Saturday, March 31, 2007

March 31, 2007: Tel Aviv Bus Station

Although I enjoy hashing, coping with the filth of the Tel Aviv bus station gets to be a bit much. Photo’s don’t capture the extent of the filth and just walking through there is enough to make you want to take a shower afterwards, although it doesn’t require wading boots like the toilet in the Damascus bus station - an indelible memory. In addition, there was a crazy person in the bus station and a 2nd one in the mini-bus ride back to J’lem. As soon as he got out the entire bus gave a collective sigh of relief. It was raining on the walk back to the Albright and I slipped and injured my knee by bending it a bit farther than is natural, but I think it will be OK.

March 31, 2007: Hash in Old Jaffa

Daylight savings time began on Friday, the beginning of the weekend. The hash began at 4 pm on the beach near Jaffo, the Old city of Tel Aviv. I was a bit late, and picked up the trail after the run started. I was a very long run. After the obligatory down downs, I had a nice dinner at a fish restaurant on the beach.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

March 28, 2007: Qumran Cave 1

There are 250 caves in the area, but only 11 contained the scrolls. Some are very fragmentary and others are in better shape. They include some of the oldest biblical texts including a complete scroll of Isaiah and rules for living in the community, which was located below the caves. One of the rules is the order of prayer, which is similar to the order of prayer used by Jesus and his disciples. So, they are important for Judaism and Christianity. The most famous is Cave 1, a difficult climb with entry originally through a small hole in the top. A Bedouin threw a small stone through this hole and struck 1 of 11 jars lined up, which formed the main library of the Qumran community.

March 28, 2007: Qumran, Halleluja!

Scholars assigned texts from the scrolls came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and worked in relative isolation. This combined with problems of ownership and personality quirks make the history of their study as interesting as the scrolls themselves. One preacher came to Qumran with jackhammers and paying volunteers claiming he would find the Ark of the Covenant. Qumran and other Biblical Period sites exert a powerful hold on the public imagination. This Nigerian priest walked barefoot into the caves and broke into spontaneous prayer.

March 28, 2007: Qumran, Group Photo

We went to Qumran today at 7 am and spent half the day climbing around caves. It was very interesting, but a bit more taxing than the hike up Masada and I had a great time, but didn't feel awake till about 10 am. Ben, our trip coordinator, almost fell down a hill, but managed to catch himself after sliding about 20 feet and losing his hat. Past trips to Qumran were plagued by killer bees and mud slides, so we were quite lucky. Of course, Qumran is famous as the site of where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

March 24, 2007: Tel Aviv Hash

I went to Tel Aviv today for the hash and managed to get back to J’lem in time for dinner. As the buses don’t run on Shabbat, I go in mini-vans or service-taxis that leave when full. I can now read the signs on the mini-vans, so I know where they are going without having to ask. Although, when I get tired I start to confuse the Hebrew characters with Greek ones. For example the Hey looks like a Pi and the Gimel looks like a Lamda. The run was about an hour on the outskirts of down town Tel Aviv. Although Brian only met these folks once, he seems to have endeared himself to them. I gave one person there an account of one of his recent mishaps and they said that 'it sounds like Mr. Bean.' The photo was taken a couple of days ago in front of the Umayyad (7th c. CE) fortress at Caesarea. Here, I’m wearing my keffiyah Yisrael.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March 21, 2007: My Own Armageddon

Today, we went to Megiddo for a tour by my friend Norma Franklin, of Tel Aviv U. This was my 4th time to the site. Norma is the volunteer coordinator for the dig there and gave me a private 4 hour tour 6 years ago. Megiddo is interesting for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with it’s infamous reputation. For me, the big interest is in the fact that there are mason’s marks there that may have a connection to earlier Aegean marks based on the possible use of Carian mason’s there.

When we arrived at Megiddo, I got 2 of my fingers stuck in the car door. Besides the pain, I was very worried at first as the last time this happened, so much blood built up under the nail, that I had to go to the emergency room and they made a tiny hole in the nail to release the blood. Fortunately, this did not happen and we were able to continue our site tours with a trip to Caesarea after Megiddo. After 12 hours of site visits, I went to the last half of my Hebrew class. I was so tired when I got home, I could barely eat.

The photo shows the so-called north stables at Megiddo. Another group are sometimes called the stables of Solomon. It is unlikely that they were either, but instead are large, 3 aisle warehouses supported by rows of stone pillars and linked with trade. Similar 3 aisled storage buildings occur on Cyprus.

Monday, March 19, 2007

March 19, 2007: J’lem 10 km

Today I ran the J’lem 10 km, but it was fairly slow going as I was sick for about a month and still have a cough. I partially walked and partially jogged, taking about 1 1/2 hours to finish. This may be one of my worst times for running this distance, but getting back in shape has to start somewhere. Asta has gone to stay with our friends Grant and Mandy till I get home, where she can also get more activity. I miss little Asta.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

March 17, 2007: St. Patty's In J'lem

In LA, I always spent St Patty's at Tom Bergin's House of Irish Coffee, the oldest Irish bar in the city - a cozy wood panelled inn, where regular's including your's truly have a shamrock with their name on it, on the wall. I've been going there since I was old enough to drink and Mike the bartender and Harold the bouncer always let in all of my underage friends. For that we gave them enough generous tips to buy a Swiss chalet. Alas, Mike and Harold are gone, but Bergins is still there.

Thanks to one of my students, Dave Collard, we found an adequate substitute in Melbourne - the Dan O'Connell. They don't make Irish coffee like Bergins but they pull a good pint of Guiness and on St. Patty's they rope off the entire parking lot, with a rock band outside and a traditional Irish band inside, as well as good Aussie sausages. And, it's within staggering range of our house, just 2 blocks away.

Alas, being here, it was not to be this year. We went to a pub in west J'lem called the Dublin. It had a good ambience and all of the right Irish beers and whiskeys - drinking a litre of Guiness and a shot of Bushmill's was de riguer to get the obligatory promotional Guiness T-shirt. I've rarely missed celebrating St Patty's, so this was better than nothing, but it's not quite the same when all the signs are in Hebrew and the only Irish to be seen were on the tacky Riverdance videos being screened on the TV's placed all over the pub. The Guiness was also not the best, as it became a bit syripy as it warmed up. Still, I was grateful to be able to celebrate St Patty's here in the Middle East- after the 7 pillars, comes the 7 pints, and then the wisdom (thanks Sue).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Race for the Grail & Snow in Amman

We got back to Petra from Wadi Rum by 3;15 and I reckoned that I still had time to jog the 2.5 km into Petra to see the “Treasury,” one of two spectacular Nabatean tombs, and be out by the time we had to leave at 4, although to see everything, takes a couple of days. At 4:30, we headed back to Amman for a final half-day of site-seeing, before returning to Jerusalem, although our final day was cancelled by large storm coming down from Turkey, which resulted in 4 inches of snow in Amman. It was still a great trip.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I found out from my guide, that it takes a full day in a jeep or 4-5 days by camel to see all of Wadi Rum, and that the best time to do a camel trek is in summer when the storms are finished and the nights are warm. This remains an ambition for me, but I’m satisfied that I got a good idea of it and took over 100 photographs, including one of the famous Hejaz railway, which is now reduced to transporting phosphate to Aqaba. Here I'm standing at the 7 Pillars Rock, named for the famous book by T.E. Lawrence.

Today, You'll Dine With Me In Wadi Rum

In the midst of our jeep tour we met up with the cousin and brother of my guide Mustapha. The young man on the right is the Jeep driver. They were preparing lunch for a group of German hikers and we stopped to eat a stew and ‘shrub chai (drink tea) with them.

Blowing Off Petra

At the hotel, there was information regarding tours to the Wadi Rum and I decided to go on one instead of going to Petra as I had been there 6 years ago and I have always wanted to go there. My tour began at 8:30 with the 1 1/2 hour drive to Wadi Rum, followed by a 3 hour jeep tour around the Wadi Rum, then back to Petra by 3 as we were leaving at 4. My interest in it again derives from the fact that it’s from there that Lawrence planned the attack on the Turkish held port of Aqaba on the Red Sea and much of the Arab revolt from encampments in and around the this area. It’s also very beautiful with red sand, large dunes, spectacular rock formations, and Nabatean rock art and water systems.

The Bridge at Wadi Rum

I’ve talked to counselors and lords
Whose words were as no blunted swords
I’ve known 6 emperors and 3 kings
And 5 who’ve had mens’ worshippings
I’ve ridden with horsemen of the east
And sat with scholars at their feast
Known some the masters of their hours
To whom the years were as pressed flowers
Still as I go, this thought endures
No place to great to be made yours

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Crusader Castles & Drinks at Petra

Today was spent visiting the Crusader Castles of Kerak and Shobak. Other castles I’ve visited in the past include Belvoir and Nimrod in Israel, Kolossi in Cyprus, and Krak de Chevalier and Sala ed’Din’s castle in Syria. Although Shobak was more dramatically situated on top of a steep hill, Kerak was more impressive, occupying a long, narrow plateau and protecting several obvious routes. At both castles we explored tunnels, arches, vaults and cross-vaults creating an intricate series of rooms, which also contained Arabic inscriptions carved in relief. By evening, we reached Petra, 3 hours south of Amman, and went for drinks at the Moevinpick Hotel.

Monday, March 12, 2007

In the Footsteps of El 'awrence

The third of the four castles we visted today was al Azrak, built entirely of black basalt. It was a large fort with a plain, black basalt mosque in the center as well as many fragments of carved reliefs. Also interesting was a stone double door preserved in the original sockets and a gaming board pecked into the threshold as these are features also found in the Bronze Age.
The most exciting thing about the site, however, is this is the place where T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) spent the winter of 1917, when he was leading the Arab Revolt against the Turkish Empire in WWI. It was personally exciting for me as Lawrence is my hero and the reason I got into archaeology to begin with.

This is the Desert

Today we visited 4 desert castles from the Islamic period. I had studied these in the Islamic art courses I took at UCLA, but never got to see them. Three of them included: Qasr al Khrannh, Qasr al Omra, and Qasr al Khallabat. al-Khrannh was very military in appearance with 4 round towers, a grand hall flanked by 2 half-domes supported by pendentives, and the courtyard in the centre had a pool for collecting water. Afterward we had tea and coffee in a beduoin tent. One of the girls in our group, Heather, was trying on keffiyeh's and the guys in the tent were flirting with her. They kept asking her if she was married and I told them in Arabic that she was single and available - this resulted in a fair bit of hilarity at poor Heather's expense. There were 2 camel saddles in the tent for leaning on while drinking tea. Heather offered to buy one and she was satisfied to bargain them down from 15 to 12 Dinar. I decided to get the other one and bought it for 11. Now, I just have to figure out how to get it home. Qasr al Omra is famous for containing a Roman style bath house decorated with paintings of people and animals, something unusual but not unheard of in Islamic art - except for the nudity. Qasr al Khallabat was the least photogenic as it's undergoing restoration, but there were many Greek inscriptions carved in black basalt blocks that were re-used in the construction and some interesting mosaics.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

On to Jerash, hut hut hut

By 3:30 in the afternoon we reached Jerash, another city in the Roman Decapolis. Jerash is easily accessible, just off the road from Amman to Damascus. I last visited there 6 years ago when I got stranded in Amman for the day en route from Beirut to Tel Aviv. Jerash is spectacular, but not as dramatic as Petra or Palmyra, and not as big as Baalbeck or Didyma.
We took photos of the triple arch of Hadrian, theaters, roads, oval colonnade, nymphaeum, tetrapylons, temples of Baal and Artemis, and early Christian churches. Thus far, I've managed to remain safe from the real dangers of the Middle East - I haven't bought one thing from a pleading child, no matter how insistent.
We are spending 2 nights at ACOR - the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, and tommorow, we are off to see some desert castles.

Ummm Qais

Today we left the Albright in Jerusalem at 7:30 A.M. for the 2 hour drive to the Sheikh Hussein Bridge to cross into Jordan. It took another couple of hours to cross. First, the exit visa, then passport control, then customs, then waiting for the shuttle bus to drive us across the border, then the same drill again. At the border crossing in Jordan they now take a thumb print and a digital photo. I left Israel/entered Jordan on my Oz passport. I' m going to keep my US passport for exclusive use in Arabic countries.
It was close to noon before we made our first site at Umm Qais, the Roman decapolis city of Gadera, in the hills overlooking the lush Jordan river valley and the Sea of Galilee. There we saw a long Decumanus (main Roman street), nymphaeum (fountain house), theater, and Roman shops, mostly built of striking black basalt. Our visit lasted only an hour as we had to leave for the 2 hour drive to Jerash, en route to Amman.
Hut Hut Hut

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Off to Jordan....

Tomorrow we're off to Jordan for a 5 day trip to visit Petra and the dersert castles. Last night we got psyched up by having a screening of my all time favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Hashing & Purim

I spent Saturday doing a lot of writing, especially on the site of Tel Dor, which has an important early monumental building. I also ran the J'lem hash. It was sooo dull - it even makes the Melbourne hashes seem fun and exciting. It was a good run trail, but short. The problem is that many of the hashers are inexperienced. They not only don't know many songs, but they are not well-versed in hash traditions, such as hash crimes, charges from the audience, etc. So, the circle does not last very long. In fact, it even seems like more of an inconvenience than enjoyment for some, who seem to be glad when it’s over. The hash started at 2:30 pm and I was back at the Albright by 4:30. Apparently, the Jerusalem hash has been running every 2 weeks, but they could not be bothered to send out announcements to their e-mail list or update the web site. I gave one of the Melbourne hash T-shirts Brian left here to Woody, who is about the most dedicated hasher here. I also met a really nice woman from North Carolina who works for the US Embassy and is an archaeologist. She joined the FS just about the time I was trying to. She is still working on her PhD in the states. Unfortunately for me, she is just about to get shipped back to DC for her next posting as she has already done her "hardship" post here.
Last night I went to a club for Purim with a friend, Dalit, who I knew from my time here before. Purim is a bit like Haloween in that you have to dress up, but with a lot of drinking. In fact, it is a mitzvah to drink, which is odd, because you get orthodox individuals who never drink, getting absolutely blottoed. I’m not planning to do that, but it was still fun. This is definitely a holiday we need to start celebrating when I get back. It involves 2 days of wearing costumes, partying and getting drunk. The party we went to had dancing in one room and a cuban-music band in the other. I got in around 3 am and today I was zonked. I wasn't much good in either my Arabic or Hebrew class today, but still, I feel I'm starting to get the hang of it. On my way back, I stopped to listen to the live band playing outdoors downtown for the 2nd night of Purim. It reminds me of a cross between Halloween and Mardi-Gras. I didn't stick around too long, however, as the weather has turned chilly again and I felt tired. Still, I enjoyed the festive atmosphere. The photo is from the run I did at Megiddo about a month ago.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Victim of My Own Success :-)

I presented a workshop today based on my project here, which was a modified version of the article I spent substantial time revising for a journal publication. It had the biggest turnout all year with about 45 people attending. It was a BIG success, with numerous scholars here telling me how much they liked it. In fact, it was so well received, I've been asked to do a 2nd workshop even though we're only required to do one. I've also been asked to give similar talks at Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. In addition, several fellows have asked me to show them how to do powerpoint animations. Imagine that! Me giving technical info to other people. At the moment, I just feel wiped out. I need to make a few notes on the basis of my talk, and then I'm going to take it easy for the rest of the evening. The photo shows a lighter moment in the form of a visit to the Elvis cafe.