Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ben Gurion’s resting place

The owners of our B & B had made a magnificent attempt to build a garden with sun-loving plants and stone rockeries. This was not a good time of year to judge it. Just as an English garden, starved of sun may not be at its best in winter, so perhaps a desert garden may show off its colours to greater advantage in a cooler time. Certainly June was a very hot time of year to be there.

We were to leave the area on Monday afternoon, 20th June. In the morning, we joined our cousins for breakfast. (The owners of the B&B were away, and we didn’t want to use their cooking implements and raid their food cupboards, so apart from a cup of tea, we left everything as it was.) I took another photo of the local environment, and can almost feel the heat, as I look at it now.

It was decided to go to the Ben-Gurion’s Tomb National Park, which was a walk away from our cousins’ home. Two of the children had gone to nursery, but we took the youngest child and went with our cousin, while her husband was at work at the college.

We were able to sit beneath a tree, and there were other mothers and babies sitting around too. We also watched the ibex - a kind of goat, grazing on the grass in the park. Despite the desert conditions, here at least, grass did grow and vegetation grew in amongst the stones.

It was tempting to stay under the trees, doing nothing, but the park is the home of the graves of David Ben-Gurion - the first Prime Minister of Israel - and his wife, Claudia. To have travelled all that way and not visited them would have unforgivable.

Ben-Gurion and his wife had settled in kibbutz Sde Boker on their retirement. As Wikipedia says: ‘He saw the struggle to make the desert bloom as an area where the Jewish people could make a major contribution to humanity as a whole.’ It was also his wish to be buried on this spot over-looking the desert.

Looking at this view is like looking at a landscape on the moon.

After lunch, our cousin took us and one of the children in the car to the bus station at Be’er Sheva, where we caught the bus. It was a pleasure to travel in this air-conditioned, comfortable vehicle, particularly without having to worry about the driver’s problems, as in our trip out. As we neared Jerusalem, which felt very much like home by then, we were able to watch the scenery change.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Trip to the Negev Desert

On Sunday morning, June 19th, we’d been offered a lift to the Jerusalem bus station, but we had to be up early. We travelled light, with all but an overnight bag left at our hotel. I wish we could say all our behaviour was sensible, but in fact, the next bit of our journey was not as simple as I’m sure it should have been.

We got the impression we had to go to the enquiries hall at the bus station, whereas in fact, had we made straight to the bus, it might all have been a great deal simpler. Then again, it might not. At any rate, we did not go straight to the buses, but went up to the next level which was vast, and jam packed with people, most of them soldiers returning to their bases after the weekend. Marooned in a sea of people, we looked around frantically for a kiosk or a person to ask where to go. A person approached us - did we want help? I knew immediately that he was touting for business; sure enough he was a taxi driver, and within minutes we were agreeing to go with him, rather than search for the correct bus. When he initially asked where we were going, I said - Be’er Sheva, because that’s where we were catching the connection. We agreed a fee of about 600 shekels, and to start with, he had to take us to draw cash, because I didn’t have enough. Of course, once we were in his taxi, I told him we wanted, not Be’er Sheva, but Midreshet Ben-Gurion, 60 km beyond that town. My understanding is that this is part of the Ben Gurion University, which is at Be’er Sheva, but our taxi driver got, I think the wrong impression about the length of this journey. Consequently, as he drove further and further from his home territory, he got gloomier and gloomier. We heard that he was not a well man, the details of an impending operation - and that his wife would kill him if she had known he was going so far away. He hinted he would want a very big tip in addition to the additional 4 or 500 additional shekels we had negotiated for the extra journey.

It was miles from Be’er Sheva before we began to see signposts to the college, and we had to put the driver on to our relation who we were visiting, for final instructions. In the meantime, our cousin had privately texted, ‘Don’t give him any more than 700 shekels.’ Too late for that. We’d agreed a figure, but when we finally arrived, we didn’t add to that. Consequently, I felt guilty just in case all his angst was genuine, even though I feel that taxi drivers who purport initially to be helpful strangers deserve what they get.

The journey took us further and further into the desert to the settlement of 1200 people, which Wikipaedia rightly describes as arid. The college itself specialises in the study of solar energy and waste water. When we collected the children from their nursery with our hostess, the heat was intense and unbearable, even walking for less than ten minutes. But building is going on, and more people will come to populate this area.

It was a relief to get to the house, which with its high ceilings was quite cool. Our hostess showed us how they used ‘grey water’ pumped from baths, etc. to irrigate the garden. A pergola was attached to the house, over which grapes grew in abundance from a vine which weaved its way through it. The children played just outside in a paddling pool, shaded from the sun.

Overnight, we stayed at a nearby B & B, and once again, high ceilings and cool, spacious rooms were welcome. We had no problem falling asleep that night.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sabbath in Jerusalem

This is a continuation of my holiday blog, which has taken back seat to several book reviews recently.

Sabbath in Jerusalem: Because we were going away for a couple of days on Sunday, we chose to stay where we were in Jerusalem for the Sabbath. Anyone who wants excitement should avoid doing this. Almost everything was closed and we were pleased to find a café where we could have a sandwich. Actually, it was the same place where we had been for our evening meal the previous night, having walked to Ben Yehuda Street, which is a very lively spot normally, to find it completely dead. So we did little during the day, except stroll around. We also chatted with the bride’s brother for a while, as the café was opposite his hotel. He told us about an event in the Old Town, which he and his girlfriend were going to, and we and another wedding guest joined them.

As soon as night fell, the character of Jerusalem changed. The cars were flooding the streets to get to the Son & Lumiere entertainment in the Old City. First we went through the Mamilla shopping mall, which has only recently been opened, following a throng of people, as we walked together past the shops and past the sculptures which line the arcade. Check this site for a virtual tour: http://www.3disrael.com/jerusalem/mamilla_mall.cfm. At the end of it, we got to the Jaffa Gate, and here you could hardly move for the body of people occupying the area. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLGHZfHgdz0&feature=related . This is another view of the area, once we arrived at the Old City. We walked from one quarter to another, each one marked with its own colour, and there was an air of excitement around. Whatever their differences, it seems it’s possible to have some sort of co-operation for this sort of attraction. There were coloured lights all around and light shows on the walls of buildings. However, much as we would have liked to have stayed, our companions were leaving Jerusalem the following day, and we were going to the Negev desert, departing early. So reluctantly we left, but at least it made a climactic end to our day.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Miss Garnet's Angel

At first sight, the latest book circle read - Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers seems comparable with another book we read, Miss Pettigrew lives for a day, another story of an elderly or middle aged lady whose life we hope is going to be transformed.

It seems immediately like a feel-good book, and in fact, initially, things go rather too swimmingly for Miss Garnet. She seems to make friends so easily in Venice, one begins to wonder why she couldn’t manage it so well in the UK.

Perhaps this is all down to the magical qualities of Venice, which is a character in its own right in the book. Not having been there for a very long time, decades, in fact, I felt that a regular visitor would derive more enjoyment from the book that I did, for they would recognise more places, the churches, the restaurants, the bus numbers even, and so would feel they were there.

After the idyllic beginning to her trip, things begin to fall apart, and Miss Garnet experiences a number of mishaps and disappointments. She becomes interested in a guardian angel, which appears in various forms as she visits different parts of Venice.

Apart from Miss Garnet’s story, there are, in addition, two parallel stories, one, the biblical one of Tobias and the Angel and his eventual bride, Sara, and also that of Toby and Sarah. The similarity of the two sets of names rather heavily signposts the relationship between the two stories, and to add to it, there are some rather contrived episodes allowing misunderstandings to occur, which I found rather unsubtle.

Although very readable in parts, I thought that, like a recipe with too many ingredients thrown in the pot, there were too many stories, too many coincidences - too many flavours in fact, that did not always gel.