Monday, March 26, 2007

My Life Didn't Flash Before My Eyes

I was out in Ramallah for my ninth, and insha'allah, last, SecState visit. Although I had managed to have a different role last month, this month I was back to site officer at the Muqata in Ramallah because the guy who was supposed to be taking over that role (since I leave in 47 days) was on leave.

One the way home after an 11-hour day, we came to a back road that had three cars stopped in the road, blocking it completely. All three faced away from us, two at an angle and a truck with a type of camper shell on the back that allows people to ride back there in the middle. There was no way to pass them, and of course, that always sets off alarm bells.

As I watched the vehicles in front of us and wondered what the driver of our FAV (fully armored vehicle) would do, the door of the camper on the truck opened and the first thing I saw come out of the truck was an AK-47. I gasped out loud, and I am not sure I was able to think anything beyond "Oh shit." As he got out, I realized he was a Palestinian soldier, though his uniform was a bit different than the others you normally see.

Of course, he just got out and the truck pulled away. They weren't interested in us at all...they just were making sure that President Abbas' route to Jordan (he went there after the meeting) was safe. But for a split second there, I thought this was going to be a kidnapping attempt...and like I said, my life didn't flash before my eyes!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thrift Store treasures and Armenian pottery

I confess. I LOVE thrift stores. It is probably because I am cheap, coupled with having been a starving grad student for so long, but there are few things that please me more than finding a good deal at a thrift store. Like my solid wood bookshelf that was $25. Or my solid wood wine rack with two shelves, one of which has glass doors, for $40.

One find I am particularly pleased with is a butcher-block kitchen cart I found a few years back for $10. We use it all the holds the cookbooks underneath and the papertowel holder on top. So when I went to a friend's house last year for Thanksgiving and saw she had a similar cart with hand-painted tiles inlaid on the top, it gave me an idea.

There is a sizable Armenian community in Jerusalem, and one thing they are known for is their pottery. Each of us, when we leave the Consulate, gets an Armenian tile "tombstone" with our name and the dates of our service in Jerusalem on it. So I thought it would be cool to get some Armenian pottery tiles inlaid into my thrift store kitchen cart.

M and I went to Sandrouni's in the Old City today (George Sandrouni is one of the best known of the Armenian potters) and picked out a design for the cart. The design is one from an Armenian mosaic located just inside Damascus Gate (the gate in my userpic) of a variety of birds, including an eagle representing Christ in the center. The design below is what it will look like, though the colors will be different (lots of dark blue). Of course, I am spending far more on the tiles than the table cost, but when it is finished, we will have something really unique from our time here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Israel Museum

We finally managed to go to the Israel Museum Saturday. While the museum has a lot of interesting stuff (though the archaeology section is closed until 2009), what it is best known for is The Shrine of the book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed.

They have a fair number of the actual scrolls on display. It was interesting to look at them after having been to Qumran, where they were found, last week. Even more interesting was the realization that though many of them were written in archaic Hebrew, I could still read a few words.

I continue to be amazed at how lucky I am to get to see so many facinating things as part of my tour here!

Israel recalls 'naked ambassador'

No comment needed...

Israel recalls 'naked ambassador'

Israel is replacing its ambassador in El Salvador after the envoy was found outside the embassy, drunk, wearing only bondage gear, officials said.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

I finally got to Qumran, the archaeological site located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. There is a lot of debate about who lived at Qumran. The latest theories argue that it was a pottery factory, and there are a huge number of kilns there. There are also a bunch of pools which were formerly thought to be mikves, Jewish ritual baths. Now they think that most of the pools were for water and clay for the pots.

These theories may or may not conflict with the traditional view of the place, which is that it was the home of the Essenes, who came to Qumran at the end of the second century B.C.E. They left because of an earthquake in 31 BCE, but returned and rebuilt it around 25 years later. They stayed there until 68 AD, when the Romans conquered the area.

M at Qumran

The reason the place is well known, of course, is because the caves around the site are where in 1947, Bedouin shepherds found some ancient scrolls, which we now refer to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists found additional scrolls between 1951 and 1956. The scrolls included included copies of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the works of the Essenes. It is from these that we know so much about the Essenes, such as their focus on ritual bathing and purity. If the film at the visitor center is to be believed, among the writings are hints that members of the sect, upon hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, thought he was the same John who once lived among them.

Cave 4 at Qumran