with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Planning for Christmas in the Holy Land, Again

We are trying to make arrangements for some kind of Christmas experience this year. Last year we spent a week in Jerusalem desperately looking for Christmas and hardly found any. In fact, on Christmas Eve, we went to the Swedish Christian Information Center and I asked the lady behind the desk to help me find Christmas. “I haven’t had Christmas in four years and I want to find some Christmas.”

“Where in the world could you possibly be,” she hissed, shocked. “And have no Christmas?”


That stopped her. Then she smiled and nodded. Of course I could be in Israel and not experience Christmas. Unfortunately, our choices were few and we only had a little Christmas. This year, I’m determined to have some kind of Christmas. I miss the lights, I miss the cold, I miss snow – shoot, I miss weather period – I miss the smell of cinnamon and spiced apple cider brewing, I miss sparkles and songs, the constant ringing of bells by artificial Santas…so I need a little recipe for Christmas right now. Gee, just thinking about all these things makes me feel all gooshy inside, kinda sexy with the warm cuddle thoughts of lights on the tree and the romance of it all. Sorry, I just want the stereotypical Christmas fuss. I don’t care about the religious stuff, I want the lights and bells, damn it! Ha! It sounds like I’m really hunting for Las Vegas or something. But I want a little Christmas.

We looked through the last minute travel web sites and came up pretty empty. Not a lot going on right now, unless we want to go to Paris, London, Prague, or New York. Been there, done that. We’ve now been to Prague twice and the first time we had a heck of a time with an Israeli charter which, after getting confirmations for a no smoking room over and over again, turned out to be a false confirmation and we ended up at the expensive Hilton Hotel in downtown Prague, which was nice. We don’t stay in Hiltons because we like the small cheaper places (okay, we really can’t afford them), but they were the only ones who could guarantee a no smoking room. This last time, we ended up in a rarely-used suite in an old Prague hotel, but at least we didn’t have to suffer the smoke. I called the travel agent and asked him to search, but so far, nothing is working out. We’ll see. I got out some maps of Europe and checked where the mountains and potential snows are. On my list where there is Christmas and snow are Vienna and Zurich in Switzerland and Salzburg, Germany. We spent a wonderful Christmas time in Budapest two years ago and it was absolute magic. I’m hoping to find a little Christmas magic this year. Brent and I need it.

I hate air travel out of Israel. It isn’t the security checks or the long lines, but the noise, arrogance, pushing and shoving, and just condescending attitudes that confront us from the moment we approach the airport. It isn’t a language problem, though I feel like I need a dictionary to translate the procedure sometimes. It is the games they play, it seems, to just make your life miserable. After a while we just treat the experience like one big joke, an endless series of confronting little dictators with our tickets and passports, explaining and re-explaining why we are here, why we want to leave (even for three days) and why we want to come back. Sometimes I just want to tell them that the reason I’m leaving is because of the ridiculous bureaucracy and dictator clerks treating us like a combination of criminals and terrorists – the unwashed. But I play good and nice and they keep letting me come and go.

I miss cold weather. I want some real weather. The rains of the past week have been great, but today the sun shone again and the city heated up. I actually wore a sweatshirt this morning for our early morning walk. I was sweating by the time I reached Maureen waiting for me on Dizengoff, about an eight minute walk away. Ridiculous. Another unfortunate event was the song on the radio that woke us up this morning. An old bee-bop classic, “Earth Angel”, and now I can’t get the lyrics out of my head. I raced down the street, a tad late, singing “Earth Angel, Earth Angel, will you be mine…” It still hovers at the back edge of my brain.

Maureen and I hauled ourselves along the waterfront and headed for the market. Actually, we kept up our normal pace quite well, so obviously both of us are feeling much better. My throat infection seems to be finally gone and I’m starting to get some energy back, and some enthusiasm. She is doing much better. The Carmel Market was just opening and we raced up the hill to our favorite spice seller. He had a line of customers and the “garage door” was barely open. His wares weren’t out on display or anything, but the customers were there. We waited, laughing at the joy he approaches each customer with, and made him race around the shop collecting up the little goodies we wanted. Maureen needed cardamon, currants, nuts, coriander, and a few other spices, and I needed green tea, whole nutmeg, currants, raisins (more pumpkin bars!), and two kilos of black sunflower seeds for the birds out my window. Then we hauled our loot through the streets to Ruth’s office where Maureen rested and then headed back out, and I turned to Ruth to start working on her filing system, which now, for the first time in 30 years, exists. Yep. She has managed to maintain her business for all these years without a decent filing system. I cleaned that up for her and we started putting all the papers away.

My Hebrew isn’t that good, but I can recognize a lot of words and when you tell me what the word is, and I see it in writing, I can usually recognize it as I go. So she was delighted at my ability to “read” Hebrew enough to help her file a lot of her papers. When she came out into her clinic area and saw me spread out on the floor organizing three years worth of bank statements, she laughed. “How can you do that when you can’t read Hebrew?”

I just smiled and gave her the look that says, “I’m smarter than the average bear.” Of course, she would not understand the analogy, but she understood the look. I didn’t tell her the secret. The dates are written in Arabic/Latin numbers, and I can spot a date easily. The only problem is that I grew up in America where the date is listed month-day-year while the rest of the world does day-month-year. I’ve been living in foreign lands long enough to tell the difference, but sometimes I still goof when faced with dates like 4/8/03 and have to decide if it is April 8 or August 4. I don’t have problems with 28/8/03 because those are obvious.

So we cleaned up most of her files, though at the end she told me she has two more huge boxes in the other room to file – I told her she was on her own for those, but that I would be checking next week to make sure they were done. Always checking! We ordered a simple lunch from next door and ate in her office, something we both enjoy doing, being silly and just talking. She’s an amazing friend.

I got home at three, exhausted, but ready to get some work done. Whew. What a day. Hopefully by tomorrow we will have our travel plans all put together and I’ll have some exciting news about our Christmas plans…we’ll see.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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