Sunday, July 06, 2008

All Alright


After awaking from a jet lag-fueled summer afternoon nap, we met up with friends and friends of friends at a ghetto-looking (and tasting) Mexican restaurant in the USC area. From there, we received word of a party of friends of the friends of the friends. So we split up into two cars and followed the party informant up through the Hollywood Hills. And the higher we reached, the faster the girl in front of us started to drive, threateningly close to flying off a curve and into the dusty Hollywood foliage.

We would’ve been lost without our maniac guide, so we had no choice but to follow her break-neck speed. Steeper and steeper, as the houses became more decadent and the view more luxurious, it soon turned into a high risk/high reward situation. Thankfully, I was not driving. When we finally reached the peak, it was time to park. We split with the plucky leader to find a spot of our own, climbed another hill, and reached the party.

People were out front, music was blaring, the door was wide open, and we entered. The house was built of modest size, flawless in light and space. The view was equally spectacular, probably used in one of the scenes where the dweebs of Entourage look out, throw their hands up in the air, and exclaim, “Now, boys, we’ve finally made it!”

Except we hadn’t made it. Two minutes after we arrived, Ms. Led Foot called, telling us that we were at the wrong party. We were intruders in the lives of the infinitely cool. But we stayed anyway; drank some fancy tequila and awkwardly mingled for a bit, pretending to know the host, whose name I discovered is Drew. I wanted to go home that very instant, put all my belongings in a cab, kick Drew out and take shelter in his glorious quarters. The only fault, I found, was that Drew did not seem to own any books, but I could easily supply my own. I'll let Drew keep his house, though, because I have time.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sun it Rises

I rode a camel in Israel a couple weeks ago, and it was awesome. Camels have very long eyelashes and permanently puckered lips -- quite stunning -- but the rest of the body looks like it’s been smushed together from other animal parts. When approached, the camel is sitting down, and we were given strict instructions not to kick or pet it.

Soon after we were situated on our respective humps (two to a camel, I sat in front and Chelsea in back), the camel started to rise. First, the camel sticks its behind up, placing all of its weight on the knees, then the back legs follow, and finally the front legs. It’s a peculiar process to observe and even stranger to experience: the same sort of sensation as riding a rollercoaster. The actual journey is extremely slow, probably because of insurance purposes, but once we were used to the altering hip swags, it was a very leisurely ride.

Looking back on the caravan of 40 American kids -- a steady stream of digital cameras detonating at once -- it was hard to imagine our ancestors riding these great mammals through the desert to safety so many years ago. Because it seems to me that if you get a bunch of Jews out in the desert, all they’re going to be doing is complaining.

I’m still just in the process of digesting it all, but there were other parts to the trip, of course. A Birthright trip is like boot camp, with early morning wake up calls and horrible food (schnitzel cuisine three nights in a row), and every day was chalk full of activities. We stayed at Kibbutz’s, went cave spelunking and digging at Beit Gurvin National Park, met with Bedouins, did a sunrise ascent to Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, hiked Mt. Arbel, toured a Kabbalah gallery in Tsfat, hiked in the Golan Heights, went rafting on the Jordan River, saw the borders of Syria and Lebanon, went wine tasting at the Galilee Winery, toured Jaffa, Independence Hall, Rabin Square, and Jerusalem, volunteered at a soup kitchen, City of David, the Wall, Mt. Herzl, etc.

The best part of the trip, however, was spending five days with seven Israeli soldiers, because those are by far the coolest kids I’ve ever met. Each conversation with them was like a tutorial on the confusing mess of the beautiful country. And the trip itself was more like a gigantic history lesson rather than a religious awakening. So while I’m not going to start lighting the Shabbat candles every Friday night, I’m not going to skip over the Middle East section of the paper anymore.

After the trip, I met the boyf in Tel Aviv where we spent an amazing four days exploring and eating delicious food. That’s my new favorite city; imagine SoHo before it turned into a shopping mall, then add a beach. Unfortunately, though, I did not have the chance to meet the other Toby Shuster, or see her Bed and Breakfast. I’ll probably regret this for the rest of my life, but I guess it’s a good incentive to go back. And that’s the only downside to traveling: it always leaves you wanting more.