Ibexes at the  Beresheet Hotel  in  the Negev . 

Ibexes at the Beresheet Hotel in the Negev

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.

 St. George’s monastery

St. George’s monastery

 The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

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.

 Diana C. Stoll and Michelle Dunn Marsh at the Dead Sea

Diana C. Stoll and Michelle Dunn Marsh at the Dead Sea

 Damascus Gate, Old City of Jerusalem

Damascus Gate, Old City of Jerusalem

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”). 

 View of Jerusalem from the Damascus Gate

View of Jerusalem from the Damascus Gate

 Machneyuda restaurant, Jerusalem

Machneyuda restaurant, Jerusalem

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. 

 Machneyuda restaurant menu

Machneyuda restaurant menu

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