I must first acknowledge the support of the Fulbright Regional Travel Grant, which funds Fulbrights to visit other countries in the region for research, teaching, seminar, etc. When I first heard about this opportunity, the wheels started turning! I first contacted Professor Laila Rhazi in Morocco, whose research I have enjoyed for years but never met. She was open and excited for the visit, we applied, and voila as they say in France or Morocco. Second, I want acknowledge the tremendous generosity and hospitality by both Laila and her graduate student, Mohammed El Madihi. Really, the greatest hosts anyone can have, making me feel so at home and welcome...and sending me home with so many gifts! Before I go on, I want to point out that the picture galleries to the right are in 3 groups: temporary pond field pictures, wildlife pictures, and cultural pictures.
This trip was one of the greatest for me, frosting on the cake of this whole adventure. Everything was perfect, and I enjoyed all the people, culture, food, and natural areas there. I need to go back there to continue this great collaboration. As here in Israel, I struggled with language. I still have a toddler's level of Hebrew and there, I was struggling with French and Arabic...I'm so confused now!
I had taken a red eye flight there and so my arrival in this new country had the 2-hour-sleep hallucinogenic quality, meeting these new people, new customs, languages, etc...After our initial meeting, I quickly concluded Laila, Mohammed and I were going to get along just fine. In fact, we got along great over the course of the 8 days. They were incredibly accommodating to my English-speaking ways. They were great people to get to know...we even ended up with many inside jokes after the week ended.
The first day started with visits to the university, the medina, and some sites of Rabat. The city is the capital of Morocco and is where the river Bou Regreg meets the Atlantic Ocean. Outside the hotel was a lively area of Rabat with street musicians, shops, restaurants, the cinema, etc. I was familiar with Moroccan food (and love it) and definitely with eating with my hands. Nonetheless, every restaurant would bring me (the gringo) the fork and knife for eating, and I defiantly set them aside. By evening, I could barely keep my eyes open and I went to sleep early feeling comfortable and excited about getting to know new people and a new country. The hotel, however, was across the street from a mosque, which had calls to prayer at 530 and 600 each morning. Hearing the calls to prayer is pleasant, but not that early...never got used to it.
We spent the next couple of days out in the field sampling temporary ponds. Luckily they had received a fair amount of rain and most ponds were filled and with fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, and many other critters. The landscape in some parts were similar to California with rolling hills, farms, livestock, and ponds. Unlike CA, we would go onto private property with no problem and sample. Sure enough, each sample brought out similar species we sample in CA. I was introduced to the BBQ restaurants during this time, which would never fly in the US (see pictures to the right). Meat of all sorts are hanging out in the open for you to choose what you want to be grilled or ground for your meal. I pointed out how Americans want their meat served with mystery about its origins from actual animals. One thing I loved about my time in Morocco were the daily tea and cookie breaks with Laila. It really set a relaxed and social tone to each day.
The next couple of days were spent in the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco. We were joined by Er-Riyahi Saber and Mouhssine Rhazi (Laila's brother), both temporary pond ecologists also. In fact, they were all in graduate school together in France. My joke was that they made up the Temporary Pond Familial Dynasty of Morocco. They really are though!
Well, the big surprise they were keeping was the visit to a Barbary macaque population in the mountains. We pulled over on this snowy mountainous road, I had no idea why: maybe a pond here, maybe a bathroom break? Here I got out and there are these monkeys all around!!! I was so surprised...in fact I almost wanted to cry it was so beautiful watching these monkeys that I've read about hanging out in these trees up in the mountains of Morocco. Wow, what an experience I will never forget.
The feel of the towns in the mountains was very different, very mellow. The temporary ponds were beautiful, many with frozen edges and fairy shrimp swimming around. There were areas where if you weren't careful, you could fall through the ice into the water. It wasn't a big deal, but at one point Laila fell through rather deep (picture above), we all had a great laugh about it. It was great to get to know the other researchers as well. Their english and my french made it difficult to communicate, but the shared interests in ecology secured a bond among us.
The last few days consisted of collaborating on projects with Laila and Mohammed on campus. They are doing really exciting research in Morocco and I really learned a lot from them. I hope my feedback on projects was useful to them. The second to the last day, I started getting a cold (in fact, I am still battling the cold as I write this). Reflecting on this experience, I see how our love of science and nature created a bridge across language and culture differences. I learned a great deal about this country and people and left with a great appreciation and love of both. I hope I also conveyed a similar appreciation of the US and Israel. I hope to return soon!
Back from our 5-week wandering to Italy and around Israel. We had up to 16 family members also visiting during this period. See Bonnie’s blog for a great update…I cannot compete with her blog! So, what’s my angle? I guess I’ll focus on ecology and Fulbright activities here.
Life was very relaxing when we were away and now getting back to working. I have been spending most of my time writing, collaborating with folks in the Blaustein lab, giving talks at Israeli universities, and dealing with other academic responsibilities. I have not been out in the field lately and hope to get out some in the next few weeks. Wildflower season comes in February and trips are being planned.
This is also a time of reflection on my research, teaching and academic future. They say sabbaticals are a good time to do this and I'm toying with ideas about where to go from here. For now though, enjoying the ride!
Of course, we have had many outdoor trips and the ecosystems visited have been wonderful. From the Red Sea to the deserts (Judean and Negev), our time on long hikes have been filled with great wildlife, plant life, and even some flowering. Also, I can't enough of that human layer of history wherever we go. Life is also changing quite a bit with Nina now at school and Adam taking off 29.1 for boarding school! We're going to miss that guy!
December started our month of being nomadic…no, this is not some re-enactment of the ancient Hebrews, it is part of our lease agreement to be out of our apartment until early January. To kick it off, we took a trip to Italy. We had an amazing trip through Venice to Rome to Florence and back to Venice. I posted some pictures to the right and highlights included the long walks through Venice and Florence, St. Mark’s Basilica/Square, the Coliseum, the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica (including their Christmas tree lighting event), the Uffizi, and Boboli Gardens. In addition, we had purely academic samplings of the pizza and gelato.
We will also be hosting family coming through town, from parents to aunts & uncles to cousins. We are really excited to host family and further explore this country. We have trips planned in northern Israel, Jerusalem, Dead Sea and vicinity, Tel Aviv, and Eilat. The shift in US policy on our embassy occurred while we were in Italy. We have been receiving many messages about this shift and increased violence in the region. We are of course being more vigilant, but do not feel any immediate threat.
I am emerging out of an 9-day run with the flu here and life has felt like being on house arrest. At moments, I’ve had to remind myself that I’m in a different country since most of my interactions have been with my family and no one else. This has coincided with a change in the weather to Fall/Winter. My default clothing option is sandals and shorts, but it looks like they will be retired for a while now (so sad). It is getting chilly and we’ve been receiving some rain. Sacramento rain comes all day sometimes for days, but here, it comes down hard then stops, almost like a Florida summer-afternoon pounding without the humidity. Most days have been nice from my isolated perspective and my outdoor explorations consist of looking out at the Palestine sunbirds and bulbuls in our front yard.
Unfortunately, my health prevented us from going to Tel Aviv for the Fulbright Thanksgiving dinner. However, my outrageously hard working and talented wife and daughter put together a Tday dinner the next evening with friends. I have been catching up on some shows on Netflix (like the genius of Fargo and Better Call Saul) in my sickness and doing some writing and reviewing. I am proud of two of my graduate students, Rebekah Berkoetter and Robin Shin, finishing their Master’s theses and presenting their exit seminar next week and I’ve been cranking through thesis and seminar drafts.
There's the old joke about why the whole plane is not made from the same material as the black box...I was called into Sacramento County Jury Duty. Prior to to living in Sacramento, I had never been called to this duty, but like clockwork, I get called every other year. I tried to get excused for being out of the country, but noooo...I immediately received an email saying "when will you be back?" I am happy to be a good citizen and will be doing it in May. However, the same efficiency and aggressiveness of the jury program should be used for all the rampant problems of Sac County (increased crime, crumbling infrastructure, and homelessness).
We will be starting our “nomad phase” next week. We have to be out of our apartment for the month of December and will be fittingly nomadic in this land and beyond. We will be taking a trip to Italy for 10 days. When we return, we will be having family visit and will be traveling. Fodder for future blogs…with pictures!
When we go camping and lay out in the evening as the stars emerge from infinite space, it is an awe of this world. How insignificant…how small…what a short time we get to walk on this rock (don’t worry, I will not continue with a philosophical reflection). I experience this same awe also with time…geologic history of rocks and the landscape, evolution which has shaped and resulted in all of these cool species with which we get to share this planet (don’t worry, I will not continue with a philosophical and conservation reflection). Now, I’ve been experiencing this on an almost daily basis with all the archaeological/historical sites we’ve been visiting, most recently Akko/Acre and Tel Shikmona. I am no historian…maybe a bit of a natural historian…and could not capture the historical complexities of these sites (in fact, I’m trying to find books on these locations rather than websites). Here are pictures and some links of these locations.
The first gallery is from our day trip up to Akko/Acre: history1, history2
The second gallery contains pictures from a day trip to Tel Shikmona:
and the Stella Maris Monastery:
I wanted to point out one thing, OK are you sitting? We do not have a car! People respond as if we told them that we flap our arms and fly around Israel. Since arriving here, we have done a great deal of walking (today was a peak for me with 3 miles on my run and then 7 miles on our day trip to Tel Shikmona, but I'm paying for it now) and use public transportation. We take buses mostly and trains periodically for the longer trips. This is an abrupt 180 from life in California, where our cars rule the day. We have and will rent cars on certain trips, but we feel a certain freedom now without a car and get by no problem. Maybe this is also an unsolicited testimonial of the public transportation system here.
Ok, it has been too long since my last post. The guilt mounted and here is the product. I have found myself getting lazy and just posting some pictures to Facebook without any commentary ...I highly recommend Bonnie’s most-excellent blog: (https://israelihappening.weebly.com) for details over the past few weeks (and keep reading it, they're great insights and pictures). I've been busy starting to do some work around here: went out into the field (some pictures to the right), gave a couple of departmental seminars (University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University), writing, reviewing student work, etc. One of the sites I was taken to by Nadav Pezaro and Valentina Rovelli (awesome post docs of the Blaustein Lab) is a 2000 year old archaeological site of a Jewish town. Now, the salamanders are breeding in the old wine press areas. Old walls, columns, and burial caves are also found here. In this blog I wanted to highlight the history we’ve encountered, the natural and human history.
We went a day early to Tel Aviv before the Fulbright orientation. We had a great time walking around and stayed at an excellent hotel with a music/vegan theme (pics at the Carmel Market to the right). The orientation consisted of a morning of hearing informative talks from US embassy personnel and then embarked on a 2-day field trip with the whole Fulbright cohort. We headed south to the Negev for a jam-packed trip. We toured an agricultural and solar panel facilities and then walked the Ben-Gurion Tomb near Sde Boker. We stayed that night in Mitzpe Ramon and did a great night hike by the Ramon Crater, an unusual geologic location. The next morning, we hiked the Ramon Crater, just beautiful! We then had lunch in a Bedouin camp, where we heard about their life, culture, and had an excellent lunch. The difficulties between Bedouins and the Israeli government, along with the forced shift in their nomadic way of life, was disheartening and reminded me of the Native American tribes in North America…I’ll leave it at that…the afternoon was spent at the Avdat National Park, the ruins of a >2000 year old city, one of the most important along the Incense Route. Two weeks later on Halloween, I traveled back to Sde Boker to give a seminar in the Desert Ecology Department of Ben-Gurian University of the Negev. Hadas Hawlena was an awesome host and took me down to Ein Avdat National Park for a hike through the canyon along a stream to a waterfall. One of the ways out of the canyon is straight up on steps and ladders to the top.
The day after my trip to Sde Boker, we left for northern Israel. Please see Bonnie's blog for detailed description of this trip. It was a very diverse trip pushing and pulling us in many directions: hearing the shelling and gunfire of Syria to walking through beautiful ruins (Nimrod Fortress), natural beauty of Snir Stream, and a combination of the complex history and natural beauty of Banias and Arbel National Parks and the Sea of Galilee, lowest freshwater lake y'all! I'll have award Banias National Park with the most interesting natural/historical location that we visited.
Two weeks in and we are continuing our exploration of Haifa. We have trips through Israel planned over the next few months, but there is so much to do just in Haifa. We did the Baha’i Gardens a couple of times, the German Colony, and Wadi Nisnas with an excellent guide (Daniel Sigalov) who gives a free tour (donate what you think it’s worth- it was outstanding!). We are living a block from the Haifa Auditorium/Cinemateque, which has been hosting the Haifa International Film Festival. We took advantage of all the events going on…saw a couple of great movies (Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Florida Project, An Inconvenient Sequel), great live music (including Balkan Beat Box and many smaller acts), and the free VR Events in Downtown Haifa. Here are some pictures of the VR Event and my first Sabich sandwich (wow!). We’ve been really spoiled this week.
One of the cultural adjustments to Israel has been how everything shuts down during holidays, including Shabbat. We’ve been through some major holidays here, including Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shmini Atzeret. We’ve welcomed these because it forces us to slow down. We’ve been some interesting people and have been invited over to family’s houses and having great conversations and learning more about this country. One thing Bonnie and I have been trying our hands at is the making of Turkish coffee. We had some down in the Wadi Nisnas and have been obsessing over trying to perfect it each morning.
We’ve also did a nice hike from the zoo down to (almost) the coast. The trail was along what is called a wadi, a stream bed. These streambeds are dry except during the rainy season (I hope coming soon!), similar to many streambeds in California. Since Haifa is made up of hills, there are many of these wadis throughout town, which apparently cannot have development and they have hiking trails that can be taken down to the coast. Also, Salamandra infraimmaculata will be found here once the rains come! This week has been the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and is followed by Shemini Atzeret. Sukkot hints at desires for rain, and Shmini Atzeret includes prayers for rain. It is fitting we got our first rain this week, and I'm looking forward to more!
Our first full day (9/27, or as it would be written here, 27/9) was spent traveling from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Not after our obligatory Israeli breakfast, including my fave Shakshuka. We settled into the apartment in the Mercaz HaCarmel area of Haifa. We love our apartment and especially the location. We have a park (mostly the wooded with benches kind) close by and HaNassi Street just beyond. The Haifa Auditorium and the Cinematheque are on the other side of the park and a few blocks further is the Haifa Zoo and Gan HaEm garden. This week is the Haifa International Film Festival mostly at the Auditorium and Cinematheque, but will also include free concerts (Gan HaEm) and outdoor movies. I have my list of movies to attend! Bonnie and I are sifting through the lists figuring out which movies to attend. Our Hebrew is taking small baby steps (I think I may be at the toddler level), but we’re trying!
The kids have adjusted quite easily to the time changes and sleeping through the night. Bonnie and I, on the other hand, are still having 3 hour sleep intervals, including 2 hour naps. Of course, this has not stopped our exploring. We walked to the Louis Promenade with the great views of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea. We noticed the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, which we are looking forward to checking out soon. Then, on to the Bahá'í gardens and Shrine of the Báb, both so beautiful! The walk back home was all uphill in that afternoon heat, nothing the awesome falafels couldn’t take care of!
A word on the animal life here. We have these extraordinary bats in and out of a front yard tree in the evenings. They are huge! We have been enjoying watching these pterodactyls from our sunroom. I have yet to find out the species, but I’ll ask around the biology department. I have been enjoying morning looking out into the garden at all the new birds cruising around. Can’t ID them yet, but we are seeing doves, LBBs that almost act like hummingbirds, and even spotted parrots (as it turns out African rose-ringed parakeet) in the tree across the street. The crows are different too (Hooded crows, Corvus cornix). Looking forward to seeing more. At some point in the blog, I’ll have to tackle the feral cat thing here.
There is a hallucinogenic that has overtaken us these past few days in Israel. We arrived on Tuesday night after 16 hours on a plane (14 actually flying, 2 fixing various problems). None of us sleep all that well on planes and it ended up being mostly cat naps (foreshadowing Israel [see Part 2 coming soon]) here and there. I watched several movies and must say that I was blown away by Whiplash. It had so much to say about life, art, and dreams; as a jazz fan, I really enjoyed the setting, but the themes found in it were universal and you could put your own field as the setting and it would be relevant.
Arrival in Tel Aviv provided a few observations. Here we were, the crazy Kneitels, arriving with almost no Hebrew in our vocabulary just trying to make it through the airport. One of the beautiful scenes at the airport was a huge group of Ethipopian Jews (at least 100) coming for a visit. Young and old smiling, like us, in anticipation of this adventure. Once in the baggage claim, there was probably double that group size waiting for them with balloons and cheers in equal anticipation. One of the first lessons we teach our kids is that of “stranger dangers”. Well, how easily we forget! We went to this taxi stand and a taxi driver took us on this 10 minute walk into this parking garage, trying to barter (his price was totally ridiculous) while also wanting assurance that he had a van (at least) to carry all of our luggage and us. Well, we get there and he’s trying to pile our luggage (we came with a lot of baggage, literally and figuratively) in this little sedan with no luck. Meanwhile, it’s past midnight (Israel time) and we’ve had no sleep and we’re getting lured into this isolated parking garage….once back at the taxi stand, nobody wanted anything to do with us…reminding me of Elaine’s experience with doctors on Seinfeld….we are finally saved by Robert DeNiro, no less! We had our first “stranger danger” lesson, but a happy ending.
We made it to our hotel, exhausted and of course Bonnie and I could not sleep and only got 2 hours that night! I turned the TV on at some point and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was playing with Hebrew subtitles…now, that is how I want to learn Hebrew! You can prepare in many ways: we talked with many people who have visited and lived here, watched You Tube videos (including Conan O’Brien’s videos in Israel), read blogs and other websites, and I had my Fulbright Orientation back in June, but this training goes only so far. Reality hits, we all look at each other periodically to say “are we really doing this?”, “what are we doing?” fear and excitement and then more fear stir through our bodies. Sometimes it volcanically emerges as meanness to each other, but mostly we have been in awe and laughing to tears about our adventures.
This blog will follow my experiences as a Fulbright Scholar in Israel (University of Haifa) during the 2017-18 academic year. Also check out the family blog for another perspective.