Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Lisa Meets Prince Albert October 31, 2009

Earlier this week my friend Lisa posted this as her Facebook status:

lisainviteIn deference to 5 high school years spent in Mr. Hayden’s basic and advanced French classes, I was able to decipher that:  1) Lisa was being invited to a journalism awards ceremony  2) The ceremony would take place in Monaco, and 3) Bleedin’ Prince Albert II would preside.

I phoned her straight away to get the scoop.  And found out that she would be the one getting the bleedin’ award!

Lisa wrote this piece for The Columbia Journalism Review back in May.  It’s an analysis of Israel’s media cover during the January 2009 military incursion into Gaza aka “Operation Cast Lead”.  Based upon the entry, she was chosen by the Anna Lindh Foundation to receive the 2009 Mediterranean region Journalist Award for cross cultural dialogue.

I found out totally by surprise,” Lisa disclosed. “I’m on the foundation email list and I got an announcement about the prize and my name was on it.  I squeezed my eyes and rubbed them and looked again.  I couldn’t believe it.  About ten minutes later, the head of the jury called from Rome and made it official.  He said I was the only category winner the jury had unanimously favored.

I read the CJR analysis.  It’s good, important and the issues raised surrounding Israel’s collective consciousness are critical.  The timing of the award is not to be missed: it comes as a storm brews in Israel over the UN’s Goldstone Gaza Report – a summary of Cast Lead human rights issues findings named for the person who headed the fact-finding mission into possible abuses.

Lisa told me she worked harder on the piece than anything she’s ever written.  “I wrote three drafts, interviewed a lot of people, transcribed – I spent 8 weeks on it and felt it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I thought it would ignite discussion and debate.  But it disappeared like a drop into the Pacific Ocean.  And friends told me it was boring, too dense and not my best work.  So there was certainly a worm of self-doubt after that.”

When she received news of the honor,  it was,  in her words, a moment of quiet gratification.

And deservedly so.  Talent aside, L’s good people.  We met four years ago when I returned to Israel from a long hiatus in the U.S. & I’d all but given up on journalism; burnout & cynicism had put me off the profession. A mutual acquaintance advised: “If you want back in, give Lisa Goldman a call.”      lisa

I did.  She was connected and forthcoming with phone numbers, information & advice.  We met for coffee, she hooked me up with gigs and in later years she addressed a Writer’s Group I moderate.  During our first phone talk, she offered invaluable advice: “Start a blog.  You need a blog.”

Back to this week’s award, the foundation is flying her to Monaco, the ceremony takes place at a super fancy hotel, dress is formal, there’ll be a cocktail hour & round-table discussions and of course, the Prince will preside.

“I don’t have a thing to wear!” she lamented on FB last week but has since hit the Tel Aviv boutique circuit, spending “the equivalent of a secretary’s monthly salary” on an all-black Escada number.

On the eve of flying out to rub elbows with royalty, a different worm of doubt niggles.

As an Israeli, you always wonder:   ‘Is the European jury choosing my piece because the zeitgeist is to be critical of Israel?  Previous winners have done that.  But that’s insidious and I try to push it aside. I hope and think it was chosen because it was a good analytical piece.  I wrote it because I really care and worry about this place and want it to be better.”

You are making it better, says this jury of peers.  Go. Have. Fun.  Tell Albert:  HEEEEYYYY!!!!

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GI Jane October 21, 2009

I have posted here a few times about Ruth from the dog park.

She’s someone I love running into because at 80-something, Ruth makes up in pep for what she has lost in mobility.  Bright red lipstick, carrot-colored choppy hair, manicured nails and a cane for support, she’s got that naughty glint in her eye that says: “I know how to work it and I will if need be.”

Last week when we met at the dog run, Ruth shared that she had fallen in the crosswalk earlier in the day while out with  her dog Jessie.

Oh my God! I reacted.

Yeah, came her casual replyI was like Jesus on the cross. Spread out all over the place.

Are you okay?  Did you hurt yourself?

Me? she countered wide eyed, gesturing toward herself.  No no.  I know how to fall.  I took a parachuting course years ago.

All of a sudden I felt a pang. 

Ruth parachuting!  Wow.

And I sort of had to squint in my mind’s eye to past-blast beyond the moment and conjure a younger Ruth bodysurfing on the wind.

Of course Ruth has a past.  But I had never contemplated it.  And being confronted with it in such a lively manner sparked within me a combination of awe and sadness.

It made sense that Ruth had lived a daredevil life: skydiving, avoiding marrying her boyfriend of fifty years, and playing the con artist.

But in facing the image of a younger Ruth, I was facing myself.

THIS is why I like her, I epiphanied.

I Scuba dive and windsurf.  I was thrown from a horse into a Mercedes years ago on a wild, midnight ride at Giza’s pyramids.  I’ve done my fair share of conning and as for amorous relationships with men. . .I’ll save that for another posting.

Ruth, I realized, reminds me of me.

With luck, I’ll be like her when I get where she is.

 

Desert Trek October 10, 2009

For someone who doesn’t like walking, I have done a fair amount of it.

I just got back from a 2-day camping trip to Israel’s Negev Desert where most of my time was spent scaling the rim and insides of Mitzpeh Ramon. An active volcano millions of years ago, the 25-mile long crater is a study of ancient strata; some of the bottom layer rocks are 200 million years old.

I left the relative comfort of my Tel Aviv outdoor cafe/connected-to-computer lifestyle to go traipsing through this shadeless crater in midday heat.  Somewhere in the October world, I know there exist jacket-clad types who tote hot chocolate filled thermoses to college and pro football games in brisk autumn weather.  In the Middle Eastern 2 p.m. desert, however, the relentless sun can be brutal.

I forewent the comfort of my apartment to spend two days accumulating dust, grit & grime during hours-long walks & climbs along sand, craggy rocks and narrow crevices… To contemplate magma formations, scrub brush, vastness, deafening silence & the haltingly magnificent sun slipping beyond the evening horizon… To feel the wind kick up wildly and the temperatures drop dramatically as the sun receded…To communally prep dinner inside a large “mess hall”, candle-lit canvass tent for twenty three like-minded trekkers, to introduce a dozen Israeli kids to gooey S’Mores, to stay up late reclining on floor cushions sipping Turkish coffee and swapping stories with Austrian and German travelers and to sleep in a large Bedouin tent alongside the same 23 like-minded souls.

Mitpeh Ramon

Mitpeh Ramon

In contemplating, I realize I have repeatedly reenacted this camping/hiking scenario in various forms.  8 years ago I joined seven friends in hiking to Big Sur’s Sykes Hot Springs – 10 miles each way carrying all gear and supplies on our backs.  Several years ago I did a combo camp/hike/Scuba dive trip along the Sinai Peninsula with a group of Scots.  I’ve gone on various short hiking trips in California, Israel, Greece and Egypt and I spent the millenium in Arizona’s Joshua Tree National Park.

And now, I have been advised to take up a training regimen because in two months, for a story I’m writing, I’ll be doing it again:  Joining a group of somewhat serious trekkers who’ll be crossing Jordan’s Wadi Rum, Israel’s Wadi Arnon and a section of Egypt’s Sinai Penninsula (That would be The Ten Commandments-Moses-Sinai-Desert, indeed indeed).  The American group leader has advised: Start getting in shape.  Now.

Damn.  I don’t like walking.  So I don’t really know why I do it.

Could be because I love the desert.  But LOVE it.  I return from arid excursions relaxed and with a clear state of mind.  Not to compare or anything but I TOTALLY get the whole bit about Jesus going out there for 40 days and nights, the Jews wandering around for 40 years & Moses and Elijah going on 40-day/night retreat sorties.  Sort of out with the old/in with the new, innit?

I also love roughing it.  A bit of campfire to get dinner going & sleeping under a canopy of stars suits me on a limited basis.  However, give me a 5-star hotel with stocked en-suite mini-bar, open (preferably marble) lobby floor plan with plush armchairs, swimming pool and a bedside remote control & I’m there faster than you can say “Let My People Go“.

Perhaps the bit about hitting my wall is what draws me back to hiking in the same manner a delusional moth circles the flame:  There’s a point in every hike when the inner struggle arises.  It’s hot, I’m tired and internally I begin cursing the guide… for bringing us on the god forsaken trip, for expecting us to continue traipsing along in midday heat, for rambling on when exhaustion has encompassed, for merely existing.  It’s the point in the trip when my every fiber screams in silent delirium:  That’s IT!  I’ve had it!  I’m not going another step!  I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!

Hitting the Wall

Hitting the Wall

But of course I do.  And then I get back to the city & my computer & machinetta brewed Italian espresso and a hot shower and the whole wall business evaporates into a surreal realm.

Until next time.

Oh well. . . Time to start training.

 

Conning the Cops October 4, 2009

I’ve posted here several times about “Dog Park Ruth“, the orange-haired, highly spirited octegenarian I have befriended at the popular dog run near my home.  This is the same Ruth who had a near death experience and chooses, for the sake of her relationship, to maintain a dwelling separate from her boyfriend of 50 years. 

Ruth always has at least one story of interest to share and several morsels of wisdom to impart when when we meet.  This weekend was no exception.

You know there were municipal officers here today handing out fines for off-leash dogs,”  Ruth advised as she spread her newspaper on the stone bench, placed her cane on the retaining wall behind her and sat beside me beneath the lime tree.  “The tickets are 450 shekels ($120 U.S.)”

Damn! I replied.  Did they get you?

“Me?”  Ruth responded, an impish grin appearing on her carefully made-up face. 

“First of all, they didn’t want to fine me.  They wanted to haul Jessie off to the pound because she was off-leash and they didn’t know where I was.   If that had happened, they would’ve fined me and THEN charged me a per-day holding fee.”

Wow!  Bastards!  I responded. 

“Nah, nah,” Ruth retorted with a dismissive wave of the hand.  “I told them they can’t fine me; I’m a pensioner.  It’s illegal to demand more than my social security pays me each month.”   Ruth was beaming as she continued. 

“Then I purposely looked sad and asked the officers: ‘What?  You’re going to take away my best friend?  The only companion I have in my life?  What will I be left with?'”

I chortled, clapping my hand to my mouth. 

You’re shameless!  I admonished with delight, hastily reminding her of the boyfriend of five decades and family members she routinely mentions in conversation.

Ruth smiled broadly, her red lipstick accenting gleaming white teeth.  I eat those types for breakfast.”

I have a lot to learn from this woman.