Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Sacrifice

Banks are not my 'cup of tea', but this one was an exception; firstly, because of its attractive facade, pleasant staff & atmosphere, and location near a garden; secondly, because of an aquaintance of mine who used to work there. Whenever this aquaintance saw me in the bank she greeted me warmly and it was a pleasure to exchange a few words with her.

One day she saw me, and ...ignored me. I told my brother about that as she was the wife of one of his friends. He said that she was avoiding everyone because of their eldest son - a fresh soldier, who had collapsed during an army drill, was hospitalized, and after a while released both from the hospital and the army and put on medication. I asked my brother for details as to the nature of the collapse, but he couldn't provide any as both parents had refused to talk about it even with friends.

The worst was yet to come. During the period of intense worry for her son, this aquaintance of mine, Aliza, a pretty woman about 45 years of age, a top employee at the bank, was diagnosed with liver cancer. I visited her at the hospital two weeks before her death.There was something about her that immediately caught my attention: her beautiful hair was intact, face not much altered, and when she smiled with her pearly little teeth , one could hardly guess she was dying.

It was at the funeral, that the secret was disclosed to me. After the burrial and before leaving the cemetery, her mourning husband whispered in my ear that she had strongly refused to receive chemotherapic treatment. The logic behind her decision was that: Liver cancer is fatal. Chemotherapy might prolong her life with several more months but the price would be too high, it could kill her son. Still not completely recovered from his collapse, seeing his mother, in a highly helpless situation between hair loss and vomiting sessions - it would have been the end of him.

I believe the son is not without health problems today, but he 's got a job , a wife, and two kids. Sometimes, I wonder whether he knows about his mother's sacrifice.

I've closed my account at the bank, one of the reasons being that it fills me with deep sadness to enter this place and not see Aliza's familiar face there. Whenever near the building, I still enjoy, however, having a look at its appealing facade and its compact, modern architecture.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beer and Lace

Belgium is a cute little european country famous for its chocolates (Godivas, Leonidas confections) its beer (about 700! types of beer), its lace, and many historical, architectural, cultural attractions . When on tour at belgian chocolate factories or beer breweries, one gets to sample the products , and this in itself is a tasty, wonderful experience.

My great surprise at the time of my visit in Belgium, was that at McDonald's - a child and family oriented chain, with most of the staff underage - they, an alcoholic beverage. I thought that was strange. In reply to my questions on the matter, I was told that in Belgium , there were generally fewer restrictions and age related limitations on alcohol consumption than in the USA and other countries, and that beer drinking in particular was a major part of belgian culture. Belgium, so it appeared, was the first country in the world that served beer in its McDonalds.

I must admit that I myself greatly liked the idea of beer with my Mac meal . I was tired and hungry from touring , so a glass of icy cold beer to wash down the Mac burger and the fries was very welcomed . Besides , it was a new experience for me. I usually don't drink alcoholic beverages. It's not that I don't like to , it's just that these beverages don't like me; a drop of wine and my head drops , and this is embarrassing when you're sitting at the table with people. With the belgian beer I 've had no problem at all. Anyway, my all time favourite cold beverage is soda water or sparkling mineral water.

The gem of any tour in Belgium is the well preserved city of Brugges. It' s often called "Venice of the North" because of its canals and bridges. Brugges is synonymous with lace as the 'bobbin lace' work ( a branch of lace making) is a specialty of this city.

Lace -making has an history of exploitation of girls from poor families. The girls , good at this craft because of their little nimble fingers , were considered cheap labour, . Lace making was a sedentary kind of work, bad for the eyes and for the spine. Young girls in convents were sitting for hours bent up, not allowed to raise their eyes from their work. As a result of the hard physical conditions they looked pale, weak, undersized. The girls paid a very heavy personal price to allow the bourgeoise ladies the pleasure of wearing lace.

Nowadays , lace is made chiefly as small souvenirs (doilies mainly) as it is very expensive for other purposes. Anyway, no one leaves Brugges without a souvenir of lace and neither did I.

In the photo below we see a girl dressed in a traditional outfit sitting outside and demonstrating the craft of lace-making.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The "Flexible" Pharmacy

It was in a small building on a narrow lateral street. Inside, there were only two people serving the customers- a wife and her husband, both pharmacists.

I was directed to this pharmacy with the recommendation that it was " flexible" , meaning that one could get stuff unobtainable at other pharmacies. And it wasn't for money. The middle-aged couple were just kind people trying to help wherever and whenever possible.

My mother had been suffering for some time of a bad ear itching. Nothing helped relieve the problem except a certain solution prescribed by an experienced ear doctor. It was a cheap solution and easily prepared by any pharmacist. To my astonishment, I found myself one day in the position that nobody wanted to prepare it for me . It appeared that the active ingredient, 'boron', was found to be carcinogenic in children, and its use was forbidden by the Health Authorities. Well, my mother was no child and she insisted on having the solution at any cost. That's why and how I got to the 'flexible' pharmacy.

It was a good feeling to enter this place - an intimate, family establishment, with a nicely arranged interior and superb service. One day, I found the front door closed, and on it an obituary announcing the sudden death of the woman pharmacist. The shop reopened some two months later. The man was unrecognizable; he looked a human wreck. He told me he had made a great effort to return to work hoping it would give him a chance to go on living, as he felt he couldn't make it without his wife.

The next time I came to the place, I saw one corner full with shoe boxes. What was all that about? The man said he intended to turn his pharmacy into a shoe shop. Since his wife's death he had developed some health issues and was afraid to deal with preparation and selling of medications ; so he decided on something he was familiar with from childhood when he used to help his father in the family-owned shoe shop . The pharmacist sounded to me confused, so I left without asking for the solution.

I happened to be in that vicinity several more times. He was not there, the pharmacist, and I saw no shoe shop but a cosmetics shop, and next time there was a hairdresser's shop, and then a food shop. Flexible place indeed...

The entire episode gave me much food to thought. I've seen men deteriorate after their wife's death but not so quickly and not in such an abrupt manner. What happened in this particular case was perhaps the fact that they had no life at all without each other ; they were together all the time : at home and at work.

As for the difficulty in obtaining the solution - a friend pharmacist of mine was among those who refused to prepare it for me after the 'boron' element was put on the "black list". I reminded him of the saying "A friend in need is a friend indeed" and cut off any contact with him. I was confident that I would have taken the risk of ignoring the stupid health regulation to help a friend in distress ('stupid' was the word used by him later on when he tried to apologize for his behaviour).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

At The Parade ; On The Fishing Boat

On last Sunday, day of the joyous and colorful Purim holiday, there were heavy rains , so the annual traditional Purim Youth Parade was postponed until Friday ( March 5). On Friday the weather was rather hot , but the parade... paraded nevertheless. After the procession came to an end, all the participating youth groups and the general public gathered around three main stages placed on the avenue where the municipality building of our town is located, to watch a variety of outdoor dance, music, and circus shows.

Here's a short slideshow I've created with some snaps taken at the Purim Parade (Adloiada - עדלוידע). Open up the speakers, please!

On The Fishing Boat

"The most wasted of all days is the one during which you did not laugh".

[" One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, his wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors and reads her book.

Along comes a Game Warden in his boat, he pulls up alongside the woman and says:

- Good Morning Ma'am, what are you doing?

- Reading a book, she replies (thinking... isn't that obvious?)

-You're in a Restricted Fishing Area, he informs her.

- I'm sorry officer, but I'm not fishing, I'm reading.

- Yes, but you have all the Equipment. For all I know, you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.

- For reading a book?

- You're in a Restricted Fishing Area , he informs her again.

- I'm sorry officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading.

- Yes, but you have all the Equipment. Again, for all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up.

- If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault, says the woman.

- But I haven't even touched you, says the Game Warden

- That's true, but you have all the Equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.

- Have a nice day Ma'am, and he left"].

"Never argue with a woman who reads. She can also think."