Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome to Israel

"Andrea, you are a tailor-made, bearded, dink" - these are the words I hear from one of our travel companions, John.

He is sarcastically responding to some bullshit I spouted off while drunk. Just for your information, tailor-made refers to cigarettes, bearded refers to women who act as their gay friend's girl friend (e.g., date at best friend's wedding), because he hasn't come out of the closet yet & D.I.N.K. - dual income no kids. The later seems most true.

Although John occasionally blesses his friends with his witty commentary, he was also the one (of two) who got stuck in Israeli immigration for over an hour. Apparently telling Israeli authorities that you are unemployed and are unsure whether you will be visiting East Jerusalem does not guarantee you automatic entry into the State of Israel. And as I wait during this hour at the baggage pick-up, I serious think the Israeli's should consider constructing a bar here, since so many of us are stuck waiting for our travel companions to pass the rigorous security test. Of course, I had no problem getting through immigration but then I understand the mind of the immigration official - stereotypes. Show up with a significant other (hetero), act like a couple (hold hands, look enthralled with one another, bicker cutely), let the man talk at the immigration booth (i.e., women, only speak when spoken to) - guarantee entry ever time.

So besides the super secure airport passage, what is so unique about Israel? At this point in the blogging I have only experienced Tel Aviv and surrounding areas (e.g., Jaffa). So no great enlightening observations so far. So first off, it's warmer and there is a beach in Tel Aviv with real sand. Similar to Europe, drinking is allowed on the street, and makeshift BBQs can be used on public beaches. Pretty cool but not surprising-you've seen it all before, just somewhere else. Perhaps Tel Aviv is best described as the rest of the Western world except with Judaism acting as the backbone of the socio-cultural fabric instead of Christianity.

I was informed that Tel Aviv is considered the secular bubble of Israel. The rest of Israel is predominately orthodox Jewish (similar to beyond the urban limits of Canada - like Albertan oil tycoon ideology - or Texas for the rest of you).

"Israel, for its size, is the focal point for a lot of world bullshit."* Thank you for the astute observation John. This is the same guy who was accosted during breakfast for being from Canada and not knowing how to speak our second language - French. No not I, I do not get involved in such ridiculous conversations (or at least not so far). Not only John, but Kate (our other travel companion - who was part of the Israeli shakedown at the boarder) has also had the pleasure of experiencing some challenging dialogue. It was just this morning that she was confronted by a Christian who gave her a lecture on the recent bone discovery of Jesus remnants - "Well, he had to die sometime?" she offered as a condolence for the 20-minute tirade the Christian gave, which she cared nothing about. "I'm not going to be angry!" Chris, the Christian retorted, "Jesus ascended to heaven in flesh form - the bible does not lie!"

* Quick disclaimer: John quotations may or may not be entirely accurate, as I was quite hammered during our conversations.

Yes, Chris, of course he did, and maybe we will stop by your place later tonight to "hang out". Kate did everything in her power to be the polite Canadian that she is, and walked away from the fucked up shit that was Chris, without making a scene. Impressive. And Kate officially wins the "first encounter with a crazie" award on this trip.

But I digress....

Israel is all about the conflict, for sure. This is not economic based but cultural (i.e., religious and private property acquisition- land ownership). Think of all world wars - land ownership was the predominant issue of contention. But let's face it people, this ain't Iraq here, this is a mid-point between that and Quebec wanting to separate from Canada. I think Israel gets a lot of slack because, well they are predominately Jewish (ethnically at least, not necessarily religious-and yes, there is a difference), and they are engaged in a struggle with Palestinians (aka Muslims). Since 9-11, I think even your average Canadian knows what the current state of affairs (war) is about now, if they have any basic knowledge of world history. Cold war Communism exit stage left...the time is for the Muslim-Christian war. Like that shit ain't been going on forever!

So why do we equate Jews with Christians? I don't know if we do; but, we sure as fuck do seem to give them a lot of foreign aid. If I have learned nothing in my micro economics class, I know you don't get shit for free. But I really don't know how much more I can comment, except for the fact (from what I have read and discussed with the locals) - the majority of Israelis are not crazy religious freaks, they are just living their lives like the rest of us. Same issues just different geographies. Cheers, I will drink to that.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Amsterdam part twee

Okay, back in Amsterdam. What is the first thing we should do? Travel to the red light district to check out the women of the night or find my gnome? Why not both?!

I know you find it surprising that I actually managed to do two things in one day; as I am prone to not rising until after 2pm. But I did. I got up at 9:30 am to receive my free Dutch-style breakfast. A meal very similar to the Continental, except the fruit (solid and liquid) are substituted with a hard boiled egg and ham & cheese. Then wandered off to find a business type centre (a place where you can use the Internet, print and fax all at the same time) to secure our rental location in Tel Aviv for the first week of the trip to Israel. After this, on the way to a coffee shop to have my daily fix of caffeine, I pass a market and catch the eyes of a gaggle of gnomes.

They are found intermixed amongst trash (or what some people call treasure), calling out with their sad eyes to be purchased. After viewing a few of them I saw the one I wanted. He was smoking a pipe in his right hand and holding a shovel with his left. He was obviously a gnome that worked hard but still enjoyed life. My type of gnome. But alas drinking coffee was the priority at this time and I left to consume copious amounts of coffee. After which I convinced myself that purchasing the gnome, even though I would have to lug him around the next three weeks through Israel, was necessary. As my first time around in Amsterdam resulted in no gnome purchasing, which saddened me considerably at the time. Mind you I never made it to a market the first time around, as of a result of me never rising before 2pm. But you know this story already.

Anyways, sorry for the ADD tangent. The point is, I bought the smoking gnome, and we got along great. Even the hotel manager where I was staying commented on the gnome purchase.

"You picked someone up while you were out?"

"Yeah," I laugh, "he was so cute I had to buy him."

The manager laughs. I start to think this dialogue, without the visual, could be understood as a man bringing a hooker back up to his hotel room (circa 1950s). Despite this attention and my eccentric nature, I decide not to take the gnome out for a tour of the red light district. After all, it is a 20-year old Dutch gnome, I'm sure he has seen it all before. So I leave him in the hotel room and he quickly situates himself on the window sill giving him a prime view of the canal. Which is fine, until he starts drinking my beer. When we got back 3 hours later, I found the gnome with a half-drunken bottle of Grolsch.

I didn't realize he was a drunkard; but then again, "smoking a pipe and working hard" is a gateway drug to becoming an alcoholic. The signs were all there, but it didn't matter, I was stuck with the gnome for the next three weeks. After which he will live with my other gnome on my balcony. The other gnome is Canadian...I believe the Dutch and the Canadian will get along just nicely.

Okay, enough about the gnome back to the other point of this blog post - the tour of the red light district. As most of my reader's know, I did not make it to the red light district on my first trip to Amsterdam. So I definitely had to go this time around. First observation, the red light district is exactly like the rest of Amsterdam except there are alive bikini clad woman offering themselves to you in the windows (not to be confused with Guess ads which are pictures of women offering themselves to you in windows). Second observation, there are more tourists milling about because of the real women offering themselves to men who have the mental likeness of prepubescent children. Thankfully it wasn't tourist season, so I could make my way down the street. Third observation, this is one of the only places in Amsterdam that has a McDonald's. Some would say a sign of a civilized society, i would say a sign of Western tourism-another form of world domination instead of war.

That was the extent of my observations this round. Didn't visit a sex museum and didn't visit a live sex show; I'm not interested that much in sex. So, we leave the liberated sex workers, to wander the streets of Nieuwmarket, a neighbourhood adjacent to the red light district. Some call it the ghetto, but I suspect this is only because the architecture is more modern than the 1600s style that dominates the old city.

In Nieuwmarket we come across some signage in the form of 8 foot tall letters spelling "I AMSTERDAM". How clever, if you aren't from Canada that is. Instead of a Molson's Canadian television ad, Amsterdam gets an ad in the form of public art. But not your typical type of art, this type you can actually engage with. People would spend up to 30 minutes climbing over the letters while posing for a friend's camera. The difference, from what we would experience in Canada, is in Amsterdam no one cared if people climbed on the letters. There were no signs telling them the risk of falling and breaking their head open, or prohibiting them from doing so because someone broke their head open once doing just that. Oh Canada, the risk adverse society. Pretty soon we will stop thinking for ourselves, and we will just demand that the government does so for us.

Fun fact. Where this public art ad is situated is the site where 400 years ago Amsterdam would conduct their public executions. Good times.

We have another coffee while viewing the public art ad and move on down the street. We end up on a corner where we are warned to look out for pickpockets. Finding the area not too sketchy, we sit down for a beer and take in the world of Amsterdam. Then we move onwards home, while passing another market, stopping for one more beer, and hitting the University's daily book sale.

Surprisingly the day did not end here, we went out to our favourite Indian restaurant in the Jordaan, known by me for their famed spinach, tofu and cheese dish (very good when needing to replenish the iron supplies), then picked up some more beers (since the gnome drank our last ones!). We then proceeded to drink in the hotel, when we got the idea in our head to see if a local bar was open. We honestly didn't think there would be since it was 1:30am and we were staying in the Jordaan (our favourite non-touristy Amsterdam neighbourhood). However, about a 7 minute walk away was a bar open until 3am with a smoke-easy upstairs. Heavenly! We stayed until three because we met some locals (a self-identified Ethiopian and German who had both been living in the A'Dam for the last 24 and 20 years respectively). I think that makes you a local? We chatted about Canada and its lack of dominance in the world political sphere. However, interestingly enough, both these locals felt Canada had no identity as a nation (as it was too young to have its own culture), while on the other hand, identified being Canadian as not-American. Kind of like Canadians do.

After our drunken discourse, we walk on home, and I sit and type this blog after 5am Amsterdam time, I think that is 8pm Canadian BC time (the day before). Tomorrow I begin another long journey, this time to Israel. Only at least this time I will be arriving at 2:30am Israeli time, just in time to go for a drink.