Friday, March 23, 2012

Barak and the Skyscrapers

The israeli Defense Minister , Mr. Ehud Barak ('barak' in hebrew means lightning) has been a lot in the news lately; not because of some outstanding military event or political issue , but because of the sale of his luxurious apartment on the 31st floor of one of the three "Akirov Towers".

The "Akirov Towers" , a three-tower luxury compound, is located in the north part of Tel Aviv, near the intersection of Pinkas and Namir streets. I've seen the complex on various occasions, but I've never been inside the towers. According to the Media, it has security 24 hours a day, a luxurious lobby, spa with pool and Gym , sun balconies, conference hall, underground parking, and a breathtaking view of the city.

What attracts passer-bys' attention are the sharp lines of the three structures, the windows' blue color, and the numbers 62, 64, 66 in the form of a small stone statue in front of the building. ( By the way, Akirov - is the surname of the real estate developer).

Mr Barak wrote on his Facebook Page that he and his wife Nili had decided to sell the apartment because of public criticism. The apartment "created alienation and detachment from the public", he confessed. In a few months they'll be moving to a smaller and less expensive tower.

However, the selling of the house (for 26.5 million israeli shekels) and Barak's confession , haven't stopped criticism. The Media is busy trying to figure out the money profit for him from the transaction , and keep asking unpleasant questions such as how come a person with socialist background like his, becomes so detached from the people he's supposed to represent,
; how does an army officer / someone who has been in public service, has the money to buy such an appartment etc.. etc..

I happen to agree with the criticism. High ranking people should serve as a model of modesty to the public , especially in times of economic decline.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Out Of The Ashes...

A year ago, a massive fire completely destroyed the Ikea store (building and merchandise) near Netanya city. Luckily, there were no casualties as the store was empty when the fire broke out .

The cause of the fire was not clear. Fire investigators were checking some electrical fault near the store's roof. I was under the impression that the fire was deliberately set by someone who wanted the store destroyed, but no injured people. The timing was "perfect" - on Saturday, when the store was closed and no one inside it.

Besides, it looked like someone had "taken care" of the fire detectors . The investigators had no explanation for the fact that these detectors had failed to work. Anyway, the final conclusion was: a short circuit caused by rain water in the electrical system, had brought about the destructive fire.

The store reopened this week, on Tuesday, March 6. Although I was not a frequent customer, I kind of missed my few annual visits there. I like the location - at a major road intersection - its palm trees and nice views of the surroundings.
I'm not very fond of Ikea furniture or textiles , but I do like their smaller items such as lamp shades, kitchen ware, storage gadgets, candles. I also enjoy eating the veggie soup served in a bread loaf, at their restaurant.

palm trees in front of the store

veggie soup in a "bread bowl"

kitchenware stand

So, on Thursday, I paid Ikea a visit to see the store that "emerged from the ashes". The concept is the same, but naturally there are some changes and improvements (especially in the eating areas and in the areas for children activities). The emphasis both outside and inside is on the two vivid, attractive colors dark blue and mustard yellow.

festive rebuilt Ikea

going upstairs

fast food area

gardening department

Ikea is considered a nice, friendly place where adults and children can spend hours shopping, eating, having fun. Let's hope no fire or any other bad thing happens to it again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"The Doomsday Vault"


Wednesday, 29 February is the Earth Arc Day. On this special day (every four years) people on the Earth planet are encouraged to collect some local seeds, put them in an envelope or bag , and ship them to a seed bank for storage that will ensure preservation of world's diversity of food crops in case of global disaster (climate change, tzunami, plant disease etc). The stored seeds could remain undamaged for decades, and even centuries.

There are some 1500 seed banks around the world, but they are rather vulnerable, for various reasons: mismanagement, lack of funds, energy failure, civil unrest etc.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault (nicknamed 'Doomsday Vault' by the Media), opened four years ago on 26 February 2008 and financed by Norway, is supposed to function as a Back-up for all other seed banks.

Svalbard is an arctic arhipelago ; the seed bank built inside one of its mountains is considered better and safer than the ones in the other parts of the world. The reasons are obvious. The place is remote, far from human threats and dangers (such as wars), it's geologically stable (almost no earthquakes), its climate is freezing (which is optimal for the preservation of seeds ). This seed bank is built deep into the mountain and high above sea level to withstand a nuclear attack or flooding, and is very well guarded.

entrance to Svalbard vault (Web picture)

The seeds (only original samples , not genetically modified ones) are stored behind many locked doors, in sealed air-tight packages put inside sealed plastic boxes. The conditions in this storage facility are monitored both electronically and physically.

boxes with stored seeds (Web picture)

There are some nice, interesting videos on YouTube taking us on a tour to the vault. Here's a short one:

No doubt, a seed bank is a smart concept, Svalbard Vault is a fascinating project. Yet, the whole idea of seed storage is quite thought-provoking. I can't help asking myself this: what if some elite group gets hold of the vault to dominate world's food supply? In case of a global nuclear disaster, what good would these undamaged seeds do if the soil and atmosphere are contaminated with radiation? Let's hope there won't be any nuclear disaster and nothing bad will happen to the vault either.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Flea Market in Old Jaffa

No trip to a country would be complete without a visit to one of its Flea Markets. The Flea Market in old Jaffa, at walking distance from the clock tower square (see previous post), is one of the main attractions of the city, especially to those looking for bargains in antiques and second-hand treasures.

One can spend here several pleasant hours of walking around, exploring, enjoying the unique atmosphere, and having a bite in one of the eateries in the area. It is a great cultural and shopping experience

Before entering the market one should know some basics: here you pay mainly in cash; you have to beware of pickpockets; you can practice your barganing and haggling skills. The place also offers photography opportunities : capture of people , stuff, and curiosities; so bring your camera with you.

The little streets and alleys, east of the clock tower, are packed with merchandise : clothing, rugs, furniture, jewelery, tools, old books and records, toys - you name it they've got it. A lot of junk is displayed on some sidewalks.

If you come early in the day, you may get a good price as the vendor believes the sale will bring him luck through the day (and if it's Sunday - luck through the whole week).

Let's have a few pictures speak for themselves.

light fixtures

lace and clothes

judaica items and jewellery

woman mending a rug in front of her rugs shop

old pictures

second-hand furniture items

small tools

On my last visit to the Flea Market (about two weeks ago), I witnessed a bride and groom having their photo taken in front of a furniture store. Perhaps the shop is family owned and the couple wanted a memento with this location as background to some photos. Anyway, it was a rather cold day, but the bride wasn't shivering. She was happy and eager to follow the photographer's instructions. Love was in the air.

love is in the air

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Clock Tower Square

Jaffa, one of the oldest port cities in the world. . The tower clock square. I've been here many times, and yet it seems I never have enough of it. I'm attracted to this square by its location( near the Mediterranean sea, beach and promenade), its architecture (stone and arches: window arches, door arches, interior arches), a blend of the religious (mosque, church, synagogue) and the secular ( art galleries, eateries, shops) , and of course, the colorful Flea Market that occupies the narrow side streets that border the square (and which deserves a separate post). Despite the great number of local and foreign tourists visiting the place, an information center was opened only some six months ago?!

sea and promenade

Tourist Information Center

The turkish clock tower erected in 1906 and recently renovated, dominates the entire square. It has four clocks, one on each side; the openings and windows are covered with gratings. Across it, there' s the renovated Saraya (palace in turkish) building and its marble pillars. The Saraya used to be the residence of the turkish governor at the time of the otoman rule.

The turkish clock tower

clock tower and the Saraya with 4 marble pillars

The next point of attraction in the square, is the Abulafia Bakery , famous for its pretzels seasoned with zatar / sesame, and especially for its breads stuffed with mashed potatoes/mushrooms/cheese/boiled eggs/ onions/ olives.
The bakery stands on the same spot since 1879!!
The arab-israeli Abulafia family is also the owner of a reastaurant and a middle-eastern sweets patisserie shop - all on the same street.

The Abulafia Bakery

Pita Bread for sale

Margaret Tayar's fish -based restaurant with its attached terrace overlooking the sea, is a favorite place of gourmet people and celebrities, despite the simplicity of both the setting and the menu. Its specialty is stuffed sardines and north african salads. The food is cooked by the owner, herself.

Tayar's restaurant with its blue fish icon on top

And to conclude with some art, below's the painting of a naked woman.... at the very entrance of an art gallery . People stop in front of it to contemplate the nude, and then enter the gallery to look for more...

Art Gallery

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Transnistria - The Unrecognized State

I have some strong personal reasons for wishing to visit this place, but I'm advised not to do so, as it's considered dangerous zone - result of its political instability.

If you look it up on the internet you'll come upon expressions such as "improbable state","break away country", 'phantom nation", "nobody's land", "the Cuba of Europe", "frozen conflict zone", "self proclaimed republic", "illegal state", "separatist region", "disputed sovereignity".

I must say, it all sounds quite intriguing and even....thrilling. Good stuff for writers and movie makers , especially with all those rumors about activities such as smuggling, drugs, arms and human traffic going on there. Besides, it is said to have excellent ...cognacs.

Transnistria, or more accurately, Transdniestria , a strip of land beyond the Dniester River, is bordered by two ex-USSR countries :Ukraine (east) and Moldova (west), On the map, its shape is that of a snake (see the top picture with the stamps), 400 km long, 20 km wide. There is indeed something 'snaky' and obscure about this territory and its history.

The capital city is Tiraspol ('Tyras' being the greek name for the river Dniester). Transnistria has a population of some half a million people and the languages spoken are russian, ukrainien, and moldovan (a dialect of romanian but spelt in cyrillic ,not latin script). Russian, is the official language of the government.

Transnistria and its borders (Web map)

De juro,Transnistria is part of Moldova; de facto, it is an independent state since 1990 , though not recognized as such internationally.

It should be mentioned that in summer 1941 , Transnistria, was conquered by German and Roumanian troops and its territory used as concentration camps for jews residents of north Romania and Ukraine. It was the land of atrocities against thousands of innocent people. This lasted until 1944 with the arrival of The Red Army.

Peace talks and negotiations have been going on and off since the brief war between Moldova and Transnistria in 1992, the participants being representatives of the relevant sides: Transnistria, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Eu. It seems nobody's in a hurry to solve the problem , the present situation probably suits their interests. Transnistria is pro-Russia and has russian military protection. Moldova is pro-Romania and pro-EU (European Union), and although she wants her honor and piece of territory back, the Transnistria issue might confront her with Big Mother Russia and interfere with her own aspirations of possible integration in the EU .

My wild guess is Tranistria snake will stay like this, and eventually be accepted by the UN and its members. Nowadays, a tiny , breakaway, independent country is no longer considered a curiosity .

Moreover, I think the future belongs to small countries with more or less homogenous population. We're ,perhaps, going to witness a fragmentation of the world's bigger countries into smaller entities as a result of the constantly deterioration of world economy and rising of social tension.

In the meantime, my advice to those participating in the peace talks is: keep talking people! "Talk more - No war" is my slogan .

Friday, January 20, 2012

Africatown in South Tel Aviv

The central bus station of Tel Aviv , considered the biggest or the second biggest passenger bus terminal in the world, is a huge complex dominating the southern part of the city. It has seven floors (three out of them used as bus terminals), entrances, bridges, excalators, elevators, shops, eating places. (I share the view of many people, that architecturally, this central station is badly designed and difficult to navigate).

exterior of the central bus station- partial view

The neigborhoods surrounding the central bus station are relatively crowded and poor. Here is where thousands (it started as hundreds, some four years ago) of africans from Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria and other african countries find refuge. They come through Egypt, travel along the Sinai desert and illegally cross the border entering Israel - tempted by the freedom and economic possibilities here.

Once in Israel, they call themselves 'asylum-seekers' and 'refugees' who have escaped persecution in their native countries. The local population , on the other hand, sees them as 'foreign workers', 'illegal immigrants', 'infiltrators'.

There's much tension in the air, and lately there have been serious demonstrations in the above mentioned neighborhoods; residents in these neighborhoods, alarmed by the increasing numbers of migrants and the social problems created by their presence, demanded the expelling of the later back to their continent or at least to the neighborhoods of those who employ them.

Anyhow, there are humanitarian organizations that help these foreigners in many ways. On one of the floors of the central bus station, for instance, there's a medical clinic offering them health services. They can also get legal advice given by volunteer lawyers.

waiting at the medical clinic for refugees

It's one thing to read about the african "invasion" in the newspapers or watch the phenomenon on TV, and another thing to experience it in reality. I visited the area several times in the last two weeks as I was interested in buying a sewing machine at an importer's shop located on the same street with the central bus station. Well, I felt like I was in an african town. It was a strange feeling, hard for me to define it.

cute park with jobless africans hanging around

bycicle - popular vehicle among the migrants

african shoe vendor and prospective buyers

.As long as there are shopopkeepers and other business owners or rich families willing to employ the africans - there's little or no chance that they will leave. So, one should better get used to the idea that in the future the city might have an african Mayor.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Of Beauty and Separation

My New Year 2012 has started with a positive, happy event . On the evening of January the first, I attended a 'Bar Mitzva' - a boy's 13th birthday celebration. Bar Mitzva means that the boy has reached the age of responsibility for his actions (from the jewish religious point of view).

The above event took place in a beautiful banquet-hall located in the city of Netanya. This israeli major city , on the Mediterranean Sea, is known for its fine beaches, limestone cliffs with gardens among them, long promenades facing the sea. Netanya , a center for tourism and for diamond trade, is rightly nicknamed "the diamond on the med".

tree and flower pot in front of the building

way to the Reception Hall

relaxation corner

It was cold and raining outside on that evening, but warm and colorful inside ,with beverages at the entrance bar and plenty of appetizers on tables lining the Reception Hall.



This was not an usual kind of occasion , the immediate family of the boy being religious (they became religious some 10-15 years ago), whereas many of the guests- secular.

In the Reception Hall we were together men and women, mingling, eating, chatting. However, in the dining/entertaining Hall, men and women got separated by a partition. It was a rather peculiar sight- that of men and women performing the activities of sitting , eating and dancing, separately. There was a male photographer for the men section and a female photographer for the women section.

The bar mitzva boy's two elder sisters drew a lot of attention. Even in Holywood it would be hard to find such beauties. One of them ,23, married and with 2- kids; the other one ,21, single. The beauty and grace of the two sisters, and that of a 12 year old blonde angelic- looking guest girl , "stole the show" from the bar mitzva boy and from everything else , and definitely brightened up the whole atmosphere.

the married sister with the two kids

the single sister with the two nephews

I would even dare say, the blonde little girl (accompanied by her grandmother), consciously or unconsciously, defied the religious atmosphere by taking off her coat and remaining in a non-modest dress (non- modest according to religious standards). None of the women present around her said anything about it or tried to cover her shoulders with a scarf.

G.mother and G.daughter dancing by the partition