The Wild Kingdom

Bad hair day

Now that my brain has melted into a soup in which float the ratio of the legs of a 30-60-90 degree triangle (1 to the square root of 3), the application requirements for various graduate programs, faculty profiles with photos that blur into a smiling, silver-haired, bespectacled amalgam, and fancy terms to describe my academic interests in teaching and writing (I mean “pedagogy” and “composition studies”), I feel the time has come for a return to the blog. Somehow, writing timed 30-minute practice GRE essays cannot compare with free writing–and I must say, my newfound ability to churn out two 700-word essays in one hour leaves little excuse for my lack of entries.

Well, I could go on, but I’d rather not ramble. While I’d prefer to be less of a GRE hermit and thrall to my applications, I know these applications and the revival of math skills for the GRE are probably making me smarter and forcing me to evaluate my history and purpose. So, no complaining–let’s talk about my favorite therapeutic topic, animals!

In the rolling hills of south-central Wisconsin roam camelids hailing from further south–South America, that is. At the honeymoon B&B, Sergey and I encountered a pair of alpacas. Alpacas are much like llamas, but more docile. One of the alpacas fit this description; white-furred like a lamb, it appeared uninterested in anything besides chewing its cud. The other, however, acted as the guardian of the pen. When we approached the enclosure, this redhead came charging at us. When I commented on his aggression to Sergey, he defended the beast. “He just wants to say hi!”

There are some animals who run at you when they truly just want to say hi. Actually, the only ones I can think of are dogs. But the gleam of anger in the eyes of this creature convinced me that his goal was not one of establishing a relationship with these visitors; it was to keep us out of his territory. Or he was really mad about his bad haircut, which left his body shorn but his head poofy.

Sergey optimistically persisted in trying to approach the Alpha Alpaca. Thankfully, no spitting resulted, but I swear it was a close call.

Alpaca eagerly sprinting toward his beloved Sergey

Alpaca eagerly charging toward his beloved Sergey

Over here in Haifa, our neighborhood offers three main forms of wildlife:

1. Kittens

2. Cats

3. Jackals

Around when Sergey and I moved to our current building, a family of kittens also took up residence. There are four striped ones and one spotted, plus a mom lurking around. They are excellent beggars, turning their innocent kitten faces toward us as we pass by, mewing hungrily. While I’ve always sided with dogs over cats, I have to say, this cat herd is pretty darn cute. My favorite is the cockeyed one.

Cats, while less adorable than their younger counterparts, offer their share of entertainment. In particular, there is a black cat that likes to roost on a tree stump outside our building. As we pass by, he lets out his strange cry of “meh, meh, meh.” No energetic “meow” for this feline; it is as if, world-weary or profoundly bored, all he can muster is a half-meow. He needn’t worry about a lack of cat voices in the world, though, since our days are often interspersed with sudden bursts of caterwauling.

At last we come to the jackals, the invisible neighbors who provide the canine counterpart to the caterwauling. Some nights, we will hear their chorus as a pack of them howls and yelps together. It’s a bit creepy, and it’s also odd to hear a sound I associate with wolves gathered in the middle of a forest so close to the heart of the city. Of course, this territory was theirs long before Haifa started expanding across the slopes of Mount Carmel.

Gettin’ hitched, part one

I am sorry that I have been away for so long.  I really have no excuse except that little one about how I was preparing to get married.   So please blame Sergey.  It’s all his fault!

Let me start back in Haifa with our preparations there.  One of our biggest concerns before leaving was getting a flat where we could live together upon our return.  We were assigned one in French Carmel, which is on the other side of the Bahá’í gardens from Hillel, the street where we used to live.

Our old neighborhood could be called Bahá’ítown, as it seems the majority of staff reside there.  You can’t walk down the street without bumping into at least a few people you know.  It’s nice to have so much community around, but also disconcerting for those who are less used to the “village feel” of everyone knowing everyone.  Also, if by some miracle you don’t see anyone you know, you’ll surely bump into one of the many cats that call Hillel home.  Or one of the cats will bump into you, as happened to me on one of my final nights in my old flat.  There was a kitten, apparently motherless, trying to find a human mommy to latch onto.  I heard her meowing and then felt her butting her soft little head against my ankles.  Goodness.  My heart came very close to melting into a puddle.

They say that the cats were brought to Haifa to eat the rats.  Then the jackals came to eat the cats, and then the boars came to eat the jackals.  I wonder what will come to eat the boars….

Anyway, our new flat is number 26 in a high rise with flat numbers 1 to 26 spread across about eight stories.  So, when we first came to check the flat, we logically went to the top floor.  The flats ended with number 25.

“Great,” I told Sergey.  “I guess we’re living on the roof.”

Luckily we do have an actual flat that is randomly on the second floor, above the grocery store beneath.  We just need to hook up a rope with a bucket at the end to our window, make a hole in the roof of the grocery, and lower it to pick up our food.   Yay for laziness!

Actually, we need to be upright citizens, since both of our bosses live in the building across the street!

Moving our things was anything but lazy, though.  I moved in first and Sergey moved his non-essentials while continuing to live on Hillel.  While I came to Israel with two suitcases, over the past year I had somehow amassed many boxes worth of belongings.  Actually, most of my belongings were a dozen or so houseplants.  I like houseplants.  As decorations go, they are fairly cheap and bring vibrancy and life to interior space, and for apartment dwellers like me who can’t go garden in the street, they offer a special opportunity to practice my green thumb.  Honestly, their only drawback is their awkwardness when a move comes around.  Have you ever tried to wrangle a 10-foot long philodendron into a plastic bag?  Or have you ever stuffed a dozen houseplants into the interstices of luggage in a sedan while Sergey laments, “They will die!  They will die!”?

They did not die.  Once unpacked and released into the new flat, they began to enjoy the new western exposure.  And who wouldn’t?

Sunset over the sea, seen from our flat

Sunset over the sea, seen from our flat

In my week of living there, I found myself transfixed on a daily basis by the inimitable show of the sunset over the Mediterranean.  I would reluctantly break the trance to return to my somewhat obsessive task of scouring every surface in the kitchen first with soap, then bleach, while washing every dish and pan.  (But after Sergey pointed out the dead gnat adhered to the teapot, how could I do otherwise?)

Well, dishwashing seems like an appropriate way to end this episode.  Stay tuned for parts two and three as I get up to speed!


There is a single ant running in circles between my arms right now. No wait, he’s crazily scrambling across my keyboard…now exploring my power cord… A small contingent of ants recently left the kitchen to reconnoiter my room. Maybe this one is monitoring my computer habits.

Orientation is nearly over. I’m not sure that I can call myself oriented, at least in the geographical sense, considering that today as the bus sped down an unfamiliar street I assured my friends that this was merely a shortcut (it was not). For that matter, I got lost yesterday too when I went on a mission to see the Shrine of the Báb at sunset. Thank goodness for my map.


(It was totally worth getting lost! And we spotted a jackal going down a staircase in the gardens, so cool! I have yet to see the wild boars that apparently roam around…)

There are now two ants scurrying across my laptop. Time to invest in some traps.

I had lunch with my supervisor today, and afterwards got a glimpse at the office where I’ll work. There it was–my desk, resplendent, in a room with windows! I can’t wait to decorate it with paperclip necklaces and pictures of my kids…or whatever adults usually do.