Friday, November 28, 2008

Slivers of Light, Washes of Clouds

Diagonal slivers of light above the windows, beneath a Jerusalem sky:

Slivers of light

The following pictures were taken at a single location.

Psalm 121 (JPS translation):

I turn my eyes to the mountains;
from where will my help come?

Clouds 3

My help comes from the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot give way;
your guardian will not slumber;
See, the guardian of Israel
neither slumbers nor sleeps!

Clouds 2

The Lord is your protection
at your right hand.
The sun will not strike you by day
nor the moon by night.

Clouds 1

The Lord will guard you from all harm;
He will guard your life.

Clouds 4

The Lord will guard your going and coming
now and forever.

* * *

I add my prayers for the victims of the terror attacks in Mumbai. May the wounded have a complete recovery, and may all those whom the terrorists are still holding hostage soon be released unharmed.

And may any surviving terrorists meet with swift justice.

Rabbis are asking that we recite Psalm 20 for the rabbi of Mumbai’s Chabad House—known locally as Nariman House—and his wife: Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis, together with all those still being held captive.

Friday Cats: Praying for Mumbai Edition

Three cats hang out on Agrippas Street in downtown Jerusalem.

Cats on Agrippas Street 2

I add my prayers for the victims of the terror attacks in Mumbai. May the wounded have a complete recovery, and may all those whom the terrorists are still holding hostage soon be released unharmed.

And may any surviving terrorists meet with swift justice.

Rabbis are asking that we recite Psalm 20 for the rabbi of Mumbai’s Chabad House—known locally as Nariman House—and his wife: Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis, together with all those still being held captive.

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friday Cats

Here’s an assortment of kittypics from this past week.

A black cat on a cool wooden roof:

Sky high

A black cat on the ground. I’m not sure it’s the same one as in the previous photo:

Black kitty poses

Blue eyes, blue sky:

Blue on blue

The same cat, on the ground this time:

Pretty girl poses

(I’m not sure what breed she is. Her fur looks too long for a Siamese, but too short for a Himalayan. Anybody got any ideas?)

A torbie on a wall:

Torbie on a fence

I think that if I need to rent a car, I’ll go with this company. I really like their hood ornaments!

Hood ornament 1

(Seriously, the pic above was taken just a short distance away from the torbie on the stone fence. Maybe they’re related.)

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats. And the Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos will be up at Mog’s this week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I took this photo about two and a half years ago, but I’m running it again, just because.


(Larger version available here.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Further Adventures in Citizen Activism

Some time ago, I posted about one of the buildings where I work, and how I finally managed to get them to remove their big, ugly, illegal ashtrays by submitting a complaint to the municipality.

The smoking problem there had also improved, but after the holidays it was worse. Much worse.

So I got out my film camera again—I still have to post the story of how I got it—and started taking pictures of the cigarette butts on the floor and in the planters. I downloaded the complaint form from the Hebrew-language website for anti-tobacco action, Avir Naki (Clean Air), filled it out, had the photos developed and headed back to the municipality.

Several days later, I got a call from the police. “We would like to set a date with you to tour the building,” they told me. “We’re about to fine the management.”

I told them, “I’m not willing to do that. Can you imagine what the people over there will think, to see me touring the building with two police officers in uniform? If you really want to know what’s going on over there, I’d suggest that you send over some plainclothes officers to hang out there for a while. They’ll see everything they need to see. You don’t need me to show you.” They agreed, saying that they’d get back to me later.

While I was at work later that same day, I felt hungry and decided to go to the cafeteria to buy a plate of vegetables. (I go to the building cafeteria, on average, once every several months.) When I approached the woman at the cash register to pay for my food, she looked at me with loathing and said, “We were fined five thousand shekels because of you.”

I was taken aback. So quickly? I thought. Aloud I asked her, a bit pointedly, “Because of me?”

“Yes,” she said, “because of you.” I kept looking her straight in the eye, and she amended, “Because you told on us and took pictures here.”

“It wasn’t because of me, but because of your own behavior,” I said. “I had spoken to you about it for more than a year, and you wouldn’t listen. What was I supposed to do?”

She didn’t answer that, choosing to say, instead, “You told on us, and you come here to buy food?”

“As I have every right to do,” I said.

“You’re an evil woman,” she said. “But you can be happy now, because we’ve been fined.”

“I don’t think I’m evil,” I said, “and I’m not rejoicing over your being fined. But you knew the law and you chose to break it. That’s your responsibility, not mine.”

At the Train Station

Here are some pictures from the Tel Aviv University railway station, taken when I was there late last week.

Cell phone battery almost gone? Recharge here, for a fee:

Coin-operated charging unit for cellular telephones

A close-up of the machine and the various plugs for the various kinds of cellular phones:

Coin-operated charging unit for cellular telephones

An ad for the Israel Merchant Marine. Join and see the world!

Ad for the Israel Merchant Marine

The train station itself, looking toward the Tel Aviv skyline:

Tel Aviv University train station

This photo has a story to go with it. As I was busy snapping pictures of the Tel Aviv skyline through the arch, I saw a young man walking toward me. I put down the camera for a few seconds, waiting for him to pass by. Instead, he got right in my face and starting shouting at me in bad, heavily-accented English: “Don’t you dare picture me! I’m a famous actor! Don’t you dare picture me!”

I thought to myself, If you’re so famous, what are you doing taking the train instead of traveling by limo? Aloud, I said, “I was taking pictures of the skyline through the arch. See?” As I showed him the view, I added, “I wasn’t trying to take any pictures of you. I don’t even know who you are.”

“Show me,” he said in a challenging tone. I was only too glad to do so, thinking—and perhaps hoping—that it would annoy this self-centered jerk even more to see that I was telling the truth, and that my photos weren’t about him at all.

I showed him the photos I had taken so far. He pointed to one and said, “I see myself here. Don’t you dare picture me! Give me the camera! Give it to me, or I will call the police!”

I thought for a moment of telling him that he was welcome to do so, or of calling security and telling them that this weirdo was trying to steal my camera. But since he hadn’t made any physical move toward me, I decided that he really was distressed, for whatever reason, about having his face in one of my photographs. So I said, “Look, I’ll delete it right here, while you watch.” I did so as he looked on. “See? It’s gone.” He walked away.

After taking a few deep breaths, I followed him to where he was standing among a small knot of people. Looking him straight in the eye, I told him calmly: “I perform professionally too, and there was no reason for you to behave the way you did. If you wanted me to delete the picture, all you had to do was ask. I was polite to you; you were rude to me.”

And I walked away. Behind me, I could hear his response, formed of supreme intelligence:

Wot-evair. Wot-evair.

Soon after that, a train arrived. I snapped this picture quickly, then got on.

Clock and train

After an uneventful ride, I arrived in Jerusalem in mid-morning. Here is the end of the Jerusalem railway line, with the hills and and sky in the distance:

End of the Jerusalem railway line

Friday Felines

Here are a bunch:

First of all, Her Ladyship’s baby blues—healed.

Beautiful baby blues

Next, some members of the cat colony at work. (More feline symmetry! How on earth do they do it?)

Monochrome cat colony

A treat in orange and green. (I didn’t go closer to the fence for fear that this orange-and-white beauty would run away.)

Orange, white and green

Finally, some graffiti from downtown:

Graffiti in downtown Jerusalem

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Miriam Makeba, RIP

Miriam Makeba, the well-known South African singer, died last Sunday, November 9, 2008, aged 76. She collapsed while giving a concert, which turned out to be her last.

The only song of Makeba’s that I knew, “Pata Pata,” was a part of my childhood. At both Jewish summer camps that I attended, it was a staple in the folk-dance repertoire, and even the efforts of our head counselor to remove it from our customary Friday night Israeli dancing eventually failed. We just liked it too much.

I still remember that 45-RPM recording with its strong opening notes. (Heck, I still remember the dance!)

As fate would have it, “Pata Pata” was the last song that Makeba ever sang.

You can listen to the original 1967 recording here.

I never knew Miriam Makeba, but she gave joy to my childhood. May she rest in peace.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Warning: Rant Ahead

A little while ago, I got an email that read, in part:

I’ve had your link posted for some time in the [company name withheld] directory on this page: [link provided] but so far you haven’t returned the favor.
I know that [company name withheld] will send your site a lot of visitors in the years to come if you will just take a few minutes and place a link to us on the link page of your site. After [deadline provided], we’ll be removing all sites that haven’t returned our link so please respond to me as soon as possible. [...]
Let me know when my link is posted and I'll upgrade your link to Premium status and get it to the top of your category!

This is the second message that I have received from this company. The first one was a cheery email notifying me that they had placed a link to my blog on their website and asking me to link to their site in exchange.

When I clicked over to the site, I saw right away that it is not a blog. It is the website of a business that, understandably, would like to increase its customer base. Out of curiosity I checked some of the other local blogs to which it had linked and saw that none of them had added a link to its website.

As my half-dozen readers know, I sell my CD over the Internet, and when I’ve advertised it on other blogs, I’ve either paid for the ads or received them in some other legitimate, above-board way. So I felt a bit annoyed. Businesses have every right to advertise. But a business asking for free advertising via an exchange of links? Nope, sorry, don’t think so. That would be as though I were endorsing their services, and since I’ve never used them, I can’t do that legitimately.

So I deleted the email without replying, figuring that the one who had written it would take my silence as I intended it: a polite but firm No.

Now I get the message that I quoted above... and let me tell you, it got my dander up. First, the writer gives it the following subject line: “Our Partnership.” Huh? What partnership? Is there something going on between us that I don’t know about? Did I sign the papers in my sleep? Then he tries to put a guilt trip on me, as if to say: See this nice thing I did for you, and here you’re not being nice to me back! Then he threatens, oh so gently, that if I don’t link back to him, he will remove the link to my blog that he put on his site, doubtless out of a pure, altruistic desire to bring more visitors to my tiny corner of the Internet.

Listen, Mr. Advertising Mogul: the reason I haven’t “returned the favor,” as you chose to put it, is because you did me none in the first place. You put up links to a number of local blogs, including mine, only as a ploy to squeeze free advertising out of their owners. Well, as you can see, I’m not falling for it, so if you want to remove your link to my blog, please go right ahead. In fact, I’d rather you did. I’m not sure that I want to be associated with a business that tries to skimp on its advertising budget. After all, advertising is a legitimate business expense. If you’re trying to avoid paying for it, then who knows where else you may be cutting corners?

Not only that. Let’s look at what you’re offering me in exchange if I should choose to link to your business: the possibility that over the next several years, people whom you don’t know at all may visit my site. This reminds me of how people sometimes ask my musician friends to play gigs for free, promising them “exposure” in exchange. It’s a fantastic deal for the one making the offer: they get excellent music for nothing, and in return the musician gets a promise that at some yet-to-be-determined point in the future, someone else—some nebulous entity whom the one making the offer has never met—may pay good money for his or her time, skill and expertise.

You know what my musician friends call an offer like this? “Dying of exposure.” And do you know they respond to it? You got it: No.

And not only that. I mean, come on, who are you fooling? If you have to turn to a tiny blog like mine for a customer base, how many visitors will you be able to bring me anyway?

So do me a favor. Stop with the guilt trip. It isn’t working, and in fact it’s doing the opposite. Stop trying to play on a relationship between us that doesn’t exist and never has, and go look for free advertising somewhere else. Or, better yet, find yourself an advertising firm and pay for their service, like a normal business. ’K?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Olive Oil

Last week as I was on my way to work, I saw a woman harvesting olives just outside the industrial zone, which borders an Arab village:

Woman harvesting olives

Since I’ve gotten more serious about soapmaking, it’s become important to me to find a source of good-quality olive oil at a decent price. My latest quest developed into quite a story.

It started last week in the local market. I saw olive oil for lighting purposes on display for what seemed like a reasonable price—neither too high nor too low for that type of oil—so I decided to buy some. (I’ve used it before with good results.) I took it home and made a soap batch out of it, and got a lesson in caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

A little background about soapmaking is in order here. When one makes soap with oils that are hard at room temperature, such as palm oil or coconut oil (and, of course, cocoa butter, which is rock-hard at room temperature), the finished soap will harden fairly quickly. When one makes soap with oils that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil and castor oil, the soap will take a bit longer to harden, but eventually it will.

This stuff... fuggedaboutit. If it were one hundred percent olive oil, within several days it should be soft but solid. But after almost a week, it’s still an unusable rectangular mass of mush.

The olive oil was adulterated, of course. Unfortunately, that’s a common enough problem here.

So I brought back the bottles of oil that I hadn’t opened yet and was able to trade them, in a less-than-satisfactory transaction, for oil of better quality. (I had no real choice in the matter, since many store owners here refuse to give cash refunds. But rest assured that I will be contacting the consumer protection authority.)

Then, it just happened that yesterday morning I saw an ad on a local email list for fresh-pressed olive oil... eighteen liters at a reasonable price. Since I had been given a gift of this oil last year (and had made great soap out of it), I jumped at the chance to buy more.

On the bus ride back, I sat facing an older man who was wearing the most fascinating silver ring I have ever seen. The thick silver wires that held its large, oblong white stone in place made the piece look as though it were alive. It was clear to me that whoever had made the ring was a craftsman who loved his work, and despite my desire to behave with good manners, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Finally I asked the man whether he had made it himself.

He answered in Russian-accented Hebrew that he had, and added with a smile, “It’s nice that you notice these things.”

So we began a conversation, craftsperson to craftsperson. He asked me a little about soapmaking and explained a little about jewelry-making, mentioning that he gives lessons. (Oh, I would so love to learn. When I told him so, he said, “It’s never too late,” and added that the price of silver is currently low.) He mentioned that he also cooks and is looking for good-quality olive oil, so I gave him the number of the man who had just sold me the large container that was now on the floor between our feet.

Connections. I love connections.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Almost There

Her Ladyship accepts some chicken from her human companion. If you look closely (or click to see a larger version of the photo), you can see the edge of her tongue:

Her Ladyship's treat

Her baby blues are almost completely back to normal.

For a bonus, here’s Missy:

Kitty on a tray

Kitty-on-a-tray: the dish I love to skritch!

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the cats.