Monday, April 30, 2007

Packing Out and Checking Out

There is nothing like packing your UAB (unaccompanied baggage, or your air freight) to show you how much you have that you really don't need. The department gives each officer 250 lbs of air freight, meaning M and I together had 500 lbs. Of course, since we are not legally married, we had to create separate inventories, but in the end, that amounted to packing until they hit 250 lbs and then calling that mine. Then they packed the rest of the stuff. Even with last minute additions of stuff we could probably live without (mostly more clothes), we still came about 125 lbs short. I argued for thowing in some of the carpets or paintings, but in the end, we just let it go as is.

The problem with packouts it that it signals the end. And without my planning it, my brain said, "Oh, we're done." I am now finding it positively unbearable to be in the office, not a good sign with two weeks left. Fortunately, at least for the most part, I have plenty to do between now and the day we leave, most of it involving preparations to leave. So maybe I will succeed in not driving myself insane between now and then!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Thrift Store Treasures Part II

I got my table back from Sandrouni's today, and it came out better than I had hoped to imagine! I am really pleased with it. I kept saying over and over that it was perfect and George's wife said, "Michelle, why don't you compliment him a little!"

I took a picture of it, which doesn't do it justice.

Speaking of Armenian pottery, I went back to the consular section yesterday to have lunch with the FSNs there. Even though I really disliked consular work, working with them was awesome. To a person they are incredible professionals and fabulous human beings. Anyway, lots of folks transfer to political and never look back. But I didn't want to be one of those people. So I ordered lunch for everyone in the section, ACS and visas. And at the lunch, they gave me a gift, an Armenian tile serving tray that is just beautiful.

It occurred to me after the lunch that I am prouder of that tray than of all the awards I have received here. Because that told me that the FSNs valued me the way that I value them. Spending time with them is one of the things I will miss most when I leave post.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Work? What Work?

Okay, it isn't that I don't have any. It is that I can't focus on it!

How am I supposed to concentrate on work and plan our packouts (UAB and HHE) plus getting the pets to the vet and Ministry of Agriculture for their health certificates. And then of course there are going away parties, checking out to do (physically...the mental checkout happened long ago), arranging deliveries to the house in the states and quarantine for Cayenne...

And if that weren't enough, then there are all the plans for home leave...field school, seeing the nieces, touring the southwest....

Like I said, what work?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

They Weren't Mad at Us

Monday morning, we noticed a lot of traffic in front of the Consulate, and several police vans had even taken some of our very limited parking on the Independence Park side of Agron Road. I asked one of our guards what was going on, and she told me a few thousand university students were down the road protesting at Prime Minister Olmert's residence over proposed tuition hikes (from 10,000 shekels, or about $2457, per year, to 15,000 shekels, or about $3685, per year). She said the police were not allowing them to move, so I went on inside to work.

At lunchtime, I was sitting with M and some other friends from work in the garden outside our little cafeteria (eating some yummy homemade sweet potato ravioli made by Netta, who runs the cafeteria) when we heard some chanting and yelling. We could see that at least 10 buses were parked in front of the Consulate, and protesters were chanting and carrying signs. I asked Netta what they were saying and she said they were chanting (The government is f*cked. There is no future without education." So we all ran up to the third floor of the Lazarist Building so we could get a better view (we have a wall around the Consulate so we couldn't really see them).

Once we determined that they were in fact the students protesting tuition hikes and not protesting against the US, I went out front with one of our security guys to get a picture. At that point, they were yelling that Israel should be MORE like the US, which pays (!) for students' educations. Are they kidding? Have they SEEN my student loan debt??

Student Protesters in Independence Park

Monday, April 16, 2007

Holocaust Remebrance Day

Today is Israel's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At 10 am, they sound an eerie siren and have two minutes of silence to honor the memory of the six million people who were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The observance of the day began last night at sundown, when many cable stations stopped broadcasting and put up memorial messages. During the siren, which can be heard throughout the city, everything stops, even traffic. People stop their vehicles in the middle of the road and stand next to their cars for the duration of the siren.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter

This year, Orthodox and Western Easter fell at the same time, something that doesn't happen all that often. Plus, Passover is also this week, meaning that the city is packed. So I didn't even attempt to go to Easter service in the Old City.

Below is a picture of the Greek Patriarch, Theopolis, celebrating Easter service. He is a contact of mine, since I do the religious affairs portfolio, and I have met with him several times. He serves cognac at the meetings (too bad the portfolio wasn't given to someone who drinks!) and he once gave me a book about the church's manuscript collection (which is really extensive). He is an incredibly nice man, and I have enjoyed working with him.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet

This is an amazing time of year to be in Jerusalem, particularly this year as Pesach (Passover) and Easter fall at the same time. And since I am handling the religious affairs portfolio, I have been invited to some of the events.

Today I went to the Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet at St. James Cathedral of the Armenian Patriarchate. The ceremony lasted about an hour and was amazingly beautiful, even if I didn't understand a word of what they were saying!

I went with the DPO (Deputy Principle Officer, or the second in charge at the mission). When we arrive, he said we were with the U.S. Consulate, we were escorted in led by a fairly high-priest and two staff-bearing accollites. The accollites hit the ground with their staffs on every second step in the way that they do when they are leading a high ranking priest around town, so we entered the church to a "thump - thump - thump." We were seated in an area designated for distinguished guest right next to a large raised stage. On the stage, initially concealed by a large tapestry, is the altar and the seating areas for the head priest (who oddly, was NOT the Patriarch), and 12 high priests (presumably to represent Jesus and the 12 Apostles). Each of the high priests wore a black monks robe with the hood pulled up and had wrapped around their shoulders a tan cloak emroidered with pink, green and black. The head priest looked like a Catholic bishop.

Immediately in front of the state, situated between the two sections of dignitary seats, was the area where a group of 13 young men positioned themselves and sang throughout the service. Again, there seemed to be one higher ranking and 12 lower ranking. At first I thought they were sitting, but partway through the service, I noticed that they were actually kneeling! My knees hurt for them, particularly when some started sittting back a bit. I noticed one refused to sit back, remaining on his knees and occassionally bowing his head as if to pray for strength to endure it. I also noticed that as they sang, most of the high priests sat stoically, almost as though they were bored. But one older priest, with a full greying beard, sang along with the young men, his eyes glistening as if he would cry from the emotion of it.

The climax of the service was the washing of the feet, during which the head priest removed his ceremonial garments, knelt and one by one, washed the feet of the high priests. Each priest, after having his right foot washed, bowed and kissed two relics on a small table next to the head priest. Some also kissed the ring of the kigh priest.

The church itself was amazing. According to Father Jerry O'Connor's book "The Holy Land," it was constructed in the 1100s. It is cool and dark inside, with old paintings long since darkened by the smoke of incense and glistening gold icons everywhere.

As we left at the end of the service, we shook hands with some of the priests, including one dressed in the plainest black robe - the Patriarch.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More on the Golan

From Banias, we headed to Nimrod's Fortress. The fortress was begun in 1227 C.E. by al-Moatis, the governor of Damascus to protect the road to his city. The fortress was expanded westward in 1230. In 1253, the Crusaders tried unsuccessfully to take the fortress. The fortress was conquered by Mameluke commander Baybars in 1260, and he awarded the fort to Bilik, his second in command. Bilik refurbished the fortress and constructed the largest tower there.

Nimrod's Fortress

Today we went to Rosh HaNikra, right on the Lebanon border. At Rosh HaNikra, the Mediterrainian has carved out "grottos" into the rock walls. You take a cable car down to the entrance and can walk through pathways along the grottos. There was a storm at sea so the water was extremely rough, but it was still beautiful.

A Large Wave Comes Through

Weekend in the Golan

Tomorrow is the first day of Passover, and a holiday here. So M and I took today off and made it a four-day weekend so we could take a trip to the Golan Heights. We had planned to take this trip last summer, but the Lebanon War made the area off limits. In fact, some of the rockets hit in Tiberias, the town on the Sea of Galilee where we stayed.

The first place we visited this trip was Bet She'an, the ancient city of Bet She'an Scythopolis and the best preserved Roman ruins in Israel. Settlement at the site began in the 5th millennium B.C.E. (a good location is a good location), and was subsequently inhabited by the Egyptians, Phillistines, Israelites, Assyrians, and Hasmonians before becoming one of the ten cities of the Decapolis under the Romans in 63 B.C.E. Under the Byzantines, it became a large Christian center of more than 30,000 people, and later declined following the Arab conquest. A devastating eathquake hit the area in 749 C.E., and you can still see the columns where they fell.

View of Bet She'an from the Tel

After we finished walking around Bet She'an, we headed for our hotel, The Scot's Hotel on the Sea of Galilee. The hotel is built on a converted hospital from the 1800s, with parts of the hotel being in the refurbished old buildings. All around are the remnants of the Roman occupation of that city.

On Sunday we headed first to the Banias waterfall at the Hermon Stream Nature Preserve. The waterfall is the largest in Israel and is magnificent. We would have done the hike to the other side, where there is a temple to the god Pan (Banias is a corruption of Panaes), but one of the park officials advised us to drive since it was raining off and on, making the path muddy and slippery.

Banias Waterfall