Further Notes on Cyprus

We took a few trips outside Limassol to see archaeological sites and beaches. We were always told where we were going rather late in the game, with little information about anything and no real time to look them up (especially after I ran out of mobile data).

The first weekend, I went with a few students to Amathous, an archaeological site about 20 minutes east of our apartment (reachable by the beach road bus, #30). Entry was €2.50 (the standard for all archaeological sites there), and a series of informational placards gave us details about Cyprus’ being the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, and the history of Aphrodite worship in the area, featuring images of Aphrodite figures from many eras. A second set of placards described the excavation by a French team in the 1960s-70s. The site itself was a large city, the extent of which could be seen from the Acropolis set on a hill above town. It had a well-preserved agora, a central road leading into town, and domestic areas built towards the hill. The Acropolis had the remains of medium-size temple with some absolutely massive stone vases, and in addition to the town, we could see the submerged remains of the ancient port. On the way down, I had the realization that the site was presented in a very midcentury manner: all the information was architectural, with no details on the people who lived there (or even the artifacts). Very “observe the wonders the ancients built!” without considering who built them or why. In light of the port, I’d expect there to be extensive evidence of overseas trade, but that wasn’t even mentioned.

Our first group trip was to Paphos, an hour to the west. The first archaeological site was the Tomb of the Kings, a Hellenistic-era mortuary site. The tombs consist of natural rock superstructures with chambers carved into them, and sometimes columns and other architectural features. It had a splendid view overlooking the sea and could be described as “low-budget Petra”. I can’t really tell you anything else, because of the paucity of information available at the site. After the tenth rock-cut tomb with a basic sign indicating its number and an architectural drawing, I decided I was hot and bored. Who were these people? The entrance sign stated they were actually wealthy people rather than kings, but where was the evidence? Were they buried with grave goods? Jewelry? Were the tombs reused over the years? Were they covered over at any point?

Next we went to the old port to have lunch and see Old Town Paphos, another site. I mistakenly decided to eat lunch first and to visit the castle (really more of a small fortress which is currently hosting a photographic exhibition), leaving only half an hour to see Old Town. It turns out that this site, while still just as low-info as the previous two, had massive mansions built by Roman governors with really impressive mosaics. The houses were destroyed in an earthquake, preserving the floors. One house built around a central courtyard had mosaics in almost every room, with realistic human and animal figures depicting scenes from mythology and complex geometric patterns. It was still a shame that there was no indication what any of the rooms were (usually judged by their location and what artifacts were found in them), as Roman homes often used mosaic themes to echo a room’s purpose. Having more description beyond the artistic/aesthetic would really make the ancient world come alive. I know site managers with the bottom line in mind will argue that people are already visiting the site and enjoying it for its great preservation and stunning views. The site has a 4-star rating on Google. But: wouldn’t it be nice if those visitors actually knew what they were looking at, and left with a greater understanding of the place of Cyprus in the Roman world? Or had an insight into the ancient mind?

On the way home, we stopped at Aphrodite’s Rock, a beach with rocky towers within swimming distance of the shore. One of them, purported to be the place Aphrodite was born from the seafoam (Zeus’ sperm), is said to have the power to unite people with their true love if they swim around it. I have a strong inclination that this is a tourist attraction and a modern (heteronormative, traditionally romantic) belief; in Greek the same feature is called Roman Rock. Anyway, I like a challenge and the water looked amazingly inviting after a long day in the sun, so I swam around it declaring “I can have many true loves of any gender!” There was also a much bigger rock that we saw people jumping off of. It took some effort to clamber out of the water and up the side; only once I got to the top did I find out that the other side had a much easier way up. I also remembered that I’m actually quite scared of jumping from heights and had to have three students swim around and coax me into jumping.

In the first few weeks, I was connected to some local performance artists through my friend Sara in London. Elena and her partner Emmidio, after finding out that I was in their town and friendless, collected me and took me to a concert in Nicosia, the capital. It was an evening of dedicated to Cyprus’ first electronic artist, and his pieces were recreated both using synthesizers and by a string quartet. I’d never before thought of electronic music as something that could be recreated live note-by-note, and this was absolutely fascinating. The performance was in an Ottoman-era courtyard, and as the sun set the music was accompanied by bats swooping and cats scampering. Elena also invited me to a music festival she was hosting at a reservoir in the mountains. It was an evening of ambient electronic music called The Gathering, featuring an opening didgeridoo meditation, visualizer art projected onto white sheets, and pillows on the sloping edge of a ravine so we could lie down while listening. (My favorite! No need to dance for hours!) The second night (and apparently third and fourth) was a rave, but I couldn’t stay for that long. The day after, I went to the Cyprus Archaeological Museum in Nicosia, which was much larger than it appeared from the outside. It was presented in the “cultural-historical” framework, investigating cultural change through the successive waves of seafaring inhabitants. The star exhibits were a recreation of a tomb containing over 1000 statues of gods and an impressive jewelry collection showing stylistic change over the centuries.

Our second trip was to the north side. Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided into north (east) and south (west); the north calls itself the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, but the south doesn’t quite agree. In between is the green zone, where nobody can live because it’s contested. I’m by no means an expert on the division, but basically as the British were leaving, the two ethnic groups on Cyprus (Greeks and Turks) had to decide what to do. Some Greek Cypriots supported a return to Greek authority, others supported self-rule. Cyprus was an independent country encompassing the entire island from 1960-1974, when Turkish forces invaded, a coup was staged, and war broke out. At the end of it, the country was divided roughly in half; currently, the north is economically depressed but has the good beaches, and the south has just made it out of poverty in the last 15 years. A friend of Elena’s told me that only recently have people been able to eat meat regularly, within her lifetime – meat being an indicator of wealth, as it costs more and uses more resources to produce. Anyway, we drove up to the border and handed in all our passports. Ten minutes went by. Twenty. Xenia got back on the bus and informed us there was a problem – three “unusual stamps” on our passports, from Somalia, Qatar, and Jordan. I am completely convinced, based on my experience with border crossings, that the people who work there take the job because they get to exert supreme authority with no actual regard for rules. I’ve had border guards confiscate food (but only snack food) because it was “not allowed”, had an entire car searched, and been held because they didn’t like the look of us. Turkey has diplomatic relations with Jordan and Qatar, so there’s no way those were an actual reason to stop us. Their goal seemed to be getting us to hire a “guide” to escort us around. So we had to wait a while for our guide to come and meet us. It turns out she was a lovely older lady called Jancal, a social worker who had recently trained as a guide.

We first stopped at the archaeological site of Salamis, another Hellenistic-Roman site. It had a colonnaded road to the sea, a rebuilt theatre, and a huge bath complex adjacent to the agora. Seriously, you could’ve fit 40 people into the caldarium. Much respect for that bath. Also near the agora was a 20-seater latrine. Still no site interpretation. Next we went to Famagusta (Ammachoustos), another port city with Venetian walls and a building called Othello’s Castle. While there wasn’t a real Othello, Shakespeare based the character on the Venetian ruler XXX, and in subsequent centuries the castle was renamed after the fictional equivalent. The town has streets of warehouses that are now tourist shops and a tasty Turkish patisserie where we had goat milk ice cream that was strangely impervious to melting. The street looked familiar, and I recalled that the 1964 film “Exodus” had been filmed there – a re-watch online showed the same street, but filled with British army vehicles, boxes of produce, and fish. The town also has a Gothic church converted into a mosque, with gorgeous asymmetrical stone cutouts in place of windows, allowing a filtering of light and a cool breeze. Finally, we went to the beach at Famagusta. Before we got off the bus, Xenia warned us: “The west side has barbed wire going into the ocean. This is the green zone. Beyond it are abandoned apartments. Do not take pictures, do no go near, do not try to cross the border, or you will be shot. Have fun!” These are the buildings that had to be evacuated in the war, and they have not yet been cleared as they’re in no-man’s land. There’s about a mile of beachfront condos with peeling paint, windows blown out, left to the elements – apparently one of the few people to get clearance to visit was the author or “The Earth Without Us”, for research purposes.

Our third excursion, also to the north, was to the Castle of St Hilarion and Kyrenia. This time we drove through the border at Nicosia and had no problems. On the south face of the mountains just north of the city are massive flags made of painted rocks – one of the Turkish flag and one of the TRNC flag – clearly visible from the city, just so you know what’s what. As the bus climbed higher into the mountains, my sinuses felt worse and worse. We reached the pinnacle of a mountain overlooking the sea with St Hilarion perched on top and had an hour to explore. It was built in Lusignan and Venetian times, and is stretched over the ridge of a few mountaintops. While attempting to maintain the necessary bits to indicate “castle” – keep, quarters, kitchens, courtyard, walls – it struggles to maintain them all in the usual post-medieval order due to the terrain, making it a fascinating obstacle course of stairs and narrow, angled chambers and steep cliffs (for the closest imaginable fictional representation, it’s the Aerie in Game of Thrones). We saw a goat inside at one point. We drove down the mountain to Kyrenia Castle, which was more of a portside fortress, with sloping ramps for troops rolling cannons and a moat and drawbridge. There wasn’t much information about the castle, but we had a good walk around the walls and then ice cream outside.

Finally, the last weekend my friend Cynthia was in town and we went to visit the archaeological site of Kourion. It was also easy to get to by public bus (the #16B from Limassol Bus Station), although we forgot to push the stop button and were dropped off at the beach instead. After realizing our mistake (and having beach lunch) we began the hike uphill to the site. I decided it’d be quicker to hitchhike instead of walking in the hot sun, so I stuck out my thumb and were soon picked up by some beach visitors going home, who graciously dropped us off at the top of the hill (maybe a 2km walk). The whole site, spanning the Hellenistic to Byzantine periods, is on a hill overlooking the sea and some dramatic cliffs. The reconstructed theatre is still in use, and can seat up to XXX for performances of music and traditional Greek drama. The site has a few well-preserved houses and mosaics, the best-interpreted of which was destroyed by an earthquake, killing the family inside and their donkey. It is an unfortunate fact of archaeology that the fastest devastation leaves us with the best picture of ancient life. Afterwards, thoroughly sun-blasted, we walked back down to the beach to cool our feet and wait for the bus.

Overall, the sites in Cyprus suffered from a lack of interpretation. While there must be differences in finds and interpretation between Amathous, Salamis, and Kourion, as it stands the only difference presented is the scenery. I’d be hard pressed to tell you why each of them is special and worth a visit. I did feel like Cyprus lacks a strong identity, both in archaeology and in my daily interaction with culture. In Greece, Egypt, and Israel, (the latter two of which you can see on a clear day!) you know where you are. They are proud of their heritage, and sites are presented thoroughly, if idiosyncratically. Cyprus has an interesting archaeological history as it’s in the middle of a number of Mediterranean cultures, and obviously has strong feelings about land and heritage. But I didn’t get a sense of what Cyprus is all about. I’m not sure if this was a result of my not moving in the right circles, talking to the right people, having so little free time to explore, so much Western influence (almost all the mall shops and restaurants were American or British brands), or the inevitable tourist tat takeover. I did find the Cypriots (and immigrants to Cyprus) I talked to friendly, giving, open, and argumentative. But unlike Greece, where every other sentence is about how great Greece is, nobody was really stressing what Cyprus has going for it.

Finally, I didn’t get to talk to many people about the north. Compared to other divided places I’ve been, nobody really piped up about it. I found a few posters and graffiti in Nicosia indicating that the north is an occupation, not a legitimate country, but I wasn’t expecting the plaque in the departure hall of Larnaca airport. It was a piece of wall art from the Nicosia airport, abandoned since 1974, with an interactive display of photos of the airport. It was nothing special, really – another modernist architectural piece from the early 60s – but the display mourned its loss, remarking that “the north part of Cyprus still remains under impermanent Turkish occupation.” Perhaps there’s an undercurrent I didn’t pick up on.

Museum Review: Cape Town

I recently visited Cape Town and, as is my responsibility as a museum enthusiast, tried to visit as many museums and historical sites as possible. This was slightly difficult as it was the December holiday period, and many museums were closed. They all listed dates of closure on their websites, but in actuality they were closed for more days than listed: the excuse given by locals was that because Christmas was on a Sunday, everybody took the next two days off instead of just one day. (OK, sure.)

First, Kirstenbosch Gardens. The last time I was there I was less than ten years old, barely as tall as the agapanthus. It’s a really wonderful botanic garden showing the extensive variety of plants from the Table Mountain fynbos region and further north – the Namibian desert plants were quite spectacular. The fynbos is a unique ecosystem of tremendous biodiversity adapted to an arid environment. I hiked up Table Mountain four times, and each route had remarkably different vegetation specifically adapted for local shade, wind, and rain runoff. Kirstenbosch has a “boomslang”, or canopy walk, for visitors to admire the treetop flora and fauna; if we’d actually seen some fauna it would have been awesome, but it was not to be.

Next I visited the South African Museum. Most of the museums in Cape Town are part of an organization called Iziko, which sets standard prices and presumably consolidates direction and curation. All the Iziko museums were 30 rand; student entry was 15, but only if one has an ISIC card. I decided the difference in price, which worked out to just over a dollar, was not enough to buy an international student card, and I’d rather the meager (for me) entry go to funding the museum. The SA Museum is your average natural history museum – not particularly impressive compared to the NHM or AMNH, but similar in scope, with halls of taxidermy and a multi-story gallery of whale skeletons. They really shone in the exhibit on rock art, though: it had some of the most culturally-aware interpretation I’ve seen, and really thoughtful placards featuring quotes from interviews about traditional San medicine and rock art meaning. Additionally, the introduction to the ethnographic gallery should be used in every museum that still has displays of (non-white) traditional practices, although they could have used more explanation on the collection of body casts (but perhaps I’m still on a rant from Museum of the Normal). Sadly, the museums suffer from a severe lack of funding. In many rooms, the lights were out, the walls had leaks and mold, and one case contained a dead lizard that was definitely not meant to be there.

Across the Company’s Garden, originally planted by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to feed their merchants when Cape Town was a re-supply point on the route to the Far East, is the Slave Lodge, which was the original prison for slaves working for the VOC or the city. The temporary exhibit in the entry was about Tweede Nuwe Jaar, Cape Town’s carnival celebrated on January 2nd. The permanent exhibit about slavery, including a long video (most of the museums had a 15+ minute introductory video), a reproduction slave ship segment, and a hall of remembrance, were devastating. Interestingly, most of the slaves brought to Cape Town were Malay and Indonesian rather than West African, the latter being brought to the Americas rather than further south. Many of them were given names based on the month they arrived, and a photographic exhibit featured 12 interviewees whose surnames are months, making a calendar of sorts. Local Khoekhoe individuals were not enslaved, but were pressed into indentured servitude. The first half of the first floor of the museum was very informative. The second half was about the struggle to end apartheid, with another video and large placards. However, I felt that these seemed to be more evocative than informative, and the focus on oral history without artifacts (or with replica artifacts and a prison cell) was not very effective for me as basically a tourist with little knowledge of events like the Sharpeville massacre. The second floor was an odd mix of ancient Egyptian artifacts and 20th-century African and European domestic objects (silverware, pottery, jewellery) with little to link it to the history on the first floor. There was a marvellous temporary exhibit of ishishweshwe, an African fabric traditionally printed in blue. I realized that the first skirt I ever sewed was with ishishweshwe from Durban.

The Bo-Kaap Museum celebrates Cape Malay history in a house in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, where all the houses are painted different colors as a sign of independence. Once again, it began with a rather long video interviewing local residents about their relationship to the area, which – as an area close to the city center – is gentrifying. The museum is only four rooms, one of which had the video and one of which was a historic kitchen with no placards. There were also tours of the neighborhood, which we didn’t take as they felt a bit poverty-tourism.


The Bo-Kaap neighborhood

I really enjoyed the Maritime Centre. This museum doesn’t have very many objects, and despite being smack in the middle of the waterfront, it seems to not get much foot traffic; my mom and I were the only visitors then. It’s about Cape Town’s history as a port, first for trade and then for transport. My parents told me about riding passenger lines around the coast, and the museum even had a scale model of the ship they took! There’s also a maritime library, which seems like an invaluable resource. I’m rather obsessed with ships and trains, so I’m pleased I found out about this one.

Finally, we went to the Castle of Good Hope. Constructed in 1666, this was the second fort built to guard the harbor, and as far as I know it has never been attacked. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of information. I probably found out more about the castle’s history from the website than from the actual site visit. Many areas were closed for restoration, but we did go into the second-in-command’s house, stocked with original Dutch-imported furniture, and the prison, which had amazing historic graffiti. It was a nice day to walk along the castle walls and pretend to guard the city (though not the harbor, because there’s been significant land reclamation in the last 350 years), but it probably would have been more informative to take the tour.

Scattered around the Cape, particularly the shore and places of natural beauty, are placards with information about geology or history. I was pleased to learn about the stratigraphy of the rock beaches and the rock dassies and warnings about baboon behavior, but was left distressed after learning that Jan van Riebeeck parked his ships in the middle of a Khoekhoe grazing route, forever disrupting their herding strategies and forcing them into lives of servitude. Very much “we put a flag on it.


View from near Judas Peak

July 27, 2009

Peru, Week 5: Finally!

mp1This morning we woke up at 6.25 and left at 7 for the Machu Picchu bus. The sky was clear, and it was evident that we didn’t need our jackets. We got to the top at 7.30 and wandered around for a bit before our tour started. 8.30 was the tour, with an enthusiastic guide who only strayed from straight facts twice.Towards the end (actually, about five minutes from the end) we lost the group and kept exploring. It’s really amazing – completely intact except the roofs;  everything is so well-built (there are the walls you can’t fit a credit card in and then some others that would have been plastered over – don’t worry, I took pictures);  and the entire thing is huge. There’s a terraced agricultural part and an urban part, with houses, temples, schools, and plazas. The Incas really loved trapezoids – all the windows are trapezoidal, as are the doors, and even the walls slope at 87· to make trapezoidal houses. I think the grassy plazas are kept in check by the roaming llamas, which we got to pet. (One even rested his foot on mine!)



After a short snack and bathroom break outside the walls, we decided to try to climb Waynapicchu, the ceremonial (and super steep) mountain with the Temp0le of the Moon on top. Unfortunately, they only allow 400 people to climb it per day (for environmental protection) and we didn’t get there in time. So we went to pet the llamas, then began to climb Machu Picchu. (The city is called MP, but the real MP is the peak behind it.) It was stone steps all the way up, sometimes through the jungle and sometimes in the open air. Alice hiked considerably slower than I did, so I got to the top in 1 hour 40 and she took two hours. It was only then that I informed her we had just climbed nearly 3000 feet in altitude, up to 10000. (That was why I took the map away from her to begin with – oh, there was planned trickery.) The view from the top was amazing – you could see how Machu Picchu was condor-shaped (the Incas like to do intense urban planning – Cusco used to be puma-shaped). There was a rainbow flag, which I’ve been seeing all over and wondering why there’s so much gay pride in this region; eventually I figured out it’s also the UNESCO flag. It took us an hour to hike down, and we were back in the hotel by 4:30. We went to an internet cafe and rewarded ourselves with cake, then went straight to dinner at a cheap and sketchy place across the plaza, where we met Leila and Veena fresh in from their trek.  Apparently the trek was fun, except that all Sunday they had to hike in the rain and then overnight it froze. They didn’t eat there because we’d already finished, so we took them to the pizza place from Sunday night, where Alice and I split a pizza for dessert. We then went to bed and slept for 11 hours without waking even once. A nice reward after a hard day.mp4

This morning we wandered through the Traditional Peruvian Market to get to our 9:30 train. Nene’s call must have made some impact at the travel agency, because we were greeted by a man holding a sign (albeit with Alice’s last name horribly mangled) who took us back to Cusco in a private car. Although it was one of the more nauseating rides I’ve ever taken (the road is very curvy and brakes were used infrequently), it was better than having to sit with our luggage on our laps on the bus. We went straight to 2Nations, the lunch place from Sunday, for lunch, then went to see Qorikancha, the Inca’s golden palace turned into a monastery and cathedral. (The gold was stripped off to barter for the return of the Inca Atahualpa after he was captured by the conquistadors; the palace was engulfed by Spanish colonial buildings, but they still used the old rooms.) Then Alice went to take a nap while I went to the Museo del Arte Precolombiano, which featured artifacts in an art museum context. (“Look at the delicate work on this pot – imagine what it represented to the primitive peoples, etc etc.”) I also did some shopping and may have bought some antiquities – the woman assured me they were Colonial, but they look pretty Formative to me. I almost bought a llama car seat cover, but it was too expensive. Tomorrow morning (at 5.15) we leave for Lima and the last two days!




August 22, 2008 (b)

Beijing, Day 7 – Minutemen Meatpuppets Descendants Angst

(The above was written on a woman’s purse, showing the trend for nonsensical English writing; the opposite of Americans wearing t-shirts with nonsensical Chinese characters.)

Today we decided to go get Dad his duck. We went to a place called DaDong Duck restaurant, where some famous chef specialized in cooking various parts of the duck, as well as Peking duck. I ordered a veal with shallots that was quite good but not very Asian tasting (yesterday we went to a great Sichuan restaurant where everything had tons of hot peppers), and Dad finally got the duck. He was invited into the kitchen to choose which specific duck he wanted, and then they finished cooking it, delicately sliced it, and put the slices back into the shape of a duck breast. I tried some but didn’t like it. He also had a fried rice with sea cucumbers. While he was ordering I tried to tell him that it had sea cucumbers, but he seemed to be ok with it. It was only after he had finished half of it that I explained what they are – apparently he thought they were just a different type of cucumber.

After lunch Dad decided we should get massages at a very clinical-looking place next door. This turned out to be a very bad idea, a it was definitely the most unpleasant massage of my life. The place was sort of an Eastern-medicine clinic with antique-looking medical equipment. The “massage room” was also the acupuncture room, so the massage practitioner kept running away to go put needles in people. (There appeared to be some sort of bodily fluid stains on the rock-pillow I had.) However, it was actually better when he ran away to acupunt people because the massage was sort of like what would happen if you combined CPR to the back and an old massage chair set on “point” and “vibrate”. For some reason he thought only my right lower back needed work – perhaps he wanted to cause real kidney damage. He also tried to crack my back by stretching me sideways and to pull my head off my neck. The latter was during the sitting-upright part of the massage, by which point other people were waiting in line and laughing at me wincing and trying to tell him no (failed attempt. I couldn’t get the message across). It was actually counterproductive because now my back and neck hurt. Dad enjoyed it. I would really like another massage to correct this one, but I’m now refusing to let anyone touch me. Also, they should understand that my bones don’t crack, nor do I want to attempt their cracking, nor should this be a part of massage. Also, did I mention the unrelaxing atmosphere? It smelled like a hospital, the acupuncture-removal process made a popping noise and involved fire, and, most of all, people laughing at me. I was so desperate to get out of there I decided to wait the next hour until we got to the Summer Palace to use the bathroom instead of going there.

The Summer Palace was all the way (further than) the end of the subway line we usually take. It was the summer residence of the emperors who lived in the Forbidden City. It’s really more of a park, though, and they gave us a handy little map. We followed Haruka’s advice and climbed over the hill and found some nice ruins (19th-century) to explore. The whole thing was sort of like the Forbidden City in that it was rather uninformative, very large, and not many things to look at besides the buildings. We eventually wandered into a sort of shrine-type building with statues of the Buddha and a bunch of other people. One of them was holding a baby dragon in one hand and, understandably, recoiling in horror and making a face that reminded me very much of Ramya. Unfortunately, there was a no-photography sign.

We went from there to Olympic Green and stood in a ridiculously long and crowded line for McDonald’s (again, unfortunately). Highlights of the games were Bolt and Jaimaica’s world record 4×100 relay, watching the decathletes running the 1500 (they’re sort of made for short distances and throwing, so they struggle with it), and Steve Hooper breaking the Olympic record for pole vault. (I love pole vault. When I was a pole vaulter for a very brief time, my record was about five feet.) They played “Land Down Under” over the speakers.

August 22, 2008

Beijing, Day 6 – Shuang, rhymes with Hmong

First, more from Wednesday. Another favorite at the athletics was the German pole vaulter Spank, who did just that to himself while doing high-kicks after clearing a vault. Also, the guy sitting in the row behind us was apparently in Officers’ Club with Dad (small world). Finally, we figured out what the little remote-control cars driving around the field were for – they brought the discus/hammer/javelin back to the thrower. They’re quite cute, but so far we’ve been too far away to get a good picture.

Thursday we woke up early to go to the Great Wall. We hired a guide, Sammi, who was friendly and informative and answered all our questions about Chinese culture. One thing that had puzzled us was how everyone here does V for Victory with both hands for all photos – we’ve even seen little kids do it. Apparently it is V for Victory, but there’s no reason behind it. Sammi also told us about the One Child Per Family rule. They started it in 1978, so she’s one of the first generation of Chinese people to not have siblings. There’s an overstock of men nowadays, and she said to get a girlfriend they have to have “the C’s – cash. credit card, car, condo, and cleaning and cooking”. And there’s a loophole – couples who are both only children can have two children. There are also apparently a bunch of very spoiled children (the guidebook calls it “Little Emperor Syndrome”). However, at the time we forgot to ask what happens to twins.

By the time we got to the Great Wall it was lightly drizzling and very foggy. Of course, we decided to climb it anyway. It has some of the steepest, most uneven steps I’ve every seen. Some were one brick high, some were four; the walls were tilted to match the grade of the hill; some parts were so steep that they looked like a sudden drop. Again, there were no signs telling us what we were looking at – all there was to do was climb up and down (Sammi said we probably climbed 700 steps). The mountains around were very beautiful – steep, pointy, and dark green, mossy-looking from far away, and shrouded in mist. I took some nice scenery pictures. The climb is supposed to take an hour and a half, but we finished in forty minutes – no idea if we walked quicker than most people or what. I wanted to climb up the other (steeper) side from the entrance, but our legs were shaking so we decided not to.


Here’s China’s biggest obsession: size. People say America is the land of big things – Hummers, super-size, vast open spaces – but in a country of 1.3 billion people, things are just… bigger. I had no idea of the vastness just of the city of Beijing. The subway system is huge. The Forbidden City is a kilometer from end to end, not including the outer courtyard and Tiananmen Square. The streets are all huge. The reason so many people died in the recent earthquake is because that city was even bigger than Beijing. And then there are the giant pandas. The Great Wall. The Olympic Green is probably a few kilometers across, and is absolutely packed with people. SO MANY. SO BIG. (Not the people though. The people aren’t that big, unless you’re counting the Dutch spectators.)

Thursday evening we went to the Coca-Cola Live Positively award. We didn’t have tickets for Thursday, so we got special day passes (and VIP passes to the Coke building) that expired at 6. We got there just after 6, prepared to argue with them to get in, but they didn’t even look at the time stamp. When we arrived, we found that we had missed the speech, but still got to see Shawn Johnson up close. We were even interviewed by Women’s Wear Daily since we were just standing around, awkwardly eating the free almond cookies and drinking the free Coke. We attempted to make a reservation for a Peking duck place, but they were full, so we left and went to Morel’s, a Belgian restaurant where I had quite a good pepper steak.

July 25, 2008

“Will you explode if you don’t act gentlemanly?” “I’m not a gentleman. I don’t always stand whenever I see a lady.”

Yesterday afternoon we went to Afula to pick up the cars for the trip to the Dead Sea. It was a nice drive – we went south, the road was pretty straight and then we were driving along the sea. There were few other drivers even around to be crazy on the roads, although I was honked at a few times at roundabouts in Afula. We listened to Radio Palestine’s Arabic music because that was the only station we could pick up in the West Bank. Hugo offered a drink to whoever spotted the Dead Sea first – he ended up buying himself an iced coffee at the next gas station. (Oh yes, and the car was bright yellow, and we named it Dame Judy). We decided to go to dinner in Ein Boker instead of at the kibbutz, and it was a wise choice. The hostel was really nice – we decided to split rooms by who wanted to wake up early and who didn’t. I was originally planning on hiking, but then I found out they were waking up at 3.50, and it’s hard enough at 4.30. I just couldn’t do it. Hugo had never hiked it, so I gave him my spot. Sara, Kat, and I woke up at 7.40 and met the others at breakfast. Then we left for Masada and took the lovely and short cable car. The Northern Palace was open after years of conservation efforts, so I got to see that for the first time, as well as a few thing I hadn’t seen before. Kat’s really interesting – she’s 27 and going for PhD in Levantine archaeology. She speaks New York slang with a Polish accent and has dual citizenship; this is her second season at Megiddo, and last summer she did a dig in Jordan. She did her MA at Chicago and lived above Ribs N Bibs. Sara is at GWU, originally from south Jersey, and very into Judaica and Scrabble. I had never really talked to either of them before the road trip.

Since we were following a different schedule than the other car, we decided to have lunch at Masada and then go to Ein Gedi. At Ein Gedi you’re supposed to hike to the waterfall, but we got 20 minutes into the park and plopped into the nearest freshwater spring. (It was probably the best 20 shekels we’d spent – the water was so refreshing, and the mini-waterfall was like a massage.) We stayed for an hour, then headed to the Dead Sea to meet the others at Mineral Beach. It had sulphur springs and all sorts of attractions, but all we wanted was the sea and the mud. We covered ourselves in mud from the mud pit and then went in the sea. I LOVE THE DEAD SEA. I love floating. It doesn’t matter that it burns in unfortunate places – it’s so much fun. Yesterday I scratched myself on a needle I was keeping in my bag to sew it up again, and I couldn’t put my right hand under. To prevent myself from forgetting, I had to keep both hands above water and paddle around with my elbows.

We left at 4 in order to be well in time for the weekly Shabbat barbecue. We were going along fine, listening to Europop on Kat’s iPhone, when we got to the checkpoint leaving the West Bank (or going alongside it or something. I’m not sure where we were on the map at that point. The car ahead of us was just waved through, but the guard asked to see our passports. I had to get mine from the trunk. Then she asked us to pull over to the side. We had to get out of the car, take all our stuff out and put it on the X-ray belt, open the trunk and the hood and all the doors, empty our pockets and walk through the metal detector. I asked if I could have my wallet back, and the guard asked, “Do you have money in it?” No, I don’t keep anything in my wallet. It’s just for show. “Take the cash out, but leave the wallet.” I saw them wiping it down with the gunpowder-detector fabric. We were all miserable except for Hugo, who wants to be a diplomat and was ecstatic that we were having a real border-crossing experience. (Actually, at the first crossing, Kat in the passenger seat was still wearing only a swimsuit bottom and a shirt. The guard asked us to roll down the window, looked around the car for a minute, and nodded us on. It doesn’t count as a “border-crossing experience” if they’re only checking out one of the passengers.)

We stopped at a gas station on the way back to get things to bring to dinner. I bought a chocolate cake in a package, but apparently it was enjoyed. (I was too full because the food was delicious.)

Tomorrow all I want to do is sit at the pool and read. I need more thumb-healing time before Sunday.

July 13, 2008

Megiddo, Day 6 – “It’s ok to smile if you’ve found something pretty”

The weekend went well; it was quite relaxing and filled with good food. I ate five shwarmas. I arrived Thursday afternoon and attempted to find the hostel. I was wandering around back streets of the old city for a while when I saw an old man and decided to ask. I showed him the map, he said something in Arabic, and motioned for me to follow. He took me right to the door and then walked away. The stairs up to the roof were ridiculous. As I walked up the first time, nearly falling, I sincerely hoped nobody went out clubbing and came back drunk because I doubted they could make it up the stairs. I spent the next two hours guarding four mattresses for my room-mates. It got dark and the muezzins started making a beautiful cacophony, must’ve been five at once. I decided to see where everyone was – turns out their bus hadn’t arrived and they just left on a different bus. I took myself for dinner at Ben Yehuda, but there was a suspicious object and the police evacuated the area. I went to some other shwarma place (1) and then back to the hostel. I talked for a while to a teacher from San Francisco who was getting around the country with couch surfing, so I gave her some tips on where to go. Everyone got there at about 9.45 and immediately left for dinner. I promised to keep all fourteen mattresses from the impending arrival of the New Zealand backpackers, and struggled to keep awake. The janitor looked quite a lot like Jesus, including a white robe. I fell asleep as soon as the first group came back at midnight.

I was woken the next morning by the muezzin and the church bells at 4.30, 6, 6.30, and 7. (Conclusion: religion=noise.) We left at 8 and went to a Christian Arab shwarma place with beef shwarma (2). We proceeded to find a cash machine outside the Damascus Gate and ended up seeing the Garden Tomb on the way, where James explained that this could not be the tomb described in the Gospels because it was cut in the Iron Age. I ended up getting cash from somewhere called Aladdin Money Changers on Salahadin Street. We attempted to go to the Dome of the Rock through Damascus Gate and walked through the Arab bazaar. Someone asked Parth if he wanted some coffee and then saw me and did the same. Parth looked afraid and said to me, “It’s not polite to refuse!” Never mind we were in the middle of a busy marketplace and we weren’t buying anything from the guy. He started talking to us while I pretended to sip the coffee. He pointed to a man nearby and said, “See him? He has four wives. Palestinian men are strong. You want to try?” I was struck dumb for a minute, and then Parth jumped in and patted me on the shoulder. “She’s already spoken for. She has a boyfriend at home.” “Yes!” I said. “He’s Egyptian. Tarek.” (I have yet to tell Nabs I used him as a fake boyfriend to prevent further offers of marriage.) “Oh, but Egyptian is not Palestinian,” he replied. I don’t remember how we managed to escape without buying anything. Soon after, Shlomit called and I left the group to meet her. On the way I stopped at the David Citadel to see Asaf, who had promised to help me scan my passport. His scanner still wasn’t working, so the head of technology at the hotel came to do it himself. Nobody ever realized that I wasn’t actually staying there.

I met Shlomit at the bottom of Ben Yehuda. On the way up we stopped at Moshiko for a shwarma (3) and also took some back to the kibbutz. The drive was about half an hour, filled with their usual ridiculousness. At the kibbutz I finally got to meet Ari and also Lee’s grandparents, who are so cute. We saw part of the petting zoo and the cows and ate the shwarmas. Lee didn’t finish hers, so I had it (4). We went for lunch to Chayaleh’s. It was the most amazing house. She’s a potter who makes sculptures of women giving birth and phalluses and have the most adorably naive faces and like spikes for decoration. They reminded me of Neolithic fertility statues. (I think I’d like to write my BA on that, btw.) The house was absolutely covered in them, as was the garden (which also featured an ancient press taken from a nearby field that used to be a suburb of Tel Gezer (tels invented suburbs, you know). Wherever there weren’t sculptures there were antique collections – antique keys, antique scissors, antique weights and scales. The design was sort of Middle East mets Southwest. It was pretty awesome. They had homemade schnitzel.

After that foodfest we went on to Crazy Uncle’s (also known as Menachem). There we had some of the most amazing chicken I’ve ever tasted. I only regret I could not eat more because they’d been feeding me all day. All day people spoke mostly Hebrew – I’m proud to say my comprehension was somewhere around 70%, except when Rafi talked about technology and Menachem and Amos talked at all (they were too quick). Unfortunately I can’t process and think up responses at the same time, so I sat there silently listening. Afterwards I got to shower and sleep in a bed in a room by myself, and when I opened the door in the morning (at 8!) a cute gray cat walked in. Menachem drove us into Jerusalem and we went to the shuk. There was much disappointment and upset over a set of antique keys where they guy refused to bargain with Lee (for me). Fortunately, we found another antique store that also had locks and had fixed prices. I got a lock with a key in it as well as three separate keys, which I plan to hang on the wall underneath the lock. We had shwarma at the same place as Friday morning (5) and then wandered in the shuk for a rather long and disorienting time before reaching the Austrian hospice. It’s a huge building in the middle of the shuk where they speak German and list their prices in euros. We had drinks and goulash and played chess for a while before continuing to Jaffa gate to meet up with my group again.

Today was back to the grindstone (literally – people keep finding grindstones). I fell asleep for a few minutes while digging – I was sitting in the square holding my trowel, and just dozed off when Melissa went to take artifacts to the desk. (Good news – I’ve officially switched into E4.) The best of the day, though, was just before breakfast when I was about to scoop dirt into a bucket and I spotted a bead. Then another. They were small, 1/2 inch, white, with ridges on the sides. We started going through by hand, then Phillipe went to get the sieve. We sieved the entire wheelbarrow and the net few buckets, resulting in a total of 21 small beads (we didn’t find any more big ones). We first thought they were black, white, and green, but when I spit on them to take a picture they turned out to be light green, dark green, and Egyptian (light) blue. I didn’t want to worry about them, so I put them in my pocket for breakfast. I sat down with a big grin and told everyone – they asked what they looked like, and I said, “Like this!” and pulled them out. Eventually I tried to regain composure as they were being passed around the table, but Hugo remarked, “Oh, go ahead – it’s ok to smile if you’ve found something pretty. They are quite pretty.”

After breakfast the artifact registrars took them away and put them in a special box. We found lots more pottery and ash and bones – we might be dealing with kitchen debris. I used the pitish (small pickaxe) for a bit and it felt sort of like a toy after using the real pickaxe. Shame, it used to be my second-favorite tool.

I ran into a tree at breakfast and cut my shoulder. Seriously, there are like six trees on the tel, and I run into one. And I know it’ll scar, too, because it’ll be in the sun.

I took a long nap after lunch and nearly missed pottery washing. Then I skyped Jonathan and went to pottery reading.

I hope I’ve built up enough shwarma in my veins to last until next weekend. Perhaps we’ll stop at a mall on the way to Hazor on Friday and I’ll have another.