Sunday, March 18, 2018

Never fear, I'm like the Houdini of bathrooms in Israel.

The first time I got locked in the bathroom in Israel, we were at the Isrobel Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea. We weren't staying there, we just had day-passes so I had to change and put all my stuff in a locker in the locker room in the basement.

This was the women's locker room; Tom was therefore not around. Nor was anyone else. The entire time I'd been in the locker room attempting to figure out how to get the locker combination lock to work, determining it was broken, walking out to the front desk to get a new locker, getting a new locker, getting that one to work.... the entire time this whole preparing to take a dip in the Dead Sea had been going on... No.One.Had.Come.Into.The.Locker.Room. 

So I'm in there all by myself. 

I figure that very few other ladies, maybe nobody, had done the day-pass thing. Everyone else was an overnight guest and therefore had no need for the public locker room. It's nice to have an entire locker room to yourself. Until you get locked in a toilet stall.

After I managed to jam everything I had with me into the locker, I meandered over to toilet area.

I picked a stall. I locked the door behind me. 

By the way, this was not an American style stall with a high-hanging door that, worst come to worst, you could crawl under. These stalls were solid. Stone walls and a full-on wooden door.

When I went to open the door to leave, the latch turned but the door didn't open. I turned the latch again. No dice. The deadbolt wasn't moving. I turned the latch again. Nothing. I turned the latch three more times but remain stuck in the stone cell which some people might call a toilet stall.

Immediately, I had a full-on panic attack. How long will it take Tom to realize that I didn't wander off for a snack or walk over to the Dead Sea beach without him? And then how long will it take him to find someone who speaks English to come into the locker room and locate me? Will I have perished by then?

I sat down on the toilet seat and took deep breaths. I gave myself a little pep talk-- calm under pressure and all that. Then, with steely resolve, I slammed that latch back and forth like a blacksmith with unusually strong forearms hellbent to knock a piece of steel into submission. I must have opened and closed that latch 50 times in 20 seconds.

And the deadbolt opened. The whole episode was harrowing, but rather brief.

The second time I got locked in a bathroom in Israel was in Jerusalem at the Mamilla Hotel. Our tour guide arranger guy loved this hotel, so I didn't have the heart to tell him that we're Chelsea people and this place is so Upper East Side it made me want to wear a beanie, drink my coffee out of a mason jar and talk about experimental house music and my stance against french manicures and matching luggage. The whole place gave me an identity crisis.

The bathroom in our room was super cray:

Glass enclosed bathroom in our room at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem.

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You see what I mean? Who could have imagined a more deluxe gimmick? Anyway, I had to get up to pee in the middle of the night and I realized if I turned the light on in the bathroom, it would be like turning on a bathroom-sized incandescent lamp. This would wake up Tom and then we'd have Grouchy Tom on our hands. So I walked into the bathroom and closed the door in pretty much the pitch dark because the Israelis are very good at black-out curtains.

When I went to go back to bed, I couldn't find the doorknob. I couldn't actually even remember where the door was. Also the Plan B light switch was somewhere that was not obvious to someone feeling up the walls like a blind person with a fetish for walls. Granted, I could have just yelled and woken up Tom and I'm sure he would have saved me but that would just be a little too much like giving up.

Eventually, like Houdini, I escaped.

I mean, like Houdini all the times before that last time.

(The cleaning ladies the next day: "Look at all these fingerprints all over every single surface in this entire bathroom WTF with these Americans?!")

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Meanwhile, in Norway. Also entitled, Jo: Home for the Holidays.

It's almost midnight, the Saturday before St. Patty’s day. At an Irish Bar packed with actual Irish people. Accompanied by a swarm of Scandinavians. I know, this sounds like a truly bad idea, but fear not, I have lots of experience with these kinds of dangerous scenarios.

Jo, one of my favorite Norwegians, breaks into this story about his trip home for the holidays. I felt like I was in an episode of Drunk History

Jo says that he was up with his family at their “hytte,” the cabin in the forest that every single solitary Scandinavian has and talks about all the time.

So these neighbors of Jo’s family drop in and invite Jo back to their family's hytte for a drink. Jo went to school with the kids. Jo’s mother is like, “go, go over to their hytte.” Jo is hesitant because he knows that one of the main reasons they are inviting him is because Jo has a posh Norwegian accent and they think he is a….

Three people start imitating posh Norwegian accents and I yell out pantywaist! Only Tom laughs but everyone toasts each other because we’re at an Irish bar at midnight the Saturday before St. Patricks day and Scandinavians love toasts.

After about ten minutes someone realizes we're in the middle of a story here.

Jo straps on his cross country skis, because. Norway. He follows his old neighbors over to their hytte. It’s a couple of kilometers.

The neighbors have brewed up a batch of moonshine using their secret family recipe. In Norway, the moonshine is 96% alcohol. BTW, that’s not 96 proof. Jo asks for whisky and they reach up in the spice cupboard for their little bottle of “Whiskey Extract.” They also have “Scotch Extract” and “Vodka Extract.” They sell these little bottles of extract in every Norwegian grocery store, right next to the Vanilla Extract. Two drops of Whiskey Extract and shazam. They hand Jo a shot glass of “whiskey.” Helan går, as they say.

Jo proves he is not a pantywaist. Finally, it’s time to go home. He walks out into the cold, dark Norwegian night all by himself. Did I mention dark? It’s really really dark in Norway in the winter. Pitch. Black.

Jo pushes off in his skis. Swish, swish. But the snow is deep. And it’s fucking dark. He break a pole.

Oh no!!! The crowd goes wild. We all clutch our heads. 

Jo skis a little further, and realizes right then that the alcohol hasn’t kicked in yet. The clock is ticking. He must make it home before he gets as truly drunk as he deserves to be. He skis with one ski pole, recalling that in the old days, like the 13th century, they used to ski with only one pole. We all imitate his re-enactment. We probably look like we’re trying to pilot a gondola. None of the Irish even notice.

But then, the worst! THE OTHER POLE BREAKS.

OMG! And it’s dark and Jo is in a valley and he has to make it up the hill and home to the family hytte before he can’t feel his arms and he has no ski poles and the snow is deep and he’s a little lost and it’s pitch black and it's the middle of the night!

The next morning, Jo’s mother asks if he would like to go out for a little julekake and to shop for a pink marzipan pig. Maybe sing a verse or two of the Mouse Song.

Jo said, no. He’d rather just stay home and do a little reading. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Jerusalem for the clueless

Overlooking Jeruselem
During its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times. And it shows, for example, in the bullet holes from 1948 by Zions Gate built in 1540. But mainly it doesn’t show, which might be my main point. 

What there is to see in Jerusalem is often what you don’t see— the long-gone ancient temples, palaces, marketplaces. In a timeline that will boggle the brain, most of what was built here was ripped to shreds by invaders. You walk around suddenly very aware of the empty space. Blank sky or rearranged stones that once were feats of engineering and centuries of history. 

By the way, the rearranged stones I’m talking about are Jerusalem stone. All white. So it’s very easy for your minds eye to see the blood on them.

Here’s the difference between a visit to Jerusalem and one to Paris or Istanbul or one of the old norse temples nestled between trees. In Jerusalem, I did not experience that moment… the one where suddenly you’re overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty that humans can create. Where faith and ingenuity of our ancestors shines through the centuries.

In Jerusalem, one aspect of human nature overshadowed the rest: testosterone-fueled aggression justified in the name of something that sounds noble. As a general statement, I’d say the place is chock full of all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. 

I walked around feeling dismayed, disappointed, horrified… so much nasty zealotry, so little time. Wait, scratch that. So much time. You can't chalk it up to an anomaly.

Shrine enclosing the grave of Jesus.
Various priests and clergymen from various denominations
bicker over who gets to go in with the incense. 

Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the Dome of the Rock.
You have to be able to recite the 1st chapter of the Quran to get in.

Western Wall, encasing the Rock under the Dome of the Rock
 and now deemed to be just as sacred as the rock that cannot be visited.

This is the Rock where Abraham almost offed his son and the same rock, the exact same rock,
that Muhammad leapt into the sky to have lunch with the prophets.

BTW- women aren't allowed in the most sacred place inside this wall.
I fail to understand the appeal for any woman to believe this place is holy and then agree to the ban.

I don’t mean it wasn’t unforgettable and staggering to take in. You can read a page of the Bible and see where, exactly where, the scene described took place--- It was right over there that King Solamon did this or David did that or Helen built the church. It was right here that the Romans or the Byzantines or the Canaanites built their homes or the aqueducts a millennium ago. Or five millennia ago. That kind of old is unfathomable. Our guide was a veritable encyclopedia on two feet. 

Insanely ancient place... It's possible that King David
(ie David from David and Goliath, that David) lived around here.

This might be the residence of Helen
who built the Church of the Holy Seprechur

Our trip was like Israel 101- the crash course. I feel like I should get a certificate. Or another one of those Jerusalem bagels.

Jerusalem bagels were pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

And I was the only one in the Dead Sea with a rash guard

There was lots of action during our trip to Israel last week, so let me begin with the low point... and by low point I mean 1300ft below sea level low. We spent a morning in the Dead Sea amidst a flotilla of citizens from post-Soviet countries. It was kind of great.

There are apparently dodgy public beaches around the Dead Sea, but it was made clear to us that you don't go there. You buy a day pass at a hotel. You have a buffet breakfast and lavish yourself upon their facilities like any self-respecting retiree from the Uzbekistan.

The lobby was marble, the cushions were orange and the carpet was plaid. The crowd had their plan down pat: Sauna, Sea, Jacuzzi, Steam room (dry), Steam Room (wet). Repeat for one weekend.

We changed into white terry bathrobes with the hotel name embroidered on the lapel and walked across the street to the beach. We got to wear our water shoes, which was a big deal because we didn't wind up going through that water tunnel in Jeruselem. Our guide said it was too cold that day and anyway a busload of Swedish school kids had just headed in there. They looked like splashers.

You're not supposed to float on your stomach in the Dead Sea because your feet just fling themselves skyward and people with shitty core muscles drown when they can't get their face up out of the water. We flipped around some trying to figure out the best way to take a nap. We had gotten up at 3am that morning to hike up a mountain at sunrise. I'm not going to say our efforts were really a win, but we at least achieved a buoyantly snoozy Detente.

We returned to the hotel to find the heated Black Sea water pool. I felt like I didn't have on enough aerosol hair spray and blue eyeshadow to really fit in and Tom's swimming trunks are way too comprehensive. I kept waiting for a Russian mob hit. Someone in a Speedo getting taken down by a guy in 70's nylon split shorts. I never realized there were so many styles of tiny men's bathing suits so appealing to the over 60 set.

All in all, the day was kind of unforgettable. We loved it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Satisfactorily planning our trip to Israel. Otherwise known as buying water shoes.

photo credit:

About three weeks ago, Tom announced that he had booked a business trip to Israel. Of course I immediately invited myself along. I suggested that he book our flights before his meetings started, so we'd have some time to tour around.

Tom's meetings were set for Monday, so he booked our flights the Thursday before. Those reservations didn't last long. I am not going the whole way to Israel for a long weekend. We compromised and Tom booked the tickets so we'll have a full week to take in the birthplace of about twelve religions and an outpost of the Roman empire. 

Speaking of the Romans, here's what I just learned reading Sapiens: Christianity only became a real deal when one of the Roman emperors, Constantine the Great, for some reason, decided Jesus was his man. By all accounts, this was an odd choice. The Christians at that time were just this weird little sect tooling around on the fringes. It would be like suddenly the United States turning into a Hare Krishna nation.

Back to planning our trip to Israel. First things first. I immediately began shopping for water shoes. The reason is simple. First, I noticed that there is this ancient water tunnel that runs under Jerusalem called Hezekiah's tunnel. That looked cool. Then I noticed in order to go in this tunnel, you need water shoes that actually stay on your feet for a half-kilometer trek through knee high water. Also, water shoes were recommended for the Dead Sea, another must-see attraction. So you can clearly understand why finding the perfect pair of water shoes was of the highest priority.

After a few hours online, I looked into booking hotels, our itinerary and how to get from place to place. I learned that apparently most normal people book their pilgrimage to the holy land with plenty of advance notice. "Do you have space on your tour on 2/19?" I would write. "2/19 2019?" they would reply. 

This became a problem. 

Another thing that became a problem was no public busses running on Friday nights or Saturdays and the intricacies of renting a car and finding our way around. After a very stressful week, I think I finally figured most of it out. Or paid someone to get most of it figured out might be the better way to put it.

Meanwhile, Tom just ran out to buy himself some shoes. We leave tomorrow. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Meditation Chops

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I’m a half decent meditator. I know this quantitatively. 

In December, 2014, I attended a digital health trade show and purchased a headband which tracks brainwaves while meditating. Then it gives you an EEG style reading after you’re done, including a score. So if you’re me, you can get all competitive about it. 

A couple Fridays ago, I met this very large party of Buddhists drinking at the Rubin Museum happy hour. One of them was also a vegan wearing a shirt with a giant fluorescent green Under Armor logo emblazoned across the front of it. It vibrated my eyeballs, this logo. I would not have expected a vegan Buddhist to sport such a large area of fluorescence. That’s one stereotype debunked.

Anyway, subsequent to two bourbon on the rocks, generously poured, I decided to become a Buddhist. Then I read up on it.

Buddhists are all about not suffering. Because not suffering is a synonym for happiness. And how you avoid suffering is to quit craving things. You stop with the expectations already, because if you don’t have something, you want it, and if you have it, you worry about losing it. The idea is that you regard everything as impermanent and unnecessary.

I get the drift. But I have to tell you, I like my things. I like to put on my purple robe in the morning and furry slippers with memory soles. I like to swan about the house carrying my new ember mug that keeps my tea at a constant temperature. (Tom got it for me for valentines day because he's romantic like that.) Then I like to change into daywear and log everything in the app I use to amortize my wardrobe. I find this whole process very pleasing. 

I wonder if this kind of possession obsession is kosher with the Buddhists. Probably not. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Books I would totally read

An Introduction to Elvish

The Summer Solstice: Your Minute-by-Minute Companion

The World of Fountain Pens

Memento Mori: A Coffee Table Book
also its sequel: Dead Things on the Sidewalk

Zagat's Guide to Peculiar Lip Balms

The next book by Patrick Rothfuss. Seriously man, get on with it.