Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

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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The Globo-Life August 15, 2010

Years ago while sitting in a San Francisco cafe, I moaned to an Israeli friend: “I like being here but I miss Israel.  And when I’m in Israel the things that drive me crazy there make me want to come back to the States!  I’ve moved around so many times I feel like it’s time to make a decision about where to settle down but I just don’t know where that should be!”

My friend, bless her Zen-filled heart, replied calmly:  “Why?  Why not be a global citizen?  That’s the way I feel.  I’m  comfortable wherever I go.  Of course there are places I prefer to be but I’ve learned to relax, enjoy and take the best of what each place has to offer wherever I am.”

I didn’t get it.  My then-mindset dictated a MUST DECIDE attitude backed by conviction that loyalty to one-place-only indicated good sense.  Die hard locale fidelity was my internal dictator.

But this summer the meaning of her advice clicked.  And as the surreal nature of realizations go, it hit me head-on right in the middle of a two-step move to Toby Keith’s Trailerhood as I line danced with total strangers in a small Cincinnati working class neighborhood bar.

I spend summers in Cincinnati with my 8-year-old so that he can get to know his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, go to an English speaking summer camp and gain exposure to the multi-cultural experience of Israel versus the U.S. For me it’s a break from the intensity of Mid-East living and work and it’s also an opportunity to spend quality time with family and loved ones.

Thanks to Facebook, I started reconnecting with old Cincinnati friends each year, adding a dimension of fun and depth to our stays.

Over steamy cups of coffee and at dinners, parties, meetings, restaurant openings, Salsa on the Square, movie nights and art exhibits or during hours spent poolside, on shopping excursions and meeting new people via my old friends, I discovered I have arrived. I am globalized.

Because as I broke into a slight sweat alongside our a 60+ year-old line dance instructor Patty all decked out in her denim miniskirt and matching vest that I was reminded of Tel Aviv.  Saturday morning folk dance sessions along the Med pulsate to different strains but the Patty’s, Rex’s, Letta’s and Jimmy’s of Western Hills are alive and well inside the bodies of the Itziks, Chanas, Loolees and Shai’s of Israel.

As one friend shared the story of her beloved husband succumbing to cancer, another talked about Botox treatments, others spoke of job and financial woes,  methods for cutting costs in a flagging economy, choosing an education plan  for a 1st grader and facing the challenges of elder parent care, I realized I was physically in Cincinnati.  But I had lived all of these talks in Tel Aviv.  And Paris, London, Thailand and Singapore.

Vive la difference, I didn’t have to choose anymore.  I was having a damned good time with my global family and friends and rather than seeing the differences that separate us all, I was noticing the similarities forging our paths.

SO…..to my collaborating partners in crime – dear family, global friends, colleagues and an extra special someone held close to my heart:  Thank you for conspiring with me to make life richer, fuller, more meaningful and funner wherever I go

See you next year…..!

 

Tel Aviv: Lifeguard Etiquette July 23, 2010

I came across this saved blog entry in my Drafts folder and decided it should see the light of  this July summer’s day. . .Enjoy

Israeli lifeguards

They sit on the decks of their wooden watch towers facing the sea & eyeballing water frolickers throughout the day.  When the Mediterranean is calm, ne’ery a peep is heard from them.  But get an undertow or high tide and they go into fast-forward, non-stop barking mode issuing relentless streams of orders through their megaphones.

“Move away from the breakers!”… “Hey you in the white swimsuit, did you hear me?”…. “Okay that’s it. All three of you come over here to the lifeguard tower right now”…..

Pretty standard stuff. But sometimes they veer off into ”creative license mode” because…gee I dunno.  It’s Israel and the rules don’t necessarily apply? Or they know they won’t get sued for poking fun or being rude? Or because it staves off boredom?

“Hey parents! Where are you?  Do you think this is your private bathtub?  I am not your babysitter. Does that kid in the blue even have a parent here?”

or:  “All of you move away from the breakers. That goes for you, too, Mahatma Gandhi.  Go meditate on the sand!”

or:  “Gina! Where have you been all morning? Come over to the tower.  I’ll make you coffee! I dreamed about you last night!”

(i swear)

Welcome to Tel Aviv.

 

Israel & the Oscars: Round Three February 3, 2010

There’s a Hebrew saying two acquaintances exchange when unexpectedly running into each other twice within the same day or week:  “If we see each other a third time, you buy me ice cream!”

I thought about that yesterday when the American Academy announced Israeli film Ajami as an Oscar contender in the Best Foreign Film category.  This is the third year running for Israeli films to be nominated in the foreign movie category and I’m hoping it’s “third time lucky”.  Third time ice-cream.

I have to admit, though, that yesterday’s announcement took me by surprise.  I didn’t expect Ajami to make the short list.  And that’s because – and here goes another admission – I made an ignorant, snap judgment about the movie and wrote it off.

Months ago I attended Israel’s  version of the Oscars – the Ophir Awards – and watched, unimpressed, as Ajami knocked out Venice Film Festival winner Lebanon to take top honors.  This will never make it to the Oscars, thought I.  Not that I had seen any of the Best Film competitors…My opinion was based upon seeing the trailers before and during the ceremony.  And I was appalled.  Ajami appeared as an amateurish piece of work featuring non-professional actors and dealing with local crime issues.  This will never get picked up.

After yesterday’s announcement – and considering the fact that I am on deadline to write a story about it- I sprinted to a midday movie screening to come up to speed.

Hours later, I am still processing what I saw.

The film is good.  Really good.  It’s complicated and intense and brilliant and it’s a microcosm within a microcosm  with numerous parallels, messages and sub-plots – so many that it was a bit mind-boggling.  The story takes place mostly in the Ajami Quarter of south Tel Aviv’s mixed Arab-Israeli Jaffa enclave and it deals with issues faced by local residents while simultaneously fanning out as far as the West Bank and southern Israel.

In addressing local issues, it manages to touch on the Arab-Israeli conflict, poverty, organized crime, scandal, co-existence, futility, loss and the simultaneous complex& simple mix that is life  in this part of the world.  The actors were all non-professional – I nailed that one during my trailer viewing – and this is a first film for Arab and Israeli co-directors/writers/producers Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani.

I won’t give away plots or divulge anything about the characters or story but I will say that I walked away with a few distinct impressions:

1) Like it or not, the Israelis and Arabs living in this region are inextricably linked.  For better or worse.

2) That saying “It’s all Good”?  It’s not.

3) I got scared for a bit watching the film and contemplating where I live…the deception, thuggery, payoffs, crime, big shark eats small fish messages.  Then I remembered:  Oh yeah.  It’s the same everywhere.

I’ll be pulling up to the t.v. set on March 7th with my bowl of ice cream.  I hope third time charm works its magic.

 

The Birthday Bailout November 25, 2009

Last week myself and another set of parents co-hosted our sons’ 2nd grade birthday party .  It was an ordeal.  To say the least.  The hoopla was originally scheduled to happen at a local museum but due to logistics, the venue tanked.  So the other parents and I scrambled at the last minute to find a back up: the local bowling alley.

As the date approached, my son fell ill with fever as did his co-host.  We held off, hoping for health and instead, three hours pre-celebration we postponed.  Thank goodness for SMS, email and cellphone technology.    It all makes last  minute change tenable.

We re-grouped and re-scheduled for the following week and luck was to be on our side:  The celebration happened as planned.  But not without incident.

Let’s just say that when you invite 35 kids – thirty-bleedin’-five – there’s bound to be a “hiccup” or two.

And so, the post-party day after was devoted to ME-chill out-time.  I needed it.  To regain my voice – lost as I attempted to out-shout the background music (score! on Lady Gaga), video arcade din and general bedlam.  I also needed to relax after the tension of all that last minute hiccup stuff.

While chilling at home, I emailed my dear friend Keith with a party re-cap. I had to share it with someone.  His reply: “I laughed out loud.  Then I read it again and laughed again!” – prompted me to share it here.

It’s post-birthday party chill day.  My friend D just showed up impromptu and we went to a French brasserie for coffee/food together.  I also briefly met with a graphic designer for a project.  Otherwise, NADA else on the schedule.

The party was slightly hectic – 35 kids.  And honey, let’s just say these littl’uns  DID NOT grow up playing in the local league.  They was throwin’ the ball backwards into the spectator area, bouncing it from lane to lane, rollin’ it down the center panel between lanes. . .EVERYTHANG!

I was certain someone would get killed or lose a foot.

And of course, the “active” kids are the ones whose parents dropped them curbside and screeched away out of sight, leaving only tread marks in their stead.  Bless their little hyped up souls.  I went hoarse coaxing them NOT to throw balls the wrong way, drop balls on other kids’ toes, roll balls  down the lane while the machine was wracking or take them to the toilet á la “this is mine!”…It was a job.

And let’s not forget the crying:  One inconsolable who arrived as dinner was starting and missed the gaming, another who sobbed that his lane-mates were robbing him of his turn and another who DID NOT want to bowl – he had come for the video arcade!

But it was fun and my son had a really good time as did the other kids.  And he got tons of gifts.  And truth be known, it was the easiest party I’ve ever put on in terms of personal involvement.  I merely had to buy party favors, email invites and shell out $$.  Not too tough.

But, as the co-host-mom said the on the phone when she rang to check in:  ‘It’s sort of like the Last Supper.  Good thing it happened because it was the last time.’

I would have to vote an ‘Amen, sister!’ to that.  Less is more & mass invite parties are passé.  Even if it was my first.

 

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.  

 

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.