:

Fish! The other smell that seemed to be everywhere in the shuk was coffee:

I didn't notice this until after I took the picture, but the man in the center of this shot, sitting outside a café in the shuk, was staring right at me. I guess I did kind of look like a tourist:

Maybe it was the backpack? Or, perhaps, the constant smirk of giddy elation. Awake clock: 42 hours.

Even from the beginning, we could all see that Israel (and Jerusalem in particular) is a place where the old and the modern are in constant collision. Case in point (Melanie, this one's for you):

On a decidedly un-lofty note, Israel is also home to the largest produce I've ever seen. This pumpkin was seriously intimidating:

... or is it a squash?

This man's picture is plastered all over walls throughout Israel. Is he the messiah?

The ancient and the modern is far from the only open contradiction in Israeli society. Military service is mandatory for all Israelis, even women, and everywhere I looked I was confronted by the reality of a militarist culture borne of necessity:

But the balance to the constant threat of war is still difficult to describe. It was the sense that, even though I didn't speak the language or know the culture, even though I knew I was a foreigner, I never felt like one. This sight, just outside the Israeli equivalent of a dollar store, was a sign of things to come:

Another sign of the future: new friends!

Next time: Shabbat, and a gorgeous Ethiopian church.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Israel, Yerushalayim!

Our bus arrived in Jerusalem around 7AM local time (awake clock: 42 hours), and as we climbed the mountains west of the city, the stones changed from gray to gold.

We had trouble believing we were where we were: was that man walking his dog in Jerusalem?! Was this really a functioning city, with people heading to work?

Our bus stopped at a lookout, where we got our first glimpse of the skyline:

It might have been the awake clock edging toward hour 43, but many of us were struck dumb. That bird is in Jerusalem! This bug is in Jerusalem!

(The blog will get more intelligent, I promise)

We had a chance to pause for photo-ops:

And that, Fearless Reader, is yours truly. IN JERUSALEM.

Just outside religious neighborhoods (what, in America, would be called "Orthodox"), one very often sees signs like these, discussing religious matters and urging visitors to dress modestly.

The graffiti is written with vowels so that anyone may read it, regardless of their Hebrew abilities: it is believed that when all Jews chant this phrase simultaneously, the Messiah will come. It is written everywhere in Israel: spray-painted on walls, printed on bumper stickers and stuck on light poles.

A Jewish friend in America gave me these coins, tzdakah (charity), to give me purpose on my journey. There are tzdakah boxes everywhere in Jerusalem: it is one of the world's richest cities in terms of its culture, its history, but it is Israel's poorest economically.

I chose this box: it was the first one I saw, and how could I say no to this:

A holy alley cat! Cats are everywhere in Israel, as you will see later. In the next post: The shuk (street market) in Jerusalem.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Israel, Arrival

By the time I got to JFK, I already hadn't slept in almost 24 hours. For those of you who don't live in New York, the real estate market here is about as horrific as you can imagine, and probably more than that. We started looking for an apartment a full month before my departure, and after several false starts, including one in which the broker tabled our application in order to rent it to someone else for a higher fee, we FINALLY found our place: a huge 3-bedroom on the Upper West Side, right by the northwest corner of Central Park. I'll post a separate entry on the apartment soon.

We finished our paperwork for the place at 1:30AM on flight day, and I hadn't even begun to pack. I got home at 3AM, packed until 5AM, then left for the airport. So you can imagine, when I saw this, that I was pretty damn excited:

Hebrew! That's right, folks, my first exposure to modern, Israeli Hebrew was a notification about my flotation device.

I had been up for about 28 hours at this point, and I was pretty darned tired. But part of going on a Birthright trip is that you travel with about 40 people who spend every single second of every day with you, so I was also really excited to meet my new friends. So, naturally, I didn't sleep on the plane, either.

You can imagine how delirious with excitement--and, well, delirium--I was when I saw this:

Los Angeles?! Fear not, friends, I did get on the right plane. (This is actually Ben-Gurion International Airport, just outside Tel Aviv)

One of the perks of traveling on the Israeli government's coin is that you get to stand in the much, much shorter Israeli passports line.

Andrew is tall. Jeremy is not. Andrew and Jeremy are in Israel, and are pretty excited about it. Awake clock: 40 hours (Eastern standard time).

Hey, Dad! A holy Volvo! This was our group's bus for 10 days. You will be seeing a lot of the inside of it, but, thankfully, not smelling it. 40 20-somethings do not smell nice after a hike in the desert. Or riding camels.

This is what Israel looks like just east of Tel Aviv.

With the exchange rate at 4.3 to 1, 100 Israeli shekels equal about $23. Why does every country have prettier money than we do? Cool note: if you look really, really closely, the pixels on the money are actually Hebrew letters.

Next post in Jerusalem!

Welcome to A Wall of Sound!

This is my first blog entry in my first blog. I'm hoping it'll be a way for me to keep you all updated on music, travel, home, and all that other miscellaneous stuff that adds up in freaky ways.

The next few entries will be a sort of travelogue-blog of my recent travels to Israel, so look out in the coming days for pictures! pictures! pictures! and lots of witty captions.