To It

Dead Sea

When I was clearing off my father’s desk after his death this summer, I found a round cardboard disk with the words “to it” printed on it. I recognized immediately this gift from his second wife some 30 years ago, a joke gift. At his puzzled look on opening it, she said, “Now you’ve got a round to it, you can do all those things you’ve been putting off.” She was playing with his usual reply of “I’ll get around to it.” He was not amused. They divorced about five years later.

I didn’t take the disk away with me, but I feel I’ve inherited my father’s tendency to procrastinate. Since his death in June and since our move to Jerusalem in August, I have neglected family, friends, my work, social media, and Canadian Writers Abroad.

Procrastination is easy when you move to a new country. Unless you are efficient and organized, which I was not this time, no one knows your telephone number, and anyhow who can figure out how to retrieve messages, and sometimes the internet doesn’t work, and who can be bothered? And when you walk out your door, no one knows you. No one is going to ask how your work is going. By December I knew I’d let things slide long enough and resolved to do better in the new year.

Around Christmas, I got red eyes. The pain in one eye was so intense that it felt like a biblical punishment. I couldn’t read and I couldn’t look at a computer screen. At St John’s Eye Hospital, a mere block away, they told me I had a virus. That I would be better soon. But I didn’t get better, I got worse.

Moving abroad and setting up house in a new country isn’t always easy. But you get on with things, do what you have to do, and when you stumble, you say to yourself that things will get better. Sometimes, though, they get worse. The new year came and went and I couldn’t read. Everything was blurry. I recoiled from sunlight like a vampire.

And then — bless “and then,” the redeeming turn of the story. I went to another eye doctor, who found the hard seedy source of the problem stuck to my eyelid, which in turn caused an abrasion that delayed victory over the virus. I still can’t read, and am touch-typing this while squinting. But now I am assured that my eye will recover, and this makes everything bearable. Even the necessity of apologizing for my months of procrastination is bearable. I am looking forward.

My question to you is: if you couldn’t read for a few weeks, what book would you select for your first read of 2017?


Expat Mobile



Sometimes when I look at the view from the various hilltops where I live, I feel disbelief. (Disbelief in the most religious city in the world!) How can this be the view when only weeks ago it was lush gardens, clean parks, red buses, brollies and rain? The most sunny day in London could not match this brightness –the light in this photo is at the end of the day, around 5:00 PM.

Since coming to Jerusalem I’ve thought often of Playmobil dolls, the small plastic dolls that come in themed boxes. The farm-girl doll with her sheep and sheaf of wheat. The racer with his car and wrench. The knight with his horse and armour and spear. Because we lived in a country with castles when our daughter was Playmobil aged, we bought many knights. I think of them now, here, because of the crusades. Did she have crusader knights? Whether we thought they were good guys or bad guys didn’t matter, because she discovered that you could pull off not only their armour and helmets but also their hair. The brown-haired knight would, pop, become the blonde knight. All dolls swapped roles.

That’s how I feel when I look at the view here. Like someone picked me up out of my London theme and dropped me into ancient religious-land theme, and popped the top of my head off en route. Pictured on my box would be the wall (both the wailing one and the one that makes you weep) and the Dome of the Rock and Orthodox Jews and friendly Arab shopkeepers and me holding a pomegranate.

And you thought I was going to write about a car, the expat version of the popemobile.

Here’s another view, of the garbage-mobile:


Look at the King the King the King

How could I resist an exhibition called “In the Valley of David and Goliath”?  The exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem displays artifacts excavated from 2007 to 2013 at a 3,000 year-old site today known as Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Elah Valley. But maybe, just maybe, it was the city of Sha’arayim, mentioned apparently in the bible story of David and Goliath. Why would it be that city, quite apart from its location between the Philistines and the Judeans (near the battlefield where David slew Goliath and thereby created the infinite Hollywood trope of clever little guy against big bad guy)? Because, the museum display posits, Sha’arayim means two gates in Hebrew, and the archeologists found two gates in the walled city they were excavating, and not many sites from that era have two gates, for security reasons obviously. Therefore…. Does this sound like a logic exercise in a philosophy class?

Despite my discomfort with finding biblical quotations as bonus information to the exhibits, I was fascinated. It is pretty cool that archeologists can gather up a bunch of chewed olive pits and use carbon dating to place the site in time. From the Bible Lands website: “Carbon14 dating, on charred olive pits excavated from the foundation layers of the site have determined that this city existed between the late 11th century BCE and early 10th century BCE, the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel.”

The Kingdom of Israel is also referred to as the Kingdom of David. I mention these kingdoms because I felt like someone was trying too hard to convince me. For example, a hand print on a clay wall could mean A or B, depending on what interpretation you bring to it and its context. This exhibition is presenting the artifacts as support for another city belonging to the Kingdom of David (and therefore Israel), although, to give the museum credit, the interpretation is presented as questions: Could this be etc.?

Item: a piece of pottery with Hebrew writing on it.

Item: three small shrines or houses for idols, one of which apparently resembles the biblical description of King Solomon’s temple and palace but looks like a doll-house to me.

Item: or the lack thereof. Bones were found in the food areas, but no pork bones, and the Philistines ate pork so they couldn’t have been living here.

Item: clay pots with thumb prints on the handles. Taxation? Valuation? These along with the walls of the town suggest an organized state.

Proof that this was the site of a city built at the time of King David or thereabouts? Maybe. Even the book about it by archeologists Yosef Garfinkel, Igor Kreimerman and Peter Zilberg leaves it open to question: Debating Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Fortified City in Judah from the Time of King David (Israel Exploration Society and Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

But tell me why do I hear Danny Kaye singing “Look at the king the king the king” as I write this?


Yes, there’s dust, but hey, the dust is old. When I try to read about exactly how old this place is, it’s as if I ate an ice cream bar too fast: brain freeze. During our five years in England we explored its history backwards, starting with Victorian, then heading out to medieval cathedral towns, and on our last trip, searching for signs of the Romans at Hadrian’s wall. People don’t come to Jerusalem for any of that comparatively modern history. Here history is religious — it’s where BC and AD began. image1

What do I mean by old dust, anyhow? Do I want geological information? Or human habitation? My Baedeker’s Israel tells me that people have been living in the Jerusalem area since the Early Stone Age. And that people were moving around and conquering Israel well before the Egyptians temporarily took charge. What makes me double check that I am indeed reading the chapter called “History,” pages of which are tabbed with “Facts” is the discussion of biblical figures. Such as Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt (which took 40 years and suggests he had a worse sense of direction than I do): “…ended their migration on Mount Nebo in present-day Jordan, where Moses died and his successor Johsua organized the land seizure. Neither the story recounted in Exodus, nor the character of Moses, can be taken literally from a historical perspective. Nevertheless they are a valuable source that describes different migration groups at that time…” p. 54. 

I like that bit about “organized the land seizure” even if it can’t be taken literally.

It just gets better. Remember David and Goliath? That stone slinging incident was part of a larger engagement against the Philistines, and David became king, and captured Jerusalem and made it his capital around 998 BC. There is more about David in the chapter “Famous People,” where he has an entry (p. 97). Who did he capture Jerusalem from? From whom? The Jebusites. He let them stay.

As I said, old dust. I’ll have to give that sandy dust that I sweep off the balcony everyday a little more respect.







First impression, as someone at the handle end of a taut dog leash: walls, fences, and broken glass. The beige stones of the low walls have holes in them, look old, but they still block us from that apparent field of wasteland, from the hidden courtyards, from everything except this glass strewn uneven sidewalk.

Once the dog has found some dry [cedar? pine?] needles on which to relieve herself, I can notice local life. The people standing on the corner are not pub overflow, as in London. They have come to buy the oval bread a woman is selling from a basket. There is also a basket of eggs. Men speak to the dog but we do not understand. Across the street, a man splashes bottled water on the windshield of his parked car, while the wipers flap, removing dust. For there is dust.



Such doom and gloom to be found on the internet about the future of reading, of fiction, of books. And yet. The window washer tells me he likes to read non-fiction, and rattles off a list of recent reads. Biographies of sports celebs, politicians, people’s experience of war. Nothing unusual in this except that he reads at the end of a fourteen-hour working day, or on a rare day off. He works long hours to get by, and when he isn’t working, his favourite thing to do is read.

This morning, after I witnessed an exchange of goods between vendors, the vegetable vendor told me that this job feeds him, and is much needed, as he is a student. There was a pause while I speculated: student of acting, agriculture, assets? “Of what,” I asked.
“I like that,” I said, “the market vendor philosopher.” He looked dismayed. I guess I should have said, “the philosopher market vendor.” Or maybe the problem is with the words “market vendor.” There is probably a jazzier English version for guys who sell stuff at the market. Marketeer?