Tag Archives: adventure

whereabouts of the muse 2

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Reading biographies helps one regain perspective regarding the long run in life. Especially these days, as we find ourselves overwhelmed with news from all of the world, instant messages, and social networks. We live in the middle of constant social ferment and never ending noise and chatter. The radio and TV amplify the sound of advertisement, and the telephone signals that a new message is waiting for us while we try to study texts from the internet, or converse with a friend. We are constantly in the ‘now’. So much so, that we lose sight of the slow movements characteristic of the progress of nature, and the affairs of man.

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The biography of Gertrude Stein, brought me back to thoughts on the movement towards ‘new art’ in the period between the two world wars at the beginning of the last century. Among many other important artists and thinkers of the art world, I was reminded of Picasso and Hemingway, both of whom influenced my own attitudes towards art and writing. But the scene that played out in the biography, especially in the salon of Gertrude Stein, with all the fine artists around her and Alice B. Toklas, was very different from my memory of the scene, based on the many stories I had heard and read over fifty years ago.

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I had read Hemingway with great enthusiasm at first, and grown a little tired of him after a while. Decided it was about time to revisit, and picked up ‘Moveable Feast’ where he describes his first flowering as a writer of literature, after starting out as a journalist. He relates to some of the same scenes and people that appeared in the biography of Stein. Once again, I loved the way he wrote. But a lot of time had passed since I first read his writing, and I had changed. The world had changed too. We have different expectations from a thinking man today. But there is a description in that book, of how the writer went about his work. He contemplated his subject, determined to write one sentence that was completely true. And after studying the words and the composition… when finally satisfied that he had written a good sentence, he went on to write another. His descriptions of the creative process, and the way he went about writing, sounded just right, even after all this time. Reading his conclusions about how to write were up to date even now, regardless of the sport he enjoyed… his cruelty to animals is no longer acceptable. But I found personal inspiration in rereading his work.

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Some of my blog readers may remember the two posts I wrote a little over two years ago, contemporary fine literature, and contemporary literature part 2, which dealt with my search for new reading material. After spending many years with a heavy work load, during which I pretty much abandoned reading for pleasure, and lost touch with what was happening outside of my own country, I was hoping to find those who had emerged as the outstanding men of letters, and what was considered fine literature in the world today. Especially in English language literature. But after reading some ‘best sellers’ and some of the recommended reading in the critiques of the top journals, I found it very hard to relate to what was popular today. I was going to search further, and I asked my readers for recommendations. Well, I got some interesting comments, and quite a few mails. I checked out the critiques of different recommended books, and went on to read some of the books. I read quite a few. But many seemed negative to me. I realized that this was the age of the ‘flawed hero’ or the anti hero. And in many popular narratives, the stories concerned victims. or people who had surrendered to the caprices of fate. I was seriously considering going back to classical literature, but hadn’t given up completely, when my internet friend, David Lockwood, shared a quote by Robertson Davies, and I looked him up on the internet.

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I read the Deptford trilogy, one book after another. It was good. There were some weak moments… at times the narrative just sort of coasted along. But the story was woven with the same threads through three volumes, and there were some very fine passages along the way. His themes reflect the nature of life and human awareness and sensitivity. Each of the three volumes present a part of the same story with some overlapping, as seen from different perspectives. And one realized along the way that what is seen from different points of views can seem like different stories even if they relate to the same cold facts. The focus was not on heroes or villains, but on those who live their lives between the raindrops, characters who are usually part of the background when the narrative is focusing on heroes. I liked his style very much. I enjoyed reading his books and wanted to read more.

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These books helped me to divert my attention from the horrors that had invaded the day to day life around me. I was inspired to consider the general nature of human beings and the lives we live. It was possible to dismiss the extremism that had been forced upon us, and had influenced my judgment regarding all I saw or heard. When I finished the trilogy, I recommended it to Chana who reads English. I wanted to recommend it to other friends of mine, and looked for a translation into Hebrew. But to my disappointment, I discovered that none of his books had been translated. What a shame. I hope that someone does take on the job. I’ve already started to read another of his trilogies. This time, the Cornish trilogy. It concerns the academic life, and so far it has been very interesting.

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The photos published here were taken yesterday, on a sunny day between bouts of winter weather, while walking around the Nachlaot neighborhood in central Jerusalem. I started my walk feeling sad, but I so love this town that I was soon awake with appreciation. I found my consolation in literature. But this city of mine is my own personal inspiration, even in bad times. Found some excellent examples of graffiti, yesterday, and enjoyed the images of the local modest housing which has attracted many artists and students. Spent time in the shuk, which is the market place, and watched people going about their business. As the hours passed, I grew more positive and encouraged. Came back with many more photos than could be printed here. But I might share some more on a future blog. May it be a good year for all of us.

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whereabouts of the muse 1

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There is an adage in Hebrew that says, ‘the muse disappears when the canon roars’. As a rule, I don’t have trouble finding my muse. She finds me most of the time. It’s not that I never have trouble writing or photographing. Sometimes it’s hard to get what’s on my mind onto the paper. But usually, I get to work after something has caught my fancy. I don’t have to go looking for inspiration.

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And yet, at times of war or tragedy, my thoughts are on the tragedy. And I lose touch with creativity. This time, with the start of the violence, I had thoughts so terrible that I couldn’t bear them. Not just thoughts… dreams too. I would wake up in the middle of the night after a particularly depressing dream, and couldn’t fall asleep again. And often, during the day… I would find myself staring out… not focused on anything… or through my window… and my heart would be filled with sorrow. After a while of this, all I wanted, was not to think. But that’s a bit of a problem for me. Because I’m used to thinking. I think just about all the time. So I tried to find a way not to think of those specific things that bring on overwhelming unhappiness. And one easy solution presented itself to me. The situation in which I am least likely to think my own thoughts is when I am studying, or reading the thoughts of someone else. So I started reading.

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In the past few years, my primary reading interest has been current fine literature. I’ve been trying to find new writers who have the impact of the literary giants I loved in the past. I thought it would be a good way for me to keep in touch with what concerns the generation that is dealing with the current problems of life. And to better understand the problems and the challenges of those people who are starting out now, living their adult lives, and those who’re right in the middle of it all. I have to admit that I did not have much success in my quest. But in the last half year, I started getting the feeling that I understood the issues of the day better than I had before I started this project.

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But now, with this new intention of redirecting my own thoughts, reading fine literature did not do the job. If I read about the problems of others… or even a page turning mystery… my thoughts would often return to the problems of Israel, and to the threats to my own safety, and the safety of those I loved. For each day there was news of some pal who had suddenly knifed an innocent victim, waiting for a bus, or walking down the street, lost in his or her own thoughts.

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So I moved from fine literature to biographies. I always have a few books around that I haven’t yet read. Sometimes I will read a review that interests me, and buy the book ‘for later’. I used to have quite a pile of books that I kept for ‘retirement’. But I have been retired for some time now, and I’ve read most of those books, starting when I had my first heart attack some years back, and had nothing to do while I recuperated. But recently, there has been a new fashion of ‘give and take’ public libraries. A stand or a closet… sometimes even a number of closets that are set up in the public domain, and the public is encouraged either to take a book for free, or invest a book for which one has no need, and so these little public libraries offer free reading material to passers by, and are continuously being replenished, without any official staff to maintain order. I have run into quite a few such libraries and occasionally found interesting books.

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The first biography I started reading was the autobiography of Arthur Miller, who had always interested me, since his first plays were being performed. It was one of the books I had on my bookshelf, waiting for the appropriate time. His recollections were very interesting and I felt I got to know him quite well through the autobiography. His attitudes and choices made fascinating reading. Moreover, he seemed honest and straight forward, and I felt I was getting to know the real man, which was quite different from his public image as I remembered it. I underlined many sentences as I made my way through the book, and even read some of those selections to my friends. And after that, I went on to read a biography of Gertrude Stein. These books really did help me to redirect my thoughts.

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While still reading the book on Gertrude Stein, I saw an autobiography of Isaac Asimov in one of those free public libraries. I read that one after reading the very impressive Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. He served as president of the United States during the 1870s. And previous to that, was the chief of staff of the U.S. army during the civil war between the states. I had first become aware of this volume when reading praise of it by Bob Dylan, who had read it in the 60s. Though I have always found interest in history, and had read a bit of American history, this book helped me to understand the US civil war better than anything else I had read before.

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Isaac Asimov was an American professor of biochemistry, who became famous as a writer of science fiction, and later as a popular teacher of science. He was one of the most prolific writers ever. He wrote or edited more than 500 books. He was famous for offering the reader historical background in the explanation of scientific concepts and inventions. Reading his autobiography, I was delighted by his modest description of his own life, his learning processes and the way in which he worked. In fact, as I read about certain questions he had about the Jewish religion… questions to which he did not find answers, though he himself was Jewish, I deeply regretted that he had already died, and I was unable to write to him and explain a mysterious ceremony that he had seen, and never understood. As I read about these lives, I was surprised by the difference between their public image, and what I thought they might be like when I read their works as compared to my impression when reading of their actual lives. When I was younger, long before the invention of the internet and Wikipedia, I was not that interested in the private lives of writers and thinkers. I had the feeling that I had gotten to know them through their work. Nowadays, when I run into a new writer or painter or photographer, I often look them up on the internet. It seems that I know a lot more about the people whose work interests me than I did in my youth. Such knowledge was less available then to the casual reader.

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Usually, I like to write what I have to say in a single post. But this time, I have to conclude with a ‘to be continued’ bottom line. I want to thank those who’ve commented on previous posts, and those who’ve written me mails. Thanks to Chana for these pictures of me, here on this post. The situation here in Jerusalem right now is so difficult for me, that I find it hard to write… I am trying to get back on track again. I hope to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked in further writing.

an evening excursion

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I’d been working hard all day Monday, and was just about to take a walk with Nechama in the park behind our home, when Noga came, and was happy to join us. It was the first day the temperature had gone down a bit, after a week long heat wave. An opportunity to stretch my legs and release the tensions of work. As we walked around the park, I felt lighter and freer. What a pleasure. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any dogs along the way. Nechama doesn’t care much for dogs, and usually hides behind bushes or climbs the nearest tree if we meet a neighbor walking his or her dog. Turns out, this new neighborhood I live in has a sizable population of dogs… most of whom are attached by leash to their human friends. But this time it was an easy walk for all concerned.

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Then, as we got to the edge of the park, Nechama decided to take a shortcut back to the house. Noga and I remained on our own, looking out at the beautiful scenery in the late afternoon. A cool breeze blew. We watched the local ‘light train’ as it came into the station, a bit down the hill. Noga said, ‘you know, we could just get on that train, and continue our walk downtown, if you’re in the mood for it’.

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Well, the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but we had no plans. And the days are still long. It sounded like a good idea. The ‘light train’ is a relatively new addition to our lives in Jerusalem, and it really does make transportation easier. I said sure. And down we went to the station. The train goes by every ten minutes or so. We knew we wouldn’t have long to wait, and we didn’t. It was all very easy. We caught the next train downtown. We found two seats together. It was quite pleasant. Noga asked me if I’d ever taken pictures inside the train, and I told her yes. I’d even posted a few in earlier blog posts.

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Ben Yehudah Str.

The train took us to Jaffa street, and from there we made our way to Zion square, which brought back many memories. But things have changed in the last few years. Jaffa street, which was always the main thoroughfare through town, is no longer open to motor vehicles. Only the train operates on that street, and the side walks have been widened to accommodate pedestrians. It doesn’t resemble the street we knew and visited for so many years. Ben Yehudah str., another important avenue has also been closed to vehicular traffic. It is completely reserved for pedestrians. Which is actually a good thing, because those streets which are still accessible to cars are so overloaded that one often moves at a slower pace than a horse’s gait, and it’s irritating.

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the choir in good spirits

We chose to walk down Yoel Moshe Solomon, ‘cause I’d heard that they’d decorated the street. There were colorful umbrellas above, and I’d been looking forward to seeing them. It was getting a bit dark though, by the time we got there. We’d spent a bit of time in a department store first, looking for an electric grater, which we didn’t find. I had doubts that I’d be able to photograph the umbrellas that I’d read about. All the same, I gave it a try.

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that man could sing

The shops and restaurants looked pretty much the same as they’d always been. We saw quite a few people enjoying the evening. Locals and tourists. Most of the shops were open. I thought I might want to visit a record store I remembered on Hillel street. I was careful to use the words music discs instead of records when I told my plan to Noga. But even so, I was out of date. She explained that the store had closed quite some time ago. People don’t buy a lot of records anymore. But she did tell me of one place that had survived. You still can buy a disc there.

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Noga reads me the menu

Cats’ corner was still there, though, at the bottom of Yoel Moshe Solomon, and I did see a few cats there. But all the little booths where you could once buy jewelry and hookah pipes, and incense, and colorful clothing from the far east had disappeared. It looked like they were building something new there. The cats had grown a bit shy. We continued up Hillel and then down through Ben Yehudah. Aside from meeting some people we know, we also had the pleasure of listening to an impromptu performance of a choral group in the middle of the pedestrian mall. While going up Hillel str., I noticed that the building that used to house the video store had been converted to a restaurant and music venue.

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Jerusalem’s Port

The place is called Jerusalem’s Port. Jerusalem, a landlocked city, has a water complex. We often dream of having a stretch of beach. Tel Aviv went to the trouble of calling one of their stretches of beach, ‘Jerusalem Beach’, in our honor. And now it seems we’ve gone one step further and invented our own port. There were posters on the wall describing different performances scheduled for the coming weeks.

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It turned out that there would be a performance of flamenco music and dancing that very evening. We decided to go. It was only after I’d bought the tickets that I realized the performers were Israelis. That was a bit of a let down. I’ve always enjoyed flamenco music. But the idea of Israelis playing flamenco music, and dancing… I just couldn’t imagine how that might sound…

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As it turned out, though, I was too much of a pessimist. The music was fantastic. There were two men, each of them playing guitars. And two women who danced some of the time. One of the men sang as well. Not all of the time. But he was electric. His voice pierced through any reserve I might have had. When we left, a few hours later, in the middle of the night… the music stayed with us in our heads. The dancing was good too. I’m not really a connoisseur of dance, but what I saw impressed me. The food was good too. The only problem I had, was that I had to take advantage of the few breaks, to go outside and have myself a smoke. Can you imagine that? A performance hall where they don’t let you smoke. It almost makes a person prefer listening to a record… but then… records have gone out of style, I heard.

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the romantic trail

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caution, frog crossing

Yesterday, the third day of the first heat wave of spring, Chana and I drove north to the ‘source of the Yarkon’, a national park neighboring the city of Rosh Ha’ayin, called Afek in distant history. It wasn’t all that hot in Jerusalem. But we knew that most places outside of the city might be too hot for a day trip, and this seemed to us a fine place for adventure. We packed a picnic, took cameras and maps, a folding chair for me, and we were on our way.

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Usually I like to take the back roads and the slow roads to all destinations. But since we knew we would have a lot to see once we got there, we made an exception this time, and took Highway 6, arriving there in just a little more than an hour. Though there were a few groups of children around… and in one area we did encounter the grating sound of an enthusiastic nature counselor urging some of those children on to a demonstration of physical prowess, with the help of some electronic amplifying equipment, most of the park was peaceful and calm. We chose to follow the example of the ducks on the pond, and avoid the youthful noise, taking comfort in the natural beauty of old trees and calm waters. It was a beautiful day.

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The sun wasn’t always out. At times, cloud banks covered the sky. But the weather was in movement, and there were ample opportunities to capture the full color spectrum when the sun did show itself. The natural scene was rich and inviting. Trees supplied ample shade. And there were a number of adults enjoying the advantages of the park.

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There is a small Baptist village just outside the park, and there was a couple, two middle aged Baptists dressed in comfortable walking attire, that we kept running into, though we traversed the park from one end to the other. Along the way we discovered the ‘romantic trail’, adorned as it was with a magnificent array of beautiful flowers.

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the two Baptists

From prehistoric times, the land of Israel served as a pathway between Africa and Europe. And from earliest history the city of Rosh Ha’Ayin, which translates into English as ‘the fountainhead’, was a focal point of that passageway.

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The city is mentioned in the old testament and in Egyptian documents from eighteen centuries before the common era. Seemingly, it became an important city in historic times because of the springs found there, which provide plentiful water. The Yarkon river which flows to Tel Aviv and through it, originates there. And the national park we visited is located right next to the city.

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I have to admit that the ducks were very cautious and we never did get close enough to get a good picture. Nor did we find a single frog willing to pose for the camera. But we did hear them when we approached the larger bodies of water. I have a very beautiful frog portrait from a previous visit to the same park, but decided to share with you only those shots captured yesterday. And it was only after returning to Jerusalem, that I realized that I hadn’t gotten a single duck photo, and felt a certain measure of sorrow. Because ducks are rather rare in our country. I should have tried harder.

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Still, there was a bit of comfort knowing that I had captured my dear friend Chana, actually hugging a tree, evidence that even here, in the backward middle east, one can find enlightened people who know how to express their love for nature in the most up to date manner.

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There was no need for my folding chair. We found plenty of picnic tables and benches to sit upon, and our picnic was all the more delicious, in the shade of an old eucalyptus tree, having the local birds serenade us as we ate both humus and soft cheese with pita bread and tasty spices, and quenched our thirst with local beer.

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We will be celebrating Pentecost this coming Sunday, and I imagine that the park will be filled to overflowing with visitors on the holiday. How lucky we were to visit just before the big rush, enjoying the serenity of this natural treasure at its best. And how good it was to conclude such a pleasurable adventure, knowing that we were about to return to our beloved home town, Jerusalem.

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not a duck, but it was a pleasure meeting this bird…

national trauma week

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autumn leaves in winter

We have a saying here, when someone tells us something that is no longer relevant. We say, ‘that’s as interesting as last year’s snow’. But this week, despite a rather aggravated case of political heebie jeebies, with national politicians changing parties after each fresh edition of an opinion poll. All of a sudden… under a blue sky of momentary sunny weather in the midst of winter, normal, rational men and women lost all interest in anything but the weather. It started slowly at first… If I remember correctly, last weekend, there were a couple of comments made… you know… ‘such beautiful autumn weather, and next week it’ll probably snow’. The sort of idle talk you might hear as someone reluctantly looks for something, and then gazes through the window at the colorful leaves left on a tree.

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rosehips

But later there were solid rumors. Not just the ‘I heard Jake say’, but those rumors that make you stop and take stock: the report that the assistant director of the Jerusalem sanitation department demanded all snow removal machines be checked to see if they had a full tank of gas in their tanks. It only took a few hours until every news item had to find its place in line on national news behind the weather report.

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mini graffiti found on a schoolyard fence

By evening, when the weather appeared at the top of the Channel 1 news roundup, it was in fact reported that the coming snow fall, this week, might exceed that of last year. Immediately after that hit the airways, a silence moved through private homes from the Negev desert to Mount Hermon. Around the country, fathers looked at mothers, mothers looked at children. And children rolled their eyes heavenward; our version of the ‘gasp heard around the world’.

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I like to keep warm with some hot kube soup in winter

Now, those readers who live somewhere outside of Israel may not remember last year’s snow. I think most of us Israelis would find that completely excusable. After all, we’re a very small country, and we always have one kind of trouble or another. Why should our little troubles interest the big boys on the international stage of events? Of course you don’t remember. But there isn’t a cat over the age of two in Jerusalem, or a man, woman or child in all of Israel over the age of five, who can’t recall all the details of last year’s snowfall.

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and how wonderful that artichokes have come into season…

Needless to say that it snowed last year. And it could be that the clever fellow in charge of keeping the snow removal equipment ready for action, had heard that the price of benzene was about to go down, and wanted to impress his superiors that he was the sort who knew how to save a penny. Of course, if it had just been that, the whole incident would probably be forgotten by now. But it got kind of cold, and everyone turned on their electric heaters at the same time. And then when the electricity failed, everyone called their closest friends to see if it had happened to them too. That paralyzed the cell phone system. And then, when a few hundred cars got stuck on the main highway to Jerusalem because of ice and snow, with bob sleds and skis sticking out of a wide variety of hybrid passenger cars, the truckers bringing food to the supermarkets were unable to think of anything better to do than take a nap on that cot they have behind the driver’s cabin.

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one of my neighbors keeps all of his emergency equipment out on the balcony

Not only were all the shelves in the supermarket left vacant, but those who insisted on buying those items left behind in the mad rush to stay supplied, were further frustrated when they got to the cash register. Because all the communication lines were down, and it was impossible to check whether credit cards were stolen, or invalid because of pathological buying habits on the part of the consumer. And so, the clerks were asking for real money! As a loyal Israeli, I hate to say it, but that meter plus snowstorm last year led to confusion, chaos, and then out and out pandemonium, as my fellow citizens began to realize that they couldn’t go on with their everyday lives in the middle of a snow storm.

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what could be better for an evening meal than Portobello mushrooms

And now, just the memory of what happened last year, was enough to give rise to an aftershock, a year later. Of course, it’s easy to laugh at others. So I feel an obligation to disclose my own share of disquiet. Remember the tablet I bought recently, in an attempt to be just as up to date as all the kids? And how I went out of my mind trying to peck out messages with two fingers instead of ten? That was after trying to write an article describing my impressions of the ‘ever growing gap between rich and poor’ on my smartphone, and discovered too late that the phone was so small I couldn’t find it after putting it aside for dinner, and then had trouble reading what I myself had written on its small screen.

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and here I am taking the above picture, captured by Chana

So now, equipped with a rather addictive tablet that I had learned to use after infinite suffering… and despite the fact that its batteries are able to keep it functioning for nine hours without recharge… I stopped using it altogether so that it would remain fully charged when the electricity failed in the upcoming snow storm. That is to say, I too was taken in by the mass hysteria, and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid the consequences of last year’s snow!

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one of my friends recently complained after seeing my dining room table on the blog without its customary bottle of whisky. So here you are, two bottles, and my tablet squeezed in, on the bottom right.

Dare I mention that the anti-climax was more than a little disappointing? A special train shuttle had been scheduled to ferry tourists from the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ village to Jerusalem every 20 minutes after the highways would all be frozen. The cellular companies invested heavily in new equipment to avoid the embarrassment of a breakdown in service. And drivers were asked to abandon the public avenues and thoroughfares so that emergency vehicles could administer to those incapacitated by the storm. All the supermarkets increased their wares by seven fold, and the customers did not disappoint. The sale of gas heaters would have topped all peaks of the last ten years had not department stores run out of those heaters to sell. We whipped ourselves into a frenzy… and then… nothing went wrong. Each of us felt whipped by the cruelty of nature. There was snow. But then there was rain that washed it away. All the preparations seemed wasted. It was a disaster.

on the way

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Yesterday, while at Chana’s home in her village, we decided to drive to Jerusalem; there were a few things we wanted to get from my house. But it was relatively early in the day… just about the time when there are traffic jams in the city. Chana volunteered to do the driving so that I wouldn’t suffer the tension of traffic. Once we were in the car she informed her smart phone of our intended trip… where we were coming from, and where we wanted to go.

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I have a smart phone too. But the only thing I do with it is to call someone, if it’s really important. I’ll turn it on sometimes, so that I can receive calls if I’m expecting someone to call. My phone isn’t always on. I don’t like to be distracted when I’m busy living my life. And when my phone rings, it doesn’t sound like ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. It sounds like a phone sounded 30 years ago. And even so, I find it a distraction.

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I don’t know how to take advantage of the many applications, and haven’t made any effort to learn. I don’t say that proudly. That’s just the way I am. I have a great admiration for invention and innovation. But I don’t believe that I have to use every tool that’s been designed to aid human beings in their work or play. I know there are more good things in this world than I’ll ever get to know. So I just search for a tool or utensil when I’m trying to do something, and have the feeling that I don’t have the proper means to do the job.

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I had heard about Waze because it was invented in Israel, but I had never had the opportunity to use it. And here we were, on the way to Jerusalem, and there was this very pleasant male voice giving us instructions. Chana explained to me that Waze would offer us alternative routes to my home address, and tell us how much time each route would take, thus helping us choose the most desirous route.

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It was amazing from the start. This fellow told us when a turn was coming up ahead. In another 100 meters… or in another 400 meters, we would have to turn right. Get in the left lane, he said, because soon we’ll have to turn left. And so he guided us to the city, and through it… till we arrived at my place. When we did arrive, he told us, without any smugness, ‘You have arrived at your destination’. I was flabbergasted.

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But, it wasn’t just directions. This virtual guide knew everything. He would warn us if there was a hazard by the side of the road. He even informed us that there were police up ahead, just so we wouldn’t breeze by at two times the speed limit (fat chance in Jerusalem on a busy morning). If there was high density of traffic at a certain point, he would warn us ahead of time, and also adjust the arrival time in consideration.

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For three quarters of an hour, I was in an alternative universe. No longer in the familiarity of my hometown in the 21st century, but back in the 50s reading a science fiction novel about what the future had in store for us. Actually witnessing the future… it was romantic… and so perfect.

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And when I thought about it, I knew that it was only a matter of time till the computers would take it the next step forward. I could imagine the two of us having coffee in the car, face to face, the air conditioning keeping us in optimal weather… pleasant music in the background, and the car itself being driven by the computer. There’d be less accidents that way. The computer would reroute traffic so as to maintain maximum speed on the road, and we would enjoy the calm and have the opportunity to watch the scenery as we traveled.

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For me, it was delightful being a passenger. I could lift my camera as we went through the city, and take a few shots along the way, so as to give you a view of what Jerusalem looks like from the car. Usually, I’m driving. And often I see a sight worthy of recording, but have to stop the car and find a parking spot if I wish to photograph. But not yesterday. I took a few shots through the windscreen of the car. Today you’re on the road with me. The pictures on this post are all from yesterday’s visit to Jerusalem.

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out in the country

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One of the strange paradoxes of living in Israel, is that though ours is a very small country, there is such a great variety of landscapes here. Our first chief rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught us that the best way to celebrate independence day was to walk four paces in the country, where we have never walked before. There is something very charming about this modest ‘good deed’. Four paces is so little. And yet, we are in no way limited to just four paces, and each step we take after those first four is our own… our own initiative. And the four paces seem commensurate with the length and breadth of our small country.

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But despite the small area, we have snow capped mountains, and the lowest land point on the face of the earth. We have a length of sea shore, with warm water (in the summer) lapping on the beaches, and we have more than one desert… forests and meadows and fields of wild flowers and wild grasses. Birds of all sorts stop by and visit us, from Europe and Africa too, enjoying the plant life, the crops in the fields, and occasionally the fish in our ponds.

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Our forefathers walked great distances, from one landscape to another on foot, often with a donkey to carry their load. The ever changing landscape offered inspiration, especially of a religious nature. And so it seems very natural that our land should be seen as the source of three of the major monotheistic religions. I myself have experienced such inspiration in the desert. It is so quiet when one first encounters it, that there is a lot of room for thought and appreciation. But as we look closer, we discover plant and animal life of great variety. And while the sands might look parched, those who frequent the desert can reveal to us many sources of water, hidden from the unfamiliar eye. If we follow the wild animals, they too will reveal worlds unknown, filled with sustenance and color, and even drama, the likes of which we many not have dreamed of.

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To celebrate the onset of spring, Chana and I took the car a few kilometers north of Jerusalem, on a day filled with hints of rain. Though there wasn’t any real rain… there was drizzle from time to time, and occasional droplets, felt on our shoulders as we walked, or appearing on the windshield of the car. A mild haze thickened at times, and then retreated, allowing us to photograph the territory of Samaria.

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The hills and valleys, and the little communities to be found nestled between the hills or atop of them, could easily illustrate myriad stories. The many scenes we saw seemed to tease the imagination, stories and fantasies sprung from the hills, begging to be heard. The pictures in this post were all taken from that area on that same day. And there are many more, sulking in the background because they haven’t been chosen.

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Of course, it’s not just the physical nature of our country that exhibits such variety. One can see the diversity among the population, and in the many sub cultures, religious beliefs, and customs. From one city to another, there are worlds of difference, and between the cities there are so many towns, villages and hamlets, each with its own customs and personality. And as you might have heard, there’s the joke about the freedom of expression among our people… it is said, when two Jews get together, you can hear three opinions at least.

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