All posts by That Ginger, Anna

Hey, y'all! I am 32 years old. I live and work in NYC. I'm Catholic. I am interested in politics, history, wine, food, movies, music, and travel. I'm a former Army brat from Georgia, but grew up in Mililani, Hawai'i. I look forward to entertaining you all with my ramblings so feel free to leave a comment or request content!

European and U.S. Populisms: Gender, Economy, and Society.

Let’s talk about European and U.S. populisms, shall we? Maybe you read my previous post about how one could equate Fascism and Communism as they relate to populism. Well, on Friday I went to a conference at NYU titled, “The French National Front and Beyond: A Global Populist Movement?” It was SO interesting. I was able to confirm several things I understand about populism, come up with some new questions, and widen my understanding of Right-wing political movements in both the United States and Europe. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for the keynote speech because I arrived when the conference started and couldn’t stay until the evening, but the two panels I listened to,“Sexual Politics” and “Populism from Below: Ethnographers at Work”, were both amazing.


DISCLAIMER: I have complex opinions (some lengthy and mature in their development, others new and ever changing) regarding topics each panelist spoke about. I am not prepared to write each of them out in this post. When I write about my disagreement with a panelist it does not mean that I agree with the alternative viewpoint, it only means that I don’t agree with their specific interpretation in the context of their presentation. If I write something that offends or confuses you, ask me to clarify what I mean and I will gladly do so!

The first panel was about Sexual Politics and three presenters spoke about their work: Kathleen M. Blee, Anika Keinz, and Cornelia Moser. Kathleen spoke about Right-wing movements in the United States as they relate to gender. Kathleen touched on something that I agreed with: the Right isn’t necessarily ignorant, but they use a different strategy of ideological bundling than the Left. Ethno-nationalism, masculinity, hierarchy, and anti-globalism are each ways the Right in the United States is able to appeal to different ideological bundles people hold. This directly confirmed my idea that one’s hierarchy of social identities determines if they will vote Left or Right. I did disagree with one assertion she seemed to make which was that politicians who develop or articulate their stances issue by issue rather than as a complete ideology are opportunistic. I am of the opinion that anyone (politician or not) can hold opposing views on different things without being a hypocrite or an opportunist so I would have liked to have heard more about her ideas on that.

Cornelia spoke mainly about gender and the Right in France. I liked all of the presenters, but two points in Cornelia’s presentation struck me. She identified the Right as “familialist”. That is, promoting ideologies that emphasize families in tandem with oppressive sexual and gender norms. Had this been used solely as an adjective to describe the way the Right wishes to organize society, I may have agreed, but it wasn’t. I understand that it refers to the way in which a group hopes society organizes itself-that is in a familial structure-but the definition of a family has expanded considerably over the years. With the progressive changes in domestic partnership and adoption law (especially in France), the traditional husband and wife with two children is no longer the only form families take. What I mean to say is that familial organization of society is not as narrow as it once was and doesn’t not have to denote “oppressive sexual and gender norms”. Even historically, a familial organization of society has not always meant organizing around a nuclear family. I also do not know what one who is against familialist parties or societal organization would propose as an alternative. Cornelia mentioned that the Right is also anti-individualistic in some ways, so I am again curious what the alternative is, if anti-individualism and familial organization of society are both negative. Cornelia also spoke about something that was my biggest objection of the 6 presenters: “dediabolization” or the idea that “making stances discussable” makes them less negative. She specifically mentioned this regarding neo-nazi stances. I wish I could have asked her to explain what she meant more clearly but I vehemently disagree that talking about an idea or stance makes it less evil or negative.

Continue reading European and U.S. Populisms: Gender, Economy, and Society.

Contemporary Lessons from La Serenissima’s Eastern Borders

First, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you guy have a lovely day with someone you love and if not, drink some wine and eat some food and it’ll feel the same! 🙂

Second, if you want to work with me, I’ve added a new contact page to my blog with links to my CV and resume. Check it out and let’s collaborate!

Anyway, last night I went to another lecture (read about the first one here) at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia. This one consisted of 4 speakers who talked about various topics including architecture, music, economy, and religion as it related to the Venetocracy or period of Venetian rule in what is today modern Greece and Eastern Europe. East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its eastern frontiers showcased scholarship from Patricia Fortini Brown, Larry Wolff, Molly Greene, and Daphne Lappa.img_3170

Patricia Fortini Brown spoke about policies and ideas that influenced Venetian defensive architecture in its colonies. This presentation was fascinating because while I have obviously seen copious amounts of Venetian architecture in my travels, one seldom things about the civic ideals which influenced it (at least I don’t). Brown points to the idea of Munire et Onare or the dual concept of protection and ornamentation. She also related her work to scholarship presented in Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference and The Kings Two Bodies. She mentioned that Venice governed in its eastern (SN: I ALWAYS WANT TO CAPITALIZE DIRECTIONS) colonies by using local elites as middlemen between the Venetian state and the local population. This was a common practice for all successful empires, including Venice. She also explained that the ornamentation of defensive structures was often tripartite: it featured the Doge, St. Mark, and God the Father and could either be directed inward or outward-conveying different ideas of civic identity in each case.

The crowned lion and archways were mentioned in her presentation as well.

Gates and fortresses were the most commonly built structures in the colonies and they focused on points of egress and ingress. A few interesting things I learned from this presentation: the longest continuous siege in history occurred between Venice and the Ottomans (21 years), Corfu remained a Venetian colony until the Republic itself collapsed in 1797 (knew about this but forgot), and in 1567 Venice finished building an 11-point star fortress with each point being named after a noble family.


The second speaker was Larry Wolff. His presentation covered the presence of Ottoman subjects in Venetian and European opera, as subjects of both tragedy and comedy. He presented samples of the music which was a really nice touch, but the presentation seemed rushed. He did introduce a fascinating concept: the triplex confinium or the axis between Venice, Austria, and the Ottoman empire. This was especially interesting to me because a large part of my research focused on the cultural influence of Viennese nobility on Venetian economic patterns. I am ignorant of art and music history in all capacities so I definitely learned the most from this presentation. He explained that the first opera about a Turkish subject emerged in 1689 but references to Turks were completely erased in the 1800s. I think this is an especially interesting topic because it provides a way to connect contemporary issues to the past. The portrayal of Ottoman subjects in Venice could easily be extrapolated to contemporary portrayals of Muslims in Europe today. There is definitely room for some fascinating comparative scholarship (he just wrote a book so maybe he talks about it?)! Something else that was especially intriguing was the fact that Naples seems to have been a more popular cultural center than Venice. Once of the operas he spoke about debuted in Naples in 1820 and then in Venice in 1822 with a revised ending (counter-factual, as he said). When one considers the north-south divide in contemporary Italy and the idea of Italian culture as it relates to this divide, one wonders how this divide affected opera and music history on the peninsula. Something else for me to look into!

The third presentation was the most interesting to me and connected most directly to my own past research, although I was disappointed because Molly Greene didn’t include any information about the Jewish influence on the Venetian-Ottoman economic relationship. This was especially surprising because she directly addressed the fact that many Venetian subjects in the Ottoman empire were Cretans-and there has been a lasting community of Jews on Crete which I believe played an important economic role as intercessors between Venice and the Ottomans. She did introduce an idea that I hadn’t ever heard about: the economic network between Alexandria, Istanbul and Venice. I have studied Venetian trade with the Levant, but didn’t ever consider the centrality of Alexandria in its economic history. I am also interested to know how Jerusalem factored into this economic network, if at all. She also introduced something I had absolutely no clue about-the fact that the majority of Venetians in the Ottoman empire were Greek and the fact that Greek merchants ran the Fondaco de Turchi in Venice! Her first book, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean covers the transition from Venetian to Ottoman rule on Crete so I definitely want to check it out and see if there is any mention of Jewish economic networks on the island or in either of the metropoles. She also mentioned the Venetian retreat from maritime trade, which connected directly the last chapter of my thesis. This is also a great place to connect Larry Wolff’s triplex confinium to changes in Venetian economic patterns because Venetian nobles looked to Vienna for ways to move away from the stato da mar.

Finally, Daphne Lappa presented part of her work on borderland religious practices and the blending of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholicism in Corfu. This presentation was by far the best organized. She presented the time period, location, and subject clearly and she used primary sources (both textual and artistic) as evidence of her thesis. Again, I think this topic also opens up new areas to be explored relating to Judaism. She explicitly stated that Orthodox practices influenced Roman Catholics and vice versa. It would be interesting to see what the relationship was between Roman Catholics, Orthodox believers, and Jews in Venice’s eastern colonies. I think the most fascinating aspect of this presentation was the idea of double churches, or churches built for Orthodox and Roman Catholics to worship simultaneously. Her presentation was also extremely interesting for me because I know scholars who study borderlands in the context of Texas-Mexico and I would bedsc_0245 interested to see how borderlands religion in Texas has been influenced, especially in relation to Protestantism. Another fascinating aspect of this presentation was the role of calendars in Orthodox and Roman Catholic division. Lappa explained that Roman Catholics celebrated Orthodox Easter and didn’t follow the calendar change that occurred in the Roman rite.

SN: One of the presenters also mentioned that on the Hapsburg-Ottoman border, Hungarian was spoken on both sides.

While Molly Greene’s scholarship connected more closely to my own than the others, each presenter taught me something I didn’t know and definitely helped me expand and complicate my knowledge of Venetian history as it relates to the orient and occident. I think Venice proper was an economic and religious borderland in many capacities. As Muslims, Christians, and Jews worked and lived together in the city and its colonies, they created a unique economy and citizenry which helped forge a thousand-year-old empire. In the end, I think this topic is extremely relevant to our current time. Of course, history is cyclical. Not only can we explore the localisms of past European borderlands and adapt those lessons to our own southwestern borders, but Ottoman religious and economic relations with Europe are especially pertinent in contemporary times.

I don’t know when the next lecture is, but I’ll definitely keep you guys posted. I’ll be here learning more Venetian history!


Contemporary European Identity, Music, and La Serenissima

Tonight, I went to a roundtable discussion entitled “La Serenissima: The Millenarian Venice” at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. The speaker was Jordi Savall, a Catalan musician who has been recording, performing, writing, speaking and otherwise informing the world about ancient, medieval, renaissance, and baroque music (from both the orient and occident) for over 50 years. img_3167
I originally thought to attend the lecture because I have studied Venetian political history but know very little about music from Venice. I (very nervously and poorly) presented a paper at a conference in West, Texas in 2012 and was exposed to some Medieval Spanish music there, but I otherwise have no experience with music history (you can peep that paper on my LinkedIn profile). To my pleasant surprise, Savall went beyond the discussion of music history and touched on the two things I am most passionate about: Jewish history in Venice and European cultural identity.
Savall is in New York to perform as part of a Carnegie Hall series about Venice. He has constructed a 1 hour and 50 minute (whittled down from 4+ hours) performance which covers Venetian music history. The auditory history begins in 828 when Venice was only a cub in the Adriatic and ends in 1797 when Napoleon slaughtered the sick lion.

Savall specifically mentioned the importance of Sephardic Jews to the commercial history of Venice and the first of two pieces he played was a Sephardic melodyPor Que Llorax Blanca Nina. He explained that the piece had been played from the Expulsion in the 15th century to World War II. He brought up a great point about radio which plays into Benedict Anderson‘s ideas about shared language and print culture. Up until the 1920s and 1930s music was very much a community affair. Not only was it passed down from generation to generation orally, it also had to be played by members of the community. It could never be replicated exactly and it was not a shared experience outside of the memory of those who witnessed the live performance (still true to an extent hence the unique experience of concerts). With the invention and permeation of radio and recording, people were then able to share a common experience and simultaneously ingest audio content while also interpreting it differently. People were able to do this with vernacular language and print much earlier, but it wasn’t until the 1920s or 30s that people were able to have this shared auditory experience (then shared and simultaneous visual experiences with cinema+TV). Similar to the evolution of print culture and its relation to modes of power, Savall also touched on the idea of folk music and its relationship to the two main sources of power in European history: the king’s court and the Church. I’m interested to look into this more and it definitely reinvigorated my curiosity about ways in which European identity were and are created. While his discussion of Sephardic Jewish music in the Venetian diaspora was especially fascinating, he also discussed something much more contemporary that has always intrigued me: cultural preservation and European identity.

I have always thought that regionalism, separatism, and local governance are the best ways to preserve cultures, heritages, and languages. Savall, as a proud Catalan, voiced a different belief. He thinks that unique cultures and heritages should be preserved, but he does not see that as a separating factor between Europeans. He specifically stated that he is not only Catalan but also a citizen of Europe. He says he speaks Spanish, but talks to his friends and reads in Catalan, yet feels at home in London, Venice, and all of the other cities in Europe. This brings up something at the heart of my second Masters essay: the hierarchy of one’s cultural and political identities. He didn’t talk about referendums or separatism at all, but he made it clear that he does support European unity while maintaining a strong Catalan identity-with music being the meeting place of those identities. This expands and adds nuance to a model I used for my essay. Here is an excerpt:
“Sébastien Dubé and Raùl Magni-Berton provide a theory which directly correlates  one’s income and national GDP to Euroscepticism. Their model outlines four specific differences in European political identity. The first model is poor people living in poor EU member states, the second is poor people living in rich EU member states, the third is rich people living in rich EU member states, and the last is rich people living in poor EU member states. In general, each of these socio-economic situations produces a different hierarchy of transnational, national, and regional identities. Poor individuals living in poor states often elevate their religious identity above that of the nation, assuming the pre-nationalist identity that Anderson outlined above. Poor individuals living in rich countries are more likely to identity with their particular culture or nation. Rich people living in poor countries often elevate their transnational identity above their national or cultural identity, valuing diversity above most other qualities. While rich people living in rich countries are often concerned with improving their aesthetic environment, maintaining their material well-being, as well as pride in their nation and personal economic status. Dubé and Magni-Berton conclude that wealth, and in turn European identity, denotes support of deeper EU integration while those poorer citizens that possess a strong national and cultural identity are often against EU expansion.”

I don’t necessarily think Savall’s opinions contradict the above model (I don’t know how his ideas of European integration have changed over time), but he did introduce some intricacies which I haven’t considered. In my work, I presented art and entertainment (as it was presented to me) as tools used to build national and transnational identity. There is a wonderful book called Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice which touches on the importance of entertainment and placation of the public as a tool to create shared experiences among citizens of all classes, build a singular identity, and mold people in to allowing the state to govern them. Modes of entertainment owned and operated by elite forces (the king, the Church, wealthy European politicians, etc.) have been used as tools to sculpt the political identity of the masses since Ancient times, but I have never thought about how folk music (and music created and performed on the local or regional level) helps to shape and bolster one’s political identity. I am very intrigued to know how other folk musicians from different regions and socio-economic backgrounds think of their music in relation to European integration. I will do further research, but I am also very happy to see ideas of cultural preservation come to the forefront, without some of the xenophobic ideas that often accompany that conversation. We can and should work together to help preserve the unique music, language, art, culture, and history that we each represent in the modern world. As Stavall said, cultural conservation does not have to denote separation!

SN: The theme for the 2016-2017 year at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America is “Conservation and preservation of heritage and the contemporary destruction of art and architecture”. The brochure presents one particular scholar and her work, which seem to tie in directly to my ideas about cultural identity and transnationalism: “Public indifference to the loss of cultural heritage and identity” by Roberta De Monticelli. I have yet to read her work (as I just learned of it this evening), but I would argue that the public (generational intricacies are super important here) is actually not indifferent to the loss of cultural heritage and identity at all. In fact, I think a majority of people who support Eurosceptic and populist political movements (beyond economics) are doing so in a desperate attempt to reclaim both national and regional cultural heritage and identity. Now, finding a singular definition of said cultural heritage and identity to “reclaim” and from whom to “reclaim” it is where the difficultly arises (which often manifests as fear, exclusion, xenophobia, racism etc.). Rather than addressing the root cause of these fears, many just scream “Fascist” or “Nazi” and go on about stripping away or militantly reshaping those very identities people are so scared of losing. I think the preservation of cultural heritage may be a great way to change some of the sentiments which lead to the support of populist and Eurosceptic political movements (againnn, just to be clear that I don’t have my head in the sand: I do think economics trumps cultural heritage and without economic changes people are going to continue to reject transnationalism). When national and transnational governments fund the protection and preservation of these local identities, they are showing citizens that in the face of globalization and economic/social/religious/linguistic integration, their personal identity matters to the success and heritage of the European Union. And we all know people just want to matter!
Anyway, tonight was FREAKING AMAZING and I can’t wait for the next discussion on the 13th: “East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its Eastern frontiers“! One of the criticisms of my second Masters essay was that I did not adequately situate Italy between the orient and the occident. I wasn’t thinking about this when I wrote the paper as I’ve never read any scholarship touching on Venetian history from the perspective of the East (beyond my short foray into Jewish merchants as middlemen between the Ottomans and Venetian Republic), so I am stoked to finally learn some stuff about that! Come back and join me then.

Anna the Kibbutznik

What’s up? I want to round out this Israel series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) by telling you guys about the kibbutz at Mash’abei Sade. This one won’t be too long, but I wanted to talk a bit about the history of the kibbutz movement and some of the amazing people I met there.

SN: Kibbutzim are communal settlements throughout Israel. Think along the lines of a factory town. Kibbutznik are the members of the settlement.

My friend’s sister has lived at this kibbutz for more than 30 years. This is the 4th or 5th Kibbutz she has lived in since she was a teenager. She’s a passionate vegetarian and likes The Voice and Big Brother! img_1616

She left home as a teen and joined a Kibbutz. She went to the army and went home for a short time before deciding to go back to another Kibbutz. She liked that Kibbutz but they sent her on a trip to a psychology convention and after several days at this convention she returned to the Kibbutz and decided she needed to leave. She had another friend at this current Kibbutz who told her to come and she was able to join. She’s worked with children, worked in the kitchen, worked as a librarian, and currently works distributing newspapers and mail! She is also an artist and has been painting since the late 90s! I really look up to her and she was very inspiring to me. Here are some of her gorgeous paintings:

We were her guests so we got to stay in the KibbutZimer units for Ulpan (Hebrew language school) students. The housing was really nice. It would be easy to live there. No gas, but you have a mini fridge+freezer, kitchen sink, electric kettle, microwave, television w/cable, wifi, table and chairs, a shower, toilet, and bathroom sink. You also get a closet, laundry drying wrack, and a table and chairs outside. I’d definitely recommend this Ulpan if you’re interested in learning Hebrew. If you are just traveling in the region you can also stay in their hotel. You can go to the cafeteria for lunch 6 days a week and dinner 1 day a week and it’s REALLY reasonably priced. Meat, sides, salad bar all for less than 20 NIS (~$6)!

I met three interesting people there. The first was the director of IT named Dan. He and his wife (who have been together since they were 16) came to the kibbutz in the 80s. He is a biologist by trade and worked in a laboratory and studied for a Ph.D. too. He was injured in the Lebanon War in 1982 and when he recovered he decided to come to the kibbutz with his wife and a group of friends. He travels all over the world, is Vegan (much more common in Israel than one would imagine) and is an amateur philosopher.

I met another lady named Hannah who was a Holocaust survivor. I don’t know much about her but she’s been at the kibbutz for decades, is in her late 80s or early 90s, and still wakes up at 5AM everyday to open the kibbutz factory!

I met one of the neighbors of my friend’s sister who grew up at this kibbutz. She was part of a common kibbutz practice: separating children from their parents at birth. Her daughter currently lives in the U.S. She left the kibbutz and married but recently returned after her father passed away. Her mom was French-Moroccan and her dad was French-Polish and they came to Israel and were part of the initial group of founders of this kibbutz! She baked this amazing lemon cake and gave me the recipe. She currently works in the kibbutz laundry facility and is also a painter!

I met many other interesting people and it was fascinating to see how each person contributes to the unique character of the community and how each person works for the benefit of their neighbors. I even went to my first Jewish funeral which was surreal. The lady moved from Poland to Mexico in the 1930s and after marrying and having children she immigrated to Israel in the 1960. What a full and amazing life!

The natural environment in this area is absolutely AMAZING. And if you are interested in history look no further. The nearest town is Beersheba and ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB WERE THERE IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS!

I mentioned in my live video that the kibbutz movement was a manifestation of the Russian Aliyah (Aliyahs=waves of immigration to Israel). These Russian immigrants and other immigrants from Europe built agricultural communes. The first kibbutzim came to be in the 1910s and 20s but the kibbutzim in the Negev didn’t emerge until the 1940s. SN: I made some boo boos in the live video so don’t take it too seriously. These collectivist communes have largely switched from agricultural output to industrial production. See, members of the kibbutz are paid every month, provided with a house, hot water, electricity, phone, internet, and every other modern convenience. But they all have to contribute to the kibbutz for years in order to get these privileges. The peak of the kibbutz movement came in the late 80s but has declined steadily since.

As I said, the kibbutz reminds me a lot of U.S. Army bases. There was a library, several schools, a clubhouse, an art gallery, a laundry facility, a cafeteria, a clothing store, a grocery, and a pub!

One thing that intrigued me was that this Kibbutz was largely secular. They did offer Friday dinner and celebrate Hannukah at an optional children’s party, but the only religious activity came from guests staying at the hotel who prayed before Shabbat began. After staying in a 4-Star hotel in the capitol that wouldn’t allow people to play piano in the lobby on Shabbat, had a candle station (the Hilton even had a synagogue), it was confusing that a historical community in the heart of the country had no religious life.img_2150

Kibbutz life is really interesting and I think it is a great way to create new communities. I have my economic reservations, but I think it provides a great quality of life for people from so many different backgrounds! The kibbutzim served a very vital purpose in the founding of Israel and have contributed so much to the economic, political, historical, and social fabric of the society.
Everyone was extremely nice to me and I am forever thankful that I got to have this experience. I’ll definitely go back one day! Hopefully in the summertime! 🙂

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I hope you’ll stick around for my next travel series…I’ll let you know where I’m going when I find out! 🙂

The Final Countdown: Haifa, Dead Sea, and Yakir

So, I just got back from a month in Israel (read about it: 1, 2, 3, 4) and I am in the midst of my typical post-trip spell of depression. I had a wonderful time traveling and adult life was waiting for my return like a rabid dog. Not looking forward to the next few months-AT ALL-because I have to find a new apartment and a new job in New York City, alone, in the dead of winter. So, while I lament my apparently poor life choices, lets rehash my last week in Israel!

The last week of my trip was an absolute whirlwind because I went on several day trips: Sunday-Haifa, Monday-Tel Aviv (check out my live stream), Tuesday-the Dead Sea, Wednesday-last day at the kibbutz, and Thursday to Saturday-Yakir.

Sunday: I cannot recommend Haifa highly enough and would definitely suggest staying there-if not as a “home base” then for at least a few days-on your trip to Israel. It is clean, there are tons of things to see and do, it is culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse, and it is just gorgeous. I took the train from Be’er Sheva to Haifa and was only there for an afternoon, but I still got to see a ton. The number one attraction there are the Baha’i Gardens. You must have a reservation to enter and from what I understand when you log on to their site they tell  you when there is space available so that may take some planning. There is free public parking nearby so if you rent a car that won’t be an issue (also lots of parking near the train station), but it isn’t a walkable city since it is so mountainous. There are public busses though, so you should definitely take advantage of that. There is also a beautiful boardwalk which has some nice restaurants, hookah bars, and convenience stores-which were even open in the off season. I visited the Druze community and did a little shopping. This is another community I had only heard about in passing at some point during my studies, but I knew nothing! It is fascinating and their culture is so beautiful and intriguing. I went to Mount Carmel and while the area and many of the attractions were closed off, there were still gorgeous, biblical, panoramic views. We visited my friend’s apartment and had brunch before he took us on a tour of the city and it was a wonderful experience. The train ride back to Mashabei Sade was an effing jungle because it was the end of the holiday weekend, so I recommend not doing that. That being said, I highly recommend the train if you have language issues because it’s easier to get tickets and you know exactly where to get off, when you’ll be there, etc.

Monday: On Monday, I went back to Tel Aviv for the day because my friend had to take care of some things there. I hung out on Dizengoff Street for several hours, did a live stream, and visited a cafe that I saw during my first week there. Prices were a little high, but it was a very clean place, their bar was very nice, and the food was delicious (light lunch fare). I already talked about Tel Aviv in my past post, but Dizengoff is definitely where it’s at for people watching and dining.

Tuesday: THE DEAD SEA! So, so worth it. It is obviously in the middle of no where, expensive to stay in the resorts, inconvenient in multiple ways, but I think this area is worth a 2 or 3 day retreat. I was there for an afternoon and unfortunately due to a bus strike I was unable to explore the greater Ein Gedi/Masada area, but I got to float in the sea twice and it was an unforgettable experience. Weirdly enough, there are like no Israeli’s there (seriously, I only heard 2 people speaking Hebrew the entire day). Everyone I met or heard or saw were Russian or Arab or Druze or American. That is to say, it’s a tourist trap. There are “malls” (think strip malls a la Branson, Missouri) and resorts, but very few restaurants. If you plan to stay there, keep that in mind-there will be no going out at night or enjoying anything outside of your hotel. It is a wonderful place for relaxing, star gazing, enjoying the natural benefits of the sea, and checking an item off your bucket list (if you’re weird like me). The bus strike really put a damper on things because my friend and I planned to go to Ein Gedi but after waiting for a bus for over 2 hours, we scrapped the plan and went back to the beach. Make sure you bring water shoes! Holy Moses. The bottom of the Dead Sea is made up of billions of multifaceted salt marbles that range in size from tiny grains like sand to golf ball size. When you try to walk your feet sink into these sharp marbles at least 3 inches and it hurts like a motha! It is true though, you can float at every angle in depths as little as a few inches of water. Just don’t get it in your eyes or mouth!

Wednesday: Wednesday was a sad day. After 3 weeks, it was my last full day at the kibbutz. I really loved staying there and again, while I can’t recommend Israel for solo female travelers, Mashabei Sade was such a nice place to stay (they have a beautiful hotel for anyone and everyone). I plan to write another blog (be patient-I don’t know when because my life is a dumpster fire right now) profiling the kibbutz and the people I met there, but I will give you some information here just incase I don’t get around to it anytime soon. Kibbutzim were set up as “frontier towns” of sorts in the 20s and 30s. They played a huge role in defending the southern areas during the war for independence and other conflicts. Kibbutzim had different purposes which have evolved over time, but most kibbutzim were dependent upon industrial production from factories and agriculture. They were directly tied the the Labor party in Israel as they were manifestations of socialist-communist ideals, so when that party began to decline in power and popularity, so did the Kibbutzim. Mashabei Sade is a beautiful kibbutz in the middle of the Negev. They also have an Ulpan or Hebrew language school which is open to anyone willing to pay for the classes. Since my friend’s sister is a member of the kibbutz we stayed in the Ulpan housing. The kibbutz scene is a great way to learn about Israel, meet interesting people from around the world, and experience a lifestyle much different than other places in the world. I grew up on and near army bases and it was very reminiscent of that sort of planned community. While I can’t say which Kibbutzim are better than others, I can definitely recommend Mashabei Sade.

Thursday-Saturday: My friend’s nephew picked us up from the kibbutz and we did a mini tour of the Negev before heading to the Yakir settlement in Samaria. The largest canyon in Israel is Makhtesh Ramon. We visited the canyon and drove down into it to see the “painted sands”. It was after sunset so we only stayed a few minutes but there are amazing geological formations and the star gazing is out of this world. I would highly suggest renting a car and visiting the area and if there is a way you can camp anywhere nearby, I know it would be a phenomenal experience (not in the summertime since desert or whatever). After the canyon we drove several hours to the Yakir settlement. Yes, it’s one of those ever-expanding, contentious settlements that has been talked about so much in the media. Again, not going to get into a political discussion in this blog since it’s a travel guide of sorts (I plan to talk about politics and Israeli society in that post I will write about the kibbutz), but it was mind blowing to get to stay in such a contested place. I will say, the settlement had some the nicest and most modern construction I saw in the entire country. I also got to experience Shabbat in a religious, Jewish household which was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath takes place from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. They don’t do any work so this means they pre-tear toilet paper, have lights on timers, turn off water heaters, lock up keys, laptops, cellphones, and other electronics, don’t cook or use any type of heat, and do not engage in any type of creative thinking. For a full day they sleep, eat, sing, pray, read, and enjoy the company of family and friends- every. single. week. While it takes a level of dedication I don’t think I could muster, I think it’s a great custom and a wonderful way to prioritize and maintain familial relationships. We went on a walk after Saturday lunch and it just so happened that afternoon prayers were beginning so I got to go into the synagogue (the women’s side, obvi). CRAZYNESS. My first time to witness any type of Jewish religious activity and to visit a synagogue was in a Samarian settlement! I got to see and hear the reading of the Torah and the traditions that surround that activity. It was by far the most unique, amazing, and memorable thing I experienced on my entire trip!

I left Israel Saturday night (like 6 PM CST) and didn’t arrive home until 11 PM Sunday night. It was a HELLACIOUS trip home and I am severely disappointed in both Virgin America and Expedia. My flight from LGA to DAL was canceled and I was not contacted by Expedia AT ALL and was only told by Virgin America via a voicemail a few hours before I got to NYC (while I was flying). When I got to NYC and tried to reschedule, Virgin America told me in would be three days before I could fly out and Expedia put me on hold for 45 minutes only to tell me they would give me a refund but couldn’t reschedule my flight (even though I know there were multiple flights from NYC area airports to Dallas that I could have been placed on). I ended up calling American Express (those cards are SOOOOO worth the annual fee) and they helped me get home Sunday night. After hours of delays due to maintenance issues, I finally got home and my bag was waiting on me (thank goodness).I just want to end this series by saying that I had one of the most amazing and memorable months of my life in Israel. While I am in for a crazy next few months, I can’t think of a better way to end 2016 and start 2017. Like every nation, Israel has it’s problems, but the natural beauty, the diversity, and the history more than make up for it. I am so grateful for my experience and really hope I get to return one day! Be sure to check out my Youtube channel in the coming weeks for a few videos from my trip.

I will be resuming my previous series soon and next up will be my commentary on Italian regionalism and the recent referendum. I will also be chronicling my search for a new house and job, so be ready for some ranting and raving. Thanks for reading about my trip and lahitraot, y’all!