Tag Archives: summer

a dog’s life in Nachlaot

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A Dog’s Life in Nachlaot

This picture is an old one. It was one of my earliest in color. And one of the first that I scanned to a digital file. It had to be printed just right to get the effect that I wanted. I remember the first time I published it on the internet. I had scanned it on my desktop, and then looked at it on my laptop… and it was different. I was forced to reset the gamma on my screen in order to properly appreciate the picture. I was discovering the disadvantages of looking at art on a computer. Some images are easily appreciated… and others are tricky. A print is a little easier. You make the print, and pass it around, or it’s hanging on the wall, and everyone sees pretty much the same thing. But when looking at the same image on a digital device, every screen tells a slightly different story. Though really, even a print can cause problems. There are certain difficult pictures that have to be seen in just the right light to get their message across. A tungsten lamp brings out the warm shades of the picture. Fluorescent light will emphasize green. And now with the new ‘economic’ light bulbs, the color spectrum is completely different. A fine printer will shade his print in such a way that it looks best in sunlight, though preferably not in direct sunlight. I used to show my work to customers in my studio near a window, with a translucent curtain across the window.

For me, this image is a reminder of what Jerusalem was like when it was still a small town. Even as late as the sixties, most of us were poor, but we didn’t feel poor. A refrigerator was a rare luxury item then. People had ice boxes. Every morning, you’d hear the ice man making his rounds with horse and wagon, shouting, ice… ice… ice… And we would come out of our homes with a ceramic covered metal tray, and buy a chunk of ice. When I moved to another neighborhood, there was another ice man who had a three wheeled motorcycle with which he pulled the wagon. I remember buying a record player back in those days. Since I already had a radio, they sold me just the deck, which then connected to the amplifier and the loudspeakers of the radio. It cost less that way.

In the picture, you can see that the houses were nicely built, from stone. They had the beauty of simple structures, tastefully constructed. But then, as families grew bigger, folks added rooms, and used whatever materials were most readily available. They used sheet metal to make the walls, and wood to make the seams. There were quite a few balconies made of wood. Since then, this neighborhood has been ‘gentrified’. The houses have been enlarged and look quite elegant. The prices have gone sky high too.

But the strange thing about our rich lives, is that people are less satisfied now than they were then. These days, people have nice cars, and more toys than they have time to play with; huge flat screens, and the latest appliances from Japan, China, or the States. And of course, everyone has a refrigerator. It goes without saying. But a lot of people are dissatisfied. Some folks don’t even know their neighbor’s name. In those days of minimal possessions, we were happier. We made do with very little. There was no television, but people would congregate and sing together. In our neighborhood, in the summer, most of the neighbors would bring chairs and tables outside on Saturday nights, and we’d listen to the radio together. There were some specially talented individuals who’d amuse all of us with their stories or songs.

There was one neighbor, known for his noodle cake, and another, for her punch… and two brothers who used to make dry wine. We were very proud of their wine, though all we did was drink it. And it didn’t have a name… we just called it ‘dry’ to differentiate it from the sweet kiddush wine. There was this guy who had a truck, which he parked near his home at the end of the work day. Sometimes, on a holiday, he’d load up some of his neighbors on the truck, all of us sitting on pillows, and we’d go to the sea shore, and marvel at the power of nature… When someone got into trouble, everyone around who could, tried to help.

And there were dogs that you’d see here and there, back then. But much fewer than we see today. We knew they were man’s best friend… but they were a rarity. There were those who felt uncomfortable in their presence. Jerusalem was cat town then as it is now. With affluence, we’ve had an increase in the popularity of dogs.

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Heaven’s Roots

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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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moods

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Many years ago, while enjoying the hospitality of America, and furthering my education in the US, I fell in love with American music. First, I discovered the blues… and that led eventually to jazz, which is my favorite music to this day. What I loved about the blues was that they offered a catharsis and perspective, both to artists and listeners, often including a hint of humor. For one of the most difficult challenges we face, is trying to work our way out of sadness and depression.

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There are so many great artists and fine songs in that genre, that one could easily spend his whole life studying the culture. Being an outsider, I wouldn’t take it upon myself to be your guide. Yet I do remember one song that I consider an excellent example of the genre because of two lines that have amused me since I first heard them. And that’s ‘I Will Turn Your Money Green’ by Furry Lewis first recorded in 1928. They are: ‘If the river was whiskey, baby, and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, Lord, and I’d never come up’. And later in the song, he sings, ‘I been down so long, it seems like up to me’. This line served as the name of a novel written by Richard Fariña, published in 1966, and was later the title of a song by the Doors.

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What had me thinking about the blues was a combination of listening to bad news on the radio here, all of this week, and reading a touching blog post by John Hayden, called Retirement, Depression, And Blogging. The week before that, there had been an incident here in my country, of a man biting a dog. Now, those of us who’ve studied Journalism 101 know that such an incident is a legitimate news item. But our local journalists who fear that the public has grown tired of exposés of the dire poverty of half the population, and intimidated by the encroaching competition of the internet, fell upon this story as if they’d just discovered a gold nugget in the drain of the kitchen sink. The story was seen as an example of the fallibility and decadence of mankind, and we were berated on countless in-depth studies of what happened, from morning to night, day after day.

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Of course, most folks swore up and down that they had never bitten any dog… but others, like myself you know, who don’t have such a good memory anymore, just weren’t sure. There are things you don’t think about till you’re accused. One of my friends, for instance, when asked if he’d ever spoken out against biting dogs, remained silent for a few seconds more than might be expected. And then, when the reporter mentioned that while males were 40% more likely to bite dogs than other members of the population, he was seen blushing. So hell yes, I was thinking of the blues… I was even thinking of maybe writing a blues song…

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And then I started thinking about how to get up. It’s been unusually hot here in Jerusalem for the last week. Like today, they said it would be 36° during the day, and then go up to 37° at night! So while it’s been that hot, I haven’t been walking that much. But I know that a brisk walk can really improve my mood. It usually stimulates a stream of consciousness which in turn improves my perspective. I thought if I’d go out towards evening and have a long walk, I might have more positive thoughts. Another thing I’ve noticed, is that though I don’t really like getting together with people when I’m down in the dumps, sometimes it is encouraging to see others having a good time, oblivious to the evils of this world.

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So I called up a very tolerant friend of mine, and asked him if he’d care to accompany me in my blue black mood as I walked from Talpiot to the German Colony and back. Despite the heat, it was really a beautiful day. The grass was green, and the sky was blue… and after we got back to the ‘First Station’ in Talpiot… I noticed that the beer was yellow. On our way, we stumbled across a ‘street library’ which was offering free books. You remember how I told you about finding those bus stops in Tzur Hadasah, where people donated their old books, and anyone could just pick one up for free. This street library was much the same, only more elaborate… with a lot more books. I tell you, I’d gotten kind of used to being blue, but after I found a weathered copy of ‘The Island’ by Aldous Huxley, I couldn’t help it… I was starting to feel better.

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The ‘first station’ is what they call the old railroad station in central Jerusalem. It was abandoned when they built the new one at the edge of town. But in the last few years it’s been redeveloped as a popular entertainment center, including bars and restaurants, toy stores, art galleries and jewelry and vegetable stores. We were sitting at the outside tables of a bar restaurant listening to some good Greek music and drinking that yellow beer when the waitress suggested we try their Arak. And would you believe it, it went well with the beer! In fact, I had another. And though I had no appetite to begin with… after a while… it occurred to me that it might be nutritious to eat something.

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Now if that hadn’t happened yesterday evening, I might be as blue today as I was most of the week. I might even have written a blues verse or two for the blog today… and I certainly don’t know what sort of pictures I would have published today. But now, you’ll just have to wait for that, ‘cause right now, ‘it looks like up to me’.

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students

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One of the most beautiful aspects of the summer is that it’s vacation time for students. And just as the rest of us are inclined to fall into routine, to live our lives automatically, like unfeeling robots (with a headache, at times), so too, students can get into the habit of learning bits of information by heart, and collecting them under the tongue or in the inner ear, till they start sliding out the nose. How wonderful, and how necessary, the vacation. And in honor of summer vacation, let me share with you my thoughts on this very special occupation.

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Unlike monks, priests, rabbis, nuns, religious or monastic men and women, there is one category of holiness that requires no ascetic self discipline. That is the role of the student, who follows his curiosity, and grows day by day, increasing his understanding of the world around and within him, his awareness of his fellow man, and his love for all living things and even the inanimate objects that make up our universe.

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Unfortunately, because society has deemed it necessary for children and youths to study certain functional bits of knowledge, and combined this need with the need of adults to be rid of children for the majority of the day… so that they, the adults, may be free to work, there has been an ever growing resentment towards study. This anger becomes more acute, and at times turns to outright hatred when the ‘baby sitting’ is accompanied by torturous tests which humiliate the so-called student.

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But those who have tasted the sweetness of study for its own sake, and have opened their hearts and minds to the thirst for knowledge, there is no pleasure that can compete with learning, for it is in itself a transcendental experience. The study hall is richer than the finest palace, and its occupants melt from pleasure as their awareness grows without bounds or boundaries. Nothing is forbidden. Everything makes sense. If not at first, then eventually. The student learns to be self assured in the knowledge that whatever is known by another human being can be learned by any man or woman.

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The true student doesn’t study for the sake of a degree. He has no need for prizes or awards. Even if graduated or accredited in his profession, he continues to apply himself diligently because learning is uplifting and fills him with joy. Our greatest teachers were simple craftsmen who didn’t make a profession either of learning or teaching.

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Study itself is best unselfish. Students take great pleasure in sharing their knowledge. And the best teacher is one’s fellow student who’s taken an extra step ahead. All the social stigmas fade and disappear in the study hall. One’s personal wealth is negligible. Beauty is skin deep. Toys and luxuries are forgotten. The more one learns, the stronger one becomes. Not like the muscle builders on the beach who become bound and crippled by their overwhelming muscles, the wise student becomes more sensitive and modest with each passing day, and more aware of the infinite presence of the universe. His or her determination to learn more is not for the sake of self aggrandizement, but out of love for the world as it is.

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Tests… yes, there are tests. Life is full of tests. As long as we are alive and conscious we are tested. We may choose to avoid, to evade, or try to escape those tests, but they come running after us with indefatigable determination. The test of knowledge is that it be clear in your mouth. So that if someone asks you something, you need not hesitate, and then tell it to him. You should be able tell it to him immediately, and in such a way that it is easily understood.

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The photos seen here are of students and their living quarters at the University of Ariel. Oh what a pleasure it is to be a student.

summer time

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We usually have a short spring, and then a fairly long summer. And summer is my favorite time of year. Doesn’t matter, a heat wave or two. I can sit them out, inside. It’s rare that Jerusalem gets uncomfortably hot, because we’re on a mountain. And even when it does, since almost all the houses are made of stone, it stays quite cool inside… even when it’s terribly hot outside. And nowadays, just about everyone has air conditioning… so that makes it still easier. In the past, I didn’t care much for air conditioning. But I’ve been convinced.

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summer food

For me, an important part of summer is getting out early to take my morning walk… while it’s still relatively cool. Then I get a day’s work done, and still have time left to sit out on the balcony, where it’s always quite comfortable… or enjoy the light of day even in my salon till after eight at night. I have to admit, when people were still arguing here, about whether to have daylight savings time, I was against it.

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clothes hanging out to dry in the warm sun

For one thing, it’s nice for people who get up late in the day. But for people like me, it means getting up in the dark at the beginning and the end of the season, and there’s something discouraging about that. All the same, it’s very pleasant to sit with friends at the end of the day and enjoy the colors of the setting sun in late evening. And aside from the colors, which are at their best during this season, I also enjoy the fruits of the season; wave after wave of wonderful and tasty fruits.

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Nechama listening to a conversation between friends

I start out my day with a couple glasses of cucumber juice, which has proven to be a very healthy ingredient in my life. This was Chana’s idea, and it has proven better than any pill or medicine. I know a lot of you like to start the day with a glass of beer or coffee. But for me, drinking that cucumber juice feels as natural as a cat stretching himself, when waking up from sleep.

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And speaking of cats… you can see that all the animals in the neighborhood are affected and inspired by the coming of summer. Nachshon here, above, is playing panther, as he walks between the neighboring houses. As much as I care for him though, I’m hoping he doesn’t catch any of the local birds. But if he does, it’s all part of nature, and we have to accept that cats have their own way of looking at the world. We’re not going to convince them to be vegetarians. Why, even Nechama likes to have a light repast of herring in the afternoon.

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Noga feeding Nechama a herring

The children come by from time to time, each one with stories of the real world. The world that is constantly changing and challenging. They too have their ups and downs, and I take great pleasure in watching how well they deal with it all. I often have the feeling that they’re handling life’s challenges better than I did, and have reached a style of existence that I could only dream of at their age. Which is an exquisite feeling. It seems to me that since the computer became part of everyone’s life, I’ve been living in the ‘future’. But now, with waze, that feeling has been intensified.

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my son, Jonah

When Jonah was here this week, he spoke of the probability that cars would drive themselves within his lifetime. And that the person who would otherwise be driving the car could be enjoying a cup of coffee, and still working while on his way from one point to another. I thought of how much I used to enjoy driving when I was a young man. But that changed long ago. I think it was when they forced us to wear seat belts. And now with all the traffic jams, it’s become something of a pain. Not to speak of the difficulties of parking in the big city. Yes, having a car drive itself would definitely be an improvement. Less people killed and maimed on the highways too.

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cottage cheese is a popular summer food

So let me wish you all (at least those who live in the northern hemisphere), a joyful summer, with easy going long days; good reading and studies, and the pleasure of successful work. May you enjoy pleasant communication with human and animal neighbors. Listen to good music. See beautiful sights,

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the park behind my home

leisure living

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I’ve heard it said that life these days is more intense and hectic than it once was. People are constantly running from one thing to another, trying to get more things done in a day than they can possibly do. I’m not sure, though, if it’s just these days. I’ve seen the same behavior all my life, and there were periods when I lived that way myself. I remember hearing a song back in the sixties. It was called ‘modern day fish’ and you can listen to it on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL-T0I5nLPU . I tend to agree with the message. And if so, it’s not the contemporary life style. It’s us.

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When I was in my middle age, I had a business that kept me busy from morning to night. But I still made time for teaching. And then I had a number of side projects that I had to fit in, one way or another… not to speak of family… plus friends and associates. I was busy all the time. But I remember that there was one situation that was always rewarding. When standing in the shower, with the water cascading over me, I would come up with some of my best ideas, with solutions to problems that had been frustrating me. And the next best thing to that, was taking a walk. And I don’t mean walking to somewhere I had to be. Just walking for the pleasure, to enjoy the day or night, would provide the freedom to let thoughts float by… without purpose or intention.

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And that is the condition when we are most able to digest what we’ve learned… the new things we’ve experienced… or think of the many ways by which we might solve a problem. It’s good to work hard, both physically and mentally. It’s good to run or jog or work out, pushing ourselves to extremes. But there has to be a balance. And the quiet time is when we do our internal filing and put our lives in order.

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It’s getting to be summer time these days. Nice and warm. With a taste of spring still in the air; wild flowers, and new sprouts to be seen. It’s really a pleasure to take a long walk in the morning. And since moving to my new home, there are a great many places to explore; gardens and parks and hidden corners where I can sit in the shade and contemplate the good life.

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But it’s not only the new neighborhood, that’s been providing inspiration lately. The other day, Chana remembered that we had passed a sign a couple of times, pointing to Joel Springs. She suggested that we visit the place. The road we found seemed to be the sort that only a jeep could traverse, but there was also a foot path going there. We decided to walk, though we didn’t know how far away it might be, and we didn’t have a water bottle with us. After a good bit of walking under the hot sun, we decided to go back without having seen the spring. I have a feeling that we’ll still get to see it one of these days. But the path was beautiful, and we enjoyed the walk. On our way back, of course, we saw certain sights we’d missed while going in the opposite direction. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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And one of the things I especially like about taking a trip in the country, is coming across the wild flowers. As the season progresses, they show up in their own particular order. There are those that come in the beginning of spring, and by mid spring, only a few are left, and there are new and colorful flowers to replace them. I love the cistus flower especially, which covered the hills a month ago. And these days I stand in awe, looking at the different versions of Queen Anne’s Lace.

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On our way back by car, we stopped at a country restaurant and ordered a vegetarian Indian curry for lunch. I hadn’t eaten curry for years and years, and was a little disappointed because it wasn’t at all like what I remembered. And it was served lukewarm. But we also ordered some local beer made in Jerusalem, and it is wonderful. Looking at the bottle, I saw our famous lion drinking beer. It reminded me of some of the comments on my last post. I thought I’d post it for your enjoyment.

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