Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ayelet and the Animals

Ayelet loves animals. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. I’m not really sure, honestly, why a girl growing up in the suburbs has to be drilled on “What does a cow say?” “What does a goat say?” But she has a whole barnyard of these animal sounds down to rival any farmgirl (except when she’s presented with an animal whose sound is outside her area of expertise, say a camel, in which case she’ll take the educated guess of either ‘woof’ or ‘quack’). She even has books teaching her more exotic animals that she certainly wouldn’t encounter in New Jersey, lions and tigers and bears and the like, and an iPad app that schools her, “This is the sound a zebra makes: ‘woot woot woot! woot woot woot!’”

Our principle of animal ed is strongly affirmed by Israeli theories of child entertainment, which seem to suggest: if in doubt as to whether a place of attraction will be attractive enough to a child, you can’t go wrong with a couple of farm animals. Ein Zivan’s fruit picking fields have an adjacent petting zoo. Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi has a petting zoo – not just for farm animals, mind you, which might be logical on a farm, but owls and peacocks and other exotic birds labeled in Hebrew. Continuing with the bird theme, the Israeli Air Force Museum in Be’er Sheva has a formidable collection of squawking wonders, with the tenuous connection that airplane designers have learned much from these expert fliers – which doesn’t really explain the ostriches.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is definitely the place to go if you’re actually on an animal hunt from the get-go. It’s got satisfyingly humungous brown elephants, exotic monkeys, even some woot-woot-woot zebras.  How did Ayelet react?

“Zebra,” she said, pointing definitively.

Then, she turned around and walked away. Clearly, when you make a zebra a household item, it gets treated as one.

Ayelet was more captivated by the goats in the petting zoo. In Israel, it seems a “zoo” is a place where the animals are enclosed and the people are outside, whereas a “petting zoo” is a place where the people go in and roam about with the animals. Ayelet has been trained by my mother, who has a dog, to do “nice to Gloria” patting her gingerly on the side. So Ayelet felt compelled to go up to every single goat, pat it and say “niiice…” and then move on to the next one. Until the goats started nibbling on her dress. Then she started crying and held up her hands to be lifted out of the enclosed area.

On the Alpaca Farm in Mitzpe Ramon, I was given a bag of food to feed the alpacas. Actually it ended up only going to one alpaca, who almost knocked me over with his persistence and appetite. “This guy is really hungry,” I hinted at the staff.

“Oh, he’s always like that,” they told me.

While I had meant to give Ayelet a turn at the feeding – she loves feeding people and Gloria the dog significantly more than feeding herself – I was too busy keeping the hungry alpaca at bay to delegate. They offered to allow Ayelet to participate by riding a llama. But, given Ayelet’s not-too-stellar and rather squirmy performance riding in my lap on the plane, I thought I’d better decline.

Touching, handling, or being in close proximity to livestock? I think Ayelet would answer the US Customs form: ‘woot woot woot! woot woot woot!’

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