Israel - February 2007

There`s very little about advocacy or public mental health or internet access in these notes. There’s a great deal of interiority, my own mental health, and some travelogue. Because I am not sure if this is for everyone or only for me or a few, because I can’t decide, I am deciding to post here to iris, as I have with other logs. This practice started as reporting back to you from meetings and it has become important to me to write, even though the content has shifted considerably as my own focus changes.

I wanted to use award miles from California to New York, my sister was willing to set the dates for this trip a year ago, and we worked out many of the details while deciding how many days in which cities, and while we did that, I also made some notes about what to take and when certain things needed to be done. All this last March. A few weeks ago, when it came time to do some of the things I`d written down, I trusted my notes but forgot why, and am functioning somewhat by rote, doing what I told myself to do. I`m not liking anticipating airports at all, and I`m not liking the restrictions. It isn`t the personal pat-down I mind, it`s having to arrange my liquids, gels, computers, carry-ons to meet changing restrictions that are contrary to how it`s efficient for me to organize. This trip nothing`s where I want it to be, and I`m thinking hard before applying to attend meetings that require flying.

Despite a burst of rain and some heavy fog, the drive from home to San Francisco was quick, and security was uneventful though it took me 10 minutes to put my shoes and jacket back on, put my computer and ziploc bag of gels away, and strap the bag onto collapsible wheels which work very well and are cumbersome.

The flight left a half-hour late (maintenance sign-offs), was put in a hold pattern for 30 minutes over Kennedy airport (traffic), baggage claim was a 10 minute walk which was fine after 6 hours of sitting, my luggage took about 25 minutes to arrive (each bag on the conveyor spaced about 15 seconds apart, work slow-down?), I took the free train-to-the-plane one stop, phoned the hotel shuttle (but was stumped when they asked my (new) cell phone number which I had been trying to memorize), and was in my room by 6 PM.

Only four flight connections were announced as we landed, Raleigh-Durham and three international destinations, so for most JFK was the destination of this all-day Sunday flight from San Francisco.

Monday morning I took the hotel shuttle to the air train, the air train one $5 stop, and then the New York Subway ($2) downtown. The trip took over an hour and I wondered about commuters who do this every day, watched the people, some sleeping; one standing, well-balanced, reading; one intent on homework; and many listening through earplugs to music, their faces vacant, their selves not there. And I wondered what it would do to one`s self to do this for an hour each way each day, and I wondered where those "selves" which weren`t there were, and what exactly was I noticing that made it clear they weren`t there. Maybe it`s a meditation, restful, not stressful at all.

Manhattan was cold but not windy and my several layers kept me comfortable. There was only the slightest slush at an occasional intersection, otherwise dry and clear. I walked 7548 steps today, not one of them aerobic, according to the birthday gift pedometer I like to travel with and which fits nicely in the thigh pocket of my cargo pants.

I had lunch with a journalist I`d met at the Tunis WSIS meeting and we talked about what next for the internet and it`s governance and how she could best use her New York UN involvement.

I sat next to an upstate correctional officer on the subway back and she talked about caring for family and bring up kids and I was so pleased with the chance encounter that I rode past my stop, had to turn around and go back one before again taking the air train and the hotel shuttle.

On the plane I read an article that asserted that no collective (public) agency is able to match the power of capital, and that we are in the midst of the hollowing of democracy, steadily falling rates of electoral participation, increasing financial corruption, deadening mediatization. In general, what is strong is not democratic aspiration from below, but the asphyxiation of public debate and political difference by capital above. The force of this order lies not in repression, but dilution and neutralization."

I decided to spend the day in my hotel room, using the free wireless access, typing these thoughts, being peaceful. I`m spending lots of time, just because I have it, tracking New York weather (snow this afternoon) and doing tasks that would take a minute at my desk computer where addresses and passwords are all stored and which require work-arounds to do from here. But they are now checked off the list.

In only one of my email accounts, accumulated over 36 hours, were 121 spam and 11 messages to read, 10: 1 garbage to good.

I read email, repacked, found a hole in my sock and was glad I`d tossed in an extra pair at the last minute, took the very full hotel shuttle to the airport along with a whole American Airlines crew, saw no outside luggage cart kiosk so the driver said he`d help but needed to circle, came back to the departing level (he`d been going to leave me at the arriving level which is why there were no carts) where there was a cart kiosk, then found that the machine wouldn`t take my credit card, dragged my (too much) stuff inside (a cigar-smoking bystander helped), hooked it all together so it would roll, and then found a collection of abandoned carts watched over by an employee, asked if I could buy one from him since my card didn`t work, he wouldn`t take money, I unhooked the bags and put them on the cart, now I was easily mobile, then noticed that my new tote carry-on had two holes in it, apparently from where the shuttle driver had crammed it, felt I had wasted the investment in that light weight folding but now I see too fragile carry-on, took deep breaths, and decided to phone the hotel, tell them what happened, and ask for reward points towards another stay instead of replacing the bag. The hotel was very apologetic, had to get permission for the points I asked (five times more than his original offer), then asked if I wanted to make a report to their security, but I said no, the points were fine and I didn`t want to make a problem for the driver, just to let him know to be more careful. (I have been saving points for an upcoming trip. I was happy with the points and will shop for another bag at the Tel Aviv and JFK airports.) My sister arrived later than she`d expected, city traffic, I unsuccessfully trip to pack my coat in my checked bag but did get my US cellphone put away, and we checked in at El Al. I was able to add my American Airlines number to my ticket so expect some miles to be added to my account, was relieved that I still had the seat I expected and pleased that my carry-ons weren`t questioned, we visited for a while, then before security had to abandon the cart and I unfolded my collapsible wheels, added my bag, threw away my water, got to security, unhooked the bags, took off my shoes, took out my computer and my ziploc bag, walked through, put on my shoes, put away my ziploc bag, put away my computer, unfolded the wheels and added the bag, bought some water after waiting more than five minutes in line, felt very competent and very hassled, boarded what was a full flight on a new 777 with ergonomic seats arranged 3-3-3 with a width and pitch that felt more like the regional planes than an international one and arrived in Israel after a 10 hour flight. We then took a two hour train ride and then a taxi `special` to Zefat, a spiritual center, where we will be based for a week while we explore.

The driver wasn`t familiar with the hotel, he stopped and I followed the sign up a flight of stairs, saw a woman and children in a living room, opened the glass doors and asked if this were the hotel, and she calmly said no and pointed in another direction, while calmly continuing to change her baby`s diaper and not minding the intrusion. Later I embarrassingly remembered just opening her front door!

The hotel has several stone buildings on different levels and guests go outdoors from one to the other. The views are over the valley, a misty pink sunset as we arrive. My room is large, pleasingly spare, comfortable.

When I started to get settled, I found that my suitcase had been opened, the twist ties cut (fine, that`s why they are twist ties) and the padlock holding them together not returned (not fine; that`s supposed to be returned to my suitcase). At security I was asked if I had chocolate, was startled, just said no and walked on, now I`m thinking they saw my protein bars on the xray and if I`d explained maybe they would have not opened the suitcase.

I walked at least 7666 steps, all non-aerobic all over cobbled streets, paths, alleys, stairways, during a day of occasional sun, some drizzle, a few downpours, and enough wind to turn my umbrella inside out several times. We followed signs to Zefat Cheese, down stairs, around corners, down more stairs, through alleys, up more stairs and twists and turns and ended 15 minutes later back where we`d began, wondering about fantasy cheese factories and laughing very hard at the adventure.

We had a Yemenite snack, a thick batter ladled in a frying pan, covered with slivers of tomato and spices, cooked until bubbly, then folded in half and handed to the customer in a napkin. So delicious that we may go back to that little stall for lunch today.

We arranged to talk in the morning to a tour guide about a day trip and I found myself when I woke rehearsing in my mind to structure a quick conversation (my cell phone minutes here cost 40 cents each) and wondering how many others were so non-spontaneous.

I plugged in my laptop and made sure the battery was charging, but then the next day discovered I had been running all morning on battery because the chambermaid had turned off the master switch when she left the room. Discovering that was a relief because my other thoughts were that I had somehow broken the battery itself or how it is seated.

We are in Zefat, a mystical and religious center and people come for the sabbath weekend. There is a tour bus parked by the hotel and the men are hurrying to morning prayers. Today, Friday, some stores don`t even open, and all will be closed by 2 PM, until Sunday. (Sabbath ends when the first star appears in the Saturday night sky. There is still apt to be singing and dancing, extending the joy of the day.) We need to stock up including for our day trip on Sunday.

My sister has found bottled water at the hotel and purchased a liter for each of us so we won`t have to carry that weight from the store. We set out for the market, walking up a very steep curving hill when a car stops and the driver rolls down her window and asks "Are you Judy and Sylvia?" I am startled, nod, she continues by introducing herself as the driver we’ve hired by phone for Sunday and tells us she can`t stop, indeed horns are sounding, because she is on the way to prepare a body for burial. She goes on her way and we continue up the hill, wondering how of all the people in Zefat she recognized us, we so obvious tourists. At the top of the hill we meet Laurie from the information center. Laurie had referred us to the tour guide we had just spoken to, Laurie invites us for lunch on Saturday. I am now in delighted awe of the coincidences. And pleased to accept a pair of candles to light tonight - several women are walking up and down the main street passing them out to visitors, along with the weekly Torah portion.

The next good thing is we find a just right hot pot for my sister, who hadn`t realized the one she`d brought was only for 110 electric, then went to the supermarket, returned our purchases to the hotel and set out for the bus terminal (information office closed all day on Fridays) found a cash machine, had another Yemenite pancake (disappointingly not as delicious), recognized a landmark and realized we were only 10 minutes from the hotel, made ourselves tea and sat together in the lounge before getting ready for the women`s sabbath welcome.

We add our pair of candles to the several dozen sparkling in the corner of the lobby, each say a blessing, then down steps, a wrong turn, a beautiful sunset, asking directions, men in prayer shawls hurrying for the evening services, the town quieting as work began to stop, the Gallery of Mystical Art where the work of an artist interpreting kabbalah is on the walls and where his wife leads a joyful service on Friday evening. 8236 non-aerobic steps during this sometimes sunny often squally day.

Today, Saturday is cool and clear, the birds are happy and easy to hear because the town is quiet. All the day`s food has been prepared ahead and kept on warmers. There are groups at the hotel, here for the weekend, children, grandmothers, tables set for 10 and 12 with reserved signs, ... We left late for town and were disappointed to find that morning services had ended - we had hoped to listen to the chanting at the several synagogues. We sat for a while just watching families dressed in sabbath best strolling home for lunch, stopped to ask a woman for directions to where there might be an open toilet. "Across the street," she said, "You can just go in my house." She returned her attention to her prayer book, we walked some more, asked directions to the cemetery from two attractive young women, one very outgoing who had lived in the US for a while and were advised not to visit a cemetery on the sabbath and instead to join them for lunch, a 10 minute walk, I quickly accepted for us both without consulting my sister. I was sure this was how we were to spend today. And the woman who had invited us several times during the afternoon noted how "spontaneous" it had been, relishing the word, as if that was part of this set-apart day. Indeed, after going up many many stairs it was then 10 minutes uphill, a small apartment, two single beds at an L in the living room, a toddler tossing toys, extra molded plastic chairs, singing, praying, hand washing, bread, salads, singing, lessons, cholent, lessons, singing, excusing ourselves before dessert, to make the long walk back to the hotel before it turned cold, at least 7 minutes at the door saying goodbye, "we prayed for guests," not knowing whether to turn right or left, going back in to ask, then asking at each fork for " ir attica" (the old city), the children giving us directions, again running into the tour guide who was rushing to a party, then directions from someone with an American accent, then asking again at the foot of the steps, and then it wasn`t so far after all and we were back well in time to see the sunset from our patio. And then I wanted to be quiet and think about the day, I had found something at their table. I’m not sure I’ve ever been the answer to someone`s prayer, and to prepare for tomorrow`s excursion. We had gone 8684 steps and today 2911 of those were aerobic.

Still in the morning, I had a sense of numbness and confusion , a mind too full to be linear. At the table, the hostess had made some connections between what I know and what she believes and I felt tingling and then tears came, direct knowing, this for me very profound, this spending the afternoon at the table, eating, singing, talking only of deep and spiritual concepts, is not in my life, and I feel as if the archetype of this connected dialog is in my blood and soul and I need to match it in an actual way, to be in the space where humans open to each other in this way. So I was gifted with this experience which it has taken my a while to understand. Yesterday I was numb, my head to full to think. This morning my fingers find some of the answers here at the keyboard.

At her request, I phoned my sister`s room 10 minutes before we were due to leave. She picked up the phone, said it`s 12 minutes, I said shall I call back, she said no it`s fine. This light, not wounding. But I connected it to my sense that I could never please either parent, that nothing was good enough, that a report card A was accepted by my father with "Why wasn`t it an A+?" and there was never a gift that my mother liked. My coping strategy has been to set for myself "B" standards, so when the imperfections are noted, I can console myself that I knew this wasn`t the best I could do. I watch myself make mistakes, know immediately that I have made a mistake, and not go back and make the easy correction, call back and change an appointment, return something to the store, ... .

We woke to slate gray skies and storm and wind and the tour guide we`d hired, whom we`d already just run into twice, phoned to say we should reschedule. We regrouped, the sky cleared, we wandered into town, leisurely enjoying galleries and craft stores and watching the few other tourists, then returned to the hotel to use the sauna. I had a disappointing massage, the woman seemed to just be pushing oil around and motor noises kept cutting in and out and she kept asking me how I was, and the spa manager popped into the spa and lounge asking how things were and I wanted to be peaceful and float away but that wasn`t what this experience was going to be. I did sleep well and woke less stiff so there was indeed some good.

It’s 8 AM, the sky is clear, the temperature brisk. I feel acclimated to the 10 hour time change. We had hired a car and driver for the day and rode north, walked into the Hula Valley raptor sanctuary, continued north to Metula at the Lebanon border, saw a fortress, a waterfall, stopped for tea at a ski resort, watched the sky cloud and clear, strong sun backlighting large clouds, and then sunset and Rabbi Ari`s tomb where together we lit a candle commemorating the anniversary of our mother`s death.

The day was spontaneous and just right and I felt very full, much unprocessed, even now, as I type.

Our guide, an American woman our age who had last lived in Oakland and now owns an apartment here, told us stories of the holy teachers, how ordinary people used to shield the foreheads because they believed the teacher could see into their soul, how the presence of the teacher emanated, and I began to think about psychologists probing into souls and stories about just men, and about whether one senses that truth and command in the presence of these people (Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Mother Theresa, ... ) even without knowing in advance who they are.

My sister and I are getting along well, very respectful of each other`s rhythms, careful if we push the edges to clear the air. I have seen myself twice invasive with her and have noticed but not felt disturbed several times by her ignoring me. I’m delighted at how well we are doing since we are spending much more time together than we did last year and the guide commented on how well we got along! I started to type that our mother would have been so pleased, but she would have also found a way to spoil that pleasure, probably by asking if we’d met anyone (code for men to marry), unwilling to allow us a life that didn’t match her dream.

Today was clear and we went to see the tomb of Maimonedes, an old mosaic synagogue floor, another tomb, had falafel at a wonderful place we`d been to last year, tea, a walk, and lazily took a taxi back to the hotel to pack to leave in the morning, and have a last sauna at the hotel spa.

I noticed my first reaction when I see a sight and there are others around is to want to share the viewing, the sunset, the funny sign, not to simply appreciate it myself. And I think when I’m alone, I have been capturing those experiences here in these notes. I had thought to not take the laptop this trip, and I haven’t checked email, but I decided I would miss using the word processor and writing these notes.

After the sauna I was watching television when from the wall behind my bed I heard noises. I assumed new guests in the adjoining room, unpacking. The sounds continued, paused, began again, unwrapping noises and metallic tapping, off and on. I turned off the television sound to listen and decided what I was hearing was like laying bricks, unwrapping, smoothing mortar, tapping the brick into position. The match felt very right and absurd, laying bricks in a hotel room at 8 PM, and since the noise had now been going on for an hour, I tapped on the next room door to ask that it be stopped. "Ken, yes," said a voice. "Bavakasha, please," I said. The door open, a laborer looked out, work clothes stained, trowel in hand. Trowel! I pointed to the wall joining the room to mine, he looked embarrassed, apologized, immediately stopped. He had indeed been laying tile at 8 PM, and I had correctly identified the sounds. It all felt a bit magical and perhaps the most "present" I have ever been. I’m smiling as I type.

From Zefat, we rode through more beautiful scenery, stopped at two historic sites, and then took the train from Nehariya to Tel Aviv. I’m usually planning ahead, not too often fully present. During the morning I was watching the time, speaking of the train schedule, my sister said to me, sweetly, "You can be here for a while." The words have stayed with me, like permission. I noticed a blue disability symbol on a train coach and was delighted to be able to wheel my heavy suitcase directly onto the train and down a ramp to a storage area, much easier than lifting it over the gap between coach and rails and up the stairs to the seats.

Preparing, making lists, anticipating, packing a great deal of back-up health and food and clothing, ... it`s all about energy, about being afraid I will be too tried to cope. I hope when I get home I will be able to review what I take with me and lighten the load. And I mean that last phrase metaphorically, as well.

We are staying at a well located maybe 3* hotel, clean, safe, nice restaurant, basic small rooms, red numbers glowing from the cable box. Single bed, walking around space. We had lunch with our cousins and dinner with Dina Feldman and have walked and walked and walked and are beginning to tire either of each other or of traveling, so I have this afternoon retreated to my room to type and even use the free wireless.

Before the hotel gift shop opened, I was looking into the jewelry window, admiring the earrings, and a young man started speaking to me, telling me there was a diamond market, they would come with a free bus and take me, that`s where the best prices were. He was here with a bus-full, 70 relatives, for a cousin`s bar mitzvah and tour of the country, his first trip, proudly wearing a kipa every day.

My sister and I have very different rhythms and these days in Tel Aviv I had been going for a long exploration walk each morning before anything is open. The awake city is very noisy, traffic sluggish. Then together, we walked a long way to the square where Rabin was murdered, a meeting place for outdoor speeches and rallies, now also a memorial to his death, a metal sculpture, reminding me of a medieval knight`s sword and dagger, blunt, rusted, piercing his dream for peace, now perpetually wailing.

We had dinner with Dina Feldman who headed the Israeli delegation to the UN AdHoc Committee. She comes from mental health and is now the Commissioner, Israel Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities. She spoke about reorienting towards the way we think about disaster preparedness, that many groups, social minorities, need particular kinds of help, and about shifting the language away from health, and underscored Tina’s work, a rights orientation. (I’m going to follow-up with looking for a different vocabulary. Please send me a personal email if you’d like to work with me on this.)

As I thought of equality, no one is special or everyone is special, I realized how revolutionary this would be if it were implemented. It would topple all the hierarchies of needs, the hierarchy of benefits, the righteousness of charity, remove some state powers. What is the distinctions between social justice and socialism?

We also talked about the rise of women political leaders throughout the world, and of course about Hillary Clinton. The glass ceiling has risen in law, in medicine, in many professions, but women are still not in equal numbers heads of corporations, law partners, ... So I think if women are accepted as heads of state, then heads of state are less important, and the power has shifted from political leaders to globalism and capital markets and financial leaders.

I began to wonder if the more detail and data one knows about anything, the harder it might be to find patterns, to separate foreground from background and take the long view. Knowing about too many exceptions might interrupt understanding what might be a theme or trend. I believe there are statistical analysis tools that compensate and bring patterns to the foreground, but what if the material can’t be reduced to a linear form?

My experiences with madness have been part of the conversations my sister and I are having during this trip. Usually it feels like finished business for me, and talking a little about it doesn’t upset me. But watching her pain, not her pain for me but her own pain as I tell, is just too hard, brings me right back to that shared room at The Institute where my roommate every day left the tub dirty with strands of her long blonde hair, and I have cut off the topic as discussable.

I have done very little reading this trip, have more than I need for the long flights home tomorrow, have not checked email, have written here some, watched some dreadful movies on television, and walked a lot.

My sister has been concerned that we have a way to reach each other while we are here. Last trip she rented a pair of cellphones at the airport. This time I rented one in the US to bring with me and she changed her own service to include international and brought her everyday phone. She hadn’t tested the feature, we had to figure out the correct codes, when to include zeros and when to omit, and after thirty minutes at bedtime last night we discovered that the phones won`t talk to each other, that she can’t call me, though I can call her. So the "in case of need" advantage is lost. We were planning to spend today separately but I am thinking of suggesting at breakfast that instead I go along with her. I’m not wanting her to feel vulnerable all day.

Twice in shops in Tel Aviv we have heard Frank Sinatra singing.  That's my era; I'm surprised to hear him.

I have been very tired during this trip, feel depleted. I think it is because I have not spent enough time alone catching up with myself and also because much of our chatting conversations are evoking many memories, many good, but I think I need time alone to refile those thoughts into memory background.

And I've spent a lot of time looking for things, finding them where I didn't think I'd put them.  Partly TSA rules, partly traveling with different luggage, partly an ongoing sense of confusion and disorganization.

I am certainly ready for the trip to end and we both are feeling we have done what we needed to do here in Israel and are not planning to return together next year. I had already made that decision because I am going to Brazil in November, 2007, for the Internet Governance Forum, and it feels crowded to go anywhere again in February.

Our plane is at 1 AM and we decided to keep our hotel room an extra day instead of checking out and storing the luggage. I am planning to finish these notes and check email and have one last felafel.

Check-in procedures at Ben Gurion airport were routine, the long flight was on time for its 6 AM arrival and we then waited until 7:50 for our luggage while other passengers tried to call Tel Aviv to see if it had even been loaded, we both became very anxious about our 8:30 and 9:00 connections, and instead of the warm and leisurely goodbye I'd been anticipated we moved as quickly as we could to different terminals.  There was no place to leave my checked through bag after customs so I had to recheck the suitcase, go through security where I was meanly scolded and sent back because I'd taken the rented luggage cart further than I should have but I did have time to buy a bottle of water and a cup of tea before boarding.  We were then delayed for an hour while carry-ons that didn't fit were checked and the plane de-iced which gave me time to phone and find my sister just boarding the next flight to Boston.  I'm sitting next to a man creating a power point in a large font on a MacBook Pro.  What he's writing is obscure and unclear and confusing and is reminding me of how many bad websites and powerpoints are produced.

It's been 29 hours from my hotel lobby to my own front door.