Last night was either the ultimate or penultimate night of Pesach or Passover (depending on what hemisphere one's in), and it's become kind of a tradition that I spend this evening with Anneke and her family. She's one of my best friends, an artist/sculptress who lives and works in the Greater London area and whose installation art quite frankly, and in my humble opinion, wouldn't look out of place in either the Saatchi Gallery or the Tate Modern. Yes, -if you're reading this- I truly think it's that good, A!
We met in Israel in 1996, when TPTB decreed that we share a caravan in a trailer park in the Negev desert, where we had come to work on an emergency excavation of the Byzantine stratum of the settlement of Ein Gedi. The Westbank was going to be handed over to the Palestinian authorities soon, and therefore the Hebrew University of Jerusalem had advertised far and wide for archaeologists and volunteers to come help finish work on the projects still going on in the area. As it turned out, the shaky political situation in the Middle East worked to the advantage of the project's leader Prof. Hirschfeld and he could continue digging for another 6 seasons; with the project finally concluding in 2002. for those of you who may be interested, here's a link: http://www.hum.huji.ac.il/Archaeology/eingedi/index.htm
I had arrived here, on the shores of the Dead Sea, after a grueling journey and all I wanted was to get cleaned up and then sleep for a hundred years, so instead of my usual routine of exploring my surroundings whenever I arrive in some foreign place, I did just that. Fatigue made me not care about giving in to my inner selfishness for once, so I hogged the double bed and left whoever would share these quarters with me to make their choice between the couch in the lounge/kitchenette area or the bunkbeds in the side cabinet. Several hours later I woke up, refreshed, to find that the lounge had now been filled with suitcases; but there was no sign of whoever owned them. Not for long though, for there quickly followed a polite knock on the door which opened to reveal the person whose friendship would come to mean so much to me over the course of the next few weeks.
Anneke and I immediately hit it off -at least, I don't remember there having been any initial awkwardness or anything like that; nothing could disturb the peace and harmony in which we lived, not even my imprisoning her daughter when she came to visit her mother a few days later. In my defense: I hadn't meant to. It was just one of those things.
We only had one key to our caravan and for some reason, I was the one keeping it. We got up at the crack of dawn, locked up, walked over to the site a few kms down the road and up a dry wadi and worked till 10 when we had a little tea break and tried to scrounge some dry biscuits from the Bedouin in charge of the food stores, because by then we would have worked up an appetite. An hour and a half later and brunch would be served in the shade of the date palms in the orchard nearby; the table laden with bread and olives, cucumbers, avocado, and halva as well as the more usual breakfast staples of yoghurt and cereal, but which I as a lactose-intolerant do better to avoid. And coffee! I tell you, you haven't lived until you've tasted Bedouin coffee; thick like molasses and strong, and laced with cardamom. It's one of the things I've come to love most about my frequent sojourns in the Arabian deserts: waking up in the morning cold to the enticing smell of coffee and cardamom, plonking myself down in front of the fire and waiting impatiently for the mixture to come to the boil a third time while making small-talk with my Bedouin guides...
Anyway, getting back to my anecdote: one of Anneke's daughters (she has 4) had arrived late the previous night, and bunked down in the bunkbed. As she was exhausted we'd agreed not to wake her when we did, but let her sleep then make her own way over to the excavation site. We followed our usual routine, and by tea time Anneke was getting a bit worried: what was keeping Rachel? I didn't know, but when she asked me the same question again half an hour later, it suddenly occurred to me that it might have something to do with the fact that I'd locked her in! Anneke was off like a shot - and when I next saw them, later on that afternoon, I was regaled to the story of the adventures of Rachel. Finding herself imprisoned in a caravan out of season in a holiday caravan park, and knowing that we weren't likely to return until nightfall, she decided to make her escape through this tiny little window that as luck would have it was the only one that would open. Contorting her body to go through it, her clothing didn't survive the exercise and while free, she now found herself sporting several cuts and bruises and with the added inconvenience of looking like a living bundle of rags. Luckily, she soon found a groundsman who let her have a pair of overalls; and that's how her mother found her wandering halfway up the road toward the excavation site.
Anneke soon became disenchanted with the whole idea of archaeology - as she tried to explain that as an artist, she's not only used but dedicated to creating things whereas, watching us archaeologists at work, struck her as being totally destructive. Of course, that's not the way we see it as we carefully record every grain of sand we displace, and all the knowledge that we gain by studying the terrain and the artefacts that come from it is kind of a creative process for us too; but I could see her reasoning up to a point. Nevertheless, her stint at Ein Gedi did inspire her to create new works of art, and I can still see her sat beneath a palm tree twining endless balls of string. I helped by bringing her bits and pieces of material that I'd found lying around, whether it be strangely shaped pieces of wood or yards of raffia, which she accepted gratefully; and she took some marvelous photographs. I did too, but unfortunately I've lost them all in a house move some years later.
To cut a long story short -which perhaps I should have done sooner-, Anneke and I have remained fast friends. We visit regularly, usually when Anneke has one or more of her works exhibited in either The Netherlands or the UK, and as I've mentioned in the beginning of this entry, for the last night of Pesach. Yesterday's get-together was especially good as Anneke's eldest daughter, her husband and 5-months old baby sons had made the journey from Israel to celebrate the feast with her family in their seafront flat in The Netherlands. All in all, there were 12 people sharing a meal and enjoying each other's company, and I daresay a good time was had by all. Rachel, who now studies Fashion and Design in Melbourne, couldn't be there of course, but I'm sure I'll see her again next Pesach. Unless she decides to remain Down Under...
For me, the evening ended with prayers - I don't read/speak Hebrew, so I can only sit there listening to the others chant and occasionally catch a word or two, such as 'Adonai' or 'HaShem', but I always enjoy this part immensely. I call myself a Christian, but I hardly ever bother to pray...don't really know any prayers apart from the Our Father and the Hail Mary...yet it always touches me when I watch others indulge in it. It's a thing of beauty, to me - to be able to commune with the deity like that. Sometimes, when I try it myself, I feel like I'm almost there...and then it slips away from me again.
When I got home (around 12:30 pm), I remembered that I'd set the VCR to record BtVS 7.3, 'Same Time Same Place' that night. So of course I had to rewind and watch it. Loved the 'Button Button' scenes with Spike in the basement, but didn't enjoy much of the rest of it. Willow goes on a killing spree and gets strength and forgiveness offered in the blink of an eye; Spike gets abused for much of S6, finds himself a soul, goes insane, and gets a comment about his ripeness?
In the end, I only got about 3 hours sleep...Thank God it's going to be the weekend soon!