Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Colander at Carmel Shuk
Elisson sports a natty colander at the Carmel Shuk (Market) in Tel Aviv.  (Photo courtesy of my friend Gary.)

The weather can be a bit on the warm side in Israel, especially if you choose, as we did, to visit in July.

As such, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a goodly supply of perforated headgear.  Whether you cover your noggin for religious reasons or you’re simply trying to keep your shiny dome from suffering the ravages of a third-degree sunburn, you will never go wrong with a well ventilated metallic chapeau.

(You didn’t think I would go two entire weeks in an exotic foreign location without sticking a colander on my cruller, didja?)


Three great monotheistic faiths live adjacent to one another - cheek by jowl, as it were - in the Holy Land... and, as we know, there are occasional times when relationships amongst these children of Abraham are not ideal.

We saw precious little evidence of any actual friction during our visit.  Nevertheless, when we visited the Galilee we discovered a singular illustration of the profound differences between two religious communities.

In Zefat, a venerable seat of Jewish mysticism and the home of Kabbalah, this peculiar sign caught our attention:

Weapons and Puppies
One stop shopping!

The next morning, we visited K’far Nahum, AKA Capernaum, the home of both Jesus and of Simon Peter.  Capernaum was the little fishing village adjacent to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus conducted his ministry after departing Nazareth; it is of interest to Jews because it is the site of two ancient synagogues - including the one where Jesus is said to have taught.

Capernaum, being a site primarily sacred to Christians, is administered by Christian authorities... and it is evident that they do not see eye to eye with the Hebrew sages of Zefat:

No Dogs or Guns
Dang! So much for those weapons and puppies I just bought up the road.

C’mon, guys - can’t we agree on just a couple of things?  Never mind whether Jesus was the Son of God or not... why must I leave my Taurus 9mm and my pit bull in the car when I visit Capernaum?

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Every once in a rare while, Hollywood surprises me.

That the movie business is still capable of astonishing me is in itself astonishing.  I have seen too many stupid-ass sequels and prequels, too many brain-dead book adaptations, too many films that constitute a complete waste of my time... and at my age, time is becoming an increasingly precious resource.  Just as life is too short to drink bad wine, so is it too short to watch crappy movies.

Disappointment seems to go hand-in-hand with movies, at least when it comes to the ones I love - or would like to see made.  Remakes of two of my favorite SF flicks, The Time Machine and The Day the Earth Stood Still, were both, sadly, botched.  Messing with classics is always risky: Only the fact that my expectations were low in both cases kept me from being miserable about both of these films. (The same goes for King Kong.)

I have waited an eternity for certain of my favorite novels to be adapted to the big screen.  Childhood’s End, one of Arthur C. Clarke’s classics, would have made a great film. But (to paraphrase another great SF author) I am beginning now to fear that I must wait a lifetime.

Likewise, I had been all excited about the planned Coen Brothers version of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a novel that I anticipated eagerly and enjoyed thoroughly.  The Coen Brothers, with their unique darkly humorous sensibility, would have been perfect to helm a film about Meyer Landsman and his Tlingit sidekick Berko Shemets, trying to solve a murder mystery in an alternative-history Jewish homeland - in Alaska.  Alas, that film seems to have been dropped into a black hole.

After many years of waiting on my part, the film version of Orson Scott Card’s celebrated Ender’s Game appears to be scheduled for a November 2013 release.  The film will star Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley in two of the key adult roles, and will be based on both Ender’s Game and its sister novel Ender’s Shadow, which tells the same story from the perspective of a different main character.  I sure hope they don’t fuck this one up.

Having said all this, when I discovered that the movie adaptation of this book is set to come out on October 26 of this year, I almost passed a blood clot from the shock:

OMFG!  They’ve gone and made a film out of Cloud Atlas!

For those who are not familiar with David Mitchell’s astounding matruschka doll of a novel, you can read more of my comments here.  The fact that the Wachowskis wrote and directed it - them as wrote The Matrix - may bode well for the film’s quality.  Certainly, it has attracted a passel of Big Box Office Peepul for to act in it: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, to name a few.

Damn, I am burning with excitement.  Or is that the fear of being burned yet again?  I sure hope they don’t fuck this one up.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Temple Mount Model
A westward view of the Temple in Jerusalem in the glory days of King Herod... the destruction of which is one of the many calamities Jews mourn on this day. [Click on the image for a full panoramic view of this scale model, which is located at the Israel Museum in a rebuilt Jerusalem.]

Today is Tisha b’Av, the bleakest, blackest day of the Jewish calendar.

Everything rotten that ever happened to us Red Sea Pedestrians happened on (or close to) Tisha b’Av - the ninth day of the month of Av. And even if it took place some other time of the year, this is the day on which we mourn.

The destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem - the house that Solomon built? Tisha b’Av. The destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E.? Tisha b’Av. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492? Tisha b’Av.

Think about that last one for a minute. “Unless you decide to get baptized as a Roman Catholic, you have three months to sell everything you own and get out of the country. And, no, you can’t take any precious metals or jewelry with you. Just leave that stuff here - we’ll find something to do with it.” Nice, huh?

Having just returned from Jerusalem, I now have a far better appreciation of the magnitude of the devastation that the Romans inflicted upon it nearly two thousand years ago when they brought the Glory Days of that great city to a bitter end. What was once unimaginable has now been placed in its physical context, and it is all the more tragic to me.

And yet...

As I have stated before on this very Tabula Electronica, the black cloud of the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the concomitant destruction of the Beit HaMikdash - the Temple that was the focus of the paleojudaic sacrificial cult - had a silver lining. Without a Temple, Judaism no longer had a geographic center: There was no longer any place to which pilgrims could bring their sacrifices thrice yearly. The religion was forced by dire necessity to evolve, and evolve it did, developing a new emphasis on spoken prayer and scholarship. The birth of the religion we know as Judaism today had its genesis 1,942 years ago in the dark events of Tisha b’Av.

In my own way, I will mourn. I will take the leather shoes from off my feet and avoid consortium (don’t ask me about fasting). I will sit on the floor and read the Book of Lamentations by candlelight. I will shed a tear as we chant the haunting elegiac poem “Eli Tzion.”

But I won’t be completely miserable, not after having walked the streets of Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, today’s rebuilt Jerusalem, the real glory days of which (Hashem willing) still lie ahead. And, being me, I may even crack a joke or two.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


With reference to this post’s title, I am not using the term “drinking in the Holy Land” in the metaphorical sense, as in “we spent two weeks drinking in the sights and sounds of Israel,” despite its appropriateness when deployed in that manner.


I’m talking about the Ingestion of Fluids, both of the alcohol-bearing sort and, well, the other kind.  For if you’re planning to spend time in the Middle East in July, you’d best be prepared to do some serious hydration.  It gets hotter than a brass monkey’s nutsack in many of the places we traveled to - hell, all of the places we traveled to - in the height of summer.  Liquid refreshment is your friend.

Our tour bus driver thoughtfully provided a chilled compartment stuffed with bottles of water.  At a buck a throw, it was a nice side business for him, and a way for those of us who had neglected to top up our supplies to keep up with our moisture requirements without having to wait for mealtimes or rest stops.  We drank water by the pint - by the quart, by the gallon - every chance we got, and would immediately sweat it right out.  Thank Gawd for modern wicking fabrics, which prevented us from devolving into a stinking, dank mob.

I have spoken before about how breakfast is an Art Form in Israel, but it is by far not the only prosaic edible or potable to be so elevated.  Take, for instance, the humble glass of lemonade.  Here in the States, it’s the province of prepubescent entrepreneurs, but in Israel it’s a thing of beauty - mainly because it’s jacked up with mint.  Presenting... limonana!

Limonana - lemonade and mint - may very well be the Israeli national beverage.

“Limon” is pretty self-explanatory: Lemons are plentiful in Israel (unlike limes, which, strangely, were nowhere to be seen during our visit).  “Nana” is Hebrew for mint.  Take a generous wad of mint leaves, steep them in your lemonade, run the whole mess through a blender (if desired), and you’ve got limonana.  Depending on where you find it, the balance of mint to lemon can vary, from almost straight lemonade to something that some might say tastes like the bastard child of a lemon and a bottle of Scope.  I actually preferred the mintier versions, such as the one in the photograph above.

Soft drinks were plentiful, of course.  It was easy enough to find Coke Zero (and its local evil twin, Pepsi Max), although Cheerwine and IBC Root Beer were thin on the ground.

Felafel Coke
JoAnn and SWMBO say, “Have al-Coqaida and a smile. And a bowl of hummus and some felafel.”

Coffee is popular in Israel, too.  On hot days (i.e., pretty much every frickin’ day), you could get a “cold coffee,” which was coffee and milk over ice.  Or you could get an “ice coffee,” which had been run through a freezing gizmo to convert the coffee-milk mixture into something resembling a slushy.  For us hardcore caffeine hounds, espresso was plentiful, along with the ubiquitous Turkish coffee.  This latter is finely pulverized coffee that is boiled once or (preferably) twice, sweetened to diabetic coma levels, and served in tiny cups.  A properly made Turkish coffee contains a roughly 50:50 proportion of muddy grounds to liquid and is screamingly caffeinated.  The Arab version, infused with cardamom, is my personal favorite.

And then there were the Adult Beverages.

During our stopover in New York enroute to Tel Aviv, we took the precaution of purchasing a couple of bottles of strong Brown Goods.  The selection at the duty-free shop was not the best (unless you had a jones for über-pricey items like Johnnie Walker Blue), but there was a fine Glenmorangie LaSanta with my name on it, and likewise a Bowmore 12-year-old Islay malt that called out to my friend Barry.  And the prices were reasonable, especially considering the fact that you were getting a full liter instead of the usual 750 ml load.  Thus it was that we were well provisioned when our group’s impromptu cocktail parties would convene at seven every evening.

Israel produces a handful of excellent beers and an ever-increasing number of fine wines, the latter competitive with the best of France and California.  The Hard Stuff is another story, however. Israeli spirits run mainly to a few brandies, along with arak (an anise-flavored cousin to Greek ouzo).  While I generally like to rely on local products, arak is not exactly the ideal base for mixed drinks - for those, you’d have to go to the Imported Booze well. The hotel bars could be trusted to make simple cocktails, but anything complicated (like, say, an extra dry gin Martini) would, like as not, require special instructions and hand-holding.  So I was glad for those bottles of duty-free Scotch whisky, which lasted the better part of two ten days.

 Hmmm.  I wonder what limonana would taste like with a handsome tot of gin in it?

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tomatoes and Cheese
A small part of my nutritious daily breakfast in Israel: tomatoes with za’atar (hyssop), olives, and cheese. Not pictured: gaboons of smoked fish and multiple cups of espresso.

In Israel, breakfast is not simply a meal. It is a challenge that has been elevated to an art form.

I'm speaking of the buffet breakfasts served at the better hotels, where a veritabobble cornucopia of comestibles stares you in the face and dares you to make a selection.  You cannot possibly eat everything that is laid out before you - hell, you can’t even sample everything.  There’s simply too much.

Most of us have trouble making these sorts of decisions even as we are still wiping the sleepy sand from our eyes. What to eat?  What to eat?

There’s typically a huge assortment of fresh vegetables and Mediterranean-style salads.  Gorgeous tomatoes... cucumbers... peppers... onions.  There’s a mind-boggling variety of cheeses and yogurts, including less-familiar (to Americans, anyway) items like Bulgarian feta and labneh.  You like fish?  There’s fish a-plenty, ranging from gravlax to poached salmon, pickled herring, matjes herring, smoked mackerel.

Now, this is a Cheese Aisle: some of the daily breakfast selections.  Especially popular in the Galilee are the world-famous cheeses of Nazareth.

With all that cheese, you’ll want some dried fruit - prunes and/or apricots - to keep from getting, ahhh, backed up.  Take your pick.

If you’re a carb hound, not to worry.  There are breadstuffs galore: bagels (sometimes), fresh-baked loaves of whole-grain bread, croissants, sweet pastries, crackers, and crispy toast slices.  Cereal, too.

Waffles?  Check.  Pancakes?  Check.  Omelettes made to order?  Check. You can even get a blintz... or ten.

You want some local flavor?  There are bourekas, a Mediterranean staple consisting of phyllo or puff pastry dough crammed with various fillings: potato, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, et alia.  Or try shakshouka, eggs poached in a piquant tomato- and chile pepper-based sauce - Israel’s answer to huevos rancheros.

To stay hydrated, have some fruit juice, mineral water, tea, or coffee.  Have a cappuccino or espresso made to order.  Have several!

The one thing you won’t find at most places offering the classic Israeli breakfast is meat of any kind.  Breakfast is a dairy meal, which means no meat of any kind, consistent with Jewish dietary laws.  (If you want meat, come back for supper... or lunch on Saturday afternoon.)

You can eat yourself silly at one of these affairs.  The Missus and I each had to adopt a food selection strategy that would enable us to survive two weeks of monster breakfast buffets.  In my case, I chose to focus on a few simple items: vegetables (the tomatoes were to die for, packed with the kind of real tomato flavor that is but a distant memory for most Americans), a little dried fruit, a few pieces of cheese, and a pile of smoked fish.  It’s the kind of breakfast that was the perfect jump-start to our frantic days of running from pillar to post in the broiling heat, despite its potential for generating deadly fishy ’n’ cheesy halitosis.  Thank Gawd for choon gum, eh?


Sunset over western Jerusalem
The sun sets over the hills of northwestern Jerusalem, as seen from Kever Shmuel HaNavi - the tomb of Samuel the Prophet.

“When the Lord restored our exiles to Zion, it was like a dream.” - Psalm 126

Now that we’re back from our two-week dreamlike sojourn in the Promised Land, people have been asking us, “Was Israel what you expected?”

Yes and no.

I, for one was not sure what to expect. But my answer, invariably, is that Israel defies expectations. It was everything I expected, yet nothing like what I expected. And it was more, far more, than I expected.

It is a land of contradictions.  It is thoroughly modern, yet it is the ancient seat of the three great Abrahamic religions.  There are stones that serve as evidence of cities that were built over seven thousand (!) years ago, yet as recently as 1900, the land where Tel Aviv now stands was a desiccated wilderness of sand dunes.

It is home to both a vibrant secular society and to people who hew to Judaism as it was practiced in Eastern Europe three hundred fifty years ago.

It is green and fertile... yet it has huge expanses of stark desert that shimmer in the summer heat.

We felt safer in Israel than we do at home.  It has been said that America is a country with secure (albeit somewhat porous) borders, but with not a whole lot of domestic security.  Israel, conversely, has borders that are constantly under threat... but you can wander about Tel Aviv or Jerusalem - both big cities - at any hour, without fear.

Israel is tiny, about the size of New Jersey.  We were able to cover a lot of ground in the two weeks of our trip, starting in Tel Aviv and ending in Jerusalem, with stops in Haifa and Tiberias.  We visited the extreme northwestern and northeastern corners of the country, as well as traveling the Jordan River from its sources in the north, through the Sea of Galilee, to its terminus in the Dead Sea.  (Alas, no time to visit the Negev Desert or the hot-weather resort of Eilat at the country’s southern tip.)  Yet despite its minuscule size, it is an economic and technological powerhouse.  Much of the chips and software that power the Internet and social media originated in Israel - something to remember the next time some douchebag on Facebook calls for a boycott of Israeli products.

All my life, I’ve heard how Israel has made the desert bloom - David Ben-Gurion’s famous directive.  Now I have seen it... and it is real.

I expected to be moved, to be touched emotionally by the experience of being in this country that is simultaneously both so old and so new. I did not, however, expect tears to spring to my eyes unbidden at random moments.  When we sat at Shabbat dinner in Tel Aviv watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea.  When we said farewell to Shabbat in a Havdalah service at the beach.  When I saw the Kotel ha-Ma’aravi - the Western Wall - for the first time, my prayer book falling open to a hymn I used to sing to my grandfather as a child.  And when, standing at the Wall, I chanted the Eil Malei Rachamim prayer for SWMBO’s sister, the sister I never knew.

Whatever my expectations were, they were blown away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Masada Hawk
A hawk soars above the valley floor below Masada.

The Missus and I have just returned from our two-week sojourn in Israel.  I’m too worn out to write right now, but there will be plenty of photos and stories... beyond those we’ve been slapping up on Facebook whenever WiFi was available.

A trip to this corner of the world  - particularly for us Red Sea Pedestrians - can be a life-changing experience.  It certainly has been that, and more, for us.

More later.  Now, rest.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Physicists were agog when Rolf Heuer, the director of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), announced the discovery of new evidence of the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, AKA the “God Particle.” The particle is considered to be a major key to understanding the mysteries of the universe’s origin.

Higgs boson
Higgs boson: artist’s representation.

"We have now found the missing cornerstone of particle physics," Heuer told scientists.

Exciting as this news was, it was almost immediately overshadowed by an even more significant discovery: that of the Higgs Bozo, which may explain the ability of vast numbers of clowns to cram into a Volkswagen.

Higgs Bozo
Higgs Bozo.


Barukh Atah, Hashem, Elokeinu melech ha-olam
Shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man ha-zeh.

Blessèd are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, for having granted us life, for having sustained us, and for enabling us to reach this day.

This is the prayer Jews recite when reaching a milestone in life... on any kind of Special Occasion, no matter whether trivial or earthshaking.  Are you wearing a new suit of clothes for the first time?  Is it your wedding anniversary?  Are you celebrating a holiday or family event?  You say a Shehecheyanu.  Seeing an old friend for the first time in 50 years?  Shehecheyanu.

Last Time - First Time
Today I turn 59¾ - my 60th birthday is exactly three months away.  But that’s not why the Missus and I are saying a Shehecheyanu today.

Monday, July 2, 2012


O Captain! My Captain! The television’s on;
Yet legions of our saddened youth lament that you have gone.
No more the show with Mr. Moose, and no more Bunny Rabbit;
No more the entertainer who became a steady habit.
O boo hoo hoo,
O Captain Kangaroo,
I heard the news today, oh boy
That now your life is through.

O Captain! My Captain! With you and Rogers gone,
The kiddies of America will have to soldier on
Without the seltzer-bottle clown, without good Clarabell;
And now without our Captain? What dreadful news to tell!
Can this be true?
My Captain Kangaroo
Has shuffled off this mortal coil
And left me feeling blue.

My Captain does not say much; his flesh is cold and sere.
Perhaps he’s fallen sound asleep - he cannot see or hear.
O Mr. Green Jeans! Wake him up! Arouse him, please, I pray!
It strikes our deepest fears when childhood icons pass away.
O mourn, my friends! A legend ends!
Our Captain Kangaroo
Is entertaining angels now,
Now that his life is through.

[Apologies to Walt Whitman.]

Not that this has anything to do with current events, but Bob Keeshan’s passing in January 2004 inspired me to write this poem at the time.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic this morning for the television shows of my misspent youth.  The Three Stooges, Bugs Bunny, Captain Kangaroo, Miss Frances and Ding Dong School (that one’s ripe for snarky commentary), and, of course, Romper Room.  What crap did you like to watch when you were a young Snot-Nose?