Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rise and Fall

He won the sexiest man alive thing back in 1996. 11 years later I think the now 53 year old could easily win again. But you know, I don't think its his game. Acting is. Denzel is looking at yet another Oscar nom with this film. So is Russell Crowe.

Its this year's Departed only it plays more like a black Godfather. An epic depicting a NYC crime lord's rise and fall in the 70's - told in total surround sound reality with no glamourization and no excuses. Stellar on all fronts.

American Gangster


Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tel Aviv

I bet you thought I'd never stop writing about Israel! This is the last post. As always, my motive for writing this blog is so that I can browse it and remember this stuff later.

Now about Tel Aviv ...

Azrieli Towers

Tel Aviv to the Sea

Tel Aviv away from the Sea



Bauhaus Architecture

Crazy Architecture

Tel Aviv EMT

I heart Tel Aviv. My impression of the city is that its a smaller NYC with an incredible beach. You can find anything, anytime of day or night in Tel Aviv, including some of the best looking people I've ever seen. Its best seen on foot since much like NYC, traffic is outrageous and parking is minimal. Even though I would still choose to live in Jerusalem, I felt very comfortable in Tel Aviv and enjoyed walking the streets and beaches.

Whew, it was a lot of Israel to digest 9 days! From just the small glimpse I saw, it is a beautiful, fascinating country. I can't remember a vacation I have enjoyed more.

I miss Israel and my family already.


Labels: ,

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pre Tel Aviv

SO many more things to talk about but the details on my Israel trip are starting to fade. Quickly ...

Non verbal communication: There is a system of car horn beeps that mean something in Israel. Two short beeps is a courtesy signal indicating that the light is about to change, just in case you were not paying attention. One long beep means that you have committed a serious traffic blunder (sticking your hand out of the window and waving side-to-side twice means you acknowledge your blunder and apologize). There are beeps to agree with protesters. Other beeps to congratulate newlyweds.

Tel Be'er Sheva : The ancient city of Be'er Sheva. It was interesting to see the system of water storage and distribution they created a loooong time ago, very effective. Also a good view of the modern Be'er Sheva.

View of Be'er Sheva from Tel Be'er Sheva

Mini Israel: A park where you can walk through slightly scaled down version of the country. Its cheesy at first glance but its actually a good way to see all the regions.

Mini Tel Aviv

Palestinians: Walking through and photographing Be'er Sheva one day a Palestinian man stopped to talk to me. He got off his bike, asked a lot of questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Israel. He explained that he lived in the West Bank but came into Be'er Sheva to work, odd jobs since as he put it, he had no skills to survive in a modern world. He extended his hand, which I shook. There were a lot of awkward silences then, out of the blue, he said "I love America" and got back on his bike. Its was a nice thought, really, but I doubted he had or will ever see America. And I was kind of glad to see him pedal away.

East Jerusalem: We got lost driving through Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives and wound up in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Yikes, there is a striking difference between the central and east part of town. Garbage, old cars and unattended children everywhere! I actually saw a woman dump trash from her balcony into the street where the kids were playing. Gross. People, even kids, did not smile in East Jerusalem. I was glad to leave it.

Black Hats : We walked through (more like around) some of the ultra orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Cousin Marnina gave us all an education of recognizing the different flavors of ultra-orthodox.

Arad : This is where my family lived when they landed in Israel. Its the city before the descent to the Dead Sea and there are some lookouts with great views of the Dead Sea region.

Theres more but let's move on to the last stop - Tel Aviv.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 24, 2007


One of the nice things about having an Israeli cop in the family is that they have no fear and are willing to do things that others won't. One day, off the cuff, Cousin Marnina decided to take us on a tour of Tel Sheva, the Bedouin city outside of Be'er Sheva.

Bedouins are a nomadic Arab people. Nomadic but since Israel built them a city, the current generation is the first generation to become more stationary. Bedouins don't much care for the Israelis. Then again they don't like the Palestinians at all and some nights the different clans of Bedouins in the same town will spontaneously combust and start shooting at each other. According to Be'er Sheva residents the Bedouins are usually the source of most crime in the Negev. As a result most Israelis wouldn't remotely think of going to a Bedouin village, forget about taking the out of town guests!

But we went anyway. And it was fun!

When we drove into Tel Sheva our car was rushed by a dozen Bedouin kids (Bedokids) all shouting "Salaam, salaam" at us, so we shouted it back. The Bedokids should have been in Bedoschool, since a school was built for them, but alas, rules are not their strong suit.



Different Bedomosque


Bedo City Building

It was a very fun half an hour tour. I recommend it but take an Israeli cop with you - just in case.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Messiah's View

I've traveled to many countries and cities but in retrospect I now feel like I saw absolutely nothing until I saw Jerusalem. If I had to live in Israel, I would have to live in Jerusalem. Maybe its the small streets of the old city where nary a Vespa would venture. Maybe its the whole city covered in a white-gold stone that shines both day and night. Maybe its because you can sip espresso next to where Jesus was buried. Maybe its the equal chance for reflection or action; a connection to G-d and and a simultaneous connection to a busy, international setting where languages, smells and ideas come at you continuously without introduction or apology.

While words can accurately describe other cities, they do nothing for the experience of being on the streets of Jerusalem. So, this is where the words will end.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Muslim Quarter

HaKotel (Western Wall)

Ethiopian Church

Dome of the Rock

Israeli cops making cafe shachor (turkish coffee)

Ticcho House

Old City Streets

Baby Black Hats @ HaKotel

Arab picking olives @ East Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Detail

HaKotel - Close

Labels: ,

Monday, November 19, 2007


Israel has good wine, really good wine. At first I thought the only place in Israel that would be able to produce good wine would be the hilly, wetter North. Before the trip the only Israeli wine I had was from the Golan region (north). Not so! Grapes are grown and wine is produced all over the country, even in the Negev (desert).

Cousin Marnina made some special arrangement for us to tour, sample and have dinner at a small winery on a kibbutz on the way from Be'er Sheva to Jerusalem.

Nachshon Winery

Far different from touring a winery in the Napa Valley. We were the only guests and the actual winemaker gave us the tour. Winemaker did an excellent job of the tour which included a walking tour of the kibbutz, which in a former life was also used for winemaking (cousin Marnina in standing in an ancient wine/olive press in the next picture, winemaker is behind her). Winemaker explained that Nachshon used to be a kibbutz in keeping with its socialist's root but is now privatized, the winery being a major source of income.

Marnina and Winemaker, Ancient Press

After the tour of the grounds we did tasting. Nachshon only produces a couple of varieties at a small volume of 18,000. So small that there is no distribution outside of Israel and limited distribution inside. All of the varieties are excellent, particularly the French Blend. If you are lucky enough to live close and you've been good lately, you deserve a trip.

Winemaker served us wine, cheese and middle eastern snack plates, all of which were made on the kibbutz and very good. Winemaker sat and chatted and tasted with us for quite a while, he was very personable and we all liked him, especially Tara, who wondered if he would fit in her large suitcase.

Happy Tasters

Winemkaer took this picture, he might have had a few too many tastes of his own wares :)

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 18, 2007


About 1300 feet above the cities in the Dead Sea region you will find a plateau called Masada. What is now Masada the tourist attraction has a very colorful history. While there is continued debate in academic and archaeological circles about the details of what took place at Masada, the basic story is as follows - A group of Jews overtook Masada in the first Jewish-Roman war, the Jews making Masada what was discovered by archaeologists in the 60's. The Romans, not liking defeat so much, set up camps at the bottom of Masada (you can see the remnants in the following photo as squares on the ground) and proceeded to build a ramp out of boulders and dirt until they reached the top. The Jews, realizing that there was not much of an escape, applied the scorched-Earth method then committed suicide rather than face certain capture and execution. Again, theres much debate over these details, particularly the mass suicide aspect, which is kind of a big no-no in Judaism.

Dead Sea from Masada, Roman encampments

Ramp the Romans built

Palace Remnants

You can reach the top of Masada by taking the Snake Path, which are thousands of small steps going up the side of the plateau. Or you can take the tram and make it to the top in less that 8 hours. I recommend the latter :)

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dead Sea

The next day we went to the Dead Sea region. The drive from Arad to the Dead Sea is all downhill. Way downhill. We watched as the elevation signs went from 800 ft above sea level to 1378 ft below sea level.

Galina, HEU Tara and Jim @ Dead Sea Lookout

You can kind of see the Dead Sea in the above photo but the next one shows it a little more closely. If you look close enough through the haze you can see the mountains on the other side. Thats Jordan. You see those vertical lines in the sea? Those are from companies that are harvesting the minerals from the sea. There is a big stink about that believe me, some people claim this is destroying one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth.

Entering the Dead Sea itself is bizarre. The floor depth drops off quickly. Its like you take a step off the deep end, then you just start floating. It was as if all of a sudden I weighed 3 pounds. I pulled my feet up and instantly started floating on my back. Looking into the water you can see what looks like molten salt; its clear but you can still see the outlines of crystals swirling around in the water. Everything coming in contact with the water is covered in salt crystals.

I thought as I was floating that I could just float over to Jordan. It doesnt look that far from the shore honestly. But then I noticed all the Israeli Air Force flying the perimeter, they would probably try to stop me :)

Truely a unique experience, do it once in your lifetime!

Jim & HEU Tara in the Dead Sea

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Shabbat and an intro to Black Hats

I guess should explain how I am and am not Jewish. Both my maternal grandparents are Jews from Russia. Since Jewishness is inherited maternally, that makes me Jewish. However, somewhere after the holocaust my grandparents stopped praticing Judaism. The details of why are conflicting within the family and I always get the feeling this topic is a black hole from which discussion never exits. My mom and her sisters were apparently raised mostly Christian, however there were some Jewish holidays celebrated and I know that my grandmother went to temple with her friends, quietly without my grandfather's knowledge. Neither my sister nor I were raised Jewish.

My mom's sister married a Jewish man and they moved with cousin Marnina to Israel in 1980. Both my other cousins and their children were born there. So there we have it.

I wasn't sure what to expect from meeting them all at Shabbat dinner considering they are all some flavor of orthodox and I knew my middle cousin was married to a black hat (ultra orthodox).

So here they are:

Starting with the lovely lady in orange, Ayelet, she is Cousin Avi's wife. She is orignally from Tunisia. Cousin Marnina told me after dinner that it was the first time she had hear Ayelet speak English. And it was clear, well-formed English too!

Right of Ayelet is Cousin Avi. Last time I saw him he was in diapers. Now he is 27, married with two kids; one on either side. Avi has been studying for the past 9 years to be a rabbi. Next year is his big year. Apparently I will be going back to Israel next year if all goes well for him.

Right of Avi is Cousin Marnina, who as we all know now was the organizer of the trip.

Right of Marnina, Uncle David. I had only met Uncle David once when I was very young. To my surprise (or maybe not) his personality was much like my Dad's: very outgoing, dead-pan humor, sarcastic and an unnerving ability to talk to anyone about anything!

The black hat next to Uncle is David (thats dahVEED) who is Cousin Shoshi's husband. He is holding his oldest. David is originally from Albania but has been in Israel for 17 years. David and I talked alot with a mixture of his broken English and my broken Hebrew. He made me Turkish coffee and asked alot of questions about my life in the US. Then he asked me which of travel mates I intended to marry: Galina or HEU Tara. Good thing he wears a black coat, it helped to hide the Turkish coffe that came propelling out of nose when I started to laugh.

In front of David is cousin Shoshi holding her youngest. Shoshi surprised me with her accent free, easy speak English as if she hadn't spent all of her life in Israel. She is quiet and eerily calm, I suppose it comes with motherhood, or perhaps from working with disabled children. Maybe both!

And one of these people is not like the others. Right, there I am with my fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes looking like the tourist in my own family portrait! lol

Next to me is Aunt Rivkah, my mom's sister. In many ways she reminded me of my mom; same mannerisms, same facial structure, same sweet nature and even some of the same health issues!

Shabbat dinner was a table crammed to capacity with delicious food, dozens of prayers and rituals, and extremely warm people. After dinner was over Uncle David, David and Avi gave me a prayer book with English translation then they started singing. It takes pratice and G-d given talent to harmonize the way these three do, lucky I was sitting in the middle of them. I followed along pretty well in the Hebrew book until they started the fast-speak, then Avi had to look over and point out where they were every couple of lines. They smiled and said things in Hebrew, I'm sure they meant it nice :)

Since there is no driving on Shabbat, we walked from the aunt's back to the cousin's. It was a great 20 minutes of walking and talking. It was kind of refreshing to see the other people of Be'er Sheva doing the same.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Be'er Sheva

With my new Israeli clothes I set out to explore the capital of the Negev (desert region) and the city where most of my Israeli family lives - Be'er Sheva. Cousin lives in the center of the city so we walked everywhere. The old city was interesting, mostly architecture from the Turkish Period. I was surprised at all the color and flowers - not very desert-ish at all. We wandered to the police station where she works. I noticed at that point that she had her gun stuffed in the back of her pants. Then I noticed alot of people had guns stuffed into the back of their pants. Then I noticed all the Army kids with rifles slung over their shoulders. Just people going about their day. With lots of firepower. Disturbing but at the same time comforting.

Cousin (packin') and girls eating fresh dates from the tree

Color in the Negev

We walked to the Bedouin Market. I liked Bedouin Market. It was a total assault on every sense. Its loud, vendors screaming their wares in Hebrew and Arabic. You know, the one with the loudest voice obviously wins. Its crowded, its like Barney's closeout sale in Manhattan only the prices are better. The smells were mostly foreign and snuck up on me like a big long island iced tea. Visually its just overload, from the produce to the spices to the halal meat to the variety of people all crammed up in your face and yelling. I could have spent all day there.

Flavors of Arabs at the Market

Market Patayas, a kiwi on acid

I did find one quiet corner of the market, it was the poor guy with the plastic flower stand. I guess plastic flowers are not so popular in Israel this time of year.

Plastic Flower Guy

Following the market we went to see Abrahams Well. A short snack break at a falafel stand (apparently in Israel falafels are first juggled before they are allowed to land in the pita)) then back to the house to clean up for Shabbat diner.

Stay tuned tomorrow to meet all my Israeli family for Shabbat dinner!

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Welcome To Israel

Before I start I just wanted to give the hugest of thanks to my cousin Marnina. She planned our whole trip meticulously, arm-wrestled all the hotels and sights into discounts, acted as translator, security and transportation, as well as opening up her home for 3 people, two of whom she had never met. Todah, we could not have done it without you!

Cousin Marnina @ the Bedouin Market, Be'er Sheva

The El Al flight from JFK to Tel Aviv is a surprisingly short 10 hours. I managed to sleep across the Atlantic so I felt surprisingly refreshed when we landed. If you've never flown on El Al, its quite the experience. First, all the announcements are in Hebrew (followed by a heavily accented English), the ultra-orthodox will gather in the back of the plane near the bathroom to pray and everyone claps at the landing. I chose El Al for one simple reason: I wanted a Hebrew speaking pilot flying the plane and communucating with the Hebrew speaking air traffic control in Israel. Sure, they speak English pretty well in Israel but putting my ass on the ground is so not the time I want some mistranslation of language.

(Special Random Note: El Al does profiling, so get ready to be questioned -- its invasive but politely so.)

Ok, we're here!

Ben Gurion Airport

Nothing special; its big, modern and could be anywhere. Except everything is in Hebrew. Oh and it smelled like yummy Turkish coffee!

What to do first? Duh, eat! I had told cousin I wanted to try a Shawarma place, so thats what we did. It was a little town on the way to Be'er Sheva from Tel Aviv.

Wow! I've tried all the Shawarma I could find in Dallas but nothing compares to the real thing. First, they add preserved lemon, pickles and olives to the pita - nice. The other surprising thing was that the meat is turkey not lamb. Who knew? Then shawarma guy topped off my pita with homemade french fries - cool! I went on overload with the 300 side dishes that come with the shawarma. I know this was the equivalent of a fast food restaurant experience for cousin but I thought it was very special!

Shawarma Place in Gadera

Afterwards we got settled into cousin's place then it was off to get Jim some clothes since El Al had "misplaced" my luggage. We went to BIG, thats the name of the shopping complex in Be'er Sheva. But I smelled coffee along the way, then recongized the Hebrew word for coffee on a sign. Obviously there was a stop for me, the coffee whore.

Puppet does Arcaffe

Puppet is a little treat we got on Halloween day in some place at the Dallas airport. Puppet was our mascot for the trip. Stay tuned for puppet goes to the police station, puppet gets nausea on the elevator ride to the top of Azrieli tower, puppet floats in the dead sea and a very special - puppet explores gluttony in a Moroccan restaurant.

Afterwards Jim went shopping. I liked two things: everything was half the price of what I had paid in the states for the same thing. And most importantly, everything was open until midnight on a Thursday.

Gotta love this place.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hes baaaack.

I was pulled by El Al security. Both coming and going.
El Al lost my outbound luggage.
El Al was late on the return flight to JFK - I made it to Dallas, my luggage didnt.
I got food poisoning at a Russian cafeteria in the Dead Sea.
I got a nasty head cold.
One of my traveling mates got into daily alpha-dog fights with my cousin.

Still, my trip to Israel was by far my favorite trip overseas!

Once I get my photos together I will spend some time blogging the journey.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 02, 2007


We made it! So far, so good. Tel Aviv, Bedouin market, Be'er Sheva and off to Shabbat diner to see the family. The only bad part is that El Al lost my luggage, boo!