I’m a writer, photographer, storyteller, and mother, currently living the American life in San Francisco as an adopted Italian.



Before driving to the Dead Sea for the first time, I called ahead to the hotel where we would be spending the night to get directions.

"Take the 90 from Jerusalem," said the man at the front desk, "and follow it all the way to the camel. When you see the camel, take a right. We're a 20-minute drive from the camel."

The New Yorker in me couldn't take this. "No, you don't understand," I said. "I need an exact address for my GPS."

It wasn't that he wouldn't give it to me; it's that he couldn't as this was absolutely the easiest landmark to identify. His directions were right on. I found the camel, all the way at the end of the route 90 from Jerusalem. I turned right, and twenty minutes later I found myself within the magical garden of Ein Gedi just steps from the soothing, salty waters of The Dead Sea.

It was one of the first of many lessons about the Middle East: you often have to follow your nose, trust a person and not rely on a machine in order to discover some of the region's hidden treasures. Turn off the GPS and open your eyes. Follow a map or trust a local lead. It has reminded me of the way we used to think before technology took over.

A month ago, I returned to the Dead Sea with a friend. We looked for the camel. He wasn't exactly in his landmark spot anymore. He had moved about 500 meters to the right. Now, he's next to gas station where you can now also hook up your hybrid car at "A Better Place," Agassi's energy-saving car hub (which is, alas, about to go under as per this week's headlines).

 Pick your landmark -- a camel's hump or a hybrid -- and you won't feel deserted in the desert.