Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

Israeli Oscars September 27, 2009

Last night I slipped into a little black dress and a pair of heels and made my way to Haifa for Israel’s version of the Oscars: The Ophir Awards.

Attending Israel’s upscale events is always an interesting venture. Because, compared to the U.S., they’re pretty scaled down and lacking pretense. Dress codes don’t rule and most anyone can get away with whatever their personal interpretation of gearing up or down might be.  That includes nominees, as demonstrated here by Best Actor winner Sasha Avshalom Agronov for his role in The Loners. Dig the hat.

Also glaringly absent at these affairs are hulking bodyguards (unless government ministers are present). Sure, there’s security at the entrance but once inside, the press mingles with celebs and it’s a sort of everyone hangs out with everyone free-for-all at the bar and buffet kinda thing.

Which is why I was able to walk straight up to Ajami Producer Mosh Danon, congratulate him on taking best film and wish him luck at the Hollywood Oscars. I grabbed this shot of the film’s Israeli director Yaron Shani as he was being interviewed for radio.  His Arab co-director Scandar Copti was, unfortunately, in Europe.     IMGP0047

I also shook Lebanon film director Samuel Maoz’s hand and congratulated him on his Venice win.  I felt truly sorry that his film didn’t clinch the top seed.  Because imho, the movie based on his personal experience as a soldier during the 1982 Israel incursion into Lebanon, would have been a serious Academy Awards contender for best foreign film.  I’m not sure about Ajami, a story about the crime ridden mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhood of the same name in southern Tel Aviv.   Yes, it’s a microcosm of the Israel-Arab flashpoint conflict at large but it somehow feels too local.

But then, I’ve seen neither  and am basing that rather broad opinion on trailers,  discussions with colleagues and the reception for Lebanon thus far in the world arena.

Here’s a clip.  A reportedly super intense film, it takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank  in Lebanon.  Last night the movie nabbed top honors for Best Supporting Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best Cinematography and Best Design.

A few notes about the ceremony:  The high point was seeing Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Assi Dayan take to the stage.  A legendary Israeli actor and director, he has been plagued by negative press throughout his career for drug abuse, mental instability and domestic violence.  But he is talented.  And his peers gave him a standing ovation.

Heart wrenching, on the other hand, was witnessing producer Uri Segev’s widow and two young children take to the stage to receive an honorary award in his name.  46-year-old Segev died last year of heart complications during the wrap of  Lebanon. The audience, on their feet again, applauded warmly as his wife and children stood at the podium. And there was neery a dry eye in the house as his wife thanked the film academy with broken voice and his 8-year-old daugher sobbed quietly beside her.

A final note to self:  MUST SEE A Matter of Size – a film about a diet club support group that decides to start up their own Sumo Wrestling team.  It looks poignant, funny and visually beautiful.  And Best Actress recipient Irit Kaplan made a distinct impression upon the uber looks-conscious crowd by advising in her acceptance speech that we all go beyond exteriors and start digging deeper to the core where it really counts.

Lacking pretense, indeed.


Bad Hair Day March 23, 2009

See these beautiful shiny solar dishes? They are located on a new Israeli solar farm on the brink of going operational. Yesterday Stefanella was privy to a press tour of the grounds and interview time with the scientists who innovated the farm’s new solar harnessing technology.

See the nice man in the picture? Come closer. Notice that wee bit of raspy smoke appearing to rise out of the crown of his head? Nope, it’s not Photoshop.

Heed this lesson kiddies: When standing in a field amidst solar dishes, position yourselves far far away from the reflective panels.


The Winter Curb Jump-Dance February 1, 2009

What a great idea for a photo spread.  Check out the NY Times’ Bill Cunningham’s narrated Fashion display here

For anyone who has ever stepped off the curb into the slush…YIIIIIIKKKKEEESSS!!!  (You know what I’m talking about right here)


Oscars – Israel Style September 25, 2008

A colleague and I attended Holy Land Central’s (HLC aka Israel) version of The Oscars Tuesday night… Although I haven’t ever physically attended Hollywood’s Academy Awards Ceremony, let’s say I could just tell from years of U.S. couch viewing that the two events were about as far removed from each other as… umm…hummus and caviar.

The first striking difference I noted as our cab pulled up curbside to the ceremony’s Tel Aviv Opera House venue was lacking paparazzi, red carpet and fanfare.  Not that I was expecting it for myself, mind you.  I’m 1) not a celeb and  2) my simple black cocktail dress & black Via Spiga heels accented with a strand of pearls and red silk Dior headscarf were nice enough but not star quality Pay Attention to Me! stunning.

This is HLC where casual is where it’s at.  But I had hoped to see Starz arrive to flashing megawatts and crowds of admirers.  Instead, all attendees – common folk and celebs alike – quietly milled about in the Opera House lobby sipping wine and nibbling cheese.  No bodyguards or cordoned off VIP area.  Politicians in these parts get bodyguards but not actors.  They’re sort of regular folk who appear on t.v. but that you might see at your local cafe.  Oh, there’s so and so.  Wow, he looks different in person.  Can you hold the foam on my latte?

Celebs were easily discernible, however, by their professional styling: complimentary make-up, good hair and brightly hued, glammy sheer and sequined formal gowns.  Actors entered the lobby, pulled poses, photographers snapped and then it was back to the conversation or glass of wine at hand.

The ceremony was painfully under-produced so when, for instance, the Israeli network carrying the event cut to commercial breaks, we the audience weren’t offered any indication of a pause.  Everything simply went quiet following an acceptance speech.  Participants walked off stage and there was a lull.  It was up to us to work out the details.  Oh.  A commercial.  I see. A few minutes later the music would start up again or the hosts would come out on stage.  Back in business.  Here we go. Strange.

As films go, Waltz With Bashir was the evening’s big winner; it took 6 awards including best director and  best film and it will represent Israel as a contender for this year’s foreign film at the Oscars.  An animated semi-documentary, Bashir is director Ari Folman’s autobiographical foray backwards into buried military memories of serving in Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War.

Folman and animation/tech crew spent four years making the film and it’s doing well on the circuit. Sony picked up distribution rights and the L.A. Times‘Clive Barker described it as “ingenious animation” and an “overwhelming anti-war” movie.  Each time Folman made his way onstage to accept an award Tuesday night, he came across as humble and grateful.  An uber-mensch very much admired by the crew members he invited onstage with him to accept the Best Picture Award.

As he and crew made their way up to the lectern for that honor of honors, however, I was horrified to witness half the audience rise from their seats and begin filing out the exit doors.  A little Respect here, People!  Come on!  He just won best film!

Over a post-ceremony glass of wine in the lobby with my friend Ilana who heads Israel’s Film Academy, I mentioned my alarm over the seeming disrespect.

Yeah, it was disgusting, she remarked.  I think it was a simple case of the audience wanting to get back out to here to the alcohol and food.

Shame.  Because they missed Folman’s scant but poignant speech welcoming into the world 8 babies born to staff members during production.  In fifteen years, he said, I hope these kids will watch this film and see it as just another animated movie that has absolutely nothing to do with their realities.

I’ll drink a post-ceremony cocktail to that.

Check the trailer here.


My Summer Vacation or Thoughts on Getting Away August 23, 2008

Each year my son and I spend summers in the U.S. with my parents.  It affords me quality time with my folks and siblings and I get to do relaxeyish, holiday kinds of things like eating someone else’s home cooked meals, cruising malls, vegging in front of the tellie, hitting the cinema and lounging poolside.  My son – a soon-to-be 1st grader – spends time bonding with his grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and keeps updated on U.S. culture via summer camp, cartoons, toys and outings.  It’s a win-win family benefit thing.

I’ve concluded, however, that there are additional built-in benefits to spending extended periods away from my current home in Holy Land Central (HLC). . These include:

Central Air: Everywhere, All the Time.  This comes from a non-environmentally conscious place driven by the hedonistic zone of “Ahhh.  There can never be too much comfort”.   Yes, there’s a/c in Israel.  But Middle East heat tolerance is high so most private homes or businesses don’t keep the air-con running non-stop 24:7.  In the U.S., thankfully, businesses have come away from Arctic Circle summertime temps;  Funny how a wee recession will influence thermostat adjustments.  I needed my indoor sweater only twice this summer.  Yippee.  I love the comfort of not-too-cold a/c.

Look Who’s Sporting Head Lice? It doesn’t matter that people say: “Kids in U.S. schools get head lice too”.  I don’t feel better.  I was a kid once who grew up in a U.S. school and I NEVER had lice.  EVER.  In the HLC school system, on the other hand?  Fuggedaboudit.  What a relief when counselors at my son’s U.S. camp handed out leaflets notifying parents of a lice outbreak.  Yes, I was paranoid for a minute and no, we hadn’t brought little gifties from afar.  MY SON was clean.

Have Travel – Boost Confidence. Back in HLC, I gaze longingly through the showcase window of Tel Aviv’s Prada boutique but never set foot inside.  I sort of figure the sales staff can sniff out who has it in his or her trusty wallet to cough up a cool $5000 for a Spring frock versus the wannabe carrying a Chanel knock-off she bargained for in Bangkok’s night market.

While on holiday, however…  Why not breeze into BCBGMaxAzria and try on this number, this one and this without giving the matter a second thought?  Yes, I did, thanks much.  Oh Cabana Boy!!!  Dry Grey Goose martini, chilled glass, 2 olives please!  Hell, make one for yourself while you’re at it!

Sanitation.  It’s just a different standard.  That’s all.  Like rubber gloves optional for emergency room nurses.  Or 95 degree midday heat (35 celsius) in the crowded open air market with sweaty people rubbing up against you creating the desired yet suppressed knee jerk scream: “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!  OH MY GOD YOUR SWEAT JUST GOT ON ME!!!  AHHHHH!!!”

Versus a new item in Cincinnati supermarkets this summer:  Lysol disinfectant wipes for cleaning the push handle shopping cart bar before embarking upon buying adventures.  No germ swapping there.  Disinfect to Protect. . Catchy, no?

Fly the No-Fun Skies.  It’s downright scary when the El Al leg of travel is more pleasant than United‘s.  U.S. air travel has taken on an uber-serious, quasi-nasty, downright no fun quality that makes flying the North American skies pretty un-friendly.  Over-taxed and disgruntled over constantly shifting regulation and tariff rules, U.S. airline counter people are grim.  In comparison, shock of shocks, Israeli security, ticketing and in-air staff come off as polite.

A Matter of Perception. Returning to HLC after a few months away carries with it the requisite re-entry eye openers.  Like arriving at the local swimming pool to find the entire swim team, pool staff, coaches and lifeguard crew sprawled on the front lawn.

What?  Is there a bomb scare inside? I casually ask the security guard, simultaneously becoming aware of the fact that the question came from the ingrained, casual question zone of my lexicon. Unusual traffic congestion, a sealed off street or the current swimming pool scene prompt automatic bomb scare thoughts.

Naw, the guard shrugs.  It’s religious night at the pool.

There it goes again.  I know what he’s talking about.  Religious night means women only for two hours followed by two hours of all male swimming.  It’s a modesty thing.

Whoa.  Conditioning.

It’s great getting away and always good coming back but the getaway value is priceless for stirring awareness and thought.

(How was that for P.C., huh? )


Assmosis February 25, 2008

I am reading a back-issue of GQ and came across the column “New Jargon for the GQ Man”
I’m not a man. Sue me. GQ’s a beautiful glossy mag with well written articles, upscale advertising, the latest in trends and cutting edge tips for the upper uppers.
Sue me again because I’m the back room at Loehmann’s on a good day. And the closest I’ll ever get to the country club set is if I happen to be hired to write a PR brochure or someone asks me to mind the kids poolside while Buffy and Bootsy go a round of tennis.

But a woman can dream.

Anyheeeewwww…This Jargon column had some entries I felt super compelled to share.

1) Assmosis – The process by which people seem to absorb success and advancement by sucking up to the boss rather than working hard.

2) Oh-No Second – That fraction of time in which you realise you’ve just made a big mistake (e.g. you’ve hit “reply to all”).

3) SITCOMS – Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay at home with the kids or start a “home business”.

4) Salmon Day – The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die.

5) Airplane Blonde – One who has bleached/dyed her hair but still has a “black box”.

6) Cube Farm – An office filled with cubicles

7) 404 – Someone who’s clueless. From the World Wide Web message “404 error: File not Found”, meaning that the requested document could not be located

8) Johnny-No-Stars – A young man of substandard intelligence, the typical adolescent who works in a fast-food restaurant. The “no stars” comes from the badges displaying stars that staff wear to show their level of training.


BIG SALE!!! February 20, 2008

Filed under: cool,Culture,Fashion,Humor,Israel Life — stefanella @ 6:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

26review5.jpgValeria? You know my birthday’s in April, right? I asked my friend as she answered her cellphone.

Now I do…she answered cautiously.

You know that store on Kikar Ha’Mdina with the really great display windows? I asked. The one at the corner of Tashach?

Uhum…Valeria mused.

Listen. There’s a great great great dress in the window. It’s a Prada. Now I know what you’re thinking…But you know there’s a sale on in the store right now!

70% off, right? Valeria volleyed.

Yeah! That’s right! So I was thinking, since you are my bestest bestest friend in the whole wide world–

How much?

16,000 I whispered. (That comes to about U.S. $4500..slf)

Well, with the 70% off, that’s a little over …um…lemme see…4000Sure. No problem. Talk to you later.

**It’s important to have friends who indulge (fantasies) once in a while**