Hacking Around in Haifa (Pictures)

Sit back and get comfortable, because this is going to take awhile. The following are excerpts from my journal (pictures included):

24 September 2007, 08:55

So – I’m in the train on the way to Haifa, being very thankful that I at least know my numbers in Hebrew, because all the platform announcements were in Hebrew. All around me are people settled in for the hour-long ride north. longer if they’re going further. You can’t get much further than Haifa – then you hit the Lebanon border, and South Lebanon was slightly chewed up last summer.

We’re passing through vineyards now, having left the suburbs of Tel Aviv about five or ten minutes ago. The two people across the aisle are sleeping, and everyone else is listening to music or talking on their cell phones, or reading newspapers. Newspaper reading is insanely prolific here. It’s not just businessmen who carry a folded newspaper under their arms – everybody – students, housewives, travelers – grabs a paper on their way out of the station or onto the train.

An American behind me is talking on his mobile. He seems to be able to switch back and forth between Hebrew and English with ease. I’m envious.

It was a good weekend in terms of football. the US took down England rather decisively, 3-0, in the women’s World Cup Quarterfinal, advancing to play Brazil in the semis. Germany will face Norway to round out the top four. Man U had its much-anticipated Chelsea match, which they won 2-0 after a red card for Chelsea. I wasn’t able to watch the game online, but I got a couple of live text commentaries and eventually listened to it on the Manchester XM station. The Guardian commentator obviously

Hm, quarries of some sort. I think. The land is definitely rockier now, although it looks like soft limestone. There’s some sort of low scrub on the hills, and some evergreens, and a lot of vineyards. The Carmel region, which Haifa is in, is known for its wines.

Cotton. They are definitely growing cotton.

Where was I? The Guardian commentator obviously was dissatisfied with the referee. “He’s surprisingly displaying the wit and intelligence required to cram the whistle in his maw and breathe out…” Lol.

There are so many IDF people on this train – and its a normal Monday morning. Well, it is just after Yom Kippur, but I think any soldiers returning to their units would have gone yesterday or earlier this morning. Were I a terrorist, this would not be a good place to be – I know that in this one section of the train, there are at least four M-16s, possibly more, and probably a knife on every person in uniform.

I think those are banana trees – maybe.

Apparently Israel is the only place in the world where you can routinely buy figs in an ordinary supermarket. And they have persimmons here.

We’re traveling right on the coast now. Awesome. There are warehouses to our right. Some of them apparently belonging to Toyota. Office buildings, tall and new – Phillips, Google, Agilent, Intel. We just pulled into Hof haCarmel – and I can’t remember what Hof means.

Later – 20:40

Wow. So… today has been quite a day. I’m sitting in a cafe on Ben Gurion street. (I think every city in Israel has a street called Ben Gurion. And Allenby. And Yafo. And Ben Yehuda.) And apparently it’s somebody’s birthday, because a peppy version of “Happy Birthday”, in English, just broke out over the speakers, and the party in question just received a cake, or something, with a sparkler stuck in the middle. Why don’t we do sparklers like that in the US? It’s so much more exciting. And the possibilities for injury are greater.

The first thing I did, upon getting into town (at the wrong train station) was take a bus to the Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology. I know what you’re thinking – yeah, I know, I’m a nerd, and you don’t need to bring it to my attention. On a side note, I found it interesting that the main grain silos by the port are called the Dagon Grain Silos. Dagon was that Philistine god to whose temple (in Ashdod) the Philistines brought the Ark of the Covenant when they captured it. After a killer plague and the statue of Dagon breaking into pieces before the Ark, the Philistines decided that keeping the Ark was actually a really bad idea. Anyway, I find it ironic that the grain silos are named thus. (Note: I looked up the word and, in addition to being the name of the god, Dagon is an archaic Hebrew word for grain. Still, they have to know the connotation.)

I got to the Technion, and hadn’t been in the Visitors Center for five minutes when four VIP types from the US walked in, older, but with the potential to donate. Lots. Apparently one was a pretty prominent figure in his local Jewish community. I got to talking with one couple, who were very friendly, and ended up going through the extended VIP tour with them. I put this down partly to my being in the right place at the right time – which I had nothing to do with – and partly to my being able to explain, in colloquial terms, what the tour guide was saying in English but didn’t have the vocabulary to elaborate in non-technical terms.

A view of Haifa from one of the dorm windows at the Technion

I must say that the Technion is impressive. They’ve got eighteen different faculties, or schools, all technical, and the majority are engineering. Including the only Aerospace Engineering program in the country. The Israeli military R&D, Rafael, draws 70% of its workforce from the Technion, and apparently pays well. (Wow, I use “apparently” a lot.) And of course the Institute flaunts its 2004 Chemistry Nobel Prize winners in much the same way that Rice does Drs. Smalley and Curl.

The tour guide also happened to mention that there was some sort of event at the National Museum of Science and Technology this evening, and took care to tell me that I was the recipient of an enormous stroke of luck. Yeah, definitely. I would like to talk to some professors in the Aerospace school, at some point, and see what sort of research is going on. They have both a thesis- and non-thesis master’s program. One of the interesting things developed at the Technion is a hypersonic ballistic missile interceptor, called the Arrow.

After the Technion, it was about two o’clock, so I took the bus into central Haifa, got dropped off at the wrong place, walked for a bit, grabbed some Israeli fast food (a pita stuffed with falafel, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled cabbage and cucumber, tahina, and more falafel – and hummus) for lunch, for the US equivalent of  $2.75. Good deal. And so good.

A sweet tower. I can’t remember what was supposed to be in it.

I finally ended up visiting the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum. There’s a ship – a real one – parked in the middle of the museum. I could say a lot of things about the museum, even though I was only there for forty-five minutes, but I think the thing that struck me most was the Zionists’ determination to just get to Palestine – or, more properly, Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel – yeah, Land with a capital L. One feels that, whenever someone refers to “haEretz“, they’re almost reverent) – and, once there, to stay there. Period. Even if it meant enduring insanely cramped living conditions aboard the immigration ships.

In terms of the Navy, the short story is that a few ships were purchased, at various times, to serve as these clandestine immigration ships, taking European Zionists to Palestine, illegally. (And no, I don’t think this is in any way comparable to the current issues faced by the United States, but I’m not going to elaborate because that would be chasing an entirely different rabbit, at the moment.) The ships themselves tended to be outphased western naval ships. One, the Eilat, was a Canadian icebreaker. After nationhood and the subsequent legalization of immigration, the ships were commissioned into the fledgling Israeli navy. Which basically means that their first navy was a bunch of rundown non-specialized vessels crewed by some very brave souls. And they didn’t do so badly, either.

By the time I was done with that and got back to the city’s center, most of the shops and sights had started closing up, but that didn’t matter because I wanted to do a little walking. There are four “scenic walks” down Mount Carmel, which is what Haifa is built on and around. The guidebook I borrowed from a friend made the very sensible suggestion to take public transportation up and walk down. There’s a subway in Haifa, but it only runs along one line, kind of like the metro in Houston. But, and this is a major but, there are only six stops, it’s completely underground, and the entire thing is built on a slant. The subway cars are slanted. If you stand at the front of the subway train and look towards the back, you basically see a flight of steps going down, with seats on either side.

Oh, and on my way to the Naval Museum I discovered that my camera card was mysteriously full. I don’t know what’s on it. So I had a limited quota of pictures. (Note: I just found out why – my 512 card was partially ejected, so I was storing everything on internal memory. I am so stupid … *raves*)

Erm, scenic walk. It was pretty sweet. Each of the four routes is supposed to have exactly a thousand stair-steps. I didn’t count, but it’s quite possible. And possibly the most grueling workout in the world would be to run up those stairs. I had to go uphill at one point, and I did not enjoy it. I did enjoy watching the sun set over the port, and walking in the dusk through the narrow, stone-walled streets. I could hear televisions and random families, the muzzein in the mosque, and, above all, the clinking of a hundred forks against ceramic as Haifa ate supper. Just being on the minor streets with normal people playing and arguing and being neighbors was awesome.

This church had interesting gates

A random perfumer’s shop on the street

The Baha’i Shrine from below

To round off the day/evening, I took the slanted subway again, up to the National Museum of Science. And got in free. The big event turned out to be Europe Research Night 2007. Apparently a lot of museums in Europe were using this night to feature local scientific research, as well as special stuff for kids, Chemistry Roadshow style. There was this really cool ballistics demonstration – shooting cucumbers into sheet rock, and stuff like that. But it was good to see the posters and exhibits by different research groups, most of them from the Technion. It was exciting to see projects that were so immediately applicable. And it wasn’t just the adults who were looking at the research presentations – the kids were in there too, listening to (simplified) project explanations and asking questions.

Other than that, I’m still at this cafe, which is one of a whole strip on Ben Gurion, topped off by the Baha’i gardens and shrine. More about that tomorrow.

The Baha’i Shrine at night. Wish I had better night-photography capabilities.

I like Haifa. I’ve heard it said that “Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays, and Haifa works”, and I think it’s absolutely true. For example, walking around at dusk, with all these working people driving home, one just gets the feeling that “Okay, the day’s over, time to go home and put my feet up” – maybe from facial expressions or posture, but it’s definitely there. And even at night, this street, on which there’s a lot of activity, doesn’t have that “clubbing” Tel Aviv feeling. The cafes are reasonably full, but with people kicking back and chilling, having meaningful conversations.

Okay, I think that’s it for tonight. I’m going to wave down a waiter, ask for the heshbon, and go to my (cheap) hostel. (Note. It was really nice.) Lila tov.

Well, I think that’s it for right now. I didn’t realize I had written so much. Stay tuned for tomorrow – I’ll copy some of what I wrote about Caesarea and my adventures getting there.

Quote of the day: *rants on my Facebook wall* – Erica, on watching “The Dark is Rising” trailer


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