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The Countryside

May 9, 2009
tags: , ,

DSC02135

The Israeli countryside, through the gate of the temple ruins of Tel Arad.
Picture by Gordon Mikoski

Saturday, 11:00 am local time

Excitement.

We landed in Israel a little over an hour ago. I was lucky enough to have a window seat, and I spotted the coast of Tel Aviv the moment it broke the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. Our group took most of rows 34 and 35, and we all popped our heads over our seats, glancing around to make sure everyone was sharing in our excitement. Landing. Customs. Baggage claim. And here we are, riding on our bus to Arad.

The first thing I’m struck by is the emptiness. When you get off the plane in Newark, you’re immediately bombarded by a mass of people; it’s similar in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Los Angeles, London. It’s much quieter in Tel Aviv. The customs line was short and uneventful; so far on the highway, we’ve encounter no more cars that you would on the Jersey Turnpike on a late Tuesday morning.

I notice random things as we drive. Israelis drive on the right side of the road, but their speed limit markers look British. The scrub brush could be Texas hill scrub. Their highway signs are green, like ours, except they’re always in three different languages. The signs make me feel welcome and ill at ease simultaneously, as if there’s some secret message in the Hebrew or Arabic that I can’t decode – a joke being pulled on the guy who only knows one language.

The symbolism is not lost on me.

Daniel just sat down next to me to discuss simple words in Hebrew. The package of information that our travel guide gave us is in Spanish (which Daniel is fluent in), and it has a small translation guide for phrases like “how much,” “thank you,” and the like – except it doesn’t list Hebrew. It’s got Arabic, Danish, English, Spanish, but not Hebrew – a bit of a foresight, I think. I help Daniel with what I know (“thank you” is “todah,” if you were wondering), but I wish I’d brought a Hebrew translation guide of my own.

The theme for our trip is a discussion of space, and the issues that we have and the wars we fight over spaces we claim to be holy, but I wonder how much of this discussion is actually about communication. I only know that parts of this country are holy because somebody told me once; looking out over the countryside (that Daniel just described as Jersey-like), there doesn’t seem to be anything intrinsic that would make it holy. It’s pretty normal. The only thing that distinguishes this countryside from the plains of Kansas or the rolling hills of western Washington is the fact that we chose to come here, and we are not alone in that. The signs are in three languages for a reason.

Our travel guide just came on to tell us that we just passed by the valley of Elam, where David once killed the giant Goliath.

That’s interesting.

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