Saturday, July 7, 2007

In which I discover that the water in the Baha’i Gardens is a tease.

I was awakened early by the sun, which comes right in my window. It was hot. As it turned out, about 15 degrees hotter than outside. So I won’t be doing any sleeping late, I think. I had a cup of tea with Hadas, then went down for the breakfast and movie the program had provided—and this time there was plenty of food and coffee. I got my phone and called home—oh, god, it was good to talk to them! Then we left for a tour of the Baha’i Gardens, to be followed by a trip to the Wadi Nasnis, where there were open shops.

Because of the morning cool, I forgot 1) a hat, 2) a water-bottle, and 3) the kerchief that Valerie gave me. I had previously lost the bag containing sunscreen and bug repellent. So, yeah, not terribly well prepared. There is a long bus ride from campus into town. By the time we arrived at the entrance to the Baha’i Gardens, the sun was already high. Haifa is built on a mountain—or at least a very high hill. We began at the top and made our way slowly down the gardens, as the tour guide explained the religion and its holy sites, one in Acco; the other in Haifa. The gardens are pristine, symmetrical, and elaborate, a mixture of flowers, grass, and fountains. They are carefully without symbolic meaning so that all can enjoy their beauty. They surround the shrine in which one of the founder’s bones are buried. We walked down 700 steps to the shrine and there are 700 more below, so that the shrine is located midway down the slope. As we walked, the guide stopped us at various places to explain one point or another. We got hotter and hotter and the water in the fountains was more and more appealing. But we were all well-behaved and didn’t leap in, tempting as it was.

It was close to noon when we finished, after which we left for the market. We walked through narrow streets with small stores selling pita or dry goods and through open air markets with lots of fruit or vegetables. Eventually, we asked—meaning that I asked—where we could find a falafel stand. And we found several. The guy handed us a falafel ball. It was the best falafel I have ever had. I may go there every day. It was incredible. So we got pitas stuffed with the works, sat on the street in the shade and ate and groaned with incredible pleasure.

Then we shopped the market. I used as much Hebrew as I could, but have had a bit of trouble—I swear I heard one guy say “twenty” when he really said “tai-she” (9). I was listening for the Hebrew, but just assumed he was speaking English for the poor incompetent tourist. So there’s a ways to go. I did manage to get enough food for Sunday and Monday—including veggies!—as well as some of the missing items. Then I tried to head back to where Or had said to meet. Not successful. However, I did meet up with Steven, one of the group I had been hanging out with. He is maybe ten or fifteen years older than I am, from Sacramento, and just wants to learn Hebrew. (There’s also Chris, who is from Alaska and was a part-time bush pilot until his plane was wrecked. Now he and his family are planning on making aliyah next year. And Harriet, from Davis, whose Israeli husband is divorcing her after 23 years. And a couple of med students (Ariella and Jenny) from the Seattle-Vancouver area. Yeah, a real mix and a lot more older people than I expected. The older people are here because it is a long-term goal; the younger to have a good time—and to learn. At some point, I hope I’ll comment on how people came together, how similar groups found each other, and so on. But it’s really interesting to see how the different age groups act, what they want, and so on.) We walked and walked and walked. We read signs, asked people, and eventually ended up on a bus that got us back to the university. At which point I soaked my head. Completely exhausting, incredibly exhilarating (especially after cooling off!).

This is pretty much a summary of the day—haven’t had time to think about a bunch of stuff: the mix of languages, ages, and different programs. How different groups form. How that will change tomorrow when we are placed in classes. And I don’t know what else….

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