Friday, December 29, 2006

Oooooooh! This looks Good!

An exciting new film - Pan's Labyrinth - opens in New York and other assorted locales today.

For science fiction, fairy tale/horror-ish or off-the-track film lovers, it looks very very promising. And the reviews are tremendous.
It's by Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro of The Devil's Backbone and Hellboy. He's a horror buff and highly respected in film circles. Although I haven't seen any of his stuff, based on this one's trailer the cinematography looks fab. Also, the original score by Javier Navarrete is very pleasing to the ear.
Okay, I'll wait half a year for it to get here...sigh.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006 Draws to a Close

As we lock down the shutters on 2006, the stroll down memory lane seems irresistible.

The New York Times has a great interactive Year in Photos worth checking out. Go to the link and scroll down to the 2006 Year in Photos. Featured prominently is last summer's Israel-Lebanon war. Decide for yourself.

The Reuters 2006 re-cap has quotes, including this one pertinent to my current venue of choice:
I am officially announcing that Iran has joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology. Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, April 11.

The Reuters site also has images. Great ones in Cuba and Iran of Fidel Castro and the above mentioned prez shot by stringers and a fab one of Shaquille O'Neal by Hans Derek.

My favorite-a-licious girl nasties at Go Fug Yourself haven't put together a comprehensive 2006 re-cap but their description of dragging themselves from "brandy soaked nog-comas" is worth the trek.

I leave this entry with ruminations.

Recently I filed a story on Rwandans in Israel. The work spurred me to read and check out the film Sometimes in April to learn more about the 1994 genocide because my strongest memory of the period was a colleague's stories upon returning from the carnage. Until Rwanda, he had thought he was a hot sh*t, conquer the world journalist. He came back shell shocked. And almost every journalist I've talked to or read has noted that of all the war zones they've covered - Sarajevo, Mogadishu, Lebanon, etc - Rwanda was the absolute worst.

The same is happening in Darfur, Sudan. Now. There are a gazillion ways to help out and get involved from letter writing to petitioning to donating cash to donating time and talents. Worth thinking about.

Over and out

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Schvitz? Don't Mind if I Do, Thanks

Self exaltation is a lovely thing.

This here link takes you to my article in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

Mwahaahaahaahaa..I am simply Shameless in my self promotion. Hee hee. Blush Blush. As usual.

After you read the article with great rapture and you have finished reflecting...

Wish yourself and your family A Merry Merry Christmalicious (if it's your thang).

My 5-year-old is running around our Tel Aviv flat singing: "We Wish you a Merry Christmas"...Where in tarnation did he get that tune in the Holy Land Central vacuum of virtual non-existent Christmas cheer?

On Cartoon Network dot com. Go on over. You'll see what I mean when you watch the front page video which shows, by the way, that Joe Barbera - creator of The Flintstones, Tom & Jerry, Scooby Doo, etc. - has passed. What a legend.

Enjoy, mes petits choux...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ho-Hum Saturday

This is the first time in aaaaaaaggggggeeeeeessss that I've opted to be indoors the entire - but the entire - day. I'm ashamed. Sorta.

Yes, it was a rainy day. Not cold but damp and grey. But that wasn't the reason. It just felt like a last day of Hannuka vacation-soak up the rest for what it's worth-g'head and knock yourself out with slovenliness type of day.

So Raph and I slept late by our standards - 9 a.m. - and he got his once-a-week sugar cereal fix i.e. Fruit Trix and then he proceeded to watch 800 episodes of Teen Titans on DVD while I researched writing venues and queried editors. My active peak hit around 2 p.m. when I trekked out to the kitchen and prepared Indonesian beef soup. It's a good thing there aren't any donuts in the house.

Later in the day friends brought their son by to play with Rapha - thank goodness for the child's sanity - and I continue, to now, sitting in sweats typing up story proposals.
See what a kid looks like after hours of video watching? Let this image be a message to us all..

Shameful. Hee hee.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Public Service Announcement

For fans of skateboard, this is what the kids in my hood are getting up to over the Hannuka vacation.

What did we do over the vacation, you ask? Not much. I ASPIRED to goat and bee farms, movies and ...Back in reality land, we rented Jimmy Neutron, had people over, went to other people's houses and we'll attend a final Hannuka shindig tonight. Otherwise, long hours of sleep, lazy days spent reading in the park or playing football (soccer in Amerikansky), walking around South Tel Aviv and the shuk...a lazy man's holiday.

Here's a PSA. Nice visuals; important message. Happy Last Harmonica Day!

A personal plug: For San Francisco area readers (or online surfers), I'll have a piece in the Sunday Insight Section this weekend - Christmas Eve day. Happy reading...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mmmmm Donuts

Welcome to today's blog entry entitled: The Lazy Woman's Alternative to Coming up with Original Material.

Here's how it works:

I'm feeling uninspired, tired and blech. So instead of activating my brain cells to formulate original writing, I link to another person's blog and extoll his/her virtues. Shameless.

Not really, though, because Noorster's writing is clever and she unabashedly admits to exact quantities of jelly donuts she has been consuming over the Hannuka holiday. What bravery!

We of the Jewish persuasion here in Holy Land Central wallow in grease this time of year: Potato fried pancakes, jelly/chocolate/cream/dulche la leche-filled fried donuts...The rest of the year? You'd be hard pressed to find donuts anywhere in HLC but with Hannuka comes a glut. Go figure.

Luckily, I don't care for potato pancakes and thus far have been holding out on the donut front. I'll indulge in one of the gourmet types later this week. Cream filled. Mmmmm. I feel like Homer.

Which reminds me of a donut joke I heard years ago in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park during the annual stand-up festival. Leave it to Americans, the comedian scoffed to take cake and fry it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Harmonica!

Day four of candle lighting. Reporting from the front:

- The mall is NOT a place to be during the current Hannuka break. Not because, as in the U.S., the pre-Christmas buying frenzy is in full momentum. There are simply too many kids and people at the mall. And after all, a mall is a mall is a mall. Big Whoop.

- Oh how realities shift. Ironically, considering this is where it all went down, there is no Christmas here in Holy Land Central. At least not in Tel Aviv. No decorations. No glittery lights or tinsel. No plastic rooftop Santa, mall-sitting Santa, ringing bell Salvation Army Santa... No Santa, Nada.
- My father relayed via phone that a group of young Christmas Carollers showed up at his front door post-Hannuka candle lighting Friday night. He was scornful of my: "Sweet! Did you invite them in to spin the dreidel?" He is inundated and feeling Minority pangs.

- I miss some of the pretty hoopla. I admit it. If I lived in the U.S. I'd feel otherwise. I miss post-Christmas sales. Merchandise. Consumerism. Attractive displays. Ahhh!!!

- I don't miss egg-nogg, even the loaded with brandy kind.

- On the week's agenda: Visit to bee-honey producing farm, visit to goat farm to see how goat cheese is made and play with kids, see Luc Besson's new animated movie, ditto Aardman's claymation movie, candle lighting, Hannuka party, candle lighting, donuts, chocolate money, candle lighting.

- I don't like latkes. At all. Even gourmet ones (whatever that means)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Empty Journalist Moments

There are crap moments on every job and yesterday I had several. Unfotunately, there will probably be more.

The first time was years ago while working as a television producer covering the aftermath of a suicide bombing. A camera crew and I went to a man's house to interview him. He and his wife had recently married and his adoption of her children had just finalized. We showed up a few hours prior to her funeral. His first wife had also been killed by a terrororist.

The man was in shock and I could not bring myself to ask him anything. I sat in silence. Realizing I was at a loss, my colleague the cameraman stepped in with questions in my stead.

After all, there really is nothing you can ask someone in that situation.

Yesterday I sat with a group of Rwandan survivors of the 1994 genocide who are currently in Israel. One, Jean-Pierre, agreed to tell his story.

Speaking quietly through a Kinya-Rwandan translator, he described hiding in bushes and watching Hutu militia men machete family members and toss grenades into surrounding bushes where other children were hiding. I lowered my head, gulped backed tears and pinched myself into not crying. Jean-Pierre lost both parents and four siblings.

When he finished telling his story, I said "thank you very much" with warmth that felt hollow. Thanks for sharing your personal hell. How odd, when you think of it.

During a college internship at a local news station in the U.S., an anchor once shared in confidence that whenever he was sent out to interview surviving family members, he would sit in the car outside the house, phone the executive producer and relay: "Nobody's home".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Insanity Producing

This is the type of story that makes me want to scream in fury, beat a tabletop, weep and curse in frustration.

For those not up to playing "follow the link", it's a piece about three boys - aged 6-9 - who were gunned down in Gaza City today as they prepared to go from car to school. It was a "send a message killing". The boys were all sons of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' chief intelligence aide. Abbas/aide are members of the moderate Fatah faction. Gee, I wonder what faction could have been behind the murders?

It is mind boggling. It is wrong. And so overwhelming it hurts to contemplate.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

J.C. & Me

I received an interesting e-mail today from a group called The Christian Bloggers. They want me to join forces with them, link to their blog & sign up as a podcast recipient. The reason, they write, is that although we may have different theologies "we all share the same saviour". Get out! And I thought I was the only one who turns to Lindt in troubled times.

So I moseyed on over to check things out (sorry, no link. I don't want the junk mail). First of all, the sheer volume of information over there is mind numbing. There are sub-headings for every major Christian denomination I could possibly think of and some I've never heard of. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Missionaries, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian...

Then, in the FAQ section, the first question asks "Why Christian Bloggers?" The partial reply:

As we continue to head towards the endtimes, the importance of showing the church as a beacon of light and hope in this world is critical.

So here I am, living in Holy Land Central (and that there referral is probably what brought the good people of Christian Bloggers to my site in the first place) and yet: I AM THE LAST TO KNOW. Why aren't my teammates keeping us all updated? I pay taxes, work hard and duck wars and yet nobody on my side of the fence seems to think it important to notify that we're headed towards endtimes.

Thanks, Christian Bloggers. If it weren't for you I might still be in the dark. I'll take a pass on the blog offer for the time being seeing as I DO play for the other team and all. But I'll keep you in mind should the endtimes happen to include a plan for mass extermination of my people.

Your pal,


Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's Really Real!

Yesterday I coffee'd with an artist type person who casually let slip that she used to work for Conde Nast Publications.

Conde! (Expletive)! Nast! I nearly sputtered aloud.

That's totally cool! I gushed shamelessly, instead.

I guess it is, she replied with a yawn, if you're into worrying about whether your hair is good enough to ride up in the elevator with the high powered people who work in the same building. I was stick thin and a nervous wreck.

You mean..? I asked, wide-eyed.

Yep. Just like the movie, I kid you not. I slaved for years as a production pion. It's absurd what goes on in the ivory tower. The building in the movie? It's where I worked. The running for a coffee, lackey, invisible Girl Friday movie character? That was me.


Yeah. The good thing is that with all the kick-backs, I didn't have to buy any bath or beauty products for years.

Hmmm...Worth contemplating.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Die Zauberflote

5-year-old Raphael and I went to see a children's rendition of The Magic Flute at Israel's Opera House this evening. I was pleased to learn that my son has the patience for & interest in opera and seems to "get it".


- While I understand that prominent (recently deceased) Israeli composer Ehud Manor modified the opera to suit a local palate, I was surprised and disappointed by the Hebrew - decisively NOT the original German penned by Herr Mozart. But okay, I'll cut some slack. The average age in the house was four.

- Interesting to hear Russian tinged Hebrew. I'm putting my dime on the conjecture that of 7 company members performing this eve, at least half were of Russian descent. A global village is what we all are, indeed.

- Can we talk costumes? What was up with the purple nightgowns and matching knee-high purple vinyl platform boots the Ladies of the Queen of the Night were sporting? Okay so I coveted them but I'm thinking time period: Late 1700's. Absynthe parlor loungewear, perhaps. Ecstasy inspired Dominatrix boots? Nah. And about Pamina's PayLess flats and shiny white semi-formal-prom-night-gone-bad knock off? Oy. Oy. Oy.

**I KNOW what season tickets go for. PEOPLE: Invest some serious $$ into the wardrobe, n'kay?

Other than those petty observations, the experience was a thrill and it's a wonderful thing for kids. There's a whole series of themed operettas aimed at exposing the wee ones to Johann Strauss Jr., F. Schubert, Beethoven...

If nothing else, it's worth attending to hear commentary from the kid ('cause there's always one) who unabashedly shouts from his/her seat: "Oh NO! Look out! He's coming! There he IS!" or something similar.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jew Man

Here's some Happy Monday Trivia for Fans of Language:

In Japanese, the word for 10 is: Ju (pronounced just as you think it is)

In Japanese, the word for 10,000 is: Ichiman (pronounced like Scratchy's partner)

In Japanese, the word for 100,000 is: Juman (same as the first Jew)

What if the three got together? Would Ju be lesser than Juman because he doesn't have "man" attached to his name? And would Ichiman be envious of Juman because he is "itching" to be 100 rather than 10 thousand?

And like I didn't even need any mind altering substances to come up with all of this so it's probably time to get myself off to bed. But not before sharing one last tidbit:

In Japanese, the word for the "9th of the month" is: Kokonoka

The person who came up with that one was an ad exec who got confused between the fruity cocktail campaign and the Japanese government's numerical charts bid

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Weep Material

A person put this up on one of the English language e-mail lists making the rounds in Holy Land Central:

BARGAIN! SAVE 745 shekels on new Ikea sofa !!!!!
Posted by:
Fri Dec 1, 2006 4:03 am (PST)
Brand new unused Ikea sofa (model name BACKA - not in catalog yet)-
too big for my new retirement home room.
Will take loss in order to sell quickly. Ikea price 1995sh; selling
for 1250. Do not reply by email.
Phone for more details XXXXXXXXXXX

Oh my.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jerusalem on the Milky Way

I traveled to Jerusalem today to pick up my government issued press card. I haven't needed it since I returned to Holy Land Central last Fall but then again, I haven't been to Gaza or the West Bank nor have I attended official press conferences, interviewed key government figures and I wasn't here for last summer's war in Lebanon. But the card looks kinda nice dangling off my living room light fixture.

A word about Jerusalem: Who needs a European vacation? I can head on out of Tel Aviv and mosey on up to J-Town when I'm feeling a bit antsy and Voila! I've tarried galaxies afar. The two cities differ radically in style of dress, mannerisms, lay of the land and religious inclinations.

First: It's probably reasonably safe to assert that NO fashion statements will be surging out of the Holy City anytime soon. While the ultra-orthodox have some semblance of coolness with black and white color motifs, what can you expect from a city whose key historical figures ran around in hooded gunny sacks and beige flats?

Second: Hills, views, Jerusalem stone, olive trees...We have the beach but they've got architectural & historical candy.

Third: People speak Yiddish. Young people. Who are ultra-orthodox. Because they consider Hebrew to be a holy language not to be soiled by the mere trifle of common, everyday conversation. It was a shocker hearing someone behind me speak it today. I thought it was German for a few seconds.

Finally: Meeting up with religion is surprising in itself because Tel Aviv is soooo secular. Yeah I know, it sounds crazy coming from Holy Land Central and all. But trust me on this one: When in Jerusalem the sudden exposure to religious majority can be overwhelming and eye-opening.

Good to know I don't have to go far to keep things fresh

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Nothing like a good, old fashioned general strike to grind industry to a halt.

That's the current state of affairs here in Holy Land Central (HLC).

No flights, boats, trains, mail, post offices, customs or tax authority, no passports, driver's licenses, courts or city hall.

Talks are underway to solve what purportedly cost the country NIS 350 million ($82 mill. U.S.) on day one of what may be a several day strike.

I know that as an enterprising, cash-fat aspiring person I should be holding this sort of mass action in disdain. But there's something about shutting down's very powerful.

The ONLY time I recall that happening in the U.S. was on 9/11. That or if snow or wind got too dicey for incoming and outgoing aircraft.

I would like to get my mail and I do have some business to tend to within a government office or two..but what to do?

A visiting friend from Azerbaijan was a bit put off by it all saying that in her country this sort of thing would never happen. In fact, she exclaimed, she has never experienced this sort of thing before. She has clearly never been to France.

"In Azerbaijan the government would either fire the strikers or throw half of them in jail to teach them a lesson," she exclaimed this afternoon. I'd like to see THAT go down in Israel or France.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wish List

Here we go into Christmas Season friends and neighbors. Hold onto your hats! Ho ho ho.

Except over here in Holy Land Central (HLC) there's none of that Americana style build-up, commercialization and shop-till-you drop spirit. We Jewish tribal types, in fact, are only marginally - if at all - aware of Yule; It isn't celebrated, for the most part, this side of the green line. In Bethlehem, parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank, yes. Not Tel Aviv.

Nonetheless, I am taking this opportunity to present Stefanella's 2006 Holiday Season Wish List. Why not? As my Buddhist friends say: You have to put it out there for the karma to find you. More simply phrased: If you don't let Santa know, how's he gonna drop it off at your house?

1. Expendable Income - I don't want to stand in the supermarket aisle comparing nutritional value versus cost versus how far a food item can be stretched. In fact, I don't want to think about budgeting at all. I want extra cash. I want to find 100 shekel notes in my jean pockets and casually remark: "Oh that's nice" rather than fretting that such a find might induce a coronary.

2. Day Spa - Sue me for my trespasses. I'm allowed the occasional shee-shee girlish whim. I want to wallow in a jacuzzi and sauna, doze off to the tones of New Age chimes while melting under the nimble kneading of a deep tissue masseur, get a peel and facial and drink freshly churned carrot juice while lounging in a white robe and scanning the latest copy of Vanity Fair.

3. Subscription to Vanity Fair -....come to think of it.

4. Indulge my Offspring - I want to take my son on an elephant ride in India and on African Safari. I want to encourage his artistic slant with visits to the Louvre and the finest oils, ceramics and private lessons money can purchase. I want to be able to say "yes" more often to his requests for toys. I want him to have a carefree life.

5. Teach my Offspring - I want my son to learn that giving back through volunteerism and donation is a responsibility and an honor. That each person can make a difference. That we're all here for a purpose and once you figure yours out, you're in.

6. More Fun - Less thinking, more action. More visiting with friends, less worrying about time constraints and work. More outings, less work. More cultural exposure, less worry over finances.
7. A Thigh-High Pair of Spike-Heeled Boots - to wear around the house with my pretend mini-skirt while singing "..that's just what they'll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over..."

8. Chocolate Truffles and Creme Brulee for the Masses - Well I had to end on a positive note, no?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rape & Women

A few days ago I blogged about waking up to the sound of search helicopters on the hunt for an escaped serial rapist.

He's still on the loose; I've noticed that my women brethren (sic) are feeling discomfort, to put it mildly.

Funny (ha ha) what this type incident brings out in us.

I've never been raped. I've had a flasher or two or three show off personal jewels but no incident was shocking enough to push me towards the psycho-analytical couch. All of a sudden I'm thinking about a violent, angry man on the loose and what could potentially happen to myself, my son, myself in the presence of my son or another woman with children.

I'm cautious, studying faces for signs of the escaped rapist's features, questioning neighbors about the "strange guy" loitering suspiciously outside the apartment building, nervous, wanting this menace to either split the country for a remote planet or be re-captured.

And I'm not alone. Women are talking about him, blogging about him, dropping his name casually in conversation. We're double checking locked doors, looking over shoulders, asking drop-offs to wait until we get inside the house. My 14-year-old babysitter had her father pick her up instead of hailing the usual taxi home. We're all frightened regardless of rationale or reason that tells us this psychopath is probably long gone.

The craziest part? When you break it down to the basic components it's about body parts. This man uses a body part to violate others. Violently, in a frightening manner. It's taboo. And I can't help but wonder what in the hell happened to him.

The burn of it? Although we may have arrived and fancy ourselves living in the modernity of 21st century reality, this is a dividing point where we women remain vulnerable regardless. And people like this rapist know it.

SHIT I hope they catch him soon. For all of us.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Bomber for Breakfast?

Woke up this a.m. to the sound of overhead helicopters. Many and for a long time. So I get online to see if a suicide bombing has happened. Nada.

Eat a leisurely breakfast and with kindergarten-skipping Raphael in tow - He's allowed; it's his fifth birthday today, OMG! - stroll downstairs to find half a dozen police officers combing the neighborhood accompanied by aforementioned buzzing helicopters.

I hesitate. My first thought: A suicide bomber is loose in Tel Aviv; They have word and they're searching.

"Is someone loose in the area?" (duh) I ask an officer outside our building. He shakes his head no. Liar. As if the foot patrol is simply getting out and about as part of the new "Get Fit Forces!" physical regime aimed at getting Tel Aviv's police corps in shape. Our neighborhood happens to be THE perfect alternative to hiking trails and the helicopters help maintain that tough guy cover while they sweat it out.

That was 9:30.

Six hours later the copters are still circling. NOW I've found the story online and discover that lo and behold, it's neither fitness or a bomber they're after. Rather a mere serial rapist who escaped police escort while being transported between courthouse hearings. Our apartment is awfully close to the courthouse. Separated by a park, in fact. The same one I suspect Monsieur Rapist cut across to dodge his chaperones.

Let me see...Bomber versus Rapist...How comforting.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Top Image of the Year

Check this out...Courtesy of my friend Treesia. Click to enlarge and read the print to understand why it's considered one of the year's best photos

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Skateboarding in Gaza

Yair Lapid, an Israeli celebrity type who has a regular column on YNet and hosts a prime time television talk show, features a Gaza child-blogger in today's Internet column. Well worth a read.

The child blogger, a skateboard enthusiast, muses over his board fashioned of scrap metal left over from Quassam rockets. He also comments on the quick getaway it provides when fleeing "long ones" although, he says, everyone knows there's nowhere to hide.

The writing is a disturbing mix of child norms - attempting skateboarder tricks, idolizing and obsessing over heroes - and the realities of war - classmates' deaths caused by "long one" hits -that no child should endure.

When writing about attempting to get onto university computers for updates vis a vis the skateboarding world at large, he notes:

I have learned that during times like this when there is nothing to eat and people are dying all the time, it is preferable not even to try because there will always be someone who will get angry at me.

Before Suleiman died, he would say that this is one of the crazy things about living in Gaza: The angrier they get about children that are killed, the worse they behave towards children who are alive.

Go read. It's a reality check.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cafe Security

When suicide bombings became de rigeur inside Israel at the turn of the century, most publicly accessed venues - restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, banks, etc. - began posting security people at entrances. Nowadays, nearly any place you go has someone standing or sitting at the front door wanting to take a peek through your bag or backpack or run a scanner over your body.

Don't worry, U.S. and Western countries you'll get there. It's a matter of time.

But what you won't get at your checkpoints is a certain, oh let's just call it Flair, commonly encountered oer' here yonder in Holy Land Central (HLC). Maybe you'd encounter it in Latin America or Italy or anywhere else I can think to stereotype.

Scene: Entrance to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Dialogue: Moi-Self and Security Guard

Mr. Security: Are you married?
Moi-Self: Why are you asking?
Mr. Security: Because I think you're beautiful.
Moi-Self: Thanks. But yes, I am spoken for**
Mr. Security: Can I check your bag anyway?
Moi-Self: Gee, I'm not sure how to answer

**little white lies sometimes serve the moment

Flattering? Yes. Appropriate? Not really. Do I care? No.

Welcome. Have a Nice Day

Monday, November 20, 2006

Diving for Japanese

Studying Japanese sort of reminds me of Scuba diving.

Years ago I took a course right here in the Med. And nearly dropped out because before getting anywhere near the sexy James Bond stage of tanks, weight belts and clinging wetsuits, the seemingly simple task of removing one's dive mask while underwater must be performed.

Sounds simple but for moi-self it presented a tremendous stumbling block because we humans instinctively draw in a breath through the nose when our masks are removed while down below.

My instructor at the time told me to cut the sh*t out when I said I was quitting. All my diving mates seemed to effortlessly pull off the mask removal bit but I was the loser and I wanted to cut my losses and get out. Mr. Instructor said "no way" and sent me home to practice in the bathtub with a borrowed mask and snorkel.

So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And inhaled liters of water and felt an idiot in the bathtub or in the sea when I tried it out in public.

HOWEVER, I triumphed and continued with the course and got over the fear of mask removal AND was one of three classmates - out of ten - to successfully complete the entire course.

Japanese classes at the moment suck: I'm lost and absolutely THE straggler lagging behind.

So much for family/friends' compliments throughout the years: "You have an ear for languages." No. The young and slick uniformed military guy who shows up each week without having done homework and effortlessly spills forth perfectly formed Kanji sentences has an ear. The girl earning her PhD in computerized education methods and studying Japanese because she had a good time in Tokyo is talented.

I'm sitting there hoping that if I practice in the bathtub enough, I'll be able to form a sentence without wearing a mask.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sherwood Forest, Tel Aviv

I generally enjoy complaining about Israel's service industry (sic) and pretty much anything else I can find to complain about. It passes the time and since that's what we're all doing on this great planet, anyhow - passing time until we end up at the same subway stop - why not?

Today I will be forthcoming for a change. It's the beginning of a new week.

On Friday Tel Aviv's municipality decided to put together a cultural event I describe as: "Sherwood Forest meets the Middle East". Lining Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Boulevard were fairy-tale themed stations such as Robin Hood's tree cutting post, the wicked witch cave, Friar Tuck's wooden bridge, Maid Marian's magic dust den, etc.

Actor types dressed in Sherwood Forest regalia roamed while static gnomes, fairies, and princesses decked out in flowing robes with faces a-glitter, perched frozen atop skillfully concealed stilts.

There was avante garde street theater on a par with New York - I kid not - and where the forest ended, a display of locally created functional design works began. Some of that was pretty slick including hanging lamps crafted from plastic soda containers, a coat rack made of bicycle training wheels and a one-man pup tent created for the world's growing numbers of homeless. How they might afford to purchase the tent is another question.

Unfortunately I left my camera at home so I'm unable to share visuals. But put on your Robin Hood feathered caps and play the imaginary game for a moment and I'll bet you can conjure some images. Way to go, municipal powers that be. An afternoon well spent.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Architectural Genius

Conversation with friend of Yore, Tel Aviv cafe:

I had a business for a few years. A cafe. But the building collapsed. We were on the ground floor.
WHAT?!?! Was anyone killed?
Nah. A few were injured though. It was our fault, the collapse. We caused it.
Oh man. I don't know if I want to hear this. What did you guys do?
We removed a few of the center pillars so we'd have more floor space. We should've checked with an engineer before we did it. I guess they were holding up the entire building.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thank God I Wasn't Here

I coffee'd today with an old colleague from the Reuters Jerusalem television days. My friend is still in the t.v. news biz but he now works with a different international network. He is faring well and is successful.

Playing catch up, as people tend to do, I sifted through names of former colleagues and he responded with updates on the where/what they're doing these days/whether they're still in television or not lowdown response to my queries.

When I mentioned a specific Palestinian co-worker/friend from days of yore, I was shocked to learn this person had been barred from entering Israel proper after the 2000 Ramallah lynching.

According to my coffee friend, he and an entire network of West Bank cameramen and journalists were accused of colluding to keep footage of the lynching under wraps so as not to incriminate West Bank residents who took part in the incident.

I am speechless for the moment. And of course I realize there are two sides to any story. And thank god I wasn't here because...well let's just leave it at that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Venus Mars Thing

Compliments of my friend Liz in San Francisco:


"It's not that we 'could be' the weaker sex - we are the weaker sex. Even when men and women have the same disease, we often find that men are more likely to die."
DR. ROBERT TAN, geriatrics specialist in Houston

No Change

Place: Israel's National Opera House
Scene: Box office
Background: Attempting to purchase Tickets to Magic Flute Childrens' Opera Event

Oh sorry, we don't have change for a hundred shekels (approximately $25 U.S.)
You can either pay with a credit card or come back another time
Okay I'm starting to get a little bit angry here. I don't want to come back and I don't want to use a card. I want to get the tickets now with cash. That's why I'm here. You're a bleeding box office! You don't have change?
Would you like us to go get change at the coffee shop?

OMG!!! Breathe in. Breathe out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Way to Go, Big E!

How genius was it for Ehud to publicly congratulate George W. on the "stability" he has brought to the Mid-East in the wake of the Iraq war/ordeal/long-drag-out-fiasco?

Nothing like endearing oneself to the Democrats who now wield power. And nothing to say of the miserable soldiers on the ground in Iraq who want the hell out.

And maybe I missed something in the small print but how does...

- Ahmadinejad's nuclear threat
- daily bombing and anarchy in Iraq
- Extreme poverty, infighting among political factions and routine rocket hits from Gaza
- the summer war in Lebanon

....add up to regional stability?

Silly me. I failed to notice the good will and calm. Group hug.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Extreme Kids

First of all, see my last post? What in the hell was I thinking when I signed up for Japanese? OMG I sat there with my tongue lolling in idiot land as the immersion course immersed right ahead without me. Lord Have Mercy.

On to a different subject. Walking in the park across from our new apartment, Raphael and I happened upon a group of teens practicing skateboard tricks on stone ramps behind the national Opera House.
Rapha motioned for us to sit so we did. We sat there for at least half an hour viewing assorted boys twist, jump, pause mid-air, contort and bank off stone benches. Some wiped out with such force that I groaned audibly, certain an elbow or arm had been broken. No one wore padding or helmets. Apparently uncool.

Rapha grinned. He was in child heaven. I want a skateboard for my birthday. Not a scooter. Don't get me a scooter mom. Get me a skateboard.
Lord it has happened and he's not even five.

When I was "can't see your toes anymore" pregnant with him, I came upon a similar but more intense scenario in a San Francisco park: Boys of all ages amassed for an Extreme Sport biking competition. Kids were literally doing multiple flips and twists in the air on their BMX's. I was terrified and asked a mother in the crowd how she could stomach watching her son compete. She said it wasn't easy.

The San Fran kids had helmets and padding. Would it matter if they wiped out mid-air and landed straight on their heads?

Develop the feminine side, that's what I say. What's wrong with playing quietly with dolls or having tea parties? Hmmm?

My mom's gonna kill me and then get onto the first flight out here. Don't worry ma, Rapha isn't trying on my dresses. Yet. (hee hee)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Domo Arigato

I figured life here in Holy Land Central (HLC) isn't interesting enough. I just finished getting out of boxes after a month's house-search craze and while I run around seeing to official odds and ends in between work assignments I figured: Why not up the ante? After all, if things were slow enough to allow for an indulgent afternoon nap yesterday (shameful) then it's time.

Enter...JAPANESE! Yup, time to learn a new language and not just any language, mind you. If it seems odd to be studying Japanese in these parts, check out this clip from my friend Nominally Challenged's site. Now that'll set your brain a'pondering.

Why Japanese? Friends have asked.

I think it's a good language for the future and business and yes Cantonese may have been a wiser choice but of all the Asian cultures I was exposed to in San Francisco - the city demographic is nearly 50% Asian - Japanese appealed to me most.

I'll let you know how it goes...

Sayonara (what a geek)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Theft in Broad Daylight

Noorster, a hugely talented, clever writer, randomly e-mailed this little quote today and because I'm exhausted and feeling hugely un-original, I am grifting and posting it here as any shameless and lazy thief of my caliber might do:

"A couple of years ago I was sitting in the Kodak Theatre with my acceptance speech in my pocket, waiting to get up and say that I was the first openly gay actor to win an Oscar. Unfortunately, that was the year the blacks won." - Ian McKellen

Note to Ian: The P.C. terminology is African Americans

Note to readers: A few years back when Sir Ian served as Grand Martial of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, he came RIGHT UP to my friend Axel who stood beside me and shook his hand. Axel is gorgeous, by the way. Drop dead gorgeous. I was in awe: "GANDALF WAS MILLIMETERS AWAY! HE TOUCHED YOU!! IT WAS GANDALF, AXEL!!" Axel was like: Yeah. Great. Cool Steph. Chill Out.

Oh well...Tomorrow's the Jerusalem gay rally in lieu of the gay parade. It'll be like a mass gathering in a contained space like those indoor pre-Christmas arts and crafts fairs held at churches. I suspect rally attire will be a tad flashier than what one might encounter at the church sale, however. Bummer the whole thing. But then again, who wants razor blades and human feces thrown at them?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quote Worthy

(after long sigh)...It's so great to be away from my family!
Columnist and father of five covering the UN Conference on Desertification, The Negev Desert Israel

No, I didn't bring my swimsuit. I'll go into the hotel pool with workout shorts and a tee-shirt. What do I care? I'm from New York
Journalist covering UN Conference on Desertification, the Negev Desert Israel

No, sweetheart. No ice cream today.
But Mom, ice cream is your most favorite thing!
Five year old Raphael attempting to sway

Do you want that with non-fat milk?
You are NEVER allowed to ask a client that question. That's right up there with "are you pregnant?"
Conversation with barrista, Tel Aviv cafe.

The Vast Desert

Sorry for being out-of-pocket. I was off doing what I do for a living which is covering stuff to write about.

This particular "stuff" was a UN Conference on Desertification in Israel's Negev Desert. It was hosted by a leading Israeli research institute responsible for bringing us drip irrigation, desert fish farming, algae cultivation, and cutting edge solar harnessing techniques.

There were loads of experts and scientists from all over the place - Mongolia, Uganda (I guess we're over the whole Entebbe thing, huh?), Mexico, Australia, Khazakistan (sans Sasha Baron Cohen), one Jordanian (his six colleagues were denied Visas) and a leading Palestinian Authority environmentalist who said Israel and Palestinian eco-types have been meeting behind the scenes for ages. The Arab World, regardless of dryland status, went unrepresented. Science and environment don't cancel out politics.

Because the group was pro-earth, nice extras included a moonlit hike through a desert canyon and visits to Nabatean and Byzantine remains to gauge how civilizations in the BCE and first few centuries AD captured and stored water and constructed communities.

Conclusions? I don't know enough to draw any. But the idea of cultivating what's already in place i.e. using desert floor water tables for fish farming or encouraging eco-tourism is good. Conflict is bad (duh). Future wars may be over water, not oil.

Over and out. Enjoy the pickies from the archeological visit.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Straight to the Airport

I did the butt-insky thing at a cafe yesterday. Listened to a conversation at a nearby table and interjected with an "I hope you don't mind but I overheard your conversation and.."

They: a man and woman in their 50's-ish. He: American. She: Israeli. He: Complaining about work and quality ethic in Israel. She: Listening attentively.

My butt-in was to ask how long he has been in Holy Land Central (HLC), how he deals with the frustrations and to share my fresh from the oven refrigerator story.

From upstate New York, he's been here six years. How he deals:

I use the F*ck You method. Say I'm swimming laps at the pool and I collide with another swimmer. Even if they're in the wrong, they'll begin hurling accusations immediately. Always on the offensive. So I've learned that instead of waiting for the assault, I immediately yell: "F*ck You!" at the other person. Back home I'd be booted from the pool or someone would call security or something. Here, it gets a dialogue going.

This guy, incidentally, is a therapist. That's my kind of Jungian theory!

One more share from Mr. F. You:

When asked why he's here, he pointed to his companion. And added:

But if heaven forbid she goes before me, it's straight from the cemetery to the airport.

Nothing like letting it all hang out, eh?

They've invited me 'round for dinner. I'm expecting a lot of laughs.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fridge Tales

Getting out of boxes and acclimating to the new apartment with Raphael is great. We actually had time to kick a soccer ball in the park the other night and this morning I accidentally slept until 8 a.m. ! (Slovenly. I'm slipping)

A share from the depths of moving Hell:

Purchased a fridge and washing machine from a discount warehouse chain store (Machsanei Chashmal for the locals) and upon delivery the two transporters:

1) arrived three hours late without apology - at 10 p.m., I exaggerate not
2) dropped the washing machine while mounting the stairs
3) took my utility room door off the hinges to move washing machine in and neglected to re hinge
4) announced it would cost an extra $40 to fit the fridge through the kitchen entrance - they would have to remove fridge doors

I threw a fit, ranted, raved (as is my style) refusing to pay a surplus charge. I demanded they bring it through for free in lieu of their late arrival. They refused. Their boss threatened to come to my apartment and...(?) I told them to take it all back to the warehouse. They left the washer.

The next day my rant continued over the phone. The company people backed their movers and put the blame on me. "Why didn't you refuse the washer? Why didn't you call and cancel when you saw they were running late?" etc. Typical. Typical. Typical. Offense as a defense.

Of course they would take that attitude. The place has a no refund/no return policy. I'm such a dork for not seeing that teensy weensy clause. Nor did I see the other clause stipulating an add-on fee for removing doors to install over sized items.

I asked them to re-deliver the fridge and leave it in my apartment entrance. A friend would come and help me - no surplus charge.

They delivered, departed and I stood contemplating the fridge. And gained instant wisdom. Using my Phillips I removed a jutting grill and then gingerly wheeled it through the kitchen door without removing doors, unhinging or paying add-no fees. It took two minutes. Bloody liar thieves.

Unbelievable, you say? Typical for what I refer to as the "old school", mobbed up type businesses here that operate as if they're in the shuk. The newer, younger companies - phone and mobile upstarts competing with the old school cobwebs - are diligent and service oriented.

My father asks why I stay. I have asked myself the same during this move and believe you me, when he suggested I move back and leave this hassle it was tempting as hell. In the face of adversity it's always an option.

I guess I stay because of recall. Life is difficult and messy and problematic. But I have recall here. I vividly remember what happens each day because of the vibrancy and hue of the mess. I am alive and living life in a very full way.

Does this mean I need hassle and struggle to feel alive? A question for the couch

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gay Versus Religion

Here in Holy Land Central (HLC), a storm's a' brewin over the impending Gay Pride Parade to be held in Jerusalem November 10.

According to local news reports, ultra religious Jews, Muslims and right wing groups are threatening to sabotage the parade with eggs and razor blades (!) thrown from rooftops and rabbis are calling for a "holy war" (do they mean jihad per chance?) against parade-goers.

The rhetoric increases across the divide each day and police are on high alert for THE BIG DAY. Last year, a few parade celebrants were stabbed when an ultra-orthodox Jew went on a stabbing rampage.

So call me silly but:

- I GET that we're in Holy Land Central and that religious implications up the ante and all. But coming from San Fran I view things in a slightly different light. What exactly should the gay population do? Pretend to be straight and go back into the closet? C'mon. That creates insanity and all sorts of unwanted side effects not to mention twisted and sordid behavior.

- Aren't the religious among us considered "out there" by mainstreamers? Does that mean we should throw razor blades from rooftops at those sporting long beards, side locks, skullcaps and wigs or donning long sleeves and fur-lined hats in 100-degree heat? Call me hippie child but we're all god's kids no matter what gender our partner happens to be. Amen.

- Speaking of the big "G", how god-like is throwing razor blades from rooftops anyhow?

Tolerance is tolerance is tolerance. I'm inclined to mosey on up to J-Town to check it out the day of. Then again, maybe not. Once you've witnessed 6-inch stiletto heels and hair big enough to make John Waters proud, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Dykes on Bikes and the gay fire and police brigades making their way down Market Street on extravagant floats, all else sort of pales.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Happy Halloween!! What I wouldn't give to usher young Rapha around from house to house for trick or treating and then steal goodies from his bag after he's in bed. *sigh*

Forgetting that this was the day is definitely indicative of....OY VEY!!

We Have Arrived!!

Rapha & I are fully moved into our new place/out of the old. Spent yesterday relocating and today cleaning/painting the old place. Hectic, it was. But now we can settle in, unpack, get acquainted with our new neighborhood and la-dee-da. A good sign: Two neighbors in the new digs introduced themselves in the hallway. Offered help if we need anything.

The sheer number of people who helped us get here - from my lawyer cousin Peggy who advised when trouble started with the ex-landlord (which is how this mess began) to lawyer friends Revital, Eli and Maital who looked over potential apartment contracts so's I wouldn't get myself into another contractual mess to countless others who listened, offered leads & soup (you know who you are, Big D), to my parents and siblings to the friendly people in blogoland who supported via the comments section when the doo doo was really hitting the fan...It definitely takes a village and anyone who says different is neglecting his/her village.

A wee share before I run out to scout refrigerators and coffee machines: My friend R who shall remain anonymous called to ask if I think she should attend the Chicago University MBA Meet & Greet Night in Tel Aviv. This was very surprising to moi.

"You're thinking of getting an MBA in the States?"I asked.

Of course not, darling. I want to pull men. back to normal...

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Today, my dear friends, I internally discovered the driving force behind addiction. I've known on an intellectual level for years what the outward symptoms are and I studied the mechanics behind the "Big A" in a theory course. However, today the floodlight switched on in one of those "A-Ha" insightful moments.

Reading an anticipated e-mail, I learned that work I had counted on/really hoped for fell through.

At the instant of realization, I found myself simultaneously doing and feeling an assortment of things. I couldn't sit still. I went to the kitchen for a glass of tea. Made coffee while sipping tea. Looked at the fridge contents to discern if there might be something I could either consume or prepare. Closed the fridge door. Frustration.

I wanted to cry. I panicked. "Who can I call? Mom? A friend? A cousin?" They've had their fill. No burdening.

I polarized to the opposite end of the spectrum. Lethargy. Craving the warmth of bed, burrowing & blocking it all out beneath blankets. But the house move is tomorrow. No such luxury possible (it never is). Return to mania. Get out of the house. Maybe do laundry. Take a walk. Ride the bike.

As I stood, paced and went through the emotional range, I watched myself from a detached somewhere else. And the knowledge that I've visited this funky fear place in the past slowly dawned as did the reckoning: "Look Ma. I'm still in one piece!"

And so it was that I came to understand - but REALLY understand beyond the conceptual - what Ms. Genevieve Howe, therapist, professor and director of a therapeutic institute in San Francisco, described as "Standing on the Edge of the Unknown" in a course she taught on Anger & Conflict/Love, Passion & Obsession.

Genevieve lectured on the human potential for building thresholds that render us capable of staying with and riding through uncomfortable and stressful feelings instead of turning to addiction or blocking. According to Ms. Howe, the more frequently we sit there, the better at sitting we become. And IF we learn to direct the distraction towards creative passion or endeavor, we reach an ever higher level still. Sort of like Beethoven or Picasso or Thomas Edison.

I don't paint or compose or invent scientific "stuff"...But I make a very good Thai Coconut-Lemon Grass soup.

That's Philosophy Sunday for you...Amen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

No Need for Cars Here!

Compliments of my U.S. based cousin David: Images from Vietnam.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Fear of Doing Business

People who live in Holy Land Central are going to relate to this next one:

There's a healthy dose of mistrust in these parts surrounding money/business matters for very legitimate reasons. It may be holy terrain but corruption-free it ain't. Ask the politicians - they'll vouch (off the record only, of course).

Imagine my alarm yesterday when trying to withdraw funds from an ATM machine only to be repeatedly denied with a flashing warning message that I had exceeded my daily limit. Yet I hadn't taken any cash out that day. The card, incidentally, is linked to a foreign account.

So I get home and gingerly ring up the bank linked to the card to ascertain the reason for denial. And find out that the first ATM machine which denied my attempt also registered the try as the Real McCoy. In other words, the Israeli bank is saying I received cash when I didn't.

Now it's up to the other side to investigate and I can just imagine the scenario: "She got it. We are sure. No doubt. We saw her. I personally saw her. I happened to be watching the ATM machine through the window just then. Promise. Really." Mama mia.

When I went into a different bank today and offered the story in passing, the listening clerk smiled knowingly. Christ! (no offense to Christian contingencies. But wait one minute. Didn't JC go after the money changers?)

I need this right now like I need ...*sigh*

Just another calm day in HLC. Peace Out.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Signed, Sealed, AHHHH!!!

We have officially signed on the non-dotted line for our new apartment.

One FINAL share - something I forgot to offer up prior: Going to see a place, the building elevator suddenly jolted to a halt between floors. (Luckily, young Rapha wasn't with me) I was terrified. Oh my god I'm stuck in an elevator and it's going to fall! This is how I'm going to die!! I rang the alarm. Nada. An excruciating half minute later, the lift began moving again.

Upon sharing the info with the current tenant: Oh yeah he says in blase mode. I should've said something about that. If you get too close to the door it stops and won't move again unless you move away from the sensors.


Anyhow... Rapha approves of the new place and favors his new downsized room. He had to contain his joy upon seeing the adjacent park.

Now up to eyeballs in boxes and deciding what goes with and what gets sold. Anyone need a bright blue, child's clothing cabinet? My stuff simply won't fit into the new place. I'm very much a non-chatchke person so minimalism here we come.

To the supporters and bearers of kind wishes: Mucho gracias

To the Tel Aviv housing market: Le'Azazel!!

To onward and upward: I'll drink to that

Cheers & beers. Moving day is on the horizon

Extra Tidbit

Friend: When I met with AP's (Associated Press) bureau chief he just seemed distracted and not as friendly as he'd been in the past. But that could be because one of his photographers was kidnapped in Gaza.

Naaah...Ya think?

Conversation with a friend

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I'm calling about the refrigerator you advertised. Can you tell me what it looks like?
Uh...a box?

You know what happens to you after you get married? You die.
5-year-old Raphael to his female friend Max

I have a really hard time with Israelis. I can barely tolerate them
Excuse my asking but aren't YOU Israeli?
Yeah but that's different

Monday, October 23, 2006

In Summary...

Barring any unforeseen disaster, I will be signing the contract on my new apartment tomorrow morning.

It's over-priced and much smaller than I prefer but it is well taken care of, gets lots of light, is an upgrade neighborhood-wise - near Tel Aviv's Opera House overlooking a sprawling park as opposed to our current heavily trafficked main thoroughfare - and ... we were running out of time, weren't we?

I am exhausted, spent and over-baked. To describe the past month's search mission as unpleasant is like saying emphysema is just a wee cough.

I still don't get it. This is not Manhattan. Or Paris. Or London. So WTF? And I don't buy the whole "the French moved in and snapped up all the property creating huge demand" blather, either.

I must've seen at least 50 apartments. I regret not grabbing one in particular but I wasn't savvy enough or ready.

The others? Well it has been an experience in learning to negotiate and let go, knowing when to bend and when to hang up the phone, when I should plead my case, change my visions and ideas and mostly about learning to compromise. It has also been a window into a nasty market filled with some pretty skanky, unpleasant characters. Others are gracious, forthcoming and surprisingly pleasant - but they are the minority.

A few precious tidbits which, when I've simmered down, will make for humorous dinner table shares:

Current tenant showing apartment: You know that part of the deal is buying the air conditioning unit from me for $800.
Moi: But I don't need it. And I don't want it. And I don't have the cash flow to tie up in an air conditioner. But I definitely want the apartment. It isn't new. $800? How'd you come up with that price?
Tenant: It's what I want for it and that's the deal. Take it or you don't get the landlord's number. It's all about cash flow. You should remember that.
**it took every iota of self control not to ring up this guy and tell him I was rooting for the ass wallopers who will inevitably trounce him in London when he relocates there next month.

Landlord over the phone: Who's the place for?
Moi: Myself and my son
Landlord: Oh no. Too big. I mean what are you going to do with all that space? A bigger family with more kids should live in the unit.
Moi: How many kids does it take to fill up a 2-bedroom apartment? Wait. I can't believe I'm having this conversation. What do you care what my space preferences are?

Owner: We want an $8000 U.S. cash deposit plus 2 guarantors plus a bank guarantee plus one year's rent in advance

Owner: We'll fix the holes in the ceiling. The broken window? No worries. Taken care of. Sure sure sure. Just sign here.

*sigh* I'm glad it's (almost) over.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Night Off

Friday evening was a night off from apartment searching. Raph & I ate home roasted rosemary-lemon chicken and watched movies we rented earlier in the day. Tom & Jerry for young boy and Dare mo shiranai (Nobody Knows) for me.

The latter, a Japanese docu-drama by director Hirokazu Kore-eda, re-tells the true tale that shocked Japan some years back of four siblings hiding out from the welfare system in a Tokyo apartment. There's much more to it but I don't want to give anything away. Kore-eda also directed After Life (Wandafuru Raifu) which, if you haven't seen, RUN! to the video store to rent. Its fresh & unique perspective will stay with you for years.

Perhaps, considering the intense stress of racing against the clock lately to find a new home, I should've chosen a different film. Because Nobody Knows resonated so strongly on levels of basic survival and protecting loved ones at any cost, that by the film's end I'd gone through half a box of tissues. It was a welcome release, however.

The movie won awards in Cannes and Chicago when it was released in 2004 and it's definitely worth a look-see, if for nothing else than to take in the characteristically Japanese self restraint and subtlety beautifully conveyed in the film.

Cross fingers. Hopefully signing a contract within days. (!)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Artist's Friday

See what I get up to in my spare time?
Cool, no?
I am such a huge liar, tra la la la la...
My cousin David in upstate NY
e-mailed these. What would you call this type of art? It's not origami but it's not Miss Daisy's school of paper cut-outs either.
Happy Friday regardless. May we all cut out our designs on the paper of life....ooooohhh now that was downright inspirational. Okay. I'm going.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

...& Thank You, Mr. Spielberg!

This article claims Steven Spielberg is sniffing around to buy a penthouse in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood, i.e. the city's "Soho" (so says the article. PULLLEEEEEZE, say I. Has the writer ever been to Soho?)

Allow me to be the first to welcome Mr. Spielberg to the Tel Aviv housing market. The same shark pit I have been slogging through for the past 2.5 weeks.

Of course, Steve (do you mind if I call you Steve?) , you won't have to deal. The sharks will bring the pit to you.

So on that note, allow me to be the first to thank the Big S for further increasing property values in an already inflated market. The so-called Soho - more like Queens on a sunny day - will get the boost of its lifetime. And we mere clownfish will be left facing ever more sharks.

(Yes, it IS all about me)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Measure Sticks

Now in the delirium of apartment hunting in shark central aka Tel Aviv, I've noticed a few things. Well a lot of things really but I'll pick out one to share.

We people are peculiar. And our peculiarities are based, to a great degree, upon fear.

Holy Land Central (HLC) being much much (much much much much) less politically correct than the U.S. of A., people will actually list what they don't want in tenants. When you ask for explainers on the specifications, the roots of prejudice are quickly revealed.

- Couples only/No roommates. Reason: Roommates split, one is left holding up both ends, floundering follows and vacating ensues. Has this landlord heard of divorce?

- Married Couples Only - Reason: More stable. Has this landlord heard of divorce? Or heated arguments at 3 a.m.?

- No Children - Reason: Too messy, too loud, will wreak havoc. And what of the twin, toy terriers running amok, spraying urine and eating the walls?

- Families Only - Reason: More stable. Heard of the family that moved into a flat, changed the locks and flaked on rent for two years because the law allows parents with children to stay put?

- Guarantors Must Show Pay Stubs - Reason: Proves a steady, reliable income. Ever hear of offshore accounts, offshore investments and foreign income?

Wish me luck as I forge. Time is running out. AHHHHHH!!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Down to the Wire

I've been apartment hunting for a few weeks now and the bitter end is approaching. And I'm feeling it, yessiree Bob. Two weeks left and I'm nervous as hell about finding something decent and signing.

I'm sleeping in patches; To bed at around 9-10 p.m., awake at 2 a.m., back to sleep at 6 awake at 7. Psychosis induced.

Were it a dwelling for myself alone..but alas, I'm on my own these days as a single mom and I've a child to consider. I'll blog it some other time. Too tired for that type of "true confession" right now.

HOWEVER, today was a day of hope. Not because a deluxe penthouse apartment overlooking the Mediterranean glimmers on the horizon.

Because I spent the day with someone I'm writing an article about who instills Hope. Tons of it.

She's a powerhouse: millionaire business tycoon, celebrity both in Israel and abroad, chairwoman of numerous international charitable organizations, hostess of a popular prime time television show..And yet she lacks ego (for the most part). I mean, she bloody offered to share her salad with me. And get me something to drink. Not send her assistant. As in: "I'll go get you a soda"...

Amazing. And get this: She worried that she's not doing enough to make the world a better place. Sheesh. I shoulda told her: You're right. But find me an apartment and you will be redeemed!

Now THERE's ego. wink wink

Monday, October 16, 2006

Therapy Blues..

Sitting with a dear friend over coffee today, she mentioned therapy. And the reason she opted out of her Jerusalem treatment.

During one of her sessions the therapist actually answered the cellphone(s). She had not one cellphone but two. Which rang not once but twice.

Call #1: "Yes dear, I'll be home in an hour. Stop hitting your brother."
Call #2: "No, I said the frozen x-tra cheese pizza. Not the hot dogs. It's back behind the ice cream"

My friend chose not to return.

The socialized medicine system then referred her to someone else.

Who was deaf.

But he could lip read bilingually in English and Hebrew.

And at least he didn't answer cellphones.

And I'M the crazy one??? my friend mused.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fall From Grace

It was inevitable that at some point along the voyage of returning to Holy Land Central (HLC) I'd meet up with The Fall. The dimming of the lights. The blinking away of fairy dust coating my perceptions.

It has been a gradual descent but one felt more acutely lately. The hardening, the sharpening awareness, the returned, haunting grievances - the same ones that drove me away a decade ago.

It's all normal, of course. How could a person expect NOT to, at some point along the way, meet up with old unaddressed issues? And were I to remain in Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm "everything here is wonderful and perfect!" mode, well we all know how far that would take me..

What are the grievances? you ask. Aha. The usual suspects: arrogance, the service industry (oxymoron), apathy, the constant uphill battle, a lack of finesse. Much more. I am loathe to share all in a public forum. But weren't these the things that brought me back? Isn't it all about perspective?

Arrogance can be construed as confidence, apathy as relaxed attitudes, uphill battles as the spark of challenge and lacking polish as down to earth. See how it works? Clever, clever. Perspective perspective.

Bottom line: It's about the internal adjustment regardless of external. The reflection bounced back from society's mirror. Alcoholics Anonymous knew what was up when coining the phrase: Pulling a geographic.
It's a lesson. Everything's a lesson. Sometimes nauseatingly so.
Happy happy! Joy joy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Leisure Time

Are you identifying with that old summer camp song again? You know the one:

Life is a bucket full of sh*t; Duck your head or you'll get hit. Fa la la la la la la la la la.


(Had my parents known what we were REALLY learning in summer camp each season...)

If so, then it's time for some good old fashioned leisure. Follow this link and give it a whirl. You'll be addicted in no time t'all..

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rent Control Now!!

As I venture into the Tel Aviv jungle each day on an apartment hunt quest I'm realizing that the British law governing home ownership and rental in Holy Land Central (HLC) is outdated, sad and sorry. Israel is in need of an urgent housing law upgrade to benefit both tenant and landlord.

Take squatting, for instance. No such thing in HLC as the U.S. "Pay Rent or Quit" giving a tenant three days to cough it up or get out. And by get out, I DO mean EVICTION. No mucking around in Yankee-ville. Padlocked front door, all things inside are lost to the landlord and if you have kids, well ya shoulda thought of that sooner, hmmm? On the street. Harsh as hell but..well it's the American way.

Here the tenant can refuse to pay rent and squat. For an eternity. Because the law states that if children live on the property, the landlord CANNOT forcefully evict. True to life nightmare scenario: Tenant (with Mafia ties) moved into deluxe apartment with his family. He promptly changed the locks and halted rent checks. He and his family (read: KIDS) lived rent-free for two years. One day the owner goes berserk and takes a hammer to the electricity box and to the front door. She is arrested for breaching the law.

Flip side: There is no such thing as rent control. The sky's the limit on rent increase as is the interpretation of the law when it comes to who fixes what in an apartment gone amok. Landlords will demand the renter insure property or pay for major repairs not linked to normal wear and tear. Exploded water pipe? "Your problem," sayeth evil owner.
And let's just say you're negotiating a new contract agreement with the landlord and the give & take goes awry. "Get out. Your contract is up in a week. Leave." No thirty days for you, sorry to say. Never mind that the talks broke down and said landlord is unwilling to budge. You leave. Refer back to the bit on squatting for a quick solution to this problem.

It's time to form an action group, mes compadres. I've seen it voiced in public forums. Yallah. Let's go.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Socialized Despair

Yesterday while cruising the city, I saw a lanky, young-ish guy in his twenties trolling through a trash can. He wasn't typical homeless meaning he either hasn't been on the streets for a long time or he isn't full blown schizophrenic or psychotic. Yet.

Living in San Francisco one develops a keen understanding of these matters: differentiating between the street dwelling newbies, old hands and "this person doesn't belong here" types becomes second nature.

My heart screamed and I stifled a cry of despair as he continued to pick unaware of my presence.

In San Fran or New York or Paris, okay.

But in my idealized memory of Holy Land Central (HLC) and its social system to protect all, this image of a young man wearing high tops, Bermudas and a preppy short sleeved shirt while sifting through garbage didn't gel. He was indicative of a larger looming issue here in HLC.

I recently supped with an old friend who bemoaned the country's poverty levels. He cited demographics and figures shocking to a city dweller such as myself who rarely travels to the peripheries. 5-person families living on the equivalent of $900 U.S. per month. Soup Kitchens. Hunger.

I noticed the pre-holiday food drives were a bit more driven than last year.

What's up, war withstanding?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reading Pleasure...

When Atticus, my gorgeous companion of 13 years, moved into the netherworld two months ago, my friend Becca of San Fran - now of Boston and soon to be of Phoenix - recommended some reading.

One of the book titles she suggested was Life of Pi by Yann Martel; It won the Man Booker Prize in 2002.

Upon returning to Holy Land Central Noorster agreed to loan me her copy and I've been slogging through it since, waiting for its prose to earn the reputed acclaim. It's about a boy marooned at sea in a lifeboat with zoo animals for companions.

This week it became riveting - just as the ship wreck happened, surprise surprise - and despite busy doings, searching for an apartment, struggling to drum up work and on and on, I'm hooked in. I share a beautiful passage:

The worst pair of opposites is boredom and terror. Sometimes your life is a pendulum moving from one to the other. The sea is without a wrinkle. There is not a whisper of wind. The hours last forever. You are so bored you sink into a state of apathy close to a coma. Then the sea becomes rough and your emotions are whipped into a frenzy. Yet even these two opposites do not remain distinct. In your boredom there are elements of terror: you break down into tears; you are filled with dread; you scream; you deliberately hurt yourself. And in the grip of terror - the worst storm - you yet feel boredom, a deep weariness with it all.

I sense the ending will be tragic

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hugs Hugs Hugs

While one-stop shopping at the Israelity site I was genuinely touched and very taken aback while watching this video. (sorry can't put it up due to beta blogger issues. Clues, anyone?)

Coming from San Fran, the hugging concept isn't new. Anyone who has attended a single Cecil Williams' Glide Memorial Church Sunday session knows what I'm talking about right here. Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, homeless, Sharon Stone, Maya Angelou, Bill Clinton..."Turn to your neighbor and hug".. A tad twee for me but I digress.

Public hugging in Israel? In I-S-R-A-E-L? And over 200 John Q. Publics reciprocating? I must be uber out of touch with the 20's set.

If this is an indication of something larger then I say: Carry on with post-army travels to India and South America. Continue attending Rainbow Gatherings and bringing eco-awareness back home. Spread the love, mein kinderlach. It might help.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Joan & Lydia Save the Day

You know those household remedies we use for everyday hassles like pouring salt onto a soiled garment to remove the stain or stuffing eucalyptus leaves into sofa cushions to ward off fleas? Lydia and Joan of Household Magic sat around compiling all these fix-its for your reading plesasure and the result is...well check out this webpage to get a feel. A glimpse of their picture is worth the effort. OMG!!

Sample text:

The checkout person at the supermarket thinks we have a houseful of cats!
But the only cat sounds you'll hear at our house are purrs of joy—over all the things kitty litter does for us!
This absorbent, kiln-dried clay has many surprising uses, because it's a peerless sucker-upper of oil, grease and odors—and a powerhouse disinfectant. (It has to be to deal with kitty waste.)
That's why it's the cat's meow to...

Prevent mildew in bathrooms and elsewhere (Page 172).
Deodorize smelly shoes (132) or a smelly hamper (115).
Remove cigarette smells from furniture (27).
Give your car traction when it's stuck in snow (266).
Soak up oil and grease stains on driveways and garage floors (273).
De-ice sidewalks, patios and driveways. Better than rock salt (198)!
Remove moisture and musty smells from closets (191).

Friday, October 06, 2006

In the Closet

A four-year-old's idea of hiding ...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Roof Overhead

I'm currently on the flat hunt in Tel Aviv and amazingly, the market is tight. Not San Francisco dot-com era, "I'll give you stock options on top of the security deposit" tight. More like "We want three months rent up front, three guarantors, several thou in security deposits and nope, nothing we can do about the gaping ceiling hole."

I looked at four places yesterday. And four the day before. And four the day before that day. Street names, telephone numbers and contacts are beginning to melt together as I bike, run, walk and bus around the city like mad. Some places are hot. Others are over-priced dreck.

Wasn't there just a wee war here over the summer? And don't those types of events generally drive housing rates towards the lower end of the scale?

Oh right but also over the summer hordes of French Jewish nationals fled to Holy Land Central (HLC) looking to escape religious persecution (or so the rumor goes). They bought property with "kicks the shekel's derriere any day" Euros, drove availability into scarcity and sent market rates sailing.

During the dot-com boom we used to half-joke: Can't there be a small earthquake? No one gets hurt or killed but like maybe 4-5 on the Richter so that it does enough damage to scare away the opportunists ..??

You know where I'm going on this one. Wink wink.