Monday, February 27, 2006

Israel: Tel Aviv: Trip to the Mechanic

Yesterday, I took my jeep for its annual inspection. It failed due to some problem in the tire area. I took the car to the garage adjacent to the inspection center and showed the mechanics the report so they could fix the problem.

They took the tire off and unscrewed all of the metal pieces in the area where the tire is bolted on to the car. Then they replaced a rubber sleeve that covered a joint. This cost me $130, and I also gave a tip. Then I went back to the inspectors, and my car still didn't pass. Doh!

I went back to the garage, and there came to be a big argument between the mechanics and the inspector. The inspector won.

It was too late now to refix the problem before the inspection site and the garage closed, so I had to leave my car overnight. I was quoted an additional $270. The mechanics couldn’t speak much English, so I had no idea what exactly they were repairing this time. They were going to fix the car, get it reinspected, and deliver it to me at the Embassy, and they assured me it would be ready by 10:00 the following day.

The next day at 2:00, having heard nothing from the garage, I called to see what the deal was. They were missing a part, and they were short one mechanic. This meant they were running late and that I had to pick up the car myself between 4:00 and 5:00.

When I had dropped off the car the day before, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. When I came to pick it up, I was coming straight from work and was wearing a shirt and tie. Israel is such a casual place, it doesn’t take much dressing-up to stick out.

When I got to the garage, all of the Russian mechanics made such a big deal about my clothes you'd have thought I was wearing a tux.

As I paid in the office, the head mechanic, Alon, asked if I was satisfied with his work, "like in America." He asked me through the help of the secretary, who spoke a little bit more English.

Many people are suspicious of mechanics anyway, and dealing with a mechanic who doesn’t speak the same language as you do certainly doesn’t help. I actually felt like I had probably been ripped-off, but since I don’t know about cars, I gave Alon the benefit of the doubt and assumed our deal had been honest.

I told him that I wished I had been in the States, though, since my older brother is an expert mechanic. He knows his stuff; he speaks English, and he always gives me a big discount.

Alon found this to be a totally novel idea. He told me that he charges his brother full price whenever he comes to the shop. We had a laugh over that one.

When we went out to the car, Alon told me he had something to show me. It was my new registration sticker, valid through February 2007. Then he popped the hood and pointed out things that didn’t mean anything to me.

As we were looking at the engine, he asked me if I brought the car from the U.S.; I told him that I had bought it in Israel from a colleague. He then asked me what car I drove in the States, and I told him I had been driving a red Ford pick-up truck. He and the others didn’t understood what I was talking about, so I tried to show them that a pick-up truck was like my jeep with the back part cut off.

This reminded Alon of something. “You know Win [Vin] Diesel?” he asked.

I told him that I did. I thought that Alon was asking me because he himself happened to look very much like Vin Diesel.

He was like, “Win Diesel drives a car like this. You know the movie?”

I couldn’t recall Vin Diesel driving a red pick-up, so I told him no.

He told me the name of the movie in what I guess was Hebrew, and it sounded just like Mayor Bugs Bunny.

Unsure of what Vin Diesel had to do with Bugs Bunny, I was like, “Yeah, I know Bugs Bunny.”

Alon could tell I didn’t understand. “No, no. Mayor Bugs Bunny. Mayor Bugs Bunny.”

I made some rabbit ears with my fingers and told him again that I knew Bugs Bunny.

He and the Russians were cracking up.

Alon tried to translate the title: “You know… Speed, Frighten?”

“Are you talking about Triple X?” I asked him.

He wasn’t. He called up to the woman in the office for assistance. She was no help.

He started asking all of the other mechanics who had not been part of the original discussion. Then he started calling people on the phone.

Soon there were all kinds of crazy titles coming at me.

Quick and Shaky?”

“Never heard of it.”

Speed and Anxious?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell…”

And finally after 3 phone calls, he came up with Fast and Nervous.

Bingo! “You mean The Fast and the Furious?”

I was already having a fun time with this guessing game. When I got the right answer, though, it was my turn for cracking up at the crazy translations they had given me.

Everyone else started laughing too.

Alon continued, “OK. OK. This like your car in America?”

I still couldn’t recall a red pick-up truck in Fast & Furious, but I told him that maybe he was right. Perhaps he now thinks that my car in the U.S. is a street racer.

We had some more good laughs, and then I walked over to the driver’s side of my car so that I could be on my way.

Alon, still laughing, approached me. “You are beautiful, man. Come see us again.”

With the state of my car, I figured I probably would be seeing him again.

Then we shook hands, and I left. And the whole shop waved me good-bye.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Italy: A Lazy Tour of Rome

Having decided to visit Rome for the long President's Day weekend, I boarded my Saturday morning El Al flight. It wasn't a terribly early flight, but I was dead tired from Friday night, and I went to sleep as soon as I took my seat.

I was sitting on the aisle, and the overhead storage bins were directly overhead. (Funny how that works.)

I mention this because as I was completely sacked out, a grossly inconsiderate young Israeli woman started fishing around in the bin above me and dropped her guidebook, the corner of which struck me on my forehead right at my hairline and drew blood. As I was in a coma at the time, I didn't see this coming and I flailed a bit at my abrupt wake-up call.

Accidents happen, and I understand this. This young lady's reaction, however, was completely unacceptable. Did she apologize to me like any decent human being would? No, she didn't. Did she show any concern whatsoever? Nope.

What she did do was start laughing as she walked back to her seat.

I was livid. I pondered a number of options for retaliation, but there was nothing to be done and I knew it. I went back to sleep.

About three and a half hours later, we landed in Rome.

At the airport, I caught the Leonardo Express, and in about 40 minutes I was downtown.

I had booked one of Embassy Rome's visitor apartments which were in an area called Grazioli in the north of the city. From the train station, the walk to the apartment was less than an hour.

Grazioli was far enough out that it did not show up on any of the maps in my guidebook. This was annoying, but I had fortunately realized this shortcoming before my trip and printed a map from the internet.

By the time I had decided to go to Rome, I didn't have time to order a guidebook over the internet. I went to a bookstore in Tel Aviv and bought the only Italy tour book that was in stock which was Fodor's. At several points during my trip, I found myself wishing that I was traveling with my usual Lonely Planet.

Anyhow, I reached the apartment around 2:00 and chucked my things inside. Then I started walking south, toward all the famous Roman sites.

The temperature was straddling the line between chilly and comfortable. I was wearing a t-shirt and a wool coat, and I was a little too hot. I decided to keep the coat, though, since it would surely get colder in the evening.

Of the main touristy things, I decided to start with the Spanish Steps which were the closest attraction to me. As I left Grazioli, I asked a few Italians if I was going in the right direction. They were no help. Instead of pointing the way for me, they just kept telling me to take the bus because it was too far to walk.

I figured things out on my own, though, and before long, I reached Villa Borghese, Rome's main park. There were people walking, jogging, and hanging out. There were also 4-person bicycles for rent, and a few groups of teenage boys were racing down stairs on these. This clearly wasn't what these bikes were designed for, but it was amusing all the same.

Just past the park, I came to the Spanish Steps. There was a good crowd of people lounging around, but I took a few photos and moved on.

Next up was the Column of Marcus Aurelius, a 100-foot tall carved column honoring Marcus Aurelius's military victories.

From the column, it was a few blocks walk to the famous Trevi Fountain. Like the millions of other tourists there, I tossed a coin into the water. For that, I am obligated to return to Rome some day.

While I was at Trevi, I asked an Italian guy to take my picture. He was happy to help out. In the photo he took, I am large and in focus on the right half of the frame, and the fountain is out of focus in the background to the left. As I think back on all the crappy photos that other people have taken for me while I have been traveling, this guy's photo easily ranks among the most artistic. Only in Italy...

At Trevi Fountain, I had my first fat gladiator sighting. There were two jokers standing around dressed like gladiators, ready to pose for photos with tourists for a fee. With their black sweat pants and sneakers, I didn't think they were authentic enough to justify paying five Euros for a shot. Others must have been thinking the same thing because these guys weren't exactly being overrun with customers.

Before I left the piazza, I stopped for my first gelato. I had read once that gelato is richer than ice cream because ice cream has air pumped into it and gelato doesn't. While the gelato was intensely flavored and possibly more dense than ice cream, it definitely wasn't richer. It was still quite nice, though, and I probably stopped for gelato at least five times a day for the rest of my visit. The strawberry was the bomb.

From Trevi, I walked a few minutes to the Pantheon, a beautifully preserved ancient domed building that is lit by a hole cut in the center of the dome.

After the Pantheon, I went to the Piazza Navona with its famous fountains. There were a ton of caricaturists on hand.

The rest of the afternoon, I wandered around without any specific plan. In between gelatos, I also stopped for dinner. For my first meal in Italy, I ordered a 3-course meal from a tourist menu in a small restaurant. It cost 12 Euros. Unfortunately, the tortellini I received was possibly the worst I ever had. It was doughy and flavorless. Neither of the other two courses was very exciting either.

At this point you may be asking yourself where I get off criticizing Italian food that was made by an Italian in Italy. And it's a valid question. As I see it, though, there are two good possible explanations. First, it is possible that the tortellini was perfect and authentic, and I was unsatisfied because I was comparing it with an unauthentic American version I had tried before. Or, it is possible that the chef, knowing that I was a tourist (by virtue of me ordering from the tourist menu), served me a bunch of crap that he would have never served to an Italian customer. I obviously think that my dining experience fell victim to the second scenario, but I could be wrong.

In any case, I decided then not to order any more tourist meals from any more tourist menus.

Night had fallen by the time I finished dinner, so as I walked back to Grazioli, I got to see all of the sites I had visited earlier in a new light – or darkness as it were.

Back at the apartment I watched a few hours of mindless television and called it a night.

The next morning, I rolled out of bed at around 9:00 and headed south again. First on the agenda was the Vatican.

Not really inclined to repeat the long walk from the day before, I caught a bus this time. I sat next to a nun (one of several on the bus), and we both rode along minding our own business like people do on a bus. As we passed by the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, though, my seatmate sprang to life. She grabbed my arm to alert me to the mountain of carved marble outside the window. I was already staring at the monument, but it was still nice of the nun to point it out.

At the Vatican, I soon learned that I wouldn't be seeing the Sistine Chapel on my visit. As it turned out, of the three days I would be in Rome, only on my first day, the day that had already passed, was it possible for me to see it due to its limited hours.

Back in Tel Aviv, my good friend Anne, who had served in Rome, had told me to go to the Sistine Chapel first for this very reason. From 1,400 miles away, I could hear a faint “I told you so” on the wind.

I wasn't too broken up about it, though. After all, I did throw a coin in the fountain, so I can just see the Chapel on my next visit.

St. Peter's Basilica was open for business, in any case, so I popped in for a look. By “popped in” I mean that I stood in a massive line for hours waiting to get security-checked and admitted.

It was worth the wait, though, and the Church was something to behold. There were heaps of grand sculptures and paintings, but Michelangelo's Pieta still stood out among them.

On my way out of St. Peter's, I was scolded by a Swiss guard in his court jester suit for going toward a corridor that I wasn't allowed to enter. It was an honest mistake, though, and they could have marked it better if you ask me.

Besides missing the Sistine Chapel, I also didn't reserve a spot at a Papal Audience which must be done in advance. So no blessing from the Pope for me this time.

Before I left the Vatican, I sent my mom a postcard.

Then I walked around.

With the average Italian spending a quarter of his or her income on clothing, there seem to be shops everywhere. Just near the Vatican, though, there was a particularly retail-dense district.

When in Rome I decided to shop as the Romans did.

I browsed my way down the block and found a pair of pants that I liked in a small shop.

The pants were unfinished, so the tailor in the shop told me to try them on so that he could measure and hem them before I left the country in two days.

As instructed, I tried the pants on, and this guy turned out to be as handsy as the infamous tailor at British Suiting in Islamabad. For sizing up a hem, he sure took a lot of crotch and seat measurements.

In the end, I told him to forget about the tailoring because I didn't have time. Besides all the pawing during the fitting, his tailoring wasn't cheap. The hemming was expensive enough, and if I had allowed him to make all the other adjustments he was suggesting, the alterations would have cost well more than the pants themselves.

I bought the pants as they were with the intention of getting them hemmed later. Of course, more than a year has passed as I am writing this, and the pants still aren't finished. They look fine, though, when I roll up the ends into cuffs.

After my foray into Italian shopping, I picked back up with the sight-seeing.

I wandered around the ancient Forum until I was struck with a powerful hunger that could only be satisfied with gelato. Luckily there was a gelato stand a stone's throw away for just such an emergency.

As the guy built my cone we had some chit chat. Then I noticed a police chopper flying overhead.

Then I turned around and there was a phalanx of riot police marching down the street. I had missed it all happening, but the road was also closed now, and there were numerous cop cars and motorcycles cruising around, as well as some of those little police tanks.

“Hot dog!” I thought. “Something's about to happen!”

And soon enough, the reason for all the security was revealed. There was a pro-Palestinian march underway.

I took a place on an island in the middle of the street with two other tourists, so I had a good view of the proceedings.

As the marchers passed by shouting and waving their Arafat banners, we all snapped pictures.

Then in short order a woman approached us, yelling, “No photographs!”

I continued taking pictures until she came close enough to actually put her hand in front of my camera.

“No photos!” she repeated.

“Fine,” I responded. There was an implied “whatever...” in my tone.

Then the lady started to walk away.

She wasn't more than two steps away before another shutter click penetrated the sounds of shouting.

She wheeled around all angry-like and started fussing, “Who did that? Who did that?”

One of the two guys standing next to me actually had the same camera as I did, but he was quick to dime me out.

The photo-shy demonstrator got back in my face and repeated nice and slowly, “What don't you understand? I said, 'No pictures'.”

So I told her that, at her request, I hadn't photographed her, but that I had every intention of photographing the march. Then I waved her away, and she actually left.

I'm a pretty tough talker when there is a wall of cops twenty feet away.

I was perfectly within my rights, though.

I didn't get into a whole thing with her about it, but I'm pretty sure that the point of a public demonstration is to be seen. Why else would they be marching down the main tourist street in one of the premier tourist cities in the world. The Colosseum was just half a block away, for heaven sake. Of course there would be people with cameras, and, of course they would be taking pictures of the spectacle.

Along with the marchers and flag-wavers and speech-makers, there were vendors working the crowd. Many of them were hawking a selection of tasteless t-shirts, perfect for that special extremist in your life.

Once the commotion passed, I walked down to have a look at the Colosseum. I was too late to tour the inside, so I contented myself with looking at the outside.

There were more fat gladiators lurking about, but this time, I thought that one had a good enough costume to justify paying for a photo. I paid him five Euros and told him what I wanted for the photo. I wanted for us to be sitting next to each other on a bench, totally ignoring the camera. There was to be no smiling, no looking at the camera; just sitting there with blank expressions – like we were two Joes who happened to be sitting next to each other on the subway or something.

The gladiator supposedly understood my vision for the photo, and we were all set. I grabbed a passer-by to actually take the photo, and the gladiator and I took our seats.

The lady snapped a shot of us, and the gladiator told her to take a second one for me, on the house.

This seemed like a nice gesture at the time, but as soon as I reviewed the photos, I hated them both. The gladiator apparently hadn't understood the plan at all. Here is what we ended up with: I was sitting on one side, looking indifferent, like we had discussed. The gladiator, however, was sitting on the other side, cheesing it up, looking right in the camera, and giving thumbs-up. He had made a mockery of the whole project, and I was left with no choice but to delete the photos. My faith in costumed human-props-for-hire was shaken to the core, I'm sorry to say.

From the photo shoot, I checked out a church honoring Saint Sebastian, the Italian lad who is almost always portrayed with his body riddled by arrows – a most martyrific pose.

Near the church, there was a silhouette artist who was quite impressive. He could cut any shape out of paper, free form, in only a couple of minutes.

I didn't get a silhouette made, but I did buy a pastel drawing of the Colosseum that an old man produced while I watched. I obviously liked it, but when I later showed my good friend Ambra (an Italian) back in Tel Aviv, she acted like she thought it was tacky. What a kidder!

With my drawing in hand, I walked back to the apartment on a purposely meandering route. The walk wasn't the greatest, though, because the entire time it was raining.

That evening, I poked around Grazioli but didn't find anything terribly interesting to get into. The rain didn't help matters.

The next day, my last full one in Italy, I started by touring Castel Sant'Angelo in the morning.

Then I checked out the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, which included the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I walked around the monument, I noticed a few young girls who seemed to be dressed as princesses. I wasn't sure, though, if they were in costume or if they were just wearing frilly dresses. After a minute or two, though, I decided that they were definitely in costume. The young boys in Batman and Spiderman suits left little room for doubt.

I didn't make any effort to uncover the reason for the costumes, so if you know why children in Italy would be dressing-up in mid-February, let me know.

After the Vittorio, I went back to the Colosseum to tour the inside. Then I finished my touring at Santa Maria della Concezione, a church decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks. There were several signs posted around the church to alert visitors to the fact that photography was prohibited, and I was truly amazed at the number of tourists who were apparently illiterate.

I finished at the church in early evening and found a restaurant for dinner. It was my final dinner in Rome, and I decided to splurge. I ordered myself a bottle of wine as well as something from every category on the menu. I don't know how many courses I ended up eating that night, but I left with a full stomach and a light wallet. Everything tasted good, though, so it was a nice way to end things.

The next morning, I packed my things, paid the usage fee for the apartment, and trekked down to the train station to catch the Leonardo back to the airport.

By the time I got to the train station, I was on schedule to be at the airport about two and a half hours before my flight, which was good. As I had done when I had arrived, I walked over to one of the ticket sales machines and attempted to purchase a ticket with my MasterCard. It had worked the first time, and I had foolishly assumed it would work again. I was wrong.

I tried every machine at the depot, and my card was rejected each time. To make matters worse, I didn't have any cash on me. I didn't think that I would need it.

None of the shops or restaurants around the station was able to give me cash off my credit card, so I was forced to wait for the sales office at the train station to open.

The office opened late, but my credit card thankfully worked and I was soon on my way.

I wasn't in the clear yet, though. The train ride that was supposed to take 30 minutes took more than an hour. I was experiencing the unreliable Italian rail system that I had heard so much about.

When I finally reached the airport, I sprinted through the terminal and got to the check-in counter only 30 minutes before take-off. Check-in was actually closed at this point, but the man at the counter took pity on me and allowed me to start the process.

As I mentioned earlier, I was flying El Al. This meant that check-in started with a security interview.

Arriving so late for the flight was a red flag itself, so the agent was already a bit suspicious of me. It didn't help things when I answered an early question incorrectly.

When he asked me where I had purchased my ticket, I told him that I had bought it in Tel Aviv. In the computer, however, it showed that I had purchased it in Haifa. I tried to explain that the reason for this discrepancy was that I had purchased the ticket in Tel Aviv from a travel agent who was headquartered in Haifa. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of the travel agent. It looked like I was making up the story as I went along.

For all my fumbling around, though, I managed to pass the security check. Then I got my boarding pass, and when I reached the gate, I boarded immediately.

And it was smooth sailing from there. No one dropped any books on my head or anything!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Israel: Mt. Hermon

For such a small country, Israel's geography is quite varied. You've got your deserts, your coasts, your forests, your foothills, and even some mountains. One of these mountains, Mt. Hermon, is home to Israel's only ski resort.

Having only been skiing once before, and more than five years back at that, I was hardly an expert skier. Still, I was determined to give Hermon a go. I knew it would be fun, and the novelty of skiing Israel was too good to pass up.

The ski season on Hermon is fleeting, some years lasting only six weeks, so there was no time to lose. I rounded up a posse, and we decided to head north on the last Saturday in January.
Unfortunately, by the Friday preceding our trip, every last person had backed out. Lousy posse...

Since there was still time, I opted to postpone the whole thing until the following weekend, rather than go alone.

By the time the next Saturday arrived, the posse was thankfully still intact. It was more than intact actually. It had expanded from four people to seven. Well, it was sort of expanded. The three add-ons didn't want to ski, but they still wanted to coordinate a trip with us to the northern Golan Heights. While we were skiing, they would tour Nimrod's Fortress. Then we would all meet up and grab a bite to eat and whatever else people wanted to do.

Logically, we split up into a skiing car and a non-skiing car. I was driving the skiing car, and we left Tel Aviv at o-dark-thirty. Our 5:00 AM departure was supposed to put us at Hermon right at 8:00 - opening time. The non-skiers, meanwhile, could afford to sleep a little later. They hit the road at 7:00.

My posse consisted of me and my good friends Doni, Jenn, and Yoav, and as we started down the darkened highway, it was immediately apparent that we didn't all share the same vision for the day. There was a bit of grumbling from some quarters about the early departure time, and some (well Doni anyway) understood the value of it. Of our party of four, Yoav and Jenn seemed to be picturing two or three hours on the slopes while Doni and I were envisioning a full day. Obviously, not everyone was going to be completely satisfied come the end of the day.

As the driver, I was the only person who had to be awake, so I was unsympathetic to the whining about the early departure. The others did sleep off and on.

Then when we were about halfway to Hermon, Yoav asked if we could stop at a café for some breakfast. No one else presented any strong objection to the stop, so we set about looking for a good place to eat.

Then Yoav had another grand idea.

“How close are we to Rosh Pina?” he asked.

At the time, we were maybe 20 minutes away.

As soon as he mentioned Rosh Pina, I knew exacted what he was going to say. Yoav and I had gone touring in Rosh Pina only a month before, and on our trip, we had stopped at a café for breakfast. The food was good, but it took forever. This café was perhaps a little too leisurely for our current needs, but then again, we didn't even have consensus on what our needs were. A leisurely breakfast would work just fine for a two-hour day of skiing.

Right on cue, Yoav asked if we could stop at that same slow café.

After I pointed out that there wouldn't be any quick in-and-out at this place, I agreed to go along with the majority. Yoav and Jenn were firm yeses. Doni kind of gave a “if that's what you guys want, I'll go along too” response. She didn't seem totally on-board with it, but I could tell that she didn't want to be the bad guy. I didn't either.

So, we all planted our butts in that café and ate a full breakfast. We had juice; we had salad; we had cheese; we had fish; we had omelets; we had bread; and we cappuccinos. We had delightful conversation and picked our teeth with toothpicks.

And by the time we left, our friends in the other car (who had departed Tel Aviv two hours after us) were fifteen minutes in front of us on the highway. Doh!

Since the two cars were basically together at this point, it was decided that we would rendezvous. Other than to further delay us, I did not understand the reason for this. We had seen these people the day before, and anything that needed further discussing could be done by cell phone.

Along the route, there was a place where a few roads intersected. At this spot, there were always people selling fruit and miscellaneous home-prepared crap (like honey, jams, cheese, and olives) from roadside stands.

It was here that the lead car would wait for us.

When the four of us were reunited with Deborah, Geoff, and Masha, everyone wandered around for a bit and looked at the roadside booths. Then we all trooped over to see a waterfall that was in the vicinity. And that was about it.

People were like, “You on cell?”

“Yeah. You?”


“OK. Call us when you're done.”

“OK. Later.”

Then we drove the few remaining minutes to Hermon, and the others peeled off for the fortress.

When we reached the ski resort (after 10:00!), the parking attendant warned us before we paid to park that the weather wasn't good (although the lifts were running). We decided that we would pay anyway and have a look.

We parked, suited up, and caught the bus from the parking lot to the slopes.

Yoav, originally from Ukraine, had been living in Israel for years and had never been to Hermon. He had, in fact, not even seen snow in something like fifteen years.

This immediately added an element of interest to things as Yoav started going crazy, leaping into even the nastiest mountains of plowed parking-lot snow. After he got scolded a few times by employees of the resort, we coaxed him to come inside where the real snow was.

For being a bad weather day, there were a good number of Israelis on the slopes. We got to witness the famous Israeli style of kamikaze skiing, and the number of people who were out of control seemed to greatly outnumber the rest. For someone like me who also sucks, this is not such a huge problem. For someone like Doni, on the other hand, it's a huge annoyance. (Doni grew up in Montana and skies like an ace.)

As the parking lot attendant had warned us, the weather was not the greatest. It was cold and windy, and visibility was low. Before dishing out the shekels for a day-pass, we decided to ride up the longest chair lift to get an overview of everything.

Doni and Jenn took the first chair, and Yoav and I followed. The wind was screaming, and it was bitterly cold. Everyone who passed us in the opposite direction was huddled up in a ball, as was Yoav. I opted to remain unballed so I could fully appreciate the numbness that was overtaking my body.

Even though he was all rolled up, Yoav continued cooing about the snow. By the time we reached the lodge at the top of the lift, I was definitely ready to change partners for the lift ride back down.

The lodge was serving cafeteria food that looked pretty bad, but was still selling like hotcakes - except for the hotcakes which were selling like gangbusters.

Oh, the beauty of a hungry, captive audience!

Seating was tight, and as we walked through the water-logged, sweaty dining room, people guarded their tables with an unwarranted fierceness.

“Touch that chair and die! My kids will be right back!”

OK, chief, take it easy.

We stood around for a few minutes, and a table eventually opened.

With our hot beverages of choice in hand, one by one we shared our feelings on skiing. Jenn said that she didn't want to ski anymore but that she would if everyone else still wanted to. Doni and Yoav said the same thing. Then it was my turn, so I put the last nail in our trip. With three no's already on the table, I wasn't going to say yes to skiing and force three people to hang around for my benefit.

Had I not been part of a group, though, I would have definitely stayed and skied. Even though conditions weren't the greatest, I didn't like my odds of getting another chance. I've already mentioned the short ski season. Beyond that, Hermon's close proximity to Lebanon and Syria means that there is always a chance that Israeli authorities will close the site due to conflict in the area, or else that the Embassy will put it off limits for whatever reason.

Anyhow, a group vote is a group vote. We finished our drinks and headed back to the lift.

Just outside the lift, there was snow out the wazoo, which of course makes sense. Seeing this, Yoav bolted and started climbing around again. Before long, a member of the ski patrol came over and chastised him. Doni thought it was screwy that this guy was getting on Yoav's case while in the meantime, there seemed to be complete chaos on the slopes.

Once we got on the ski patrol man's bad side, we went back to the lift. And just as I was about to suggest that we change seat mates for the ride down, Yoav piped up, “Same partners as last time!”


And so for the next ten minutes, my face froze solid, and Yoav squealed like a school girl about the wintry wonderland.

As we were leaving the resort, the other group called us. They were finished also. They wanted to come over to the mountain just to have a quick look at the snow, but when we told them that they would still have to pay for parking even if they didn't ski, they decided not to come.

We met instead at a Lebanese restaurant a few miles from the mountain. Both Lebanese and Israeli cuisines are largely regional, so the food at this place was basically the same as at any other place in Israel. We ordered the usual suspects (pitas, hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, labneh, olives, tahina, and a few other salads) and shared them around the table.

During the course of the meal, someone commented on how good the hummus was. This led someone else to mention that the chef had a secret recipe, and that he always made the hummus alone to protect the secret.

With the door wide open, Geoff made a stupid joke implying that the secret ingredient was semen, and that the secret process was, well, you know.

[Actually, this reminds me of something closely related. Two of my Israeli colleagues at the Embassy refused to eat prepared hummus from the grocery store because there had supposedly been an exposé in the newspaper once upon a time in which the hummus from a major manufacturer had been found to contain semen. I obviously have my doubts about this, but my friends swear it's true. If it is true, the perp would have to be pretty stupid. You can't really deny your involvement when your DNA is in every container.]

Anyway, Geoff made his hummus joke.

We all groaned and moved on, except for Yoav. He didn't stop laughing for like three hours.

After lunch, we decided to do a bit more touring in the Golan before heading home. The place we picked to see was, I believe, called Mt. Bental. On this mountain, which was near the border, there was an abandoned Israeli bunker that looked down into Syria. There was also a sculpture garden and a café.

The bunker was pretty cool actually, and touring it was my favorite part of the day. Everything was still set up, so you could see the kitchen, sleeping rooms, and so forth inside the tunnels, and outside, you could see the different watch posts and firing positions that the soldiers had once used. The view into Syria was nice.

By the time we finished looking around, the sun had gone down. We loaded back into the cars for the drive back to Tel Aviv.

There was a difference of opinions as to which route we should take, but we ended up taking the longer, windier northern road.

We were all still wearing our ski gear as we drove home, so I turned the heat down pretty low in the car. This didn't sit well with the others, though, and I cranked it back up for their sakes. I was roasting.

By the time I dropped everyone else off and got home myself, I was just about all Hermoned out.

Just about, but not quite.

The very next day, I went for my third attempt, this time by myself.

I woke up bright and early and hopped in my car down in the garage in my building. And to my surprise, I found that my battery was dead because someone from the day before had left one of the interior passenger lights on. The ill-fated Saturday trip was still thwarting me a day later.

Undeterred, I waited around for some of my neighbors to appear so that I could get a battery jump.

It wasn't meant to be, though. Several people tried to help, but they were all driving little clown cars that didn't have enough juice to jump my jeep. Eventually I had to call a towing service and request that the man bring the jump-box to my garage.

When he finally showed up, it was hours later and the window for driving north had passed.

I was once, twice, three times the loser for skiing Hermon that season, and I never did get another chance.