Sunday, June 9, 2013

Kalimera, Cyprus!

End of May 2013. My first time on the island of Cyprus, altough this place is only an hour flight from Tel Aviv. The wave of heat outside, and the  Mediterranean  beaches make me immediately feel at home.

This little island country has lately been in the world news because of financial restrictions imposed on its citizens. Like  other western or semi-western countries, Cyprus has a lot of rich people, but the country's money bag seems to be empty. How so?

Well, the usual triangle of bankers, politicians, Media . This triangle  generates  financial manipulations which lead to corruption,  and ultimately to the country's high debt and the need for austere measures to prevent collapse. Familiar, isn't it?

There are a lot of foreigners here and  they appear to be doing well, especially the brits and the russians. It seems they have found here, most of the distant world  "paradises" : Canada without the fierce cold, USA without the tornadoes and hurricanes, Australia without its 'end of the world'  location.

Cyprus is a member of the European Union, and the old continent of Europe with all its giant problems is still considered by many the heart and brains of the world.

Cyprus is known for its fine lace and handwork,  best olive oil,  exquisite wines. Also for its beautiful songs and talented singers that participate  at the  annual Eurovision contest. 

However,its most famous icon is the late archibishop Makarios who was the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, a great political and religious personality. Major streets were named after  him, statues erected in his memory.

Nicosia, the capital city, is the last divided capital in Europe. It's divided between  turkish cypriots and greek cypriots. The 'border' crossing in Nicosia between the two parts of the city, located at the end of the pedestrian shopping street, Ledra,  looks kind of strange in the eyes of a tourist.  The impressive Monument, though, near the police station on the greek side of the crossing, is  definitely worth a visit to the spot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Belarus, of all the places

He was in a critical condition; he urgently needed a liver transplant. He appealed , using his best connections, to hospitals in USA, Germany, India, but no luck. The first two required a long wait for a liver, and the third one , so they say, refused to perform surgery on him because of the nature of his former job .  Those in his homeland, Israel, refused to even put him on the waiting list as he didn't qualify for their age criterion (age up to 65).  

In the end, Mr. Meir Dagan, 67, former head of the israeli Secret Service ,the Mossad, was  admitted to an hospital in Belarus (October 2012) where he successfully underwent a liver transplant.

Meir Dagan after transplant

The Republic of Belarus, with its capital city Minsk, is a landlocked country bordered by five countries:  Russia (in the north and east), Ukraine (south), Poland(west), Lithuania and Latvia (north).

Belarus,  considered by many analysts "Europe's last dictatorship" has a relatively decent health  system , but is certainly not among the world's leading providers of health care.

President of  Belarus, Mr. Alexander Lukashenko has used this liver transplant case to make quite a publicity to himself, and to his country's surgeons, humanity, hospitality. Well, why not?

I've learnt two things from this dramatic story:

1.   No matter how important you once were for your country, you might nevertheless find out one day, while  facing death, that she considers you a regular citizen  and will  only  'play by the book'.

2.  Never underestimate a small, modest, country in East Europe. Belarus, of all the countries in the world  "did it"and did it well.

(* above photos - taken from the Web.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

From Chechnya with ..Soccer

Chechnya, a small country in the Caucasus area of the Russian Federation, has been in the news lately;  the two bombers in the Boston marathon tragedy are originally from that part of the world.

In Israel, two chechen football players (Dzhabrail Kadaiyev and Zaur Sadayev) were the passive protagonists of a big drama at the beginning of this year. And this is the story:

The owner of a major football club in Jerusalem (Beitar club), a russian-israeli oligarch, decided to hire two muslim football players from Chechnya despite the strong objection of the team' s supporters.. Motive: the team needed reinforcement, and the two players , he believed, will do a good job.

 Beitar fans, anti-arab oriented, stated they would not have a muslim player wear the club's uniform. The arrival of the two chechen players (see the above photo with the two in Beitar uniform) sparked a series of provocative actions by the Beitar  hardcore fans:  harassment of the chechens, protests (including racist banners), cursing, and even torching of the club's offices.

The atmosphere became so "hot" that the PM, the President, the Mayor of Jerusalem, and other political and cultural personalities  in the country stood up to condemn the highly provocative attitude displayed by Beitar supporters  towards the two football players from Chechnya.There were also some arrests  carried out among those fans.

I don't know much about sports, but it seems football can bring out the worst in people.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Iron Dome

iron dome *

It's effective, it saves lives, it's almost humane.

The iron dome is an israeli patent, created and developed as a pure defense  measure against the triple rocket threat:  Qassam, Grad, Fagr5  rockets, fired by  terrorists from Gaza strip into Israel. It detects the rocket and monitors its trajectory until it shoots it down.

(The encounter of the incoming missile and the one launched by the iron dome battery - seen on the TVscreen - is a breathtaking sight).

At present, there are only five iron dome batteries ready to intercept and destroy incoming rockets :   four are deployed in the region  up to 40 kilometers from the border with the neighboring Gaza strip, and one in  Tel Aviv area.

Gaza Strip *

This anti-rocket mobile system has its limitations: high-cost, short range (up to 70 Km), people might  become careless - ignore missile alarms and not look for shelter during emergency, although they know the iron dome's success rate is only about 80%.

Anyway. this counter-rocket is seen as a life Savior by the israelis that undergo daily rocket attacks.   In the hebrew language, the word 'dome' is of feminine gender, so I strangely find myself thinking about the iron dome ,which is a military device, in terms of  heroine, queen, princess and other such flattery words.

* the two above pictures -courtesy of Wikipedia

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Cracked Violin

It completely  dominates the little green corner called Coltea Park, located in the very heart of Bucharest city .

Coltea Park is near the busy University Square metro station, the Coltea Hospital (oldest in the city), and the Ministry of Agriculture building. It is a very relaxing little place which stands in contrast to the hectic atmosphere around it.

The little green spot  has some benches, a stage for artistic performances, and... a cracked huge bronze violin ( I'm a bit confused as to the difference between violin, viola, fiddle. I'll have to check this up).

Anyway, I stayed at a nearby hotel, and so everyday , on my way to the metro station I stopped to contemplate the violin. Upon return at the end of the day,  I stopped again to have a look at it. It fascinated me; the size of it, the idea behind it - which is : 'the sound of music is so powerful that it  can break even hard matter'' . 

The giant cracked violin representing the spiritual power of music as against the fragility of tough matter (bronze),  was created by a romanian artist after a draft of the  sculptress  Domenica Reggazoni (the daughter of an italian violinmaker).

Attached to its piedestal is a bronze plaque with the inscription "violino spaccato" (broken violin) The violin was erected in 2009 , and since then classic musical concerts are held in this park every summer weekend. I attended such a concert and it was ,of course, a delight to the senses.

evening concert at the Coltea park

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Expect the Unexpected

Colorado (USA) and Norway (Europe) are known as two western ,modern, democratic, rich states.
The horrible shootings - recently in Colorado, Aurora, and last year in Norway, Utoya island - pose at least two questions besides the one about the easiness of gun acquisition .

Both gunmen had no previous violence record. How does a mainstream guy suddenly turn into a mass killer?

Well, we get some answers  from Anders Behring Breivik's testimony in court. The norwegian killer who left 77 dead at a youth camp in the little island of Utoya (including the eight dead in the preceding explosion at a government building in Oslo) - declared, that he was actually a nice, caring, sane person, not a psychiatric case at all.

To be able to attain his goal - which was to alert his country Norway and the whole of Europe to what he saw as the dangers of immigration (loss of culture and identity), he realized that he would have to undergo a process of de-humanization and de-emotionalizing. It took him five years to train himself before the bombing and shooting attacks.

(We don't know yet about James Holmes's motives for killing 12 people and injuring 58 at a premiere of the latest Batman movie in Aurora theater. It appears that like the norwegian, he has also thoroughly planned his rampage if not for years, probably for weeks ).

Both gunmen were shooting freely and uninterrupted until the police arrival at the scene of crime. Nobody in the crowd had made any attempt to immobilize the shooter. How come?

That kind of attitude is sad, and throws a certain light on education in western countries.  Apparently, modern, liberal education fails to instill in youngsters values such as courage , bravery, inventiveness in a life emergency ; the consequences are often tragic.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hamei Gaash - Hot Springs and Spa

Health, health, health - that's what you get at Hamei Ga'ash . Here, in the water coming from the dephts of the earth, everyone is a gymnast. The body does whatever you wish it to do and it feels good.
In addition, the overall atmosphere of recreation, fun, even...romanticism highly contributes to one's well being.

romantic couple in  hot pool (mist is from the vapors)

The place is located in a  charming,  pastoral setting, between two major central israeli cities :Herzelya and Netanya,  and is operated by the nearby kibbutz Ga'ash. The hot springs were discovered by accident when excavating for gas deposits.

 Hamei Ga'ash offers the visitor three hot thermal mineral pools (of different temperatures 37-40 degrees ) - one of them with lots of jacuzzi jets (which I'm sure is of great help to people with low back pain), dry and wet sauna, sulfur pools, showers, lockers, water coolers ,an outdoor swimming pool, a toddlers'  pool, professional massages, a cafe, a restaurant, a tiny shop , a  lecture hall, and many green spots , chairs and tables, for resting between the treatments.

pools'  hall

women taking a shower(before and after dipping in the pools)

pool with  jets

shaded cafe garden

On the day of my visit, there was a group of arab men at the Spa,  who were engaged in dancing and producing music on  a  percussion instrument. One of the men, a young arab dressed in a red shirt, bald and chubby, exhibited an impressive dancing ability.

drum beat and  dancing men

the 'red shirt' man in action

The elegant Spa with its thirteen (13) treatment rooms and  a trained staff ,offers a great variety of massages, among them; reflexology, massage with hot stones, swedish massage , thai massage etc..

 Spa reception room

In case one doesn't have  the time to take a professional massage, it's possible to get a- six minute automatic one, for less than a dollar coin, while sitting  on one of the two special, comfortable  armchairs , in the main area , close to entrance, exit and pools. The more coins you insert the more minutes of massage you get. I tried it;  not bad at all. Of course it cannot be compared with a massage done by human touch.

armchairs for automatic body massage

I think it's  important for us people to go  now and then to places such as Hamei Ga'ash which offer a good opportunity to recharge our energies, to relax our body and soul.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Zamenof - Esperanto and Real Estate

There's nothing special about Zamenof street , except its location - in the very heart of Tel Aviv city, close to every spot and attraction - and this location makes it greatly valuable in terms of urban real estate.
The above street is named after Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenof, the creator of the universal language Esperanto.

Dr. Zamenof   (Web picture)

The tel- avivian Zamenof street is just one of many streets (as well as parks, buildings, cultural centers) in the world, named after Dr. Zamenof, the polish jewish physician (oculist) and linguist who has dedicated most of his life to the creation and promotion of Esperanto. The latter is not a widely spoken language, but it's still learned and used by a few million people around the world.

Zamenof was born in the town of Bialistok (now Poland, then part of Russia).  There were at least four languages spoken in his native town (russian, polish, german, yiddish) and he attributed the quarrels among the various ethnical groups to their different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Hence the idea of a common international language.

Zamenof street in Tel Aviv is a side, quiet, street tucked between the famous Dizengoff square and Shderot Hen boulevard, and crossed by the lively commercial street King George. It has various types of residential buildings , some of them old Bachaus style houses with round balconies; it has  a Post Office branch, a health Clinic, two modest hotels, an indian restaurant named "Tandoori". Everyday needs can be met here by walking and biking despite the proximity to public transport. 

Bauhaus style old building 

Hotel Cinema

two bronze cats at the entrance of Unique Hotel

There's a certain irony in the fact that a street where only those with a lot of money can buy a home , bears the name of a person who strove for removing barriers among people ( language barrier, class barrier) and help make a more egalitarian world.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The District of the "Woman's Best Friend"

The word 'diamond' (in hebrew and english) is all over the place. It appears mostly in two-word compounds such as: diamond exchange, diamond culture, diamond jewelry, diamond mines, diamond center, etc..

The Diamond Exchange District is located in the city of Ramat-Gan, and it has become over the years a sort of 'city within city' dominated by the Diamond Exchange - a complex of four towers connected by bridges .

entrance to the Diamond Exchange District

I happened to be in the area this week; it was not during the busy hours (it was around 5:30 PM). The diamond museum was closed and so were part of the jewelry stores, eateries, banks, insurance companies. The places that were still open, seemed to be less active. I entered the Office Depot store to buy a certain item, and afterwards I decided to take a walk around, as there was a cool , pleasant breeze blowing outside.

towers within the diamond district

Years ago when I had my set of diamond ring+earrings purchased (stolen from me later on) in one of the shops in the district, there were not so many towers here and the diamond industry was definitely smaller. Now, one feels like a tiny dot among all these mighty towers. Culture is given its proper place here through a beautiful theater "The Diamond Theater" ,and the interesting "Oppenheimer Diamond Museum".

towers facing the town road

"Harry Openheimer"  Diamond Museum 

The Diamond Theater

The Diamond Exchange complex with its commercial offices and halls (where its members are engaged in trading, cutting, polishing, marketing of diamonds), gemological laboratories, museum, banking and postal services - is considered the world largest diamond exchange.  Its  rivals to the title are, I think, the one in Mumbay (India) and the one in Antwerpen(Belgium).

Bank of India in the israeli Diamond Exchange district

It's interesting to note that business within the Diamond Exchange is made with the traditional phrase 'mazal ve bracha' (luck and blessing) uttered when closing a deal and accompanied by a handshake - no contracts or lawyers. Would you believe that?).

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Triangle

There's this catchy song by Barry Manilow about a romantic triangle against the background of the notorious Bermuda Triangle.

A couple decides "to get away and have some fun". She wants to Bermuda. He's against, warning her that "Bermuda Triangle/It makes people disappear/Bermuda Triangle/Don't go too near".

When in Bermuda, lying on the sand, he suddenly looks up and "sees her with a stranger hand in hand", " ..sitting on his blanket", "..going for a swim", "..running after him". In short,this place 'made his woman disappear'.

Bermuda Triangle is a mystery zone in the Atlantic ocean where ships and airplanes are said to have disappeared , leaving no trace.
There are several theories regarding factors that might be responsible for this kind of disappearance in this particular zone of unusual weather problems:
- magnetic , gravitational or supernatural forces active in the area
- a creature (such as Lockness in Scotland) present in the waters of the triangle
- abduction of the ships and their crew, by extraterestrial beings.

Personally, I believe it's the work of supernatural forces; scientists couldn't come up with some other plausible explanation.
As for the the song, don't worry, it has a happy end. As the guy was lying there lost and lonely, " a lovely stranger says Hello and takes my hand/Now Bermuda Triangle not so bad".

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Let's Get Together - the ability of disability

Park areas and other green zones in the city are usually associated with children and their moms (children play, moms watch) , senior citizens who stop  by to sit on a bench  for some rest, young couples hugging under a tree, joggers and bike riders that practice their favorite sports..

There's also this category of  elderly people bound to wheel-chairs, and their caregivers ; they come here to breath some fresh air, escape loneliness, and interact with other people in the same situation. The green spot is ideal,  as it both relaxes and revitalizes, provides a pleasant setting for chatting and  fun.  One meets these people, especially in the late afternoon or early evening hours.

Most of the caregivers are foreigners, epecially filipinos (the latter are considered more tendered hearted than the israelis - which may be true ,but equally true is that welfare makes  local people lazy ,spoilt, and selective about work -  hence the need to import workers to help with the disabled people).

Though not physically disabled, these  foreign helpers are also in some way 'disabled' , for they are far away from their families, facing language barrier, hard work. and sometimes sexual harassment. They look forward to meet their compatriots in order to share  experiences and information in their native language. Sometimes, they get deep in their small talk, forget about the person in the wheel-chair, and suddenly one hears someone shouting something like :"Look, his head has dropped down...".

(The above photos were taken in the early evening hours ,from distance, as  I didn't want to embarass  or irritate anyone of my intended  'camera objects'.).

Friday, April 27, 2012


I usually notice all those  things that add positive value to our urban environment: a green corner with trees and bushes, a nice bench, an original trash bin, an interesting street mural, a splashing fountain, a  gracious sculpture, an attractive sign or poster, a cute phone booth, an innovative bus stop etc...
(The top picture shows a fish sculpture facing the airport of Eilat).

Unfortunately, people with vandalistic tendencies notice them too and leave their ugly fingerprints upon them.
Eilat , for example, is a touristic resort ; things are being taken care by the municipality ,and if neccessary by the tourist police. Nevertheless, I found this (see  picture below) in the very center of the city. I suppose it used to be a lovely sculpture of a man holding a round trash bin in his arms. The trash bin is there and still very useful, but the head of the man holding it is disfigured.

trash bin (Eilat city)

Near it, there's a standing painting of two chasidic dancers. (Chassidim are orthodox jews who're loyal to a prticular rabbi).  It inspires joy and optimism and puts a smile on our lips. I'm glad vandalism hasn't touched it (yet).

painting- chasidic dance (Eilat city)

I'm also glad the delicate Menorah (a nine branch lampstand used on the jewish  holiday of Hannukkah)  is intact.  It stands on a stone pedestal  in front of a supermarket and a cinema hall, and adds a sort of spiritual touch to the place.

menorah (Eilat city center)

Since the introduction of cellphones in our  life, there are fewer and fewer public phones; and yet, each little or big town has them,  located in central, strategic places - major streets, commercial centers, hospitals, hotels, schools, train/bus stations, airports.
Besides being useful to the public they also look cute, until ...vandalism reaches them.

public phones on commercial street (Ramat-Gan city)

public phone- graffity and scratches (Ramat-Gan city)

                                        public phone near hotel (Mizpe Ramon city)

Vandalism hurts us people because it damages and even destroys things we need and care about; it also costs us tax money to get them fixed. The trouble is that punishment for acts of vandalism is not serious enough.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Red Sea Pearl

I celebrated the first days of our Jewish Passover in Eilat, the popular desert resort at the northern tip of the Red Sea Gulf. The night before our plane arrival in Eilat, two Grad rockets , fired from the egyptian Sinai peninsula, have landed in the city causing big explosions and anxiety, but luckily no casualties and no damage.

Eilat airport located.. in the town center

Eilat, the southernmost city and port of Israel has lots of attractions - most of them for free: sun (as they say, ' everyday here is SUNday'), sea, sand, many beaches to choose from, red mountains, bird watching, shopping centers; some attractions require entrance fee: the underwater Observatory, coral reefs Reserve, dolphin reefs where dolphins interact with swimmers (I've visited the observatory and the reefs on a previous trip).

Eilat museum and art gallery

Hayam Mall- northern beach

Dancing near the mall

The climate here being very hot and dry, most of the time people are at the beach, sunbathing , practicing water sports such as swimming, snorkeling, surfing, diving - or inside the house/hotel/mall/museum and other air-conditioned spots.

on the beach

see the mountains in the background?

I needed a change of scenery and climate, and I fully got that in Eilat. The festive Passover meal (Seder Night) was also quite successful. As for the Sinai missiles, they'll probably 'visit' Eilat again, partly thanks to those wise guys who've encouraged what's poetically yet stupidly called ' arab spring'.