going from here to there

grass pushing up from under the snow

After more than a week of snow, cold weather, electric failures, and now ice, Janne and I decided to head for the south to enjoy a bit of warmth before the Sabbath; a trip aimed at rehabilitation after a rather difficult week. We charged up our camera batteries, took a bottle of water and few pieces of fruit, sunglasses and maps. My plan was to show Janne, a very interesting spot along the shore of the Dead Sea that I had last visited with my friend Bill and his Goddess. But then, we had arrived a little late… as the sun was going down, and it wasn’t easy to photograph. There are fascinating salt formations there, that in some cases look like sculpture. A subject for photography that had been touched upon, but not fully explored. I prepared a flash memory with some good music which we could plug into the car radio for pleasant listening as we tooled along the highway. We looked forward to a very pleasant day.

green trees in winter

The grounds of our little village were still mostly covered with snow. But there were also spots where the snow had receded, leaving slippery ice. And just the day before, when venturing out to get a little morning exercise, I had walked with the help of my cane, hoping that three legs would guarantee stability. But now, driving down from the Judean hills to the Ellah valley, we left the snow and the ice behind us, and were filled with joy at the sight of green trees, and millions of grass shoots that had spontaneously appeared after soaking up the rain, eagerly rejoicing in life, and reaching for the sunlight. The emerging green was everywhere. And though a long winter lay ahead, there was that image of spring to excite our spirits. Just looking at the jagged and uneven edge of the forest as it approached the highway, the different formations of trees, and the bright green edges of hardy bushes, I was tempted to stop the car again and again, to photograph. But keeping in mind that we had plans, we kept moving.

is it an environmental art installation or agriculture?

One of the problems of traveling, is how to get from one place to another, far away. Some people take a train, and other people take a plane. Since we live in a small country, most people take an intercity super highway that is a ribbon of cement or asphalt leading from one place to the next with sturdy fences or bushy foliage at the sides to keep the traveler from getting distracted. But if the traveler is like me, and likes to take the side roads and the back roads… likes to drive real slow, the better to see the landscape, to ride a donkey, or even sometimes to travel on foot, then there’s always the danger that he’ll find new worlds just a few feet from home, and never discover that the world isn’t flat and you don’t actually fall of the ledge into the great abyss. That’s why they used to put blinders around the eyes of horses years ago. And that’s why they put up those big fences along the fast highways today, with all the commercials on them, It’s a dilemma. Should we go fast or slow?

Janne photographing

So that’s what happened. After withstanding temptation a few times, with all the determination of people who wants to get somewhere… we saw more and more sights that just couldn’t be ignored, as we traversed the landscape from mountains to the plains, and then to desert environment. And here and there we did take a stop… did walk around a little lake… did investigate a few trees… did strike up a conversation with a couple of lizards… and then it was time for lunch. After all, you can’t just gobble up the universe with your eyes. You need something to put under your belt. And this being winter, after feasting on humus and beans and a few falafel balls, and chips and salads and schwarma slices on a plate, and then lubricating the digestion of all these delicacies with a couple of beers at a workers’ diner in a hilltop city of the northern Negev, we happened to notice that the shadows were getting longer. That was just about the time I was saying to Janne that it was a shame to leave such a beautiful city without documenting the imaginative design of the city center, and the wonderful characters who occupied it.

green sprouts at a lake along the highway

This was after taking a long look at an orthodox Jew in traditional garb biking through the central plaza whistling ‘Home On The Range’, and then watching another fellow who looked like he’d been whisked out of some city in India by aliens, and then set walking in that same place… he walked to the middle of the plaza where he stopped and became fixated on his own shoes… giving them some thought before he became unimaginable still, just the edges of his gray beard rustling in the desert breeze… It certainly looked like it should be photographed…

an orthodox Jew on a bike

What were we to do? If we we’d document the urban splendor here, what chance was there, that we’d see the salt formations? On the other hand… if we were to continue our journey, we might very well get there after dark, too late to photograph it, without having photographed the city we were now exploring. After discussing the pros and cons, we decided that we’d have to make another trip soon, to cover all the wonderful opportunities that we’d missed along the way, and continued on to the Dead Sea.

a view of desert town Arad

On reaching our destination, however, we had more than a little trouble finding the object of our interest. It was quickly getting dark. And though we went along the shore, first to the south and then to the north… we just didn’t find those salt formations. The Dead Seas has been going through a lot of changes in the past few years. Who knows if those salt flats didn’t move inward towards the sea center, and was no longer visible from the shore. ‘Maybe it’s our mistake to make plans at all. Might it not be better to just let our eyes lead us, and enjoy ourselves wherever we go,’ I said to Janne. ‘No’, she said, ‘If you don’t make plans at all, you never get anywhere. But at the same time, we want to go with the flow. We want to be sensitive, and enjoy every step along the way’. And with that in our pocket, we headed north, all the way to the Lido for some coffee before we’d conclude our journey, going home.

a colorful scene at the Dead Sea

At the Lido, we ordered two cups of coffee and a cupcake. The handsome Arab behind the counter delivered our order with style. ‘That’ll be 22 shekels’ he said, ‘including VAT… But no smile included’
‘Very sweet of you to include the VAT in the price of the coffee, we answered. But why no smile?’ He explained himself with serious aplomb. ‘We Palestine people were living our day to day life most innocently, when suddenly the authorities started pouring Styrofoam insulation on our heads from up above. Then they turned off the heat till we were shivering in our boots, and then the electricity went off, and our cars got stuck, and our goats got moody. Life is just intolerable.’

a hint of spring at the start of winter

‘What?’ I asked, did it snow here? In the lowest altitude in Israel?’ Actually, the dead Sea is not just the lowest point in Israel. It is the lowest dry land in the world, being 427 meters below sea level. But he was unfazed by my question. ‘No, this didn’t happen here’, he said. ‘I’m talking about my cousins further north. But you know, we Palestinians like to stick together’. I looked him in the eyes and smiled. ‘I heard there were a few Jews caught in the snowstorm too,’ I said.
‘There might have been’, he admitted. But then, the electric company probably fixed their electricity before they fixed ours. It’s out and out racism. The world will hear about it’. And then he smiled too. ‘If you want sugar’, he added, ‘I’ll tell you where it’s hidden’.

‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘We take our coffee without sugar’.


63 responses to “going from here to there

  1. What a nice adventure…I enjoyed seeing all of the trees (forest?) and the water in your desert land…and very much enjoyed the narrative, too, Shimon, especially when the man finally smiled and was willing to share the hidden sugar with you…. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Scott. It’s a pleasure to share. There are so many aspects to a trip… to a fellow photographer, I can tell you that one of the frustrations was that there was a haze throughout… and that problem could easily be a subject for a blog post in itself.

      • You’re most welcome, Shimon…and I understand about the haze…living here in the bowl of the Salt Lake Valley, we have horrible inversions where the air is stagnant and the smog sits heavy upon us for weeks at a time, even creeping into the mountains where it messes-up otherwise beautiful scenery….and yes, that could very easily be a subject for a blog post all by itself…..

  2. Photography as a mission or experience..mission makes camera lens important and light plays a vital role..and as we travel like breeze and no plans to capture..just a feeling and then you record..a story unseen by onlookers is arrested in our memory..few with artistic touch would transform that onto a canvass..and claim a prize..”smile” is a prize,

    • As I mentioned to Scott above, there was another element of the day… haze. Photography has to work within the limitations of sight… sometimes we can only shoot what’s close to us, or what shouts at us. There are so many changing conditions… but it is all part of a fascinating adventure. Thanks, kalabalu.

  3. What a lovely day and I truly enjoyed your discussions about finding the balance between plans and an openness to kismet…the artist’s constant awareness that he’s not in charge, completely, if he really wants to let the muses guide. The side roads and back roads, and “taking more time; covering less ground,” (as Thomas Merton said) are definitely the way I prefer to travel, too…such riches, Shimon! Thank you for the wonderful meditation and photographs.

    • Unfortunately, modern life seems to be obsessed with getting there, and I find that there are all the time more blinders to assure a safe passage. All the more for those students of science and medicine. More specialization, and less understanding of the whole. As a simple human being, I try to have a ore holistic experience, even if it means only taking a few steps away from home. Thank you Kitty for joining me in another meditation.

  4. Glad the snow has subsided and you’re getting out some!

  5. What a lovely adventure you and your friend had – a nice way to remain flowing and yet still retain some of your original day plans. Such great photographs, thank you. I very much enjoy seeing your part of the world as is so different from mine. Your photos and your words capture the essence of the land and the people that surround you.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Shoes. I do enjoy taking a trip. It’s very refreshing for the eyes. Recently, I’ve been part of such an adventure, that I almost forgot about trips, but this one was a great pleasure.

  6. What a wonderful post dear Shimon, I loved your photographs and written piece. Thank you, have a nice weekend, love, nia

    • Thank you so much Nia. Glad you enjoyed the post. The weekend was quite pleasant. We still have snow on the ground, and taking a walk this morning, the cold was quite refreshing.

  7. I liked the conversation between the arab coffee guy and you … any conversation is good … smiles …

    • You are so right, Cat. Conversation can bridge the greatest of gaps between people… whether close, or on opposing sides. And it allows us to humor one another. Thanks.

  8. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Great post, Shimon – enjoyed that. How wonderful your times are with Janne. Can so picture it.

    The Dead Sea is so fascinating, & being 427 metres below sea level is fascinating. I’ve never quite understood how that can be, that the sea doesn’t come rushing into this lower area and fill it up. I know I’m ignorant, I know I don’t know a lot of facts – was terrible at Geology in school, but it’s the first thought I have.

    But that aside! I loved this piece. Wonderful 🙂 And the coffee at the end.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the adventure, Noeleen. I’ve been very lucky with my friends. What you ask about topography is fascinating indeed. As long as the land surface is higher where it meets the sea, it defines the land mass. But then, within the continent, there are higher and lower places, and on occasion, the dry land goes down deeper than the sea level. Occasionally, it goes down very far. The Dead Sea is the lowest dry land on the face of the earth, and one really feels differently when there. The atmosphere is thicker… just as on a mountain top, the air is thinner. People say they find it a very healthy place.

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes

        Shimon, I so much wish to experience that. I would dearly like to experience it – the air, the place.

        Thank you for explaining a bit about the topography. I can see it more now after you simply said it like that.

        Nearly Christmas, Shimon! Merry Christmas :).

        ~ PEACE ~

  9. It looks like a wonderful trip. Like you, we like to take it slow and do most of our travelling in our camper van through back and country roads, which are infinitely more delightful than the motorway. Life is a journey and we should enjoy the travelling as much as the destination.
    Hope you’re keeping warm in all that snow! It won’t be long before we get some too.

    • I so enjoy the way you travel. I used to travel a lot with a tent when I was younger, and loved having my home in different places… and waking up sometimes in the middle of nature. Always something new, and yet the old home still with me. I wish you many wonderful adventures, Fatima. It keeps us excited about being alive. It’s wonderful.

  10. Beautiful photos you took, Mr. Shimon. Digital cameras are making it so easy to photo, they have become part of our trip. I like to take the side roads and the back roads, but my husband is one of those who sticks to the plan. We are going to take a trip next week, if I don’t see you before the New Year’s Day, Happy 2014 to you and Janne!

    • Thank you very much for your good wishes, Amy. And the same to you and your husband. I know that some people are so intent on getting to their goals, that it is hard for them to take detours, or dally along the way. And I don’t know if it’s possible to change that. I’ve had friends get quite miserable when I wanted to stop a lot along the way… but you should tell your hubby about this blog post, and about your virtual friend who takes pleasure in the little stops and detours… it might be something he’ll chew on for a while, and then maybe want to try it himself.

  11. Well, my dear, that’s the reason why I din’t choose the Death Sea…
    I hope it doesn’t have to snow to the south… I think on the Red Sea’s shores, can be pretty cool at night.
    But we’re escaping from the cold of Switzerland (my mom and I)…
    I’ll let you know, enjoy a lovely weekend :-)claudine

    • Actually, Claudine… I think the Dead Sea is always warm and very pleasant… though it looked a little forlorn as we passed by the area where the hotels are. I think you may find more culture and interests on the Red Sea. I like to visit there, but haven’t been there for ages. As you say, it can be cool, though, at night. But I think it’s great to escape the cold of Switzerland for a break. Best wishes to you. It has been a lovely weekend.

  12. Enjoyed your story of discovery, both in the landscape and foliage on the way to your destination, and with the coffee vendor. Interesting about sticking to plans versus following the whims that pull you in many directions, and what you see along the way. Always interesting, especially when punctuated by your beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing the day with us.

    • And thank you, N, for joining us. It was a very beautiful day… and when it was over, we both realized that we need some more trips. As for the coffee vendor, it really gives me hope when I can meet wish someone who’s on the ‘other side’ so to speak, and just talk. Without the sticks and stones… it brings out the optimism in me.

  13. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    you paint the greatest stories with your words….
    I always enjoy your adventures….
    Thank you for sharing them so beautifully and clear….
    Take Care…You Matter…

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the story, Maryrose. It really is very refreshing to get out of our little niches and just to have a taste of the rest of the world. Gives us a new perspective no matter where we go. Thanks so much.

  14. That scene is just teasing you, waiting for you to get serious about it, Shimon. 😀

    There are certainly so many wonderful sites to absorb before you get there. I suspect it would be best to camp out there the night before, just so you don’t have any distractions to slow your approach.

    Goddess and I still smile and talk about those days of travel with you, especially during this month. Hard to believe it has already been two years.

    • I’m afraid I’m a little pessimistic, Bill. You see that colorful machine in the second from last picture? I suspect that it was specially created to eat those salt formations and turn them into table salt or the like. That’s the trouble with human beings, my friend. They’re constantly looking out for their own interest, and unwilling to just leave things alone… for us to photograph. Please give my best to the Goddess. And I will take your suggestion about camping out!

  15. What a wonderful trip and such marvelous storytelling….I was there with you all day wondering if you were going to stay in the city and then explore some views you missed on the way back or make a mad dash for the salt formations……Hahahahahaha….loved the Indian abducted by aliens studying his shoes and the crazy conversation over the coffee….
    This reminded me of so many occasions when hubs and I have set off in the lakes with a plan only to get sidetracked….Marvelous post, LOVED it I did!Yes!!!xxx

    • Thank you so much for sharing the trip, Dina… You and your hubbyy should have been there with us. It would have probably been still more of a story. Unfortunately, after contemplation on what we saw there, we’re thinking that maybe that very colorful monster portrayed in the second from last picture is a local invention made to eat those very salt formations we were looking for. Awww, art is such a fleeting pleasure… xxx

  16. Thank you for taking us along on this road trip Shimon. Beautiful pictures and as ever, an interesting and enjoyable narrative.

  17. I loved this post, Shimon! I was pulled in from the beginning because I dream of setting up a tent at the Dead Sea since I feel so much better in the dry air and low altitude. Even though I live in the desert, I always say it would be the best place in the world for me, so I do hope you make it back to get more photos. You were rather clever in your conversation in the café and that comment about the alien abduction made me laugh. I’m glad you are able to enjoy the beauty of Israel on your own terms as much as possible, as I was always terrible about sticking to an itinerary (and finding the fastest route).
    Leah xx

    • Glad you enjoyed it Leah. It was a beautiful day, though we did suffer a little from the haze which made photography a bit difficult. I too like the desert, if not because of the health aspects. I’ve heard that the Dead Sea is considered a very good health resort for a number of reasons. Though I’ve gone to the ends of the earth as a young man, I do love Israel very much, and every trip is special to me… even though sometimes I don’t get too far… or where I’m going. I suppose I’m easily distracted. Thanks for your comment.

  18. Off topic …. just a special thanks for the extraordinary nice words you wrote to my in your last comment. A toast of peace, love, and goodwill to all good people!

  19. You are just too brilliant. There are so many layers here…I agree with Janne that having a bit of a plan and being willing to jettison the plan is ideal. And I found it interesting that you could photograph an inconsequential scrap of ground – the green sprouts – and draw beauty from it, illustrating your words about the promise of spring. And oh, what delicious sights in Negev! The bicycling Orthodox Jew and the hesitant Indian…I too would have been tempted to stay and capture the moment as much as I would be eager to press on to the salt formations. And no surprise that it was hard to find them – maybe they have migrated! But what an encounter at the Lido you had! The sparring, the layers and layers of history between Arab and Jew that it contained, and the sense of irony and humor you are able to bring to it. Another journey well told.

    • What a very sweet comment, bluebrightly. Because of ill health, I didn’t get to it till now, but appreciate your visits greatly. And yes, it seems that wherever I go, there’s always enough to occupy my eyes and mind without going much further. Very glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  20. Now, that was a fun trip! I chuckled about the alien abduction and the conversation in the cafe. What a great time you and Janne had. She’s good for you, Shimon. I was thinking of you when I heard on CNN about the stranded motorists in Jerusalem. Glad you found warmer weather and got a glimpse of spring in the middle of winter! I would have enjoyed the trip too!

    • It was a very good trip, George. Since then, there have been so much. I seem to be living a very intensive life these days. Much more than I could possibly have expected. Thanks for coming along. I am sure you would have enjoyed the trip too.

  21. In English we go from here to there just by adding a t, which is probably why Americans are such a mobile people, but you get around pretty well too. Happy travels.

    • I always love to hear your thoughts on language. It is a subject that offers continuous learning, as well as subjects for meditation. Thanks for the comment, Steve.

  22. What a great adventure, following your eyes and heart rather than a map. I’ll have to try that some day.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the adventure, yearstricken. Ah, as you know… time moves relentlessly. I was under the weather for a while because of the flu… and am no discovering comments I missed. So good to find words from you.

  23. Shalom Shimon! glad to have come across your awesome blog… I’ll try to read you as often as possible… my very best and friendly thoughts from Toulouse, France! cheers, Mélanie

    • Shalom Melanie… didn’t find this comment for a while… because of suffering from the flu, and a general lack of time. But it was a pleasure to visit your blog and get to know you a little. And a fellow cat lover too. What more could I ask. Looking forward to more.

  24. So the world has heard about it – thanks to you Shimon! But it is those green shoots that tantalise me – something about the brilliant colour that all new shoots share. Gives me hope!

    • Yes, those green shoots really arouse my zest for life. This week we had another bit of sunlight after rainy days, and I was like a madman, chasing those shoots and the wild flowers that sprung up everywhere in a celebration of fertility. It is wonderful. Thank you, Claire.

  25. Dear Shimon,
    What an interesting adventure. I loved the photos, and following you and Janne on your trip. I enjoyed your different approaches and the balance between living for the moment and having a plan. I found the exchange with the Palestinian especially interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    • I don’t have to tell you, Naomi, how a trip can really open possibilities. This last Sunday we went on another trip, chasing after wild flowers and green grass that appeared after the rain. It was so good. Thanks for the comment.

  26. Those back roads are the best place to find interesting places to explore. You never know what is going to be around the next bend. The slow pace is the one I travel most these days.

    • Yes, sometimes having the means to move faster and go farther is actually a disadvantage. I know that we can never see all of the world, or enjoy all the possibilities of this life… sometimes it’s enough to just taste those things near us, or what we run into on our way from one place to another… thank you for coming by, Bev, and for your comment.

  27. And I too, will look forward to your next travel. “Tooled along the highway”…I haven’t heard that expression since I was a teenager. Where did it come from to you? What’s the “VAT”? I’m so under travelled. 🙂

    • Not having spoken English for about fifty years, I have to depend on my memory, and the literature I read… and sometimes… I’m afraid I sound a little old fashioned. But I’m glad I did have the opportunity to learn this language, which is now the most popular international language in the world. VAT is ‘value added tax’; another way to milk the innocent citizen. It’s very popular in Europe and Israel. I’m sure I travel less than you do, Bob. But thanks to this modern ‘virtual’ technology, we see the world. Thanks for your comment.

  28. I like the idea of moving through physical space as a kind of time travel: visiting the spring that is to come. Too bad it isn’t so easy to get to a place where people can live their lives in peace and cooperation — or at least mutual tolerance.

    I also enjoyed Janne’s philosophy (“If you don’t make plans at all, you never get anywhere. But at the same time, we want to go with the flow.”)

    Happy New Year to you both.

    • Yes, when we’re traveling we open ourselves to undreamed of possibilities. I’ve found it to be very inspiring, and a path to soul searching too. And as you say, Charles, there’s even time travel in the package. But I agree with you, peace and cooperation seems to be the hardest to find. Still, there’s that hope that maybe this technology… this ability to meet freely, transcending all borders, will enable us to communicate in a more direct way. Thank you so much for your comment.

  29. Pingback: Three Readers & the Art of Blogging | The Chapel

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