woensdag 16 mei 2012

From Araq to Zombie



Their relation is closely intertwined, some even call the two synonymous: archaeology and alcohol. Digging does not occur without drinking following suit. A cynical person might say that the relation is one of cause-and-effect and that archaeologists drink mostly to drown their sorrows over unsuccessful digs and on rare occasions to celebrate that they have found something mildly interesting.
One cannot truly claim to have been in a region until he or she knows what booze is locally available. Anyone who`s worked in Asia knows what Singha beer looks like once it`s made a U-turn in the digestive system and a true Egyptologist should most often drink Saqqara, but prefer Stella when  they can get their hands on it. Similarly, surveyors in Turkey are hooked on Efes Pilsen (supposing that they`re doing things right) and anyone who`s done archaeological work in Mexico without having gone wasted on Mescal is probably not a true archaeologist. Incidentally, anyone who`s done work in the Levant knows that going from Araq to Zombie is pretty much a straight line (more on that later). I therefore felt that I could not ignore the connections that KRP has with alcohol use. It must be noted that poorly moderated alcohol use is not instigated or encouraged by the staff of KRP.

In Israel, most domestic beer is brewed by the Tempo Beer Industries. Although their oldest brew, Nesher Malt, is a kosher malt beer, the most commonly drunk beers are Maccabee and Goldstar. Maccabee (recognisable by the blue/red label) is a pale lager of 4,9% abv with a relatively light taste. This makes it easy to swig, especially when cooled. Goldstar (recognisable by a red label with a gold star) is marketed as a dark lager, although it is only slightly darker in color than Maccabee. In terms of taste it is not quite as easy as its blue brother, still very drinkable. It`s a 4,9% abv too, so you won`t get drunk any faster. It`s merely a matter of taste or (more often) availability.
You don`t know anything about synagogues if you don`t know what this is.  It`s that simple.

Araq is a different story. This ouzo-like beverage is Arabian in origin and is mostly made of grapes and aniseed. It is known all throughout the Arab world, regardless of religious constraints. Like ouzo, it has a relatively high abv – 50-63% on average – which may explain where it gets its name from. Downing half a bottle of this stuff will hit like a head-butt from an angry bull and will even make you forget you own mother`s name. Drinking a whole bottle is probably the closest you`ll ever get to zombification (or death for that matter). It is therefore mostly consumed as an aperitif by  sane people. A bunch of young archaeologists looking for something to party with are usually not as composed in their judgement, making for some hilarious results.

The first evening of the digging season is the one where everyone and everything is introduced; from the diggers to the tasks to the schedules. The grease on the cogs for this meeting is a glass (or rather, a plastic cup) of vodka `n lime. This tradition has been part of the “homecoming feeling” for many veterans over the years and can be seen as an integral part of the first day of the season for the volunteers at Karei Deshe.
Besides that, there is the Midsummer`s Night celebration. It`s a well engrained Finnish tradition usually involving summer cottages, saunas, lakes and vodka. Karei Deshe has both the holiday feel of a summer cottage, the average temperature of a sauna and borders on “Lake Tiberias” (a.k.a. the Sea of Galilee). All you have to do is add vodka, so the evening just isn`t complete without passing around a bottle of Finlandia.
Regular workdays end with an hour of two or three off – provided that there are no lectures scheduled. With temperatures still quite high on those balmy Levantine nights, nothing hits the spot like a chilled beer whilst sitting on the beach looking out over the lake at the stars over the city of Tiberias. More special nights are the birthday parties. Hardly a season goes by without someone celebrating an anniversary: a nice occasion to get completely hammered. As a decent variety of strong liquor is sold in Tiberias, this should be both relatively easy and relatively expensive. In the end, you`ll have a lot of fun, but also have a short night and one hell of a hangover which you`ll need to deal with while digging. Clearly, this practise is not for those who are faint of heart.
At the end of the season, some people will celebrate the new discoveries with a modest toast. However, the most serious end-of-season drinking tends to happen at the final barbecue, or rather: after the final barbecue. It is an invitation to stay up as long as your body will allow as all leftovers from the past four weeks are taken care of and a final goodbye-shisha is smoked by those who were smart enough to buy some Mu`assel and a Hookah.
It has to be the Middle-East`s all-time favourite leisure time activity.

It is therefore not surprising that some anecdotes exist about the effects of alcohol on the volunteers of KRP. One of the better known stories comes from the 2010 season and is about a doctor in religious studies who has a legendary taste for fine whisky. After a night of steady drinking he would inevitably show up on site the next day with a doozy of a hangover. This led to him being called ´Professor Hangover´ and it has since stuck as a nom de guerre. His compatriot and fellow whisky lover earned the name ´Mr. Whisky´ after diligently cracking a bottle of Chivas Regal with ´Professor Hangover´ and another great whisky fan who comes to Israel annually. The power of these names is such that even on symposia you can hear “Hey, Mr. Whisky” and “ah, Professor Hangover” in regular conversation.

As noted in the first paragraph, there is a clear bond between archaeology and alcohol. In my mind, it`s a good thing: the booze can help you relax and cool off after a hard day of work (yes, we do in fact work there). It helps in the bonding, because if you like the same kind of liquor, you`ll always have something to talk about. Finally, nothing quite makes for celebrations like booze. It just wouldn`t seem right not to drink to a successful season and to properly spend some time together with your friends who so far away from home are the closest.

...and now I could do with a cold Maccabee.

Signing off,

The Lost Dutchman

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