Friday, June 25, 2010

Week 28: Italy to Israel

The featured photo this week is from the home of Alvaro`s sister Brunella and her husband Bruno as they hosted us to a lunch (and, the day before, a dinner at their apartment) . Pictured are (left to right), Bruno, Brunella, Alba (Alvaro`s wife), and my Whitman College friend Alvaro Tacchini. There were so many courses of food that even the additional family members and friends who were invited could not consume it all. Most conversations were in English (for our benefit) with Alvaro and Bruno translating for those who could not easily follow. It was in this apartment where, 39 years ago, I had been similarly feasted by Alvaro`s mother and father. Fond memories of those days were shared, and many new conversations covered topics ranging from the Congo (where David, Alvaro`s son has worked with children threatened by violence) to the Middle East (where Bruno has traveled extensively), to midwifery (practiced in Australia by the girlfriend of an Australian young man who is friend to David), to food, to World Cup Soccer, and, course, always back to food!

During our three days at Ostia Antica (on the Aegean Sea near Rome), Kris and I were preparing to travel to Palestine. Mostly rainy weather blessed us with more time to reflect than to sunbathe. I, for one, remain embarrassed by the (occasionally very stubborn) generosity of my friend Alvaro last week. His sharing time with us was easily the highlight of our three weeks in Italy. As he will soon retire from many years of teaching English to high school students high school students, it is telling that Alvaro will continue to supervise the editing of the student newspaper. This shows that while, in ``retirement``, he may well add to the 28 books he has already published, Alvaro will but will continue to be devoted also in service to people directly. My bet is that he will be more busy after retirement than before!

Alvaro: when you and Alba become free of current family obligations, you two really MUST come to the U.S. – let there be no maybes about it! Please spend at least two weeks with us in Portland, Oregon!

The Ostia Antica Park Hotel graciously stores luggage for its guests who are on the move! We are booked to return to this place on July 31st – and leave three large pieces of luggage behind. Our last night in Italy included a simple meal at a beach front inlet facing south, where Kris and I watched the sunset over the Mediterranean.
It was a fitting final memory over a wonderful 25 days in Italy. Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice, and Citta di`Castello. Wow.

Spending 7 hours at the Fiumicino (Rome) airport was not much fun – but I managed a short nap on the floor and there was good time to read! The flight on Air Israel was very pleasant, following a careful security screening during the boarding process. We arrived in Tel Aviv at 10:30pm (9:30 Italy time). More security, customs, etc., with a $40 tax ride to our Hotel Dizendoff Sea Residency, had us crashing into our bed about midnight…. As our three days in Tel Aviv come to a close tomorrow, Kris and I will be going to Bethlehem well organized to see share with human rights activists there, as well as later in the week at Ramallah. Time spent on the computer and using pay phones should soon bear fruit.

Tel Aviv seems surreal in many ways. The ultra-modern airport, for example, is in four levels – with a huge open area complete with a pool of water in its center. Much of the downtown area (where we stayed) is full of expensive boutiques, an occasional fruit stand, and sidewalk restaurants with a European feel – though without any old buildings which, apparently, can be found in the Jaffa area of the city). The pristine sandy beaches are full of people soaking up the heat (and humidity), undisturbed by the occasional over flight by a military helicopter. By all superficial appearances, there would seem to be no conflict in Israel and life in Tel Aviv would appear rich.

Most any conversation, however, reveals deeper concerns. The young man (who has just completed his compulsory 3 years in the Israeli army) and his Finnish girlfriend at the beach complain about a western media that does not understand the dangers posed by Hamas in Gaza. An old man in a shop tells me that Islam is the greatest danger posed to the world today and how it has been so for a thousand years! A university professor observes that President Obama is weak and that his less than complete support of the current Israeli government has allowed a flood of anti Jewish sentiment to flow out of places like Britain, France, Italy, and Turkey, In other words, it is clear that a great many people enjoying ``the good life`` in Tel Aviv share a kind of siege mentality when it comes to the outside world. It is this mentality that accepts military conscription for all Israeli citizens, male and female, and budgets for a military that has the 4th largest air force in the world (after the U.S., Russia, and China).

The main bus station in Tel Aviv is a six-story structure (busses on level 6), with four levels serving as a gigantic shelter (in case of attack). Within this structure is a huge shopping mall – almost a city within itself – with music often sporting a Disney theme! There is the old Popeye the sailor man tune, followed by ``It’s a Small World``, and (a bit out of the genre) ``Old Suzanna``. Later in the day Kris and I are treated to a seaside dinner by Brian Polkington (an American Fulbrighter in Israel) and his friend Ava – at a restaurant named ``La La Land`` (that was for real, no joke). Although he has traveled to them before, so far during his Fulbright in Israel, Brian has yet to visit the West Bank or Gaza (areas occupied by Israel since the war in 1967), and has been told that even travel to Egypt is not acceptable! He says that Israel`s relationship with Egypt is more of a permanent cease-fire than one of friendship. That helps to explain why the Egyptian embassy (visited by Kris and I earlier in the day) is located in a very simple building far away from the beach properties where the U.S. embassy and most others can be found.

As we leave Tel Aviv (and La La Land) behind, we certainly are grateful for the kindness shown to us here by Lisa (hotel manager) and others, for the tub in our bathroom (our first since leaving India, where they were also very rare), and for abundant pita bread and hummus! It was also good to catch up on global news, with plenty of TV channels devoted to it (including BBC, Al Jazerra, and two others in English with Asian and Arab anchor people). Had it been up to me, I certainly would have advanced Italy into the final 16 of World Cup Soccer instead of the U.S., as most Americans could care less and few Italians could care more. Still, the whole sports thing is really part of La La Land as well, yes?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sonnleitner!

    I have really enjoyed following your adventures. I think it's great you have met up with your old friend Alvaro as well.. I remember you speaking so fondly of him in class. Anyway, I just thought I would say hello-- and Portland is patiently awaiting your return! Happy travels... Randi P.