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Chatting So Delightfully

Joined: 02 Dec 2014
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PostPosted: 05-16-2017 01:21 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 9
Hisham's Taste Test

“The first thing I noticed was his English,” she told Livia, describing Hisham. “It's better than everyone else's around here. I think that's why he volunteered to play tour guide. Or maybe he was assigned. I don't know.”

“I thought most people spoke English there,” Livia said.

“They do,” she confirmed. “But there are different levels of fluency. Some people probably went to school in Europe, while others have to struggle to put a sentence together.”

“Sounds like here,” Livia said.

“Not that I'm complaining,” she continued. “Their English is a hundred percent better than my Hebrew.”

“What do you know in Hebrew?” Livia asked her.

“I know toda,” she answered.

“What's that?” Livia asked.

“It means thank you,” she told Livia.

“That figures,” Livia said. “The first thing you learn is how to thank people.”

“Good manners don't cost nothing,” Harmony quoted.

“You should learn how to say where's the bacon,” Livia suggested.

“And mazel tov,” she added, ignoring Livia's joke. “I know how to say that.”

“Do people really say that there?” Livia asked.

“I assume they do,” she answered. “I've never heard anyone say it, but why wouldn't they?”

“So back to this guy, your tour guide,” Livia changed the subject, or rather returned to the original subject.

“He's actually one of the producers,” she corrected Livia. “He doesn't have to show me around. He's doing it out of the kindness in his heart.”

“More like the throbbing in his pants,” Livia speculated.

“Not everyone has an ulterior motive,” she pointed out.

“Most people do,” Livia said.

“What kind of cookies are you eating?” she asked Livia.

Livia never said anything about the cookies, but Harmony could hear something crunchy, and they were obviously not potato chips.

“Those small chocolate chips in the bag from that place,” Livia answered.

“And not every motive is sexual,” Harmony added.

“Most are,” Livia said. “Is he cute?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Well, more handsome than cute. He's older.”

“How old?” Livia asked, sounding a little concerned.

“He has to be forty something,” she answered.

“That's not too old,” Livia decided. “I was worried you were going to say he's sixty. That would break all the rules.”

“What rules?” she asked Livia. “People aren't allowed to show you their city when they're sixty?”

“The rule is, a guy can be older than you up to the age of your father,” Livia told her. “Beyond that, it's borderline. If he's your grandfather's age, that's just creepy.”

“He's just helping me see the sights,” she told Livia. “His age doesn't matter, as long as he can walk up and down all those steps.”

“Is he married?” Livia asked.

“No,” she answered.

“Divorced?” Livia asked.

“He's never been married,” she answered.

“He's gay,” Livia decided.

“That's what you said the first time,” she told Livia.

“What first time?” Livia asked her, rustling around in the cookie bag.

“The first time I told you about this guy,” she said. “He's the same producer I had that really long lunch with. I told you about that.”

“That's right,” Livia remembered. “The gay movie producer. I guess his age really doesn't matter. Not to you, anyway.”

“He's not gay,” Harmony insisted.

“Ok,” Livia said. “I believe you. But let me ask you this. Why does it bother you if I think he's gay? You don't have a homophobic bone in your body, so it's not an insult as far as you're concerned. What difference does it make what I think about your tour guide?”

“You just shouldn't go around calling everyone gay,” she said.

“Or maybe he's more than just your tour guide,” Livia implied. “Maybe there's more there, or you want there to be more there, and you want me to see him the way you do.”

“That's crazy,” she said. “I've known him for two days.”

“So?” Livia said. “You're single, he's single, he likes you, you like him. Who cares how long you've known each other?”

“You're making a lot of assumptions,” she told Livia.

“Am I?” Livia asked. “I know he likes you because he spent his entire day showing you around a bunch of things he's in all likelihood already seen a million times. He's a movie producer. I'm sure he has other things to do. So what's in it for him?”

“I'm a stranger in his city,” she said. “He's making me feel welcome.”

“He could have sent a flunky to drive you around,” Livia said. “Or even hired a professional tour guide. But no, he did it himself. What does that tell you?”

“That he's a nice guy who had the day off,” she answered.

Livia laughed, which was the best thing for her diet at this point.

“You don't see it?” Livia asked. “Or maybe you do, but you don't want to admit it. That whole knowing each other two days is getting in your way.”

“My second night here I had Shabbat dinner with one of the cast,” she pointed out. “Was she just trying to get into my pants, too?”

“That really was to make you feel welcome in a strange country,” Livia decided. “That's a Jewish thing. You're supposed to invite weary travelers to dinner. I've never heard of any tradition that says you're supposed to show them around the tourist sights.”

“Even if your crazy theory is true, so what?” she said. “Some old guy has the hots for me. That doesn't mean anything's going to happen.”

“Why not?” Livia asked. “You clearly like him. I can tell because you can't stop talking about him. Remember that guy in Paris with the old car? He wanted to jump your bones and you wouldn't even give him the time of day.”

When Livia and Harmony worked in Paris, they met a stock broker/investor type who asked Harmony out on a date. Livia knew as soon as they met him that he wanted Harmony, and now she was trying to make Hisham the Jerusalem version.

“I had a boyfriend at the time,” Harmony pointed out.

“But even if you didn't, you weren't interested,” Livia said. “You even forgot his name. You definitely weren't talking about him all the time.”

“This is a completely different situation,” she said.

“Exactly,” Livia said. “You like this one. So why not act on it?”

“He's almost twice as old as me,” she answered

“Who cares?” Livia asked. “You're not going to marry him. I'm just talking about a little bump and grind in a hotel room or in a limousine or wherever movie producers do it. Your boyfriend's gone. It's time to move on. You have to get laid before you explode. Have a vacation romance. I know you're not on vacation, but it's almost the same.”

“I don't do one night stands,” she declared.

“It doesn't have to be one night,” Livia said. “You're there two weeks. You can have a fourteen night stand.”

“That's just not me,” she pointed out. “I don't do summer flings. I do long term relationships.”

“So have a relationship with this guy,” Livia advocated. “Why not?”

“We live on different sides of the planet,” she answered. “I'm not doing another long distance relationship. That was too hard. And it wasn't even that much of a distance. Jerusalem is pretty far.”

“Women always bitch and moan that they can't find the right guy,” Livia said. “You accidentally find guys everywhere you go. The one thing that always stops it from going anywhere is you.”

“None of this matters anyway,” she said. “Nothing's going to happen. He's probably gay.”

“He's not gay,” Livia insisted.

“You didn't see the way he was eyeing those rabbis at the Western Wall,” Harmony joked.

“Those hats are pretty hot,” Livia said. “Does he have a beard?”

“I think beards are for married men,” she said. “He's single, so no beard. Also, he's a movie producer, so he can't go to meetings looking like the Unabomber. People who make movies tend to be less traditional no matter what country they're in.”

“So are you going to let him grow a beard after you're married?” Livia asked her.

“Speaking of marriage, when are you getting married?” she asked Livia.

Livia and her boyfriend were together longer than anyone could remember. Harmony knew that they were both sensitive to any talk of marriage. In their minds, they had the perfect relationship, and getting married could change everything. Asking Livia when she would get married was always a great way to change the subject, but it rarely came up as easily as it did here. In teasing Harmony about some man she just met, Livia carelessly opened the door for Harmony to turn it around on her. They were talking about Middle Eastern food in seconds. Livia especially wanted to know about the cookies.

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In A Philosophical Discussion

Joined: 27 Dec 2007
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Location: North Carolina not far from the ocean

PostPosted: 05-18-2017 08:12 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is getting good, Hailey (started out pretty good, too), if you don't mind my saying seems to me there's a certain fun, amusing "chick lit" aspect to this which is interesting meshed with the political relevance and the Middle East setting. Gives a vivid sense of Israel. It hurts my heart what they go through, what they live under, the constant threats from all sides Crying or Very sad
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Chatting So Delightfully

Joined: 02 Dec 2014
Posts: 3508
Location: Hong Kong

PostPosted: 05-19-2017 02:38 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you. I'm always ready for criticism, but it's nice to hear good things. Who doesn't like compliments?

The story is mostly about someone who goes to Jerusalem to act in an independent film. I'm not posting most of the behind the scenes parts or what happens in the story within a story. Since I'm mostly posting the stranger in a strange land storyline, all of the travel guide scenes are here. Since it's a Jerusalem travel guide, there's a little bit about politics. The next chapter excerpt I'm going to post is easily the most political.
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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 05-19-2017 02:47 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 10
Yad Vashem

From the Hall of Remembrance, Harmony walked back down to Warsaw Ghetto Square and doubled back to the Holocaust History Museum, the largest building in the entire complex. It was a museum with paintings, sculptures, photographs and artifacts, but it was a museum that told a single story. The long building forced her to walk from one end to the other, hearing the story chronologically.

Harmony loves art museums. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is one of her favorite places in the world. The Louvre and Minneapolis Institute of Art are not too shabby, either. But those tell thousands of different stories from a wide variety of artists over a span of several centuries. The Holocaust History Museum told the story of a race of people who refused to die.

“The overall message is positive,” she told Livia. “Humans can be horrendously evil, but they can also persevere and help each other out. The museum is talking about genocide, but also how there is always hope for the future. It's kind of an optimistic place. But depressing as hell.”

The story begins before the war, when Jews live all over Europe, both in their own communities and fully integrated within the societies and cultures where their ancestors immigrated. As soon as the Nazi Party forces its way into power, antisemitism is the major talking point. Newspapers tell the German people that the Jews are the cause of all their problems. Unable to work? That is because the Jews took all the jobs. In poor health? All the doctors are Jews.

It was a frightening display. Not only because Harmony knew what was coming next, but also because she has seen the same thing from her country's politicians. Not against Jews, but against immigrants, communists and whichever scapegoat is convenient at the time. Jews in Germany, once citizens of a country in which many were born, are now foreigners in their own homes.

Nothing gets better as Germany begins invading Europe. German leaders segregate Jews, forcing them from their homes and jobs, stealing their property and making them easier to identify and abuse on the streets by forcing everyone to wear a Star of David on their clothes. All of this is perfectly legal because German politicians passed laws making it legal. Discrimination is always easier for the general public to accept if it is on the books. This is a pretty terrible time for most of the people in Europe, but this story is entirely from a Jewish perspective.

As soon as Germany invades Poland, Europe is at war. If you have a group of people you want to persecute, nothing is more expedient than war. Jews are now the cause of this war, according to newspapers and propaganda films. If your son has to go fight the barbarian French, it is the Jews' fault. War is the quickest way for the Nazis to expand their base, but it also provides a convenient excuse to move Jews into the ghettos. The newspaper phrases “for your safety” and “in the national interest” are especially chilling.

Looking at the newspapers and news reels, it is hard to believe that the German people were so deftly manipulated by their leaders. Then Harmony thought about the American people and their own media.

Daily life in Eastern European ghettos is vividly displayed. As the war progresses, families from Germany and Poland are joined by families from Holland and France. Apartments designed to house a family of four now hold at least four different families. Living conditions are intolerable, especially to people who were middle class or even wealthy only a year or two ago. To German Jews, the hatred and violence against them is nothing new, but to people from Holland, the kidnapping and forced labor one thousand miles from home must have seemed unreal.

Letters and diaries show that the adults know what is happening. Some go along with the slave labor hoping that it will save them from being murdered. Others know that they will all be killed as soon as they are no longer useful. Remarkably, almost everyone of faith is determined to practice it and make sure their children are educated. Photographs show children smiling, playing games and studying while every adult face is aged far beyond their years. Children also have to work, of course, but they find the time to go to makeshift schools.

What German leaders never could have anticipated was how many Jewish people who were previously ambivalent about their religion are now becoming more involved in their community and religious services. Making Judaism illegal only makes countless Jews embrace their faith. In the ghettos, lapsed Jews return to Judaism.

Life gets worse when Germany invades Russia. Part of Germany's strategy to defeat the Russians is to destroy entire towns, burning down buildings and killing every last human being. Since Germany keeps detailed records of all their horrendous inhumanity, and Russia keeps detailed records of German atrocities in Ukraine and Romania, there is more than enough evidence on display.

Harmony stared at a large photograph for what felt like days. The photograph showed a German soldier about to shoot a mother holding her baby. Try as she might, Harmony could not imagine what was going through that soldier's mind. Hearing propaganda against Jews for years almost certainly made him hate them. That was easy enough to understand. Just read Youtube comments today and you can see the same abject hatred of total strangers. But somehow this soldier thought that this mother and baby were a threat to his country. Not murdering them would harm Germany in some inexplicable way. Nothing is good about the situation, but making it even worse is the smile on the soldier's face as he is about to pull the trigger. He is about to murder an unarmed woman and baby, and he loves it.

Killing leads to more killing, as it always does, and German leaders come up with their final solution to the Jewish problem. The solution is organized, efficient and nothing short of evil.

The largest section of the museum tells the most horrific part of the story. The ghettos are emptied, killing an unknown number of people in the process. Those who survive will only find their circumstances unimaginably worse.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising is only one of many armed resistance movements. It is the most famous because it is the most successful. Private letters show that those involved are not trying to rescue anyone. They see rescue as impossible at this point. The uprising, to them, is a matter of honor. The main theme of the letters is that if they are going to die, they are going to die standing up.

Segregating Jews into the ghettos is not enough for the master race. With German efficiency, they find a way to kill as many human beings as possible while still using them as slave labor. In the ghettos, prisoners have to walk or be shipped to the factories where they work all day for no pay only to go back to the ghettos at night. Going back and forth between places wastes time and resources. By putting everyone in camps, they can sleep right next to the factories and mines where they can be worked to death without any of the local populations having to witness forced marches and transport. The prisons also open the door for medical experiments and an inhuman level of torture that would have been difficult in the ghettos.

Most concentration camps have a specific purpose. Some are for slave labor, like Dachau and Buchenwald, where prisoners are worked to death making weapons or mining quarries. Anyone too sick or injured to work is killed. Some camps are for political prisoners and prisoners of war, like Grini. Enemy soldiers are used as slave labor in factories and fields, depending on rank. Some, like Treblinka and Belzec, are extermination camps, whose sole purpose is to kill everyone. The Auschwitz camps are for slave labor and murder. Germany builds over one thousand prisons across Northern and Eastern Europe. By the end of the war, they are all death camps.

The vast scope of this operation is impossible to ignore. Men have been rounding up and killing the people they fear since the dawn of time, but the Nazis do it on such an enormous scale. It is hard to comprehend how the rest of the world can simply ignore what is happening. Other countries, like Spain, Japan and the United States, killed entire tribes of indigenous people in the name of progress. The British Empire killed an incalculable number of locals in their quest to colonize the world. All of that killing took place over numerous generations, even hundreds of years. With remarkable efficiency and modern weapons, the Germans murder sixteen million men, women and children in less than a decade.

Harmony had to take a break after the display on children murdered in the concentration camps. It was getting harder to look at everything, both in her soul and through her watering eyes. Children are worked to death and murdered as soon as they are shipped into the camps just like adults. They are also subjected to medical experiments that make the most twisted horror movies look like Warner Brothers cartoons.

Twins are injected with diseases to test if the other twin develops symptoms. Whenever one twin dies, there is an autopsy on the dead twin and vivisection of the live twin to compare results. Limbs are amputated for the sole purpose of watching for any signs of pain from the sibling. In several cases, one twin is killed and all of the blood is drained from the other to see if the transfusion can restore life. Any child regarded as useless is murdered, so as soon as one twin dies for any reason, the other twin is killed. Almost all of the children used for medical experiments are killed for the autopsy even if they survive the torture of the experiments.

None of the medical experiments serve any useful medical or scientific purpose. Some were always too absurd to ever survive any form of peer review, had such a thing existed in the camps, such as sewing children together to create conjoined twins or giving them brain transplants. There have been ethical debates for the last seventy years about using the results of these experiments, but the scientific methodology was too flawed to survive scrutiny. The doctors at the death camps claimed to torture children in the name of science, but their sadistic racism switched off whatever science their minds might have imagined possible.

The Holocaust History Museum wants visitors to walk all the way through from beginning to end. They want the horror to slap you in the face. But they were also nice enough to provide a few benches on the side. The museum sees a lot of elderly visitors who need a place to rest. The benches also provide welcome relief for those who cannot make it from one end to the other despite being physically fit.

As Harmony sat, trying not to cry like a colicky baby, she was grateful that Hisham was not there. He undoubtedly would have been an excellent tour guide, but he already saw her cry at Jesus' tomb. That was more of an involuntary display of buried emotion. Her eyes were wet, but she was fully functional. This time, at the museum, she felt it deep in her chest. It was more painful and wounded her naturally optimistic attitude about people. Had she not sat down, she might have fallen down. She wanted to go outside for some fresh air, but she would have to pass through the rest of the museum to get out of the building. She knew she had to stay and finish. People actually lived through all of this madness. The absolute least she could do was walk through a museum.

As the German infestation spreads across Europe, more and more Jews are imprisoned and worked to death or simply killed outright. Many are tortured in the name of science and sadism. Adults are subjected to different experiments, including torture to test the effects of extreme cold, heat and pain. Organ transplants are performed on conscious prisoners and women are sterilized by the hundreds of thousands. The experiments on pregnant women are indescribably evil. With more than enough Russian soldiers, homosexuals, Romani, political prisoners, artists and intellectuals for slave labor, the camps can afford to murder Jews at will.

Resistance movements throughout Europe include an untold number of Jewish members. Thousands of forgotten battles are fought in every country that Germany invades. Jewish and Christian civilians fight side by side against well trained and heavily armed German soldiers.

Some resistance fighters take a less violent, though no less dangerous role. People with little or no connection to Judaism risk their lives to shelter and evacuate Jews. The entire town of Nieuwlande, Holland becomes a secret haven. Their plan is simple but brilliant. Every single house hides someone from the Germans, making it difficult for anyone to rat out their neighbors without also incriminating themselves. Ho Feng Shan, the Chinese ambassador to Austria, ignores his bosses and issues thousands of visas to China. Priests and ministers all over Europe hide Jews in their churches. Oskar Schindler rescues a thousand people right under Nazi noses.

As the war starts to end, Germany closes and consolidates camps, transferring prisoners across Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed on forced death marches. Many are simply killed in the closed camps. When it is clear that Germany cannot win the war, camp commanders are ordered to kill everybody. Some do a better job than others. Most camps are destroyed to hide evidence. Some are abandoned intact. Most commanders only kill a fraction of their prisoners since running away and self-preservation are a higher priority.

When the concentration camps are liberated by mostly American and Russian armies, the story is far from over. Now the survivors have to figure out what to do next. Their homes are long gone. Some entire cities are no more. Germany is defeated, but no one feels safe returning there. Poland becomes a hotbed of antisemitism. Just as Germany blamed Jews for defeat in World War I, Poland is now blaming Jews for World War II. The Holocaust might be officially dead, but bigotry against Jews lives on. Half of Europe is under Soviet control. Beacons of freedom like the United States and Great Britain are closing their doors to Jewish immigrants.

Europe is essentially a refugee zone. No country is unaffected by the war. The master race managed to murder about 2 million Russian prisoners of war, 2 million Polish civilians, 1 million undesirable Christians, half a million Romani, another half million physically and mentally disabled people of assorted nationalities, at least 20,000 homosexuals and somewhere around 6 million Jews. Not to mention the death toll from actual war combat. Most of the Jewish populations of Czechoslovakia, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ukraine, Belgium and Yugoslavia are gone. Ninety percent of the Jews in Germany, Austria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are murdered. Poland had about 3.3 million Jews before the war. At least 3 million are murdered.

Life gradually carries on. Families attempt to find each other. Millions of people mourn. Adjusting to the aftermath of war takes years. Some never recover. Eventually, monuments and memorials are built. Some want to forget it all and move forward. But enough people understand the importance of remembering the past. As time passes, fewer witnesses are alive to remind us. Soon, there will be no one who was there.

Most of the people Harmony meets in East Asia are already ignorant of what happened. It is simply not something taught in their schools. Hitler is an advertising icon in Thailand and Indonesia, selling soap, comic books and fast food. These people are hardly white supremacists or admirers of Nazi ideology. Hitler means as much to them as Ronald McDonald. Genghis Khan killed millions to build his empire, but is nothing more than a page in history books in most of the world today. Sooner or later, the Holocaust will be remembered just as much.

When Harmony was outdoors again, she walked around the grounds, passing monuments and memorials to individual people and groups. When she reached the Children's Memorial, she knew she had to go in. She also knew that this was going to be nothing like the Youth Wing at the Israel Museum. That was a happy place, full of interactive exhibits for children.

The Children's Memorial let her know right away that it was not a happy place. The entrance was like walking into a cave. The room or rooms were too dark to see anything but a dot of light for each of the almost two million murdered children. The dark walls were made of some kind of material where digital photographs of some of the children could be intermittently displayed. In the dark, the only sounds were recorded voices calling out the names, ages and nationalities of the children. The space was very dark and very quiet, and one of the most graphic displays for the senses Harmony had ever seen in a memorial. It was both awe inspiring and physically painful.

The overall message of Yad Vashem was hope, but there was nothing positive in a room full of children who were murdered because their ancestry was impure. The lessons of history are supposed to teach the world how to do better in the future. Hopefully, they will some day. The only good thing about stories of genocide is that they always include stories of hope and survival. Some men are truly evil, but most will do the right thing. A select few will even risk their own lives to help out complete strangers.

Harmony walked around the grounds a little before she left, but the garden setting was not likely to change her mood. She could have walked back to the tram stop, but she was too drained. There were taxis waiting at the main entrance, so she took one back to the hotel. Mount Herzl would have to wait for another day.

“It's one of the most impressive museums I've ever seen,” she told Livia. “And I never want to go back.”

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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 05-23-2017 01:47 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 11
Rose in Bloom

Finished at the botanical gardens, she had just enough time to go back to the hotel and get ready for her night on the town. Liat soon came to pick her up and immediately disapproved.

“We are not going to the church service,” Liat said, scrutinizing Harmony's clothes.

Harmony took to the Jerusalem fashion of long skirts and long sleeve shirts right away. She liked how it looked and found the light layers of fabric comfortable in the constant sun. Most days at home were covered by clouds and/or smog and ever present humidity. The sky was bright, clear and dry every day she was in Jerusalem. She was never going to dress the same way in both places.

Liat was wearing a short red dress that might have been an additional layer of skin. It was not the kind of modest clothing any of Jerusalem's religions talk about so often.

Harmony thought they were going out to dinner, which they did, but Liat had plans for afterward. Liat took Harmony to a generic Asian restaurant called Station 9, where they met Liat's model friends. It was exactly the kind of place where she imagined to find young actors and models. The décor was fashionable and the food was exactly like an American restaurant that claimed to be Chinese or Thai but never had any Chinese or Thai customers. It had egg rolls that were actually spring rolls and steamed buns used as hamburger buns, which would appall any Chinese grandmother.

Harmony usually avoided Chinese restaurants whenever she traveled outside of China. When she went somewhere different, she wanted to eat something different. But the food here was so far removed from what she saw in China that it never felt like a Chinese restaurant. It was not bad. There was too much soy sauce all over everything and too many dishes were stir fried, but that was typical of any restaurant outside of East Asia trying to be Asian. Every American Chinese restaurant smells like soy sauce. Harmony had never been to a Chinese restaurant in China that did.

“The irony is that Israel is in Asia,” Harmony told Livia. “Israeli food is, by definition, Asian food.”

“But when people say Asian, they mean East Asian,” Livia said.

The most interesting thing about the restaurant was that it was in a complex that used to be a train station. The main building of the station was preserved and the surrounding area was transformed into an indoor/outdoor entertainment and food mall. The train tracks were converted into a lovely green walking path and there were bicycle rentals for those energetic enough to brave the hills of Jerusalem. In the daytime, there were a few dozen structured activities for children, ranging from educational to artistic to just plain fun.

“It's not a shopping mall,” Harmony told Livia. “It's more like a cultural mall. It's a great place for children.”

Neither Liat nor any of her model friends were interested in getting a pottery lesson or building with Tinkertoys. They wanted to go dancing at a club that was definitely not designed for children. They were all dressed more for a club with drinks than dinner with chopsticks. Unfortunately, Harmony was dressed for church on the prairie. Liat had a solution to that.

Her model friends went to the club while Liat took Harmony shopping.

“We don't have time for this,” Harmony told Liat.

“There is always the time to look good,” Liat replied.

“Aren't we going to be late?” Harmony asked.

“This is not your dentist meeting,” Liat answered. “There is no late.”

Liat wanted Harmony to get a black dress that was as short and tight as her red dress. Harmony had no problem with black. She knew they were going somewhere dark, so black was preferable to anything noticeable. She was in all likelihood the only person there who did not want to stand out.

She had a problem with the short and tight part. Given a choice, she would generally prefer not to dress like a prostitute. Short was one thing as long as she could sit down without giving everyone around her a free show. Tight was definitely not her style. She liked to breathe on a regular basis.

Harmony picked a dress that was far shorter than the skirt she wore to dinner, but not short enough for anyone to know that she was wearing one hundred percent more underwear than Liat. It was also loose enough that she could walk more gracefully than a mermaid, but form fitting enough for Liat's crowd.

“I'll never wear this again,” she told Livia.

“Is it slutty enough for me to borrow?” Livia asked her.

“You'll love it,” she answered.

When they drove to the club, Harmony had no idea where they were. Dinner was just south of the Old City. Shopping was south of the Israel Museum and Botanical Gardens. The club was nowhere near anything she recognized in a part of town she was never meant to recognize. She could not even tell which direction they were heading as Liat raced around countless corners and drove as though they were late for a dentist appointment.

Harmony's impression was not that they were late, but that Liat was finally in an area where she could drive like a lunatic. Downtown Jerusalem was not the ideal place for her sports car. Some of the streets were built before cars existed and none of them were designed for the volume of traffic the city saw every day. The streets were far emptier wherever they were, so Liat could let her car go meshuga.

The club itself was the kind of place no one ever accidentally stumbled upon. It was in a building behind a wall that looked like any other stone wall from the outside. The street had an abundance of nothing interesting. There was no sign anywhere on the exterior wall or on the building itself indicating the name of this club. If the club had a name, Harmony never knew it. No one ever mentioned it and she never read it anywhere.

Unlike most popular dance clubs, there was no long line of people waiting to get in. Harmony was never worried about it since she was with a relatively well known model/actress who looked like a model or actress. If the place had a bouncer, Harmony would have had to wait, but Liat was always getting in right away, no questions asked.

Instead of a velvet rope to keep out the undesirables, this club was at the dizzying end of a maze. Walking in was like the Copacabana tracking shot in Goodfellas. Even if someone knew that the club existed, they would have to know how to get in. That was something Google maps could never tell them.

Once inside, Harmony was surrounded by the most famous entertainment industry insiders under thirty that Jerusalem had to offer. This club was a paparazzi money shot. It was paradise for people who obsess over celebrity gossip. Harmony did not recognize anyone.

There were always a few things she could expect from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They were mostly religious and dressed and composed themselves modestly. Jaffa Street looked nothing like Hollywood Boulevard. Harmony never saw anyone walking down the street in a pronounced state of intoxication. Everyone was generally quiet and reserved outside of markets. The people of Jerusalem might disagree with her. Some considered their city too loud, too crowded and too modern. But those who lived in the cacophony of China knew what a loud city truly was. Jerusalemites were cloistered nuns by comparison.

This club was not standard Jerusalem. Harmony never took a religious survey inside, but modesty was not on anyone's dance card. Women's dresses were too short. Men's shirts were too unbuttoned. Expensive alcohol flowed freely, and she might have witnessed some furtive drug use. The music was blaring, which only made the patrons use their outdoor voices. She wondered if the place was so hard to find because they only wanted select people inside or because it was hiding from the establishment. Probably both.

Harmony was not entirely excited about noisy and overcrowded places where people got hammered. She went to a few clubs here and there and never really liked any of them. The people she was with and complete strangers always wanted her to drink too much. Men on the prowl especially wanted her to drink too much. And there were always too many men who were only there to get laid, oblivious to the fact that most of the women were there to spend time with their friends and do a little dancing.

This club was different. It was loud, but not especially crowded. Perhaps because it was so hard to find. Or because it was still early in the night by dance club standards. Many of the patrons already knew each other, so there were far fewer men hitting on women. There was no lack of flirting, but not as many of the bad pickup lines that someone decided was a requirement of modern day awkward courtship. Harmony was new, so she would have been a prime target at most clubs. But in a club full of models, actresses and jet setters, she was never in anyone's spotlight.

Harmony was there to get to know Liat a little better. Talking was out of the question in the din of a Thursday night, so they danced. The music could have been better, but it could have been far worse. It was anyone's guess whether it was techno, trance, house or bitsonic funky chunky. It all sounded like disco to Harmony.

Surprisingly, she recognized one of the songs. While Liat and Harmony were moving to the grooving on the dance floor, the speakers played Paul McCartney's “Temporary Secretary”. Harmony never heard it coming. A club full of the young and stylish were dancing to a song that fit in perfectly with the biggest dance hits of the hour but was recorded years before any of them were born. Paul was ahead of his time.

It was unusual for Harmony to be in a club full of men who had no interest in seeing her naked. It would have been less unsettling had she known at the time just how many of the women at the club the men had already seen naked. Jerusalem had a relatively small celebrity scene. Most of the rich and famous in that club had already made the rounds. Everyone wanted her to drink too much anyway. She was briefly presented some type of illicit narcotic, but no one asked her again after she sternly declined. The alcohol, however, was viewed as an offer she could not refuse. Even though no man in that building expressed any interest in jumping her bones, several wanted to buy drinks.

“I always assumed that guys buy drinks to get your guard down,” she told Livia.

“They do,” Livia confirmed.

“These guys were buying drinks just because I was there,” she said.

It did not bother Harmony in the least that she was never the center of attention. In any given situation, she rarely wanted to be. Whenever she went out with Livia, she was always the last person everyone noticed when they walked into a room.

Harmony was not at all jealous of Liat, who was essentially her Livia surrogate for the night. She understood that people always notice the most beautiful and elegant women first. She appreciated that she was not burdened with that responsibility. Harmony was just hoping Liat never got too popular. Liat was her ride home.

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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 05-28-2017 01:35 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 13
And the Walls Came a Tumblin' Down

Every morning in Jerusalem was essentially the same. Harmony woke up, took a quick shower and went downstairs for a nice breakfast. Shabbat or not, there was always something interesting waiting in the hotel for breakfast.

On this morning, Hisham promised to show her part of Jerusalem where the tourists never go. Last Shabbat, she went to the Israel Museum. It was a wonderful world class museum that she could wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, but it is likely never bereft of tourists. Hisham was from Jerusalem. If he could not show her something relatively unknown, no one could.

They got in Hisham's car and headed east. They quickly left Jerusalem and drove deep into the Judean Mountains. In what seemed like only a few minutes, they stopped at what looked like a toll booth. Hisham showed the uniformed man in the toll booth his identification and talked for half a minute. Then they continued driving.

“What was that?” Harmony asked Hisham.

“That was a checkpoint,” he answered.

Harmony was almost shocked. She had always heard that Israeli checkpoints were instruments of torture where Israel abuses the human rights of Arabs and/or Muslims. The soldier did not even ask to see Harmony's passport. The checkpoint they went through was easier than crossing the border from the United States to Mexico.

“I am Israeli,” Hisham explained to her. “If I were Palestine, there would be questions. They might search the car. Or perhaps not. Is up to them. They would ask you questions. This is a smaller checkpoint, so there is no traffic. When there are ample crowds, getting on takes longer.”

“So it's definitely harder for Palestinians?” Harmony asked him.

“Of course,” he answered. “If he is not Israeli and wants to enter Israel, he cannot simply walk over the border. Can others enter the border of your country without showing identification and answering questions?”

“Well, not legally,” she said. “But where is the border with Israel?”

“That is the good question,” he answered without ever answering the question.

“So are we in Israel right now or Palestine?” she asked.

“Some would say we are in Palestine,” he answered. “Some would say the Old City is in Palestine. Some would say all of Israel is Palestine.”

“What about you?” she asked. “Where do you say we are?”

“We are in Israel,” he answered without hesitation. “There is the checkpoint because we are in territory that Jordan wants to own where many Arabs who are not Israelis wish to live. They are not permitted into Jordan, so Israel allows them work in Israel. Showing identification to enter Israel for work is not restrictive to my mind. The alternative is they only work in territory with few jobs.”

“Why can't they go into Jordan?” she asked.

“Jordan does not want them,” he answered.

“So Jordan won't let these Muslim Arabs in to work or live or anything?” she asked. “Even though they live on land that Jordan wants to own some day?”

“That is correct,” he answered.

“But Israel lets them in to work?” she asked.

“That is correct,” he answered. “Some are permitted to live in Israel under some circumstances.”

“But since they have to show ID to enter a foreign country, Israel is the bad guy?” she asked.

“Some would say,” he answered.

“Even though Jordan won't let them in at all under any circumstances?” she asked.

“That is correct,” he answered.

“That doesn't make any sense,” she said.

“Of course it does,” Hisham told her. “Think of why Jordan will not allow them in.”

“I have no idea,” she said.

Harmony likes discussing issues that are black and white to her people but actually contain a full spectrum of colors. But sometimes she wants them to be more black and white. It is much easier that way.

“If Jordan allows them live in Jordan, there are no oppressed people anymore,” Hisham said. “Israel is no longer the oppressor. Israel merely wants land that Jordan wants. International media would never care. How often is Kashmir, Macedonia, Cyprus, Somaliland in your news?”

“Pretty much never,” she answered.

“A simple land dispute is not newsworthy,” Hisham said. “Human suffering is always. Every Arab state has a border dispute with the Arab neighbors. Every single one. They are never in your news because the people beyond both borders suffer equally.”

“But why doesn't the world see Jordan as the bad guy?” she asked. “At least half as much as Israel?”

“I think you know the answer of that,” Hisham said.

“I really don't,” she told him. She was still trying to picture a map of Somaliland.

“Your people, the Americans and the Europeans, see Jordan as the Arab and Israel as the Jew,” Hisham explained. “If the oppressed people are the Arab, how can Jordan be at fault? Jordan is the Arab. Arab states oppress Arab people every day without attention. This does not fit the American definition. Israel is the Jew, so it stands to reason that Israel must be oppressing the Arab.”

“But Jordan won't let them in,” she said.

“But Jordan is the Arab,” Hisham countered. “Israel is the Jew.”

“Millions of Arabs live in Israel,” Harmony pointed out.

“Does your media ever mention this?” he asked her. “Or do they display Israel as the Jew? You yourself see Israel in such a narrow view and you are in Israel just now. You had dinner with an Israeli family that is not the Jew.

“Ok, from my point of view, Palestinians should have their own country because they're Palestinian, not Israeli,” she said. “But the land of Palestine is or was in Israel. So where did all the Palestinians come from if they're not originally Israeli?”

“Jordan,” Hisham answered. “When Jordan captured the land in the first war, Jordan expelled all Israeli and flooded the land with the Arab you now call Palestinian. When Israel took the land back in the second war, Israel was prohibited from flooding the land with Israeli or expelling the Jordan Arab.”

“Who stopped them?” she asked.

“Your people,” he answered. “The Americans, the UN, the Europeans. They will not allow Israel put Israeli on Israeli land because this is now called Palestine because Jordan put Arab on this land.”

“There's one thing I know for certain,” Harmony decided. “I don't ever want to be the ambassador to Israel or Jordan or Palestine.”

Harmony knew that after a lifetime of seeing Israel and Palestine from an American point of view, she was never going to see it from an Israeli or Palestinian perspective. Hisham's worldview refused to conform to the American narrative. It would have taken the longest conversation to get past all the propaganda, but they were at their destination.

Hisham took her to what he called Wadi Qelt, also called Nahal Prat in Hebrew. One of the first things she noticed as she moved around Israel was that everything had both a Hebrew and Arabic name. Hisham, like most Israelis, could use both interchangeably. A rare exception was Jerusalem, which Harmony never heard anyone call al Quds. Whatever Wadi Qelt was called, it was a long stretch of preserved wilderness around the Prat River. The river flows east of Jerusalem to just west of Jericho. Mostly a desert setting, the borders around the river were green and full of wild flowers and herbs that changed the way the entire surroundings looked, smelled and felt. Harmony was surprised to see a large patch of wild mint growing without a care in the world.

Hisham and Harmony hiked along Nahal Prat. There were other places to go with a wealth of archeological ruins and evidence of villages abandoned centuries ago, but he wanted to show her the river. Every once in a while, the river opened up into small pools that looked clean enough to drink. Harmony was not about to put any of that water in her mouth, but she mentioned to Hisham how inviting the water looked for a swim. He told her that the better swimming hole was further down the trail.

“I didn't bring a bathing suit,” she pointed out.

“You need no special bathing clothes here,” he said.

Then he looked at her the way every man in the world would look at a woman in that situation. There was no subtle geopolitical nuance here. It was pure black and white.

“I'm not getting naked,” she said. “Dream all you want. That's not going to happen.”

“You can swim in the clothes you wear now,” he said. “The sun will have you dried quickly.”

Swimming in clothes is never Harmony's first choice. She always preferred being underwater naked, opportunity permitting. She was either in Israel, a conservative country, or Palestine, an even more conservative country. Neither cottons to the ladies getting comfortable.

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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 05-28-2017 01:50 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

On top of a hill near the monastery, Hisham pointed out Jericho and told her that it was only three miles away.

“Can we go there?” she asked him.

“Is hard to say,” he answered. “You can enter anytime. I can only enter infrequently.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I am Israeli,” he answered. “Israeli are forbidden from entering many Arab towns, Jericho amongst them.”

“So wait a minute. Hold the phone,” she said. “Palestinians can enter Israel if they go through a checkpoint, but you can't enter Palestine no matter what? That's not fair.”

“You are correct,” he said. “But it is not the Arab authorities who forbid me from entering. They would welcome Israeli tourism and money. Most of the time. It is the Israeli authorities.”

Hisham gave Harmony a quick lesson in Israeli jurisprudence which, like everything else in Israel, required a bit of a history lesson. After discussing the Oslo Accords, they decided to drive to Jericho to see what would happen. If they were refused entry, it was a scenic drive back to Jerusalem.

“This checkpoint will necessitate more time,” Hisham warned her.

“I have an international driver's license,” she pointed out. “Would it be easier if I drove when we went in?”

“That would be far more complicated,” he answered without even thinking about it. “An American female driving an Israeli car with a male passenger is unusual. They would think I am kidnapping you. As we are now, they will deduce that I am your tour guide.”

“In a way, you are,” she said.

“If they ask you questions, please do not tell jokes,” Hisham implored her.

“You don't think I'm funny?” she asked him.

“Security personnel might not understand your American style of humor,” he answered.

Unlike the checkpoint they went through earlier, this one had barricades along the road, forcing all cars to pass a guard tower. Harmony saw a soldier in the tower holding the largest gun she had ever seen in person. This was not an attractive place, and she contemplated how depressing it would be to work around concrete and barbed wire all day.

While waiting in line, she also saw a large red sign in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The English read, “Palestinian Authority territory Area A ahead. No entry for Israelis. Entry illegal by Israeli law”. This did not seem like a good sign to her.

When the car stopped at the front of the line, Hisham handed his identification to one of the uniformed soldiers and they spoke briefly in either Hebrew or Arabic. Harmony got the impression that it was Hebrew. Another soldier came to the passenger side of the car and asked in English to see her passport. She never asked why he automatically assumed she spoke English. He quickly flipped through the pages the way pretty much everyone at every airport does and she expected him to hand it back to her.

“When did you leave America?” the soldier casually asked her, studying the pages.

“Five or six years ago,” she answered. The soldier's face betrayed his surprise at that answer. “I live in China,” she explained.

“Why are you traveling to Jericho?” he asked her.

“I want to see the walls come a tumblin' down,” she answered. Harmony could almost hear Hisham's face tense.

“Enjoy your visit,” the soldier said as he handed back her passport.

Hisham and his soldier were finished talking by the time Harmony's soldier walked around the car and back toward the guard shack. As they drove away, Hisham looked at her without taking his eyes off the road ahead.

“We agreed no jokes,” he said.

“I made no such agreement,” she told him.

Not far from the Israeli checkpoint was the Palestinian checkpoint. The difference between the two was like Disneyland and the coin operated animal rides in front of grocery stores. Breaking through the Israeli checkpoint would require a sturdy bulletproof vehicle. What was called a checkpoint on the Palestine side looked like it could be breached on a bicycle.

“Ok, this checkpoint is a joke, but why doesn't anyone ever mention that Palestine has checkpoints when they criticize Israeli checkpoints?” she asked Hisham.

“Because it is a joke,” he answered. “If the Israel checkpoint were not here, there would be no Palestine checkpoint.” In taking Palestine's side, Hisham spoiled her assumption that he would always take Israel's side.

There were two Palestinian soldiers standing next to a phone booth sized guard shack. Instead of concrete barriers, high fences and barbed wire, it had thin portable railings that would be good for hanging laundry to dry. Perhaps to compensate, there were no less than seven Palestine flags hanging on everything from the guard shack to telephone poles.

When Hisham stopped the car, he handed his identification to one of the soldiers and they spoke briefly in either Arabic or Hebrew. Harmony got the impression that it was Arabic. No one wanted to speak to her.

“I gather we can get in,” she said as they drove into Jericho.

“You are the lucky charm,” Hisham said.

“I'm magically delicious,” she replied.

Jericho looked and felt nothing like Jerusalem. It was easy to believe each city was in a different country. Traffic was congested in Jerusalem, but most people drove in an orderly fashion. Israelis love to honk their horns, but everyone waited their turn, if impatiently. Traffic in Jericho was more Chinese. No one waited their turn and two lane streets appeared to have five or six lanes.

The streets in Jerusalem were about as clean as you can get a thousand year old road surrounded by stone buildings. The streets in Jericho could not be described as clean. An undemanding argument is that Israel has enough money to clean its roads while Palestine is a prison. But the people Harmony saw walking around did not look like prisoners. She saw more than a few able bodied men standing around, hanging out and smoking. Harmony has never been oppressed by Israel or Jordan or the international media or whomever anyone wants to blame, but she knew that if she lived in such a dirty place, she would start cleaning.

The locals in Jericho were happy to see them everywhere they went. Mostly, they were happy to see Harmony. Everyone presumed that Hisham was her guide. The occasional young adult and teenager asked if they could take her picture. This is something Americans often encounter in countries where the United States is a mystery and where a white person who dresses differently is assumed to be an American.

After a few years in China, it never strikes Harmony as odd that complete strangers want to take her picture in public. Facebook probably made it worse. She must be on a thousand Chinese Facebook pages by now. A picture with an American is to the Chinese what a picture with Tom Hanks is to an American.

Another similarity to China was that most of the people in Jericho did not speak English, yet Harmony saw a number of t-shirts with English writing. When they passed a man wearing a t-shirt with “I Heart Cock” in big bold letters on the front, Hisham tried to explain that the man wearing the shirt most likely had no idea what the words meant.

“I've seen little girls in China wearing shirts that would make a sailor blush,” Harmony told Hisham. “They see the English letters and think English, good enough. It's the same with people in my country getting Chinese tattoos. They like the way it looks without knowing what it says. I actually saw a guy with 'stupid foreigner' tattooed on his arm. I doubt he knew what it meant. He just liked the Chinese characters.”

Hisham thought the tattoo idea was amusing, but did not want to think about young girls wearing vulgar clothing.

A few locals thanked her for supporting “the struggle” or “the trouble”. She thought they were in Ireland for a second, but the locals were probably talking about the territorial dispute with Israel. Technically, she might have been supporting their cause by being there and spending some money, but no one convinced her that Israel should be wiped off the map. That was something she could not support.

“If nothing else, all of my luggage is in Israel,” she told Livia.

Hisham took Harmony to all the big sights, which were mostly historic and/or religious. He knew Jericho, but freely admitted that he was not as familiar with the city as he was with any of the other places he had shown her.

They went to Tell es Sultan, the main archeological site, but spent most of their time in Christian history. Despite being a Muslim city under Muslim control, most of the tourists in Jericho were Christians and the city made most of its money from pilgrims and white people with backpacks and cameras.

They passed through another checkpoint without incident and drove down to Qasr al Yahoud, where Jesus was baptized. There was a good sized crown at Qasr al Yahoud. Some people were in and around the churches, but most concentrated on the actual baptismal site.

Standing at the river in a crowd of mostly white faces, Harmony could not help but notice that the crowd on the other side of the river was just as white as they were. The other crowd was in Jordan, looking at the river toward Israel. Her crowd was in Israel, looking at the river toward Jordan. After all of the wars fought by all of the races and religions claiming to be the rightful owners of this tiny patch of land, it was now filled with American and European tourists on both sides.

Qasr al Yahoud was an unusual place. The name is Arabic and means Castle of the Jews. That in itself is unusual since Arab sites tend to ignore their Jewish history. It was a major Christian pilgrimage site where Jesus was baptized, Elijah ascended to Heaven and the Israelites crossed into Canaan. Jesus and Elijah are also important to Muslims, and Elijah and the crossing are important to Jews, but it felt like Harmony was here on Christian Day.

With so many different religions interpreting the spot in their own way, it was no surprise that it was under the control of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. They were only minutes from Jericho, which was evidently in Palestine or what will some day be Palestine or Jordan, but they were back in Israel. According to Hisham, Jordan asked Israel to control the west bank of the river because, as he said, “The last thing Jordan wants is Palestine Arabs crossing their border.”

The Israeli bank of the river had a large terrace for baptism ceremonies with enough room for hundreds of people to dunk their heads in the water. There were stone steps leading up to a visitor center and the Greek Orthodox church. Someone spent some money here.

The Jordan side had a small wooden platform surrounded by trees and at least one large church further back. Visitors on the Jordan side were crammed in and straining to look at the river, while those on the Israel side had abundant elbow room. The pilgrims on the Jordan side might have been jealous of the pilgrims on the Israel side, but they undoubtedly had the better view.

Even more unusual, to Harmony at least, was how narrow the Jordan River was at this point. This was the border between Israel and Jordan, yet even a terrible swimmer could make it across. The muddy river was still and did not look deep at all. It was more like a stream than a river. There was a rickety old wood and chicken wire fence in the water, but anyone could cross it. Naturally, no one ever did. They were all foreigners with visas in their passports and not at all desperate to get from one side to the other. That water also looked filthy.

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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 06-07-2017 03:10 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 14
Establishing Shots

Maria was not in the next shot, so Harmony watched everything from behind the camera. Generally, when actors are not on camera, they are either hiding out in their trailers or waiting somewhere backstage. Since Harmony was not famous enough to get her own trailer, her dressing room was a bedroom. They filmed in a few houses, so she got used to getting ready in someone else's bedroom, but she did not want to spend most of the shoot counting flower petals on wallpaper. The rest of the cast waited in their trailers or other rooms of the house that were away from the camera. When actors are on set for twelve hours a day, they take all the breaks they can get.

Most directors prefer that actors stay away from the camera if they are not supposed to be in front of it. Actors, in general, love the spotlight. If there is an audience nearby, most actors want their full attention. If the director is trying to film something and an actor is standing around nearby, he will likely be a distraction.

“I think trailers were first brought on movie sets to keep the actors out of the way,” Harmony told Livia. “It also helped with all the egos. You're so important, we don't want you to sit over there and wait. Here's your very own trailer far away from the set.”

Daniyel did not mind Harmony snooping around behind the scenes. Probably because she was never looking for attention. She also refrained from asking all of the crew a million questions and, most importantly, kept quiet when the camera was rolling. Daniyel and Elior got used to her, to the point where Elior let her look through the viewfinder before a shot. Elior showed her how the camera was going to move in relation to the actors before they started filming.

It was endlessly fascinating how different everything looked from that angle. As an actor, she was used to seeing everything as a stage production. To her, being in front of the camera was like being on stage. The camera was the audience. Only sometimes the audience moved around in ways she never saw in the theater.

“I think my excitement for how different everything was behind the camera is what kept them from kicking me out,” she told Livia. “I wasn't looking at the camera for how it saw me. I was looking at how it saw everything.”

Every actor wants to be a director, but most do not want to learn about any of the technical skills vital to directing a motion picture. They want to direct the other actors and let someone else worry about the lights and camera. Elior was impressed that Harmony was more interested in how the camera worked than in how it could focus on her. He let her sit at the camera while they blocked a tracking shot with Arus and his sisters. Elior and Daniyel could see everything on monitors, so Harmony was not wasting anyone's time. For her, it was like watching a movie. She saw exactly how it would look to the audience instead of how it all looked to the actors.

“Looking through the camera was a major eye opener,” she told Livia. “I have new respect for actors who can direct themselves in movies. Actors and directors have a completely different point of view. To do both, you have to see both images in your head at the same time. That takes some serious skill.”

“Maybe that's why most actors make lousy directors,” Livia insinuated.

Harmony was not the least bit qualified to direct the shot. She was barely qualified to be an actor. So she got out of the way once the shot was blocked and let Daniyel do his job. While they filmed, she was watching on the monitor that Daniyel watched during blocking. That was far less interesting than looking through the viewfinder.

Once the scene was finished, everyone took a break. Arus and Harmony still had a full day ahead of them, as did some of the crew, but the rest of the actors were done for the day. Since this was her last scene with most of the cast, Harmony wanted to say goodbye, but most of them left while she was still working. Liat was not even in the country that day, but they had already exchanged phone numbers. Harmony especially wanted to say goodbye to Savta, but her schedule was even busier. Savta left while Arus and Harmony were filming their last shot at the house.

After a short break, everyone who was still working piled into a few cars and drove to Mount Herzl. The rest of the day was going to be mostly exterior shots at a variety of locations throughout Jerusalem. These were quick scenes and establishing shots of Arus showing Maria around the city. They would be early in the movie when Maria first arrives in Jerusalem, but were filmed on Harmony's last day. She enjoyed filming at some of the places she visited in the last ten days. It was like her own private montage of the city she was leaving.

Harmony was glad that Mount Herzl was one of the locations. She never got the chance to see it on her own. They were working, so it was not like taking a leisurely trip, but they only shot Arus and Maria walking around the grounds. Since Mount Herzl is a cemetery, and it was open to the public during filming, Daniyel wanted to be as respectful as possible. No dialogue was necessary in such a somber place anyway.

From Mount Herzl, the crew packed up and everyone drove ten minutes to the Israel Museum. In the parking lot, Arus and Harmony had to change into different clothes. Their characters were going to these locations on different days, so they needed different wardrobe. There was only one trailer, which was meant for all wardrobe and makeup, but Arus appropriated it and made himself at home. Harmony had to change in one of the cars. Daniyel put a lighting blanket over the car windows while she was inside. Since she was the only female on set, Daniyel and most of the crew were naturally protective of her. Paparazzi were never an issue at any point during production, possibly because they were in a country the size of New Jersey, but she had her champions anyway.

The more Harmony worked with Daniyel, the more they talked about her home. The movie was about family in Israel, but Daniyel was interested in part of the United States about which he knew absolutely nothing. Everyone knows New York and California, but the two thousand miles in between are a mystery to much of the world. As a writer and filmmaker, Daniyel wanted to know all about this exotic land. The more she told him about her home state, the more he could not believe that such a place existed in the United States they see on TV.

“People always gripe that Americans don't know anything about other countries,” Harmony told Livia. “But people in other countries have a surprisingly narrow view of us as well.”

Daniyel liked how Harmony knew about the nature and geology of her state, and he could hardly believe that one state could have so much water, so he wrote a short scene where Arus is talking about flowers in Jerusalem. He even had the perfect spot to film the flower scene. After another wardrobe change in the Israel Museum parking lot, they drove about a block to the Wohl Rose Garden, across the street from the Knesset.

While the crew was lighting the roses, Arus and Harmony had their own mini rehearsal. Most of the cast had weeks of rehearsal time, but Harmony was never involved in that. She was kept out partly because her character was the outsider and partly because she lived on the other side of the world. Even a quick impromptu rehearsal with only one other actor was interesting to her.

Arus and Harmony worked out how they wanted to play the scene in the time it took the crew to set up the first shot. Harmony memorized her lines, but Arus was never off book. Rather than waste more time for Arus to learn the dialogue, Daniyel had Omri, the older production assistant, write it out on index cards and hide the cards in the flower beds. When the character looked down at the flowers, the actor was actually reading his lines.

According to the dialogue, the Wohl Rose Garden is the only rose park in the entire Middle East. It has more than four hundred different varieties of roses, most of which were donated from other countries. Through a lot of experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, they figured out how to keep all of those roses alive in Jerusalem's dry climate.

All of the dialogue was filmed in two shots while surrounded by thousands of blooming roses and a growing audience of people walking through the park. It really was hard to believe that all of those vibrant flowers were growing happily in a city that gets almost no rain half the year.

After getting a shot of Arus and Maria walking around the garden, they broke to applause from their audience, and the crew scattered. Not only were they finished for the day, but Harmony was completely finished. The crew and most of the cast still had a long way to go, but all of her scenes were filmed. She would be out of the country long before the wrap party. No one ever has a party when someone playing a supporting character leaves.

Harmony had some great dinners in Jerusalem, but one of her favorites was on her first night. Before she knew anything about the city or where anything was, she picked up random bits and pieces from shops near the hotel and took everything back to her room. There were a lot of great restaurants in Jerusalem, and she liked almost every meal she had, but wanted to repeat that first night, only with the experience of almost two weeks in the city.

Harmony bought some food at a few places on and around Jaffa Street, but instead of eating at the hotel, she found a table on Ben Yehuda Street and watched the city. Ben Yehuda was one of those popular pedestrian streets with more than enough food and shopping. It was usually crowded during the day, except on Shabbat, but it really came alive at night. With street performers, at least one comedy club, and a number of nightclubs, it was unlike most of the streets in conservative Jerusalem.

After dinner, she walked around the neighborhood one last time. You only get one chance to experience a city for the first time and Harmony's first visit to Jerusalem worked out pretty well. When she went back to the hotel for one last time, she knew that she would be back in Jerusalem some day. She would have been more than surprised if she knew how soon that would be.

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Chatting So Delightfully

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PostPosted: 06-11-2017 03:09 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 15
Driving to HaMelah

The next morning, Harmony had her usual breakfast before saying goodbye to the hotel. Despite all of the hotels she has stayed in during her life, she almost feels a little sad about leaving anyplace after more than a week. She has been to a few hotels that she wanted to leave on the first day, but she would have been more than happy to stay at the Harmony Hotel for another two weeks. Your hotel on the first visit to any new city is important. A bad hotel can make for a negative experience which only tarnishes your view of the city, no matter what you think about everything else. A great hotel can make even a mediocre city shine. This was a great hotel in a great city.

Hisham picked her up exactly where the driver from the airport dropped her off that first night. Every other time he drove to the hotel, he parked on a street around the corner. This time, Harmony had luggage, so he stopped right at the hotel's back door. It was a tiny alley where parking could block traffic, but this was early enough in the morning for no one to care.

He took her luggage and managed to fit everything in the trunk of his car. She offered to help, but he would not allow it. Letting her help him with luggage would have been an insult to him. In the car, he asked if she wanted to get breakfast. When she told him that she already ate, he pulled a large cup up to his face and told her that he would have his breakfast while driving. Harmony could smell that it was coffee before she saw the giant cup, and wondered if he was really going to drink the entire thing. It was practically a 7-11 big gulp full of coffee. There was no Starbucks in Israel, but if there had been, this would be size cento.

“Would you like some?” Hisham asked her. He clearly had enough for more than one person. He had enough for an entire family.

“I don't drink coffee,” she answered.

Hisham looked at Harmony as if she had just told him that she does not need to breathe oxygen to survive on his planet. Fortunately, the car was still parked. He looked at her too long to operate a vehicle in a city with as much traffic as Jerusalem.

After Hisham took a few sips of his breakfast, they were off. They drove from the tiny alley onto a series of smaller streets before turning onto an average street that turned into a large boulevard. Bordering the park that borders the Israel Museum, they passed the Central Bus Station and drove under the Chords Bridge before getting on the freeway. Harmony could not tell at the time, but Hisham had taken almost the exact same route the airport driver took from the freeway to the hotel, only in reverse. The biggest difference was that at the freeway, they went east to the lake instead of west to the airport.

She recognized where they were going because this was the same freeway that took them to Jericho. They even stopped at the same checkpoint just outside of Jerusalem. Just like the last time, none of the soldiers found them the least bit threatening.

“These checkpoints are the easiest thing in the world,” Harmony told Hisham. “I don't know why anyone ever whines about them.”

“It should be noted that we are leaving the city, not entering it,” Hisham said. “There is more security to enter.” He paused slightly, perhaps trying to decide whether he should even say the next part. “And you are most physically not the Arab.”

“White privilege,” she flatly stated, surprising him.

He was expecting her to throw a tantrum about what a difficult burden it was to be a white American.

“If you're going to pick a skin color, go with white,” she continued. “It's made my life so much easier.”

Driving east on land that was claimed by everyone and their mother, Harmony knew that she was in no position to judge how easy or difficult any border crossing or checkpoint was for anyone. With her snow white complexion and American passport, she will never face the obstacles that most of the people in the world get to deal with on a daily basis.

At the road from Jericho to Qasr al Yahoud, they turned south. The scenery was pretty much the same the entire way; desert with occasional patches of tree farms.

“These are dates,” Hisham told her.

From what Harmony could tell, date trees were as common along this freeway as sugar cane was along the village roads of China.

Eventually, the road ended in what looked like the middle of nowhere. There was a gas station and a few helpful road signs, but that was it. After they turned, it looked like there was some water in the distance, but it was hard to see how big or small it might be. Eventually, it was obvious that the faint hint of water had to be the Dead Sea. It was at the side of the road for too great a distance to be anything else. When they passed an enormous date farm, the Dead Sea opened up without any ambiguity. The lake was at least half a mile from the road, but there were no more obstructions between water and pavement.

When the road turned, there were hills in front of them.

“The Qumran Caves,” Hisham announced.

“Can we go there?” Harmony asked him. “Or would that take too long?”

“We can go wherever you like,” he answered.

“I mostly want to see the lake,” she said. “But if the caves aren't too far out of the way, I wouldn't mind looking around.”

For some reason, Harmony thought the caves would be deep in a mountain range far from the Dead Sea. They were only a few minutes uphill from the main road. Hisham turned onto the smaller road toward the mountains and they were in a developed parking lot in no time. This was undoubtedly a place that saw a few tourists from time to time.

The side trip took less time than Harmony anticipated. Pretty soon, they were back on the road next to the lake. After looking at the Dead Sea in the distance, then looking at it from the hills nearby and back on the road, they finally turned onto a tiny dirt road headed toward the water. Harmony could not see any hotel, or any buildings, but she did not care. She wanted to see the lake.

Hisham drove on that tiny dirt road until it came to a dead end. There was no parking lot or rest area. They were parked on a path of dirt next to one of the most famous lakes in the world.

“Are we allowed to be here?” she asked him as they got out of the car.

“Of course,” he answered. “This is the Dead Sea.”

There was no hint of any kind of development anywhere. There were no signs or lifeguard stands on this beach. There were no picnic tables or trash cans. The road in was barely a road. They walked to a beach that was as untamed as it probably was thousands of years ago.

“I was expecting a beach town with hotels and spas,” Harmony said.

“This is to the south,” Hisham told her.

“Where is our hotel?” she asked.

“This is also to the south,” he answered. “I wish you to see the Dead Sea as it truly is before you see it as the beach resort.”

What Harmony saw was unbelievably beautiful. The Dead Sea was blue and clean, despite being a popular tourist destination and bordering two different countries. Across the blue water were the hills of Jordan, looking as empty as the Israeli side. Despite disagreeing on pretty much every issue under the sun, Jordan and Israel agree that the Dead Sea should be preserved. As such, both sides limit development on its shores. The empty beaches and sand cliffs that Harmony saw on the Israel side were just as deserted as the empty beaches and sand cliffs on the Jordan side. Most of the hotels and pavement were on tiny patches further south.

Since this was her first visit to the Dead Sea, Harmony wanted to go swimming. She always liked swimming, and will try out any pool or body of water as long as it is clean. But the Dead Sea was unlike any of the lakes in and around which she grew up.

“You do not need any special bathing clothes here,” Hisham told her.

“I've heard that song before,” she said.

Since she had all of her luggage in Hisham's car, she had both of the bathing suits that she brought to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to put one on. The benefit of unspoiled wilderness was miles of unfettered nature. The downside was that there was not so much as an outhouse in which to change clothes.

Changing in front of Hisham was out of the question. She could tell him to look away, but she knew how well that would work out.

[A few paragraphs that Paul McCartney fans are too sensitive to read.]

“Most important rule is stay on your back,” Hisham told her. He was warning her about trying to swim in the Dead Sea the way she would swim in normal water.

“If you move with your face to the water, you shall not have the ability to right yourself,” he continued.

Hisham walked into the lake and fell backward into the water. He immediately floated without any effort. It was odd to watch, but one of the strangest feelings in the world to actually do. Harmony has been in countless lakes, rivers and swimming pools. She had never been in any water like the Dead Sea.

Walking in was like walking into any lake. There was a slight tide, but nothing a baby could not swim through, and it was warmer than she imagined. It was a warm day, and the Dead Sea is under Israel's sun every day, but deep lakes tend to be colder. When the water was up to her thighs, Harmony sat down. Before she knew what was happening, she was floating on her back. She did absolutely nothing to keep herself upright. All that salt in the lake did all of the work. She was not even swimming. She was floating on a cloud.

She could see where floating on her stomach would be a bad idea. In normal water, you control your position. You can move your head wherever you want it, relative to the water line. Floating face down in the Dead Sea would force your face in the water. Pushing your body underwater to move your head upward would be difficult. The water does everything it can to keep you on the surface.

Swimming in the Dead Sea is actually floating on the Dead Sea. Harmony could do a basic backstroke, but getting in the water enough to swim would have taken considerable effort.

“Second rule is do not let the water in your mouth,” Hisham warned her.

She was never planning on drinking the water. She already knew that the Dead Sea had one of the highest concentrations of salt water in the world. But Hisham was telling her that even letting some splash in her face would be a bad idea. The Dead Sea is deceptively deep, deeper than Lake Michigan, but most people never go more than a few feet below the surface.

“Do not wipe your eyes with the wet hands,” Hisham said.

Despite the risks, most of which were far from life threatening, floating in the Dead Sea was one of those experiences that Harmony immediately knew she would never forget. If she lives long enough to forget her name and the smell of early spring snow melting on the sidewalk, she will still remember floating on the Dead Sea.

“How much time do we have?” she asked Hisham as they both floated rudderless.

“How much time do you wish?” he asked her.

“I want to float here all day,” she answered.

Getting sunburned was not much of an issue since the Dead Sea is so far below sea level that the sun's ultraviolet radiation has a hard time tearing into anyone's flesh. That was good news for Harmony since she burned easily. With Hisham's darker skin, he likely never gave any thought to sunscreen.

She finally got out of the water when Hisham talked her into rubbing mud all over her body. She already knew about Dead Sea mud. She went to spas that used it. But she always assumed it was more chemicals than anything else. Hisham told her that they could simply grab mud from the shoreline and put it on their skin. It certainly looked different from most mud. With the sun constantly baking all of the salt and minerals in the water, there was no way that mud was going to look like the shores of Lake Tahoe.

On the beach, they both grabbed mud from the shore and smeared it on themselves. Harmony felt no need to hold back and covered as much of her body as she could, except her face. Neither of them had mud on their faces since they were both afraid of getting salt water in their eyes. She wanted to cover Hisham's bald head in mud, but that was almost as dangerous. She was also concerned with cleaning it off. At a resort, they would have access to showers and towels. In the wilderness, they only had whatever was in the car.

“How long do we leave this on?” she asked him,

“As long as you wish,” he answered. “It will dry off when it desires.”

As Hisham and Harmony stood covered in mud, she thought about where they were. “How do we wash this off?” she asked him.

He pointed to the lake.

For reasons that make no sense now, she thought it would be bad to rinse off the mud in the water, as if they would be getting the lake dirty.

“And where's the nearest bathroom?” she asked. She almost expected him to point to the lake again.

“Perhaps the hotel,” he answered. “There must be some facility beforehand, but I am unsure of where.”

Harmony wanted to stay at the lake all day, but her bladder was not made of latex. Sooner or later, she would need something better than a bush. She had no idea how Hisham could manage after his giant cup of breakfast coffee. She worried that he might have let nature take its course in the water, but then later read that urinating in such a high mineral content stings like nothing else. She undoubtedly would have noticed some kind of reaction from him if he felt like his penis was on fire.

They rinsed off in the water and exhausted a few towels. The water in the Dead Sea was a little slimy and required more than letting the sun dry their skin.

Back on the road, they drove along the coast. When she saw a building on the side of the road, Harmony thought it was the hotel. Hisham told her that it was a nature reserve and asked if she wanted to see it.

They drove onto the Ein Gedi Reserve and walked up to a waterfall. The surrounding area looked like a desert, but one of the small streams flowing into the Dead Sea plunged off a cliff, growing vegetation along the cliff wall and the small pool where the water collected before meandering out to the lake. It looked like it did not belong there and was a truly odd sight to see. This would be the very definition of an oasis to anyone wandering the desert. At least until they saw the giant lake nearby.

While walking along the paths on the reserve, a wild ibex walked up to them as if to say hello. Harmony thought it was a goat at first, but the closer it got, the bigger it appeared to be. She was a little concerned that it showed no fear of humans, but since goats eat grass and leaves, she was not all that worried about getting on the menu. Hisham tried to pet it, which Harmony thought was a bad idea, but it ran away as soon as he put up his hand.

They could have spent more time at the reserve, but they both had other things they wanted to do. Further down the road, Hisham asked Harmony if she wanted to see something even better. Naturally, she did, and he turned off onto a road that went away from the lake up toward the hills.

“I'm starting to think you never actually booked the hotel,” she said.

“The hotel is reserved,” he said. “It is safe. This you will like.”

They drove farther away from the Dead Sea than any of their other quick detours. The higher they went up the hills, the more she worried about how small the lake was getting behind them. The oasis and caves were nice to look at, but the Dead Sea was Harmony's priority. They eventually stopped at a modern parking lot and visitor center. Wherever they were was distinctly bigger and more defined than any of their other stops.

From the large visitor center, they took a cable car up to the top of the mountain. Looking at the Dead Sea from the cable car, Harmony was no longer concerned about being so far away. The view as they rose one thousand feet above the lake could not have been better.

“This is Masada,” Hisham told her once they were on top of the mountain.

She already knew they were at Masada from all of the signs at the visitor center.

Hisham told her about Herod's palace and the Roman siege as they walked among the ruins, but he admitted that he could not be the best tour guide at this location. He grew up with the history and learned about Masada in school the way Harmony learned about Washington crossing the Delaware, but he only remembered bits and pieces. Just as she remembers the Leutze painting more than the actual event.

“If something like this happened in my country, every school teacher and politician would talk about it all the time,” she told Hisham. “This would be the symbol of how awesome we are. I can't believe Israelis don't point to this as an example of how hard Israel is to destroy.”

There were only a few people at the Qumran Caves when they went. The Ein Gedi Reserve was empty, and no one ever came close to their private beach on the Dead Sea. Masada was another story. It calls itself the most visited tourist site in Israel. Judging from the crowds that day, it very well could be. There were people swarming the visitor center and everyone had to wait in a long line to go up the cable car. The mountain plateau was large enough to feel empty even with thousands of visitors, but it was far from deserted.

It had been a long drive since Harmony's hotel breakfast and Hisham's giant cup of coffee. They were both ready for lunch, but they were on top of a mountain. Hisham told her that the hotel would be overflowing with food, but that it was not exactly close. The Masada visitor center had a cafeteria, but he warned her that it would not be gourmet dining. Given the choice of a five star meal somewhere down the road and a cafeteria in only a few minutes, Harmony went with the cafeteria. She never needed stars on her menu the way he did.

They had to wait in another line to take the cable car down and then another line to get some food, but there was potato salad and French fries. Hisham was disappointed in the selection and the long wooden communal tables. This was not his kind of restaurant. Harmony was happy to have hot fries and a cold drink. After walking through a historic site where an entire city died fighting imprisonment and slavery, Harmony told Hisham that eating in a cafeteria was not the greatest hardship he could face.

They drove back down toward the Dead Sea and continued on the long and winding road that lead to the shore. Soon, the water disappeared from view. The Dead Sea, unfortunately, is dying. Israel floods the area with scientists and money, but most of the damage has already been done. What was once one lake is now two, with a large patch of bare land and artificial canals in between.

When they saw water again, it looked like a lake that was drying up. There was as much dry sand as there was blue water. Eventually, they reached the southern end and it looked like a full lake again. Soon they were at a cluster of hotels in the tiny resort village of Ein Bokek. But they kept driving.

“Where is this hotel?” she asked Hisham, not so much frustrated, but curious.

They had already driven almost the entire length of the Dead Sea. They went from barren wilderness to dry land to paved sidewalks along the shore. Though they passed most of the hotels in Ein Bokek, the area still looked inviting. There were occasional park benches along the path for people to sit and stare at the lake, and street lights every few yards, which made Harmony wonder how it all looked at night. Eventually, they turned into the parking lot of the Herods Hotel. They were finally there.

At the hotel, Harmony was surprised to see that Hisham had luggage in the car, too. He never said that he was staying with her at the Dead Sea, but she never thought to ask why he was willing to spend so much time going to so many places before taking her to the hotel. She thought he was keeping her company before dropping her off on her own.

From the small balcony in her room, she had a brilliant view of the hotel grounds, Dead Sea and Jordan in the background. The hotel was smart enough to put all of the rooms facing the Dead Sea. The other side of the hotel was a small road and the face of a cliff. Most people might prefer the scenic view.

The first thing Harmony wanted to do was go jump in the lake. Hisham must have had the same idea because he was knocking on her door as soon as she changed into a proper bathing suit. When she opened the door, he was standing in front of her in floppy sandals, a floppy sun hat with more colors than 1969, an open hotel robe and yet another brightly colored speedo.

“You look ridiculous,” she could not help but say.

The southern tip of the Dead Sea was just like the northern tip. The water was clean and salty and they could float around without any effort whatsoever. The beach was completely different.

Their first stop at the Dead Sea was on a rugged beach with rocks and pebbles mixed in with sand and mud. It was not the kind of place where one lies out to get a tan. The water was great, but getting to the water required trudging through the sharp ground beneath their feet.

The beach at the hotel was loaded with soft brown sand imported from somewhere else. The chairs and cabanas made it look more like a resort beach than how nature makes a beach. There was a lifeguard sitting high in his chair and an endless supply of fresh towels. There were also more people.

It was the middle of a bright and sunny day, so this beach was never going to be empty, but it was far from overcrowded. There was still plenty of room for everyone to move around and get in and out of the water without dodging small children and old Americans in Hawaiian shirts. There were other people getting muddy, but the hotel had more than enough planters full of mud for everyone. Rather than simply grab the mud from the shore, they all took it from a specially built mud container near the water. It was the same mud, but they could pretend that they were more civilized this way.

That first beach was naturally beautiful, but Harmony liked that this beach had showers to wash off the mud and a bottomless supply of fresh towels. Hisham could even cover his bald head in mud without worrying about how to get it off. They also had their rooms nearby with private bathrooms and clean clothes. She loves spending time in nature, but she likes being able to wash nature off after having her fill.

After their mud baked dry, Hisham was in a hurry to get cleaned up. He had somewhere to be and he wanted her to go with him. He went out of his way to not tell her what it was and he even seemed proud of himself that he had planned a surprise.

At the hotel spa, Hisham told Harmony that everything was booked and paid for. She could pick and choose from everything they offered or do all of it if she wanted. He was going to saunter off while she was left in the capable hands of trained professionals. As surprises go, this was a pretty good one.

After a long, hot shower, she was coated in Dead Sea mud from neck to toe and wrapped up like a burrito. Her suspicion that the mud would be better without a bathing suit was quickly confirmed. Once she got used to having mud all over her naked body, it felt better without fabric and straps against her skin. Getting muddy while naked was like bathing while naked. She could do both with clothes on, but even the smallest bikini just got in the way.

While the mud worked on her skin, a woman with soft hands worked on her head. The trained professional massaged mud into Harmony's face, expertly avoiding her eyes and nostrils. She was free to breathe and even open her eyes, although she kept them closed. The masseuse had obviously done this many times before, but Harmony never got the impression that she was bored with her job. As far as Harmony could tell, she genuinely enjoyed making others feel better. Everyone who works at a spa should have that attitude.

Harmony fell asleep while getting her scalp massaged, without mud, and they woke her up when it was time to wash off. As soon as she was clean again, she went into a sulfur pool and soaked in the minerals that were supposed to rejuvenate her skin and make her hair and nails stronger. There was no way to tell if the water actually did anything beneficial since she was only in it once. It probably takes a few routine soaks to notice anything. The same can be said of the Dead Sea mud, but at least it felt nice. The sulfur pool was too hot and felt like water full of minerals. It was like soaking in a broth instead of clean water.

After an oil massage that smelled like cloves and vanilla, and a soak in a fresh water hot tub, she was about as pampered as she could stand. She got dressed and went back outdoors in time to watch the sun set over the hills. Hisham found her sitting on a deck chair as the lake got darker and the hotel lights gradually turned on.

“This is most spectacular at night,” he told her, sitting down on a chair next to hers. “You shall never see so many stars in Jerusalem.”

Hisham asked her about the spa, but they mostly had business to discuss. While she was getting muddy and soaking in different waters, he was on the phone. Daniyel wanted her to come back for a reshoot of the dance scene. Fortunately, she had not already left the country as planned. Unfortunately, she was supposed to leave the next day and the reshoot was scheduled for the end of the week.

“Can you remain a few days more?” Hisham asked her.

That was a good question. Harmony had no qualms about relaxing at the Dead Sea or even going back to Jerusalem for the rest of the week, but she had a day job. She was already taking an extra day off. To do the reshoot, she would need an additional unscheduled five days. Hisham could take care of hotels, and he even knew how to rearrange airline reservations without causing trouble, but he had no power over her supervisors at home.

It was after midnight in the real world, so she would not be able to call anyone until the next day. The most she could do that night was call Livia and have her relay the information as soon as everyone woke up on that side of the world. Harmony would not have a definitive answer until it was time to go to the airport and leave Israel.

“Assuming I can stay, where would I stay?” she asked Hisham.

She knew that a week at the Dead Sea hotel was well beyond the movie's budget. One night was hard enough to justify. Hisham called the Harmony Hotel in Jerusalem, but they were fully booked for most of the week.

“There are other hotels, but I know how you like this one,” Hisham said.

The company that owns the Harmony also owns another hotel only a few blocks from the Harmony near Ben Yehuda Street. That sounded good to Harmony, but they were also booked.

“Jerusalem is very popular,” Hisham told her while waiting on the phone.

“So you're saying, in Jerusalem, there's no room at the inn,” she said.

After a lengthy phone conversation in Hebrew, Hisham presented Harmony with an idea. She could stay at one of the company's hotels in Tel Aviv for four nights and then return to Jerusalem for the reshoot, spend the night at the Harmony, which had a room available that night only, and then go back home the next day. She had never planned on seeing Tel Aviv during this trip, but it was one of several places in Israel that she wanted to visit. She told Hisham to book everything, assuming she could stay in the country without losing her job.

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PostPosted: 06-14-2017 02:22 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 16
Unchained Melody

She woke up too early for breakfast but not too early to go for a morning run. Earlier is always better in her experience. Not only can she avoid the crowds, but places like Israel are too hot in the afternoon.

Jerusalem was never the best place for a morning run. The hills were a challenge, but the relentless traffic made it even more difficult. The Dead Sea was practically perfect. The sidewalk along the shore was soft enough for running but far firmer than the beach. The high oxygen levels at such a low elevation could not have hurt. People also weigh slightly less that far below sea level, but Harmony never noticed any difference. The rising sun and low clouds made the water shine more orange than blue.

When Hisham woke up, they went to breakfast together. He was looking forward to it more than she was, but she did appreciate the variety of food available. Most hotel breakfasts can be a little sad. This was a full meal with enough options for snobs and critics.

“Will you be staying with us?” Hisham asked her over eggs and fruit.

“I talked to my people,” she answered. “They're not happy about it, but I can stay.”

“This is wonderful,” he said. “I shall take you to Tel Aviv, of course, but I must return to Jerusalem tonight.”

“We should probably get packed,” she said. “It's a long drive to Tel Aviv.”

It was actually a surprisingly short drive from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv, but Hisham already knew that. Rather than drive back up the coast and past Jericho and Jerusalem, he wanted to take a highway west toward the Mediterranean Sea and then a wide open freeway headed north to Tel Aviv. This made the drive out very different from the drive in. An even bigger difference was that Harmony was driving.

Hisham ostensibly let her drive so that he could rest and not have to do everything himself. Mostly, he wanted to watch her drive. American women, he concluded, claim to be more independent, but he had yet to see any proof. If she could successfully drive from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv with only the occasional direction, he would be impressed.

Harmony had no idea what the speed limit was anywhere in the country, but the road Hisham took along the Dead Sea was pretty small. The freeway near the west coast that she drove had two lanes in each direction surrounded by green fields. She drove much faster away from the lake than he had driven toward it. There were also no checkpoints since they stayed in what most people consider Israel the entire time. She was never worried about checkpoints since she had an international driver's license, but not stopping at any saved some time.

On the road to the Dead Sea, it was easy to envision Israel as one giant desert. The Yitzhak Rabin Highway, however, almost looked like a vaguely European countryside, with a few date palms on the side. The closer they got to the Mediterranean Sea, the greener everything became.

It was obvious when they started to approach Tel Aviv. Freeway interchanges began appearing more frequently and there were more signs of civilization scattered around the fields. The freeway grew twice as wide before they passed the airport, which looked much larger on the outside than it had when Harmony arrived in the middle of the night. From the airport, they passed more and more smaller towns and enclaves. There were also far more cars than they had seen in the middle of the fields.

Pretty soon, they were in the suburbs and driving toward what was clearly a large city. Eventually, the skyline opened up and they could see several famous landmarks that Harmony did not recognize. Tel Aviv was completely new to her, and even its most iconic buildings were unfamiliar.

They got off the freeway in the downtown area and drove down two streets. In Jerusalem, it took navigating a maze to get from the freeway to the hotel. In Tel Aviv, they went down one street until they practically hit the sea and then Hisham told her to turn right onto another street for less than two blocks. He had her turn onto a smaller one way street and park on the corner.

Hisham was amazed that they arrived in one piece. He was expecting her to panic on unfamiliar highways and worry too much about the impatient horns of other drivers. What he failed to realize was that she had experience driving in China. Israeli drivers love their horns, but generally obey the rules of the road and common sense. Chinese drivers, in Harmony's experience, do whatever they feel like doing at any given time, safety and common sense be damned. The occasional Israeli horn meant nothing to her.

“This is it?” Harmony asked, looking at the hotel.

She was surprised by how small the building was. The hotel in Jerusalem was about the same height, but at least two or three times wider. This building was skinny and looked like it only had three or four rooms on each floor. For some reason, Harmony thought they would look the same since they were owned by the same company. She was even more surprised by a statue of a man climbing the side of the building four floors up.

Hisham helped her check in at the Melody Hotel and brought her luggage up to the room. It was the first time he had set foot in any of her hotel rooms. But he had to go back to Jerusalem.

She felt bad about making him ride all the way out to Tel Aviv when he could have easily gone from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem in a third the time. He told her that he could come back to Tel Aviv the next day, but for now, she was on her own. She almost felt like she was being abandoned in a strange city in a strange country. There was no way to know it at the time, but this would turn out to be one of her favorite hotels in the world.

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PostPosted: 06-14-2017 02:35 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

As comfortable as she felt in the hotel room, she was in a new city. The order of the day was to look around. The hotel had bicycles that were always available. Either the hotel was almost empty while she was there or the other guests were not interested, but Harmony always had her choice of bicycles whenever the mood struck her. Unlike Jerusalem and all of its hills, Tel Aviv was relatively flat and an excellent city to explore by bicycle.

From Independence Park, she could either turn right toward an enormous park and the old Port that was now an entertainment district or turn left toward most of the beaches and the Tel Aviv coast. It was a beautiful day, so she headed beachward.

From the nice little park, she walked the bicycle down the steep ramp onto the promenade, which had marked lanes for pedestrians and bicycles. Cars were relegated to the street on the cliff above. She rode past tanned people lying out on the beach, active people ****ing in the water and small patches of athletic people playing some kind of odd looking game of beach volleyball with paddles and without a net. She quickly recognized the distinct sound of those little balls hitting those little paddles. For the rest of her few days in Tel Aviv, she would hear it every time she was anywhere near the beach.

There was an ice cream shop next to the Carlton Hotel, so she stopped for ice cream. The sign read “Gelateria Italiana”, but it was more like ice cream than gelato. It was pretty good, but it was nothing like the gelato she had in Rome. There was also a Hebrew sign that she thought looked like “Italian ice cream”, but it could have been “sitting on a cornflake” for all she knew.

Beyond the marina, the beach opened up considerably. What was a thin strip of sand between the water and the promenade expanded into a beach large enough for groups of people to play every game and sport that can be played on the beach, including that netless volleyball. There were also far more hotels on this stretch of beach.

What had been about one hotel on each block was now one hotel next to another, each tower positioned so that every room had a side view of the water. If people inside looked out the window from any of these rooms, they would see the hotel next door. The beach and sea were off to the side. Harmony's hotel faced the sea directly. That gave her a much better view, but it also meant that guests on the other side of the hotel faced the city.

As the promenade widened along with the beach, there were more people doing the kinds of things people do on a beach promenade. At her hotel, it was relatively empty. At this point, there were joggers, walkers and other bicycles. There was also a group of people playing that volleyball game against one of the walls of one of the hotels. Harmony saw no signs indicating that this was an official paddle volleyball area, but there were also no signs telling people not to bang balls against the wall. Judging from the number of people she saw there over the next few days, the hotel did not seem to mind.

Further down the beach next to a small exercise park were actual volleyball nets where people were playing actual volleyball. But that never stopped anyone from playing the fake volleyball right next to them. In Tel Aviv, there was plenty of room for diverse cultures to coexist side by side.

Soon Harmony was at a fully developed part of the beach. There were restaurants, playgrounds, gazebos, shops selling sporting goods, people with carts selling trinkets and a sea of chairs and umbrellas.

A shop with about a hundred oranges hanging from the ceiling caught her attention. The name was in Hebrew, but there was a “juice bar” sign in English and a wide variety of fruit on display. Harmony was in the mood for some fresh juice, so she stopped. Something she was not expecting at a juice bar was pizza, but they had a pie or two sitting in a display case next to the fruit. She knew that this could never possibly be good pizza, but it was the first pizza she saw in Tel Aviv, so she had to try a slice.

She could not believe how good it was. It was an unadorned New York style pie with dough, sauce and cheese. There were no options for unconscionable extra toppings like corn or pineapple. The only choice was what they had on display. She could not even tell where they made the pizza. The crust was like a real New York crust; foldably thin without being fall apart crispy. The sauce tasted like real tomato purée with a nice mix of herbs and spices and sufficient pepper. The mozzarella cheese was perfectly melted with tiny burned bits all over.

“The best pizza in Tel Aviv can't come from a juice bar,” Harmony decided.

She was determined to find the best pizza in town during her short stay. When she reached for her new phone to tell the only person she knew who would care about her pizza quest, she was disappointed to see that she still could not make phone calls.

Beyond the juice bar was the hotel where Paul McCartney stayed when he played Tel Aviv. Normally, Harmony has no idea where any celebrities spend the night on tour or on vacation, but she remembered this hotel from a newspaper article about McCartney's first visit to the Middle East. It was a hard building to miss. It was painted like a rainbow and looked nothing like any of the towers along the beach. The Sheraton, Crowne Plaza and Hilton looked interchangeable. This hotel stood out.

The beach continued long after she would have turned back had she been walking instead of riding a bicycle. The hotels got smaller and looked far less expensive, and the trendy restaurants across the street turned to liquor stores and fast food, but the beach carried on.

Harmony kept riding, and soon the small stretch of cheaper hotels turned to expensive looking beachfront apartments. There were signs of construction every once in a while, so soon there will be even more apartments or hotels. She knew that the next time she went to Tel Aviv, it would look different.

When the promenade continued straight but the shoreline veered west at the Dolphinarium, she followed the coast. She found out later that she was in Charles Clore Park, an enormous green space with an unusually Christian name directly on the shore. The beach ended abruptly before the park and became a rocky coast. Across the street from the park was a large mosque that looked out of place surrounded by hotel towers and expensive apartments. Seeing the old and new blending together was common in Jerusalem, but Tel Aviv always looked far newer.

What Harmony found more interesting was that the park hosts the annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv. Not only is it the largest gay pride event in all of Asia, but over one hundred thousand people celebrate diversity and inclusion across the street from a mosque that used to house snipers who tried to kill people for being the wrong religion. Even more amazing is how the city keeps the park when they could build dozens of high end hotels that would bring in infinitely more revenue.

When the park eventually ended, the road narrowed and the big city streets came closer to the shore. This was a less tranquil section of beach since the traffic and chaos of the city were much closer to the peaceful waves crashing into the sand. At her hotel, the main street was up a cliff away from the promenade. For most of the beach, the street was at sea level, but away from the sand. At the park, there was a large park between the water and the street. Now the street was close enough that drivers could actually see the waves.

When the beach ended, Harmony was in Jaffa, the oldest part of the city. Several people told her about Jonah sailing from Jaffa to have a whale of a time. They seemed proud of their history, but after spending some time in Jerusalem, she was always going to see Tel Aviv as new.

In the twenty first century, Jaffa became a combination of tourist shopping, fishing village and a healthy mix of Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Assorted bazaars were in full swing while Harmony rode her bicycle through the area. Near the famous clock tower, she saw a bakery that looked pretty big by bakery standards, so she stopped for some bread.

Harmony had no idea at the time, but Abouelafia and Sons was the most popular bakery in all of Israel. There was a slight crowd, but it was not most popular bakery in the country crowded. To their credit, the Abouelafias designed their storefront into one long customer service counter. Harmony was one of a few dozen customers at the time, but they could serve at least a dozen people at once. The downside to the long counter design was that no one ever actually goes inside the bakery. She could still smell all the fresh bread from outside, but she thought it must smell like heaven where the employees stand.

Rambling around Jaffa, Harmony saw the world as it should be. There was respect for the old buildings built by ancient Israelites, Crusaders and Ottomans while the people were overtly living in the twenty first century. Jews and Arabs lived side by side in Jerusalem, but sometimes she could feel a distinct tension in the air. Tel Aviv was swarming with Jews, Muslims, Christians, Africans, Asians, Europeans and everyone in between. The entire rainbow of humanity was crammed into a relatively small city. And yet, everyone was relaxed. Tel Aviv felt like a laid back beach town. It reminded Harmony of Santa Monica, California. Only with much better food.

Hisham later told her that Abouelafia and Sons went out of their way to employ Jews, Muslims and Christians. It was a family owned and operated business for generations, but they wanted the place to be as mixed with as many different people as possible. When Harmony was there, she saw no tension, resentment or anger in any of the employees. Either they could all work together side by side or they were simply too busy dealing with customers for genocidal master plans.

Harmony rode the hotel bicycle through the winding streets of Jaffa and walked it up and down some of the steeper hills. Tel Aviv was mostly flat along the beach, but it took some hiking to get to the hilltop park with the best views of the city skyline along the coast. On the top of Spring Hill, Harmony could see that the sun was getting low in the sky. It had been a long day, but it was not over yet.

She wanted to take a different route back to the hotel, so she rode the bicycle to HaKovshim Street and up Ben Yehuda Street. This was a very different street from Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem. The Tel Aviv version was much longer and nothing close to a pedestrian mall. There was no lack of cars, buses and people going about their lives. The scenery was not nearly as photogenic as it had been along the shore, but it was a good glimpse into how people in Tel Aviv lived. Harmony rode past apartments, office buildings, restaurants, dry cleaners and plumbing supply stores.

She saw enormous recycle bins, larger than any she had ever seen anywhere. Some cities have a recycle trash can next to a regular trash can. Some places only have the regular trash can. In China, it can be hard to find any place to put your trash. In Tel Aviv, she saw large cages the size of industrial garbage dumpsters designed solely for recycled trash. They were decorated to look more inviting than any dumpster and, the part that amazed her, people actually used them. Each one she passed had hundreds or even thousands of plastic bottles.

She also saw more than a few rainbow flags hanging from apartment windows and businesses. It struck her as interesting that people felt perfectly safe to be who they are in this city when one hundred miles in any direction, they would be arrested or even executed for being the same person. That was one of the innumerable reasons Tel Aviv felt so inviting.

There were a lot of great things about the Melody Hotel. Harmony sang its praises so much when she returned home that her friends thought the hotel was paying her. One of the greatest services the hotel offered its guests was a rooftop deck with almost 360 degree panoramas of Tel Aviv and a view of the Mediterranean Sea that made her hotel window obsolete.

Facing east, she could see downtown Tel Aviv and its skyscrapers; something she never saw in Jerusalem. Facing north were more beaches, the new Tel Aviv Port and a lot of flags. From the rooftop, she could see a long row of rainbow flags on the street, Israeli flags on top of other buildings and the flag of Switzerland, for some reason. The southern view was partially obstructed by the hotel itself and the nearby Hilton, but due west was the wide open Mediterranean Sea and the setting sun.

Harmony has seen the sun set a thousand times, but this might have been the best vantage point. There were usually buildings somewhere in the scene, or hills or trees blocking the sun. At the Dead Sea, she watched the sun dip behind the mountains. In Jerusalem, it made the Old City glow. On the hotel rooftop, there was absolutely nothing obstructing her view of the sun slowly sinking below the single vertical line between the sky and sea and disappearing into the water. Even the few clouds in the sky stayed high enough to keep out of the way.

With nothing but sea and sky, the sun turned the blue sky into a brilliant orange and the blue sea into a shining silver. The sun itself shifted from a mass of glowing yellow to a small orange ball before slinking down into a tiny red dome that got smaller by the minute. In the end, it just gradually slipped away with the quickest flash of green. The blood orange sky grew darker and the sea turned black. Soon, it was too dark to see anything in that direction.

At the same time, the lights of Tel Aviv turned on. While Harmony was watching the sun set, the skyscrapers behind her were lighting up under a bright white moon. The cars on the street below suddenly had their headlights on and the sunny beach street was now a shining city street.

She was ready to call it a day. Tel Aviv is famous for its nightlife, and prides itself on being a city that never sleeps, but Harmony had been awake since before the sun came up. She went jogging along the Dead Sea, rode a camel in the Judean Desert, drove across the country and rode a bike up and down the Mediterranean shore. The city might have just been getting started, but she was wiped out. She only had three more days to see Tel Aviv, but the only thing she wanted to see that night was her pillow.

She tried to call Livia again without success. She wanted to tell Livia about everything she saw that day. Mostly, she just wanted to talk to someone she knew. Being in a new city is always an adventure, but Harmony has always been the kind of person who needs to be with her friends. Having a great day was meaningless if she could not share it with the people in her life.

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PostPosted: 06-14-2017 02:40 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

The unnecessarily censored word above is f-r-o-l-i-c-k-i-n-g. Censoring it is not only stupid, but makes it sound unnecessarily vulgar.
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PostPosted: 06-18-2017 01:24 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 17
Orgy of Candles

Hisham was coming from Jerusalem today to take her to some of the sights in Tel Aviv, but Harmony had some time before he arrived. It was a beautiful day, so she figured she might as well go to the beach. With Hisham, she could soak up the culture and probably get some great food. On her own, she could lie out in the sun.

Any decent hotel near a beach should provide its guests with beach towels. Otherwise, they have to bring the room towels to the beach. Unless they brought a towel in their luggage. Harmony never traveled with towels. When she told the front desk clerk that she was going to the beach, he handed her a bag with a large beach towel, an umbrella, two bottles of water, a sun hat and an English copy of Mr Mercedes by Stephen King. That was not Harmony's kind of book, but she appreciated the effort. She merely wanted a towel, so all of the extras were a nice surprise.

Finding a quiet spot on the beach was easy. It was still relatively early, and most of the day's beachgoers would not be out for a few hours. It was morning, but it was not at all cold. This was Tel Aviv in late May, after all. It was practically summer.

Traditionally, Harmony had at least two issues with sitting out on the beach. Her forefathers were from Northern Europe. They were not an especially tanned people. She gets sunburned just watching Lawrence of Arabia. The hat and umbrella took care of that.

Her second problem with the beach is the way people dress. Harmony loves the sea air and the feel of soft sand between her toes, but is less enthusiastic about being practically naked in public. This was Wednesday, so going to the segregated beach was not an option. She could either sit out on the beach fully clothed or let it go and take advantage of the fresh air.

Sitting on one of the army of folding chairs provided by the beach and the towel provided by the hotel, there was nothing between the Mediterranean Sea and Harmony other than a small bikini. The Mediterranean did not seem to care. Her skin, however, loved every minute of the sea breeze. She thought about actually going in the water, but was alone on the beach and had no one to watch her bag. The last thing she wanted was to get the hotel's property stolen. There were almost no people on the beach at the time, but you never know who might be a Stephen King fan.

Tel Aviv was not Hisham's town, but he had more experience in it than Harmony. He would not be able to tell her all about the history and archeology of the city, but that worked out since Tel Aviv is relatively new. Outside of Jaffa, most of the city was built in the twentieth century.

Tel Aviv is famous for its modern architecture, world class museums and performing arts, and countless beach and water activities. Hisham took Harmony shopping.

Tel Aviv is also famous for shopping malls. It has more malls than any city needs. But Hisham took her to the kind of shopping that he knew she would like.

They drove down Ben Yehuda Street, which she recognized from her bike ride the day before. The street felt much shorter by car. A few turns later and he was parked in a large and practically empty parking lot. After watching how much people struggled to find a place to park on the street, Harmony was amazed by the hundred or more empty spaces in the parking lot.

“There are cars everywhere,” Harmony pointed out. “The streets are packed. Why doesn't anyone park here?”

“This is not free,” Hisham answered. “If Israelis may save a shekel by driving for an hour, they will prefer the free parking over the paid parking each time.”

Around the corner from the parking lot, they were on a narrow street with entirely too many people. This was a Wednesday morning, just before lunchtime, but it looked like a Saturday afternoon, in a country without Shabbat. After walking down this narrow street for a few minutes, Harmony saw why it was so crowded. In front of them, just beyond a busy intersection, was the Carmel Market, the most popular outdoor market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel Market was similar to Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem in that it was a block of tiny alleys full of people buying and selling. But it felt different. Mahane Yehuda had more than enough spices, bread and cheese for anyone's taste. The Carmel Market had too many t-shirts and tourist knick knacks. Mahane Yehuda was the kind of place where the locals shopped, especially right before Shabbat. The Carmel Market looked like it was mostly for tourists. Mahane Yehuda was like Marché Provençal in Antibes. The Carmel Market felt like Patpong in Bangkok in the daytime. The nighttime version was very different.

While she looked at some bread, Hisham told her not to get anything. “There is a superb bakery ten minutes from here,” he said.

“Abouelafia and Sons?” she asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed, surprised that she had even heard of it. “How did you know?”

“I went there yesterday,” she told him.

“Then you know all about it,” he said.

“Not really,” she said. “I was only there for a few minutes. I didn't know what most of everything was, and they were too busy to ask. I didn't want to bother anyone.”

“We shall go there,” Hisham declared. “I will elucidate all.”

They walked down a much wider street that looked like it should be the main road, but Hisham assured her that the previous alley was the main part of the market. This new road was more like a pedestrian mall with restaurants and stores instead of market stalls. It was far less crowded, but it had more conventional shopping in which Harmony had no interest.

The architecture was more interesting, though. The main alley was just stalls and awnings. Here, there were buildings from the early twentieth century in a few different styles.

“This is the Bauhaus,” Hisham told her, pointing to an almost white building.

Harmony already knew that Tel Aviv had a large collection of Bauhaus architecture, but she had yet to see anything.

The street opened up to what could almost be described as a town square. They were still in the pedestrian market, but the intersection was wide enough for cars and provided sufficient room for dozens of temporary booths with all kinds of crafts and handmade trinkets. They stumbled onto a craft fair, Israeli style.

Harmony knows a thing or two about craft fairs. Just about every county has its own annual craft fair. Her home town has one of the largest art fairs in the country, which includes crafts as well as fine art. Their craft fairs are full of wool hats with googly eyes, refrigerator magnets made from old rocks, more potpourri than a retirement community for senior citizens and all kinds of jewelry made from things nature never intended to be made into jewelry.

Israeli crafts were a little different. For one thing, the Israeli sense of humor was not quite the same. There were more figurines of fat children sitting on toilets than Harmony would have predicted. She also saw an intricate tableau carved out of a single long chunk of wood that told the story of a doctor acting like Benny Hill around all the buxom nurses and female patients. There were all manner of dolls, pottery and toys.

Hisham showed her a wooden game set that had puns in Hebrew. He explained a few, but they were probably funnier to those who spoke the language. There were also lots and lots of candles. Israelis love candles. Craft fairs love candles. Combine the two and you have an orgy of candles. They had candles in a wide variety of sizes, scents and colors. Harmony was not in the market for candles, but if she had been, this would have been the place to go.

They walked back to the parking lot, taking Nachlat Binyamin Street instead of Allenby. Hisham was correct that Allenby Street had more for tourists, but Harmony liked seeing how people lived. Whenever she walked from the hotel to Ben Yehuda Street, she had to go through a residential neighborhood. That gave her a brief glimpse of daily life in Tel Aviv.

With a car, they drove down to Jaffa. Their first stop was Abouelafia and Sons, of course. Hisham told Harmony about the bakery and cataloged every single item. There was far more variety than she originally noticed. What looked like two or three different sambouseks were really closer to ten. They all looked pretty much the same to her, but Hisham pointed out the tiny color changes and the way the dough was folded over. The one with the pointed corners had mashed potatoes and mushrooms. The one that looked like someone dropped it was cheese and egg. The people who worked there had to learn how to identify everything from the slightest differences.

With baked goods out of the way, they were free to explore Jaffa. Harmony had been there the day before, but she was just wandering around aimlessly. Sometimes that was the best way to see a city. But with Hisham as her tour guide, he took her down streets she never found and chronicled more history than she could glean from random plaques on buildings.

At one of the flea markets that seemed to pop up every day, Hisham spoke to an old man sitting on a blanket on the ground. Harmony was starting to get a sense of how Arabic sounded versus Hebrew. Or she simply knew that they were in an Arab neighborhood and it made more sense that everyone spoke in Arabic.

Despite Harmony's large breakfast and the bakery they had just been to, they were both ready for lunch. She picked up more at the bakery than Hisham, and had even more left over. He ate what he bought right away. She could live off rugelach for the next few hours, but Hisham told her that they were close to a good restaurant. His taste in restaurants so far had proven delicious, so she was ready to follow him into whatever international cuisine he had in mind. He took her to Georgian, Armenian and French restaurants in Jerusalem. She was expecting something Greek or Romanian. Or something from a tiny dot of a country that most people cannot find on a map.

Instead, they went to a Palestinian restaurant around the corner from Abouelafia and Sons. There is a distinction between Jewish Israeli food and Arab Israeli food, but there are also a million other varieties of Arab food. To Hisham, Palestinian food was the Jordan Arab variety. Having never been to Jordan, Harmony was in no position to contradict him.

“The best hummus in Tel Aviv,” Hisham said.

Harmony could never get him to pinpoint who had the best hummus in Jerusalem. Perhaps there were simply too many options to make that kind of decision. But Hisham was certain that this restaurant had the best hummus in Tel Aviv. There was never any doubt in his mind.

She was skeptical when they sat down. This was neither fine dining nor a shack in the middle of nowhere. The room looked like it was decorated by a teenager, with random posters of food and landscapes taped haphazardly on the walls. The scenery included the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, neither of which were anywhere near this restaurant. The food posters were professional photographs of pizza and pasta dishes, none of which were on the menu. It looked like someone who knew nothing about restaurants slapped this place together at the last minute.

Hisham ordered for both of them in Arabic, she decided, which was easy enough since he knew that she wanted to try the hummus. A middle aged man with an angry mustache and no beard brought out about a hundred tiny bowls of vegetables, salads, condiments and spices. This was standard in Israeli restaurants, but they were in a Palestinian restaurant.

“They copy everything from us,” Hisham told her.

Harmony could not figure out who they or us were, but everything looked fresh and clean. The chopped cucumbers were crunchy without a single soggy piece in the bowl. The diced tomatoes only had the firmest parts. It was all flesh and no seeds.

Mustache Man brought out a large plate of pita, which looked like enough for four people, and then two large plates of hummus. Harmony knew she was never going to eat it all. The pita alone was enough to fill her up, especially after the sambousek and rugelach she had just eaten. But she was there for the hummus. The bread was merely a delivery system. All of the tiny bowls of everything else were extra.

Once again, Hisham was right. It was the best hummus in Tel Aviv. Harmony would even go so far as to say that it was the best hummus she had in all of Israel. Everyone who has their own favorite hummus place would disagree, but this restaurant immediately became her favorite place. Not so much for ambiance, but for hummus. Unfortunately, she never learned its name. It was something Arabic. In Jaffa, that narrows it down to almost every single business.

It was a good thing that they had Hisham's car because after the bakery and lunch, they were both too full to walk anywhere. They drove to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, a modern architectural complex of buildings in a clean park. Harmony was surprised by the wide open spaces. Tel Aviv was fairly crowded, but at the museum, there was plenty of elbow room. From the open courtyard, she could see the towers of the Azrieli Center just down the street. Across the street from the museum was an apartment building that was its own work of contemporary art. Rather than a standard rectangle rising from the ground, it was built outward with twisted corners and balconies jutting out all over the place. It almost looked like Antoni Gaudí designed the place.

The museum itself was several different buildings designed by a variety of architects at different points in time, but it all looked like it was meant to go together. The buildings were not uniform, but they complemented each other. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art was much smaller than the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, but the wide open spaces made it look larger from some angles.

Walking around the grounds and gardens was worth the price of admission in and of itself, but inside the buildings, they saw one of Vincent van Gogh's shepherds, a naked woman by Pablo Picasso all bent out of shape, a woman with an amazing technicolor dreamcoat by Gustav Klimt, some windmills by Camille Pissarro, some of Marc Chagall's violin goats and a lot of squiggly lines by Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky.

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PostPosted: 06-21-2017 02:07 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 18
Flower Drum Song

There are a few universal rules of travel and food. If you are in New York, you get a slice of pizza from a tiny hole in the wall pizzeria. If you go to Amsterdam, you get a block of cheese from a corner shop. In Paris, you have to go to the best pâtisserie you can find. In Tokyo, some of the best snacks are in the basements of department stores. Harmony quickly discovered that if you are in Jaffa, you go to Abouelafia and Sons. There were different levels of crowds each time she went, but the service was always quick and the bread was always fresh.

By the time she finished yet another sambousek, she had enough time to get back to the hotel roof to watch the sunset. But then it occurred to her that she could watch the sunset from Jaffa. From the garden on Spring Hill, she could see the Tel Aviv skyline and watch all of the buildings turn orange in the setting sun. All of Tel Aviv's beaches face west, so any of them were a good spot to watch the sun sink into the Mediterranean.

As the glowing orange sky started fading to black, Harmony walked from the highest point in Jaffa down to the lowest, which was not much of a trek in such a flat city. On the beach, she ran into some people setting up drums. When she walked up to ask them what they were doing, she was immediately handed a djembe, no questions asked. Before she knew what was happening, she was sitting in a drum circle. Everyone appeared out of nowhere, just as she had, but she got the feeling that most of them knew what they were getting themselves into. About twenty people started playing mostly congas, bongos, timbales and assorted African drums. Harmony had one of two djembes, a tall West African drum mostly made of wood.

The performance started spontaneously. There was no conductor. The rhythm was set by the group and changed frequently. With one of the naturally louder drums, Harmony was able to control the rhythm a few times. She was amazed by how many different tones she could get from a single drum head. It was almost like a calypso steel drum in that sense. That had nothing to do with her experience on the instrument, mostly because she had none. She played a standard drum set when she was a child, but had never touched a djembe. It was all on the well crafted design of the drum itself. While it takes two different bongo heads to get two separate notes, she could identify four unique notes on the djembe. A skilled player could probably get more out of it.

Eventually, the drum circle grew to at least fifty people. They actually had two circles. The original group of twenty were the inner circle and as other people arrived, they formed an outer circle. Some danced around and soon they had a bonfire in the middle of the circle. Harmony was curious if any of this was legal, but no authority figures ever came along to stop them.

Having been born long after the 1960s, and only seeing Haight-Ashbury after Starbucks and Blockbuster moved in, Harmony was not an expert on hippies. But it seemed to her that this drum circle was the modern equivalent of a hippie happening, Tel Aviv style. Tel Aviv was a laid back beach community, and might be the perfect place to live a counterculture flower power lifestyle, as far as Harmony could tell. There were even a few substances being shared. She took a pass on Mary Jane, but knew at least that had to be illegal. Harmony's views on drugs have always been more Leave It to Beaver than Easy Rider, but no one cared that she was not joining in. No one even cared that she was not one of them.

The drum circle experience was as fun as it was unexpected. There are worse ways to spend an evening than banging on a drum at the beach with a few dozen strangers. Everyone appeared to enjoy themselves away from their jobs and daily chores. Having been some minutes in preparation, a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

This was exactly the kind of thing Harmony wanted to tell Livia about immediately. Livia would have loved every minute of it. Had Livia been there, she would have danced, banged a drum and probably helped build the bonfire. Had Livia been there, she might have even stripped naked and convinced others to join in. Without her, everyone remained clothed. Without Harmony's new phone working properly, Livia would have to hear about it much later.

As the bonfire grew higher, they all played into the night. Harmony's hands had not been that sore since she broke up with her boyfriend. She almost expected the drum circle to continue until dawn, but people had to eat. The further past dinner time, the more the crowd started to drift away. People simply wandered off the way they had wandered in.

During the course of the evening, Harmony met Dalit and Mayim, two women who were among at least a dozen organizers of the drum circle. Much like everyone else, they were ready for a late dinner, and they invited Harmony to join them. They took her to a place called Polly on Rothschild Boulevard, which she had walked past earlier in the day without noticing.

Polly was mostly a pub, but they had a kitchen and food. Unfortunately, their selection was limited and no one had much to eat. Harmony wondered why Dalit and Mayim even wanted to go to a pub for dinner until she met one of their friends, who worked there as a bartender. Polly seemed more like the kind of place where friends meet than where people eat. Everyone there was part of one group or another.

After a light snack and a few free drinks, the perks of knowing the bartender, they all went to a club a few blocks away on the border between Neve Tzedek and Florentin. Harmony was not the least bit interested in going to another loud dance club. One per country was enough for her, but Dalit explained that it would be more relaxed with softer music. Mayim mentioned a lot of Israeli and African bands Harmony had never heard of and Suzanne Vega. Harmony tried to imagine a techno version of “Marlene On the Wall”, but Mayim assured her there would be no booming disco beats.

The club had been a house at some point in time and was decorated to look like a house, with fire exits, a large bar instead of a kitchen and converted public restrooms. What were once bedrooms were now smaller sitting rooms. The music was as mellow as promised and people were mostly sitting around on sofas and large armchairs burning incense instead of smashing against each other on an overcrowded dance floor. Harmony loves to dance, but with the crowds and horny men, dance clubs are often the worst places to cut a rug.

Horny men were never going to be a problem at this club. Most of the people inside were women, and the few men were demonstrably gay. They were mostly paired off, so this was not even a good place for horny gay men to score.

The more Harmony noticed the lack of men, the more she noticed that a lot of the women were paired off as well. When she walked into the club, she saw people talking and drinking. As she looked around, she saw female couples kissing and groping each other. When the look on her face reminded Dalit of Winnie the Pooh reacting to the artificial supermarket honey that comes in bear shaped bottles, Dalit casually told Harmony that they were in a gay club. Harmony was almost shocked to learn that Dalit and Mayim were girlfriend and girlfriend.

When Harmony was young, she was always told that lesbians wanted to be men. They wore plaid and cut their hair short. Most importantly, they were always short and fat. Neither Dalit nor Mayim were the tallest in the world, but they were the opposite of fat. They both had long hair, and Harmony would have been surprised if plaid had ever touched their skin. And the last thing they wanted to do was act like men. They were as feminine as pink bunny slippers, and happily so.

When Harmony was young, she was also told that if she did not worship a deity who loves her as ordained by old men who disagree completely with every other group that demands she worship the same deity, the deity who loves her will punish her forever with unbearable torment for not worshiping him the way the old men insisted was the only way she could worship a deity that loves her. Clearly, not everything Harmony was told in her suburban childhood worked out in the wider world. According to her upbringing, almost all of the people in Asia, and most of the planet, are doomed to burn in Hell for all eternity. So much for unconditional love.

Dalit and Mayim, and everyone else at the club, grew up in a different environment. They went to the gay club not because they were gay, but because they enjoyed the atmosphere. The club was open to everyone, and they never thought twice about bringing someone as heterosexual as Harmony. It was a place to hang out with friends. Whom everyone slept with at home was irrelevant to the music and conversation inside.

The worst things about dance clubs, in Harmony's opinion, were the music and the men constantly hitting on her. That was never meant as a narcissistic exaggeration of her incomparable beauty. A single woman can look like Mason Verger's sister and men at dance clubs will hit on her.

The men hitting on her were replaced by women hitting on her. That was flattering, especially since her only other large scale lesbian outing was at a beach full of lesbians. For whatever reason, almost none of those women were interested in her. Possibly because she was not lesbian. Or maybe it was because they were on a beach and not in a dance club. Harmony had more chances to score at the gay club, but she politely declined. One of her favorite things about horny lesbians was that they immediately took no for an answer without incident. Horny men sometimes have to be removed from the premises. Horny women move on.

Harmony has been to one or two clubs where the music was not bad, but this was the first club where the music was good. The Israeli bands were new to her, and they would all fit right in with a Bill Withers, Jim Croce, Al Jarreau playlist. When Elton John's “Daniel” played, Harmony sang along.

“His concert was in Tel Aviv tonight,” Dalit said.

“Elton John's in Tel Aviv?” Harmony asked. “Right now?”

“It should be over at this hour,” Mayim said.

“That would have been great to see,” Harmony mentioned. “Especially if he played my song.”

“Your song?” Dalit asked.

“Not 'Your Song',” Harmony answered. “The one named after me. 'Your Song' is good, too.”

“I have no song,” Dalit said.

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Chatting So Delightfully

Joined: 02 Dec 2014
Posts: 3508
Location: Hong Kong

PostPosted: 06-30-2017 12:14 PM    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 19
Dancing on Spring Hill

Harmony woke up later than usual the morning before her third Shabbat in Israel, but she already knew that her morning run would be supplanted by a morning ride. Dalit and Mayim, in addition to organizing drum circles, also organized morning roller skating tours through Yarkon Park.

She met Dalit, Mayim and a small group of locals near the Tel Aviv Port and playground at the opening of the park. She already knew that they were going deeper into the park than she had ever been, but was glad that the meeting spot was so close to her hotel. Most of the skaters provided their own skates, but she was on foot up until she borrowed some extra wheels from her new friends.

The roller tour took the same route along the river where Harmony had her first morning run in Tel Aviv, but they passed the point where she had turned around after only a few minutes. Inside the park, it looked big enough, but she could not fully appreciate its true size until she went from one end to the other. The deeper they skated, the more HaYarkon reminded her of Vondelpark in Amsterdam with its wide open green spaces, only with a beach city climate and almost no other people around.

Beyond a bridge or two, it looked like they were on the edge of a forest. The trees grew in size and volume, but the river was still right next to the path. There were more empty playgrounds and a field of date trees, but the restaurant on the river took Harmony by surprise. She knew there was more to the landscape than what she had already seen, but she was about to learn how many buildings and structures were in the park. On the western tip that she knew, it was mostly grass and trees. The east side was where all the action took place.

They skated past a zoo, an amphitheater, basketball courts, a baseball diamond, a large public square, running fountains, places to rent paddle boats, places to rent bicycles, a lake next to the river and the best playground she had ever seen. In addition to the usual swings and slides, this playground had an enormous wooden jungle gym that twisted and turned and looked like it just went on forever. Eight-year-old Harmony could have spent all day on that thing.

On the far eastern edge of HaYarkon was a popular water park. Given how sunny and hot it always was, she could envision how crowded a water park might get. North of the eastern tip was Luna Park, Tel Aviv's only real amusement park. The south end had a miniature golf course.

The roller tour never went into any of those, but they took off their skates for the tropical garden and the rock garden. The tropical garden was a tiny rainforest in the middle of the park. It was small by rainforest standards, but full of tropical birds and tropical trees doing whatever birds and trees do. The rock garden was full of rocks, which do very little, but it was large by rock garden standards and an interesting little geological tour. It even had a miniature Stonehenge, for some reason. It was also a great place for cactus lovers, though Harmony preferred flowers. There were some penis shaped cacti that amused a few people in the group, fully circumcised since this was Israel, but someone pondered out loud why a cactus would make a terrible phallus.

The small skating group stopped for drinks and snacks at the lake before heading back to the Port. They rolled along the southern bank of the river, which was much smaller than the northern bank, but still a good place for a skate in the park, especially when everyone seemed to be somewhere else. This was not a bird watching tour, but Harmony spotted dozens of different winged creatures just from rolling around the grounds.

By the time Hisham drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and found a place to park relatively close to the hotel, he was hungry. Harmony ate breakfast later than usual, but she also spent the morning roller skating through the park, so she was ready for an afternoon bite. She also knew that it would be Shabbat once the sun went down, so she figured she should eat while she could. Her last two Shabbatot were in Jerusalem, where the city pretty much shut down. She assumed Tel Aviv would be the same.

She thought Hisham would want to go to a proper restaurant for lunch, but he had other ideas. Every Friday before Shabbat, the Tel Aviv Port had a farmer's market that he said would be even better than the Carmel Market.

“Better than HaCarmel,” he told her. “But not so good as Mahane Yehuda.”

Mahane Yehuda was one of the best public markets anywhere in the world. Harmony would never expect the farmer's market to compare. Even calling it better than the Carmel Market felt like a stretch at the time.

They walked the ten minutes from the hotel to the Port, which was more crowded than Harmony had ever seen. The farmer's market was in full swing, and all of Tel Aviv was there. She was starting to realize why Yarkon Park had been so empty on a Friday morning. The farmer's market was almost entirely indoors and as crowded as Mahane Yehuda. Unlike HaCarmel, it was almost exclusively food. The produce and bread were picked and baked that morning, and there were stalls with homemade potato salad, homemade macaroni salad and homemade egg salad. Mahane Yehuda was outdoors and mostly uncovered, but still smelled like spices, flowers and bread in every direction. Since the farmer's market was indoors, it smelled like a large kitchen with a hundred different grandmothers cooking a hundred different meals.

The market itself was for buying food, but there were places to sit and eat all around the Port. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for Hisham's taste. Harmony would have been perfectly happy with some potato salad and cheese on a bench facing the water, but Hisham wanted to sit down somewhere clean. He was well dressed, and sitting on some rocks by the water was not an option as far as he was concerned. He proposed getting whatever they wanted and taking it back to the hotel. The view from the roof was better than the view from the Port anyway.

Up on the roof, they had her favorite and least expensive lunch in Israel. They had the roof to themselves since most of the people in Tel Aviv were at various markets before they all closed for Shabbat. The Mediterranean Sea looked as blue as usual and the conversation ventured into the future.

Hisham wanted to leave a great work of art behind as his legacy. He was not an artist and had no real ability to act, sing, play music or paint, but he could appreciate the talent of artists. As a producer, he could help actors and directors create works of art. He frankly told Harmony that their movie was not the great work of art he was looking for, but that he was proud of it and thought it would be a good stepping stone to that one great film he would produce some day.

When she asked him why he stayed in Israel, which did not have the largest film industry in the world, he launched into a protracted speech about how the government of Israel supports artists more than any other country and how there is no censorship as there is practically everywhere else. Israeli films can openly discuss any topic, including religion and politics, without reprisal from the government. As in most democracies, Israelis can criticize their leaders, and Israel has no monarchy that must be treated reverentially.

When she pointed out that the United State was a democracy without any monarch, he pointed out how easy it was for movies to be censored or banned in the United States. He listed classic films like A Clockwork Orange and Monty Python's Life of Brian and lamented that Martin Scorsese, one of the most respected filmmakers in the world, still had to edit his movies to satisfy American censors. Harmony was sure there had to be examples of Israeli movies that were censored, but she was not familiar enough with Israeli cinema.

Hisham flatly rejected the idea of going Hollywood since, according to him, American movie studios stopped making art a long time ago. All studios want to make money, even the studios that he worked with in Israel, but Hisham said that American studios only want to make money.

“Art is irrelevant in America,” he told her.

Harmony wanted to object and defend her country. Americans practically invented the motion picture. No one would be talking about movies today without Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and John Ford. Chaplin was British, and went out of his way to not become an American citizen, but almost all of his movies were made in the United States. Hisham's point was that American movies today were all about commerce. The artistic sensibilities of the past have been replaced by cash grab sequels and product placement.

As much as they both wanted to sit up on that roof forever, they had symphony tickets. Hisham was already dressed, more or less. He simply had to put on the coat and tie that he had in his car. Harmony had to change completely. Fortunately, she had a hotel room full of clothes downstairs. When they went down to her room, Hisham offered to keep going down and wait in the lobby.

“Don't be silly,” she said. “You can wait in here. I'll only be a minute.”

Hisham had a big smile on his face as Harmony grabbed a dress from the closet. Then she went into the bathroom to change.

She thought her dress might be too much until Hisham put on his coat and tie. She had no idea how anyone else would dress for an afternoon concert in Tel Aviv, but Hisham and Harmony looked like they belonged together.

He drove to the Bronfman Auditorium and, for the first time, she gave him directions. In Jerusalem, he knew where everything was backward and forward. In Tel Aviv, he had a vague idea of where the concert hall was, but she had been there the day before.

“Would you like to drive?” he asked her.

“Not in the middle of the city,” she answered. “This is nothing like driving out in the countryside.”

Rather than ramble toward it as she had on foot, they drove directly down Dizengoff Street, passing the pomegranate juice stand and Bakala. They drove under Dizengoff Square, which was one of many famous landmarks that were both unknown to her and that she had not yet seen. They drove through the Dizengoff Center, a shopping mall on both sides of the street with a two story bridge connecting the halves. Mostly, they drove through the White City.

At the concert hall, they saw Vasily Petrenko conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on Stravinsky's Feu d'artifice, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, with pianist Daniil Trifonov, and The Bells, with soprano Viktoria Yastrebova. It was a decidedly Russian afternoon.

Just like the ballet two days earlier, Hisham watched without squirming in his seat. There was something wonderful about experiencing art with someone who could appreciate it without dreaming of beer and video games. Harmony's first boyfriend enjoyed the theater, but hated opera and ballet. Her last boyfriend resisted all forms of cultural entertainment that did not involve amplifiers and alcohol. Hisham was demonstrably more mature than these boys, and Harmony liked it. The music kept her mind off production troubles for at least a few hours.

When the concert was over, they had just enough time to get back to the hotel to watch Harmony's last sunset in Tel Aviv. She would still be in the city the next morning, but she would be back in Jerusalem the next time the sun went down. She was looking forward to returning to Jerusalem, but she knew that she would miss Tel Aviv.

When the idea of spending a few extra days in Israel came up, Harmony thought she should stay in Jerusalem. An extra few days was never going to teach her everything there was to know about the place, but the more time she could spend in a city as rich in history and culture as Jerusalem, the better. She happily went to Tel Aviv, but considered that it might be a mistake. After a few days in Tel Aviv, which was also not nearly enough time to learn anything, she was glad she came.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were Israel's opposite ends of the spectrum, similar to New York and Los Angeles. They were not merely on opposite sides of the country. They were worlds apart in their approach to life and what makes the people Israeli. Visiting only Jerusalem, or only Tel Aviv, would have given her a narrow view of the Israeli people. It would be like someone only going to one state and thinking they know Americans. Israel is a tiny country, but the people are as diverse as any place with an endless history of immigration and conquest.

The people of Tel Aviv could be just as religious as the people of Jerusalem, but they were not as strict about it. Treif restaurants were all over the city, and bars and clubs jumped and jived deep into the night. If someone wanted to study their religion all day, Jerusalem was a good place to live. If they liked a dose of beach blanket bingo in between prayers, they might consider Tel Aviv.

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