We flew to Israel on Continental Airlines, despite my begging for El Al, since it is almost always more fun to take an airline from the country to which you are traveling, unless you are traveling to Russia or Hungary or probably anywhere in the post-Communist world, or also America. But Asaph has Elite Status and was cold to my entreaties. The flight was fine, considering how bad it could have been. There were no visible very orthodox or extremely orthodox persons on the flight, in contrast to last year, when the plane was swarming with people rocking back and forth in prayer. There were also no obvious groups of American Evangelical Protestants wearing name-tags that read "Pastor Joyce" like last year. So, this flight was really all one could hope for in an American air carrier.
Ben Gurion Airport is nice and new; one feels like one is in a first-world country, unlike the average New York City airport. Since I was nervous about my 36-hour work trip to Amman later in my stay (despite the official peace between the Zionist Entity and the Hashemite Kingdom), Asaph and I went up to the passport control counter together, something that is forbidden in the United States, where two men may approach the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent only if they are father and son. (I have seen non-heterosexual couples humiliated when they attempted to go through passport control together in the US, as the ICE agents are bound by oath to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.) But the Israeli border officer was very pleasant. She said I would have no problems going back and forth between Israel and Jordan. But it's not like Israel faces any real security threats -- it's not in danger of imminent annihilation as is the United States of America.
Tel Aviv seemed less shabby than it did least year, but that was probably just because my expectations were properly calibrated this time, and I noticed that a few old buildings had been torn down, since the real estate crash has yet to hit there. The highways are certainly better in Israel than in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area, but I realize that the American taxpayer has made some contribution to their quality.
We arrived at the apartment we were going to be staying in, near the still-shabby Rabin Square.
That night we went to a party that was held on the beach. It was kind of difficult to see what people looked like, but I had a nice conversation with a non-Jewish Uruguayan with an Apollo's belt about his experiences living in Israel with his boyfriend. After a summer of pansyish running in and out of the cold waves of the Atlantic, it was amazing to just stride straight into the Mediterranean with no flinching.
Upon exiting the water, Asaph made a funny face and said, "I smell a narghile. Asaph Ben-Artzi must be here!" True enough, we followed the smell and found Asaph's friend Asaph sitting on the sand smoking a water pipe, while a deaf guy with an SPQR tattoo went back and forth fetching him drinks. A career military man, Asaph Ben-Artzi is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He tries to live in the manner of a Bedouin nomad, despite having a centrally located Tel Aviv studio apartment and admitting to being half Ashkenazi. Also, despite having a career in the Israeli Army, he is no ultra-nationalist and has very nuanced and borderline cynical views about his country. We made plans to hang out later that week, although I feel like my life has just consisted of sitting around watching television when compared to his, so I generally don't talk in his presence.
The next day we went back to the beach, to look at all of the people with no body fat in the daylight. I wish the beach were a tad cleaner in Tel Aviv. The government tries to appeal to patriotic instincts to get people to stop littering, with only limited success.
Later we headed up to the moshav where Asaph's parents live. For gifts, I brought his father an LED flashlight and his mother a flask, although since it looked like a thermos, I called it a thermos, lest she think I was accusing her of alcoholism. Both products were from the Muji store, since what can one bring from America that's worth giving these days? Actually, Asaph generally brings gigantic gifts from the US to Israel every year, since things are cheaper here than there, even though I pointed out that he was undermining the Israeli economy and destroying the state of Israel. This argument didn't work, and we had to lug stuff on the plane again this year. (Last year we brought a garbage disposal and a boat motor and a huge teddy bear that could have been used to smuggle drugs or plutonium.)
The next day was Sunday, a work day. I had to go to an opthamologist to check on the progress of a corneal infection that was diagnosed a few days before my departure. I had to register with the "medical tourism" department of the main hospital in Tel Aviv. This was a bad precedent for me, since it gave me great ideas for future vacations. We were very Mediterranean and invoked a connection with someone who knew someone who knew the head of nursing at the hospital, and an American woman shepherded me through the system so that I could be seen by a doctor. She was extremely polite when speaking English, but in Hebrew she was as bossy and abrupt as any Israeli. She ended up basically telling people that I was Golda Meir's great grandson to get me quicker service. I felt a little bad for all of the poor, old Russian ladies clutching their eyeballs in pain as I shot to the front of the ophthalmology line, but I had to pay ₪ 650 for my visit and they didn't, so I got over it. Eventually a doctor looked at my eye and said it was fine but that I needed to return again in a few days. I was thrilled that I would get to come back to the hospital yet again!
Then I was led into the desert, by Asaph, in a sport utility vehicle, to be tempted by the devil.