Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Gem in the Desert

The alpaca farm is located in a hidden valley among desert hills, offering visitors much fun and joy. At the entrance , on both sides - amazing cactus plants. Next, a multi -purpose stone cabin which serves as cafeteria, exhibition of alpaca-wool based products, activity room etc..

People interested in recreation and a base for trips in the desert and nearby Mizpe Ramon crater will find here some B&B cabins., well-equipped and air-conditioned. ( I suppose , sometimes , in high touristic season, the recreation area gets a bit noisy because of the many visitors on the farm).

[Enlarge the following colorful map to learn something about the structure of this unusual place. The captions are in hebrew , but the pictures help give an idea of how things are grouped].

The alpacas (raised for their wool) and llamas (reliable burden carriers) , live in harmony here with pigeons, horses, angora sheep, dogs, ponnies, camels, goats etc.. The dogs are supposed to protect the other animals at night from foxes and wolves .

There are some nice activities for both children and adults taking place at the farm: ponny and llama rides for kids, horse rides for the grown-ups, watching shearing of alpacas , weaving of wool on a loom, and the biggest attraction of all - hand feeding the alpacas and llamas. Sometimes these gracious camel-like animals get cheeky or start spitting, so - watch out!

Please, watch my musical slideshow displaying pictures of this special farm. Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

On the edge of Machtesh Ramon

The Visitors' Center (in the above picture) located on the very edge of the Ramon Crater is the starting point to almost everything concerning this huge, unspoiled, geologically fascinating area (viewing, hiking, rappeling , camping, exploring, info regarding status of trails, etc..).

There seems to be a slightly embarassing hygienic and estethic problem at the spot: men tend to urinate near the structure ignoring the nearby toilets and the warning sign which says the delinquent will be punished. (See the picture below, a combo of two pictures: 1. man in "action" 2. the warning sign and the ugly brown urine stain.).

It's possible to get to the top of the rocky hill where the Visitors Complex stands, by road or by climbing stairs. I went up and down by both ways and enjoyed it. It's a bit windy up there; one's hat/cap could be easily carried away by the light wind. A plane from a nearby military base flying low, scarred the bejesus out of me ( I suppose this kind of low flight is not uncommon here).

A few meters from the Visitors' Center , there's a balcony which hangs above the crater offering the best panoramic view of the crater. The floor of the balcony is made of wood so I was kind of afraid to step on it ( trauma of the collapse of the wooden bridge - see my post from July 15 "The Fatal Bridge and Fungus"). I did it in the end , and the reward was a breathtaking view of the crater.

Please watch my musical slideshow with views from the edge of the crater! ( I couldn't upload it from my blog editor , so I had to learn how to use the method of uploading on Youtube, and then embed the code in my blog). Enjoy !

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Days of September

I've had a rather hectic September, partly because of our jewish High Holidays. I'm not a religious person, not in the organized sense, but I do observe certain basic customs such as fasting on The Day of Atonement, remembering the departed ones, reading relevant passages in the Book of Prayers. There are things to do before and during the Holidays, and then when it's over, all I want is - to go on... a holiday.

Well, this time I chose to go to Mizpe Ramon, a tiny town in the Negev desert. A complete change of scenery and atmosphere: hot and dry weather (not humid as in my home-region) with cool mornings and evenings; dominant yellow colors, and..the blessed silence of the desert around.

This small town is located on the rim of what is considered the biggest crater in the world, "Machtesh Ramon" (40 kilometers long , 9 kilometers across at its widest point). The crater is characterized by unique geological phenomena, and it attracts visitors from all over the world.

While on a cliff overlooking this marvel of Nature, I couldn't help thinking of how difficult it must be raising kids in Mizpe Ramon, keeping an eye so that they don't run in the wrong direction, to the edge of that huge hole. There seems to be lots of children here (probably, the relative isolation from the big cities contributes to a high percentage of natality).

There's another unique attraction in the area - a Farm of llamas and alpacas- friendly animals originally from the Andes mountains in South America. Both adults and children enjoy hand- feeding them, but greatly dislike their habit of ....spitting (It is believed, by the way, that their spitting stuff contains something that makes hair grow, so that is a matter of real interest to bald people).

More on the crater and the farm in my next posts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dear Followers,

I'll be away from blogging for the next few weeks. Hope to be back at it , by the end of September - beginning of October.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

If Walls Could Speak...

I'm not much in favour of street art in general, grafitty in particular. Yet, lately it seems I've developed a liking for street murals due to the works, scattered throughout the city, of a Tel Aviv based painter by the name of Rami Meiri ( in the above picture - mural on a building at Nachlat Benyamin street next to the Carmel market). I have the feeling that his murals brighten up the day of the passersby (me included) and that of commuters stuck in traffic jams, improve the grey urban surroundings with colorful painted wall scenes from daily life, create an optimistic, amusing street atmosphere.

grinning man pulling his cheeks provides the drivers with some comic relief

There was an article about Rami Meiri in one of the newspapers bearing the title of "Dressing the Naked City"; I would say, naked and ugly city, but dynamic and changing. Rami Meiri uses the city as his canvass depicting on it the lighter side of life: people at the beach, in the pub, children playing, etc..

The tel-avivian painter got recognition from the local establishment as a valuable street artist; he has been designated "distinguished citizen" of Tel-Aviv for his contributions to the city landscape as exemplified by his wall painting "People Exercising" on Gordon Beach ( his first public mural).

Rami Meiri started his outdoor painting on old, neglected walls for free; that was clever, as people first turned their heads to see the mural better , then gradually began to order his works, and nowadays he' s an industry .
From Tel-Aviv his reputation and his painting projects reached many other places across the country and outside it.

In the below video we see some of Rami Meiri's well-known murals


Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Huppa' at Caesarea

Last month I attended a wedding at Caesarea , a former roman ancient port built by King Herod and named Caesarea in honor of the roman emperor Julius Caesar. The wedding took place in the vast garden attached to the banquet Hall "Sea Star", close to the beach of the Mediterranian Sea.

The religious ceremony held under a huppa ( huppa - a canopy under which a jewish bride and groom stand during the religious ceremony; it consists of a piece of cloth stretched over four poles and it symbolizes the home that the couple will build together) - was performed a few steps from the beach and the waves, with the sunset in the background. Very romantic!

In a place like this, one feels not only the cool breeze coming from the sea, but also the history and archeology of the whole area. It's a weird feeling, but it's there, and slightly diverts one's attention from the fine food, the elegant outfits of the guests, the great music, and even from the beautiful young bride and groom. This feeling stays with you till you leave the place.

Herod the Great who ruled in the Land of Israel from 37 to 4BC built the city in roman style with a roman theater, a hyppodrome, a luxurious bathouse, castles, towers, city walls, and an aqueduct system supplying water to the city. Many remains and ruins can still be seen over the place.

Modern Caesarea has rich people, prestigious real estate, golf and diving clubs, fancy hotels, yet it also has a roman theater (restored) which hosts many concerts and festivals throughout the year, a very impressive archeological park with findings of excavations of recent decades, a hyppodrome, museums. It's the ultimate touristic city displaying the ancient versus the new and offering romantic atmosphere to those looking for it.

the Aqueduct and the roman Theater

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Petanque, I'm coming !

I never paid any attention to the wooden structure with the front sign "Petanque Club" located at the entrance area to my hometown; that is, until yesterday evening. I happened to be walking nearby , and I approached the cosy spot to watch the players. The weather outside was bearable ( during the day it's hot and humid and people seek refuge indoors).
Men and women , dressed casually and placed in several small adjacent terrains, were throwing some metal balls (boules). I watched the game for about half an hour trying to get the very basic rules.

Petanque ( word pronounced 'pay tonk') evolved from an old french bowl game. One of the players suffering from arthritis suggested there be no more running and jumping . Everyone should throw the boules standing still, with feet together , in a small starting circle.
The goal is to throw the hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden target ball called ' jack' ( or 'cochon'). The team that ends up nearest to the target ball when all balls are played, wins. Petanque seems to be a good workout for the upper arms (ladies, to your attention), and a very good exercise for the power of concentration.

Anyone can play this game. Age and gender are not important. (I suppose, however, that those who most benefit from this kind of sport are elderly people as it doesn't require strength and speed). It can be played on most outdoor surfaces, and the equipment is inexpensive. It looks like a pleasant, relaxing game, and a nice way to socialize and make friends. I think I want to go for it. But since my middle name is Lazy, I really don't know when that will happen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I've copied (with permission) the below funny piece from In my Humble Opinion (Nice Guy Eddie's political blog). Eddie's a liberal blogger and he got this stuff in an email sent to him by a conservative.

John Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock
for 6 am. While his coffeepot
was perking, he shaved with his electric razor
He put on a dress shirt
designer jeans
and tennis shoes
After cooking his breakfast in his new electric skillet
he sat down with his calculator
to see how much he could spend today. After setting his watch
to the radio
he got in his car
filled it with GAS
(from Saudi Arabia )
and continued his search for a good paying AMERICAN JOB.

At the end of yet another discouraging and fruitless day checking his Computer
(made in MALAYSIA ),
John decided to relax for a while. He put on his sandals
poured himself a glass of wine
and turned on his TV
and then wondered why he can't find a good paying job in AMERICA



The more I read about outsourcing the more I think of it as complete madness. Lots of people in the USA and in those countries that imitate everything coming from the USA - are unemployed. The lust of corporations for cheap labor, transferes every possible job overseas, and the government in charge of the national interests does nothing to prevent that.

Well, to my mind, this outsourcing thing undermines the economic independence of the country and is a clear sign of disintegration .

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tears in the Park

He was sobbing quietly repeating between the sobs the question of 'why did he have to marry her' . His crying seemed to scare the birds that were chatting cheerfully nearby . It scared me too although I was familiar with the man's trauma as he was an aquaintance of mine , one whose advice in various matters I greatly valued.

The 'explosion' of his traumatic problem that he carried with him from childhood, usually happened upon the return from one of his visits to his father's widow; he used to get off at the bus station near the park with the red benches , and sit down on one of them to feed the birds and clear his thoughts before heading home to his wife and kids. He had promised his father on his deathbed that he would visit his widow regularly and help her out with whatever she needed. He kept his promise faithfully; moreover, he also helped his half brother who sometimes got in trouble with the law.

I met him in the park and listened , not for the first time, to the story of his life.

He (Marc) was born in a small town in Poland. His mother died at a relatively young age leaving a husband and two children: Marc and his sister. Not long after her death, his father remarried with the housemaid , a young woman who had come to town from one of the nearby villages to look for work and found her place with the small jewish family.

According to Marc's story, after his father's remarriage, the two children became the laughingstock of their colleagues in school and object to pity of the adult world of neighbors and relatives. The school mates used to mock them for their new Mom, calling her illiterate and peasant. The adults constantly uttered in their presence questions such as: why couldn't he just live with her like man and woman, why did he have to marry her, give her his family name, etc..? All this -not to mention the jewish community's boycotting of the father for taking a Gentile for a wife - was hard on Marc and his sister, and left deep scars on their young souls.

The story appealed very much to the romantic side in me . Here was a man (Marc's father) willing to sacrifice quite a lot to marry the woman he wanted. I saw in my imagination a relationship between two very different persons willing to accept each other 'as is' without any conditions and expectations, and I liked that. Of course, I never disclosed these thoughts to Marc as it would mean to sprinkle salt on his wounds. He liked to think that his father was not too bright ,to say the least, and that's why he had fallen into the hands of the maid. It never occured to him that his father could have possibly felt respect , affection, and even love for the peasant woman. After all, a child was born to them and the relationship was strong and lasted despite the hostile environment.

The widow has recently passed away. I think , may be with her death, Marc will finally get his well deserved inner peace . Who knows, it's hard to tell.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The fatal Bridge and Fungus

Bridges over bodies of water usually fascinate me with their variety of shapes, and of materials of which they are made. Yesterday, I was reminded of one bridge, a pedestrian temporary bridge that could certainly not be categorized as 'fascinating'. That bridge had collapsed on July 14, 1997 (yesterday was the 13th anniversary) causing the death of four people and serious injuries to sixty more. It happened at the 15th Maccabiah Games (a sort of Jewish Olympics held every four year in Israel) in the area of the sports stadium of the city of Ramat-Gan.

The temporary bridge placed over the nearby Yarkon river to allow athlethes and officials to enter the Ramat-Gan stadium for the opening ceremony march, collapsed as the second team of athletes, the australian team , was crossing it ( the first team was that of the austrians). The australians fell into the polluted water; other athletes and by standers jumped into the water to rescue the fallen. What was expected to be a big, exciting event was being spoiled by unneccessary deaths and injuries. The first day of the Maccabiah was one of deep mourning.

Sacha Elterman, 15 year old, was the most critical of the injured australians; during the years to follow, she underwent more than 30 brain and lung operations - and survived. Only one of the four dead athletes died as a result of the fall, the other three died as a result of the toxicity of the water (it was found upon investigation that the water contained a fatal fungus).

It appeared that the temporary bridge was constructed out of rusty metal pieces bound together with wire. Criminal charges were brought against the people involved in the design and building of this bridge . In 2005, eight years after the disaster, a permanent structure over the Yarkon river was built, and it was called 'The Bridge of Remembrance".

(The above picture from Wikipedia shows the athletes in the water under the collapsed bridge).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Yell and Shout at the Mall

In the Middle East, there's no such thing as soft, quiet speech. Everybody shouts at everybody , everywhere, at any time. It starts early in life. Children hear their parents shouting at them and at each other- and they absorb and process this kind of behavior. They then take it out in school and public places.

During vacations, and especially during the long summer vacation, Malls offer various entertainment programs for children. The other day, I happened to be at the Mall and I watched some of it. The most popular are those with prizes, such as machine Games and Trivia contests. In the Games section, there's a terrible noisy music background, so if the child/teenager wants to talk to his friend he must shout at him and ,of course, the latter shouts back at him.

Then there's this spot in the Mall arranged in the form of a mini amphitheater with a large cupole ceiling above, some artificial little waterfalls , and a stage set up for the presenter running the event and the sound system. It's nice inviting individual children on stage, ask them trivia questions and give prizes (posters, toys, etc...) to the winners. The problem is that the presenter in order to diversify the program, chooses also to turn to the whole audience of children (of various ages), asking them to answer his questions. They all yell the answers at him. "I don't hear anything" , he says, " louder, louder" he encourages them. That call for 'louder' is hardly educational or entertaining.

The 'Yell and Shout' thing abuses vocal cords, hurts listeners' ears, damages hearing. Ask any audio therapist and voice therapist; they've got lots of work.
Parents can and should learn to control their anger/frustrations and refrain from yelling at each other and at their children. In public places they don't have much control on what's being offered as entertainment, and yet even there, damage could be minimized with a little effort.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gone with the Smell

The recent complaints of fishermen and other Gulf of Mexico area residents about a heavy oil odor in the air which might be toxic, remind us of the other heavy, stubborn odor which presents no danger, only great unpleasantness - the odor of fish.

One could smell a fishing village before one could even see it. The fishing villages have a charm of their own if you could ignore the smell. Well, as a visitor , and only as a visitor, I could. After all, the smell is an integral part of the scenery and the daily life here. People have to utilize what nature offers them . In the areas near lakes, rivers, ponds, seas - the offer is Fish of all sorts and sizes and with... the smell of fish.

(At home, that's a different matter. I like to eat fish, but I dislike the smell and I cannot ignore it as it can stick around long after the 'mess' of cooking and eating is gone. I do my best to find ways to neutralize it. Natural acids like lemon and vinegar usually do the job. There are of course, commercial solutions ,such as enzymatic sprays, which could help if anything else fails).

All over the world the shores of water bodies are punctuated with traditional fishing villages, and the more modern ones, the recreational fishing villages that allow urban people to escape from the everyday rat race.

A half day trip from Amsterdam, Holland, brings you to the world famous historical fishing villages of Volendam and Marken on the coast of the former Zuidersee (now called Ljsselmeer). These villages have wooden little houses, old boats and traditional costumes that are still worn by the local people .

Marken costume and Volendam boats

Things change slowly but surely in the fishing industry: the methods of catching the fish, cleaning, weighing, salting, drying, marketing it, the quality of the boats - all undergo processes of improvement , but... the fish smell with its unpleasantness remains a constant factor which permeats the whole place.

Maybe scientists are able , or will be able in the future to grow in artificial ponds, fish without the specific odour, just as they nowadays grow sabra fruit without the outer thorns or water melons and grapes without the inner seeds. It wouldn't taste the same though.

* The painting on top - "A fishing village in Newfoundland" by Sterling Edwards (click to enlarge it.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

HaYarkon 181

The above 9-floor building is known by the name of 'the crazy house'. The back of it looks as if covered with pieces of white sheets, the front resembles a persian carpet. I wouldn't call it 'crazy' ; 'unusual' seems to be a more appropriate word. Compared to the other buildings in the city , everything about it is unusual: its location - among ordinary buildings , the architecture - a mixture of Gaudi and Art Nouveau styles; the construction and decorating materials - a combination of natural elements such as wood, sand, limestone, shells, plants, and urban elements : metal, cement.

Anyway, it stands out in its surrounding; it can hardly be missed by the passers by. At the opposite side of the street, there's a bench (donated to the city by the entrepeneur) that matches the style of the building. The bench is a splendid idea; people can sit comfortably on it, and contemplate in wonder "the crazy house".

During the construction period 1982 -1985 ( it was ready to be inhabited only in 1989 as it took seven years to get all the necessary license documents !!) there was much controversy about this building project - people liked to hate it. It was not surprising; after all, people tend to dislike and even hate the unusual, the different, the alien. Besides, there was also the envy factor - not everyone could afford an appartment in such an exclusive building on the border line between the sea and the city, with both views - to the sea and to the city available.

After it became "fait accompli' , the locals got indifferent to it, whereas tourists found it a great object for photography. The area is frequented by tourists as it is close to the sea and there are many hotels , bars, travel agencies around, so this building became one of the city's touristic curiosities.

The 'crazy' house, designed by architect Leon Gnignebt , is situated at 181 Hayarkon street in Tel Aviv .The house is residential, not open to the public. To those interested in seeing the details of both the interior (with its wall paintings, sculptures, carpets etc..) and the exterior (including the roof, pool, garden, fence) of this odd piece of architecture , you could look for the video presenting the slideshow created by the tour- guide Henya Michelson. Even if the captions are in hebrew, still, it gives some pretty good idea of the building .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Don't Panic, Go Organic"

Among the various food items in my kitchen, a place of honor is given to the bottle of the organic, extra -virgin, cold pressed, olive oil used for flavoring and cooking. My favorite brand is produced in a small, family-owned oil press in the Nahal (stream) Zalmon area.

The Zalmon stream is a long stream which flows in the north part of Israel on the border between the regions of Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee and terminates into the Sea of Galilee ( Lake Kinneret). The area surrounding it, is a very beautiful, peaceful one, often visited by families with children on vacation; the scenery is breathtaking: mountains, villages, valleys.(The serenity of the place was grossly violated seven years ago when a young czech tourist female was strangled here with a thin cable by a young man from one of the nearby villages; he then placed her head under the water and put large stones on her body. It was murder for the sake of murder , as the judge said in court).

The trees that grow the olives out of which the oil is extracted are hundreds and even thousands of years old!! There's no need for irrigation or any artificial manipulation, and the hard olives are hand picked. The oil produced from these olives is thicker, more aromatic , with texture and flavor of high quality.

A basic salad consisting of organically grown veggies and sprinkled with this organic olive oil, or a similar quality oil is a delightful dish. An addition of an organic egg and/or organic cheese to it, makes this dish into a
wonderful, healthy meal.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Midnight Slaughter in San Diego

In one of the previous posts, I've mentioned my Genealogical Quest - an attempt to track the saga of my ucrainian/romanian Great Grandmother in America, and find information about her descendants .

It's not an easy task; it takes a lot of time, energy, and feelings. Sometimes you come upon positive things such as one of GG's grandson being a leading legislator in Michigan and his sister a talented singer who has her own radio station; sometimes you come upon personal tragedies such as the untimely deaths of another grandson and his daughter in Miami. And then, you face an unimaginable event of extremely tragic proportions - the slaughter of an entire family by its adopted (at birth) teenager. An event such as the last one devastates you emotionally for weeks ,and greatly delays your work on the project.

It happened in San Diego , California. in the condo of an elderly couple , my GG's grandaughter and her husband. There were six people inside the condo : the elderly couple, their daughter and her three family members ( her husband, their 10-year old girl, and the 16 year old adopted son) on visit from Las Vegas. Five were killed by the sixth one, the adoptee.The murder was planned by the teenager as he was was very angry about being sent to a boarding school for troubled youths in West Los Angeles, away from his parents and sister who lived in Las Vegas. He used a hammer, a kitchen knife and an ax to slay his victims, then he cleaned the murder weapons, took a shower, changed his clothes, set the condominium on fire to cover up the crime, and left.

According to online sources, he was trouble from the beginning, hostile to his adopters and agressive in school. He was an emotionally disturbed child who turned into a vicious, dangerous teenager. There was also slight criticism on the parents in some sources implying that they had put pressure to change the diagnosis from "emotionally disturbed" to "learning disabled", and by doing so they had possibly prevented from him adequate treatment. I find that hard to believe (authorities always look for ways to cover up their action or lack of action), and I don't "buy" the possibility of treatment in this case.

Anyway, I believe the only good thing the parents could have done was to have opened their eyes widely before adopting him, by checking for defective genes inherited from his biological family. It's sad, but people are more careful about buying a car than about adopting a child.

The bitter irony was that my great grandmother had left Romania hoping for a more secure life for her children in the new country. Luckily, she didn't live to witness that mini american -style holocaust of grandaughter and her immediate family. May they all rest in peace!

The photo at the top - "Killer Bean Forever