Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fulfilling the Dream

I have a confession.

For six years I have toted a poster around with me on airplanes, boats, buses, cars, shuttles and taxis all the while earnestly intending to frame and hang it. For the most part, however, my poster has lived in the backs of closets and drawers in at least seven different dwellings using the aforementioned modes of transport to get to said homes.

It's a little bit beat up, somewhat wrinkled and has yellowed considerably... but friends and neighbors, the poster FINALLY made it behind glass and onto the crumbling wall of my apartment today and THAT is cause for celebration. Shot of Diet Coke anyone?

Clearly it isn't just any poster. It wouldn't be. Otherwise, would I have diligently and stubbornly held onto it across continental divides for this long? I should think not.

I bought it back in 2000 while visiting a close friend in Atlanta. We were in Auburn, a not-very-white city neighborhood, visiting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthplace and burial site. My friend, her husband and I were the only whites on the tour and at the gravesite. Where were my fellow fair skinned brethren that day? Maybe opting for the CNN building tour instead.

The poster, as you probably surmised, is the text of the renowned I Have A Dream speech. I bought it at the gift shop out of a sense of needing to cling onto the feelings of timeless eminence experienced that day.

If you've never listened to or read the full speech, I highly recommend it. G'head. It's important.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


A few days ago I accompanied 4-year-old Rapha on his class trip to the "Tzapari", a Tel Aviv aviary with some killer birds.

Not literally killer in the vulture-circling-overhead sense of the word; "killer" in the "very cool" way. Killer as in the gorgeous, muted purplish toned Tibetan parrot species. Killer as in several shockingly bright Brazilian what's its I'd never seen at the Cincinnati, San Diego or San Francisco zoos.

But the Tzapari itself also drove me into quiet contemplative longing. Thoughts of from whenst I came. Inner yearnings.

Later that same day during her weekly Soup Salon, Savta Dotty remarked "Oh you were experiencing culture shock." Correct. But I was also experiencing Janky shock.

Get out the urban dictionary friends and neighbors. J-a-n-k-y. As in why did the Tzapari have to be so damned janky? I couldn't hold at bay my pestilent thoughts: Why can't they fix the broken signs? Was design aesthetic neglected altogether by the party responsible for blueprinting this place? Could, perchance, the overwhelming urine stench inside the reptile room be addressed? Why is the place so damned rundown? Janky.

Now I know that the Tzapari is not exactly the San Francisco Zoo where your $500 tax deductible donation gets you unlimited access, free guest passes, invitations to members only night tours, a seat at the Director's reception and acknowledgement in the annual report.

And clearly the Tzapari is not where U.S. (or any) donor money is being directed when April 15 rolls around. Because, of course, there are more important causes towards which eager benevolents can toss those tax deductible dollars over here in HLC (Holy Land Central). Brazilian Cockatoos muttering "boker tov" (Hebrew: "good morning") on command isn't one of them.

I know this on an intellectual level but it doesn't stop the Jonesing for pretty, nice and aesthetic. "Jonesing"...there's another field trip to the urban dictionary. As in: I'm Jonesing for a cigarette but I smoked the last one half an hour ago, forgot my wallet in Finland and I'm currently lost on the Tundra.

I'm not saying there isn't pretty or aesthetic over here yonder because just last week I got an eye and earful of it covering a high profile awards ceremony. But I want moooooorrrreeee!!!! Am I sounding like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Veruca Salt?

Over and out. I'll go Jones privately in the jank of my apartment.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Full Text

In yesterday's post I offered to put up Nicholas Kristof's entire editorial should interest be expressed. Kas of Canada gave the proverbial head nod so here you have it...Enjoy

May 23, 2006 Op-Ed Columnist
The Drumroll, Please

In March I opened a "win a trip" contest, offering to take a university student with me on a rough reporting trip to a neglected area in Africa. Some 3,800 applications poured in, accompanied by boxes of supplementary materials, ranging from senior theses to nude photos.

After weeks of sifting through the applications, I finally have a winner. She is Casey Parks of Jackson, Miss. — an aspiring journalist who has never traveled abroad. We'll get her a passport and a bunch of vaccinations — ah, the glamour of overseas travel — and start planning our trip.

Casey, who turned 23 on Friday, attended Millsaps College in Jackson and is now a graduate student in journalism at the University ofMissouri. She has won a string of awards for her essays and other writing. In her essay, Casey wrote about growing up poor:

"I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London." (The essays by Casey and a dozen finalists are posted at
nytimes.com/winatrip.) "I so desperately want to leave this country and know more," she wrote. Now she'll have the chance.

We'll most likely start in Equatorial Guinea, bounce over to Cameroon and travel through a jungle with Pygmy villages to end up in the Central African Republic — one of the most neglected countries in the world. We'll visit schools, clinics and aid programs, probably traveling in September for 10 days. Casey will write a blog about it for
nytimes.com and will also do a video blog for MTV-U.

But the point of this contest wasn't to give one lucky student the chance to get malaria and hookworms. It's to try to stir up a broader interest in the developing world among young people. One of our country's basic strategic weaknesses is that Americans don't understand the rest of the world. We got in trouble in Vietnam and again in Iraq partly because we couldn't put ourselves in other people's shoes and appreciate their nationalism.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, 92 percent of U.S. college students don't take a foreign language class. Goucher College in Baltimore bills itself as the first American college to require all students to study abroad, and the rest should follow that example.

So for all the rest of you who applied for my contest, see if you can't work out your own trips. Or take a year off before heading to college or into a job. You'll have to pay for your travel, but you can often find "hotels" for $5 a night per person in countries like India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Morocco, Bolivia and Peru — and in rural areas, people may invite you to stay free in their huts. To get around, you can jump on local buses.

Is it safe? Not entirely, for the developing world has more than its share of pickpockets, drunken soldiers, scorpions, thugs, diseases, parasites and other risks.

Twenty-two years ago, as a backpacking student, I traveled with a vivacious young American woman who, like me, was living in Cairo. She got off my train in northern Sudan; that evening, the truck she had hitched a ride in hit another truck. Maybe if there had been an ambulance or a doctor nearby, she could have been saved. Instead, she bled to death.

So, yes, be aware of the risks, travel with a buddy or two, and carry an international cellphone. But remember that young Aussies, Kiwis andEuropeans take such a year of travel all the time — women included —and usually come through not only intact, but also with a much richer understanding of how most of humanity lives.

There are also terrific service options. Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistanianti-rape activist I've often written about, told me she would welcome American volunteers to teach English in the schools she has started. You would have to commit to staying six weeks or more, but would get free housing in her village. You can apply by contacting

Then there's New Light, a terrific anti-trafficking organization inCalcutta. Urmi Basu, who runs it, said she would welcome American volunteers to teach English classes to the children of prostitutes. You would have to stay at least six weeks and budget $15 a day for food and lodging; for more information go to

In the 21st century, you can't call yourself educated if you don'tunderstand how the other half lives — and you don't get that understanding in a classroom. So do something about your educational shortcomings: fly to Bangkok.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

The Bare Bones of Journalism

My dear friend Tamar e-mailed me an op-ed piece by Ny Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. Kristof recently ran a "win a trip" contest offering to take a university student with him on a reporting sortie to Africa.

He garnered 3800 applicant replies that sometimes included supplementary material like senior theses & nude photos. The winner he chose, Casey Parks of Jackson, Miss., is an aspiring journalist who has never traveled abroad. In her winning essay she wrote about growing up poor:

"I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London." Read her essay in its entirety here. When Casey heads off to Africa with Kristof come September, she'll blog it for the nytimes.com and she'll video blog it for MTV-U.

In his column yesterday, Kristof urged young students everywhere to fund their own travels to the world's remote corners for the betterment of us all.

...the point of this contest wasn't to give one lucky student the chance to get malaria and hookworms. It's to try to stir up a broader interest in the developing world among young people. One of our country's basic strategic weaknesses is that Americans don't understand the rest of the world. We got in trouble in Vietnam and again in Iraq partly because we couldn't put ourselves in other people's shoes and appreciate their nationalism.

...In the 21st century, you can't call yourself educated if you don't understand how the other half lives — and you don't get that understanding in a classroom. So do something about your educational shortcomings: fly to Bangkok.

The full column is here but you have to subscribe to read it. I'll post it if there's interest...

Good for him; Her insight is refreshing as hell

Monday, May 22, 2006

49 cents

I see that 50 Cent is coming to the Big HLC. I won't be here to catch his performance & I'm really not burning to see him - particularly after visiting his "click on an image and get a gunshot sound effect" website. But there's no denying he's a hot, A-Lister.

I actually got to thinking about that after seeing his poster 'round about town: the big deal of someone like 50 Cent or Madonna or Sting swinging by Holy Land Central (HLC) for a gig. I wasn't here for it but I know there was a long, dry spell insofar as big name visitors go.

Just for the fun of it, I'd love to see someone like eddie izzard touch down for a run. The subtleties of his historical references and run amok stream of consciousness would go overhead, I imagine. But I really do miss the sort of color he serves up.

Speaking of, a generous kindred spirit handed over a gig last night which involved interviewing 2 of the world's leading cancer researchers, moving about among dignitaries, sitting 4 seats away from former Primer Minister Ehud Barak and enjoying the strains of Yo Yo Ma finessing his cello. That type of cover I can certainly handle.

I recently blogged about spending time with bombing victims at the hospital. It was for this article, gloat gloat.

Cheers, beers and that's my 50 drachma.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Climbing Everest

You have to feel for the delegation member who didn't make it on this one. Can you imagine trekking all that way in the name of peace and getting stuck at 23,000 feet? Why yes, actually, I can. Think: Oslo Implementation...

And just when you think Iran might be settling down a bit and taking a breather from that long, hard decade at the plutonium enrichment plant, there goes the regime again kicking it up with new and improved rhetoric. Only this time it's a true-to-life parliamentary proposal for a National Uniform Law. And no, it won't be that cute little French maid outfit with the stiletto heels.

If the National Uniform Law passes, the country's minority religions get singled out: Jews get to wear yellow ribbons, Christians get red and Zoroastrians get blue. Just in case anyone was questioning the country's blatant isolationistic & extremist tactics, this will keep us all in check. The law need only be approved by mild mannered religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei to go into effect. This is the same fellow who views human rights as a "weapon in the hands of our enemies to fight Islam".

Rabbi Marvin Heir at L.A.'s Simon Wiesenthal Center is demanding that the UN/Kofi Annan get involved. With all due respect, are you kidding?

Israel internal security minister Avi Dichter's response is more amusing:
..he who will force Jews, wherever they may be, to wear yellow badges will eventually find himself in a casket covered in black cloth.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Spring Activity

Spring is a lovely time anywhere in the world. Things happen. Calendars fill. Life gets hectic.

Same here in HLC. Warring factions take to Gaza's streets, Olmert prepares to take his Convergence Plan to Washington and here in Tel Aviv, I plan to take young Rapha to the weekly open-air flower market and then to Savta Dotty's for her Friday Soup Salon - soup, writers and cross-talk.

I love being busy. Run, run, tight schedule, go, go. Pefect when alternated with lazy. Sit, surf, read, rest.

I get to feeling guilty, though, after a few hours of the lazy part. Like I should be out there accomplishing or getting something on the long to-do list done.

I see that Matisyahu is opening for Sting in Tel Aviv next month. That's pretty cool. I'm not going to see Sting or Ricky Martin or Roger Waters in concert when they're here. Not my thing. I am, however, going to see The Black Eyed Peas. Got tickies through my cousin. Hee hee. Maybe I'll wear this to the concert. Then again, maybe not.

Okay...I'm starting to feel guilty because I'm blogging about bupkes and my toochas is going numb. Catch you at the flower market!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Your Toochas is Hanging Out

A must share from the Slice of Life Kitchen:

Waiting for bus last night with hordes of others eager to kick off the summer season with a massive fireworks display off the Jaffa coast, we shared the glassed-in bus shell with half a dozen teenage boys wearing football (soccer) uniforms and cleats.

Rapha gaped in fascination; They were enjoying a great time immersed in laughter and banter. Then without warning, one sneaked up behind another and pulled down his shorts. Full toochas view.

I held out with pretending not to notice for as long as humanly possible - 10 seconds, perhaps - to save the young boy embarrassment. But when the dam broke, it gushed: Full on, shoulders shaking, tears flowing hysterical laughter which, in turn, provoked a renewed round of gales from the boys. Score! And who laughed the hardest? The de-shorted kid. Teenagers are great.

About those fireworks, a lesson for urban rec department planners everywhere: If you're going to run a massive ad campaign about the 1/2 hour fireworks display to end all displays, for God's sake anticipate the masses.

Apparently some 1/4 million people drove, bussed, motorcycled, trained, bicycled and walked to the beach to see the spectacle. Many, however, never made it. Traffic was backed up to the airport (about 20 minutes outside of Tel Aviv), along the highway and inside the city where gridlock was hell.

The show was beautiful - we made it, thanks - but the post-show two hours spent walking home was not. Buses were stuck in traffic, taxis were packed and walking a few miles towards waiting pillows and soft sheets was the alternative we chose. At 11 p.m. after a full day of activity, a 4-year-old is not a pleasant hiking companion.

ahhhh....Urban planning.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Heavy Sigh

Hi friends and neighbors...It's been a few days. Life is like that sometimes. It gets too overwhelming or too filled with "stuff" and then blogging becomes a luxury item much like that irresistible pair of Manolo Blahniks you've had your eye on but can't find the spare $800 to actually purchase.

I'm going through a "personal time". And it will remain personal, no offense. My mother taught me about hanging dirty laundry in public. Kinda ridiculous when you figure we lived in a sprawling burbs home with washer and dryer. Where in the heck would we have hung laundry? Here in Holy Land Central (HLC) of course. Thanks to ma, I know to only hang out the fresh-from-the-laundromat, clean smelling stuff that needs a drying off. Occasionally slightly-wet-and-sandy-from-the-beach towels.

I will, however, say that the horizon has cleared and smooth sailing is ahead. How's that for a wee bit of drama, eh? Nothing like a drama queen in the early morning to liven things up. If someone could just hand me a Margarita over rocks with salt while I steer this ship....

Here's one bit for blogo-heaven this fine Lag Ba'Omer Tuesday in HLC:

I finally summoned the effort to rent the Oscar nominated Paradise Now. Effort because not knowing what to expect - gruesome, dismembered bodies? - I put it off. Too much work.

There are no bodies. Am I giving too much away? Naw. But there is a good amount of material for contemplation. The vantage point was much more level than I expected and I was reminded of points forgotten about our "situation" here in HLC. For instance:

Back in the day when Palestinians were a vital part of Israel's workforce - before being replaced by Chinese, Thai and Filipinos - I found it impossible not to put myself into a Hilton Tel Aviv dishwasher's shoes. He spends his days watching manicured women sashay in Manolo's around the pool and returns to his twelve children compressed into a 2-room, tin-roofed Balata Refugee Camp hut each evening. I guess I'd be sort of pissed off too, wanting my piece of the action.

No, that does not justify suicide bombings that claim the lives of innocents. But it provides an inkling of from whenst comes the impetus, politics notwithstanding.

I was also reminded of interviewing Palestinian psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj, also back in the day when suicide bombings were in infant stage. At the time he explained the mindset of bombers and those who train them. This movie reminded me that Dr. Sarraj was spot on. The "trainers" don't send their children to be martyrs. They choose the vehement and vulnerable. As an aside, Dr. Sarraj was put in jail during Arafat's reign for speaking out against the Palestinian Authority. Another reason Yasser was so well liked by his people.

Overall, two thumbs up on the movie. It's not the best I've seen but it is gripping, very well done and offers insight.

A gooday to all - we're off to holiday goings-on in the park and fireworks later tonight.

Friday, May 12, 2006

ice cream and friends...

...they go together

Fugga Fug Fug

The girl fashion critics extraordinaires over at Fug Central have outdone themselves with witticism once again.

Check out this post. I dare you not to laugh.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Easing Back In

There are numerous reasons I opted to step away from the journalist's daily bang-bang/chained to beeper and cellphone/sleepless for days/languishing in 100-degree-in-the-shade heat of Jericho rooftops/sleeping on office chairs and couches/sleeping on flatbed trucks beside satellite dishes in Gaza City ten years ago. One of those was the Delay Factor.

The Delay Factor was working around the clock covering a harrowing story or living through a particularly painful experience yet continuing to go through the motions of so-called normal life. A few hours or a day later, the implications of the experience would suddenly dawn hitting full force at mostly inopportune times. Like in the backseat of a taxi en route to Jerusalem. Or while sitting placidly at a cafe. Or yesterday on the playground.

I spent the better part of yesterday in a local hospital visiting suicide bombing victims for a story I'm working on. It's been nearly a month since the Tel Aviv bus station hit and for the fortunates who lived through it but were unfortunate enough to be critically wounded, the hospital is their new home for the indeterminate future.

One person I met while making rounds was Daphna, a nurse working in surgery. Petite, dressed in knee length corduroy skirt, elbow length cotton shirt and stockings, worry lines furrowed deeply between her tired brown eyes. Her 16-year-old daughter was killed earlier this year in the Netanya mall bombing. I half listened as she quietly discussed her youngest daughter's upcoming bat mitzvah with a case worker. She knew a ceremony was in order but couldn't stomach a celebration.

I excused myself to make a phone call and upon return noted her red rimmed eyelids and the tissue in her hand. My thoughts, however, were still focused on the business related conversation of a moment prior.

Later that afternoon while quietly reflecting on a playground park bench, the nurse's face came back to me; I began imagining the empty hole left in her daughter's stead, the longing and the ache that cannot be satiated. Ever.

Tears welling, I pulled my 4-year-old son Raphael into a tight embrace and silently apologized to him for the times my temper is short, for not always paying attention, for not being in the mood to sword fight and for hemming and hawing over a chocolate bar or ice cream treat.

Despite prolonged hibernation in San Francisco, the Delay Factor has returned.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mentality Clash

It seems you can go coasting along nice and smooth like and then all of a sudden, without warning, it's: BAM!%*@#

You run straight into mentality clash. And that's what I've run into here in HLC (Holy Land Central) after a looooooong hiatus of smooth sailing along the coastal waters of cultural adjustment.

My landlord should have put in an additional air conditioning unit last month, according to our handy-dandy contract. I phoned him two weeks ago and he promised to send someone over. Nada.

Called again yesterday and was told by him not to nag. I swear that's the terminology he used. I looked it up in the dictionary but not until I got home because I didn't know what the word meant at first. If I had, I'd have been too furious to also tell him the solar panel water heater isn't working.

Know what his response to that was? "So heat it electrically."

I'm definitely a nag sometimes. Aren't we all? But this is the same landlord who brought over a Circa 1600's oven sans electrical cord ("Oh it doesn't work? Oh well sorry") and who never got around to fixing a gaping rust hole in the bathtub.

We fixed the tub, got a new oven and took both charges out of the rent. At the time we hadn't yet paid him. Now he has 12 pre-dated checks.

You know what his response to my telling him that he needs to live up to his obligations was? "You can always move out".

Okay. I come from California where tenant rights are very very real. But this is just a bit much...Hello? Where does this person live? Thanks for allowing me to rant, my compadres.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

No Fair!

I just saw advertised that Black Eyed Peas are kicking off their Europe tour with a concert here in HLC (Holy Land Central) next month. Yahoo! Me gots to get tickies. I really like their spunk and would like to see their interaction live. Follow, click and listen here. Me likes.

On another note, out enjoying the beautiful beach weather yesterday with cousins when I overhear them ringing up an Eilat friend over the cellphone. In short, they ask if said friend will pop into one of the local hotels to secure a room for visiting American friends.

Now you may ask why the Americans don't simply ring up the hotel and secure the room themselves being grown adults and all. Clever you.

Because the hoteliers assume their wallets are also quite grown up and fat too. If the Americans book, the per night charge is $200. If, on the other hand, an Israeli reserves the room on their behalf, the rate drops in half.

Tsk tsk. You hotel industry/restaurateurs have already been written up in the press about this double standard; You should know better. Don't you know people talk?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mama Mia!

I just remembered why the idea of living in L.A. never appealed to me...

Ya think they're real?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


We just finished with Independence Day celebrations and now it's on to the next big holiday - Lag Ba'Omer, if my desk calendar notation is accurate. Reading the Wikipedia reference for the latter, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out how backyard bonfires tie in with the ceremonial 49-day Omer countdown (read about it on Wiki) but hey, I'll pull out the marshmallows and stick regardless.

And again upon desk calendar consult, it appears we've been holidaying on average every few days since April. I'm exaggerating. But there are quite a few. And I enjoy it.

A note about the holiday mass gathering thing. Independence Day Eve, we went over to Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to mill around, catch live entertainment, buy some Rave Party psychedelic glow sticks and wait for the fireworks to start with thousands of other fellow HLC'ers (Holy Land Central'ers).

To those living in non-HLC locales, this next part might seem a bit odd but just go with me on it: One of the things absent in the HLC crowd scene is an undercurrent of violence. It's there in America, for sure. And London too. I'm talking about the "Did you just touch me? Because if you did I'll have to start a fight with you because..." (I have no idea why)

I can't recall seeing a fight break out at any event here ever. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Teen club stabbings were weekly events not long ago.

But that undercurrent just isn't present. My English friend concurs. She says that in London you "have to watch who you stand next to at a concert or you might get whopped by a drunk".

Is it because people here aren't huge drinkers? Or because they get the ya-ya's out during military time? I've never worked this one out but it certainly makes for a relaxing time when joining the masses - that is unless the masses are in the middle of a demonstration or Gaza withdrawal.

Not funny, okay.

Monday, May 01, 2006

In Memoriam: 22,313

Each year Israelis celebrate Independence Day by first honoring those who have perished fighting for Israel. Tonight, a day prior to Independence Day, Memorial Day commences with a siren's wail reminding the entire population to stop what they're doing and observe a moment of silence.

Tonight and tomorrow, families, friends and acquaintances throughout the country will visit gravesites, attend ceremonies, weep silently or loudly and mark the day as they see fit. I'll be thinking about Shalom.

Shalom was a fixer who worked with nearly every major foreign news network in Israel during the 80's and 90's. If you needed to cut through bureaucracy, get information, tap into inside connections or borrow a few hundred dollars for a visiting correspondent who had lost his wallet, Shalom had the vast network, deep pockets and know-how to get things done. He was congenial, on-the-go and genuine.

Shalom also was in the habit of phoning up Reuters' t.v. producers and South Lebanon cameraman whenever he'd gotten wind of a roadside bomb explosion or ambushed army unit in South Lebanon. Shalom's son was serving in the region and he knew that as journalists we were privy to names of injured or worse hours before censorship released personal information (pending notification of families). We used to tell him to relax. His son was okay. Stop worrying.

At 5 a.m. one morning, my cellphone rang. It was Dana, a co-producer. Stephanie. You know the incident last night in South Lebanon? Shalom's son was killed. He has been phoning Shlomi (the South Lebanon cameraman) all night begging for him to tell him whether he knows anything. Shlomi knows but of course he can't tell him.

I began crying. Does he have other children? I asked.

Stephanie, what does it matter?

And so it was that we all knew and we all sat silently on the most horrifying information possible out of a code of...I don't know what. Decency? Horror? But Shalom knew. He knew internally without the formality of army officers showing up at his door. I thanked god I wasn't Shlomi that day and wept for Shalom and his family.

We shut down the office the day of the funeral. It was horrible; we couldn't not be there.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the Shaloms of the world tonight and tomorrow. I'll leave with a poem from one of today's Hebrew dailies: (translated from Hebrew)

Where was he wounded?
You don't know if this regards the place on his body or the place in the country.
A bullet can sometimes pass through a human body and wound the country's surface at the same time....Yehuda Amichai