Thursday, July 17, 2008

Eight Pleasant Israel Travel Surprises

1) Café culture. The coffee here is great. And maybe it’s all the French tourists, but Israel has a pretty European approach to serving it: many people here sit in outdoor cafes, spend an hour or so sipping and talking, and then move on with their lives. For me, this is the perfect antidote to the Starbucks grab-n-go culture (Apparently, Starbucks tried to open stores in Israel and failed). After spending years wandering around the US doing errands, working, taking kids to school, all with cup firmly locked in my hand, it’s refreshing to be reminded: Coffee can be consumed sitting down, sometimes even while socializing with other people.

2) Beaches. Yes, I’ve said it elsewhere on this blog, but it’s worth repeating: I loooove the beaches here. (Though there are some caveats, see next posting).

3) Public endorsement of flatulence? “PazGas” is the name of the gas utility where we live. Even in places where there’s not a lot of English to be either read or heard, the utility stickers bear both Hebrew and English words, with “PazGas” spelled in large, friendly blue letters. I smile every time I see one.

4) Alarmingly flavorful food. The food just tastes better here. In fact, it tastes better everywhere I travel than it does in the US. This, together with the fact that no one at the FDA seems to have left their desks long enough to perform a food safety inspection in the past ten years, worries me. What exactly is the US food industry putting in our food, anyhow? Why does something as basic as ground beef taste so much, well, beefier here in Israel?

5) And good wine to go with it. I’m no expert and have not done a comprehensive survey – the heat here is too intense for me to even think about drinking much – but every time I buy wine here, it’s Israeli wine, and I’ve been a very satisfied customer. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Israeli beer.

6) My verdict on Israeli drivers: Not so bad. I’d heard terrible things about Israeli drivers. And this is probably damning with faint praise, but the drivers here aren’t any worse than the ones in the three major East Coast cities I’ve lived in. I’d say that seventy-five percent of them stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, a big improvement over the 1 in 1,000 drivers who slow down for crosswalk pedestrians in my hometown.

7) Perpendicular parking. Let’s just say that some street parkers here don’t feel obligated to get their car all the way into a space when they parallel park. It’s an exaggeration to say that the cars are perpendicular to the curb, but sometimes the whole front half of the car is left jutting out into the street. So why do I put this one on my list of pleasant surprises? I derive vicarious fulfillment from this selfish approach to parking: who among us hasn’t wanted, after driving around a city for 45 minutes looking for a right-sized on-street parking space, to just say “Screw it, this is going to have to be good enough,” back the car into a space that is 30 percent too small, and hope for the best? I love that someone, somewhere on this earth has the cojones to actually do it.

8) Relief that I’m not a latent religious zealot. We’ve all heard those stories about people who come to the Holy Land and suddenly experience religious fervor so intense that they believe they are Bathsheeba or John the Baptist. I figured that it was pretty unlikely that that would happen to me. But still, I worried: what if all this time my religious skepticism and inability to commit to any particular religious orthodoxy masked some latent, deep-seeded desire for faith so intense that in Israel I ultimately experienced some kind of catharsis? What if I started walking around Jerusalem thinking I was Veronica, and that the Kleenex in my pocket was really the veil that carried the image of Christ?

It’s not happened -- at least not so far -- and that’s a bit of a relief. [For the record, if forced me to be anyone from the Bible: New Testament: Mary (Magdelene, not the Virgin). Old Testament: Delilah. Koran: Aisha].


Richard Shaffer said...

Which wines from idraeli do you like to drink?

Richard Shaffer

Annie Whitbread, Shiksa at Large said...

Richard -- I've had good luck with nearly all the Gamla wines I've drunk, and had a great Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, though I can't recall the vintage. I can't say that anything I've consumed so far will leave the vintners of France quaking in their loafers from fear of competition, but even the wines I've purchased the grocery (Dalton, Barkan) have been pleasant. -- Annie

Annie Whitbread, Shiksa at Large said...

OK, I need to amend my previous comment. Last night I had a 2005 Yarden Cabernet that was both bad and expensive.