01 April 2010

one fish, two fish

we are inundated with all things scaly. if it swims, it's been on our plates - and more specifically, andi's plate. when he relented in cape town last year, and finally decided that fish was okay for a vegetarian to explore, we didn't know it would become a staple of his diet. and how sweet it is.

tel aviv is hopping ... is there anyplace that has a younger feel? a quick glance reveals a south beach look alike - palm lined trees, low slung buildings, high rise hotels, a promenade. it all looks pretty, tropical, vibrant. and yet it also seems to be crumbling here and there, wires exposed, alleys that look neglected. a wondrous mess and a shiny jewel. this is one big 'nolita' - clothing shops abound, coffee bars, everyone young and fit and gorgeous. and very self-consciously cool and hip.

the weather is heavenly, and despite jane's love of spring in israel, the kids and i still prefer late summer's intense and searing heat (uncomfortable but distinctly 'middle eastern').

good luck finding anything that resembles kosher food or passover approved items ... bread is ubiquitous, as is shrimp, lobster, pork. amazing to be in this metropolis and see everyone eating foccaccia instead of matzah. somehow, things will change tomorrow when we go to jerusalem.

a steady stream of friends and family have kept us busy. we manage a pre-arranged visit to the palmach museum, quite inspiring historically. lunch at martha's and back to the beach, where marlee is with friends, ilana and louis come looking for the munich contingent, and we loll on the fine sand while the kids play 'matkot' and eat ice cream. we visit the lewitans' friends at their newly renovated two level penthouse apartment - incredible, with stunning views and rooftop pool - and venture out to sheinkin for a fine and relaxed dinner which ends past midnight.

exhausted, we rise today and sneak off to jaffa with andi - he has insisted that he get his 'tallit' (prayer shawl) for his bar mitzvah at gabrieli, the same shop that jared bought his years ago. we stroll through this part of south tel aviv which is quaint and charming, and andi picks the perfect version, a gift from my father to him to mark this time in his life.

we rush back to our seaside hotel for a quick workout, and jared's friend aden arrives from jerusalem. more fish at a late lunch at manta ray, and the kids leave us for an afternoon at the beach. we have coffee at vivi's parents lovely home - too much cake, coffee, grand marnier fruits, all so fresh. we admire elias' paintings, their terrace garden, and the 'grown ups' enjoy a little time off ...

back 'home' just in time to take over the lobby of the hotel, and in burst a small portion of jane's extended family, who gather to regale us with stories in arabic and hebrew. they are vibrant and funny and loud and engaged and we take more capuccino, cookies, cakes. they take their leave hours later and we rush to make a 9:30 pm dinner at herbert samuel, a foodies dream. waves of courses arrive at our swanky table, and coming in starving means we over order. but it's all so good, so tasty, so finely presented ... we languish for hours enjoying the wine, the salads, and more fish! exhausted, we return home, ready for a day in the old city ...

30 March 2010

lebanese blonde

how sweet it is!

expecting a cooler day today, we decide to take a day trip - it's full on sun, and when we get out of the hotel, we realize how warm it actually is ... no matter, we zip up the coast ... past haifa's industrial port to the border with lebanon. peering through a metal gate, marlee reaches across the bars to declare that her hand has been in lebanon (part of a game that we still play when crossing the border from canada into the usa ... our 'feet' are in america, our shoulders still up north, etc.). we descend the craggy cliff via cable car to the grottos of rosh hanikrah - i haven't been here in 30 years, and jane was last here as a schoolgirl where she practically slipped into a bubbling pool and met an early demise.

the kids think it's cool, and watch in darkness as the waves flow into and out of the 'caves'. suddenly a tsunami-like explosion pushes forth after a gentle ebb, and they are completely drenched by the wave, screaming and laughing - it is SO hysterical to see them so excited by this ... non-jaded for a moment, impressed with the force.

we revitalize with ice cream and drive back south to the fortified and very arab town of akko. we were here a few years ago ... the seafront promenade which heads towards the outer walls seems improved and elegant. the town is lively today, and we are spoiled by a young man selling all manner of organic, artisinal 'kashi' bars! nuts of all sorts, pressed with honey and essences into flat cakes, which he expertly and generously slices through with a palette. halvah, sesame, almond, pistachio - all beautifully prepared and displayed in front of the citadel, in a shaded side alley. it is heaven, and we suddenly find ourselves laden down with these delicacies, ignoring our first rule - no plastic. the pink bags sadly hang from our wrists, and we glumly make our way towards the citadel's unearthed passages and chambers ... amazing and striking in their construction and simplicity. the day has flown by - how can it be 4pm?

we pass back through haifa, waving to the baha'i gardens (memories of another visit!) and get completely lost. i take the minivan into a mini-space and really find myself in a jam - prompting me to back out s-l-o-w-l-y with encouragement and awe emanating from the kids.

we make our way back down the coast to herzliyah - ahh, herzliyah, our former hangout. california like with its bluffs and expanses of beach and ocean - ilana and louis and the girls are waiting, having just arrived from munich two days ago. we reunite on the beach - glorious and happy - staking a spot at our favorite beach bar. ari, our uruguayan server, is excited to see us back, and he's a sight for sore eyes! all are happy - and hummus, falafel, grilled fish, and wine are brought forth to enjoy as the sun begins to set. we exchange stories, laugh, and catch up - and decide to have dinner together at our much beloved zozobra - no noodles of course! i take a run up the shore towards ra'anana, which is heavenly, while everyone showers and changes.

dinner is fun and casual - marlee's been dreaming of this - and we follow it up with gelato (70% dark chocolate? impossibly great!). the night air is cool as we sit around and reminisce, finally deciding that tomorrow is another day. it's back to tel aviv, hopping again after the holiday ...

the exodus

no frogs, no wild beasts, no boils or locusts. no wondering in the desert, worshiping golden calves.

just a simple one hour el al flight - that's all that prompts our arrival in the holy land. we are not ready to leave egypt - it's been incredible, iconic, action packed, delicious, and fun. let my people stay!

alas, it is time to leave ... we pack up and prepare to head for cairo international ... ali, our driver for the day, pushes us through the belching traffic and we submit to extreme security. it's hard to imagine that, as we relax on the israeli jet which will shuttle us to ben gurion airport, that not that long ago, this flight would have been impossible. egypt and israel, sworn enemies in battle, now at peace, even if at times that stability is fraught with tension.

finally back in israel - my father has landed, and is at the hotel waiting for us. this is our third time in israel with the kids - the final part of the bar and bat mitzvah trilogy - and my mother had joined us on previous visits. it's sad to know that she is not here with us this time, recognizing that she would have loved visiting israel for passover, enjoying the seder meal here, and the spring weather - so different than the summer heat which she did not love on the last two trips. we miss her.

ahhhh, israel. so lovely, so hip, so non-service oriented! did we really reserve a car, they ask at the counter (of course we did, playing out the charade of lost reservations). are we sure we booked those rooms at the hotel (here's the paperwork, daaaahhhhling). all is good, we retire exhausted.

arnie is up in the morning, jet-lagged but great, and we enjoy breakfast. finally, a chance to unpack. our tiny carry-on bags seem like russian dolls - each one opens revealing more things that need shelf space, hangars, bathroom counter. did we really bring that much? how can it be, no bags were checked. it seemingly takes hours of strategizing to get organized, shed our suitcases, find all those plugs - ipods, iphones, macbooks, israeli mobiles, cameras - such insanity!

we are situated right on the beach in tel aviv, and not to sound like liberty travel, but there really is a golden crescent of sand with mediterranean waves lapping at the shore directly beneath our balcony (a perfect perch for jane and i to enjoy a glass of wine while the kids play matkot in the late afternoon sun!). heavenly.

dizengoff street is hopping, everyone purchasing bunches of gorgeous flowers for the upcoming passover holiday - long stemmed white gladiolis, spring mixes - and there's a buzz in the air. the bauhaus center, the amazing shops (marlee pops in for an indigo dress), a fine lunch of delicious israeli salads ... tel aviv is cool and funky. love it! ilana and louis call, they've arrived from munich with the girls, and we can't wait to see them tomorrow!

back to the hotel for a late afternoon workout (we all sneak down to the gym - so funny for us to be working out with our teens), although we mysteriously forget andi in his room ... he eventually texts us asking if jared and marlee are in our room getting something, trying to put the pieces together - so cute.

we collect ourselves and get ready for seder dinner at the swanky carlton hotel, arranged months before. we arrive to meet vivi's parents as planned, looking great and welcoming, and we have the most spectacular table prepared for us - flowers (again!), a lovely ceremonial seder plate, hagaddah books - and other large families likewise gathering for the ritual. we read and sing, recalling the jewish exodus from egypt - sounds familiar - and enjoy an amazing feast which is both bountiful and excellent!

an amazing first day here, thinking of our friends celebrating around the world!


28 March 2010

pyramid scheme!

from the egyptian gazette, 28 march 2010

a university professor has successfully divorced her husband after he refused to stop eating his breakfast, which consists of cooked fava beans and green onions, at streetside cartes outside the university where they worked. the situation led to daily arguments between the couple from the 6th of october governorate and she filed for divorce for feeling embarrassed to see her husband eating with workers and what she called the riff-raffs of society. granting her application, a family court judge said the wife had been picking arguments with her husband everyday “on the grounds that she was ashamed to see him eating fuul with workers and joking with them in the street”. the husband’s lawyers argued in court that the woman’s claims of feeling ashamed by her husband’s action were false because fuul meddamis is a main staple for egyptians, who enjoy eating it a home or in the street”.

welcome to cairo.

hosni mubarek is back on terra firma after spending weeks in germany following gall bladder surgery. and life goes on - marital squabbles about status - now this is my kind of town!

at least my wife brings something to the table - a full palette of alphabet soup. with a bit of prodding, i get jane to shed her resistance to fully immersing herself in this culture, and she relents - with a torrent of arabic, her mother tongue. how great - we can make ourselves known! although truthfully, english is so prolific here on both banks of the nile, it’s really not a problem.

when we first thought of egypt, we had (minor!) trepidations, all completely unfounded. morocco, which we spun through a few years ago with the kids, seemed easy - almost european. french was our path, roads were spotless, people were easy. egypt is morocco light, much to our shock. the witty and funny people, the language, the signage, the ease of getting around - and above all, the transparency! it’s easy to ascertain exactly what’s happening - mainly, if people are trying to shake you down. quite charming actually!

we finish up our brief time in luxor with a lovely morning at the hotel - a workout looking towards queen hatshepsut’s temple in the distance titillates on the treadmill. a delicious and copious breakfast sets us all straight. we’ve found a driver for the day, who ferries us back and forth - to the incredible and vast karnak temple (with it’s massive columns, long arcade, open plazas - amazing again!), back to town for souk shopping (success!), and finally, back to luxor airport for some wifi and our flight to cairo.

on the shuttle bus, off the shuttle bus, we make it back to the capital and squeeze through traffic in this, africa’s largest metropolis. teeming with people, cars, smog, buildings, lights - it’s mumbai light, exhilarating, fantastic, insane. we arrive at the marriott and presto-change-o, we are stylish and chic, ready for a divine 9:30 pm dinner reservation (blessedly right around the corner!). we dine amongst fashionable locals at la bodega, sipping martinis, eating elegantly and well into the evening (truffled pappardelle?) ... we return ‘home’ at midnight - too late - and flop into bed, ready for our 6 am closeup.

today - the most amazing day! the holy grail of egyptian tourism - the pyramids of giza. we make our way first through tour groups at the hotel, then through millions of buses, to arrive at these amazing structures. we have an early start, so it’s blissfully quiet, relaxed, and stunning - the scale, the ‘materiality’ - it all seems right, picture-postcard perfect. we walk, we gaze, we ponder (and that’s just thinking about lunch!). the sphinx awaits, and we make our way there too ... an unbelievable and inspiring morning, we peer out to the desert, to cairo creeping onto the giza plain, to the tourists from every corner - a true vortex of energy -

we make our way back to cairo, feeling as if we’ve accomplished our ‘short list’ of ‘to-dos’ in egypt and make a pass through the egyptian museum - musty and in bad disrepair, yet housing the incredible ‘king tut’ artifacts we’ve all come to know - the striped gold mask, the funerary elements, the gilded ‘coffins’ - amazing (all the more because of the lax security and casual display methods - practically post-its!).

we retire to the comfort of our hotel - we are checked in for our flight to tel aviv this evening, and decide to forego more of cairo for a (very) late lunch by the pool (fatoush salad in honor of my mother - her favorite!), enjoying the warm egyptian sun and a swim ...

more from tel aviv to follow!


27 March 2010

love from luxor!

not las vegas, but (pardon the pun!) the real deal.

deep in the heart of 'upper egypt' we are unearthing the ancient sites and catching a few of the modern ones too! a much delayed twelve hour flight brings us in directly over the pyramids just before sunset (incredible!) and a final approach into cairo ... sprawling, mad, and yet somehow gentle. we seem to get shaken down by the security screeners at the airport, but we are unrelenting - jane, with her wry baghdadi ways, doesn't fall for it and we feign ignorance when they promise to rummage through our luggage. smiling brightly, we are idiot (savants!) ... and it works! we run for our connection to luxor - a simple one hour affair, and arrive somewhat exhausted. the hotel - great fun, a behemoth, overdone - and a delicious lebanese meal follows (thankfully!). jetlagged and exhausted, we stow the carry-ons and flop out, exhausted.

our first full day in luxor finds us up early - 6 am - and downstairs at the edge of the nile, relishing a huge middle eastern breakfast ... so yummy, gracious, and amazing to eat whilst staring out to the 'west bank' of this famous river. we have an appointment at the bike shop - arranged months in advance, despite fervent protests from the family - to pick up five cycles for a 50 kilometer trek on the other side of the nile ... the valley of the kings awaits! all is smooth, we meet our guide (jane's touch) and ride through town to reach our felucca which will ferry us across to our starting point. effortlessly, we make it to the other side, and ride through a string of 'pearls' - little rural villages dotting the sugar cane fields. donkeys, men in 'jallabias', veiled women - and everyone is smiling. the egyptians are warm and welcoming, but most surprising, are completely hysterical! they reply with an odd, dry sense of humor ... making us feel relaxed and at ease. we feel completely safe and free here - not quite what we were expecting - and perhaps other voyages have prepared us (or jaded us?). everyone thinks our family is 'sporty' (or are they saying sportive?) ... how ironic given jane and i with our spasdicated athletic nature!

first stop, valley of the kings, to see the tomb of king tut, and a series of varied sloping chambers leading to actual burial places. we are incredibly lucky ... the last few weeks, the temperature has been 110 to 115 degrees everyday. we hit the 'low' - a sunny and dry 85 degrees with a slight breeze and a cloudless sky - heavenly for our robust ride! kashi bars in tow, we return from the 'place of death' - amazing - and continue on to what we've all been dreaming about seeing - the temple of queen hatshepsut, built 'petra-like' into the huge mountainside. it is literally heart-stopping and unbelievable, and we can hardly contain our excitement ... for me, i have been waiting for this moment, and it's as good as it gets! we spend our time staring out across the alternately lush floodplain landscape and the the craggy dry rockfaces, soaking in the columned facade of the temple.

onward and upward, we pedal towards another temple - one we are not familiar with - the temple of habou. it's late afternoon, and we're sure that we are on our way to see something less than spectacular. the entry, at the end of the village, promises nothing - and we hand in our tickets only to be completely blown away ... incredible! a massively scaled structure with layers upon layer of hieroglyphics, histories piled one atop another - we thank andi for his upcoming bar mitzvah, the genesis for this trip and these experiences.

we pass the colossus of memnon, and head back for a sail across the nile, then homeward bound. finally, back at the hotel late afternoon, it's time to lounge by the pool, have a drink, and watch the sun die out over the west bank. it gets colder immediately and we scurry up to change again, and negotiate a driver to take us for a lit-up evening walk through luxor temple - worthy of anything you could conjure up (indiana jones? arabian nights?), it's equally awe-inspiring and enormous and impressive.

a thai dinner, with kids tasting our egyptian beer much to jane's horror (she in the wc - what can i say?) we dine, laugh, and sleep (well, i do - at the table!). exhausted, slightly sunburnt, and happy, we are ready for day 2!

tomorrow, the gym, temple of karnak, a bit of souk shopping, and onto cairo! the pyramids and sphinx await ...

love from luxor!

02 March 2009

i love LA!

as the song goes!

i fly down state, leaving a dreary san francisco behind me, and a great evening at the contemporary jewish museum as well. sounds of sheryl crow whisper in my ear as i de-plane at LAX, bopping down the concourse to a waiting naomi! reminiscent of an earlier time, when she also 'attempts' to greet us at los angeles international - we are on our way back to new york from a month in thailand - and our dear friend has a basket of breakfast waiting for us (so characteristically sweet). however, our flight is late, our connection tight that time; the airline sends us through back passages so we can make our flight home, and we miss naomi completely! none of us have cell phones (this is, after all, the pre-google era of dinosaurs roaming the earth), so we are ships, or planes, that pass in the night.

and we're off, to culver city for lunch in this very cool district. jason joins us - he's great! we have enormous salads, beer, and talk about recycling, the environment, hillary and barack - so refreshing to be with smart and conscious friends!

we continue ... palm trees, sunshine, hysterical laughter ... and pick up the girls. at once, we are serious, huddled in meaningful conversation; then suddenly, it turns, and we are goons! naomi insists that we must walk to 'toppings' for a pre-dinner snack of low-fat frozen yogurt; the girls (adorable!) carefree on scooters, me on my rickety two legs (almost 100 years old between the two of them!). oh, the agony! had i known that i would be walking ten miles (or so it seems) in either direction for my delectable treat i'd have hailed a cab (do they do that in the city of angels?). memories of frequent visits to l.a. - with the kids when they were younger, before every school break descended into a tour of donkeys and exotic cultures - dance in my head.

we finally reach our destination, have our muli-topped yogurt (so good) and head back to beverlywood. it's magnificent to stroll outside in february, even on the heels of our south african dalliance. sunshine, cars. LA is in fact, a city of cars - and quite suitably designed for the beast. gas stations (BP) are ultra cool; drive through windows beckon, and everything is made to be visualized at 45 mph. parking is easy, the scale is 'low', and lots of light hits the pavement. it seems strange to romanticize this aspect of the city; however, it really 'works' and makes it quite livable - much more so than the tangle of streets that characterize the northeast's suburban sprawl. not to mention that the drives, at least off the freeway, are civilized.

we hang at home, then it's off to the avalon for cocktails and snacks, poolside. a smart hotel with a lovely courtyard pool, candelight, great seating; when we arrive, we are seated next to the bamboo grove under the stars immediately. WHAT? how is this possible? thursday night in LA, at a swanky and cool locale. how can we three possibly snag a fantastic table like this? i haven't quite figured that one out yet - if this was new york, you wouldn't even be able to walk INTO a place like this, any night. let alone get a table, a cocktail promptly, and some delicious finger food (turkey sliders on brioche! gourmet 'fish and chips'!).

we retire, and talk way past our bedtime - i still am on shaky ground as far as the time zones go.

morning brings greek yogurt from the stone age - thanks naomi - which i insist will only bolster my immune system. naomi's gorgeous girls are off, and so are we ... me in jason's 'spinning' shoes. naomi has elected to take me to THE spinning class in LA - tevia's (sic?) class. i've been told that if i'm tired (or on the verge of angioplasty no. 2) at any point during the 45 minute (!) torture, i can 'sit down' on the bike. what? aren't i going to be sitting down whilst riding? no, no, no - you 'stand' on, or over, the pedals, moving your tiny legs (aged as noted, already exhausted from the frozen yogurt escapade) rapidly to the music and tevia's optimistic, microphone enhanced thoughts.

i sweat a bucket but manage to: 1. live through the experience; 2. survive LA's lethal body conscious scene without anyone snickering; 3. have a great time with naomi! we reward ourselves handsomely at urth café off melrose - yummy cheese plate fit for a king, or a deflated new yorker who's exhausted! an enormous latté follows, along with 54 cent confitures and a fresh squeezed oj. we are so blessed to be outside, in workout clothes, having petit dejeuner in the sunlight!

yet, what's for lunch? we propose abbot kinney, the fun part of venice, and head there only after a brief shower. i am flying home at night, and we are determined to get to as many eateries as possible! we immediately scope out a new restaurant - perfect and cool and delicious - and propose a lengthy stroll before dining (as we've just eaten minutes earlier!). however, our stomachs and eyes get the best of us; we make it up half a block, immediately turn around, and proceed to gorge ourselves in the fantastic GJELINA. this place is stunning and uber hip. we are at a communal table, inquiring as to the pedigree of each dish. what would you suggest, and the waiter responds. we accept some of his offerings, reject others. he nods approvingly, and we share a spectacular soup, it's base at least a liter of olive oil. it's worth noting that we reject the large plate of french fries - too much oil for our lithe bodies - and ironically the soup is appropriately and deliciously swimming in said viscous liquid. how sad for us! we stop the proprietor, who is attending to one of the actors from the movie 'he's just not that into you' and inquire if a smaller platter of fries is available. nope, just the one (huge) size. we decide, oddly, NOT to go for it (there is gelato, after all). nonetheless, he returns momentarily, wielding a small plate with samples of the beloved crispy potatoes - how nice!

full and happy, we ponder gelato on this design street, or picking up the girls and going to beverly hills with them for ice cream there. we opt for the latter - although they insist that another walk to toppings would suit them fine - not me, i'm out of breath thinking about the ice cream. it's off to BH - we park conveniently, and i admonish naomi once again - parking in LA is easy, and there never seems to be any traffic! she protests, insisting that the wednesday evening before thanksgiving the freeway was totally backed up. that's all she could come up with! the LIE in new york is backed up on tuesday evenings at midnight in the middle of winter! we could teach those westerners a thing or two about intensity!

rodeo drive is deserted - 5 pm on a friday, nary a foreign tourist or movie star in sight. where have all the dollars gone? not here.

jason and the girls join us, and after an episode of the partridge family, our lovely time together draws to a close. we venture out to typhoon for dinner at the santa monica airport - and have a great meal. naomi and jason are lovely, generous, funny; and we say our sad farewells! of course, they get me to the airport with plenty of time to catch the red-eye home - NOT! perpetually resistant to arriving on time for flights, they transfer their laissez-faire-ness to me; i am forced to remove my giant metal belt buckle in the car, running furiously through security - more x-rated x-rays, and settle in for the short hop home.

back to reality, after being a makeshift road warrior the past few weeks - and loving it!

hello, bart!

last week, upon returning from cape town, i have the distinct pleasure of hopping on another plane - this time clear across the u.s. - to california for two nights ... further rendering my sense of time and place null and void. i am off to the golden state for an exhibit (including my work) at the new contemporary jewish museum of san francisco, recently revived architecturally by none other than starchitect daniel liebeskind.

i promptly arrive in the city by the bay, not quite certain which time zone i'm in ... gmt+2? pst? est? no matter, a swift and somewhat tortured ride into town on BART, the bay area's response to mass transit, and i'm at my hotel. a quick walk - this part of downtown is both chic and seedy - union square, market street, and a hop on the treadmill - then i'm off. a glass or two of napa wine in the club lounge - actually, my hotel is extraordinarily convenient, my room with sweeping views.

the museum really is stunning. centrally located just a block from SF MoMA, right in the heart of the city, it's prime real estate. the 1900's building has just received it's face lift, and two glass rhombuses rise obtusely from the more staid original building. diamonds of windows beckon ...

inside, it's packed! a beautiful 6pm gala is in full swing ... the space is dynamic and full of energy. good food (grilled vegetables, smoked salmon, et al), great wines from sonoma ... mmm, so good, so fitting. there are a ton of people attending this evening, everyone decked out in quite formal cocktail attire ... kind of nice and swanky. onto the exhibit, where there are eighty 'seder' plates on display - actually, the 'theme' IS the passover seder plate, but so many of the pieces are conceptual (mine included), making it hard to label many of them as 'functional' objects for the rituals of this jewish holiday.

i talk with the curators, meet many of the artists, say hello to patrons, and get an up-close-and-personal look at the museum's architecture and other exhibits. like the show that i am in, the works are artfully displayed - great spaces, great lighting - really a joy to experience!

by the time the evening is over, i'm zonked - it's late by new york time, even later in cape town, where my biological clock is still ticking. so off i go, slumped into my bed, ready for the next day ... an early morning workout, a light breakfast, and back to the airport for my midday flight to los angeles to see my dear friends.

however, even before i, the early riser, has a chance to bolt up in the morning, my mobile rings - my flight has been cancelled. i am either on a connecting flight at 1 pm via fresno (what?!!!), or an earlier non-stop into LA. i (obviously) opt for the latter, and rush the exercise in order to make it back to the airport, change my ticket, disrobe unceremoniously for security (rather perverted, the whole experience) and rush to my plane. which of course, is delayed. to the original time that i was scheduled to fly.

the joys of travel!