University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Travel Day(s): No Sleep Till Ben Gurion – Jeremy Cohen

June 17, 2015

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

3:29 am EST/9:29 am Rome/10:29 am Tel Aviv-Yafo

For anyone who has not yet experienced a long international flight, I genuinely recommend it. It helps, of course, to fly economy—or, in a clear and sensible gesticulation toward my major, a seat in Clássica. Such is the dual-language, Rome-hubbed, inexpensively transatlantic Alitalia’s cheerier moniker for dense, eight-to-a-row, best-in-Airbus seating.

As much as I (tell myself I) enjoy the process of travel, there is a destination in mind: Tel Kabri, an archaeological site located just a few kilometers from the Israeli resort city of Nahariya. (Both are about a half-hour drive north of Haifa.) At Kabri, every other year for the past decade, Professor Eric Cline of George Washington University has led a team of colleagues, post-docs, and students (undergraduate and graduate) from U.S. institutions and the University of Haifa on coordinated excavations of a pre-biblical, Minoan-era Canaanite palace. I’ve studied the historical background of the ancient Mediterranean and biblical worlds, in theory and at a distance; this summer, for four weeks, I mean to be one of them.

This is what an archaeologist looks like...
This is what an archaeologist looks like…

For now, though, I am that person awake and working while the plane’s silent majority tries to sleep. The cabin is darkened artificially; through a slightly open window, across a dozen seat backs, I see the sun rise over the Atlantic. Archaeological discovery, and the sun’s first tentative rays, I think to myself, constructing the sort of awful metaphor only viable in a witching hour: slow, yes, sure too, and shimmering across the waters of… uh… humanistic discovery? Lest I become too inspired, an observant stewardess mercifully shuts the window.

Yes, this airline’s attendants make up in southern European charm what they may lack in comprehension of the finer, inevitably sardonic elements of Northeast Coastal American English. My naive, halfhearted attempt to order a vegan entrée results in cheese-adorned (yet endearingly warm!) pasta. Thankfully, it was flanked by more palatable (and less allergy-inducing) cucumber-tomato-lettuce insalata and fruit, erm, assortamiento. Earlier, the woman who checked my 19.4 kg (under the limit!) suitcase assured me that my luggage would be transferred properly. “Do I need to pick it up in Rome?” I ask. “Tel Aviv,” she intones, in an accent best compared to the date-fruit: rough in texture, sweet by intention, and of undeniably Mediterranean provenance. I can only hope (knocking crossed fingers on wood) that my suitcase makes it to Ben Gurion when I do, and not four days later, as happened to my family (flying the same Italian airline on the same connecting route) some eight years ago.

In fact, within twenty-four hours of arrival, I’ll be on a bus headed north. No longer a precocious (read: obnoxious) twelve-year-old, accompanied by family, I’ll be making a Shabbat-morning walk to a Tel Aviv station alone. Once at Kabri, I’ll really need what’s in my checked suitcase: handy trowel, thick textbook, field notebook; clothes that are lightweight, long-sleeved, and open to receiving a plethora of dirt stains; the afternoons run into the high twenties, Celsius, and my Black Sea skin pigmentation loses to direct sunlight every time. Pens, books, and a versatile towel, of course, I carry in my backpack for ubiquitous access. (N.B. I welcome endorsements for “savvy traveling” on LinkedIn.)

Despite being able to fall asleep (book on lap and mouth hanging open) during my one-and-one-half-hour JetBlue jaunts between Boston and Philadelphia, my journey has thus far been restless. Naturally, one tiny cup of the airline’s delicious coffee—appearing suddenly in the hands of every attendant, poured from tall pots devoid of brand or mark—makes the entire seven-hour-forty-minutes worthwhile, and bearable. (Full disclosure: I’d read online that Alitalia’s coffee is the best part of its flying experience, so confirmation bias is likely.) I hope that, with a terminal change and a two-hour layover at Rome’s international airport, I can find a decent (and likely overpriced) cup of espresso. Better yet, I hope I can find someone who’ll take dollars—or sheqalim.

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