Friday, December 18, 2009

Florence, Post-Script; And Some Other Notes on America

Part I: Trippa al Fiorentina and Holy Land Epiphanies

I have just returned from a week in Florence, Italy with my good friend Anna whom I'd met while studying in London. Originally from Italy, she spent the week sharing her culture with me. The significant difference between this trip and my others is that I didn't travel solo. As a result my memories are shaped around conversations and observances between the two of us and my own inner dialogue.

Besides spending time with Anna, what I really looked forward to was the food. Everyday we ate something fantastic in a range of places. I learned that Anna decides where to eat by taking a peak inside to see if it inspires her. I indulged myself throughout the week with chocolate, Florentine tripe, lampredotto, saltimbocco, rabbit, ham, gnocci, and for some reason, lots of potatoes. Our favorite restaurant by far was 'Marino', an old, oddly decorated little place seemingly meant to detract visitors rather than welcome them. We were served by an old man who looked like Pinocchio's father, Gepetto and who agreed that Spanish and Italian are "practically the same language".

Food aside, Florence is a spectacular city. Its city center is actually smaller than we thought, so we covered a lot of ground and saw many of its splendid sights. I admired the facades of all the buildings each telling a different story and showing a different character despite being attached to one another. I did feel a bit of church overload about midweek, but I must admit how beautiful they are and what amazing propaganda pieces they serve as. I imagined being a 16th century peasant wandering into the enormous chapels and looking around at the masterpiece paintings, gigantic columns and domes, and shiny stuff everywhere. If this is what heaven might look like, why wouldn't I want to be a part of this? Alas, I am not a 16th century peasant.

During our week we visited a couple of museums including the Galleria dell'Accademmia, the Galleria Uffizi, and the Palazzo Pitti Galleria Palatina. I was surprisingly impressed by Michelangelo's David more for its asymmetry than anything. The rest of the paintings at each museum mostly consisted of "Adoration of the Magi" and "Crucifixion" images, themes that were clearly very important at the time in Europe. I think what stood out most to me were the inaccurate depictions of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This is easily explained by the fact that many, if not all, of these painters had never travelled to the Holy Land thus they had to imagine for themselves what it might have looked like. And since the work revolved around Jesus, they wanted it to appear as magnificent and majestic as possible. Which led me to my next thought, that I'm really truly lucky to live in Israel.

About two weekends ago, I spent some time in Jerusalem and Bethlehem because I felt the need to be somewhere lost in time. I cannot really explain in this post why I love Jerusalem and all its quirks but I will write about how fortunate I feel to live approximately 2 hours away and can pretty much visit whenever I like. I receive a strange joy when riding in a car on the freeway and seeing a sign towards Jerusalem. It could be Silverlake, Kansas City, San Bernardino, Barcelona, or any other city in the world; that it could be that simple to continue along the road and wind up in Jerusalem is exciting. It is something special that I can view a masterpiece painting with Bethlehem or Jerusalem in the background, however inaccurate it may be, and know that I've been there and will continue to visit these wondrous cities.

I discussed kibbutz life with Anna and described in detail the goings-ons of the sedna. I told her about my classmates, our work, our teachers, our schedule, and the way things are generally run. Its a massively different place than what we were used to, whether in London, Venice, or LA. In discussing such differences and their positive and negative points, I came to reach some clarity about my place in the sedna and what I hope to achieve while being there. If my original reasons for coming to Israel were aimed towards one thing, my reasons for staying are aimed at something different. I realized that I am in fact where I need to be.

***

Crossing the River Arno one day, we found ourselves on a pleasant walk through labyrinth streets, hillside promenades, and among ancient ramparts devoid of pedestrians. The scenery unfolding before us of the Tuscan landscape was surely a highlight of our trip. No picture or words could properly do it justice so all I'll say is that its ridiculously calming, gorgeous, and endless.

During what seemed to be the coldest day of our trip, we spent some time in the nearby cities of Siena and San Gimignano. Regardless of the weather, we truly enjoyed the new scenery and atmosphere. We found Siena to be a rather sophisticated city with festive Christmas decorations lining every street, storefront, and piazza, and beautiful windows. Yes, I love the windows of Siena. We descended to the main Campo of the city somewhat submerged as if pinned to the center of the earth and enjoyed the emptiness of it, but could easily imagine the place completely filled with thousands during the famous Palio race. Our last activity in Siena was a visit to the Duomo, a church that left us astonished and speechless. It was possibly the most beautiful church we had seen in all our trip and of the most beautiful churches I've seen anywhere.

In the late afternoon we continued to San Gimignano, a city known as the "Manhattan of the Middle Ages" for its distinct towers poking up throughout the city on the hill. When we arrived the sun was setting and only a few minutes later the sky was completely blanketed in a deep, dark blue with black clouds perfectly framing the tall towers. The city took on a magical and timeless quality that Anna and I could not believe our luck in seeing. I felt like I was in a storybook that took place in the Middle Ages, and even found the whole thing to be reminiscent of the first couple of scenes in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride at Disneyland. Furthermore, the place was practically empty. If we wound up on a street with no one in sight and no signs of modernity, it looked as if we had actually stepped back in time. It was magical. Our last stop in San Gimignano was a Romanesque church steeped in silence, save for the old couple bickering over bus fares.

***

Part II: Proud to be an American...or something like that?

Anna and I talked about American culture a lot. It so happens that she is very fascinated by it all and wants to visit those middle states, the ones no one seems to really think about, even Americans. Places such as Idaho, Minnesota, Alabama, Wyoming, etc. But how can one hope to see and experience such places, especially if from another country? Surely no tour company operates trips in America that extend beyond California, New York, Orlando, the Grand Canyon, and/or New England. We concluded that the best way to see and feel the country was by road trip. I truly believe that America (as in, all of the continental US) is best seen on the road, through and through. I think its the roadside cafes, 24 hour diners, mom and pop shops, cheap motels, and all the quirky characters residing in these places that truly personify the country. Because America is so large, American culture is something that cannot be so specifically identified. Sure, there are a number of characteristics and flaws we all tend to share regardless of where we're from, but to really capture the different essences of the country, one has to dig deep and search for the things that don't really stick out. And this means going to places that aren't California, New York, Orlando, the Grand Canyon, and/or New England, though these are great places to visit as well.

***

All this conversation about American culture inevitably led to the discovery of my American complex. Its something I had been thinking about for some time and became more clear when discussed with Anna. Since I began travelling internationally about 3 years ago, I started to really see the stark differences between Americans and everyone else, mainly Europeans. I began to understand anti-Americanism and saw in myself and other Americans abroad this strange sense of self-entitlement, crass and obnoxious behavior, that horrible, nasal voice we have, and the sartorially suicidal tendency to wear sweaters bearing the names of various universities. It wasn't that I was ashamed, it was more that a clear distinction had been made. Throughout my travels I realized that no matter how much you took me out of America, you could never take the American out of me. I became increasingly self-conscious and almost apologetic just for being. As if my innate American-ness could somehow take over any situation and cause for my own ostracism. This is when I realized something else: Upon first look at me, most people immediately assume I'm Japanese or from Asia anyway. This was yet another thing that puzzled me. Sure, I'm half Chinese and look predominantly Asian, but I'm an American dammit! I don't have the fantastically ultra-modern dress sensibility, small strides, gentle mannerisms, or speech habits of most young Japanese women, so I found it hard to imagine why anyone with basic observation skills would mistake me for anything but an American. I found myself clinging to the very American-ness I was apologizing for. Even though I'm Asian, I'm not a continental Asian and have a very different approach to life than they have. If anything, I wish I could spend some time in China or Japan amongst real cultural Asians and experience life as they do.

Its ironic how things work out. When in Europe or the Middle East, I'm quickly assumed for a continental Asian. But in Tokyo, no one ever mistook my sister and I for such. Right away, people asked if we were American, then if we were of Chinese descent. We thought we might blend in better, but this was not the case. In Jerusalem and Istanbul, I'm constantly greeted with konichiwa's and ni hao's. Perhaps even in my own country people aren't really sure anymore.

***

Part III: A Farewell to a Friend

I truly enjoyed my week in Florence with Anna, it was one of the best trips I've ever taken. To experience a country with a local is something I could never take for granted. Mostly, I will miss our conversations. Who knows when I will next see her again? It could be a few months, another year, or perhaps many years. But I am incredibly thankful for the past week and for her immense hospitality and generosity.

***

Part IV: The Balagan that was Thursday

We woke up Thursday morning around 4:30 to go to the airport for my horribly early flight. Anna decided to come along to see me off, which I appreciated. Check-in and security were rather quick and painless so I sat at my gate for quite some time. I wasn't awake enough to read, and my pens ran out of ink while writing, so I opted to sit and stare. I noticed I was completely surrounded by Americans. After eavesdropping on various conversations, I learned they were part of a study-abroad program and were heading home or wherever for the Christmas holidays (this being December 17th and all). I looked at each and every one of them and noticed all the familiarities of being in an American mall, a movie theatre, at school, or even a Starbucks. There were a few Europeans here and there, not many, we definitely outnumbered them. It was sitting here at this gate I could really make out the distinctions between Americans and Europeans: (Note: I might change between we/they, so bear with me)

-Wear what where?
Americans are used to flying long distances. To us, a 5-hour flight is not long. It takes that long just to get from one end of the country to the other. So to fly to and from the European continent always takes a minimum of 10 hours. Thus, we like to be comfortable. This is evident by the our chosen outfits, usually quite unfortunate looking I must confess. Ugg boots, sweat pants, said university sweater, hair up, and ginormous (American lingo for you) handbags. Then you look at the European passengers, especially Italians. No matter how long the flight, they are immaculately dressed. Women in heels, men in fitted trousers, hair styled, makeup applied, jewelry worn, and other fashionable choices. So even though we may look pretty crap, we will ultimately be the ones more comfortable on board.

-Seriously, do I sound like that?
What is with our voices? I can always hear an American (or occasional Canadian, sorry folks) from a mile away. Its that long, nasal, drawn-out inflection we have, the tendency to make every sentence last longer than it should and every story we tell sound oh-so dramatic, as if summarizing last night's episode of Gossip Girl. I cannot complain so much about the loudness, since pretty much everyone from everywhere is loud, too. Except those Scandinavians. I hardly notice them in airports that I often wonder if they're even there. Yes they are, and that's the point.

-Cliques
We are such clique-ish people. Enough said.

-Lets complain and make fun, shall we?
What is with middle-aged and old American men? They're such smart asses and always have to make some kind of snarky comment about everything, whether from the recorded announcements, the poor English of the airport staff (well yeah, its not an English speaking country, genius), and general comparisons to the airports back home. I didn't just hear this stuff in Florence, I've heard it everywhere. Actually, the British are guilty of this, too.

-I'm American, you're American, let's be friends!
When abroad, we become very chummy with one another. There's a chummy camaraderie when you put a bunch of Americans together. Though the same can probably be said for just about any group of people. I remember being stranded at the airport in Malaga (oh, there's that drama) due to a massive delay and finding a group of young American girls similar to my age, mostly exchange students, and sitting, talking, laughing and even singing with them whilst complaining about the situation. It was fun and it made the delay bearable.

***

I eventually boarded the plane and fell asleep right away. I expected to wake up in Vienna, but instead awoke to realize the plane hadn't even taken off. We were 2 hours delayed because the de-icing truck (more like a man with a hose) failed to show up with the adequate supplies (the hose, perhaps?). Consequentially, I missed my connecting flight to Tel Aviv.

When I arrived in Vienna, I spent a most pleasant hour in line at the re booking counter. Too bad you can't sense my sarcasm. I somehow ended up in the slowest line, with the slowest employee, behind a group of British-Iraqis trying to go to Jordan but having trouble due to being a large group. Also in line were two Indian families, very upset and understandably tired being offered what seemed like terrible alternative flights. Fly to Bangkok tomorrow? With a 10 hour layover? Arrive in New Delhi in, what, 2 days? Really? I'll take it! In the next line was a man trying to go to Cairo who kept yelling at the employee in Arabic. She profusely apologized for the inconvenience while adding, "I don't understand you!" The British-Iraqis in front of me listened to the altercation and couldn't help but laugh. Finally an Arabic-speaking man showed up to the rescue.

When I realized my line wasn't moving, I practically begged the man in the next line over to let me go ahead of him, since I had been there long before everyone else but made the mistake of being in the slowest line. He didn't seem pleased but since I was practically crying and a lone female, I think he knew what he had to do. Ah, gender equality my butt. The lady at the counter offered me a flight to Tel Aviv in 12 hours. I would've considered going into the city and whatnot during this time, but it was snowing out, so I needed something sooner. She had a flight leaving in an hour with a 50 minute stopover in Budapest. Oh pleasant, I've been to Budapest. Wait, what? Oh no, she meant Bucharest. As in Bucharest, Romania. Ummm, okay if it'll get me home sooner, I'll go with that.

I headed to the part of the airport with destinations such as Sarajevo, Minsk, Belgrade, Athens, and Istanbul. Ah, Eastern Europe. Which brings me to my next point, Eastern Europeans (minus the Turks, they don't count in this one).

***

Part V: Where the FUCK am I?

Sitting at yet another gate I noticed I was amongst a whole lot of Romanians. Which makes perfect sense since we were flying to Romania. Who were these people? Where have they been? Have they been around all along but I failed to notice? Perhaps. They are very distinct looking, quite beautiful in fact. Tall, skinny, dark-haired folks. A bit grizzled, but years of oppressive Communism can do that to you. I quickly ran through the list of random things I knew about Romania in my head to see if I could somehow understand these people a little better. What did I know about Romania? A lot of famous gymnasts came from there; gigantic Parliament building; the film 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days; Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler; and that horrendous tyrant with the unpronounceable name, Ceaucescu. With this information, I couldn't do much I was afraid. All I could think was how these people, even some of the younger ones around my age, knew some form of governmental oppression. It reminded me of my observances of the Hungarian people when I was in Budapest. That's when I felt lucky to have been born in America. I suppose Communism, in theory, wasn't a terrible idea, but in practice it ruined lives and tore people apart. Eastern Europeans view life in a way I could never understand, but that's because of different life experiences and expectations. I've lived way too easily in comparison, and for this, I am thankful.

***

I arrived in Bucharest 2 hours later and ran through the terminal to catch my connection. I was stopped at a security line and shouted at the guard that I had a flight to Tel Aviv leaving in 30 minutes. He told me to wait while he called someone. The next few moments played out like an episode of "I Love Lucy". He picked up a phone, dialed a number, received no response, hung up and shrugged his shoulders. Then he picked up another phone and did the same. Whilst on this phone, the other phone rang. He hung up and picked up the other phone. He began yelling in Romanian (I soon learned that this is just how they talk) when the other phone began to ring. He hung up and picked up the other phone, but I guess no one was on the other end, so he hung up. I asked him if I could move, but he just shrugged and told me "it's not my problem". Just then another Californian showed up also flying to Tel Aviv, so I didn't feel as bad anymore. The three of us stood there staring at each other, confused. Finally someone showed up to help us, and by help I mean some sort of vague action that suggested this man actually had a job. He looked over our documents so many times as if some miracle would reveal itself to him. It turned out that I didn't have a boarding pass. I was told back in Vienna (remember, I was there?) that I would acquire a boarding pass in Bucharest. Well, no one told this to anyone in Bucharest.

I made it through to the gate where I was yelled at (or spoken to) by the Tarom Airlines staff who couldn't understand my position. It began to dawn on me that I might not actually get on this flight and would have to spend the night in this god-awful place. It was snowing out, dark, and unfriendly. Finally after a light shouting match (or conversation), an employee wrote my seat assignment on a piece of paper and this was my boarding pass. Goodbye, Bucharest.

***

Now I'm home at Gaaton. Thankful for the incredible week I've had and for getting through yesterday despite being under a blanket of snow. You're a funny continent, you are, Europe.

And now I'm in the Middle East. Let the balagan continue...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Religion...Spirituality...Faith...Devotion...Blind?

Opening a can of worms here: Religion. It is a topic which cannot be avoided. I do live in Israel after all, birthplace to 2 major monotheistic religions and significant landmark to a third. However any growing-up-Christian familiarity I may have known in life has been completely overshadowed by the overt Judaism of this country. Islam is the other main religion here (statistics wise) but unfortunately I've not had much contact with it since the religious and cultural divide is quite thick. As a result, I've become more immersed into the Jewish way of living whether I want to or not. For example: kosher laws, Shabbat closures, Passover dietary restrictions, and the big Yom Kippur shutdown amongst others. I have a new found appreciation for having grown up in a country that separates state and religion.

Though raised Christian, I do not consider myself religious and wouldn't even be deemed Christian by fellow Christians. I have not intentionally sat through a church service in over 10 years nor do I wish to ever again. I do not believe in this. It does not comfort me and I do not believe I need to be in a "house of worship" in order to worship. My relationship with God or whomever can take place in my apartment, a park bench, the supermarket, or a bus. I am also deeply skeptical about the bible or any other religious text. I do not choose to follow its teachings but rather to make my own choices based on common sense and my understanding between right and wrong. Do I believe Mary was immaculately impregnated by God? Where logic has no place, faith moves in and I must confess I do not possess the faith to believe such an occurrence happened. Did Jesus ever exist? I believe so. Was he the son of God? Perhaps, I think so but cannot believe so wholeheartedly. Did Jesus die for me and my sins? I haven't found my answer yet but cannot be fed an answer by the Christian faith. But my life experience has shown me that there is a God and that everything happens for a reason, therefore I cannot consider myself an atheist.

I believe that religion as we know it today has been grossly manipulated by man. The intricate procedures and rituals performed by the devoted are merely choreographic works to me. I cannot take seriously a person who devotes their life entirely to a God they cannot prove exists beyond what their holy book tells them. I believe this stunts individuality and personal choice. Performing kind acts or committing harm in the name of God is a cop out. I believe we must take responsibility for our own actions, rather than credit or blame an external source.

**

Israel is without a doubt a Jewish state. In fact, many Jewish and Zionist organizations around the world work very hard to keep it this way. Masa is one such organization with the intention of bringing young Jews to Israel in the hopes of keeping them here. This is no secret. Everyone in the program, Jewish or not, understands and acknowledges this whether they like it or not. When asked why I did not join the Masa program I simply answer "I am not Jewish".

Last night we watched an Israeli film, "Late Marriage" about a Georgian-Israeli man's family's quest to find him a suitable bride, despite already having a girlfriend. Following the film a discussion began about Judaism, marrying outside the religion, and Jewish identity. I remained mostly silent but the responses around me were enlightening. A surprising number of participants admitted they would not marry someone who wasn't Jewish. Many wished to raise their children with a strong connection to the Jewish faith. Though I respect these wishes, I was also surprised to find that as young Americans who live in a culture where people are constantly courting outside their race, religion, or economic class, they would still feel so strongly against marrying a non-Jew.

Although I live in Jewish country, I have found that many of my Israeli classmates are not particularly religious. Most do not keep kosher, observe Shabbat, and only some fast during Yom Kippur. Though they are all Jews, some cannot remember the last time they were in a synagogue. It is true that the foreigners here with Masa are more religious and connected to the Jewish community than the Israelis who were placed in the Jewish world by default.

**

Upon learning that I am not Jewish, people usually respond with a blunt "then why are you here?" The first time I heard this I was taken aback. Now its just old. I'm here to dance. I have no religious or spiritual connection to this land. I do believe Jesus existed and lived here, but to be frank, this had no place in my decision making process to move to Israel. I am in Israel because of its rapidly developing dance scene and to be a part of the work being made. I am fully aware that many people (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) are here for reasons rooted in religion and though I respect this, I am finding that I choose not to be a part of this close mindedness.

I am officially tired of religion. It has limited place in my life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Excuse me while I try to make sense of things

Two days ago in composition class I found myself drawing and writing in my notebook between bits of choreographic showings by my classmates. Okay, I confess some of the doodles happened during the bits as well. Point is, I became suddenly consumed with words and images. I wrote a full page run-on sentence of metaphors where I compared myself to a helicopter caught in a tornado and a monster wondering what to eat and do. This is how I see myself.

People take things personally. Whether they should or shouldn't is a stupid debate. To each his own, one may have developed thick skin whilst another wears his heart on his sleeve.

A good friend and I discussed this idea about "not taking things so personally" and "not being so sensitive". We've concluded that it most likely stems from cultural differences because we realize that people here are more blunt and harsh in their delivery of ideas and perhaps these ways aren't always welcomed by us. Though ironically it is also true that I can be massively blunt and harsh in the delivery of my ideas. Does this make me a hypocrite? I suppose in a sense it can, so I've decided to take a step back to look and listen and to try and make sense of things.

There is a constant debate in my head about how to react and respond to things. But life shouldn't be so calculated. If I was perfectly honest, would things be better? Or worse?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Life is suffering, food is pleasure

I love everyone and I hate everyone. The ones I love most I hate most. Its just one of those conundrums...

**

Winter has hit northern Israel and I feel the chill to my bones. It was most surprising since I ignorantly assumed that there couldn't possibly be a cold winter in the Middle East. But I was wrong, and I've learned that its only going to get colder from here.

Life in the studio continues as usual, albeit at a much more hectic pace. I'm currently in the process of creating a work using 2 dancers from 2 separate programs here. Its turning out to be a much more rewarding experience than past choreographic projects I've initiated and the connection between myself and the dancers is good. I cannot complain.

**

Three previous visits to Israel could not have prepared me for life here. It is something completely different from anything I've ever known and in this sense, I am very lucky to be experiencing something so unique and challenging at the same time. I can feel myself learning more and more each day, whether a new word in Hebrew or just something about myself and my personality. Living on this kibbutz and surrounding myself mainly with Israelis is proving to be quite the struggle. Sometimes I can put my finger on it, but most times its more a vague feeling of disconnect from the people and situations at hand.

I've also learned to be more discerning about whom I associate with. At this particular point in time, I cannot be spreading myself too thin. But I'm constantly reminded that this is not the kibbutznik way. Sometimes I just want to take off my shoes and slap people across the face.

Or perhaps write a letter along these lines:

Dear [insert Israeli person's name],
I hate you. Please go away. Fuck You.

Thank You.

Hatred,
Courtney


But this is considered anti-social for some reason...

**

I've decided to take up cooking to ease my troubled mind.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

London, post script

How can I put this? I think I'm missing London a little bit. Not immensely, nor do I wish to move back. But I miss it enough to warrant a short visit.

I never truly felt like a local in London. But who does? Nearly everyone in London comes from somewhere else, whether from a small village in the north of England or all the way from a foreign land on the other side of the world, London is home to an assortment of people looking for something different. I think the only time I felt like a local was on the Tube. I knew where I was going, where I needed to switch trains, had my 30% discount Oyster card, and maneuvered around all the slow people. Although occasionally I was one of the slow people. Once above ground however, I returned to being a tourist, albeit a jaded, tired tourist who had spent a little bit too much time in the city.

I remember occasions where I was at the Southbank Centre looking across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament and its crowning feature, Big Ben. In those moments, I truly felt like a tourist in the most positive and happiest of ways.

During weekends where I felt particularly adventurous, I'd venture to areas of London I hadn't seen before. One time I visited some street in Camden and immediately likened it to Old Town Pasadena, near my home in Alhambra. It was a most unexpected comparison, one I knew I wouldn't make again anywhere else in London. This turned out to be true.

I remember my first visit to the Portobello Road Market during my last weeks in London. I found it ironic considering most people make this a must-see during their brief vacations yet it took me nearly 2 years to make the westward trip.

Speaking of markets, I truly miss Borough Market with its numerous food stalls selling venison burgers, jamon serrano, chorizo, and weird smoothies (that I never bought, but enjoyed looking at). Though staunchly independent, I never once visited Borough Market by myself. It was a place where I got to know people better over cheese samples and shots of fruit juices.

I was never a big fan of the DLR. In fact, I felt that TFL ought to have paid US just for using their inconsistent, slow, driver-less pieces of shit. With that said, I do miss the views of the Docklands throughout South East London, especially when nearing Canary Wharf. I also enjoyed emerging from the Canary Wharf Tube station to read the giant stock market ticker wrapped around one of the nearby skyscrapers, not understanding any of it. And of course, passing a pre-disgrace Lehman Bros. building wondering what the hell goes on inside. A good hypothesis would be the burning of American currency?

Food is dear to me and I found much of the inexpensive to mid-range food on offer in London to be overpriced and under-tasty. However there were a few gems that stood out to me such as Tai Won Mein in Greenwich near the Cutty Sark. A crowded, noisy, dirty, ugly place with picnic benches for tables and prison guards for waiters (at least it seemed that way), I constantly asked myself why anyone would consistently subject themselves to such an experience. Then I took one bite of my fried beef with ho fun and knew the answer: Because for an experience worse than your middle school cafeteria, the food was fucking amazing.

During my first year in London I lived in a giant student community. Though many aspects of this drove me crazy, I had the great fortune of living in a flat 6 stories high facing the Thames and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Every sunset I witnessed was special, and the lights shining from the giant buildings were enough to illuminate my room in the darkness.

One of my main hobbies is collecting used and old books. I've amassed quite a collection from my travels around the world, and London certainly housed an impressive number of antiquarian and secondhand bookstores. Even the chain stores selling new books appealed to me. Some highlights include Daunt in Marylebone, Waterstone's in Bloomsbury (with its treasure-chest attic of old books), Stanford's on Longacre, and the various used booksellers along Charing Cross Rd. scattered between the larger chain superstores. An old book a day keeps the doctor away.

There isn't one London. It can't be summed up in a few words. There are many Londons. The London known to tourists. The London known to residents. The London known to the rich. The London known to the poor. The London known to Brits. The London known to foreigners. The London reminisced by the elderly. The London newly explored by the young. The London known to historians. The London known to club-hoppers and ravers. The London known to preps. The London known to chavs. The London containing beautiful squares and parks. The London containing soulless council estates. The London promising a better future full of opportunities. The London showing the face of failure. Maybe I never really got to know London at all. Maybe in an entire lifetime, one cannot grasp the enormity of its splendor and squalor. But its not a competition, is it?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

You have the flu. No, not THAT flu....actually, you may have THAT flu

Q: What do Arabs and Mexicans have in common?

A: They are likely to bring the entire family to the hospital when only one person actually needs treatment.

This weekend I was hit with a ton of bricks of illness. I thought I'd be better today, but after a largely sleepless food-less night, I knew I had taken a turn for the worse.

I stumbled out of my apartment to the studios. Once there, I began shaking and crying because of my overall lack of energy and power. Upon seeing me in such a mess, my director Einav insisted on taking me to the hospital.

The experience at the hospital adds nothing positive to my general feeling towards hospitals. But it wasn't torturous either. Einav warned me not to look at anyone. I wish I had followed her advice since I became physically and verbally squeamish at the mere sight of a number of patients and their ailments. Oops.

While waiting for a nurse to see me I noticed that the majority of patients in the waiting area were Arabs. Though its more likely that only few of them were actual patients and the rest were just waiting family members. I realized I probably saw more Arabs today in the hospital than in all my time here in Nahariya. Northern integration, I think not.

However it is true that the social and professional integration between Arabs and Jews is of a larger number up here in the north of the country than in other places. But the cultural separation is still evident regardless.

Hours later I was sent home with Doctor's Orders not to have contact with anyone for a week, not to do pretty much anything, and to drink lots of water. Welcome to my week of Quarantine.

The flu sucks, y'all.

I am massively grateful to Einav and my classmates who have been more than helpful and supportive.

תודה רבה לכולם

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Happiness, more or less...

Today I came to the realization that bad days can turn into perfect days.

**

Sometime last week I injured myself in class and am still feeling the pain in my foot. As a result, I've been out of commission and spend most of the time observing class rather than taking part. Its a necessary step to getting better but its also quite frustrating.

**

Solitude is a word that keeps rolling around in my head. Since moving to this kibbutz, I seek it constantly. Fortunately I'm in such a place where I can find it. I've been told that constant communal socialization is a part of kibbutz culture. While I understand this assertion, I've also learned that I do not need to be friends with everyone, nor do I need to participate in large groupings. In fact, I prefer individuals to groups. There is undoubtedly a change in dynamic once a person is thrust into a group setting. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. All I know is that I prefer sincerity to masked pretention.

**

This afternoon I found myself by the sea. This shouldn't be a significant event considering I was born and raised in Southern California. However, I never considered myself a "beach person". In fact, I always hated the beach. I hated the litter strewn sand, the brown water, the dirty bathrooms, the overpriced and under-tasty beach food, the crowds and the overall driving distance just to get to the beach. But here in Israel, the beach is totally within reach. And the beaches are quite clean. And even at their most crowded, they are never that crowded. Since moving here I find that I'm at the beach a lot more often than in my 20+ years of living in Southern California. This is a good thing.

**

Whilst walking through Nahariya today I noticed I'm beginning to feel less a tourist and more a local. Which led me to my next thought: How exactly is a local defined? Perhaps if I took the most obvious factors into consideration I'd realize that I'm not a local at all. I wasn't born in this country. I hardly speak the native language. I look like a complete foreigner no matter what. I've not reached the level of innate aggression and assertiveness that Israelis possess. But on the other hand, I live near this city. I'm practically in the city every week. I know where things are, where I like to eat, where I like to shop, where to find a clean bathroom, and various modes of transportation around the country. So I'm not a local. Not even close. But I've left tourist level, as far as Nahariya is concerned. Though why a tourist would wander into Nahariya is beyond me.

**

I am always slightly amused by the irony of seeing an Israeli wearing a "Free Tibet" tee shirt.

**

The intention this weekend is to rest and recover. Should this occur, I can hope to expect a good coming week.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mourning

Its days like today that I am sure of my fate.


Its as if I'm mourning the death of someone who hasn't even died--or existed.


Sadly, today is yet another day I'm happy to cross off my calendar.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Really, Just Saying....

Things that would make life much easier if the Kibbutz had:

-A cash machine
-A cafe
-Food store open 7 days a week!
-Coin operated laundromat
-Vending machines!!!!

Thank you, that is all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A message to Israelis: The Palestinians are not your problem, its your fucking driving that will destroy you.

And on that note, I begin this post with a comment on the driving habits of Israelis. And actually, the Palestinians are just as guilty. In Los Angeles people pride themselves on being good drivers, aggressive drivers, assertive drivers. Believe me, LA drivers have nothing on the rest of the world. I always thought European drivers to be quite the daredevils and London drivers specifically to be plain wreckless. But in this region, people drive their cars as if they were operating fighter jets. Maybe at some point in life they did. But the roads are not the skies folks. Let's slow it down a bit, okay?

**

I've returned to the kibbutz after a long holiday weekend in the center of the country. The more I'm here the more I realize its a good place to be. It is true that its a small kibbutz and you cant really hide, but I think there is enough space for everyone if you really look for it. Its very peaceful and quiet up here and I'm learning to truly appreciate this.

**

Occassionally I miss London. I get small reminders everyday in various sensical forms. Sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and textures that invoke memories both specific and atmospheric. Living on a kibbutz in northern Israel is completely different from living in a multi-story flat in London. I think the most obvious differences are the amount of space alotted per person, the street safety, the community feeling, the environment, and the noise levels.

But there are other factors. This kibbutz houses an international community of dancers who all live near each other more or less in different areas that I've dubbed "villages". You are never too far from another dancer whether in Sedna, MASA, or one of the professional companies. This is a nice feeling.

Even though things right now are quite challenging in many ways for me, I think I have made the right decision to be here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur Weekend: Unintentionally atoning in my own way

Yom Kippur is the holiest Jewish holiday of the year. It is when religious Jews fast and attend synagogue to atone for the year's worth of sin. For me, it was a time of drunken shouting, wobbly walking, massive sickness, and a lack of memories. What exactly happened? I wish I could remember. But I've been reminded of a few things, many of which I'd rather not have known at all.

The good news is I feel much better today. It is still Yom Kippur until sundown and we plan to ride bicycles to the beach. The streets are empty of cars and all shops closed.

***

More coherent blogs on the way...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Absurdity and Perversity

I spent the earlier half of the day in Tel Aviv committing much-needed financial damage. Two chamsot later, I found myself thinking about the general lack of manners amongst Israelis, only to be met with kind-hearted generosity the next minute. I swear, I am constantly surprised by people here. Absurdity and perversity definitely go hand-in-hand but one thing is for certain: nothing is predictable.

On our way out of the carpark we found ourselves stuck in a horrendously long line. Inevitably, people started to honk as if it could make a difference. I've concluded that honking here is more an act of cathartic release than efficient communication. We asked ourselves, why is this taking so long? Probably because people don't have their tickets out, their money ready, or are asking directions to the freeway. But naturally, they will honk their brains out at everyone else.

**

"A concept even bigger than yourself"

....Is what is on my mind.

See you later.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When things go wrong, I tell myself: "Welcome to Israel"

I renamed the blog "Courtney's Karka Poriah" in honor of a song mis-translation. Thus it stays.

**

I left the squalor of Los Angeles for the glamour of Israel. Wait, perhaps its the other way round? No, I was correct the first time. I am currently living in Kibbutz Gaaton, a leafy, breezy community tucked into the Galilean hills of northern Israel, just under the Lebanese border. To remind me of exactly where I'm located, the folks at IDF like to do practice flights with their fighter jets overhead every now and then. Its a noise louder than I care to hear.

After some bouts with bad timing and very bad things in general, I now find myself enrolled in an intense dance program on the kibbutz. Allow me to explain.

The contemporary dance scene in Israel is rapidly progressing into international notoriety and also happens to be one that actually interests me and my 3-second attention span. I've decided to take a leap of faith (pun intended) and head on over to the Holy Land to get myself involved.

It seemed like a good idea at first.

I should explain that my program is entirely conducted in Hebrew, and that I am only one of 2 non-Israeli students. This is problematic. Luckilly, there is another program on the kibbutz consisting of dancers from abroad, mainly Americans and we study Hebrew together. But am I anywhere near fluency? Dear God, no.

Such is life.

***

I live amongst an interesting array of characters and personalities. The difference between living on the kibbutz and in London is the proximity between myself and my classmates. In London, we finished school and returned to our respective flats scattered throughout the city. Perhaps people lived in NW, NE, SE, S, or W? Whereas here in Gaaton its more like "up the hill" or "down the hill". But I'm finding my hiding spots.

I cannot say for certain that the national cultural psyche is influencing me much, but thats likely to change as time goes on.

***

The last two weekends were spent in Tel Aviv with an assortment of Israeli friends and new friends. It is essential to leave the kibbutz each weekend for a different perspective on living in this country, but three days in Tel Aviv is more than enough. By the end of it, I'm happy to return to the kibbutz.

Tel Aviv is an ostentacious mix of trashy, sleezy, tastless, noisy, Russian-mafia, meshugah, drugged out tomfoolery. For this, I love it. It is a city like no other. "Ha Buah", the locals call it, the bubble. Tel Aviv is a bubble within a larger bubble. With all the conflict and tension in this tiny region, Tel Aviv somehow manages to remain unaffected by it all. Religion, race, and politics do not exist here. Tel Avivis are wondering where to get their next meal.

***

I am spending the Yom Kippur weekend with my new friend Ronnie and her family in Nordia, a "moshav" in central Israel. What is a moshav, you ask? Numerous answers have been given, but frankly, I'm still not sure. Its a taste of the 'burbs as I know it.

Little slices of home here and there are most welcome. But a big chunk may not be necessary. With that in mind, I bid thee adieu. Good night and have a pleasant weekend, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I am currently in Istanbul reading, appropriately enough, "Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk. I just finished the chapter where Pamuk describes the beauty and poetry that outsiders find in the poor, ruinous areas of northwestern Istanbul, along the old city walls.

I myself ventured out to said area two days ago to visit the Chora Church. When I exited the Metro at Topkapi Ulubatli, I was shocked to find myself walking amidst such complete waste and wreackage. To my left were the ancient wall ruins of Constantinople, and to my right were 20th century ruins, skeletal remains of houses, stores, apartments, and other buildings. Piled around the structures were mountains of trash, old furniture, shoes, clothing, old pictures, and other junk of a personal nature. I had realized earlier on in my trip that Istanbul is a bit run down in many parts, but what I found on this day was unlike anything else I had seen thus far. I immediately thought this is what Gaza or Baghdad must look like, the rubble and ruins of bombed out buildings with everything strewn about. But no, I was not in Gaza or Baghdad, but in north west Istanbul along the old city walls.

I was surprised to find people actually living in the wreackage, and I learned today that the area was once a hub for Gypsie living and the government had to kick them out and tear the buildings down. They are planning to rebuild much of the area, but it will take at least five years to clean everything up before re-building.

Pamuk writes about the "accidental beauty" of these areas, and how only outsiders can appreciate the picturesque nature of a "broken fountain, an old ramshackle mansion...the crumbling wall of an old mosque" and "the old blackened walls of an old house". He emphasizes that to appreciate these things, one must "first and foremost be a stranger to them." I completely agree, since a local sees and lives among these things everyday, whereas I-an outsider-stumbled upon this place for the first time, totally unnacustomed to such surroundings.

While I had gotten used to seeing numerous dogs and cats throughout the city, I was surprised to see a bunch of roosters and chickens pecking through the trash. Where did they come from? Are they wild or does someone actually own them? What do they eat? I looked closer into the trash mountains and saw mementos of peoples lives, more or less forgotten.

***

Istanbul is a massive and dense city, spanning two continents. I cannot hope to see it all in the course of 10 days, but so far I have seen different parts of the city, old and new, rich and poor, and I'm finding this city to be so full of character. I also find myself drawn to and fascinated by the poorer, derelict areas of the city. Even in the more modern parts of the city I am treated to a crumbling building with broken windows, faded billboards, empty shops, and wooden buildings badly burnt and ready to crumble at any moment. Its obvious this city is photogenic, especially these wrecked buildings. They are lived in, worn out, exhausted, and hanging by a thread. I think I like this place.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Inshallah

Today I took a leap of faith, and all I can do now is hope for the best. I believe everything happens for a reason, so if things seemingly don't turn out the way I'd like, I can still see other options and opportunities.

***

I saw a picture in Sports Illustrated of a baseball player in spring training. He had a small parachute attached to his belt to create wind resistance, thus making it harder for him to run. As soon as I saw that picture, I immediately recalled all my dreams in which I'm running. The feeling of running in my dreams is exactly what it must feel like to run with a parachute attached to my pants.

And then it made me think of that episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer eats the bad chili and goes on a trip in the desert. While attempting to run, he instead gets caught in a series of poses that resemble individual photos of someone running, as opposed to running fluidly.

***

I was watching "Hole in the Wall" on tv tonight for the first time. At the end, one contestant had to wear blinding goggles whilst her teammates gave her verbal instructions as to how to 'clear' the wall. The limited descriptive vocabulary people used made me think how much easier it would be to have classically trained dancers on the show. Instead of shouting vague instructions such as, 'Arms out to the side, right leg up', and then watch their teammate get knocked into the pool, a dancer could shout, 'Arms in second, right leg second, 90 degrees', and watch their teammate hit flexed and straightened versions of said directions and 'clear' the wall.

A N Y ways......

Getting back in class tomorrow hopefully. This last week was rather uneventful. I didn't really feel inspired to move much, at least not in the traditional sense, but I am looking forward to mending that this week.

Next week, it's off to Eastern Europe. First, I head to Istanbul for about 12 days, then on to Budapest for another 7 days. Excited!

Schwing

Wow, I have not used this for over a year. It's not because I don't have anything to say, it's probably just because I am lazy and/or a poor writer.

I could write an update, since the last post was from Christmas 2007. Hmm, let's see....over Christmas break, I travelled to Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada, Madrid, and all over Israel. In a nutshell, I loved Barcelona, especially 'hiking' Tibidabo; I loved the old charm of Seville where I constantly ate jamon serrano; Granada was very cold that particular week but the chocolate con churros warmed (and fattened) me up; Madrid felt like London, but with a much more agreeable language; Israel was nice and warm (yes, even in December and January), I stayed in Jerusalem the first week, then Tel Aviv the second. Using those two cities as bases, I explored the rest of the country, took class, met with old friends and made some new ones.

School resumed in January 2008, the second term at Laban felt like less a blur than the previous, but still blurry nonetheless. I got to participate in the repertory project with choreographer Fleur Darkin's Augustine. It was a very good learning experience and it took a lot out of me.

Spring term break saw trips to Rome, Venice, and Berlin yay! Third term flew past very quickly, I got a bit injured, have since recovered, saw a lot of dancing and formed many opinions.

I got to perform in the end of year show in two pieces, finished the program at Laban and faced my next step.

I made an unlikely decision and stayed in London for the time being.

Summer started and London actually saw a few days of sun (how I missed it). I lounged around, went to Switzerland where I stayed with two friends, one in Baar, the other in Graubunden. I found Switzerland to be an amazingly beautiful albeit ridiculously expensive country. I also spent a week in Berlin for a rehearsal stint that was rather uneventful.

In late August, I returned home to Los Angeles for 2 weeks to take care of paperwork, gorge myself with Hawaiian BBQ, stock up on DVDs, and visit Disneyland for good measure.

I returned to London in mid-September to start at London Contemporary Dance School. As the title of this blog suggests, stranger things have happened and did happen and next thing I know, I'm back home in LA facing the possibility of returning to London in the fall.

In late February, I spontaneously decided to travel to New York City for the first time and see the sites! I found myself dissapointed with the museums there, a total shock to me since I generally love all museums. Not so here, which is a double suck considering the rip off admission fees. Overall, I liked the energy of the city in all its beauty and ugliness but also realized how much I appreciate my space.

Here in LA, I'm going slightly more insane but its probably good to take a step back in order to move forward. Now, I'm planning several more trips-Istanbul, Budapest, and Tokyo- and getting myself to move a bit. Creation is a rough road brothers.