Monday, November 30, 2009

Jenya II

I have written before of Jenya the cleaning lady at squint central. She is seriously Russian and quite odd. She has been working to improve the interior decoration in the office slowly and surely. This is what our coffee table looks like this week. Takes one back to the wilds of Africa, it does.

We have had our ups and downs with Jenya. She got more miserable than usual a few weeks back when we had our (more or less) monthly BBQ. The boys left quite a mess and she grumbled and muttered all afternoon under her breath - "Izz nott a restauranttt, iz ooffice". Remember she only speaks Russian and a sort of Brezhnev era, Soviet spy English. Then she decided that the garbage room downstairs is too smelly and taking the bags out there makes her feel seeeek (imagine mimed finger down throat upchuck). She went on strike for a few days, but after some groveling on our behalf she is back. We have gotten used to her brand of chaos and couldn't figure out where her replacement hid the bowls.

As soon as she got back to work she got stuck into our engineering lounge. And this is the result (this is only one of the walls).

Please take careful note of the bits of plant artistically protruding from the top of the picture (signifies man's inhumanity to man). Also pay attention to the wonderful self portrait around the round metal air intake cover. I asked her if I could take a picture of her alongside her portrait, but she refused - I think she did not want anything to detract from her art. Nothing 80% about Jenya.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let's Go Walkies.

So now that I have finished my "Identifying Archaeological Evidence" course, it is time to get back in shape. I've been hopeless, eating my body weight each day, and sitting like a squint in front of my screen from day to night. So now I'm officially on diet. And I started walking again this morning. I was up before the birds for some reason, and left home at around 4:45am. It was pitch dark and a little chilly. The walk was fantastic. Along the way I passed no less than four old ladies, all in their gowns and slippers and all with little yappie dogs. One old biddy near the house in Raanana, three spread across the residential area of Herzliya. They each one scowled at me and gripped their little dogs a bit tighter - I obviously looked menacing pacing along in my all black. Finally I'm being taken seriously. It's good to know I'm not the only one who is up at that hour. The old ladies and me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tel Beit Yerach (or Not).

This morning early we set out to find Tel Beit Yerach. We failed! Now I know the Tel is there. There was an excavation there during the summer and there are numerous web pages associated with the Tel. Beit Yerach is home to one of the most important Early Bronze Age cities in the area (3150-2200BCE). It was a big city and heavily fortified. The city prospered from trade and commerce and even has a ceramic named for it (Khirbet Kerak Ware). Still we could not find it.

We drove to the edge of the Kinneret, and followed the map and GPS until we hit this locked gate at a parking lot near the beach.
So like all good adventurers, we stopped and made coffee.
We walked around the locked fence, ignoring the "do not enters" and "private property" signs and went looking for the Tel. The closest we could get was a sandstone cliff wall that looked like this. I think those are brick makes in the side of the cliff.
We walked around trying to find a way in but all we could find were tall fences, barbed wire and a deserted Kinneret beach. Oh, and a lot of junk. This is Israel after all.

After walking around and round, we could find no real trace of anything Tel like, although it could have been on the hill overlooking the deserted beach and parking lot. So we walked back to the car and drove home, listening to Malcolm Gladwell's "What The Dog Saw". Not every outing is successful, it seems.

p.s. Go and read blackwifeo's blog immediately. She gets very insecure after each posting. She has the humor in the family.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Hedgehog

Last night while taking the cats for a walk along the path outside the house, I came upon this cute little hedgehog. The cats, while briefly interested, didn't give it a second glance. They probably have had some experience with those sharp spikes. Mind you, Nancy the killer was not with us, she was curled up on my chair in front of the computer. Hmmm, the wilds of Raanana - who would have thought.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Rhapsody

I love the muppets. Happy Thanksgiving Y'all.


My cousins complained that on the days I don't post it messes with their routine. I got home last night and went straight into helping the boy with his college application. Then I collapsed in bed, only to spend the night fighting (and losing) with a pesky mosquito. The deadline for the UC schools is next Monday, and of course, the boy left his application to the last minute. Getting irritated with him for not being sure what he wanted to study - a serious conflict, the answer lying somewhere between computers and film, I had a flashback of sorts. I remember when I first came to Israel and studied at the Technion. Like yesterday, I sat looking at those application forms (on paper, not online) trying to decide what to study. I picked aeronautical engineering, because not only did it sound cool but I liked building model airplanes. Bad mistake. After two years of material science and differential equations (something I grew to love in my second go around at college) I bailed and joined the other lay abouts in Jerusalem. Then came the record shop, and work in basement of the computer industry before I dared go back to school. So I understand how tough it is to make a decision on a college major when you have no idea what you want to be when you are big.

I suppose this is another right of passage we go through with our kids, like watching them learn to ride a bike and perform in public for the first time. Good luck boy, I hope you get what you want - I don't care what you choose, just try be excellent at it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Frank - My Way

Apparently Uncle Gus used to ask cousinAvril to read this "blog-thing" to him from time to time. So here is one for him. I looked all over for a decent clip of Mr. Sinatra doing "My Way" and this one was the best I could find - you would think there would be more. This was also my Uncle Solly's favorite song. So in tribute to all those who are not with us any longer, sit back and enjoy a classic.

I cannot resist adding some wikipediafacts. The English version was written by Paul Anka based on a 1967 French pop song (Comme d'habitude) performed by Claude Francis, music by Jacques Revaux and lyrics by Giles Thibault. He got the publishing rights at no cost. He changed the words specifically for Sinatra and even though Paul Anka was a singer in his own right, he claims "It was for Frank, no one else." My Way has been found to be the song most frequently played at British Funerals. It is also one of the most frequently recorded covers.

FesterBesterTester and Daughter strike again

For the last several months my lovely blackwifeo has been downloading like there is no tomorrow. Each night I got to sleep thinking I will be awakened in the dead of night by an FBI SWAT team (going hut, hut) swinging in through the windows and confiscating all the computers. This weekend she finally filled the 1 terabyte of storage on the file server. Then she downloaded something that trashed her computer. Dead. I have never seen a more virulent virus. It ate her system folder.

Not to be outdone blackdaughtero called yesterday to tell me her computer was showing the Blue Screen Of Death. Most probably also related to rabid downloading. So I spent some of Saturday rebuilding bwo's machine (called A.D.D.) and now I am sitting here trying to fix bdo's laptop (called tumor). I love them dearly but I swear this is the last time I'm doing this.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Demonstrations

I have been more disgusted with the "ultra-orthodox" than usual this week. First we has the issue of the woman who was arrested at the Western Wall for wearing a talit. I love this quote "Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said the act was a provocation meant to turn the wall into a fighting ground. "We must distance politics and disagreement from this sacred place," Rabinowitz said". Really, no politics and disagreements - As long as you tow the ultra-orthodox religious line.

Now it appears that even though there were plans to build a church and a mosque at Terminal Three in BG airport, it's not going to happen. I thought we prided ourselves on the freedom to worship whomever and whatever you liked - As long as you tow the ultra-orthodox religious line.

What pisses me off the most though are those fanatics demonstrating outside the new Intel plant in Jerusalem. It appears it bothers the ultra-orthodox that Intel's production lines run on a Saturday. Now the fools shouting and protesting outside the Intel building don't work or pay taxes. They collect social security, mind you. I completely agree with one of the commentators on ynet that points out that this protest changes the rules on the ground. Till now, the black coats protested things like public parking lots. Things that were visible and out there in plain site. The Intel protest is about what goes on behind closed doors. So it starts with Intel and then moves on to not being allowed to watch TV in your own home on a Saturday. Something has to be done about these people.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tel Yarmuth

We left this morning quite early, the boy, the nephew and I. We set out to find Tel Yarmuth. I have been studying the Early Bronze age in my archaeology class and Tel Yarmuth is a key site for the EB in the Levant. The Tel is a classic example of an EB city. It has huge walls and fortifications as well as palaces and temples. The Early Bronze age is around 3000 BCE so we are talking 5K years back. This is actually before there was any serious bronze (or metal) production or real writing in this area. So it is quite remarkable that the Canaanites managed to build a city of this size. There are those that claim that this city was conquered by Joshua (Kirbet el-Yarmut), but there have been few Iron Age or even Late Bronze Age pottery or artifacts found to substantiate this. My prof thinks the whole Joshua conquest is bunk anyway.

The directions I found on the web said there is a slight climb to get to the Tel. Well it was more like the side of a mountain. I was completely out of breath by the time we got to the top. It was worth it though and you should all go.

This is a cool little bridge over a stream. It's not the way to the site, and we had to backtrack over it. Still it is cute.
This is the easy part of the climb. If you look closely you can see the cyclists pushing their bikes up. There are millions of bikers in the Beit Shemesh area on a Saturday morning.
The boy and nephew preparing coffee at the site.
Some of the buildings. There are a lot of these. I wish I had a map of the place as I could not figure out where the entrance or gate house was. The walls are huge.
More (boring) buildings. I always get in trouble from my family about posting these pictures of walls and stuff. But, it never ceases to amaze me that this was built 5000 years ago.
Serious walls. The outer fortifications were said to be 4 meters high. Thats a lot of stone.
This is a picture along the top (at ground level) of one of the walls (I think). Very impressive.

We had fun. This is the kind of site I really like. I will do more research on this and one day go back when I can make more sense of what is going on. There has been a lot of digging here in the past, some of the pits are very deep.


Note: This is Friday's post, even though today is Saturday.

I don't much care for organized religion. I'm just not that good at it. But there is much to be said for tradition. Us Jews are well practiced at mourning - it's pretty much a core competency. As I sat with my cousins at Uncle Gus and Auntie Masha's place over the last few days, I cannot help marveling at how this all works. There is a lot of laughter and every now and again some tears. It all seems so right though. People stop in and bring food. Everyone talks with joy and pain about Uncle Gus and his idiosyncrasies; he was a funny guy. Somehow all the talking reinforces the fact that he will never be forgotten by those of us who knew him.

My aunt and cousins are amazing. The amount of strength they get from and give each other is wonderful. Jewish traditions of mourning are very powerful. The days of Shiva after my dad died are some of the most special days of my life. Spending endless hours with my mother and brother and sister, nothing to do, nowhere to go, just time to be together to talk and remember, was so special and so healthy. It started the healing.

Auntie Masha keeps telling me I should go home. I keep trying to tell her I need to be there as much as all of them. It feels very good to reconnect with my cousins all over again. We always complain we don't see each other enough, it is so true, we don't. I thank them for letting me sit alongside them now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Uncle Gus

Uncle Gus passed away yesterday. He was one of those people who leaves a hole in the world that cannot be filled. Even though he was my dad's brother, you never met two individuals so unalike on the surface. He was the cool brother, always with a smile, a friend to anyone he met. Yet, underneath it all both brothers shared the same love of family, generosity and kindness.

There is a whole vocabulary that goes with Uncle Gus - "It's a shanda on the neighbors", "balt", or "he'll put a mok on you". When I was a silly 17 year old, fresh out of high school, I figured I would up and go live in Israel. Uncle Gus and Auntie Masha welcomed like another son into their home on Rehov Schwartz. I was just plain lucky to have two sets of parents in my life. These two people mean the world to me. So Uncle Gus, wherever you are (as clich├ęd as it sounds, he is probably playing poker), I hope you are finally getting a solid night's sleep, you deserve it after not sleeping deeply for 70+ years. All us Ostrins, Agavis, Yitschakis and Yakirs lost one of our best yesterday, we were really blessed to have known him. There is so much more I want to say, but the words just come out flat - I have no way to describe that special twinkle in the eye and the mischievous grin or even that particular cough.

Note: The picture above is not really typical of Uncle Gus, as he is not smiling; but it's the best one we can find. This picture was taken at the memorial ceremony for my dad at the trampiada. Gus is holding is the picture of the Kfar Sava town hall presented to the family by the mayor. You would think they could have at least given us a picture of the trampiada itself (a bloody shunda on the neighbors).

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Mountain Goats II

I can't sleep anymore. It seems I am turning into my dad. This morning a little after 5am I was on my way to work enjoying the mp3 player in the new car, when this song came on. It is one of blackdaughtero's favorites. I have featured the Mountain Goats on Music Tuesday before, but this song is special. I looked on the YouTubes and found the video below. No matter how cynical I am, I am easily won over by an audience singing along to a song. It always impresses me that people care enough to learn the words. This is especially true since coming to live here where butchering words of songs is a sort of national pastime (Someday I will blog the whole "Stang a lie" version of "Staying Alive" we used to be subjected to in the disco days).

Anyway "No Children" has some vicious words. No one really knows what or who John Darnielle is alluding to, but there is no denying the passion. So sing along.


Each Monday and Wednesday from 8-10am I audit a class at the Tel Aviv University. It's a lot of fun. The lecturer is interesting as is the subject (Archaeology of the land of Israel from the prehistoric to the destruction of the second temple). The lecturer (Israel Finkelstein) is quite character. He is an engaging fellow and the time flies by quickly. Most unIsraeli he is a complete stickler for promptness. He will not allow people into the class late. Now Israeli students are an argumentative lot. Every class we have to listen to someone arguing with him about how it's not OK that he will not let them in. We have heard threats of his being taken by them to the Dean of Students. We have had doors slammed and people refusing to move from the entrance to the room. All to no avail I am happy to say. As he said last week: "from 8:15am till 9:45 I am the King of Gilman 221 (the humanities building) and what I say goes". I like this, educating Israel, one late student at a time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Apollonia II

I have posted on Apollonia before, but most of this is new. I had trouble waking anyone in the family this morning as the boy and nephew went to bed late - so I set out on my own. I decided to revisit Apollonia, which is 10 minutes down the road, on the sea front. The settlement was originally started by the Phoenicians at the end of the sixth century BCE. They called the place Arsuf after one of their gods. They used the places as a harbor and a place to make purple dye from snails. Then came the Greeks (who named it Apollonia - after Apollo) and the Romans and the city grew and grew. During the Byzantine period (fifth and six century CE) the city became the main port of the Sharon plain - complete with a water system, wine and oil press and glass industry. In 1101 the Crusaders conquered the city and named it Arsour. During the Crusades the city went back and forward between Christian and Moslem hands. In 1241 the fortress at the northern end of the city was built. It stood for 24 years until in 1265 the Marmeluke Sultan Bibars took the city and stormed the castle and burned it to the ground.

As usual I was the only person around. I had a great time walking around. Nice place and close.

These are the remains of a Roman villa built outside the walls. Nice sea view, wouldn't mind living there myself.
A water cistern. It has plastered walls. The inhabitants stored rain water in large cisterns all over the city.
A view of the crusader castle from the north.
Inside the keep.
The sea is slowly eating away at the limestone cliffs below the city. They have begun a big rescue project that requires building a breakwater to protect the cliffs from erosion. You can see the northern side of the ancient harbor in the water.
These were the rocks that were hurled at or by the Crusaders. They found 2200 of these near the gates of the castle.
This is the moat surrounding the castle.

A nice place with a sea view. Who could ask for more.

Friday, November 13, 2009


A few days a go CNN ran an article about Israel's thriving start up economy. Interestingly enough Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than Europe, Japan, Korea, India and China combined. They claim that the military is the cause. It teaches young people to grow up quickly, teaches them about teamwork and how to deal with inadequate resources in an imperfect (at most 80%) world. Last night I got to see how some of this innovation starts in school.

My nephew invited me to come to one of their "young innovators" meetings. This is a project run by a non profit group called "Made in Israel". They get kids from all over the country to form "startups". They register them and open them a bank account in their local database. They shepherd the kids through product identification, definition, finding investment, marketing, production and sales. Some of the profit from their venture gets plowed back into the system, the rest goes back to the kids. Last night was the "innovation" meeting, where they were to identify potential products.

I get there at 7pm sharp, as instructed. Thankfully my brother-in-law as there and so we could chat while we waited more parents and their kids to show up. They came late, of course. We were divided into three groups. Unfortunately we were unlucky enough to placed next a "sporty" mother and her hyper son. She basically decided she would dominate all the conversation and had trouble getting past her obsession for an instant tea making device - which seems to have been invented with the introduction of the tea bag. It was most interesting - parents became almost militant in defending their kids (and their table's) ideas. There were some good ideas, from devices to tell whether you have let your baby cook in the closed car by mistake, to hamster-dynamo driven garden lights. I think the kids should have been encouraged to think more; still they get to choose the final idea they will productize.

All in all it's a great idea and a worthy investment of time. The guys running the show are all business people who do it in their free time. Still, brother-in-law and I couldn't help spending most of the time thinking of innovative ways to get rid of the tea-bag lady at our table.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I have been using the word "insight" way too much lately. Like in how INAA gives "insight" into the grain left on a Paleolithic basalt grinding stone, or how the trade in Roman amphorae give "insight" into life at the Egyptian Red Sea port of Berenike. But now "insight" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Today I sadly said goodbye to my Prius. Its been a good car - the best I have ever had. I received in its place a shiny new (black) Honda "Insight". It's a nice car. Quite a bit smaller, with much less leg room in the back, so fitting the blackfamilyo and bno all at once will be tough. It is noisier, but I drove without the radio (and, I finally have an mp3 player, with an aux input). There are a lot of buttons and dials, and it looks very sporty. It's also a hybrid, and its speedometer changes color from blue through turquoise to green as you use less gas (this could get old soon). Its mirrors flap in, which is a nice touch. All in all it seems like a good car, and it costs less on the paycheck.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fun Tones

O.K. I have had it with these fun tones. It's bad enough that people seem to compete who can have the most annoying ring tone, so I have things like "Alo, Alo" and "Cockadoodle-Do" and the sound of someone's child calling "abba, abba" everywhere I go. Now, when you call people (the women in my family, for example), you get a snippet of a song instead of the ring. The problem with this is that someone like me, who often has to call these people (the women in my family, for example) numerous times a day, gets to hear the same snippet over and over. You know, I used to like the twangy guitar in "Sultan of Swing" and the clever words of "Romeo and Juliet". I used to like Radiohead's "Creep". Now they're used up for me. I never want to hear them again. This gross exploitation of popular music must stop, I say.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Decemberists II

It's true that I have posted a The Decemberists song here in the past (the whole "a The" thing is bad news, but the bands name is clear). Some time last week, one of the kids came home singing The Crane Wife 3 (yes, it was probably you, bdo) and the song has been stuck in my head since then. I hope that by putting it out here in the blog, it will leave my head and enter yours. The video is one of those home made photo montage things made by some poor haunted soul. An excellent, if simple song, with a most excellent bass line.

p.s. Talking of homemade The Decemberists videos, check out this school video project of Eli, the barrow boy.
p.p.s I was just about to quit my youtube window when I spotted this. It's Marianne Faithful, and Nick Cave doing a cover of The Crane Wife. Wawawaaweewa.

Parking sloth

I can't pretend I've been too busy to blog. It's just not true. I am just struggling to find what to say. It's been the first two days that I have consciously just not written anything. I suppose after a year and a half I have run out of what to say. Not quite.

So with all this self doubt and condemnation running through my head, I stepped out of the house at 5:30 this morning. Lo and behold, I remembered why I need to blog. Last night I got home from a school meeting in Jerusalem, just in time to see my neighbor, two doors down, drive up in her car. Now this woman has got a real issue with the concept that the parallel white lines on the road are meant as an indication as to where to park you car. She always parks either at a horrendous angle, thereby crowding the cars on either side, or she just cannot get the lines thing straight. So last night I watched her drive in. Three empty parking spaces in a row, and she could not line up with the middle one (see picture above). Where, Oh, where are you Driver License man.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We did not do any archaeologicaling this weekend. For the first time in six months or so. I had a school board meeting this morning (Saturday 8am - at least there were bagels). So that that put an end to any idea I had of going driving around the country looking at stones.

Yesterday, we were driving around Raanana doing our Friday morning errants when I realized we need a new superhero. Driver Licence Man (DLM). DLM would swoop down from the skies (swoosh!) and pluck the driver's licence from all those fools driving around, peering left and right, helplessly trying to find something while driving at 20kph. He would grab the licence out of their bag, place the car gently into a parking (in a single bound) and say "Sorry maam, you're too stupid to drive" (he would be scrupulously polite). Then DLM would zoom out of nowhere and grab the newspaper off the steering wheel of the imbecile reading the sports section while stopped at a traffic light. He would whack him over the head with the rolled up paper (thwack!), confiscate the fool's licence, park his car and say "Sir, driving is a full time job, it requires all your brain cells, sorry but you are too stupid to drive". DLM would be very busy on a Friday morning in Raanana. Oh, DLM, where,Oh were are you? We need you so badly.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sweet 16

Today is my beautiful daughter's 16th birthday (and Guy Fawkes Day in the civilized world). I am a very lucky chap. I have been blessed. My girl has it all. She is smart and spicy (we like spicy), she is sweet and sour (we like sour), she is everything one could ask for. She has the strength of will to change the world. It seems to me that birthdays are really for parents to mark the changes our kids go through, and each year, dyl, you become someone I learn to admire and respect more and more.

Sweetie, you are now 16. I will repeat the only two pieces of advice I can give you about boys. One, they are all fools. Two, watch carefully what they do and ignore what they say.

If the first 16 years are any measure, you have it all - use it well. Happy Birthday, girl, you dominate all aspects of the game.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Andy White

I have always loved this song, since Johnny first played it for me in his kibbutz room on Kfar Blum. Rave on Andy White, has been one of my favorite albums since it came out in 1986. I had no idea a video to Religious Persuasion existed, and I am glad to have found it. The "troubles" in Ireland so much resemble the mess we have here. Maybe we will be able to make as much progress as they have (here's hoping). At one point, when his CD was hard to find, I emailed Andy White and he emailed me back. He sent me a CD of Rave on..., signed. Nice chap.

Unfortunately, as is happening more and more frequently on YouTube "Embedding disabled by request", so you will have to click over here to see it. Sorry. I looked for a copy elsewhere on the internetz, but cannot find one.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Burial

We buried Granny Leila today. In the pouring rain. Whitegoato (or blackdanao depending on whether we are going by blog names or real names) gave an excellent eulogy. It was a fitting ceremony, respectful and kind, just as Granny Leila would have ordered. The fact that so many people braved the flooding rain, shows the depth of feeling people have for her and her family.

The picture above is the vending machines at the entrance to the cemetery. For 6 NIS you can get a yotsite (memorial) candle, and matches. Quite a deal.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Granny Leila

Granny Leila passed away today. She was a lady. The picture above was taken many years back, and its clear where my wife gets her good looks. The little boy on her right is Jo's dad. She was 92 this year, and has been in decline for a little while. It is sad, but I am sure she is proud of how her family looked after her. No matter how much I persecute my wife's family, they really are good people. Few families are as committed to looking out for one another as they are. So to all the real goldsmiths, Alex, Nat, Jo, Ari and Dana and Uncle Michael and his clan, what can I say except "long life" from the in-laws (I have no idea why we South Africans say this, but that's for another blog). She will be missed.