Here we are at Ben Gurion airport, sipping airport wine from plastic cups. Sigh. What a trip, as they say.
We had some very inspiring visits yesterday (traveling with Avital and Tracey)—mostly to places we had written about in our project but hadn’t actually seen in person. Starting off at the Google offices with the guidance of lovely Dona Raz, who works in Google’s public-policy division. Each floor of the Google headquarters is themed to some aspect of Israel: the Dead Sea (the gym), Jaffa (complete with orange crates and olive-oil-can lanterns), the beach (where a vast surfboard serves as a conference table), and more.
Then to the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa—and learning about their extraordinary outreach efforts, and their plans for a new visitors’ center focusing on Israel’s innovations—right up our alley!
We touched down at Shai Seltzer’s lovely farm near Sataf and tasted extraordinary dense and creamy goat’s cheeses. We chatted with him about his children’s lives, his own work teaching cheesemaking in Uganda and Tanganyika and India . . . Michelle was ready to curl up at his feet and adopt a new life as a goat maiden.
One of the most exciting visits of this trip was yesterday’s to the MEET campus in Jerusalem, where CEO Haim Erlich, two students, and a teacher met with us and presented what they do: bring together young Israeli and Palestinian high-school kids to teach them about entrepreneurship, engineering, high-tech ideas, and much more. It’s a 3-year after-school program that brings kids into intense interaction. Truly inspiring!
We wound up (tired!) at Chakra restaurant and celebrated our final meal with Avital and Tracey—sad to say good-bye.
AND our final day! Michelle and I started out with Mount Zion Hotel’s beautiful groaning-board breakfast and a steam bath in the HAMAM! (Fantastic!)
In the late morning we took at taxi to the Bard Al Quds campus in East Jerusalem, where four young graduates spoke with us about how that wonderful program is developing. We had visited 5 years ago—fabulous to see how the campus and program have grown since then! We had a chance to sit in on a class in philosophy (Rousseau—wow)—the students seemed fully engaged and interested.
And our hours were getting shorter and shorter . . . after a quick visit to the Educational Bookshop we walked through the Old City of Jerusalem. And a last meal of . . . falafel!! A fitting ending place for our trip.
And here we are at Ben Gurion airport—waiting for our plane home. We have so much to follow up on, and so much to think about, so much to allow to sink in. We are SO grateful to the team of people who helped us get here, and the people who have so generously guided us. And of course to Israel itself.
— Diana C. Stoll & Michelle Dunn Marsh
Sunday began with a visit to Ramat Gan to catch up with Philip Blau of Frau Blau. As was true 5 years ago, he was a wealth of knowledge and creative energy. He was very pleased by their inclusion in the treasure box and was dressed to match it!
Philip shared some more recent pieces, including dresses with their unique and playful patterns on silk.
Later that evening we were in conversation with others involved with the project, including (far right) Michal Rovner!
We're out of focus but still smiling at the end of a lovely evening; Diana's in her 'hutzpah' cowboy boots while I'm sporting a new treasure from Frau Blau, and my handmade Vida boots from Jaffa (both designers referenced in Art & Design). Absorbing each precious hour remaining as our days here wind down.....
—Michelle Dunn Marsh
A day’s lag seems to hold a month’s worth of events: strolling the Shuk HaPishpeshim in Jaffa, cocktails at the Imperial Bar, zipping out to Ramat Gan to say hello to Philip Blau (with a few dazzling purchases off his rack), a walk (for me) from Tel Aviv Port to the Jaffa Port, lunch at Claro restaurant in Sarona. The last was an almost surreal experience, as it was a construction site on our last visit; Lin and I were guided through its future by chef/owner Ran Shmueli: “This is where the wine cellar will be. This is where the kitchen will be—the diners will surround it.” And it has panned out beautifully: a lively and beautiful place with wonderful food.
The most extraordinary event of the past day, however, was the gathering last night at Lin’s apartment of some of the luminaries of our project, from Lily Elstein to Ellen Graber to Adam Montefiore to Karen Tal to Michal Rovner to Neil Folberg—and many others, as well as members of Lin’s family. We realized as the evening began that some of them had surely never intersected before—their only common platform being The Desert and the Cities Sing. And yet as the prosecco and Castel La Vie circulated and hors d’oeuvres were passed, spirits rose and conversations began to sparkle. Our compilation video ran silently on a monitor, and several copies of the box were out for display and for playing with. Michelle had the brilliant idea to ask guests to sign one of the copies at the passages where they were mentioned, and we presented it to Lin at the end of the evening.
So grateful to Avital for orchestrating the event—it was not only seamless, but truly fun, and a great celebration of the project. It gave a sense of—not closure, we are not finished yet!—but a proper commemoration of this accomplishment.
Synchronicity: at nearly the same hour, in Miami, Sarah Arison was presenting the project at the Miami Book Fair. It was wonderful to think of all those good D&C vibes happening on both sides of the Atlantic!
— Diana C. Stoll
It is an immense luxury, and a test of faculties, to change hotels daily. Without Avital’s careful planning and Yosef’s cheerful attention to how many bags each of us are hauling on a day-to-day basis there would be far more casualties than the occasional lost charger. The plus side is that we have reveled in extraordinary spaces, each with their own unique character and charm.
We started off at the David Intercontinental, overlooking the Mediterranean, then headed south to the exquisite Beresheet Hotel. I’d carried memories of the fresh honeycomb (noted in Lin’s book Solutions from the Land) in my head for five years, so to see it and taste it again was pure joy.
Diana’s written of the Austrian Hospice (room 212 has the balcony from which I watched the sunset-moonrise-sunrise-moonset). From the quiet simplicity of that well-situated abode we arrived at Mitzpe Hayamim, and here’s how immersive that was—I didn’t take a single photograph. Not one.
I was last out the door of Mitzpe Hayamim, and leaving reluctantly, though we were headed next to one of my favorite places in all of Israel—Akko. The Efendi Hotel was still in construction when Diana and Lin last visited, but it is completed now, and clearly a labor of love. From fresh roses in the room and dates on the table to the sound of the sea outside my window, every part of my hours there were divine, and restorative. All I loved in eating at Uri Buri—nuance, cheekiness, the anticipation of not knowing what delight would come next—was manifested in the space Uri Jeremias has created.
Once again, I did not want to leave. Once again, I was transported when I nestled into the cosy surrounds of the Market House in Jaffa. After a full night’s sleep, I threw open the shutters to the enveloping smell of freshly-baked bread, palm fronds caressing my balcony, and warm sunshine.
Yesterday was market day before the early closure of many stalls and shops for Shabbat, and we were on the prowl, seeking treasures. I did not think I’d been accumulating much along the way, though my bulging luggage tells me otherwise. And so the last thing I needed was another pair of boots. But Vida (handmade shoes!), where Lin and Diana had also succumbed on previous trips, was irresistible.
Jane found her treasure trove at Mors, the boutique of Mor Hamed, a graduate of Bezalel who cut her teeth at Alexander McQueen studio in London before returning to Tel Aviv. There’s a jacket there I haven’t forgotten….we’ll see how much space I can create in my suitcase.
The sun is now filtering through the courtyard at The Norman, tucked into a residential neighborhood on Nachmani Street. Its elegant décor (the glorious closet, in particular) provided the perfect setting for this morning’s photo shoot. Fresh flowers with a personal note from the manager sit to my left; espresso on my right. Saturday begins.
Akko is a city of fascinating confluences: Arab and Jewish, past and present, present and future. It is a magnificent prism of histories on a promontory jutting into the raucous Mediterranean. Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans have all had their way with this place—and have left a fairytale architectural legacy. Today the Old City buzzes with life among structures built in the Middle Ages. We are grateful to Yosef Idan for walking us through it.
Let’s talk about Yosef for a minute, and the privilege of having a guide in Israel. Yosef is copiously knowledgeable about this country (and several others as well), endlessly considerate to his travel companions whose every possible need he anticipates, patient as a saint, and able—in what we have come to think of as an Israeli way—to charm his way through any closed door and instantly secure an excellent table at any fully booked restaurant. He adjusts his pace utterly to ours (which is often slow), while gently keeping us to our packed schedule. He provides us context for the places we are seeing, clearly and fascinatingly. Perhaps most unusually, he brings no apparent agenda or bias to the task, so attuned is he to the vagaries of his companions’ whims and opinions. We are very lucky to be traveling with him.
And let’s talk about Uri Jeremias—whom we first knew as the owner/chef of Uri Buri, now also the owner/host of the Efendi Hotel. Here is a man who is hoping to show the citizens of Akko the potential of their city. Our dinner last night at Uri Buri was (as expected!) extraordinary, and Uri came to chat with us as our desserts were served. “Old Akko is a city that is 95 percent Arab. More than half of my employees are Arab—and we do just fine,” he said. “Why isn’t the world interested when something good happens?”
We assured him that we are trying to do something different. He thanked us for The Desert and the Cities Sing—saying “I think . . . it’s almost too good to be true.” He meant it literally: the message is perhaps so positive that it may be overlooked.
This is a tightrope we walk with this project.
Today, we strolled Akko’s shuk and bought spices from Kurdi and Berit. It’s a slightly musty shop; shelves lined with jars filled with powders and seeds and leaves—a palette from black to warm browns to vivid oranges and yellows. (It somehow evokes Olivander’s wand shop in the Harry Potter books.) I am now set for cinnamon, zaatar, baharat, saffron.
Before we leave Akko, I have to mention Uri's mandarin orange sorbet with potent green olive oil drizzled over it. Good god.
We drove south from Akko, heading to Artport Tel Aviv—Jason Arison’s arts-residency center in south Tel Aviv. (A beautiful setup, but we were told by our host, Yael Moshe, that it will soon be moving to a new site.) And a brief look at Kiryat Hamelacha: an appealingly grungy neighborhood dotted like a hive with artists’ studios.
And finally dinner at the lovely Dalida restaurant in the Florentine neighborhood—our group in the company of Tracey Corwin and Avital Moses, Lin’s redoubtable aides de camp.
Now a little about Avital, who has played a major role in the planning and organization of our trip. A fiery-redheaded Tel Avivian, a ball of energy, Avital has introduced us to so much about Israel and Israelis. She is amused and a little befuddled by the endless niceties of American behavior: she understands that we cushion our messages in (unnecessary?) caveats and circumventions. The Israelis, famously, are direct communicators. It is something one learns to appreciate here.
Avital loves her city, and is generous with her warmth. She was excited to introduce us to Dalida—where the food is Middle Eastern with a twist (one might say), and where we had several new food experiences. Notably, a spicy feta crème brulée—beautiful combo of stingingly hot and creamy with crunchy burnt sweetness. And a fish carpaccio sprinkled with Egyptian dukkah spice-nut mix—delicious and delicate.
Our hotel tonight is the Market House, in the throng of the Jaffa shuk. It’s cozy and chic—and the urbanite in me is happy to hear the chug and voices of the market outside my window.
— Diana C. Stoll
It all caught up with me yesterday—thousands of years of history wall-to-wall with right now; the distant but ever-present murmurings of election fallout at home; the cumulative effect of vistas, sounds, smells, and oh, so many delectable tastes.
On the upward portion of a gorgeous hike through the Amud Reserve in the upper Galilee, I pushed back the tears, and then finally just gave in. Stoicism is not my forte, and having traversed from the desert to the Dead Sea through Jerusalem to the sanctuary of Mitzpe Hayamim in 48 hours, my mind and heart and soul were all simultaneously filled to overflowing.
Bits and pieces of the last two days come to mind: the morning light and coffee banter in Jerusalem at six am as I sought my morning caffeine; “just one more” kebab at Diana restaurant in Nazareth (yes, I took some of the leftovers with me, and did not regret that decision one bit when I ate another kebab a few hours later).
Inspiring conversation with the brilliant, honest, elegant Reem Younis of Alpha Omega—civil engineer, entrepreneur, wife and mother, who spoke eloquently about the commitment to the region and offering opportunities within the community of Nazareth, though a high-tech company would be easier to operate out of Tel Aviv. I could have talked to her for hours. From there we spoke to more amazing women—Rachel and Ayala at Rish Lakish, an organic olive oil farm discussed in our Innovation & Enterprise book.
I’m skipping over too much to get to my Galilean Massage at Mitzpe Hayamim—honey, olive oil, salt scrub, and gentle energy work with Lileh who probably had a lot to do with the rush of emotions welling forth on our hike.
This land is very present; its stirs so much in so many. And so it is good to find ways to release. I sit now in my bathrobe (a new skill I am perfecting, hotel roaming in bathrobes) on a porch overlooking the Mediterranean at the Effendi Hotel in Akko, listening to the waves, remembering the flavors of last night’s tasting menu at Uri Buri….while I conclude this to see what new delights breakfast has to offer.
— Michelle Dunn Marsh
We thank you not to leave items or clothes outside your room, as the ibexes like nothing better than to nibble on everything they find. [room notice at Beresheet Hotel]
It’s worth setting your alarm for just-before-dawn at the Beresheet Hotel in the Negev. The sun rises with all the splendor it can muster over the wide makhtesh—a unique kind of canyon formed by erosion (as our wonderful guide, Yosef Idan, explained to us). In this morning’s haze we couldn’t see the end of the massive chasm.
The color of the stones here is desert white-yellow—a warm palette. And if you are quiet and patient, the ibexes will come delicately picking their way along paths by the hotel, looking for stray weeds to snack on. They make for peaceful companions.
Michelle, Jane Wooldridge, Yosef, and I have driven through at least five landscapes today: from the rock-strewn Negev, to the dizzying planetary phenomenon that is the Dead Sea, to the craggy Arava and Judean Deserts (including an overlook to St. George’s monastery), to the hills that make up what Yosef calls “the concept of Jerusalem.” This country—as we have often reminded ourselves—is about the size of New Jersey. I think we covered about a third of it today.
Yes, the Dead Sea. And yes, of course we floated in it. But first we slathered ourselves with the gray-black Dead Sea mud, behaving—on Yosef’s advice—like crazy children with a bowl of chocolate pudding. The sea (after you’ve hobbled your way over the pointy crystallized salts of the shore) buoys you up like an unruly beach ball. The salt seeps into every pore, leaving the skin with an oleaginous softness. My hair, seven hours later, is still heavy with it.
We had an evening in Jerusalem—entering at the Damascus Gate, walking through the market (“Madame? Madame? Hand-carved olive wood rosary. Very beautiful! Madame? Where you from? The States? I’ve been to the States—I’ve been to LA! Madame? You dropped something . . . it is my heart that you dropped”).
Jane treated us to dinner at Machneyuda restaurant—BE STILL MY HEART—where we had the good sense to steal copies of the menu. Among other things, we ate:
- Tabouleh salad with tuna tartare Givat Halfon style
- Oxtail “shishbarak” Obama, eggplant and crispy lentils
- Polenta with mushrooms, parmesan, truffle oil (served cunningly in a Mason jar)
- 3 sweet lamb chops, served with bone marrow, green chimichurri, and roast potatoes
I have never really been into describing food . . . so let’s just say there were many moments of widened eyes as we took first bites, rapturous silences as we ate, quiet consternation as each of us wondered who’d get the final bit of which shared dish.
After a long walk along Jaffa Road and through the Machne Yehuda market, our dogs were getting tired, so we jumped in a taxi to head back to our sleeping place in the Old City: the Austrian Hospice—where everything has the stately sparkle of Catholic monasticism. Black-and-white tiled floors, firm single beds, a simple cross over the door.
But there are constant reminders us of that complicated concept that is Jerusalem. the next morning, as I write, I have been awakened in my Catholic bed on the Via Dolorosa, just steps from the Jewish quarter, by the call of the Muslim muezzin.
Today’s larger thought (let’s pretend that every day has one) is an echo: Israel is a place of deep rootedness, iconic tradition, durational elements . . . all in a state of transformation. The desert, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem are all examples.
— Diana C. Stoll
—Michelle Dunn Marsh
Balmy and sparkling are the words for Tel Aviv: the air is warm and a little salty. Jet lag? Hah! We are energized by this city, by the electricity of every part of it, by the buzz of being here.
Michelle and I met with Lin today at her Herzliya apartment, along with Lin’s wonderful right-hand woman Tracey. We had a lunch of iconic Israeli foods—hummus, pita, roasted cauliflower, cucumber-and-tomato salad, malabi, and more—prepared by chef Eli Kishony, who truly sets the bar for what food can be: intensely flavorful, light, delightful, and somehow (even with these classic dishes) unexpected.
And as we moved from dish to dish we were happy to say to one another: Here we are, on the other side of The Desert and the Cities Sing. Our last visits were spent joyfully studying and experiencing, considering elements that might go into the project, which was still only an embryo. Now we are here to revisit some familiar places—and to see what has developed, what has appeared, what has changed.
Like any great city, Tel Aviv is a living organism in a constant state of transformation. Neighborhoods that were under construction on our last visit are now bustling with activity—and today we saw that the next wave of building is beginning: cranes and half-edifices waiting for the end of Shabbat for work to resume.
And like any great city, Tel Aviv is a place of profound character—this is perhaps its chief constant. It is an unstoppable city of beeping cars, fast-walking people, baby carriages, bicycles. Smells of perfume, spices, cigarettes, the sea. Style, comfort, colors, stones, beauty, and that great Israeli trait: direct, easy, human communication.
At lunch today we raised glasses of Domaine du Castel’s lovely La Vie Blanc du Castel (just released: another new Israeli development). Outside the window is sculptor Nihad Dabeet’s wire structure of a graceful mare, Healer. She peers in at us coyly as we toast:
Here’s to our trip.
Here’s to Israel.
Here’s to the future of this extraordinary land.
— Diana C. Stoll
In November 2011 Diana Stoll and I were in Israel for my second research trip related to what would become The Desert and the Cities Sing; now five years later we are returning to celebrate this project, and make new discoveries of today’s Israel.
Diana and I began the journey as our colleague Lin Arison begins her book Solutions from the Land—with (more than a single!) sip of wine as we departed Newark Airport for Ben-Gurion International. The 10-hour flight went quickly with a little food, a little sleep and a lot of good conversation.
Itamar Barmoy, who we know from previous visits, picked us up at the airport and made sure we were safely ensconced in our rooms at the David Intercontinental. Then we hit the town! Though Fridays are usually quiet out with many families observing a Shabbat meal at home, we found plenty of well-lit storefronts for window shopping, and people taking in the warm night air.
Finding our way through the narrow streets of Neve Tdsedek, one of the first bustling spots we happened upon was Anita’s, referenced in Eat, Sleep, Play and known for their gelato. We made a right and found a table outside for dinner at Suzana. From past dining experiences Diana and I have learned that portions are often generous at restaurants in Tel Aviv, and so we tend to share a few selections so we can try more. We started with a beet salad with labne (yoghurt) and mozzarella, topped with fresh, pungent arugula, and a red pepper stuffed with rice and lamb.
A Recanati chardonnay nicely complemented our first choices, along with the exceptional grilled sea bass with wild rice and garlic cream sauce we selected for the main. We finished our bottle of wine in lieu of dessert, and then wandered through the nearby Suzanne Dellal Dance Center (for which the restaurant is named). Diana pointed out the area where she and Lin took their Gaga dance class, and I marveled at the citrus trees under a nearly-full moon.
A stroll along Allenby Street and Rothschild Boulevard eventually led us to the closed stalls for the Carmel Market, and then toward the shoreline and our hotel. We are off to a good start.
—Michelle Dunn Marsh
November 7, 2016
Busy packing, as suitcase shows.
Uh-oh. Bullet-point lists usual help in any situation, right? So here goes:
[Why is it I can't ever just pack the 5 pieces of clothing I wear every single day and be done with it? Shirt, jeans, boots. Somehow, I'm always afraid of some missing possibility: beach party, donkey ride, nightclub, wedding, etc.. Still thinking.]
[A thing of the past—NOT! But when traveling, I can now cram 12 onto my computer tablet, including a couple of audiobooks. None of which I will get to, because we'll be incredibly busy and at the end of the day, I hope to be sending blog dispatches before we go to bed]
[Right: we'll be there about 10 days. Is 10 pairs too many? Need them for walking in the city, dressing up, going to the beach, hiking the Israel Trail, chutzpah boots, etc. Still thinking....]
[My teddybear! I never leave home without it, plus a handful of flashdrives]
• presents for friends in Israel
[Hmm--what can I bring from home in North Carolina that they can't find in Israel? Well, there's grits of course. Blackstrap molasses. Also maybe pickled okra. How about beef jerky? It's the thought that counts]
• sense of joy
[Already packed! Cannot wait to get there!]
— Diana C. Stoll
Israel trip countdown: 3 days before departure