Sunday, September 15, 2013


Living in Israel, I rarely drink.  It’s not really part of the culture, so other than a glass of wine on Friday evenings, I don’t usually indulge.  Except for once in a while when I’m stressed or achy-tired and I feel the need for something a bit stronger than vino. Then I typically pick scotch, which I learned how to drink from my dad, may he rest in peace.

The House of Wine next door went out of business recently and reopened its doors last week to sell off its stock, so I went to see what could be had.  Mind you, it’s lucky I don’t drink much because the prices of distilled liquor in Israel are mind-blowing.  Would you pay $100 for a perfectly ordinary bottle of scotch?  Anyway, there on the shelf was a relatively affordable bottle of Wild Turkey Kentucky bourbon.  I’d never tried bourbon and I thought this might be my chance.  So I bought it and put it on the shelf next to that bottle of gin I’ve had since the ‘90’s – gin doesn’t spoil, does it?

As it happens, last week we also switched our telephones en masse, the way everything is done in the kibbutz.  I junked my Samsung phone that never worked properly for an older version of iPhone that wouldn’t detonate the budget and I naively thought I would be better off.  If only I had known the pain and suffering I was l inviting onto my head!  It took me 2 hours – 2 hours! – to find where to correct the time which was set to Cupertino, California.  Nothing about this phone is intuitive.  And Apple, being Apple, does not deign to explain the mysteries of its software.  It took me another 2 days to find how to change the display language to blessed English and download a ringtone.

Now here’s the really irritating thing about Apple:  even their online support is useless.  It’s just about impossible to find an answer to the question you’re actually asking.  The search feature barely relates to the terms you entered and online chat does not exist in their rarefied world, all of which makes me long for the genuinely helpful universe of Microsoft.  I love you, Bill Gates!

In the depths of my distress amid concerns for what this was doing to my blood pressure, I thought, I really need a drink.  Then I thought of the bourbon.  This was as good a time as any to give it a try.  Of course it was instantly relaxing and soothing and I have to tell you – it’s really good with a lovely flavor of malted grain.  Who knew?  I think I like it even better than scotch.  But, please, don’t tell my dad.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's Positively Medieval

Many, many years ago I spent one glorious week in Salzburg, Austria.  I’ll never forget the sheer joy of roaming around the exquisitely charming hometown of Mozart, just as I’ll never forget the guided tour of the Hohensalzburg Fortress that fits on top of it like a snug homburg.  Usually I’m a sucker for castles and fortresses, and this one had a number of beautiful features, but the description of the torture chamber freaked me out and I couldn’t get over it.

I think of this every time I want to buy a toothbrush.  I look at the shelf, neatly stacked with rows of brushes, and recoil.  They look just like the implements of torture I’ve seen in my nightmares, albeit in mockingly cheerful colors, guaranteed to rip my mouth to shreds.  There are spikes – actual spikes! –  on those things, and the bristles are all pointy and malicious-looking.  What dental hygienist from hell thought these would be a good idea?

To add insult to injury, these horrors also carry a hefty price tag.  Not only are you expected to turn over your mouth to the Spanish Inquisition, you are required to fork over a big wad of cash for the privilege.  All I want is a soft, pleasantly colored brush with even, white bristles – the sort that caresses and treats your mouth like the living thing it is.  But these are getting ever harder to find.  Instead we’re treated to wares from the Torquemada School of Design.  So what I want to know is, is this a dental fad and if so, when will it pass?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cuisine a la Junk

I ticked one item off the bucket list recently:  I had my first corndog.  If they existed in America when I lived there, I’d never heard of them, which is unlikely.  So I’m guessing they were invented sometime thereafter.  I had heard them disparaged in the mass media as a junk-food abomination.  But anything coated in cornbread has to be worthy of consideration, I told myself.

Then they unexpectedly appeared on the grocery store shelf.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A local hotdog manufacturer has started to make them.  I can’t imagine what they were thinking.  American food doesn’t do well here, except among Americans.  Israelis tend to like their meat loaded with cumin and other spices until there is no meat-flavor discernable.  Needless to say, I brought the precious item home and tried it right away.  It did not disappoint.  I cannot say the same thing for the next junky thing I tried.

I saw the package in the store freezer:  potatoes with pizza sauce in a crispy coating.  For some reason, at the time it sounded irresistible.  I don’t know why, I must have been suffering from sunstroke.  Anyway, I tried them, too.  It’s hard to explain exactly what they are.  It’s sort of what you’d get if you squashed a Tater Tot down into a triangle shape.  So far, so good.  But when you see something promising “pizza sauce” you think, tomato, oregano, garlic.  Maybe some more herbs like basil if you’re lucky.  There was a tomato presence, but there was nothing saucy about it.  Worse, there was no trace of oregano or any other flavor associated with pizza.

It’s not that it was bad.  It wasn’t.  It was just so bland in its ho-hummishness that I can’t understand how it made it to the manufacturing stage.  A lack of pizzazz should be the kiss of death for any junk creation.  In any case, I have learned my lesson.  From now on I will stay away from processed convenience stuff, no matter how delectable and tempting it looks, and concentrate on food that doesn’t come in wrappers.  That is, except for corndogs.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Downton Blues

One of the more annoying aspects of Israeli life is the television system – and here I use the word loosely.  Nothing could be less systematic.  A program could start, say, at 20:45 for the first four episodes and then you tune in for episode 5 at the appointed time only to find that it started half an hour earlier.  Annoying.

I thought things would get better with the advent of cable, but I forgot where I was living.  The cable company, also being Israeli, is no more reliable than broadcast television.  I give you for your consideration the example of “Revenge.”  After showing 18 throat-clutchingly delicious episodes, some of them multiple times, it suddenly disappeared from our airwaves without a word of explanation.  Where are the last four?  Annoying.

But the real annoyance was one I cannot blame on the cable company:  I missed the entire third series of “Downton Abbey.”  How this happened is still not entirely clear to me.  It’s not as if I wasn’t looking out for it.  The problem stems from the fact that it is shown on Israeli Channel 1, the taxpayer-supported channel that is so mind-numbingly boring that most of the time it shows stuff on a par with the close-up of a thumb.  But after the first of the year I diligently checked the listings in the Jerusalem Post every week to see if the new series was starting.  Nothing.  Then, sometime around April, I learned from an oft-hand comment in the same newspaper that the series had run.  I had missed the whole thing!  Really annoying.

I sulked about this for a long time.   Who was responsible for the false listings, the Jerusalem Post or Channel 1?  More importantly, who could I sue?  I have a sneaking suspicion that the Hebrew newspapers got it right, so was the Post just incompetent or was there an anti-English conspiracy?  Ultimately, I went ahead and ordered the DVD from Britain.  Of course, I already knew the highlights of the season, thanks to spoilers that come directly – and unasked – to my computer from NBC News.  Still, now that I’m all caught up with the doings of the Crawley family and their hangers-on, I feel I can rest easy.  One less annoyance.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I'm Back

Yes, I’ve been gone from this space for quite a while.  No real reason.  Some might call it writer’s block, a slightly presumptuous term for a simple lack of inspiration.  No matter, it’s time to climb back on the hobby-horse to see if I can still trot.
One of the odder things that happened in recent months was this:  we all got a sms from the head office telling us not to approach the jackal that was lurking near the high school.  Since I live not far from there I took notice.  Not that I would know a jackal if I saw one – I would probably just have thought it was an especially homely dog.  A few days later there was a sign in the dining hall, saying not to worry, the jackals that have been coming onto the kibbutz are not rabid.
Well, that’s a relief.  Who wants a rabid jackal nipping at your heels?  Of course, I knew they were in the area.  You can hear them whooping at night.  Before I knew animals were making that noise I had thought it was teenagers howling at the moon to be, I don’t know, funny.  But why, I could not help wondering, did the beasts decide to come into our little village?  Jackals are supposed to be shy and really wary of human beings, so what were they doing here?
I can only guess that they were tired of foraging in the wild and came looking for fast food.  It’s only natural that they would be tempted by the smorgasbord of the kibbutz.  And while I can’t imagine they would be dangerous to people, I have been practicing my Cesar-Milan-Dog-Whisperer skills – no touch, no talk, no eye-contact, calm, assertive energy.  Just in case.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rosh Hashana

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!  Shana tova!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Great Escape

When you live in Israel, you get used to a paper full of bad news. But this story made my hair stand on end: there was a mass escape of about 50 crocodiles from a wild-life park in the Jordan Valley. They think they were all recaptured. The article then went on to regale us with Nature Authority personnel fretting over the possibility of escaped crocs mating and setting up a nest in the wild. It seems – I swear I did not know this – that they were an indigenous species until they were hunted to extinction in the beginning of the 20th century.

I parsed the article carefully. “About 50” means they don’t know exactly how many animals there were. So they “think” they were all recaptured, but they don’t know that either. The Nature guys said all those keeping crocodiles must invest in better fences. That means there are even more of them out there, plotting to get loose.

I like animals and although I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about reptiles, I’m not afraid of most of them. No, not even snakes. If I see one I prefer to just let it go on its way, no harm, no foul. But crocodiles and alligators are different. They’re fast, they’re ruthless, they have powerful jaws with lots of big teeth. And most importantly, they’re hunting you. By “you” I mean me. They scare the bejuices out of me. I don’t even like the look of alligator shoes.

It’s a fair hike due west to here from the Jordan Valley. But the kibbutz is bordered by reasonably substantial stream that runs east-to-west, so I’m not taking any chances. When I open my door, I look left and right – no crocs? – ok, I can proceed to leave the house. Still, I don’t like living with this anxiety. So my next question is, is Crocodile Dundee a real person and does he make house calls?