Stefanella's Drive Thru

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Trashy December 19, 2010

While out covering a story today I heard a must-share anecdote

Background:  The locale was Tel Aviv’s landfill.  Not the most pleasant of surroundings, admittedly, but one eventually adjusts to the pervasive odor generated by multiple tons of trash.

I was interviewing the head of Tel Aviv’s recycle/renewable energy site at the landfill and as we watched tons of plastic bags, bottles, cartons, containers and the like empty onto conveyor belts aided by municipal employees, I commented:

“God, I’ll bet you’ve had some nasty accidents here with people falling into the compactors…”

The head of the recycle plant nodded his head vigorously and replied:  I could tell you some stories.

“Go on then, let’s hear,” I replied.

And this is how it went:

A few years ago the trash conveyor belt recycle line employees came banging on his office door in panic: 

“There’s a baby in the compactor!  There’s a baby in the compactor!”

He ordered an immediate machine shut down and then ran to the area to investigate.

Sure enough, there was an arm sticking out of the trash compactor heap.

But it clearly wasn’t a baby’s, he explained.

Someone called out in Hebrew: “Come out of there!” but there was no response.  Then in Russian. Nothing.  Arabic.  Still nothing.  Amharic.  Nada.

Then someone  yelled ‘Get out of there!’ in Yiddish.  And a reply in German came from inside the heap: ‘No!  I’m not coming out!  I’m naked’

The men gathered some clothing together and coaxed the man out.  He then told his story.

A German tourist, he had gotten drunk in a Tel Aviv pub the night prior and en route back to his hotel, was accosted, beaten up, robbed, stripped and then tossed into a dumpster.

The trash assembly line crew discovered him moments before he was headed into the “crusher”

They summoned an ambulance and police and when the medics arrived, one of the women commented: ‘He’s awfully good looking; shame about the smell.’

Divine intervention?

(more…)

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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.

 

Going to Bed Hungry September 1, 2009

This afternoon while my son & I were riding our bikes home from a celebratory ice cream shop outing to mark his 1st day of second grade, we came across a prodigious public statement/art installation in Central Tel Aviv that begged contemplation.

The entirety of Rabin Square, Tel Aviv’s largest inner city public space, had been set up with long banquet tables covered with simple white table cloths and set with glass white plates and silver cutlery.  White plastic chairs were placed at each setting.

There were, literally, thousands of place settings.

Ooh…Mass banquet! I thought but somehow knew that was wrong.

It took a minute of reckoning, eyeballing the overhead signage displayed behind the tables and ultimately chatting with the young people guarding the “installation” to understand what it was all about.

Israel is headed into The Jewish New Year holiday season in a few weeks which means family gatherings, dinners, office toasts, gift giving and general cheer.

Right around this time each holiday season LaTet (“Give) Humanitarian Organization goes into full swing food drive mode taking up food and monetary collections for those in Israel who won’t be feeling the cheer, at least not monetarily, at holiday time.

I’m accustomed to seeing the Latet people at the entrance to my supermarket handing out flyers asking for donations of baby formula, canned goods, rice and other food essentials.

Image000

But the display on the square was a phenomenal means of sending a message.  The banner beyond the tables read:  “There are 200,000 people in Israel who won’t get enough to eat this holiday season. . .”  And the empty tables, the people manning the display disclosed, represent a mere 10th of what that number might look like were everyone to sit down together for a meal.

If you want to give, you can go by the display and make a donation, pick up an extra item or two at the supermarket and drop them into the receptacles on the way out or navigate to the Latet website for instructions on donating via SMS or pay per click.

And if you’re able to make it to the square, definitely go by and check it out.  It’s astonishing.

 

Heroin (NOT) Chic August 18, 2009

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I was breakfasting with a group of people at a semi-dive-diner place in the Upper Haight when my brother motioned toward the booth opposite us.

“It’s going to take them a while to get through the meal,” he commented with a grin.

I looked over at the couple he had indicated: A male and female in their mid-twenties, both tattooed and pierced – typical Haight fare.  They sat opposite each other with hands resting on the table cluttered with uneaten plates of assorted breakfast fare.  Their eyes were closed.

“Oh, they’re saying Grace,” I mused internally.  Because where I live these days aka Holy Land Central or Israel, that type of thing is plausible.  Heck, I’ve seen groups of German tourists on a busy Tel Aviv street corner holding hands with heads bowed praying for…Well I have no idea, actually.  A break in traffic?  Good beach weather?  Ideal photographic lighting conditions?  I dunno.

Then I peered more closely at the couple, their heads lolling.  Oh  Wow! the realization dawned.  They’ve dosed on heroin.

It’s been years since I’ve lived in close proximity to the urban drug culture and all it entails: addicts sprawled in doorways, eyes at half mast as the heroin high hits, crack fiends pacing nervously, their movements disjointed and stiff, wayward alcoholics with red faces and crusty clothing rambling incoherently from front stoops.

My stomach dropped and I felt nauseous.  This is insane.  We’re sitting in a restaurant and they’re dosing. My San Francisco dwelling companions snickered and rolled their eyes in a sort of  Oh God, the neighbors misbehaving AGAIN sort of way. I forced myself not to stare.

Later, my brother confided:  That was gross, man.  Totally sick.

Well…yeah.


 

Going Global August 16, 2009

A few years ago when I was living in San Francisco, I shared an ongoing dilemma with an Israeli friend:

I feel torn between being here and living in Israel,” I told her.  “I don’t know where I should be.”

“Why do you have to decide?” she posed.  “Of course you choose a main locale for residence but as far as I’m concerned, the more comfortable you become inside your own skin the more comfortable you become wherever you are once you’ve lived in different places.  And that’s a great place to be.  You become a citizen of the world and you can find happiness wherever you go.

At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept.  I felt I should make a decision and declare my loyalty on some level to one place or the other.  No in-between nonsense would do. And the concept of “global citizen” or feeling a sort of neutral happiness wherever I might be was way beyond my comprehension.

But, by jobe, I believe I finally got it.

For numerous reasons I won’t go into here & now, I returned to Israel four years ago after a decade hiatus in San Fran.  Since returning, however, each summer I travel with my son to Cincinnati so he (and I) can maintain ties with my family & he can retain his command of the English language and gain exposure to American culture.

My parents and two of my sibs live in “Nati” &  it’s where I grew up.  But when I left there after college – which included a 2-year overseas stint at Tel Aviv University –  I vowed never to return.  Bloody god forsaken conservative place that indicted its own Contemporary Arts Center for running the Mappelthorpe Exhibit (!) was how I viewed matters.  Not for me. Gateway to the North, indeed.  There would be no containing me THERE, thanks.  I longed for the enchanted promise of Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go.

But here I am, years later, turned completely around & feeling the warm glow of “global.”

This summer my son and I spent time in Cincinnati, took a side trip out to San Francisco and now we’re back in Tel Aviv.  And I can honestly say that in each place I found home.  Home in cultural events that included Opera and a World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, the MOMA in San Fran and upon returning to Tel Aviv, a visit to my local gallery to check out the latest exhibit.

I found home in culinary delights in Cincinnati’s trend spots: Bootsy’s for tapas,  Teller’s for rasberry vinaigrette over greens and goat cheese, my mom’s for home-cooked Indonesian chicken and a dear friend’s for backyard grilled Talapia wrapped in lettuce leaves.

I relaxed back into San Francisco food comfort with frighteningly potent margaritas served up at Puerto Alegre & generous, steaming bowls of traditional Vietnamese Pho.  And upon returning to Holy Land Central (aka Israel) I hit the supermarket on a Friday at 2 p.m. – total cold-water immersion into THIS local food culture.

Home, everywhere, is about the people.  I spent neery an idle moment in Cincy thanks to FB and reconnecting with old friends and loved ones who indulged me with tennis,  poolside lounging, movie outings, dinners, drinks and loads of engaging conversation.   Being back “Home” was an absolute treat and there are, by gosh and golly, wide swaths of WILD in Cincy.

In San Fran, I reconnected with my other sib and visited with friends and local merchants I hadn’t seen in years.  Particularly pleasant was sharing a vacation apartment in the city with friends who had flown in from Australia, Manhattan, Berlin and Serbia to be together. My son benefitted from reconnecting with children from his infant and toddler days.

Back in Tel Aviv less than a week, we’ve received separate invites to go snorkeling, camping, to overnight in the country and spend a weekend at a “mango tree resort”.  I am absolutely blessed.  No doubt about it.

I ran into that old Israeli friend last year.  She’s back in Tel Aviv and super busy with two young children and studies.  But she still has that positive outlook and cheerful disposition.  And she still maintains her status as a global citizen.

I believe I’ve joined her ranks.  Fine by me because feeling at home wherever I might be is a wonderful place to be.  But it’s also painful.  Leaving loved ones and engaging aspects of each culture behind isn’t easy.  But I’ll take it.  Because “living globally” far outweighs the absurd compulsion of having to declare loyalty or choose.

 

Art’s Passion August 8, 2009

For a long time I thought my overwhelming “museum feelings” were linked to certain sites or specific pieces of art.

The type of feelings that envelop with totality and without warning when viewing works of art.   

Like the time tears welled threateningly while glimpsing the Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

Or when my heart swelled wildly while touring Tutankhamun‘s tomb treasures in Cairo.

Perhaps the love affair with art began when I was in high school;  I chose French Renaissance Art as my subject for a term paper which meant spending weekends – quite willingly – in Cincinnati’s Art Museum Library conducting research.  My instinct, however, sez it started years before.

Nonetheless, I find that whenever I frequent museums or art happenings – Burning Man included – there’s usually a painting, sculpture, fixture or installation that renders me “struck”.  I get a lump in my throat and my vision goes blurry.

Yesterday’s SFMOMA visit was no exception; I was struck several times by vastly different exhibits.

Initially touring the permanent exhibits, I was quite surprised by Paul Klee early works described as “monstrous figures.”  I love Klee’s sweeping grandness and color but I was taken aback by this dark, detailed material.

Then I felt a swell of gratitude taking in originals by Dali, Diego Rivera, Magritte and Warhol.

The day, however, belonged to cutting edge fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon, whose career spanned 50+ years.

Avedon’s 1950’s-1960’s photos of Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot and Katharine Hepburn oozed natural beauty and starlet material.   But his image of Marilyn Monroe seemed to capture the icon’s mix of blazing sex symbol & confused nymph that would be her legacy.  THAT image presented an emotional moment for me.

Equally moving were Avedon’s images of Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, Nureyev’ “En Pointe” and Merce Cunningham who died two weeks ago.  His politicians spanned decades and worlds removed from Kissinger to Carter to Obama as Senator.  

Equally moving was the series of photographs documenting his father’s losing battle to cancer and the commissioned body of “In The American West” works portraying faces of middle America.  What a career span and what an incredible talent.

The MOMA also featured works by Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams which presented yet another revelation.  Georgia didn’t do it for me.  She used to but not anymore. That’s just the way it goes, I guess.  But the Ansel Adams works spurred  awe and yet another throat lump over his Sand Dunes gelatin silver print.

After touring, I sat on the museum rooftop in the sun beside the large installations basking in the afterglow of appreciation.

Museums are magical places; I am oh-so-lucky to have the mobility, eyesight and wherewithal to visit them.

 

Damn! That’s Funny! June 6, 2009

“From the Mouths of Babes”….

“Kids Say the Darndest Things”

“Yada Yada Yada”

As the proud mother of a 7-year-old, I’m often privy to some of the freshest humor around.  Delivered, of course, by my cutie pie/sweetheart/oh-so-squeezable offspring.  Scroll down a bit for the shares.

Single, non-parent types probably think this is downright boring.

Oh God.  There she goes on one of those Mommy Blog tangent things

To which I reply:  Perhaps. Sue meTake a commercial break and go make yourself a sandwich or something.

To my fellow parent-types:  Enjoy.   To the non-parents:  Can I get you a soda water with lime to go with that?

___________________

#1 – I host monthly Writers Meetings in Tel Aviv for ..um..writers and each session is addressed by a lecturer on the chosen topic of the month.  We’ve had prize winning authors, network television correspondents, NY Times writers and business bloggers host meetings; last month our guest lecturer was a columnist and editor for Israel’s national Haaretz Newspaper.

Due to a list minute babysitter cancellation, my unfortunate son had to tag along with me to the meeting.  He threw a fit – rightfully so – raging about the unjust ways of the world and evil mothers therein.  Cajoling and bribery on my part got us into a taxi and to the meeting with not a minute to spare where I greeted the guest and welcomed the group.

My son calmed down and sat quietly drawing and doodling beside me for about an hour.

Then, during the Q&A part of the evening, he  suddenly raised his hand.

Ah.  My sweet precious child is curious!

Unabashedly he asked the guest: When will you be finished?

__________________

# 2 – At the pharmacy checkout counter :

150 Shekels! (the equivalent of about U.S. $42) You’re spending 150 Shekels? my son exclaimed.

The cashier and I chuckled and shook our heads in that knowing “Wait until he gets older and finds out what spending really is” sort of way when he blurted:

And it’s for Dreck!

__________________

#3 – En route home at the end of a long grueling day my beloved only child ducked into a toy store.

I went in after him.

“Come on!  Let’s go home!” I called impatiently.

He turned on his heel and glared at me squarely.

You don’t get it, do you? he huffed, hands on hips.

I’m a kid, mom.  This is what I’m supposed to do.