Archive | May, 2013

GOT PIGEONS….?

25 May

New truck with new logo concept. Coming to a neighborhood near you.

 

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AN ODE TO CURRY

24 May

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a couple of quid and a belly full of beer must be in want of a curry…”

Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice.

 

“Oh, sweet elixir of life, the meaning of reason, and the object of my desire. What it is to be bereft of thy company, only to rekindle joyous acquaintance in my unhappy hour of want? Words cannot quantify nor does allusion describe the bitter sweet of fond empty-plated remembrance. Clothed in plastic-bagged-fantastic and foiled in silver, thou art a joy to behold; a breath of fresh, pungent air, a tangible tingle to the nostrils, a veritable mistress of saucy delight. A jewel to the eye, a sear to the soul and a burning rush of requited love. Solitary confined moments shared and savored where one can reflect and revisit the intimacy of oral delight. Never was there a less selfish lover – never were the clinging moments more cherished – never was one left so bereaved by flushed adieu. Until we ‘eat again, I bid thee a flatulent farewell!”

*

“Last orders ladies and gentleman, please!” screams the potbellied publican from behind faux teak and poor dentistry. Standing amidst an island of factory-produced nostalgia he checks his watch and rings the bell one last time. “Come on now move your arses! Ain’t you got homes to go to?”

I finish the suds in my glass, choking back the stagnant liquid that just moments before browsed golden as it bubbled and foamed, and place it on the counter top with the other dead soldiers. Pint and shot glasses stand together in blissful union, unaware their usefulness has passed and that closing time has robbed them of employment. I look around at my fellow imbibers and through alcohol-addled eyes, spy the lonely and the loved as they file through the exit and into to the icy embrace of life. Their moments of communal pain-dulling congenial inebriation now forgotten as they check wallets, grab jackets and fondle newly-found soul mates. The weekend is over and the morning brings another day at the foundry, office or other unworthy place of forced employment. Wage slaved to the boss, the credit card, and the mortgage they scuttle to grab precious hours of sleep before the onslaught of fresh corporate demands engulf them.

I consider making a move on the last female at the bar however realize before I engage in optimistic social intercourse that either from want or neglect there’s probably a reason she’s still there. I rethink my strategy, drag myself from my wooden throne, and trudge into the night.

It’s cold outside and I spy my reflection in the puddles of monsoon-ravaged Middle England. Despite the chill there’s prospective inner warmth, the knowledge that only mere yards away lays a harbor of tranquility – a safe haven in an otherwise harsh, unforgiving world. I smell it before I see it; my feet splashing through water, my heels clicking on the pavement as unseen, aromatic hands grab me by the shirt collar, slap me about the face and drag me towards their irresistible event horizon. The choice isn’t my own. It’s a necessity, survival instinct; an innate sense of following one’s nose and complying with one’s inner hunter-gatherer. I stand before the plate glass window, the light from the restaurant transfixing me with its hypnotic tractor beam. There’s no escape, no use running – the dinner bell has sounded, and like a Pavlovian puppy I salivate into my jacket.

 The House of Bombay; it might as well be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the final resting place of the Holy Grail, or the gates of Valhalla. I grin moronically, my eyes wide with anticipation, my tongue thickening in my mouth at the prospect of what I am about to receive. I am truly grateful and I push open the door and enter paradise on earth. It isn’t a religious revelation however the Buddhists and Taoists would recognize the spiritual transformation I am experiencing. Truly one of the converted, my faith unshakeable, I accept the dogma completely and throw myself before my altar of expectation.

The restaurant is full of excited voices and exotic smells, its tables occupied by like-minded individuals who’ve escaped the pub and stopped for a bite on their way home; a perfect ending to a perfect night. Ten pints of lager, a bag of crisps, a game of grab ass on the dance floor, all washed down with lashings of the hot and spicy.

*

“…These are the things. These are the things. The things that dreams are made of…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Human League

*

What to choose, what to choose? The delicacies of the great Indian sub-continent are catalogued before me in a cornucopia of delectation and gastronomic delight. A temptation to the weak, a fix to the addicted but a delight to the enlightened. The crash of pots and pans and the mantra of cursed Urdu transport me to a place far from windswept, rain-soaked, Yorkshire. No longer the last man at the bar but a willing supplicant at the place of pilgrimage. An acolyte shoves a much fingered menu into my hands and demands to know what I’m drinking. Being the connoisseur that I am, I choose an Indian beer that claims to have been brewed on the banks of the river Ganges. National Geographic images waft through my mind as I briefly swim through the corpses and crocodiles to the sari-ed beauty that holds a bottle outstretched in her henna-ed  hand.

 I grasp, I sip, I swallow.

 Reacting to the broken English of the waiter, I flick through the curled pages of the stained menu and peruse the delights of the Punjab, the Kashmir, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas, and the golden sands of the Southern Keralan coast line.

 Lamb or beef, chicken or shrimp, veggies or not?

The aromas are intense, the Bollywood music blaring, the Indian chatter emanating from the kitchen incessant. Having made my choice I shut the menu. Poised with pen in hand, the sauce-splattered waiter prepares to notate my desire.

“Vindaloo, so bloody hot that it’ll burn my arse. Don’t forget the Nan or the poppadums, and jump to it Gupta! I’m bloody starving.”

The waiter smiles, he’s heard it all before, the well-meant racial slurs roll off his back like a rice-paddied buffalo flicking flies. He beams his gold-toothed smile and moves quickly behind the counter and disappears through the hanging colored beads into the kitchen, The bastard will make me pay for my flippant comments and no doubt there will be more than just chili powder in my tinfoil take-away box – a huge dose of scotch bonnet pepper, a little liquid napalm perhaps. It will be Gupta’s name that I scream in abject agony the morning after the night before.

Cold hard cash clinks from my sweaty palm and the mutually beneficial exchange is made. A silver container, already oozing brown joy, exchanged for  a couple of dirty notes – the pleasure is all mine, although judging by the grin on my newfound friend’s face the pleasure is all his. I walk to the door and make my exit.

As I trudge through the rain I reflect on the wisdom of ignoring the femme-fatale at the bar. The last girl in the world, at least on this particular Friday night, shunned for the illicit pleasure of liquid love –I hate to share and besides Gupta only gave me one plastic fork.

C’est la vie baby, maybe next time.

*

“…Club Tropicana’s drinks are free. Fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wham

FREELANCE BABY…

19 May

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SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.

*

            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.

*

            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.

*

            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.

*

            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.

*

            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.

 

The End

Travelogue

14 May

 RIOTER

          

  When the first rock hit the windshield I was surprised. When the second hit I was terrified. I’d experienced situations like this on television; anxious protagonists pursued by crowds through cramped, white-washed, laundry-draped streets. But that was Hollywood, the stuff of fiction; something you’d pay ten dollars for to entertain yourself on a Saturday afternoon; a thrill ride of virtual terror accompanied by a soda and a tub of popcorn. Not so much on that street in Nablus. There was I, having arrived in the country less than an hour previous, with nothing on my mind but sleep, embroiled in civil unrest. 

The flight to Tel Aviv from Washington had been long, nearly eleven hours. I’d watched everything they’d provided, read my magazines and eaten the obligatory meals.

Fish or beef?” The litany of the stewards, as they struggled to push trolleys through an aircraft filled with restless people, anxious for their journey to end. The worst part of traveling, as every experienced back-packer will tell you, is traveling itself. The airports, the delays, the flights, the inconsideration all of those who don’t give a fig about your odyssey, amount to an extremely unpleasant experience. Gulled by glossy brochures, and photo shopped web-sites the average traveler has nothing on his mind but sun, sand, sea and a week away from the boss. The magazines never mentioned the overcrowding of cattle-class, or the flatulence of my new best friend who, slightly larger in the waist than most, was spilling into my seat. 

A week in Israel, how bad could it be? A final jaunt on the boss’s dime before I handed in my notice and went off to college. Having been with the company for a little over seven years, I deserved it. Heck they owed me! Of course I’d been to Israel before and so knew what to expect. I’d been promised top-notch accommodation at the King David, a very select hotel in the center of the beach-side tourist district of Tel Aviv. I’d booked the room the previous week and even though I wasn’t paying, had nearly choked on the price of $375 dollars a night. I had of course informed the boss who’d simply waved a hand telling me not to worry about it, as he smudged his signature onto my travel permission request. 

 “Israel is expensive. You know that?” he’d asked. Of course I knew that, but the best part of $400 a night, in a hotel frequented by the likes of Madonna and the rest of the pop-erazzi seemed excessive, especially when the same man would usually quibble over per-diem expenses. 

The purpose of the journey was to support colleagues struggling with a project; my allocation was for a seven days jaunt to Israel. As per usual everything was covered, accommodation, travel, food and this time, thanks to previous visits, I actually knew some people who lived in the country and so the acceptance of an invitation to somebodies back yard to eat grilled meat and choke down a few cold beers was inevitable. I wasn’t excited, more resigned. I had to go. 

C’est la vie! I kicked the wife, stroked the dog, and bid my children farewell. “Off to the Holy Land — see you in a week.”

Arriving at Tel-Aviv airport I should have recognized the signs. Normally the place is bustling, with soldiers and uniformed officials, merchants and fellow tourists; a melting pot of travelers and returners, a hive of industry – but not today. Getting off the plane we were met by the usual brown-uniformed, machine gun toting conscript. On previous visits we’d been collected by bus, and ushered into a receiving area where passports were checked and questions asked. The Israelis, for obvious reasons, take their security seriously, and so it’s not unusual to face a barrage of questions that can go on for at least half an hour. I know, I‘ve had to endure the inundation of where-are-you-goings and who-are-you-staying withs. Questions repeated over and over again, until one becomes so exasperated, one is willing to divulge the inner most secrets of the heart to receive a release and one’s passport returned from some dead-pan official’s sweaty palm — but not today.

I walked through the corridors of an airport bereft of people. An old Arab, pushing broom, nodded to me which was more recognition than the half- asleep passport official gave, who just waved me through. “What no questions?” I carried on, I knew where I was going, off to the rental car agency on the other side of the reception hall. Stepping outside into sticky humidity I mounted the escalator and whisked myself above the road to the office where Hertz keeps their brightest. A dower faced man in a crumpled suit who looked over my paper work, threw me a set of keys and pointed to the vehicle. 

“You fill up,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“When you return, car is full. Gas!” Exasperated, he threw his hands into the air. 

 Nothing like customer service, and believe me fellow would-be travelers, outside of the good old U.S. of A there is nothing like customer service. Non-committal platitudes of, “Have a nice day,” and, “did you enjoy your stay?” Is anathema to all, but the 320 million who reside within America’s purple mountained majesty. 

Bags in the car, engine started, and map open on the front seat, I’m good to go. Haifa is about thirty minutes up the coast road, an old crusader town that has been inundated by Palestinians, Arabs, British, French, and more recently with German tourists. I gunned the engine, turned the wheel and squealed the tires of the rent-a-wreck out of the garage, and into the Mediterranean sunshine. Following directions I’d printed out, I simply pointed my nose, headed north along the E1, the main drag that goes from North to South along the coast; a pleasant drive with the Mediterranean on one side of me and the olive groves, and brown hills on the other. Nice enough, but a typical sand blown, fly bitten, Mediterranean country. Honestly, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Sure the cultures are different, but there is always a vista of unfinished grey concrete, lack of air conditioning and a pervasive smell of inner city garbage. 

The soldier at the checkpoint insisted something unintelligible and pointed to a road that diverted from the main drag. Instead of heading north I was now heading away from the sea in an easterly direction. With a dust plume reflected in my rear-view I drove for the best part of twenty minutes until I came to the town the soldier had indicated, and turned left. A pretty little village, the type you’ve seen on picture postcards, and posters welcoming one to Israel. The sort of place you want to get out of your car, walk around, meet the locals, and enjoy a glass of the local brew and perhaps some of that lamb you’ve imagined being turned slowly on a spit. To be honest I really thought my vacation was just beginning, an experience I was looking forward to having. 

I saw my first Hasidic Jew just ahead of me, a gentleman dressed in traditional garb; black flowing clothes and an oversized, wide-brimmed hat. He waived at me and I waved back. Friendlies obviously, and in complete ignorance drove on, rounded the corner, and came face to face with the parade. 

The smack from the rock instantly evaporated my reverie; the crack, spider webbing across the glass, urging me to rethink my touristic plans. The second rock bounced off the hood, before ricocheting into the wind screen, leaving a large, dull, opaque smudge, right in front of my eyes. Understanding immediately the urgency of the situation, I slammed the vehicle into reverse and raced back from whence I’d come. The old Jewish man still stood on the corner, but now instead of waving, he was pointing. I guess some things just don’t translate well, and did my best to grimace through broken glass, before returning to the main road. 

Unbeknownst to me I had landed in Israel on Haditha, a deeply religious festival that celebrates some pertinent event enjoyed by fundamentalist Jews. A national holiday also, which accounts for the ghost town of an airport I’d just walked through and the couldn’t-care-less attitude of the renter-car agent. The only idiot that didn’t know anything about it was me. Clearly I hadn’t done my research, and with a comfortable hotel room on my mind, had stumbled into the middle of one of the local festivals. Luckily for me, and with innate Indiana Jones dexterity, had extricated myself with consummate precision. 

I recommend going to Israel if you’ve never been; the high country to the North is probably the most picturesque you will ever see, the people relaxed and friendly. Just don’t go there on Haditha. Like me, you may just get more than you budgeted for.