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This is what an Israeli voting booth looks like.

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We vote for a political party, not a candidate, the ranks of which are chosen within the parties. Every party has an alphabet letter or letters (some symbolic or spelling out words or names, others seemingly random). These letters are printed on little slips of paper. You are given an envelope, you choose a piece of paper, insert it, seal the envelope, and drop it into a slot in a box. Easy.

Today I was presented with no less than 35 choices. It’s simple in a way, but a bit daunting to be presented with such a choice. Doesn’t it look like a board game? Or Scrabble? I’m told this was always the system. Avoids all the “hanging chad” and computerized voting machine problems. The only real way your vote can be voided is if you place more than one paper in the envelope. No pesky representatives from local, state, and national districts, no judges to choose, just one party, one paper. My choice: Meretz.

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The 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament) are then allocated according to the percentage breakdown of the votes. Then comes the dirty dirty wheeling and dealing between parties in order to form a ruling coalition, eg “bribing” religious parties with minister of transportation (no buses on the sabbath) and education, etc etc.

Luckily – we got a day off work! Something other countries should implement. Certainly affects the turnout. And what a lovely day we got – sunny, 25 degrees! If only we got a vacation in the middle of every week. Brunch is so much sweeter on holiday. I especially love to eat bacon unapologetically in Israel.

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Today I went to the Dead Sea for work. I hopped in the car in Tel Aviv at 9 am, and by 11 am I was glimpsing the sparkling water through the haze with the Jordanian peaks behind.  Ten hours later, I was back.  Why I put such thought and detail to my Facebook status update before I left last night, I don’t know, but it summed my sentiments about this experience totally:

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a grownup and they entrust things like automobiles, giant hunks of fast-moving metal, to me. Tomorrow I get to drive for around 6+ hours, through what look like alien planets’ deserts, through the land where the world’s most prominent religions were born, through to the lowest most desolate place on earth, and even though I’ve done it before, it terrifies me. I will counteract it with vast amounts of singing – silly pop, rock, jazz standards, musicals – and coffee and junk food. All of you in Europe and the Americas may think the image quite odd. I will actually be driving past camels and date trees and Bedouin camps. All in a day’s work.

And I somehow survived: sand dunes, soldiers, camels, cliffs, rocks, sink holes, and speeding mac trucks on a winding two-lane highway (it’s honestly not as dangerous as it sounds, for anyone thinking of visiting – though I suggest taking along an experienced driver).  I will not bore you potential readers with the mundane aspects of the wine training sessions I ran today (funny, as now that I think of it, wine tastings must seem like great fun to the rest of the world – not that they’re not – I just happen to do them on a basic level day in and day out – my bread and butter). I did, however, have some lovely “enlightened” thoughts, of the sort that come to me much more regularly when I’m not a stressed blind-sided zombie.  Thoughts that would make a good short story.

The thought: a reinterpretation of SODOM and GOMORRAH

(cue lightening bolt)

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Tatooine, from Star Wars

I camped on top of Mount Sodom once, and it wasn’t a bad experience.  It’s really white and crumbly.  And there are scorpions.  And gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.  It looks like the surface of another planet, like it could not reasonably belong anywhere on earth.  It resembles Luke Skywalker’s planet, Tatooine, more than a little bit, minus the second sun. And it rises a few millimeters every year.  Great view of the Dead Sea.  You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger place.  It was today’s inspiration.

The bible story goes something like this (entirely from memory, biblical scholars and bible readers who know far better than me, please pardon my relative ignorance).  Lot (Abraham’s nephew and “adopted” son until Isaac comes along) and his family come to town, an evil town with bad, bad sinful people – and God tells him he’s going to destroy it.  Lot urges God not to do it, and begs him to spare the town if he can find 10 good men.  God agrees, but of course Lot fails to find even one good man.  A couple men (angels in disguise) come to lodge with Lot and his family in Sodom, and the townspeople surround the house, demanding Lot to turn over the men so they can rape them.  Yup.  Rape them (origin of the word Sodomy, folks).  Lot offers his virgin daughters to the townsmen instead of giving up his guests.  Yeah.  They refuse.  The angels reveal themselves, protect the family, and then God proceeds to destroy the town, in full fire and brimstone fashion.  Lot’s wife looks back, against God’s orders, and she turns into a pillar of salt.  The story gets creepier still when later on, Lot commits incest with his daughters who believe themselves to be the last human beings on earth.  Someone’s got to repopulate, right?

My thought – doesn’t this kind of sound like a Western?  Picture this being in Utah (or similar), some 150 years ago.  What kind of settlements would you find there?  Teeny tiny backwater one-street towns, that’s what.  Sand, dust, tumbleweed, hot hot sun.  Disney’s done wonderful treatments.  Sound familiar?  Woman to man ratio?  Probably 1:20.  Of course I’m speculating – I’ve not done even the least bit of googling on this yet.  What if a holier-than-thou preacher type (from a yet unheard of “religion”) rolls into town with his wife and children one day, claiming they are followers of the one true god.  What would they find?  What would they think?  Bars and brothels would kind of freak them out, right?  More than a little bit.  Though I bet it would never in a million years be spoken of, I bet there was some “fraternization” going on among those cowpokes, given the lack of female companionship, (of course).  Yeah, yeah, I weep-wailing adored Brokeback Mountain like the rest of us all.  Just riffing here.  I’m just about the biggest gay rights advocate you’re likely meet.  I’m being writerly.  (Isn’t writerly such a writerly word?)

Imagine us transplanting the biblical story to this more “modern” setting, at least one in our relatively recent past.  In all seriousness, let’s put as realistic a spin on it as possible.  Poor Reverend Lot, showing up in his covered wagon, dead set on trying to convert the beastly sinners.  Nothing works.  His family is harassed, and he’s constantly on the lookout trying to protect them.  He tells himself that if he can convert 10, or even 1, it will have been worth it.  Alas, he has no luck.  Some important visitors come, the head of his sect here to judge him, there is a scuffle, a showdown, a fight, something… something… something… Lot “hears God’s voice” and knows the town must be destroyed.  He is conflicted.  Will there be a miraculous lightening storm?  A tornado?  Or maybe he facilitates the destruction himself, unbeknownst to him, a la Oedipus.  I’m seeing a fire in the granary.  Or an arson attempt on the watering hole going wrong, alcohol bottles exploding every which way.  Etc.  Etc.  Maybe Mrs. Lot dies as she runs back to save someone from a burning building.  Maybe that’s Lot’s punishment for offering up his daughters.  I could go on.  And on.  And on.

To make a long story short – to the victor go the spoils, and in this case, the winner gets the copyright to the book.  Well, “Lot’s” version of the story gets passed down for generations until it gets written.  Growing up, this story really seemed to be talking about truly evil people, and God’s brutal eradication of them for not changing their ways.  Old Testament at it’s very best.  However, behind a story that is nearly 3,000 years old, there must be some truth, and also myriad other “sides” to the story.  How large could a “town” or “city” be back then?  And have you seen the Dead Sea region?  How much more inhospitable a place could you get?  To this day it can get truly “hellish.”  Mount Sodom is literally made almost entirely out of salt. (Aside: the words Sodom and Sodium aren’t so different…connection?).  Of course there would be “evil” men, trying to survive, coping by doing whatever they could to distract themselves.  It was a warlike time.  Rape and pillage and murder and all that goody bag of stuff.  Doesn’t sound like geographically it would have been a nice place for an ordinary thriving community, anyway.  No agriculture.  Little water.  Of course there weren’t very many women.  Logic, people.  It was the Wild West.

I resolve to write a story.  All excellent fodder.  If you steal the story, I will know…

Non sequitur – while googling Sodom, the first entry was surprising: Sodom Mountain Campground in Massachusetts.  Who on earth names a place Sodom in the New World?  Who would go camping there?  Satanists?  Occultists?  Is this where the witches of Salem came to find refuge?  It boasts being the nearest campground to Six Flags New England, and sports free wi-fi, a swimming pool, and organized activities.  Do people just ignore the name?  Are the people who stay there Sodomites?  A particularly pleased guest wrote in the comments section:

“The Pig Roast dinner was excellent.  Continued success for the next 25 years.  The bear sighting was an added surprise.”

Beelzebub and his employees must be doing an exceedingly good job. Kudos!

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My book of the week: talk about blasphemy!

Not great. My list seems so much more ambitious than I thought.  Some things I’ve done:

  • Because of a cold, for almost a week I drank endless cups and pots of herbal teas and infusions, meaning, I got plenty of water.  Now, not so much.
  • Sleep – still averaging 5-ish hours. Not good at all.  The discovery of late-night Star Trek TNG on this odd Christian cable TV channel has me mesmerized.  I love the show, it’s never on here, and I find it so incredibly strange that it’s METV that airs it.  I’m sure it’s a “recruiting tactic” – they’re also the only channel broadcasting American football, and quite a lot of it – rare and popular pastimes for certain populations.  I wonder if they actually know what they’re broadcasting – the futuristic Star Trek world is yes, quite an optimistic one, but the show regularly presents messages of tolerance (thinly veiled themes on gay rights and euthanasia come to mind) – basic respect for acceptance of the traditions and values of other cultures, whether or not we agree with them.  Things I feel that evangelicals clearly oppose.  It’s a very liberal show.  Squeezed between shows like the 700 Club, Harvest, and Christian rock shows, it’s so entirely bizarre for me, a firm and unwavering atheist, to watch.  This channel has these shows where a Christian “psychic” talks to spirits of dead family members in front of a studio audience.  There’s even a show geared to converting Jews, with a host who is a formerly-Jewish, now devout Christian evangelical, spinning the gospel for the “chosen people.”  Anthropology.  All I can say.  I’m happy for TNG.  Not sure it’s OK that I’m patronizing them.

    This kiss between Riker and the self-identified female “degenerate mutant” from a gender-less species.

  • I have, however, been seeing friends – twice per week is realistic, and as it’s emotionally quite pressing, it seems to be a high priority for me.
  • I went on a date. I thought it went very well, but I may have received the brush off.  Waiting.  It’s OK, life goes on.  The effort is important.
  • I read a whole novel in excellent speed – fantastic feeling. Though not really my cup of tea, I’d been putting off reading the cult-classic, Good Omens.  Was a nice way to pass the weekend.
  • Creativity and culture – I have made a concerted effort to stop and notice the art displayed in the windows of the galleries in my area, and I did actually attend a group exhibition opening a couple weeks ago.  I’ve been thinking about pulling out my clarinet – back in high school I wasn’t a bad player, and I did bring my excellent Buffet Festival with me when I moved to Israel.  AND I DID PAINT! Last week I got out a bunch of expensive Italian ink I purchased years ago, made lovingly with things like real gold flake, and I found a box of old thick “panda” oil pastels of my grandfather’s, a prominent Israeli artist until his death 11 years ago.  All shades of his favorite color – blue.  Here are some of the results, taken on a crappy camera phone.

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    A sort of water-soaked inky gouache, and a pointillism landscape made with an incomplete set of crayola markers, inspired by the “International Naive and Primitive Art Gallery” near me. You can’t see the gold flake on the left, but it’s pretty cool up close. And yes, the inks came complete with a quill – very difficult to use, hence I abandoned it.

  • Bills – not being paid. Weird.  I have the money.  I can’t open the mail – it’s overwhelming. It’s quite urgent. And pressing on me.  Psychological oddity with me, also keeps me from cleaning my room for months.  Though I make a decent effort on the house, the kitchen, public things, some other tasks are near impossible to internalize.
  • I’ve been pretty successful at shutting the computer at night and not thinking of work, so I’m proud of myself in that respect.  I do need to move forward on expanding my professional goals.

So there is the update.  A rather mundane blog entry, but as I felt I needed to keep up the writing momentum, here it is in all its glorious dullness.

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ID-10028225The forthcoming tips come from a journal entry from last week. Its fun to flip through a soft leather pocket-sized volume,  reading bits in juicy blue fountain pen hand. I adore fountain pens, the quill gliding, feeling the shining liquid ink absorb into the paper. I relish writing in cursive, something Israelis find perplexing. Creating loop upon look feels a little like drawing, doesn’t it?  They don’t write that way here, the boxy Hebrew characters aren’t built for it. Though everyone is fluent in English, they cannot read our connective writing. Shame.

In any case, a few facts.

1) I’m writing this post on my kindle fire – a used new-to-me model given me by my mother incredibly thoughtful sister, which despite its first-generation-ness, has really improved the quality of my life. It’s a rudimentary tablet, and I have access to wifi like a smart phone,  something I don’t have as its very expensive here. Though clunky, its so nice to have a browser and books (of which I’ve read a few) and newspapers (I read the Herald Tribune daily) and apps, though usually its just a few card games I use to distract myself to blow off steam. There is no camera and no mic so Skype and photos aren’t relevant. However I just downloaded this mobile wordpress app, seems easy to use, and here I am, writing! Brilliant. Thank you Ashley!

2) The following are guidelines I created for myself, very straightforward, things I know will vastly improve my daily existence. The moment by moment breathing in and out getting out of bed and being functional and happy kind of existence. The physical that should improve the metaphysical.  Underneath the funky bookishness, I’m just an ordinary schmo. I’m very messy and unraveled at the edges. These are my goals. Maybe you guys would find some benefit too from reading this. Or at least you can check up on me. Or ask me out. Or publish my novel. Or do my dishes. Whatever floats your boat.

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night, preferably turning in before midnight.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day. 
  • Create a daily work checklist and stick to it.
  • Don’t dare to think about work after work, and really create a line, even if and when overtime is required.
  • Always be reading a book.
  • Read the newspaper every day. 
  • Attend or participate in (at least) one cultural activity per week, whether it be a night at the opera or digging out the colored pencils for a fun sketch fest at home.
  • See friends twice per week or more.
  • Write, blog, or otherwise work with words in some way every day.
  • Clean something every day and maintain a clean (ish) home – i.e. sweeping, dishes, cat box, laundry, gardening, general tidying.
  • Pay bills/rent/vaad bayit on time.
  • Cook and generally eat healthy meals (and eat with people preferably), not in front of the computer or TV.
  • Go to yoga once per week if not more.
  • Go on one date per week.

How hard is this?  Very hard!  Well, not really, but really.  It takes some self-conscious effort.  Nothing on the list is difficult.  Well, not too difficult – the cleaning is not easy for me.  But doing every single thing, or at least many of them — that is discipline.  I do some of these things, sometimes, and somehow I manage.  I imagine if I could accomplish these tasks, and maintained it, my life would be less stressed and far more fulfilling.  How often do I lose sleep over timing, running to keep up on deadlines, avoiding the disgusting kitchen sink, feeling guilty guilty guilty.  The stress is physically and mentally unhealthy.  So, while easier said than done, I must attempt this everyday Everest.

What do you think?  Do you have a regimen?  Any tips?

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Respite

Latin for “storm tossed but not sunk.” Approximately.  More elegantly translated (via Wikipedia), “He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it.” This was the motto of the school I attended in Paris, France during middle school – and I later learned, this is also the motto of the city of Paris.  Figures.  It also quite possibly fits as the motto of my life – recently and otherwise – or perhaps a motto I must keep in mind, one to which to aspire.  I try to avoid thinking of the tragic sea-related stories that cross my thoughts – The Old Man and the Sea, the horrible shipwrecks of recent weeks, my lack of kayaking activity due to huge storms and sewage spills on alternating weekends.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while.  I’m busy. I  just survived Israel’s biggest, most important wine expo, and holiday wine tasting season is huge and right in front of me.  I’m often overwhelmed.  And despite this, I find my calmer moments to be lonely ones, yet because of complete mental, emotional, and bodily depletion, I find I can do nothing but watch TV like a zombie, and in my better moments, read quality science fiction.  I wonder, in the few more lucid minutes, how I have entered a less “examined” phase in life.  My ideas feel fuzzy and buried deep within my brain.  In these few brighter times, I yearn to write a few words – yet although I have started once or twice – I just couldn’t spit out anything even remotely coherent.  Lists.

This post is a small attempt to force myself to take a break, to be me (I have literally 2.5 business hours left before the weekend, I had been frantic, but this post is helping).  Fluctuat neg mergitur feels quite like a motto of coping, of getting by.  It implies triumph over adversity, sure, but there is a darker flip side of this view, a hanging on by the skin of one’s teeth.  Living, somehow, under the constant threat of defeat.  Life hanging by a delicate thread.  I need to focus on the aspects of my life over which I do have control.  It will make rising with the waves easier.

Without further ado, here are some great articles I’d like to share

 

Blithe Spirit: the story of the unique English-aged “early-landed” Cognac.  Fascinating.

Dirty Words of 1811: add some true gems to your vocabulary, impress your friends and enemies alike, and swear like an erudite sailor.  My personal favorite: “Born under a threepenny halfpenny planet, never to be worth a groat” – a remarkably unsuccessful person.  And I love the word groat.  Feels nice in the mouth.

Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret: An oddity.  I had been unaware of Jerry Seinfeld’s method of getting things done, but this article is weirdly inspiring.

How to move to Paris with no money: this post is exactly what it says – a step by step guide to getting by and settling in Paris with absolutely nothing.  A dream of mine.  Very cool to think about.

My sister bungee jumping new New Zealand: so brave.

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Unbelievable!

I love math, and I am not a mathematician.  I am a girl.  I am a girl who studied humanities and arts. I work in a field, and I have almost always worked in fields that require very very little math besides basic arithmetic come payroll time.  This blog is a cultural, intellectual, foodie, drinky, sort of blog.  But I’m blogging about math because I love it.  I hate that math is seen as geeky and useless.  There are so many beautiful patterns – things I cannot understand but can still recognize as stunning – and things that we as human beings still cannot understand.  Love this stuff.  I need to find an intro to number theory course – not only would it be fun, but it would keep me from doing stupid things like believing I discovered a pattern to predict prime numbers.  I won’t keep rattling on and on, I promise.  Just take a look at some of this stuff, and tell me it’s not extremely awesome.  Makes me happy to be alive.

Magic Squares

Add the numbers in any direction, and the add up to the same amount.  Magic squares have been known to people for thousands of years, and they are still amazing today.  I spent a few hours today analyzing the numbers within the squares, and between different kinds of magic squares.  Check this one out.

Albrecht Dürer's engraving Melencolia I contains what is believed to be the first magic square seen in European art

The 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 squares

So one of the cool things I’ve discovered is that the average value of each square within a square (e.g. in the 6 square, the average value of each square is 18.5 – 111/6=18.5), compared the the average value of each square in the square one smaller (e.g. the 5 square), is halfway between the number of each of the squares’ rows.  Each row in the 6 square equals 111 – so the average value of each square is 18.5.  In the 5 square, each row adds up to be 65, making the average value per square 13.  18.5-13=5.5.  Great.  When you look at the 5 and 4 squares, the difference in average square value is 4.5.   And 3.5 between the 3 and 4 squares.  Isn’t that amazing?  Why?  What does it mean?

Möbius strip

Möbius strip - only one edge and one side. Fascinating.

Fractals

Fibonacci Spiral and Golden Ratio

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LOOT! The extreme smörgåsbord brought to me by my father on his current visit. An odd variety of smoked salmon, gourmet pancake & scone mixes, and a "limited edition" Christmas pudding from Harrod's, made with vintage Port and contained in a velvet box - it cost more than many of my monthly bills

Today, the last day of 2011, is a Saturday.  What a year.  I’ve not blogged in a while, as has been the recent trend, not that I’ve not been collecting material.  So, it’s a great time to share a review of recent, and not so recent events, as some of them are quite awesome.  As for the year to come?  Well… that’s for another post, but I suspect I’ll be reading more classic literature, traveling more, and studying for a wine certification…I hope.  Enjoy the photos!

March - June: Alkalai Wine Bar, I lived in Bourgogne-wine-land every day

WINE: I transformed my career, somehow, with luck, with some concrete planning, with hard work. I went from an online marketing/editing/PR drifter and hopeless fiction writer, who worked part-time doing wine tastings, to a wine bar sommelier and cook, to an invitee representing the winery in a French exhibition, to a full-fledged winery employee.  I’m proud of myself for going for something I wanted and succeeding.  You never know what was entirely based on chance, but I know that whatever had happened, I would be working full-time in wine at this moment, whether at the winery or a restaurant or a hotel.  I learned how to leave a job I hated, work hard, ask for help (which was not easy), and ask for what I wanted (which may have been even harder).  I love my new job.

Christmas Day: Katzrin, Israel. Visit to the winery. I'm pouring our Yarden Heights Wine 2009, a Gewurtztraminer ice-wine-style dessert wine. Yummy.

Christmas: Yonatan vineyard, Golan Heights. Organic Cabernet Sauv.

TRAVEL: Hmm… where did I go…  Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny (in Normandie), Chicago, Kauai… I changed planes in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – though those aren’t supposed to count… and that’s it.  Fantastic adventures…but not as far and wide a selection of places as in years past.  I was very privileged in these, however.  They really were incredible trips.  Wine, food, laughter, hard work, hard play, art, beautiful weather – always – and especially the interesting people that I traveled with and met along the way. (on an interesting side note – after having been featured on an American Travel Channel television show, I was recognized all over the world, by random people, some of who plotzed and took photos with me and my sister).

June: the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Incredible book reading, and I met and spoke with author Nathan Englander, who graciously signed my book, in Hebrew and English. Extraordinary last day in Paris

April & June, Tel Aviv & Bordeaux: OYSTERS! Huitres!

FOOD: I cooked less this year, but ate just as heartily.  Perhaps too heartily.  The most typical New Year’s resolution may be in order for me this year.  From scrummy wine bar fare like prosciutto & Parmesan, fatty French cheese platters, and freshly steamed Thai dumplings; to oysters, foie gras, chestnut creme crepes,  Armagnac ice cream, crisp lemon squid, a simple Chateaubriand steak I’ll remember for a long time, more hearty soups than I can remember, and much much more.

March: squashing tomatoes with my bare hands for shakshuka at the wine bar

KAYAKING: an odd adventure sport I picked up and stuck with.  I suppose I needed some more exotic expensive exercise-induced adrenaline in my life.  Begun as a crazy lark in Hawaii (the Na Pali coast is rated the #2 adventure to take part in by National Geographic), I was thrilled and proud I survived the craziness, I decided to roll with the momentum and immediately join a kayak club in Tel Aviv.  It’s been interesting, and terribly challenging.  It has added another dimension to this ever-changing life.  It has also added  painful dark bruises to my legs and arms every week, and taken a large chunk out of my paycheck for water-tight clothing.  Oh well.  Life.  Better to go for it than to sit on the sidelines.

August: Kauai, Hawaii - kayaking the Na Pali coast

December: Rosh HaNikra, Israel - border of Lebanon - inside the deep caves

December: my kayak club with the Israeli navy

AND let’s end the year with some videos!  Going along with the title of this post, Tom Lehrer wrote some excellent songs that still ring true today.  In honor of all of the revolutions this year, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. In remembering all of the precarious situations that remain, Iran, North Korea, the Euro-zone crisis, the upcoming American elections, the environment going to hell, flu, honeybees dying out, and Israel practically becoming a misogynist theocracy, and of course the future of my physical, mental, and especially social fitness.  Let us hope, but more importantly, let us work hard for a better year and a safer, happier world.  And here’s some laughs and satire for us all.

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