Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chilly willy

Up until a few years ago, central heating was considered a luxury in Israel. With the exception of most housing in the Jerusalem area, whose high altitude brought biting cold winters that often included snow, most people made due with space heaters, portable radiators, gas heaters, coil heaters, and the like, which more often than not did nothing but take the chill off, if that. Our town has bitter cold winter nights, and before we put in our heating system, I was utterly miserable as soon as the weather turned cold. I hated the fact that it was colder inside our house than out, and rainy days were simply a form of torture, spent huddled underneath a blanket, whether it be in the bedroom or the living room. It was absolutely wretched. The feelings were that since winters were “short” (hardly!), it didn’t pay to invest in decent heating. Same thing held true for air conditioning for the summer months. What a load of crap! The best thing we ever did was to install our central heating and air conditioning system, making all seasons bearable and comfortable.

As far as I can recall, all of my work places have had central heating and air as well (which is also the case in most public buildings like shopping malls, hotels, etc.), and I can remember not wanting to leave the warmth of my office for the cold and damp of my home. How lovely to be all nice and toasty warm when it’s oh so nippy beyond the windows, to not have to wear multiple layers, to not be forced to sit in front of the computer wearing gloves.

There is one strange anomaly in all of this, though. For some reason, bathrooms in Israel are not heated, whether it be in homes or in offices. Sure, many people put up a little heater on the wall, but not everyone does it (especially in guest ½ baths, nor in our very small en suite bathroom, though our full guest bathroom does have one), and offices certainly don’t. “Makes sense”, you say. “How much time do you really spend in there?” you ask. I say bull. Call me crazy (and some of you already have!), but frankly, when it comes down to it, why would you not put heat in one of the few rooms (and hopefully the only room in your office) that requires you to remove clothing? A vexing question to be sure, one that drives me to distraction these days as I enter the refrigerator-like facilities, where one could chill wine quite nicely, were one so inclined to do so (though I might be inclined to question one’s mental faculties, were one so inclined as to chill wine in the restroom). Not exactly the environment that screams, “drop your drawers”, I dare say.

This morning, I had the distinct “pleasure” to run out of hot water during my shower, which doesn’t often happen, as I’m usually the first one to shower. Today I was third, and I paid dearly. Of course, what made it even worse was that we’ve got no damn heat in the bathroom, as it’s so small and the ceilings are so low that there’s no place to put up a heater! And then, after quickly toweling off and coming out into what should have been a warm bedroom, I was dismayed to find it somewhat chilly, Husband having turned the heat towards the living room (quick explanation – heating system is divided into regions, the living room/kitchen area is one and the bedrooms make up the other. There’s a dial in the middle that allows us to direct the heat between these regions, and it can never be at 100% in both. Get it?) so that he and the little one wouldn’t be cold (a perfectly legitimate act). In any case, who was I to deprive the little one of heat, just so that I could be warm? If I'm ready to give my life for him, I'm certainly ready to share the heat with him.

I suppose I should be thankful that we’ve at least got a timer on the water heater, so we don’t have to get up in the middle of the night just to turn the thing on. That’s another crazy thing. Water temperature in most places is controlled by a hot water heater. Ours is solar, so in the summer, we don’t usually have to turn it on, and can just let the sun work its magic. In winter though, you’ve got to turn it on whenever you want hot water, at least an hour before you think you’ll need it, so that the water has a chance to heat up. If you don’t have a timer, it can be a major inconvenience. Of course, the big problem here is that it’s quite easy to run out of hot water, and unless you’re prepared to pay exorbitant electricity bills to keep your water heated all day long, you’re going to find yourself repeatedly losing feeling in your hands every time you need to wash them. It’s an especially refreshing experience at work, as you wash your hands with ice cold water while standing in a room cold enough to chill wine, and you actually feel elation as you leave the bathroom to return to the relative warmth of the rest of the office.

The joys of an Israeli winter. When I bought my winter coat several years ago in London, Husband just laughed, claiming that I would never use it. Needless to say, it is one of the staples of my winter wardrobe. It can get surprisingly cold here (especially while waiting for the train at 7am in Northern Israel!), but having grown up in a cold climate (much colder than Israel!), I learned early on that you simply have to know how to dress in order to stay warm. Of course, all rules go out the window when it comes to the bathroom, where the layers must come off for the trip to be successful. In Norway, in addition to the room being heated, the bathroom floors are actually heated as well. In England, our towel racks were heated. For Israel, I propose a drastic, yet revolutionary measure – heated toilet seats, anyone? Perhaps I’m talking out of my ass on this one, but seriously, how great would that be? Definitely not a shitty idea, no sirree, Bob! Would just require a wee bit of design. Any engineers out there care to take this on? Come on now, don’t be sissies! The person who succeeds with this will surely make millions – definitely not a bum deal, eh?

Okay, enough is enough. I’ve made you laugh, I’ve made you groan. Suffice it to say, I’ve done my duty, and, feeling a little flushed, I think I’ll take my leave, before this post drains my mind any further. Hey, stay warm out there (and of course, in there)!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Festivus to all, and to all a good night...

I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a multicultural society. My friends were Jews and non-Jews, Asian, South American, Greek, and so on. You get the picture. A veritable United Nations. Growing up in such an environment allows you to be exposed to so many different and exciting things, whether it be foods, customs, holidays, etc. It was a wonderful experience. Of course, living in Israel has exposed me to many different kinds of Jews, but in some ways, it’s just not the same. I mean sure, the Persians, the Moroccans and the Iraqis each have their own customs, their own ways of celebrating the Jewish holidays, and sure, it’s interesting, but when it comes down to it, I mean, when it really comes down to it, what do I miss? Christmas.

Yep, I miss Christmas. I miss the lights dancing in the trees and bushes, seeing the Christmas trees through the living room windows (and you shouldn’t infer that I’m a peeping tom, I’m referring to those trees that can be seen from the street), I miss the music, I miss the festive feeling in the air. I suppose that some aspects would be similar to the feelings that we get here in the period leading up to holidays like Rosh Hashanah, but it’s not quite the same. Of course, I didn’t actually celebrate Christmas in the truest sense. I mean, it’s not like we had a Christmas tree or anything. I miss the feeling of Christmas. The excitement of Christmas. I miss going to the neighbors’ Christmas parties. I miss eggnog. I miss watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” I miss going out for Chinese food and a movie with all the other Jews (when one of my Israeli friends relocated to the US a few years ago, I explained the Jewish traditions vis a vis Christmas and he thought I was kidding. Later on, when I asked him what he’d be doing over the Christmas holiday, surprise, take-out Chinese food, and renting movies with friends, or perhaps some skiing, the other favorite Jewish pastime on Christmas. He even went so far as to admit that he hadn’t believed me, until he actually witnessed it with his own eyes.).

My fondest Christmas memories were created with my best friend and her family. For years I would go to her house in the days and weeks before the holiday, helping her family to decorate the tree, while lovely Christmassy music played in the background (care to remind me what the music was, my dear?). To this day, whenever I drink Chamomile tea, its taste comforts me, taking me back to those tree decorating days, when we’d all sit around the living room, drinking tea and admiring our work. There were even years when they would schedule the decorating so that it coincided with my trips home from university (thanks for that, guys!), or at least leaving it up after the holiday long enough for me to see it, if I hadn’t been able to make the decorating session.

Being the inquisitive lass that I was, I even went with my friend to Midnight Mass one year, just to see what it was like. Well, it was beautiful. A church full of happy people dressed in their holiday clothes, celebrating the birth of Jesus. I enjoyed the singing, the spirituality of the evening. I enjoyed watching (and participating) as everyone offered good wishes to those around them, as part of the service. And, for those of you who are worried, you needn’t be. You’ll be pleased to know that when the time came to take communion, I decided against it (visions of the church falling down around me while being repeatedly struck by lightning if I did so was the primary deciding factor).

Now here I am, living in Israel. The Holy Land. The land where it all began. Christmas is distant, and it just feels wrong. Needless to say, there’s no snow on the ground, only big dirty puddles. No Christmas lights so blinding that you’re not even sure if there are bushes underneath. No overdone Christmas/Nativity scenes. Call me crazy (go on, most of you do anyway!), but I miss it all (well, not all. I can certainly do without the “mall” music). A large chunk of the world is building up a feverish holiday frenzy, and here in Israel, we go about our daily business as if nothing is happening (same thing happens with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but that’s for another blog entry). To keep myself entertained, I periodically play a selection of Christmas songs on my computer, running the gamut from the original Band Aid tune to various Muppet Christmas ditties, and needless to say, a punchbowl full of eggnog certainly wouldn’t hurt.

In any event, us folks over here at something something wish all of our readers who choose to celebrate a Merry Christmas. And, given that Chanukah begins on Christmas day (how terribly convenient!), Happy Chanukah to all of our Chanukah-celebrating readers! Or perhaps we should just wish you all a Happy Festivus

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bumps and Bruises in the Blogosphere

The Internet can be a wonderful place. Through this blog, I’ve been able to connect with other bloggers from all over the world. I’ve discovered like-minded Israeli bloggers such as this one and this one, exchanged hopes for peace with Jordanian bloggers like this individual or this one, discovered some interesting Norwegian bloggers who seem to share my world outlook and sardonic sense of humor, and joined forces in a battle against evil with the folks over here. And these are just a few of my regular reads. This blogger makes me cry with laughter on a regular basis, and the writings of this blogger never fail to entertain.

It’s been an enjoyable ride, though certainly not without its bumps and bruises along the way. I enjoy the writing immensely, the often fascinating exchanges of ideas on a veritable plethora of topics. Blogging fills a void for me, providing me with the opportunity to write creatively (and often provocatively) that I so desperately need. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about others, and discovered the awesome power of the written word. Through the blogosphere, I’ve seen how good people can be, Arabs and Israelis who truly believe in peace, people who brilliantly use their blogs to try to break down the barriers and the stereotypes. It’s writers like her and those mentioned above who give me hope for the future, hope that we can come to understandings with our neighbors, that we can stop the bloodshed and work towards what I hope is the common goal of peace for our region and mutual respect for all its inhabitants.

Of course, alongside the good that the Internet brings, there is bound to be bad as well, people who use their blogs and websites as platforms for spewing hate, people whose primary goals seem to include spreading divisive propaganda as truth. I am sadly awed by the depths of their hatred, their rudeness, the lengths to which they will go in order to publicize their own agendas even in the most incorrect of forums. It is clearly not enough for these individuals to promote their twisted cause via their own sites, as they purposely seek out other forums simply to create a furor, hijacking the blogs of others and sprinkling them with noxious comments in order to do so, and then crying foul when the predictable flurry of angry responses begins to flow. Sometimes the comments are simply left for shock value, but in other instances, the agenda is quite clear.

What brought this post on, do you ask? There has been a recent flurry of vitriolic commenting on one of my favorite blogs. The writer of this blog portrays herself as liberal, a strong believer in the possibilities for peace. She writes beautifully about her experiences, her encounters with a wide variety of Israelis and Palestinians, presenting their stories without judging, and providing a window for her readers into events that they might otherwise never get to see. Her frequent descriptions of life in Gaza and the West Bank have raised the ire of right-leaning Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora, and have earned her no small amount of vicious comments, as have many of the more left-leaning blogs including this one. It is for this reason that I’m puzzled as to why certain individuals chose her blog, of all the blogs in the Israeli blogosphere, to hijack. These individuals espouse beliefs that are intolerable to most left-leaning Israelis, and their comments provoke both sadness and anger, so malicious are they. Comments that leave no room for discussion, written for the sole purpose of provocation, or so it would seem, based on the wording and the intended audience. There is no point in trying to reason with these individuals, as they are not there to reason or to share opinions, but you just can’t help yourself, because you simply cannot believe that not only does such hatred exist, but it is literally being shoved in your face, right in your very own home.

While I do read some blogs whose content I don’t always agree with, I continue to visit those blogs because they are well-written – they make me think, and sometimes they make me smile. I read them because somewhere in there, there is room for common ground, something to agree on. If there is no common ground or nothing to make me smile, then there’s no reason for me to be there. You will never find me lurking around a blog that questions Israel’s right to exist. I would not be welcomed, and I would probably find nothing but aggravation and frustration. What would be the point? Even at my most liberal, I would have nothing to “positively” contribute, so why bother? In such an environment, I imagine that my comments would cause nothing but trouble, would be met with harsh responses and jibes. Why willingly subject one’s self to attack in what would clearly be a hostile atmosphere?

In much the same way that I seek certain qualities in my friends, I seek certain qualities in a blog and in its writer. Aside from a few demonstrations in my long-forgotten university days, I would never actively seek out and join a group of people whose opinions I despise for the sole purpose of pissing them off, so why do it in a blog? Maybe people do it because it’s easy, or because it’s exciting, but what does that say about you as a person? What does that say about the standards to which you hold yourself as an individual?

Sad is the person who derives their greatest joy from upsetting others.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Food glorious food

When I started the new job, did I happen to mention the free food in the company dining room? Breakfast is wonderful – eggs, cheeses, fresh vegetables, different breads and cereals, smoked fish. Should I go on? I thought not. No complaints whatsoever about breakfast (though sometimes I can’t find a fruit-flavored Actimel yogurt beverage, and am forced to forego, as I don’t like the plain flavor). And, if breakfast isn’t enough, everyday at 4:00 in the afternoon, fruit and cake is served. Nice, huh?

Then, there is lunch. Some days have a more obvious theme. For instance, I know that today will be sushi day, when they bring in sushi from one of the local Japanese restaurants (note to self – go to lunch on time!). The other day we had meat day (most days are dairy). Yet on some days, the theme is a bit more difficult to ascertain. I believe that yesterday was brown food day. Quiche, kuggel, vegetarian shwarma and steamed vegetables consisting of onion, eggplant and cabbage. The fish dish was the only exception, being that it was in a bright red sauce (hraimeh), which I avoided like the plague. Not one of our more successful meals. One colleague, looking as though she was about to cry, vowed on the spot to go out for lunch today, until we discovered that today will be sushi day. Another popular theme seems to be carbohydrate day, when the meal consists of a veritable plethora of different dishes such as rice, potatoes, pasta, and quiche. Mushroom day is another biggie, when all the dishes on offer seem to contain mushrooms. Fortunately, I love mushrooms, so wasn’t too put off (despite the fact that it was probably mushroom and carbohydrate day). One of the meat themed days was particularly depressing. I’m not a big fan of meat to begin with, so needless to say, I did not do so well on luncheon meat day.

The strange thing about all of this is that whenever the topic of food comes up in conversation, it turns out that everyone is thinking about losing weight, has lost weight, or is currently trying to lose weight – including at least one of the women in the kitchen. Everyone wants healthier food, or at least healthy alternatives to the current selections. Sometimes, I tell myself that I will head straight for the salads, and only once I’ve mostly filled my plate there, return to the “nasty” stuff. It never works though, as the salad choices are less than tantalizing, and certainly not worthy of filling an entire plate. I usually try to limit myself to one carbohydrate per lunch, but on carbohydrate day, it’s an exercise in futility.

During the interview process and my first few days here, I was warned that whenever people begin working here, they initially put on weight, not unlike the long forgotten days of the “freshman 15”, which refers to the weight put on by incoming university freshmen who are suddenly faced with dining room meal plans, late night food runs and the like. In those days, I didn’t have to worry about things like the freshman 15. I was only betrayed by my metabolism after university. My academic years were spent chowing down on alarming quantities of pizza, lots of pasta (after all what else did we know how to cook?), desserts, copious amounts of Chinese and Indian food, frequent visits to McDonalds when it was practically downstairs from my dorm room, alcohol (though admittedly less than most of my peers, never having been a big drinker), and so on. Aside from running around campus between classes, meetings, etc., I was quite the sedentary individual, yet despite the winning combination of heavy food and total lack of exercise, I gained no weight, even losing at times.

Ever the slim one, it came as quite a kick in the ass to discover that said ass had widened and deferred to gravity, and I now had a problem. I yoyo-ed up and down the scale (mostly up) for a number of years, and finally managed to bring myself down to a most respectable weight before and then again after my pregnancy, and have more or less managed to maintain the weight for over a year now. It’s still a constant struggle, and the company dining room is definitely not helping! Haven’t gained any weight since I’ve been here, but on the other hand, I haven’t lost any either, which is what I’d like to do. Nothing radical, just another 2-4 kilos to get down to my optimal weight (and after having lost more than 10 kilos in recent years, this is indeed a paltry amount). Unfortunately, unless radical changes are made to the dining room menu, I don’t see any health-themed days in our future, and may have to resort to more “out of pocket” experiences, popping over to any one of a number of cafes and salad/sandwich places in search of the simple, healthy food I know I should be eating crave.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been in Israel for quite some time now. My Hebrew is decently fluent, and I usually feel comfortable conversing on a variety of subjects. I may not understand every word, but I almost always get the gist. I converse with my colleagues in Hebrew, I’ve dealt with doctors and emergency situations in Hebrew, I argue in Hebrew. I just had a conversation with the woman sitting across from me on the train in Hebrew, about the computer that I’m using. I think in Hebrew and I dream in Hebrew, but there’s one thing I have yet to do in Hebrew, and it looks like I’m going to have to, due to an unfortunate series of circumstances. I know you’re all going to laugh, but in all my years here, I’ve never gotten a haircut in Hebrew. I don’t know the terminology, and the thought of it makes me quake in my boots, right to the tips of my (extremely) split ends.

It all began when I was nine years old. My mom made me get my hair cut short, and it traumatized me for life. I wore a hat to school for ages, and refused to take it off, and I have never gotten my hair cut short since. For years, I would have nightmares; I dreamed that people would hold me down and cut my hair short. I dreamed that I would go to sleep with long hair and wake up with short hair. I dreamed that I would request a trim, only to look in the mirror and see that I’d been shorn. As a result, whenever I’ve found a hairdresser who I’ve liked, I’ve stuck with them for as long as possible, no matter how inconvenient. Since I’ve been in Israel, I’ve used a hairdresser in Jerusalem. He’s a native English speaker, so I knew that nothing could get lost in translation (an old college friend who was fluent in French decided to get a haircut while in France. She asked for highlights, and ended up looking like Barbie.). He’s just as relaxed and laid back as I am, and I knew he’d never do anything that didn’t suit me. He accepted my paranoia and worked around it, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t wake up the day after the haircut wondering what the hell I’d done. The happiness I derived from each session far outweighed the inconvenience of getting there, despite the fact that I live two hours away, but it was still tricky nonetheless, made even more so after my son was born, and my time became even more limited. When he switched salons, I even switched with him. That’s how dedicated I was.

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been to see “my guy” (having made do with interim solutions in the meantime), and I called yesterday to make an appointment. Much to my utter dismay and surprise, I found out that he had left the salon two weeks ago, and didn’t leave a forwarding number. I suppose I could be industrious and track him down. I imagine it shouldn’t be too difficult. I find myself in a dilemma. Do I track him down and continue to be faithful, despite the inconvenience, or do I take this as a sign to finally move on, to make a clean break and find someone closer to home who can fulfill my hair care needs? With a heavy heart, I lean towards the latter, as the distance has become too much of a burden.

Where to look, though? I work in Tel Aviv, so this would seem a natural choice, given that I imagine the options in my own area would be more limited. A few friends have suggested various options in Raanana, and I am tempted, though that too, would not be the most convenient. So now, to the crux of this post. I am opening up the floor to suggestions and recommendations, in the hope that some of our Tel Aviv-based readers can help. We’re looking for a nice, laid back person, preferably a native English speaker (though this isn’t a deal breaker), preferably with a good sense of humor (they would need one to deal with me), and preferably someone who won’t charge an arm and a leg. If they offer complimentary coffee to customers while they wait, I’d consider it a big plus. Oh, and obviously, they should give a good haircut, and not feel the need to unleash their own creative energies during the session.

So, what say you, people?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yalla, Kadima, or… Ode to a Mustache

The game is on, the scene’s been set. The players playing without a net.

Politicians running to and fro – no one knows which way they’ll go!

We watch in awe, we watch with glee, for who knows what next we’ll see?

Sharon and Peres, Peres and Sharon, wish they’d realize their crows have flown.

With all due respect, their time has passed. How long can their careers really last?

Perhaps it’s time for someone new. Mr Mustache, could it be you?

The parties are changing, the Likud’s in a snit – their ranks have really taken a hit!

The faces in Labor are changing as well – Yechimovitch and Braverman, too many to tell.

Then there’s Kadima – the biggest surprise!

Politicians are joining from far and from near – opportunists the lot, it’s really quite clear!

We wait and we watch. We watch and we wait. To join up with Sharon is to seal one’s own fate.

More changes to come, of this I’ve no doubt. Excitement is what the game’s all about!

Who will go and who will stay? Place your bets, there’s politics to play!

Three months of posturing – it’s what lies ahead. Everyone knows there's much more to be said!

Finally, but finally, it’s gotten exciting, and not in a way that’s depressing and frightening.

Shunted aside are the scandals and bribes, in favor of intrigue and positive vibes.

The public can feel it, the change in the air. So much going on, and suddenly we care!

One thing’s for certain, one thing is clear - Yalla, Kadima! The mustache is here!