Monday, 22 September 2008

The Selfish Gene

For a couple of weeks now my mind has been greatly occupied with thoughts on the various factors that turned our vacation in Israel to be such a shitty affair. Ideas kept on coming, but the problem was how to write them down on a blog that is accessible to everyone without offending key people. By now my opinion is that I am better off conducting my transparent analysis for everyone to read, and if someone is offended then they are most welcome to have a constructive discussion. Mind you, I doubt the people that might be offended will read this post to begin with. Then again, you never know; so for now, here goes.

When conspiring to transpire your much anticipated and carefully planned holiday to a holiday from hell, I think it is fair to say many factors exert their influence, some controllable and some not. Our Israeli portion of our Eurotrip holiday definitely qualifies for that much un-coveted “holiday from hell” title, and therefore looking at the various factors involved in making it this way is important (at least to me, the joint number one victim) and also somewhat interesting.
Of the factors that are out mere mortals' control, I think two can be pointed at as the worst things about Israel. First there is the heat, the relentless heat: at the time of the year we chose to go to Israel, due to a collection of restrictions, Israel is just way too hot (especially when coming in from a Melbourne winter). And unlike Melbourne, the heat doesn't let go at night, so you get no relief. The only relief is through air conditioning, which - at least at my parents' place - comes in rather noisy forms. You add the air conditioner noise to the TV that seems to be eternally on and set to a rather def defying levels and you get relentless noise, too.
The second uncontrollable factor about Israel, or at least the Tel Aviv area, is that it is overpopulated. Oddly enough it didn't bother me at the time I called Israel home, but coming from the generally empty Australia and the very well spread Melbourne you can't avoid the feeling that everything is right on top of everything else. There is no feeling of spaciousness to be had. Add the heat on top and everything looks dirty and washed out. Cars are generally dirty even though I'm sure they're washed ten times more often than my car in Australia; cars tend to sport many a bump and a scratch; cars are parked just about everywhere, leaving no space for life forms (and they all seem to have these noisy alarms that go on a spree whenever they're turned on or off); and drivers tend to drive suicidally because they're always under siege. Cars are therefore expensive to rent and hard to park, so getting one is not a trivial affair, which meant we were pretty limited with what we could do with our time in Israel and relied on others for transport.
I don't even mention Israel's security situation, which didn't play a factor at all during our visit. I just think that simple things like the weather and the density of the population, which we tend to take for granted, have an enormous effect on the general atmosphere of the population. It's not just Israel that's affected by such factors; England, for example, is just as affected by its own weather. It's just that when coming to Israel from Australia I couldn't avoid the feeling that Israel is just not good enough. Call me clairvoyant, but there were some pretty good reasons for me to want to leave the place when I did.

The uncontrollable factors were one thing; I feel as if it was the controllable factors that drove us nuts in Israel, for the very simple reason that they went wrong despite them being controllable.
The first controllable factor to hurt us was my brother's decision to visit Israel and stay with my parents at the same time we were going to be there. It wasn't like our visit came as a surprise or anything: we booked our flights some nine months ahead and made my brother fully aware of the space limitations. Yet he chose to come a few days ahead of us and take over one of the two guest rooms that happened to have a new and silent air conditioner installed.
My parents thought this was just fine and that Dylan and us could share the other guest room. We didn't like the idea; not in the least. My parents thought we're mad, but we have a different apprehension about Dylan's behavior, and our apprehension takes into account the very noticeable fact that Dylan's behavior is triggered by small cues. When it's feeding time, you give him the feeding cues and he'll eat; and when it's bed time, you give him the bed time cues and he'll sleep. Trouble is, us being in the same room with Dylan is not a part of his established bed time cues, nor did we have any intention of making them such. Of all the things we don't want Dylan to get used to, sharing our presence when he goes to sleep stars very high up the list.
So my family thought we're being crazy, but we opted to let Dylan sleep in the room while we slept on the living room's floor. Funny thing is, they still thought we're crazy after we tried to have an afternoon sleep with Dylan in the same room, only to hear Dylan giving us speeches for two hours instead of going to sleep despite being extremely tired; no matter what we told them and what they saw and heard, they were still unable to connect the dots.
The trouble with sleeping on the living room floor is the lack of privacy. The living room is where the main TV is, and the TV is my father's bloodline, so we couldn't go to sleep whenever we just felt like. After we would go to sleep we would get wake up calls from everyone that passed around, whether it was my brother coming back from a night out or someone going to the toilet or my father waking up for work. I'll put it this way: between these interruptions, the heat and the noise, we didn't sleep very well in Israel. We were tired and grumpy all the time.

The next problem was to do with the cot arrangement for Dylan. The one my parents have initially arranged was a joke: a small metallic contraption that was way too small for Dylan, who likes to turn in his sleep and instead kept waking up hitting the edges. It wasn't just small: it was like an ancient archaeological dig thing that defied probably all known baby safety regulations. I wouldn't put a dog in that contraption, yet my parents who should really know what babies need thought that was good enough for Dylan.
On the first night we didn't have much of a choice. Dylan cried a lot and quickly enough discovered that he could dismantle his own cot, so effective sleep wasn't really on the agenda. He did sleep, eventually, but only out of exhaustion.
We were thinking of alternatives, and a friend told me where we could get portable cots for $130: a cost that by the standards of our trip, with $8500 air fares, seemed quite negligible if the benefit was a good night's sleep. However, the family told us to hold on and "think outside the box"; those that know me, especially those that know me from work, know that there is nothing that drives me mental better than the meaningless use of meaningless slogans. If you want to do something, do it; don't talk palavras.
After the first night my sister, who generally took the role of the guardian angel in this trip, has arranged for her son's old cot to be delivered in pieces to my parents place. The bits were delivered by my brother and all was considered over and done with.
Not so. No one knew how to assemble the pieces and no instructions were provided. Everyone thought a solution has been found and no one bothered to do anything to help us, leaving Dylan to sleep yet another night in that twisted contraption and me feeling like I'm either going to kill someone or break the TV so that someone would pay some attention to our woes.
On our third day we insisted on getting the portable cot before doing anything else. My parents then arranged for a DIY type of a guy to come over and build the cot, at last. One problem remained, though: Dylan's room was boiling hot. After all, my brother was the one sleeping in the room with the air conditioner.
So my sister came to the rescue, again, with her portable air conditioner. We set it up for two nights, but it was louder than a jet landing two meters away. Dylan slept well with it, but out of care for his hearing we decided to call the air conditioner quits and let him boil instead. No, call us selfish: we decided not to use it because we couldn't fall asleep in the living room with the noise it made.
This, and the interruption full sleep on the living room floor, meant that we just had to get away. We booked three days at a Dead Sea hotel, rented a car, and ran away. I came back from those three days with a diarrhea that took me out of action for the rest of our Israeli stay and saw me visiting a hospital's emergency room.

At the end of our Israeli trip we didn't do half the things we wanted to do. The main purpose of our journey was to spend time together with the family and do stuff together; we hardly did.
Between my father's car being too small and too unsafe and between my father's kamikaze driving (typical Israeli, I admit, but not my cup of tea anymore) we didn't go anywhere with the car. We stayed together but hardly talked to one another or did anything together (why should we want to talk when the TV can be turned on loudly?). True, the main focus was on Dylan, but I wanted more: I don't know how many times I'm going to see my parents, and the fact that we have wasted our time in Israel makes me feel like I've missed out on my only proper chance to do something with my parents. After this experience we will definitely not stay in Israel for as long again. In more than one respect, this was a case of Game Over.
Plus, with my stomach being the way it was, I didn't even get one bite of shawarma.

In my opinion, this holiday we have been looking up to for so long has been ruined for us through some very specific actions. The result is that whenever I think about it I just get sad and annoyed.


I would like to finish off with a closing comment. When titling my posts, I generally take care not to abuse titles. That is, if I was to allow myself to use the names of my favorite songs in post titles I would quickly find myself using the same titles again and again. My point is this: a post such as this, that uses the title of the book consider my most important read and one of my best reads ever, is therefore not to be trifled with.

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