Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson, in Song

In June, for my birthday, I treated myself to a 4-night cruise to Cyprus, Rhodes, and Mamaris, Turkey. I sailed on a reconditioned ferry, run by a small Israeli cruise line. We sailed out of Ashdod, and I soon learned that, aside from some crew members, I was the only English speaker aboard.

I wasn't fazed by that. I've been living in Israel for almost ten years, and by now I'm fairly fluent in Hebrew. I chuckled when I realized that all announcements were going to be only in Hebrew, but again, no problem- I understood every word. Food wasn't an issue, either, as after 10 years my tastes now often lean more toward the Israeli than American.

I signed up for shore excursions in each port, and once I decoded the Hebrew words for Cyprus, Athens and Rhodes (each roughly pronounced as 'Kafrisin', 'Atoona', and' Rodoos'), not only was I able to understand the guides' narratives, but I was able to participate in the question and answer give and takes that were a part of their repartee.

A substantial part of my enjoyment of that cruise was how easily I felt I fit in - no language barrier, and culturally, at least to the storekeepers in each port, I was as much of an Israeli as anyone else on the ship. For someone who will forever be known locally as an 'American,' being thought of as just another Israeli in the group was nice.

In general, although my accent will always disclose my immigrant roots, I've been pretty well absorbed into Israeli society. We have Israeli friends, with whom we speak only in Hebrew, and there are even some popular Israeli songs that I find myself humming more often than old English language favorites.

But, every now and then, we find ourselves in a situation that flies our immigrant status in our faces.

This past Saturday night was one of those times:

One of our friends is a retired music teacher, and every year he holds a sing-a-long in his home. 30 or so friends cram into his living room; song lyrics are projected onto a wall, and his sons accompany us on piano and flute.

My husband and I did our best to join in the singing, but we soon were stealing mirthful glances at each other. We were surrounded by friends who were belting out songs they had grown up with, and we enjoyed joining in as soon as we caught onto the melody. But aside from the occasional song we recognized (and gave ourselves a happy squeeze when we did), we were definitely in new territory.

To anyone who had grown up in Israel, or who had raised children or grandchildren here, the evening's songs were old, comfortable favorites. But to 'lone immigrants' like ourselves, who have no young ones at home or nearby, each song was a new revelation.

What a joy to be in a room filled with friends and song; all of us having a great time! And, while we were trying to catch on to each melody, we had a chance to carefully read the lyrics of each song, and gain a greater appreciation of their loveliness that we would have if we had been able to join in the singing from the first chord.

As we sat on that small couch towards the back of the living room, we knew we were also sitting on a small island of immigration- and that for as long as we lived in Israel, that couch would never be far away. To the surprise of neither of us, we're perfectly fine with that. We'll always have new lyrics to learn and enjoy, and the accompaniment of friends to help us learn the tune.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeing the World with a Painter's Eye

My husband, Stu, has always been 'into' photography. The first time I met him, he had two cameras around his neck (and a girl on each arm, but that's not at all relevant to this post!).

Stu has a natural eye for photography. I've always been impressed with his instinct for framing a photograph, for capturing a moment, and with his eye for composition. I've tried to learn from him, but as the years pass, I've come to realize that he's got some sort of innate photography sense that I don't possess.

That's probably one of the reasons that I don't take many photos when I'm traveling. I find myself wandering about wide-eyed, drinking in all that I can see, and not wanting to have to think about how and what I should be photographing. Which is totally opposite Stu's approach- he always has a camera at hand, and seems to be able to instantaneously spot and click the perfect photo, no stress involved.

After traveling to London and Paris, and having no photos
from those trips, I was determined to take pictures on my latest trip. I took all the standard tourist photos- the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, beaches and koalas and kangaroos. Taking photos in New Zealand was easy: the scenery was so gorgeous that snapping away was a no-brainer.

Somewhere in New Zealand, I found myself thinking how painterly the scenery was starting to look, and I found myself focusing my photography on things I would like to paint. Suddenly, picture taking became much easier- and much more pleasurable.

I thought I'd share some of those photographs. Maybe one day, I'll post pics of paintings that incorporate elements from some of these photos. What I'd most like to do is to go back to New Zealand with an easel....

From New Zealand:

As inspirational as I found New Zealand, it was at the nature sanctuary my cousin took me to in Florida that I came across the most 'paint ready' scenes (the last two photos were taken on St. Martin):

Add Image

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Replugged, with No Worries

I've been back from my trip for about 3 weeks, and I woke up this morning determined to return to my blog.

So here I am, back home, back online, and getting back into things.

It's been a
busy three weeks, filled with visiting grandchildren, apartment hunting (and showing our apartment to prospective buyers), noise from renovations that our new upstairs neighbors are doing before moving in, adjusting to being home and back in Israel, and, as ever, dreams and plans for my next trip...and the ones after that.

Where I've been..

A quick recap of my trip: On September 30, I flew to Los Angeles with my husband. We spent 2 fun weeks together at our son's home, relaxing and enjoying our grandchildren. We saw the youngest, Moshe, take his first steps, and enjoyed mornings with a bed filled with little ones, and days giggling, chatting, and hugging.

After my husband returned to Israel, I took a 4 night Carnival cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. A few days after returning from the cruise, I was on my way to a week in Sydney, followed by a week in New Zealand's South Island. Then, a short stay with a cousin in Florida before a week of total relaxation on a Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess. On Novemeber 16, I returned home refreshed, fulfilled, smiling- and wondering where my travels would take me next.


The beauty of New Zealand floored me.

I've always dreamed of visiting New Zealand, and from photos and reading knew it was gorgeous, but I literally found myself breathless as I looked out the plane's window on the flight from Christchurch to Queenstown. More shades of green than I'd ever imagined, blue skies punctuated by snow capped peaks, thousands of sheep, glacial lakes...

Walking around, and traveling by bus, I found that each bend in the road brought another breathtaking landscape. I've mentioned before that, to my occasional regret, I'm not much of a picture taker, but in New Zealand I found myself clicking away, intent on capturing the beauty unfolding before me.

Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Mt. Cook, Queenstown.... glory upon glory...

A Week of Firsts- I Prefer Nature Touring, but Sydney was Lots of Fun

I toured Sydney with my friend Laura, and while my week in New Zealand was unquestionably the highlight of this trip, I really enjoyed Sydney, too.

We walked and walked (actually, it was more like Laura walked and I trotted next to her- boy, does she have a long, quick stride!), took ferries to beaches and to the zoo, toured the Opera House and went to an opera, and saw little children everywhere - Sydney seems an energetic city of young, blond, expanding families.

It was a week of firsts for me: I saw my first opera, petted my first koala, saw my first platypus (a real highlight for me, as they've been stuck in my mind since I read about them in second grade), and maybe most important, learned a great new phrase: 'no worries.' I heard it countless times in Sydney and in New Zealand, and now I've found that it's replaced my usual 'no problem.' Such a sweet outlook on life, embodied in a quick and easy phrase!

Here's a few photos from Sydney:

A Very Pleasant Surprise

From New Zealand, I flew to Boca Raton, Florida to spend a few days with my cousin Susan.

I'd been promising to visit Susan for way too long, a
nd finally, on this trip I made my way to her home. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that she had gone out of her way to ensure that I would have a comfortable and enjoyable visit. For months, emails flew back and forth, asking me about my favorite foods, favorite things to do, how much quiet time I wanted...anything and everything that the perfect hostess would want to know about a guest was asked and answered. When I arrived the fridge was filled with yummy treats, my bedroom outfitted, and I was treated better than royalty: Susan's love and delight in seeing me embraced me, and I could feel the smile on my face enveloping my entire being.

Besides feeding me, Susan took me to the beach, to a nature preserve, and on a tour of 'Boca' and neighboring towns. I had only set aside 3 nights for my visit, and by the middle of the first day I was regretting the brevity of my trip. Needless to say, the promise I made to visit at least once a year is one I will be eager to keep.

Capping it off with a Sanctuary

As long as I was going to be in Florida, I figured I might as w
ell take a cruise! I wound up on the Emerald Princess for an Eastern Caribbean cruise (Princess Cays, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk), but I spent most days in the private area of the ship called 'The Sanctuary.' The Sanctuary more than lived up to its name: an oasis of quiet and pampering, with thickly cushioned daybeds instead of the ship's regular lounge chairs, and a staff who strived to make one's stay as comfortable as possible. The ship was great and the Caribbean was lovely, but my time in the Sanctuary was heavenly.

A few of my favorite photos from Florida and from the cruise:

... Where next!?

No question about it- once you've got the travel bug, it never goes away. When I booked my ticket to Sydney, I thought that might be the end of my travels for a while. Silly me! Within a couple of days of returning home, I was already leafing through travel magazines and browsing websites..

My husband's asked me to stay home for at least a little while, so the trip to Egypt I was flirting with for this week will have to wait for a bit- but only a bit, as Stu's promised me that the next time he goes to Port Said on business, I can fly with him to Cairo and tour from there. Hopefully, that will be by the end of next month- especially since I've already started planning my trip!

We're hoping to finally get to Petra together next year, too, but other than our regular trips to see the kids, I'm leaving my travel plans for 2010 open for now. Sure, I've got some 'maybes' floating in my head: a return trip to London and/or Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen, a British Isles cruise, Sedona, AZ and thereabouts. A Greek Isle cruise if I spot a great price. Maybe a long weekend in Prague with Stu.

Mostly, travel in 2010 will be low key, with mainly shorter trips. But I've got big plans for 2011 and 2012 :-)


How could I not include at least one pic of the true highlight of my trip!: