Tuesday, January 13, 2009

the end

You probably guessed due to my lack of posting that a la deriva is no more. It is true, we have had many adventures together, a la deriva and I, but I have decided to retire it in favor of another project... which isn't ready to be unveiled quite yet. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

times they are a-changin

I hope you'll believe me when I say I have a list of possible blogs to write, both on paper and in my head. I have the beginnings of at least two more blogs about Israel written in various journals, and a couple more composing themselves in my head. I have ideas of what I can do with this blog that's new, what I can call it, what it can look like, what I can write about. Still a la deriva sits silent, and empty, and sad: Who has time to learn CSS, re-learn HTML, and think, much less write, critically about one's life and surroundings?

Still, I would like to blog everyday. Perhaps I will try.

Monday I begin my new job as an Intern at the Obama for America National Campaign Headquarters. Today I drink morning mimosas and eat sushi for lunch to celebrate and hop on a train that will take me west to Iowa. I've never been to Iowa. Nor, in the last year, have I looked forward to going to work in the morning. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

in the land of promises

More often than not, news from the Middle East is bloody, and images, at least in my first-world mind, are of third-world scenes: starving children, violence, unstable governments, poverty. Perhaps I should have known better from my trip to Morocco (and, come to think of it, the U.S. isn’t exactly starving children-, violence-, and poverty-free itself) but I was surprised to see that Israel was civilized. There were supermarkets and retail stores and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (but, interestingly, no Starbucks—it apparently didn’t go over well there) and flush toilets and clean streets and paved roads and street signs and freeways and nice houses. We didn’t go near the West Bank or the Gaza Strip (which, depending on who you talk to, are not really part of Israel anyway) or to Sderot, where rockets launched from Gaza fall daily, but even though most of the buildings in the rest of the country are ancient, they’re well kept up, and even though it’s only been around as an official state for 60 years, it seems to be doing pretty well culturally, economically, technologically, politically, and otherwise. Still, it wasn’t home.


We were standing in a balmy Tel Aviv evening, a warm breeze was coming off the Mediterranean, American music was permeating the walls of the nearby bar; we were talking about Israel. Rather, Israel and Palestine. We were, after all, in Israel.

I have picked up a few facts about the Israel/Palestine situation over the years but I've never really understood it or trusted any source of information to be true and unbiased. Perhaps this trip and this conversation will serve as my impetus to try harder to supplement my knowledge, some of which I picked up from this trip and this night when I opted to leave the bar because the music was too loud and American, the drinks were too expensive, and there was not one Israeli in the place. Even though the bar was identical to many in Chicago—with the exception of the Goldstar beer label written in Hebrew—there was one distinct and poignant difference. And we were reminded of it at every moment by the vigilant armed guard for our group of 50.

Standing there, listening to opinions about Israel and Palestine with one ear, trying to tune out the washed-out club music with the other, I looked over the tops of the buildings, and at times the boat masts behind me, and wondered if the planes and helicopters flying by were “friendly.” Our guard, holding the largest gun I have even seen, standing just a few feet away gave no sign.

(View of Jerusalem's Old City—note the wall surrounding it and the gold-domed mosque)

And I wondered again, earlier in the day, sitting at the junction of the Armenian quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, and the Christian quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. I watched the men in black hats, beards, suits, with tzitzit and payot walk by, the women in long skirts and dark caps pushing strollers, and the group of dark-skinned little boys not wearing yarmulkes and I looked out over the satellite dishes and white-stone rooftops to the gold-domed mosque that stands on the Jews’ Temple Mount—the fabled site of the creation of the world and the first two synagogues, among other things (see above)—and wondered if the man in the bright-green shirt pacing over the rooftops in front of us with a hand gun at his side in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other was, again, friendly. Our guard was whispering to another participant, but still close by.

And one more time I wondered, in only the second day of our trip, while walking through Shuk Machaneh Yehuda—a blocks-long outdoor market in the New City of Jerusalem—and carrying bags of bright, sweet fresh fruit and some unidentifiable morsels for lunch, a man walked quickly by with a machine gun. I didn't feel I was in danger in Israel, per se; with its rolling hills and subdued greens and palm trees it actually looked a lot like California, home (see below). But there were a few moments during my 10-day trip when, more often than when I’m in the U.S., I stepped back and wondered if my life was in danger.

(California-esque view from our first-night accommodations just outside of Jerusalem, in Shoresh)

I was, after all, in the Middle East. A Jewish state, maybe, or so our tour guide kept reminding us, reminiscent of California, yes, but not quite home nonetheless.


You see, before I left, I heard many stories from people, Jews of course, who had gone before, who got a starry look in their eyes when I said I was going to Israel, who said dreamily, “I stepped off the plane and felt like I was home.” “I wish I could go for the first time again, it was so magical.” Even during our final group discussion before we ate our last kibbutz-made dinner and got on the plane, people were saying tearfully, “I didn’t feel like a tourist at all.” Walking in a 50-person group with my sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, humongous water bottle, and camera certainly made me feel like a tourist. And I didn’t believe the “everyone is a Jew” thing either: everyone definitely didn’t look Jewish and there are plenty of Muslims and Christians who live there too.

(Me, dressed modestly, in front of the Western Wall, which is the only remaining piece of the second temple's surrounding wall that stood where the mosque stands today)

The moral of my first, excessively rambling post on my recent trip to Israel is the word “skeptical.” I think if I had taken this trip back when I was an impressionable freshman just learning about my Jewish side and before I went to Spain and saw Europe, it might have completely changed my life. Now, as a skeptical young adult, almost a year into my first full-time job, well, I’m not so impressionable. I wasn't moved to tears when the plane landed, I did not go to synagogue last Friday night, and I wouldn't be too upset if I never took another 12-hour El Al flight. That’s not to say that it didn’t change me at all, though. The recent surge in my Chicago social life can be attributed directly to Birthright. Aspects of the trip, its people, or just Israel recur nightly in my dreams. And I have a certain fondness for the country. My fondness won’t translate into me voting specifically pro-Israel in November, but it does make me read a little closer when I see an Israel-related article during my morning Internet news prowl. The thousands of dollars of philanthropic funding that provided my free trip wasn’t entirely lost on me: I have facts to pursue, questions to answer, issues to think about, and endless fodder for many interesting discussions ahead.

To be continued…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Maybe if I wrote my posts like this I would have more readers.

I am composing Israel posts. I promise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

violin lessons

Today I found myself in an unlikely situation. I was hiding from the California-esque sun in the cool, dark, faintly sweet-smelling basement workshop of a violin maker and repairman. There were violins of all shapes and sizes hanging from the walls, some with finish, some without, some with strings, some without, some full-sized, some half-sized, some giant (otherwise known, I think, as cellos). The repairman was slightly awkward but friendly, and though I had diagnosed my own problem, he proceeded to tell me all the other things wrong with my eight-month old violin. The strings are too high and cheap and the fingerboard too low, the pegs not "doped" enough. He gave me my choice of three "good" violins with appropriate string-heights and fingerboard angles and set to work, fixing the only fixable problem.

I spent more time staring at the dark graveyard of desks and dressers and couches and painted arches and picture frames that inhabited the basement outside his workshop than I did squeaking out the parts of songs I could remember after two weeks of not playing, convinced it was the violins that were out of tune and not I.

It seemed like such an unassuming place to work: an artists' building with no real need for business or numbers. I paid in crumpled cash. I didn't see the computer in the corner, only the wooden work tables, the mis-matched chairs, the small wood-working tools and the light coming through the distorted glass windows. This is a man who took the less-traveled path. This is a man who does not stare at a computer screen all day. This is a man who gets to surround himself with beauty, in sight and in sound, and he gets a tangible reward from his day's work: a well-working violin, and maybe even a child's smiling face. I certainly walked out of there, into the perfect day, smiling.

One of the reasons I'm a journalist (or I want to be one) is I enjoy finding myself in unlikely situations. Discovering unlikely people. Looking for graffiti under a freeway underpass, watching bikes fly by at a motocross raceway, exploring the bowels of a brand-new clean room in an engineering building, smelling the air in the sanctuary of a LEED-certified environmental synagogue: when I'm in these out-of-the-ordinary situations I like to take a step back, look around, and think, "Not many people can say they have been where I am now." I like to dabble, walk a mile in someone's shoes, and while I don't mind my daily routine, I relish the opportunity to leave it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

to the holy land and back again

I left for Israel without telling you and now I'm back. Lots of words and thoughts and pictures will be up soon...