Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 13)

Those Time Travel Leaves Behind

The following is politically relevant Back to the Future fan fiction that I wrote just after the election. Since it is probably un-sellable as fiction, you can read it as a freebie!

 

My name is Jennifer Parker, and I’ve lived my whole life in a little California town called Hill Valley.

Yes, that Hill Valley. The one with the massive eyesore casino. The one that gave us President Tannen.

I didn’t vote for him. In point of fact, most of the country didn’t vote for him. But Biff Tannen never cared much for the rules. I know things about him…

Why didn’t I come forward before now? No one would believe my story. I could be committed just for admitting that I believe it—and I wouldn’t be the first person he had committed.

The year was 1985. I worked in his massive eyesore casino, because in the Hill Valley dystopia that’s just what you did. Biff didn’t think I was pretty enough to be in one of his pageants, but I was good enough to serve cocktails on the casino floor. I was seventeen. That didn’t seem to matter to anyone. With some makeup and my tits hiked up to my neck I fit in just fine.

It was a horrible job, as I’m sure you already guessed. Cocktail waitresses work for tips, and there weren’t a lot of big spenders on the floor of Biff’s Pleasure Palace. When their hands came near me it was usually to grope something, not to reward me for my excellent service.

When my shifts were over I liked to go up on the roof and smoke cigarettes and pretend I lived somewhere else. Maybe somewhere with a high school. You could see the stars, sometimes, and at the very least you couldn’t see the casino when you were on top of it.

Suddenly the door burst open and a teenager burst out onto the roof. I knew who he was, of course. You don’t grow up in Hill Valley and not know who Biff’s stepkids are, at least by sight.

Marty was the youngest of them, my age. We’d been in classes together, when he bothered to go to them. He’d flunked out of school long before it burned down, and was shipped off to boarding school. Sometimes he made headlines in the local paper for a drug-fueled episode that got him kicked out of another school—or at least he did before the paper’s editor mysteriously disappeared. Anyway, he was a wreck. I guess I would be too if my dad was murdered when I was five.

At first I thought that was all it was, Marty stumbling around in a drunken misadventure. But a minute later Biff himself came out the door, swaggering and repulsive with a gun in his hand a silk bathrobe barely covering the rest. I put my cigarette out and shrank deeper into the shadows.

That was when I saw how different Marty looked. He wasn’t drunk or drugged at all. He stood up straighter than I’d ever seen. His eyes—even though they were far away I could see something steely in them that hadn’t been there since grade school.

I saw a flash of something else. Marty and me together in a grassy place. A phone number scribbled on the back of a flier. A kiss.

With Marty? The kid who vomited in the king of Saudi Arabia’s private plane? But the guy I was looking at wasn’t that Marty. He stood right up to Biff’s gun (albeit while backing toward the edge of the roof), and that was when I overheard Biff admit to murder.

“The police will match the bullet to that gun,” Marty told him.

And Biff said, “Kid, I own the police. Besides, they couldn’t match up the bullet that killed your old man.”

You see now why I never told anyone?

I closed my eyes. Marty was either going to get shot or jump off the roof, and either way I didn’t want to see it.

But then I heard a really strange sound. Something I’ve never heard before. Like a motor running, but also like a vacuum cleaner or a bunch of kazoos or … I really can’t describe it. As much as I’ve hoped to, I’ve never heard that sound again.

I looked over and I saw … a spaceship!

Or so it looked to me at the time. Later, much later, when I saw a Delorean on the street I recognized it from that night. So I guess it was a car. But it hovered just at the edge of the roof like magic.

The wing door came up and knocked Biff out, and he lay splayed on the roof, the revolver next to his hand. I dared peek out a little further at Marty, who stood proudly and majestically on the roof of that flying car like something from a dream.

Maybe it was a dream. But for just a moment he saw me, and we locked eyes, and there was such a recognition in his eyes, a familiar, reassuring smile that seemed to promise me it would all be okay in time.

And then he hopped into the car and the door shut and I stood up from my hiding place with my mouth open to scream, Take me with you!

But I didn’t say a word. I crept past Biff and went downstairs and went home and the next day I went back to work and lived my pathetic little life.

I never told anyone what I saw, but I’ve thought about that flying car every day of my life. I guessed—hoped?—that it had come from a better future, one with flying cars and who knows what other marvels.

But it’s the future now, and we still don’t have flying cars. It’s 2017 and Biff is president and I don’t know, I guess I always thought Marty would come back in his Delorean and stop it somehow.

Sometimes I have flashes of another life where he and I are together. Sometimes it’s a great life. Sometimes it’s just okay. Sometimes we have kids who do stupid things. Sometimes there are flying cars.

But the Jennifer in those lives isn’t me, and the Marty here isn’t him. This Marty overdosed a few years ago. He was found on the floor of a trashed penthouse suite in Atlantic City. And I still work at Biff’s Pleasure Palace, only now I’m not pretty enough to serve drinks either, so I clean vomit out of gold-accented hotel rooms that haven’t looked classy in 30 years.

I keep thinking there’s a world in which we live happily ever after, but I don’t live in that world. The car flew away and now I’m stuck in this one.

Write-a-thon wrap-up: Success, then failure

I write this to you from a very quiet place. An upstairs room in an off-the-grid cabin a few miles outside of a very small town, with solar electricity, no internet, no cell signal, and thankfully fully modern plumbing. A young woman is still asleep on the mattress next to the bed, a woman I met yesterday, who drove me the 150 miles to get here.

No, I am not hiding from my writing commitments. It’s not the Witness Protection Program. And unfortunately for the write-a-thon, I’m not here to write either.

As for my write-a-thon goals, there’s good news and bad news. Good news: I did finish that “story” by the end of week three. Bad news: in week four, my writing group informed me that it wanted to be a novel when it grew up (although I guess not fully grown up, because it’s YA). So instead of working on a new story like I promised, I’ve been working on outlining that expansion, and will be starting on the writing of the new and improved novel version when I can figure out how to squeeze writing into my life again.

Good news: I will have fulfilled my goal of adding content to my blog… just as soon as I get some internet time to actually upload these things.

Bad news: I totally failed at figuring out reprint submissions. Worse news: I haven’t even finished a new story to submit. Argh.

Good news: I’ve written seven postcards this summer! Here they are. I hope you sponsored me in the Clarion West write-a-thon, so that one of them can be yours!

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First time ever running out of room on a postcard. I’m getting sloppy!

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Worlds collide

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How incredible are these postcards?

The dayjob does keep me from writing as much fiction as I’d like, but sometimes it’s awesome too. Like when one of my AMAZING readers/writers who happens to be an expert on postcards (like, an actual book-writing expert) sends me some samples of exaggerated postcards. Imagine the stories . . .

 

Write-a-thon week three update

Only two days late. Don’t judge me.

So far, I’ve been doing … okay … on my Clarion West write-a-thon goals:

• Move website? Check.

• Add old posts to site? Check, 7 so far.

• Submit reprints? Negatory. I could use a lot of help with that. But I did update a bunch of submissions that needed it.

• New postcard stories? Check. Here they are.

• Finish current WIP? Check.

• Twitter? Kinda. I set up some IFTTT formulas that should help.

It’s not too late to sponsor me! I only have one sponsor so far. All sponsors will get a postcard! Maybe one of these:

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I didn’t realize until after I’d written the last one that it had a name, “He waits through the winter.” Which just makes it so much better.

Write-a-thon week one update

I am writing into the void.

I am writing about the void.

I am avoiding writing?

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Playing imaginary piano into the void?

It’s summer again, and that means Clarion West, and because I never learn I am signed up for it again. You can read all about it at www.clarionwest.org/members/eskaftun. So far I have zero sponsors, so I could use a few more! This year I have pledged to:

• Move my Blogspot blog to WordPress. I mean really. Blogspot? What was I thinking? (by end of week 1)

• Add a crapload of old travel writing, book reviews, and other junk to the blog. (at least 2 posts per week)

• Research and submit previously published stories to reprint markets. (at least 1 per week)

• Write and post new postcard stories. (at least 1 per week)

• Finish current WIP, a murder mystery set in a school full of invisible teenagers. (by end of week 3)

• Start some new fiction. (30 min. of fictioning per day). If no new fiction ideas occur on schedule, revisit old WIP YA novel about teens navigating a world where murder is legal, up to a point.

• Figure out how to have a twitter presence when I hate twitter. 🙂

So far I have mostly done the first thing, moving this site to WordPress. However as of this exact moment it only shows up if you DON’T type in the “www” part. I’m working on it. But in the meantime you probably can’t see me. So hello, void.

I’m a little behind on submissions and adding in old blog posts, but I have added one old post to the site. There will be more of these, and they will be backdated. Exercise in futility? Probably.

I have also written one of my famous postcards. It could be yours if you sponsor me.

On the “untranslatable”

Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.

Photo courtesy of Maren Eline Nord, Nittedal, Norway
Three grads take part in Norway’s russefeiring, the traditional high school graduate celebration that coincides with the national day, in 2014. There is no corresponding thing in America, so we have no word for it.

Last fall an article started to go around, written almost exactly a year ago for Matador Network, called “10 untranslatable Norwegian terms” (matadornetwork.com/notebook/10-untranslatable-norwegian-terms). A quick search will turn up many such lists, all with different words and terms, in basically every language you can think of.

It’s true, of course, that translation is an imperfect art. A language is about more than just words for the things we can all agree on (cat, dog, car, etc.); it’s innately tied up in the way the culture that uses it sees the world and therefore reveals things about that culture. Just think of the old chestnut that the Inuit have dozens of words for snow.

In particular, though, I was troubled by this list, which was:
Skjerp deg
Kos(elig)
Glad i deg
Takk for sist
Marka
Faen
Pålegg
Tøffelhelt
Takk for maten
Russ

I don’t claim to be an expert on the Norwegian language (I’ve only been learning it for two years!), but to call some of these untranslatable seemed like a stretch to me.

Judging from the comments section on the article, I’m not alone. Collectively, folks with knowledge of Norwegian and English can translate all of these, though they might not agree on how.

I’d argue that the list falls into three main categories: words that don’t translate literally but have pretty clear parallel meanings in English (skjerp deg to “sharpen up” or even “watch yourself;” faen to a different f word; glad i deg to “I like you”), phrases that literally translate but aren’t used quite the same (we wouldn’t say “thanks for last time” to greet someone, but it’s not a hard concept to grasp), and words that we don’t have in English because the thing it describes isn’t big in the U.S. (we’re not as into open-faced sandwiches as our Nordic cousins, so we don’t talk about pålegg—though I’d also like to suggest “toppings” as a simple translation—and we just don’t have Russ at all).

And then there’s takk for maten. Does the author of the list really think that we don’t say “thanks for the food” in English? I am not inviting him to dinner.

Underlying quibbles about whether these words are really translatable or not is something deeper, I suspect. Because when you come down to it, English has a word for almost everything. Perhaps not a common word, but with over a million words to choose from (twice the vocabulary of the next most verbose languages) you can bet most concepts are covered. And if it isn’t covered already, English has no problem with simply annexing words from the nearest unwary language. I predict that the Danish version of kos, “hygge,” will one day be in English dictionaries.

I think what’s really being celebrated in these lists is the culture underneath. A list like this one tells me that the author thinks Norwegians, when compared to English-speakers, focus more on finding joy in simple pleasures, are more frugal in their use of the word “love,” give thanks more freely, feel closer to nature, and curse less inventively.

Whether or not that is true, it speaks to something. As our world gets smaller, as people from all over the world are able to talk to each other, to be influenced by each other’s cultures, to eat each other’s cuisines, and generally to “melt,” it’s easy to feel that the differences between peoples and places are wearing away. The downside of a global melting pot is that what makes cultures unique can start to fade, and even though the opportunities and advantages coming with globalization are huge, that loss is scary.

Is our insistence that some things cannot be translated a reaction to this? I see it as a way of asserting the uniqueness of a culture, though perhaps not the most constructive way. Do we need these barriers? To me they feel dismissive: “You wouldn’t understand; you’re not Norwegian.” Would it be threatening if we did?

What word would a Norwegian use to describe that feeling?

This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Have we been there yet?

Photo: Amy Lietz We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?

Photo: Amy Lietz
We spent about five minutes at Gullfoss in Iceland. Does it count?

Lately a thing has been going around social media: a map of the U.S. called “States I’ve Visited.” Visited states turn a vibrant pink, bragging to all Facebook friends how well traveled one is. It’s a digital, national version of a gift we recommended last Christmas, a map of the world you can scratch off to show where you’ve been.

I think these things are fun, and I’ve even given the physical versions to a couple of people as gifts. But I must confess I have a hard time filling them out for myself. My hesitation comes from an uncertainty about what it means to have been to a place.

The first time I remember doing this same exercise, counting which states I’d been to, I got into an argument about Georgia. I’d transferred between legs of a flight to Florida in the Atlanta airport. The judges ruled that I had not been to Georgia.

I accept that. In fact, I think it’s generally agreed upon that airports don’t count. Just because you’ve sprinted for a connecting flight in Frankfurt doesn’t mean that you’ve been to Germany. The basis for this rule seems to be the idea that airports are all the same. Which has some validity, if our starting point is that you are a fairly well-traveled native English speaker. Even the farthest-flung airports I’ve visited have been variations on a theme of large windows and moving walkways, had signage I could read, and sold overpriced snacks and coffees (even often for US currency), though of course the size, quality, and interest of airports vary wildly.

But this rule sets a dangerous precedent; at least for me it is the first step of a slippery slope. You see, lots of places are basically all the same. I once spent several months traveling the U.S. while living in my car (long story; another time). I was in Providence, Rhode Island. I’d walked around just a bit—just enough to be unpleasantly far from my car, though I don’t remember seeing much of interest—when it started pouring. I mean, seriously heavy, drenching rain. I would have been soaked by the time I made it back to the car (which is problematic when the car is your home for the night) so I ducked into a mall to wait it out. Long story short: I spent many hours in this mall, and when I could I left the state as fast as possible. So have I been to Rhode Island? Malls are pretty much all the same, aren’t they?

Or for that matter, what about any number of the U.S. states that I drove through, on the Interstate, and maybe only stopped at a rest stop or a gas station, and don’t remember a single thing about the state? Have I been to those? My map looks very different depending on these answers. I’ve been to either 35 or 43 states.

Let’s say I’ve made it to a state and done a legitimate thing—stayed overnight, saw the sights, ate some local cuisine—in one city. Is it really fair to say I’ve been to that state? What if the state is Texas and the city I’ve been to is Austin? Seems like a stretch.

For that matter, even my home state is mostly a mystery to me. I know western Washington pretty well (well, except for Bellingham and most of the islands and almost the whole Olympic peninsula), but though I’ve been to the eastern places a number of times most of it might as well be full of sasquatches for how familiar I am with it.

Often times, travel articles add to the feeling that the way I’ve visited a place isn’t good enough. Titles like “You haven’t seen Seattle until you’ve eaten these four fish,” or some such. I know it’s hyperbole, but I am left wondering: have I ever really been anywhere?

 

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Not a blogger

Hi there.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m not much of a blogger. I accept that.

So welcome to my author page. I am still that, more or less. I utterly failed to promote a publication I had this spring, “No Alphabet Can Spell It,” which you can still find over at Buzzy Mag. I really like this story. It’s a bit wacky.

I’ve also got a story coming out in this month’s Ghost in the Cogs anthology, which is available for preorder and will be out by Halloween. This is my first attempt at steampunk, and I may have taken the title a bit too literally. I wrote it right after returning from a winter-time trip to Iceland, so that is where my story is set. Steam there is a life-saver, though not probably in the way I’ve used it in “Frænka Askja’s Silly Old Story.”

Steam in Iceland, inspiration for the story. Also, Nils Anders
Wik, mascot of the Norwegian American Weekly.

I’m back to fiction a bit, writing lately about sharks and invisible teenagers.

When I’m not writing fiction it’s usually because my life as Editor of the Norwegian American Weekly has consumed my life. For example, I’ve just returned from my first business trip (ever, maybe), to glorious Minot, ND, to sell newspapers at Norsk Høstfest. It was moderately successful. If you’re interested in Norway (and who isn’t, to some degree?), check us out. NAW is also a market for fiction, so some of you should send Norway-related any-genre English-language fiction of 1500 words or fewer to fiction@na-weekly.com.

That’s all for now! I will try to pop in from time to time to update things like publications, but no promises. Know that I love you, dear website visitors, even while I’m away.

A summer tour in the Holy Land

Ancient yet modern, safe yet violent, Israel is a land of contradictions

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
An example of the ancient ruins of Roman aquaduct outside Caesarea, a port city built by Herod the Great.

 

Since returning from a hastily planned trip to Israel this summer, everyone’s been asking me how it was. Did I have fun? And I don’t entirely know how to answer. Many of the experiences one has in Israel can’t be filed neatly under the heading of “fun,” but it is definitely a trip worth taking.

The most prominent feature of the region is religion; therefore your experience with Israel will vary depending on your religious beliefs. For many Christians, visiting sites like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (where, according to legend, Jesus was born) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where he was crucified and buried) are life-changing spiritual moments. Muslims have the Dome of the Rock, where some believe Mohammed ascended to heaven, and which is, in any case, an ancient marvel of architecture (or so I hear, as non-Muslims are no longer permitted to visit the site) and for Jews, almost the whole country is a sort of miracle, not to mention housing many sacred tombs and the famous Western Wall.

Our group wasn’t particularly religious, so I chose a “classical” tour that would give us a taste of everything with a focus on history rather than faith—to the degree they can be separated in Israel. There’s little variation in what highlights are included in most package tours, so go with whichever best fits your travel dates and budget. Ours was an “11-day tour” (with two of those travel days) that had us leaving Seattle on a Thursday to arrive in Tel Aviv on Friday. The guided portion of our tour began Sunday morning when we swung north to spend two nights in the Golan Heights before going back to Jerusalem for five more nights.

A few words of advice. One, do shop around for your flights—it would have been simple to use the tour provider for this, but we would have paid hundreds more in airfare and/or spent eight more hours in layovers each way. I took to Travelocity.com and found us an itinerary that was far superior.

Two, if your itinerary is like ours, consider spending extra time in Tel Aviv. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, when everything was just about to shut down for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath, which goes from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Though more things in Tel Aviv remain open than in Jerusalem—like restaurants and some shops—this still limited our ability to see the city. On our only day in town, most of what we wanted to see—museums and two supposedly bustling markets—were closed or open for such brief hours that we missed out. This left us with Yafo and the beach (which, don’t get me wrong, are both incredible). To get our lower airfare we spent an extra day in Jerusalem, but I wish we’d had it in Tel Aviv instead.

Three, don’t let the tour people bully you into an upgrade; we went with base-level hotels and they were entirely acceptable. Only upgrade if amenities like swimming pools are vital to you. But if your trip is anything like ours, you won’t be spending much time at the hotel anyway.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Bedouin hospitality in this case included dressing up for photos. Unfortunately, the sword and helmet were out of our price range, and had to stay in Israel.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Bedouin hospitality in this case included dressing up for photos. Unfortunately, the sword and helmet were out of our price range, and had to stay in Israel.

What’s awesome:
The age of the place. From Yafo (Jaffa), the ancient port city at the south end of Tel Aviv, to Tsfat (Safed), home of Jewish mysticism, to Jerusalem itself, it’s incredible to see how history has layered itself in these places, some of which have been continuously occupied for many thousands of years. For an American, this can be hard to quite understand. It’s hard to know how much of any given site is ancient and how much is new, because the construction matches so well. In many places it feels as if you’ve time-traveled thousands of years—until you catch the blue flicker of a television inside a building.

In Jerusalem, be sure to find your way to the “roof” of the city. The level at which you fight your way through aggressive vendors and crowds of tourists is only the middle. Older passageways are laced below, and newer ones above. The locals use the roof to bypass the throng below, but you can simply use it as a place to enjoy the view.

The food. Your mileage may vary, but I love falafel and shawarma in pita, hummus, and cucumber and tomato. The only downside is that there’s no bacon anywhere.

I found the implementation of kosher rules very interesting. Most restaurants do not keep kosher, but those that do are labeled as either meat or dairy (since the two are not allowed to mix). You can have pizza, but no meat toppings. Or you can have falafel (Israel’s national food—possibly in a semi-ironic way?), which I never even noticed was dairy-free. You can even go to kosher McDonald’s (we did not) and get a “Big American” burger, but you can’t add cheese.

The people. Get out of your tour group and meet some real Israelis. We did this by having dinner in a woman’s home (there are any number of people willing to do this, but we visited Iris: www.amechayeisrael.com). For the cost of a rather expensive dinner we had a truly fantastic dinner (with an obscene amount of delicious food), two or three bottles of wine, and hours of conversation on everything from American TV to cats to psychic powers to religion and politics. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the trip.

Another high point was allowing ourselves to accept a little Bedouin hospitality in the Old City. Of course, the shopkeeper would have been happier if we’d ended up buying one of his soft silk rugs, but he didn’t seem to begrudge the conversation and tea we shared.

What’s challenging:
The heat. Ohmygod, why did we go in July/August? I don’t recommend this. It was around 100°F most of the time, and we always seemed to end up out in the open during the hottest parts of the day, like when we visited Masada, the ruins of an impressive 200-year-old mountaintop fortress, at noon. I like hot weather, but there are limits.

The ubiquity of religion. Even a religious person will feel the strain of this, I suspect, because the three big “Western” religions are all heavily represented and have differing customs. Men have it relatively easy: for you it’s mainly a question of whether hats are required or forbidden. As a woman, I felt religion’s effects keenly. All of the holy sites require “modesty,” but they have differing standards and this is largely at the discretion of the man (always man) at the entrance. Is that skirt too short? Are elbows immodest? This leaves as the safest course wearing a lot more clothes than the summer heat makes reasonable. Female travelers, I recommend you carry a scarf in case your t-shirt is suddenly deemed unacceptable.

Another issue is that many of the Jewish holy sites, such as the Western Wall, are gender-segregated. Couples traveling together might find this inconvenient. Conditions on either side aren’t necessarily equal, either. I was shocked when looking at my husband’s photos how large the men’s section at the Western Wall was!

The fact that ideological violence is always just under the surface. Whatever your feelings about Israel—and there are definitely points to be made by all parties—the fact remains that the region is barely keeping itself together. During our week there, we learned of two ideologically motivated acts of violence. A house was set fire in the West Bank, probably by Jewish extremists, and a toddler inside was killed. And then, at the gay pride parade that wound right past our hotel, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people.

(A quick look at the news shows that the violence has only gotten worse since our trip, with another war with Hamas looking like a possibility. Yikes.)

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Silhouette soldiers point their guns toward Syria.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Silhouette soldiers point their guns toward Syria.

One of the more interesting stops on our tour was at a hilltop overlooking the Syrian border. Part tourist stop, part military emplacement, it had metal soldier silhouettes with weapons, and it also had real soldiers with real weapons. The hill was catacombed underneath with bunkers, but it also had a café and gift shop. Coin-operated binoculars pointed toward the war-torn neighboring country, and from time to time we heard large-caliber weapons in the distance.

To be in a country that in many ways seems just like home, and then realize that a horrific civil war is raging mere miles away causes some cognitive dissonance. The fact that Israel refuses to take in refugees, despite being a country founded by refugees, despite the memory of millions of Jews in need of refuge during WWII, and what happened to them when all the countries turned them away… let’s just say I found it interesting.

I’ll sum up with a representative example from our trip, which can stand as a metaphor for the whole: our visit to the Dead Sea.

Everyone knows the Dead Sea is salty as all get out. As of 2011 it was 34.2% saline (and given that it’s losing around one meter of sea level per year, that number is probably higher now), about ten times more saline than the ocean. In contrast, Utah’s Great Salt Lake ranges from 5% to 27%—so even at its saltiest it’s got nothing on the Dead Sea. But this fact is pretty abstract. Going in we knew were going to float, and that’s about all.

What we didn’t realize was that the “beach” we’d be going to was made of sand pure salt crystals (sharp!). We also didn’t realize the water would be quite so hot—like shower water when someone else in the house flushes the toilet. Even the freshwater showers on the shore were uncomfortably hot on that uncomfortably hot day. Finally, we knew that we didn’t want to get the saltwater in our eyes or mouths, and we knew not to shave before the visit, but we didn’t realize that the water would sting the skin a little bit even so—and more than a little bit on more sensitive skin. It’s hard to keep water off one’s face when it’s on one’s hands, and when one’s own salty sweat (less than 1% saline, and think of how much that can sting!) is dripping into one’s eyes.

We did float, of course. You really can’t help but float in it, even those who sink to the bottom of swimming pools. It’s a strange, funny feeling, and there was much laughter. Am I glad to have had that experience? Absolutely. But overall, was our trip to the Dead Sea fun? All things considered, I’m not sure I can call it that.

And that’s exactly how I feel about the trip as a whole: I’m entirely glad we went, but it hasn’t made my list of places to return to again.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Israel in summer, part 7: The trip winds down

Then it was Saturday again, and again nothing was open. We slept in, for once, and headed to the Old City. I got us lost, like a moron, and a man gave us directions and then extorted us for “donations.” There is a culture in the crowded tourist sites of what I almost want to call harassment—aggressive deal-making or outright panhandling. This is not my favorite thing, and I’ll be happy to have a rest from it when we get home.

We finally arrived at the Tower of David, and wandered through the pretty unimpressive exhibit until we ran into Ken and Nori. Together we went back over the stations of the cross, which were hard to find. Ken bought a map of them and they were still hard to find. When we were done we tried to think of something else to do, but failed at it and went back to the hotel for a nap.

The Tower of David.

The Tower of David.

Mom decided to keep napping through the evening, so it was just me and Husband exploring the city. We started walking through the vibrant area near the hotel, but it was dead, even though the sun had set. It was almost fully dark, and as we walked, the stores and restaurants started to open up. We ended up being the first diners at a place in a little square. When we walked back toward the hotel everything was open again and there was a protest or rally in the square. We couldn’t tell what was being said, of course, but the speaker was angry. There was, again, a lot of security, and we knew that it might not be overkill. We tried to avoid the plaza, but would have gotten lost doing it.

Charming Jerusalem is charming.

Charming Jerusalem is charming.

Sunday was a day too many. We went back to the Old City again and ran into a Bedouin named Neil (or something like that). He took us up to the “roof,” which did have amazing views, and then into his shop where he brought us tea and let us try on strange garb and tried to sell us things. All we bought was one pendant.

The Husband enjoying some bedouin hospitality.

The Husband enjoying some bedouin hospitality.

Then we tried to visit City of David, but everything went wrong. We bought tickets and then found out that it was a long underground tunnel, so Mom didn’t want to go. We also couldn’t go, because you can’t go barefoot through the deep water, and didn’t have water shoes. After a long struggle we got our money back and gave up and went back to the hotel for a nap and to pack.

After dark we went out and ended up eating at a lovely restaurant that specialized in seafood—it was the first we’d seen! Shrimps in many sauces, and a lovely meze of sauces and hummus and focaccia bread. Delicious.

In the square, the protest or rally or memorial was happening again.

At four in the morning, our cab arrived to take us to the airport, and the long journey home began. Did I have a great time in Israel? I can’t entirely say that I did. But I did learn a lot, and I will never regret travelling to a new place, even when it’s too hot and the religion makes me squirm and our guide is a moron. I wonder whatever happened to Tomer?

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