Thursday, September 28, 2006

An identity in crisis...

As you may have guessed from the dearth of posts, I have been somewhat busy, which would be somewhat of an understatement. Deadlines, deadlines everywhere, and as if 12 hours a day in the office were not enough, I have been using my train time for work as well (which is my usual blogging time). Fortunately, I’ve found myself in a bit of a lull (the eye of the storm, perhaps), so I’ve decided to push out a new entry, while I’ve got some time to spare.

I suppose that in a way I’m actually quite fortunate, as 12-hour days are the exception for me rather than the norm, though when they do occur, it’s usually in bunches, over the course of a week or something, and rarely a day here or a day there. Most days, I leave work at a most reasonable hour, allowing me to spend afternoons with the little one. Overall, my commute isn’t too bad, my hours are mostly decent, my salary and benefits package is not one to be sneezed at (by Israeli standards, anyway), and best of all, I have the laptop, which allows me to write wherever I happen to be (which very much appeals to the writer in me).

So I should be grateful, shouldn’t I? With all of these aspects in my favor, especially being able to spend so much quality time with my son, I should be happy. But I’m not. Nrg reckons I’m going through something akin to a midlife crisis, and perhaps I am. All I know is that I’m feeling terribly unsettled and unsatisfied, and I’m not sure what to do about it. Hi-tech no longer excites me as it once did, and I’m definitely feeling the pull of the ideology-based non-profit world. I’m tired of this sector, tired of the unpredictability, the frenzied work environment. I’m no longer enamored of the hi-tech work ethic, where the reigning attitude seems to be one of “we’ll compensate you well, work you to the bone, and suck your soul out until there’s nothing left.” Sounds irresistible, doesn’t it? I suppose for the young and ambitious, it probably does. Seeing as I’m neither (not that I’m old or completely lacking in ambition, mind you, just not chomping at the bit to make it to the top), I find myself wondering more and more what I’m doing here.

I am torn. I want to enjoy my work. I want to feel passionate about the things I do and write. And I want to be paid a decent wage for it, and not merely a pittance. Sadly, it seems that these ideals are mutually exclusive. Several months ago, I turned down an offer for a position that, had I been at the beginning of my career, trying to break into journalism, I would have taken in a heartbeat. I actually felt a physical ache at having to say no, and even waited a few days before phoning in my regrets. The gentleman in question sensed my indecision and subsequently tried to bring me on board via other channels, but I simply couldn’t do it. The conditions made it impossible to accept, no matter how hard I tried to work out a satisfactory solution, and to this day, I still think about these missed opportunities. To this man’s credit, he left the door wide open, asking that I phone him should I ever change my mind, whether it be a week from now, a month from now, or a year from now. Unless the conditions change drastically though, there’s just no way. No matter how hard I work it, I simply cannot handle such a serious drop in salary (less than a third of my current salary) or having to do shift work (including nights, holidays and weekends).

But there has to be something better, or at least a happy medium. There has to be something that will satisfy both my soul and my bank account, though I have yet to figure out what it is. I’ve thought about freelance writing on the side, dipping my toes in the water, so to speak, but I’m not sure if there’d be any interest. I mean, clearly, I’m at least a decent writer, as I do have several regular readers, and have even been contacted by a few “real” publications interested in reprinting some of my blog entries (but more on that if and when it pans out…). Could I do it? Am I good enough? Would people be interested in what I have to say, interested enough to pay me? That remains to be seen.

Or maybe I could head for the non-profit sector, where people care more about ideas and issues than they do about salaries (otherwise, they’d be working in the private sector – salary slaves like the rest of us), where I could write about issues that are important to me, issues that affect others. I just don’t know. All I know is that I’m not happy, I don’t feel like I’m in the right place – either physically or emotionally, and it’s spilling over into other areas of my life.

Maybe nrg is right (after all, it’s been known to happen on a startling number of occasions, and if the one person who knows me better than pretty much anyone else in the world makes a point such as this, it probably wouldn’t hurt to listen). Perhaps I am in the throes of a mid-life crisis of sorts. In a way, I suppose I’m lucky in that I more or less know what I’d like to be doing, I’m just not sure how to get there or which path to take, and at this stage of my life, I’m not too keen on failure (though admittedly, most people aren’t, no matter where they are or what they’re doing), and let’s face it – change, though exciting, can be a very scary thing.

Blech. I just don’t know what to do. I think I need a few more days in Amsterdam…

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Liza's guide to Amsterdam...

Shortly after checking in at the fabulous Hotel New Amsterdam (check out my online review of the hotel here), we made our way out into the city, heading towards the “Shenkin-like” Jordaan neighborhood, with its funky shops and trendy restaurants and cafes. We walked and walked, wandering into little shops and ethnic food markets. We bought jewelry from a lovely Afghani man, who told us that his shop would be closed for the next two days because he was off to Germany to meet up with a friend whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years, a man who had taught German in Kabul. Our Afghani friend pointed us in the direction of an excellent Persian restaurant, after we asked him whether or not there were any Afghani restaurants in Amsterdam (he claimed that not only were there no Afghani restaurants in Amsterdam, but he didn’t know of any in all of Holland). We made our way to the Persian restaurant – called Didar, if I remember correctly, stopping to browse in different shops along the way, enjoying the weather and the fact that we were together in Amsterdam.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment description of our three days in this fabulous city, but I will share some of the highlights and more amusing anecdotes.

Museums. We had intended to go to a number of museums, but given how perfect the weather was, we opted to spend as much time as possible outside. We did go to the Anne Frank House and the Dutch Resistance Museum, and while both were quite sobering, if I had to make a decision about which left a greater impact, I would have to say the latter. I was already quite familiar with the story of Anne Frank, and as incredible and moving as her story is, I think I was more impressed by the stories from the Dutch resistance, stories that provided inspiration and hope, stories of great daring and personal risk in order to defy the Nazis. We also went to the Hollandsche Schouwburg theater memorial, stumbling across it after leaving the resistance museum. In the 19th century, this was a regular Dutch theater, located in the Old Jewish Quarter. When the Nazis came to power, they turned it into a Jews-only theater, and it later became the point to which all Amsterdam Jews were brought prior to being deported to concentration camps. The majority of the structure no longer stands, and it has been turned into a memorial to those Jews who were deported from the site, with a listing of names and an eternal memorial flame. This memorial left a greater impact on me than either of the other two museums, and during our unplanned visit, I found myself returning over and over to stare at the names on the wall and to read the Hebrew inscription.

Food. Wherever we went to eat, the food was simply outstanding. In addition to the Persian food at Didar, we went Italian (though I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, located on Haarlemerstraat), Spanish (Centra, located in the heart of the Red Light District – excellent paella, and I discovered a fondness for sangria), and Japanese (if you’re in Amsterdam and you feel like Japanese food, you must, I repeat must, go to Akitsu, located on the outskirts of the Jordaan neighborhood on Rozengracht. We both agreed that it was, quite possibly, the best sushi we’ve ever eaten). For our remaining two lunches, we went the café route and weren’t disappointed. Our first café was the Café de Jaren, and we sat on the second floor overlooking the Amstel. The other café was a small street café in the Jordaan. As I sit here, thinking about the sandwiches with warm goat cheese and honey (among other things, including walnut pesto), I am trying very hard not to drool. Words cannot adequately describe this heavenly combination of tastes that come together in a positively orgasmic culinary explosion. I’m definitely going to have to find the right goat cheese and try this one at home. Don’t even get me started on the Dutch syrup cookies, which I must find out where they can be purchased locally (Bert?)…
Shopping. Between street markets (especially the one in the Waterlooplein) and the shops, we managed to fill our expandable suitcases to overflowing, laying across them to work the zipper (okay, that was just me), and both of us carrying shopping bags onto the plane, because there just wasn’t any more room. We bought books at the American Book Center, toys at Gone with the Wind (if you want to buy toys in Amsterdam, come here first. Not only did they have a great selection of unique wooden toys and mobiles, but the service was outstanding), jewelry at Kabulistan, and a number of ponchos, jackets and scarves from various Nepalis working in shops and markets throughout the city.

People. Without fail, nearly every individual who crossed our path was friendly, helpful, and quite often, highly amusing, whether it was a hotel staff member, a salesperson, restaurant wait staff, etc. There was Pierre, the friendly French shop owner, who, upon finding out that I was from Israel, told us how most of the items in his shop came from Israeli suppliers and any money spent there would end up in a bank in Tel Aviv. Pierre decided to “put me in the mood” by putting on a Meir Banai CD, and explained why buying a poncho for the little one wasn’t necessary. I would be hard-pressed to remember the speech verbatim (nrg?), though it did have something to do with the fact that he is so young that he would never remember whether or not I bought him said poncho. I liked Pierre well enough to buy the funky poncho that he recommended for the husband, though.

Then there was this young Nepali chap. Friendly as can be, but couldn’t speak English to save his life. I decided, far too late in our trip, that I had to get a poncho for the little one (Pierre’s attempts to convince me otherwise fell on deaf Mommy ears). We happened upon one shop where our Nepali was working, selling a veritable plethora of items from (where else?) Nepal. When we questioned him about a poncho, he responded that he did not have any in that particular store, but that he would be working in another store later on that did have the ponchos. We asked our new friend for the shop’s name and location, and received an intelligible answer. We asked him to spell it out and mark it on our map for us. He couldn’t spell, and simply put the letter “B” on the outside of the map, and tried to explain. It was this brief exchange that had us wandering through the side streets off the Damrak and into Chinatown looking for a shop called “Bilibev”. We looked high and low; we asked earnestly in other shops (Bilibev bilibev bilibev). We laughed, we despaired. Finally, while walking down one of the main roads in Chinatown, we hit upon a store called “Believe”. We peered inside, and lo and behold, our Nepali friend was there. Somehow, “Believe” had become “Bilibev”, and it would seem that we were quite lucky to have found it at all, given that he’d mispronounced both the name of his own store (!) and the road that it was on, and had neglected to mention that it was in Chinatown. Thanks to nrg’s bargaining skills (seriously, this is a person you want to have with you for all of your haggling needs), we managed to knock 10 euros of the price, and I triumphantly carried my purchase out of the store.

I could go on and on about this trip, how perfect it was from every standpoint (the company, the location, the weather, the activities, etc), and indeed, looking back over the length of this post, I have. Although it is already quickly turning into a distant memory, I’m still floating from the excitement of having been away on such an incredible weekend. Can’t wait for the next time…

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Greetings from Amsterdam

Greetings from Amsterdam! Here we are on day three of our sojourns, and having an amazing time. Lots of walking and talking, lots of shopping, and surprisingly little eating, which is not for lack of trying, to be sure. For example, yesterday, at around 1:45 in the afternoon, we started talking about going for lunch. We'd just left the Resistance Museum (which was excellent, if a tad overkill), and began discussing lunching possibilities and how they would fit into our meanderings. We ended up sitting down for lunch at around 5pm. Yes, that's right, it took us three hours to get to lunch. We were distracted by markets (I got two Nepalese fleeces for the price of one!), museums and memorials, canals and shops, and nothing we passed seemed quite right.

We've been to the Anne Frank House, wandered through the Jordaan neighborhood (heading back there today for a street festival), strolled along the Amstel and various other canals, stopped in at a multitude of food shops, and pet a plethora of four-legged creatures. But mostly, we've just been walking. Everywhere. The weather has been absolutely glorious (I've gotten a tan!), and we are taking full advantage. We're already talking about coming back, and the thought of having to leave this charming, wonderfully quirky city tomorrow pains me greatly.

Anyway, I suspect the hour is nearly up on my internet café credit, so instead of taking the chance of being cut off, I'm going to stop here. More posting will come at the beginning of the week, I should imagine, when I will get into the nitty gritty, with links (expect a huge plug for our hotel, run by a charming team of gay men who have positively added to our trip and made our stay at the hotel a joy), maybe a few photos, and the usual witty yet intelligent commentary. Hope you're all having as much fun this weekend as I am, but somehow, I seriously doubt that's even possible...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Oui, Oui - it's me...

For those of you who read French (I don't), I was recently interviewed for a website called The article can be found here, and also mentions this blogger and this blogger.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Altering Israel's Moral Rudder

The more I hear about Israel's actions in the recent conflict in Lebanon, the more horrified and disgusted I become. How must the world perceive us? How arrogant are our politicians and our military? Our leaders claim to want peace, but sometimes I wonder. Actions speak louder than words, and when we say that our war was not with the people of Lebanon, but it is then revealed that our military may have dropped upwards of 1,800 cluster bombs (which apparently works out to approximately 1.2 MILLION cluster bomblets), it makes me more inclined than ever to question my government's intentions. I cannot imagine any possible scenario in this conflict that could justify such action, and it destroys any legitimacy there might be in Israel's desire to demolish the Hizbollah infrastructure.

The arrogance of the upper military and political eschelons in this country is driving us deeper and deeper into the mire, and while we certainly have a legitimate right to defend ourselves, we seem to have a talent for disproportionate response that simply boggles the mind, whether it be our actions in Gaza or in Lebanon. While the Lebanese people are busy picking up the pieces of their ruined country, they are surely laughing bitterly at our audacity to claim that our conflict was not with Lebanon itself, and only with the Hizbollah. If I were a Lebanese citizen, I can't imagine that I would believe Israel either. The way this government is handling things, it is slowly but surely destroying itself, rotting away from the top down. Clearly, a serious shake-up is in order, and unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anyone capable of guiding us towards a better path.

A friend told me the other day that he was done dabbling in local politics in the area in which he lives. His undoing has to do with the fact that he is a good person, one who became involved because he truly wanted to make a difference, one who wanted to improve the quality of his community. He is not sly or underhanded, but rather moral and ethical, and found himself unable to stomach the dirty world of Israeli politics. I can hardly blame him, though I do think that it's a shame. Clearly, we do not have enough politicians in this country who truly care about people, no matter on what side of the border they may be. Instead, we are left with large egos and bank accounts, a morally bereft elite who believe that they are above all others and responsible to no one, doing as they please while running the country into the ground, taking the citizens down with them.

I love my country, but I am sorely ashamed of its leaders, and cannot help but wonder where we will go from here, alternately drifting and careening towards an abyss with no safety net in sight. We have no choice but to change as a nation. Our leaders cannot go around making shady real estate deals, sexually harassing employees and cluster bombing the citizens of other countries. We cannot expect the world to continue tolerating our actions (and indeed, many people do not). If we do not change course, if we do not alter our moral rudder, our situation will only get worse, and it will be no one's fault but our own.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Book Meme

I've been tagged by the charming Emah S to do the Book Meme, so here it goes...

1. Name one book that changed your life:
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. It spurs me to try to follow my dreams. Actually, all of his books (I’ve read and own most of them) force me to think about things differently, more spiritually, I suppose. They offer me a semblance of inner peace that I don’t usually have.

2. One book you've read more than once:
Hmmm… There are so many! Let’s be a bit more high-brow, and go with Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel (though not in the original Spanish…).

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:
Any of Bill Bryson’s travel books would be excellent, thanks.

4. One book that made you laugh:
As with number 3, I’d have to go with any of Bill Bryson’s books. Don’t read them in public if you don’t want people to look at you strangely as you burst out in hysterical laughter (and I speak from experience, here).

5. One book that made you cry:
Marley and Me, by John Grogan. I absolutely bawled my way through the last few chapters.

6. One book you wish you'd written:
It would be incredibly cathartic to write a book about the long painful journey of having our son (and I think about writing it a lot), but I don’t have the strength to deal with those individuals and groups who will disagree with some of the very personal, painful decisions we had to make.

7. One book you wish had never been written:
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Need I say more?

8. One book you're currently reading:
I’m sort of in between books as I keep going through the Irreverent Guide to Amsterdam. I don’t want to start a new book so close to my trip, as I don’t want to find myself in a situation where I’ll be so close to the end when I leave that I’ll have to take two books to get me through. I’ve got two new books waiting on the shelf (She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb, and A Tale of Two Sisters, by Anna Maxted) and will have to decide pretty soon which one to take with me (any suggestions?).

9. One book you've been meaning to read:
Bill Bryson’s African Diary (I'm a big Bryson fan, in case you hadn't picked up on that - BTW, each link to Bill Bryson will take you to a different site).

10. Tag five people:
Ok. I’m going to do this a bit differently. I’m going to tag some of my regular commenters, who may not necessarily have blogs. If you don’t have a blog, write your meme in the comments section for this entry. Here we go! I’m tagging: NRG (of course!), Lisoosh, Anglosaxy (ok, technically not a regular commenter, but he is my former blogging partner, so… let’s hear what you have to say, m’dear!), Rami (because you totally intrigue me, and I always enjoy learning more about you!), and… I can’t think of a fifth person (because you’ve all done it already!). Anyone who wants to step up, feel free to do this meme in the comments section or on your own blog.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Running Away with my Best Friend

Given all of the stress that I’ve been feeling lately, I keep fantasizing about getting away from it all, even if it’s only for a few days. Time away from the politics, the belligerence (was I being redundant there?), the day-to-day responsibilities… My brain is fried and my nerves are close to the edge, and there’s no better remedy I can think of than some time away with a good friend.

What a crazy coincidence! In just over a week, I’m flying to Amsterdam, meeting up for what promises to be a marvelous girly weekend with my eternal partner in crime and all things silly – the fabulous NRG (and if you don’t know who that is, then you clearly haven’t been reading the comment sections for any of my blog entries). After months of planning, we’ve booked the hotel, coordinated our flights (she arrives 30 minutes before I do – don’t forget, that’s one large latté with low-fat milk and one artificial sweetener, please; I’ll get the next one), and begun discussing our sightseeing options (though of course, if we end up spending the weekend sitting in a café drinking lattes for three days straight, that also wouldn’t be a bad thing). I’ve read the Irreverent Guide to Amsterdam from cover to cover, and am now going through it again, making lists of things to do to share with NRG. Lots of walking, lots of coffee, a few museums, shops, street markets and festivals galore – I can hardly wait!

And who better to go with than NRG, my dearest friend. If you have even one friendship like the one I have with NRG, consider yourselves extremely lucky. Friends since high school (despite having gone to different schools), we have seen each other through thick and thin (sometimes thicker and sometimes thinner), good times and bad. I would never have made it through the dark days without her, and I am in awe of all that she has given me over the years. When we are together, I am the “me” that I’d like to be all the time – more confident, funnier (I know hard to believe I could be even funnier, but it’s true), and more outgoing. Despite the fact that we haven’t lived on the same continent in more than 15 years, we have remained closer than ever, communicating on an almost daily basis and always keeping each other in the loop of our lives. No one knows me better than she does – she is one of the only people in the world who has ever seen me cry. I don’t let anyone see me cry, so that should tell you something. What started at a mutual friend’s Halloween party when we were teenagers, continued through scorpion bowling in Boston’s Chinatown (which was often followed by raucous all-night backgammon sessions on the floor outside my dorm room), worked its way through the myriad problems of youth and young adulthood, and finally taking us to where we are today, not seeing nearly as often as we’d like, but using modern technology to stay in closer touch than ever before, while forcing preparing our sons (born just 2 ½ weeks apart, thank you very much) to carry on the tradition.

Of course, I could easily continue to wax on lyrically and poetically about our friendship, but since the chances are excellent that I’d make her cry and everyone else sick, I will reluctantly stop singing NRG’s praises and return to the topic at hand – Amsterdam. I must admit, I’m not looking forward to the flight, as it leaves just before 5 in the morning. I’ll be leaving the house at around 1:30 am to get the first train to the airport, and I expect the whole experience will be nothing short of painful, riding a brightly lit train at an hour when most normal people are asleep, then being required to act in a coherent manner when I should be stuck deep in my dreams. With any luck, I’ll manage to sleep on the plane, but to be honest, I’m not holding my breath. I imagine I’ll get through the first day on pure adrenalin and unusually large quantities of caffeine, which I’m more than willing to accept, given that I’ll be sucking that caffeine down in Amsterdam with a good friend.

We will probably spend some time discussing politics and religion – two of the only subjects on which we are not more or less in synch with our opinions. It should be interesting, and certainly easier to do in person than via email or chat applications. We will discuss our lives, our families, our jobs. We will try to figure out what directions we’d like to see our lives take (and I may monopolize this one, given that I’ve been feeling at a crossroads for some time now), and what we need to do to realize our dreams. But first and foremost, before everything, we will make sure that I can pronounce the name “Jostein Gaarder” correctly (I’ve been practicing). Those Norwegian names get me every time!