I did something tonight that I've been missing. The Girl is doing one of her school play performances, and the lodger is out clubbing with her mates. The Guy is off doing army work for 3 weeks, so I was going to be alone for dinner and I didn't want to be. Lo and behold, I came across a friend/neighbour at work today (she was at a PhD session for someone she knew and I was on the panel for) and I invited her to dinner. And I had just the gluten free thing (she is coeliac): steak, sweet potatoes, and sauteed kale. Very paleolithic. After dinner we watched 'Harold and Maude', which I'd never seen. Very much of its time, but rather sweet and fun. A perfect quiet evening. When I was young it felt like I'd have casual get togethers 2-3 times a week. Now that the kids are grown, I want that again.
Wow,I've replanted the garden a lot of times. I don't want to even think about how much money we've sunk into it. But I have to say, the current raised bed arrangement looks awesome. Planted tons of herbs today- good workout for the lungs and the knees, which are both weak points at the moment. One of my old Italian neighbours wanted to buy our vespa and sports car, which I would love to sell. I was tempted by PG's absence to disappear them. PG is doing some work with the Australian army, and he is being paid to do biathlon training - like the next threat is going to be from Antarctica, maybe from Dr. No. Anyhow, he is frolicking in the snow, damn him.
Worked up an appetite. Made a pear cake, and I think I've already eaten half of it.
Early spring has sprung, and I'm ready to contemplate again.
It has been a year and a half since I've posted. Not sure anyone else is reading, and as always, not sure I care. I can't read my own handwriting, and it is quicker for me to type than to write. And I'm willing to share my solipsism.
Right here, right now: I can just see my breath, but I'm sitting on the back deck because the coffee is warming me up. Our friend the landscaper has made a lovely raised bed, and I'm contemplating starting again with an herb garden. I'm just recovering from what has become my bi-annual bout of bronchitis. I know I need to treat my asthma more seriously, but I've always subscribed to the 'ignore it and hope it goes away' school of medical treatment.
I'll be 50 next May. Last night, I shocked PG and myself by saying that I'll be ready to retire end of 2016, when I'm 53. What I meant by that is: if I get the current job I'm angling for, which is a contract and runs until the end of 2016, I'll have achieved all I need to achieve in my current career, and I'll be ready to do something else. And maybe downsize a bit. Maybe move back to Canada, even if there isn't the right job there.
The Boy is launched: he loves uni, he's in love with a lovely girl, and he lives in Canada and I miss him dreadfully. The Girl was in a pretty bad school play called Captain Stirrick last night, but as always, she was pretty good. Like her uncle, she's a natural actor, and unlike my brother, so self-confident. She'll do well. So I'm ready to start on 'crone'. One of the heartbreakers of the recent trip back to Canada is that I can't hang around with my great niece more. I'm ready to be someone's nana. I'm ready to be a little less career-defined.
For now, shopping and laundry today, like every Saturday. Open House Melbourne - I want to tour the central cemetary. My lovely but very conventional French lodger can't understand why I love cemetaries, but I do. Probably a quiet evening - I need to completely recover and then maybe exercise my lungs again (as my lovely young no-nonsense doctor suggested).
I am completely drunk with the scent of orange blossoms, which the Israelis seem to take for granted.
Yesterday I continued my bicyling adventures. Tel Aviv is as flat as a model's rear end... just the perfect place for biking. The paths are shared with pedestrians, which makes for safety rather than speed. The crosswalks do that crazy thing where they strand you on the median for 2 minutes, but other than that, I was pretty happy with my 30 or so km around the city.
I did a lecture at Tel Aviv Uni, then met with a sustainable transport activist. Visited the Museum of the Diaspora, which was an eye-opener, even to a history buff. I knew about the Jewish Kingdom in Georgia (South Russia) from the 6th to 9th century. I didn't know about the explorer who wrote up his journey from Spain to Germany to Rome to Greece to Mesopotamia to Morocco in the 12th century, with Jewish communities all along the way. I didn't realize that the Mumbai and Goa communities of Jews have been there 1500 years. It is one heck of a story.
Then I took the train up to Haifa, which is 35 k and a world away from Tel Aviv. To begin with, Haifa is a stair master of a city. Even San Francisco isn't as ridiculously hilly. Haifa is considered boring and industrial. But like Rotterdam, I am finding it quite charming so far. Again, my hosts have been ridiculously warm. I've got a Shabbat dinner lined up for my son and me tomorrow (he's joining me for the weekend), and I'm settled into her office right now. She even arranged for a key.
Today's lecture was on my work with kids. At the end, the students said: so Israel is good for kids' independent mobility? I said: It appears so, in comparison to Australia. Apparently, international researchers don't usually say nice things about Israeli society. But I have seen lots of primary school aged looking kids biking around and going to school by bus by themselves, and that appeared to be reiterated by the students. One, who did a degree at UC Irvine, said the kids were in tears of joy to return home, to a place where they could roam freely, despite bomb scares (by the way, I was involved in a bomb scare yesterday, in Tel Aviv. Didn't even hit the news, completely normalized...).
One of my colleagues here has three children living in the US. Her daughter was able to do community service instead of the army, but attitudes had hardened by the time her sons came up for national service, and they ended up in jail, one after the other. At 19. She invited me to a Women in Black thing yesterday - which is Jewish women protesting the occupation. I might check it out.
I knew I would find Israel freaky. I guess that is why I waited so long to go there. That, and the occupation.
Jerusalem Syndrome, which apparently hits dozens of visitors a year, occurs when people are overwhelmed by the historical significance of the place and imagine themselves prophets or actors in the End Times. Tel Aviv Syndrome, which I have just coined, occurs when you visit a place that you have heard about all your life, it is pretty much as you expected it, and still you can't believe it exists in the real world.
So, to begin, I still can't believe that there is a country where Hebrew is the first language. I can read Hebrew but can't really speak it. To me, even though I've heard it spoken many times before, it is essentially this obscure religious language I got shanghaied into learning in primary school. It is like finding a country where everyone has decided to speak Klingon.
Everyone argues. Everyone says "it is complex". Everyone I have met breathes left wing politics. I had dinner with a lovely woman who came here in the mid-1980s to live on a kibbutz and build reconciliation work with the Arab Israelis, and another woman - a local councillor who doesn't earn a shekel and works to get better public transportation to the Arab villages. What can I tell them? They have lined me up for a talk at the Ministry of Transportation. What effect could I possibly have?
The breakfast was awesome. I walked along the boardwalk and saw people jogging and biking and powerwalking, and it could have been Australia. I rented a bicycle and saw crazy modernism state planning at its most powerful, and heard Ulrich Beck speak at the university. A German philosopher brought over by the German Green Party, talking about cosmopolitanization at its most abstract. I saw kids in their army uniforms and younger kids in their youth club uniforms, because Tuesday is the day that school gets out early so the kids can run their own youth groups. I saw the socialist paradise that Israel was supposed to be, and heard about the deeply racist realities (and in so many directions! against Ethiopian Jews and Bedouins and the settlers hate all other Jews...).
One surprise, and it might just be luck. Everyone has been friendly so far. I had a good cab driver from the airport, my visa card didn't work and the hotel workers behind the desk let me sort it out in the morning, my hosts have organized meetings for me, the restaurant people have been lovely, I asked dozens of people for directions and even the people who didn't speak English tried to help. Maybe they exported the real sabras, or maybe Tel Aviv is a bubble. I expect the latter.
I can't sleep. Today I have to give a talk at Tel Aviv University and then move on to the Technion University in Haifa. In September, there will be a war. Probably a civil war (like there is, constantly, in the Occupied Territories - I mean violent fights between factions as much as Palestinians and Jews) = there will also be a civil war in Israel, where the kids in the army take on the settlers. And it is painful, because I always knew I would feel that these are my people.
PG and I went to a performance called 'Home' on Saturday night. It was a meal with music and a play within it - about the meaning of home and how it is reflected in food. Two women - one born in Italy and one in Portugal - performed and supplied recipes. It was very good and a beautiful night for the walk home.
Yesterday, I was going to sit in the garden and finish 'The Spirit Level'. The Girl was at a birthday party and the Guy was trying out rock climbing. I got a phone call from the Boy in early afternoon. I was a bit surprised, because that is the middle of the night in Israel. It turns out his application to University of Toronto isn't such a slam dunk as he optimistically predicted, and he wanted me to comment on his entrance essay. So I opened up my email, which I am always loathe to do on weekends, and indeed, his draft was amongst the 56 new items in the inbox. Read, reviewed, sent back.
Then I got a call from one of the Boy's friends, who lives around the corner. He was having problems with his uni homework - could I take a quick look? Since he is doing a course in Urban Planning at the Uni Down the Road, I said sure. Also, I wanted to arrange for him to feed the cats while we are visiting the Boy. We spent an hour on his first essay. Kids don't do punctuation these days, but his ideas were good.
I tried to ignore the rest of the emails, but my mom forwarded on a job ad. It isn't really up my alley, but it does feel like the centre of gravity is shifting back to North America. As PG points out, if the Boy is considering a career in international relations, it isn't like we will have him nearby anyhow. But I cannot deny that the little bit of me that is in constant grief over missing my family is a bit bigger these days.
Then the Boy called again in the evening so he could catch up with his dad and sister. We splayed in front of the tv, and I physically missed putting my feet on the Boy's lap.
I feel very sad about the continuing devastation in Japan. Definitely too early, at least in my head, to turn this into an argument against nuclear power - or for that matter, ass-covering on nuclear power (it isn't that bad! No one has died from radiation poisoning - yet!). And I say that as a lifelong opponent of nuclear power. Just rescue people, bury the dead, and deal with the emergency. Then pundit on it. If the news cycle hasn't turned to another emergency.
What is it? More people? More globalization? The 24 hour news cycle? It just has seemed like one damn thing after another.
The Girl had an awesome time camping with her Scouts this weekend. Left to our own devices, we walked to the lovely old Westgarth Theatre for the French movie festival. Watched 'Crime D'Amour', which had the usual film noir silliness, but also Kristin Scott Thomas. Sunday, about 15 friends and colleagues came over for a potluck brunch to celebrate two of my PhD students (and 3 others who were there) completing. Brunch is the best meal, particularly when it continues for 7 hours, and potlucks make it so easy. Today, I'm afraid, I worked through Labour Day. Solidarity never.
I've been having odd nightmares about my son in Israel lately. Not logical nightmares, like him being killed in a bomb. Dreams where his youth group dumps him on our doorstep because he is being disruptive, with a 'James Cagney at the end of Public Enemy' flourish. Which is, after all, more likely.
Anyhow, that isn't happening at all. He's having a great time, and completely rapt by the sheer politics of the region. They met with a Knesset (parliament) member yesterday and Big Idea Boy said he really missed being able to talk about it at the dinner table. He's applied to a couple of unis in Canada, and we are all dealing with the fact that he appears to be gone from the family home (and, seemingly, Australia) for good. But he is doing exactly what is right for him and his aspirations for a career in international politics (either the diplomatic service or aid), so we are very proud of him.
I biked off early yesterday to the annual International Women's Day breakfast organized by the Women's Planning Network. It was in the state Parliament Building, the dining room to be exact - a remarkable 19th century piece of Britishness. The conservative planning minister (we had a change of government in November) is actually more interesting and smarter seeming than the previous fellow, who was nice enough but a bit of a buffoon in my opinion. I shamelessly shmoozed, and also saw many former students, which is always nice.
Then I got a call from an architect who said in a dutiful voice: "I'm calling all my female colleagues to wish them happy IWD, and you are first on my list". I wondered whether it was a sort of penance! Anyhow, I spent the day wishing everyone Happy IWD, which led to fun reactions all around.
My running joke about Melbourne is that I've never lived in a more suburban city. This back garden, for instance. Only 10 metres by 5, but a pain in the rear to maintain. I did some gardening today - throwing good money after bad. Once I get some veggies to grow in the shade, the snails eat 'em before we do. We've got a bay tree, 2 old lemon trees, mint and a clump of rosemary that cannot be killed. Everything else is contingent.
Anyhow, taking a break now. The girl is in her spot in the pear tree 9which flowers gorgeously, but doesn't fruit. I'm in my ancient lounger. The cats have picked their spots. A bunch of young kids are screaming two doors down, and my neighbours are doing something machine-y. Sometimes the neighbourhood folk singer is out, but not this sunny afternoon. I know my neighbours by sound, not sight.
Oh, here comes the folk singer. He's quite good.
I'm reading Tamara Drewe, good light reading for a late summer day. Yesterday was a bit hectic. I slept in until 10 - which I never do - helped by the fact that the clock radio went caput. The problem was that I was supposed to be at a graduation starting at 10.30 for one of my PhD students. So I jumped onto my bike, zoomed to the uni, ran past all my colleagues in their robes, catching a sight of my extremely non-amused Vice Chancellor, got dresssed in my robes in 10 second flat, and made it out to the procession for the opening strains. Then a long lunch - made a bit awkward by the fact that my student - we had a mutual administion society - hooked up with an ex-PhD student of mine who hates my guts. So she glowered at me through the whole lunch. Yeesh. Then the descent of 4 teenagegd girls for a sleepover. They watched Freaks and Geeks, which was amusing. PG and I huddled together in bed and played on our computers, studiously ignoring both them and one another.
But now all six of us (3 humans and 3 cats) are co-existing in the back yard. Which is just big enough for that.