Friday, August 31, 2012

The kindness of strangers

Blanche Dubois said it but in Tel Aviv, my hubby and I are discovering it. I have been so struck during this trip by the generosity and openness and curiosity of the Israelis we've met. The other day, we met a friend of a friend--Ygal Gawze--an architectural photographer who is passionate about the bauhaus-influenced buildings in Tel Aviv. My s.o. and I have made a significant effort to reach out to get a taste of real life here, and Ygal took four hours to give us a tour of some of his favorite buildings, as he told the story of the birth of Tel Aviv Bauhaus and what was planned as the first modern Jewish city. It made me think of how busy I am at home--so often, when friends of friends want to meet me or connect, my first impulse is that I'm too busy. Often I'll meet people for a quick drink or coffee, but to give someone--a stranger--four hours of my time? Um. Never. And Ygal is not the only one. (BTW, if you are interested in Bauhaus, check out his website, Tel Aviv Bauhaus Walk). Bartenders have given us free shots. The temperamental cat who lives in the apartment we swapped for is showering my husband with affection. (See below) Gallery owners have shared memories of sitting in coffee houses in NYC, listening to a young Bob Dylan. A dancer studying at the nearby Suzanne Dellal dance center shared the story of her year in Israel. Another Jerusalemite trekked with us through the old city, showing us ruins and other nooks and crannies, despite the heat of the midday sun. When I return home, I want to be more open to strangers and friends of friends, offering my time, showing off my city, and generally tearing myself away from the endless busyness of work and schedules.
Below, a few photos of our nabe, Nevet Tzedek, a neighborhood in transition. You can see an example of restored Bauhaus and less-than-restored.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The night city

One nickname for Tel Aviv is The White City, for its distinctive bauhaus/international style architecture. But given the midday heat, maybe Tel Aviv should be called The Night City, because it truly comes alive after 10 pm, where young people and old people gather to drink, smoke, do shots, talk politics, talk high tech and generally have a good time. One thing that's so nice about being a tourist in this town is that all these people take you right into their world--they are not jaded about tourists the way New Yorkers are but are genuinely interested about where we're from, why we're here, what we've done. (Imagine listening to a Times Square tourist with such interest and enthusiasm.) Below, a gallery of night scenes from the nabe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This is not the Hamptons

Women swimming in chadors. Men swimming in their underwear. Children swimming in the all together. Set against a soundtrack of smashing kadima balls and crashing waves. This is Alma beach, Tel Aviv, August 2012.

Sand between my toes, sun above my head

I'm in the midst of my definition of the perfect vacation day. No schedule, ergo slept late. Lounged with hubby. Delicious "cold" coffee, as they call it here. Purchased tickets to a dance performance at the famed Suzanne Dellal dance center. (Planning in advance gives me a thrill.) Now we are settled on the beach, under an umbrella looking out at the Mediterranean, the tower of the ancient Jaffa port in the distance. About to dive into the third book of the trip. (First one was the new Where'd you go, Bernadette?, which I devoured. Next was another Hilary Mantel, called An Experiment in Love. I'd just finished Mantel's memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, and it was interesting how similar the real life Mantel was to the young woman in this novel--which depicts the story of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who ends up at London School of Economics (as Mantel did), and hob nobs with the more upper crust girls there. Definitely a bit dark--makes me glad not to be an adolescent girl. Now I'm starting Edward Sawtelle, which my sister left for me. Last night, my sister, nephews, bro-in-law, hubby and I had farewell drinks and apps at Manta Ray, our second time at this lovely beach place. Later, we met up with a grade school friend of mine who emigrated here, and hung out in a happening Georgian restaurant in the nabe, where pretty young things were frolicking with sparklers in the garden. Really nice to see this person for the first time in more than 20 years. We've had the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of Israelis so far; people have truly made an effort to connect with us: old friends, friends of friends. Tomorrow we are taking a walking tour of the Bauhaus district with an architectural photographer--a cousin of good friends. I feel as if we're getting an inside view of the country. (Last night, I heard a bit about what it was like to drive a tank, from the husband of my friend. Very dirty. Very loud. Very hot.) And now, back to the beach and my book, until it's too dark to see.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Uniquely Israeli moments

If you ever thought portions in the U.S. were oversized (aka 'Supersize me') then you haven't seen portions in Israel. I am not exaggerating when I say the average sandwich can feed three or four. Today, at lunch with my nephews, sister and brother-in-law, I ordered a watermelon and feta salad and was literally served half a watermelon. The six of us couldn't make quick work of it. We've been going since 8:30 in the morning (it's nearly 5 pm here now) so maybe we need all that sustenance. We started the day at the Palmach museum, an interactive history of the first Israeli resistance movement that got its start in the early 40s. The British recruited Jewish volunteers to fight off Nazis who were marching toward the middle east; when the Germans failed, the Brits tried to break up the force, and it went underground, becoming the roots of the modern Israeli Defense Force. It's so interesting to hear the tale of the rise of this nation--essentially, several thousand soldiers were holding off more established forces from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Gives you a notion of the do-or-die mentality that characterizes so many Israelis. And about the Israeli character, so often described as pushy, money grubbing, arrogant: Yes, we've seen some arrogance, but mostly we've seen warmth, eagerness to help and happiness that we've come to their country, despite trouble brewing with Iran. Kind of like misapprehensions about New Yorkers.

Below, downing fresh mango juice on trendy Shenken street and a mysterious scene from the meat section of Tel Aviv's Carmel market. I have no idea what he is doing: sterilizing the meat? Cooking it? You're guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Family, here and gone

Last night, we celebrated Caleb's bar mitzvah with a party in Tel Aviv with our small group of 18, complete with balloons, a torah shaped cake and a slightly schlocky singer from Jerusalem. We folk danced, sang Yiddish songs, including one my sister and I remember my grandmother singing to us when we were children and--13 year old boys being 13 year old boys--there were many antics: wrestling, the neat trick of dangling a spoon from one's nose and an aborted night mission to the beach (the grandparents in the group nixed the  idea).

Earlier in the day, my sister, husband, nephews and I strolled the port in Tel Aviv, watching tap dancers, having some mediocre but much needed wine and watching a brilliant sunset over the Mediterranean sea. Quite a different bar mitvah experience than dee jays, disco balls and dancing girls.

Today, we poked around our little neighborhood of Nevet Tzedek, breakfasting at our new favorite place (1887--the year when this neighborhood was founded), then popping into the Natan Guttman museum. Guttman was a Chagall-esque artist who favored chubby bathers, animals, naive scenes of old Tel Aviv and rough clay sculptures. Lovely. Then we checked out Rochan house, the first dwelling in Tel Aviv outside of the Jaffa neighborhood. It was full of whimsical sculptures and furniture from the early 20th century. Now we are picking up our rental car and off to Beersheva, where my husband has a business appointment. Getting in the groove.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vacation expectations, good and not so much

When it comes to vacation, I'm luckier than most Americans. I've been at SELF for 11 years, so have accumulated more than a month of vacation time, and I take every bit of it. (At the magazine, we've reported that people who take vacation are happier, healthier and more productive when they're back at their desks, so no shame there.) The trouble with vacations, though, is that there's tons of prep before you go, not to mention weeks of day dreaming and hyped up expectations about perfect days, romantic nights, etc., etc. But on vacation, like in real life, there are the disappointing moments (crowded beach! dingy hotel room) and, worse, the moments when you feel as if your brain is still back at your desk, though the vacation days are ticking away. It's a challenge to ramp up to 90 mph before you get on the plane, than put on the brakes and shift into cruise control, where life is easy and worry free. I haven't quite done it yet, and I beat up on myself for that. On the plus side, my hubby and I went to Petra today, in Jordan, with a small group. I'd read that the walk was arduous and the temperature steamy (think: 108 degrees F.). Given that I've seen so many ruins in Italy, Turkey and Greece, part of me was thinking: Is this really going to be worth it? Well, it was. The truth is, it wasn't that hot (much of Petra involves a walk through a narrow red-rocked canyon, so you're shaded from the sun), and the walk is probably about 3 miles all told; not bad at all. And it's quite something to see huge buildings and tombs carved out of the face of a cliff (think the Grand Canyon with a Greek temple jutting out). In other words, the experience exceeded my expectations, though it didn't take my breath away. What I'm looking for is to get into that vacation zone, where thoughts drift, things happen spontaneously, and you feel good mentally and physically. Not. Quite. There. Yet. I'm feeling the pressure.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tour bus happenings

I'm not a tour bus kind of gal, probably in rebellion against my parents (though I am probably too old to be rebelling by now). But my husband and I joined up with a "bar mitzvah tour" for three days of this Israel trip: There are 18 folks, including 7 kids, 4 of whom made the transition from boyz to men at Masada this morning. After an evening in which we floated in the Dead Sea at night (odd and utterly different) we were up at 5 and on the bus in the near dark to the ancient fort, originally the site of Herod's summer palace. I knew the dramatic story of how 300 Israeli's held out against a Roman force for 3 years, surviving with stores of food and water from the palace, and how, except for 2 or 3, all 300 committed suicide rather than becoming slaves to the Roman invaders. But it was another thing to sit in the remains of what the rebels used as a synagogue, watching the sun rise, listening to the young rabbi and watching the three bar mitzvot to be wriggling in nervousness and excitement. It was brief and simple, over before the sun became scorching, but felt right in its simplicity.

Then, on to the bus. Despite my initially skepticism (read: snobbery vis a vis the bus tour thing), it's very soothing sitting in a big air conditioned bus, listening to a guide tell you every little thing about the country (or tuning him out and snoozing). We went for a camel ride, had tea and baklavah in a Bedouin tent and are now on our way to Eilat, the Israeli equivalent of South Beach. It's nice to be with family, to not wait on lines to get into sites, to have someone do my thinking for me. People quickly get into patterns on a tour bus. My brother-in-law naps. My hubby asks the guide a lot of questions. The kids go straight to the back of the bus to, as my nephew said, "day dream, read, and play on my iTouch." I'm a napper myself, though I'm hoping the guide's wise words penetrate my sleeping brain. Until this point, I've been a bit stressed, trying to figure out how to see all there is to see in Israel. What I'm realizing is that I will see what I will see--that touring is not the same as vacationing, and that rather than trying to cram everything in, when we are sprung from the tour and back in the apartment in Tel Aviv, I may want to spend a few days just soaking up the charms of our funky neighborhood, eating great food, lounging on the beach, sampling Israeli wine (which is quite good!) and reading. In other words, I'm trying not to be so Type A, to put away the guidebook and chill.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who knew Jerusalem was a party town?

Or maybe it's just that whenever I'm with my hubby, he manages to find the par-tay. Spiritual experience? Not so much. What we did experience were a few little travel snafus, resulting in a few tense words being exchanged, I am sorry to say. In an ideal world, I would have smiled, said no biggie, hey--stuff happens. But however much I vow to always be patient, open hearted, understanding and communicative, it doesn't always happen like that. (Vows to be better in that department influenced the little note I left in a crack in the Western Wall this morning. We'll see if a possible higher power can help me.

Randy arrived in Jerusalem safe and sound and ready to blow off steam. We met up with a Sabra (native Israeli), an ex boyfriend of a friend, who I hadn't seen in more than 25 years. Other than some gray around the temples, four kids, and a divorce behind him. He was much the same fun loving person he appeared to be at 26. He and hubby instantly bonded, due to a mutual interest in engineering optics. That led to much shared wine, followed by beer, followed by Scotch, downed in a pub nestled into the famous Jerusalem outdoor market. It was wonderful seeing the city by night through the eyes of a Jerusalemite--he led us through the second oldest neighborhood in the city (outside the ancient walls), a warren of narrow streets and tucked away Sephardic synagogues and more feral cats...a feature of the city. (My Israeli friend likens them to squirrels in NYC. The same way New Yorkers don't coo at squirrels, Israelis don't coo at cats.)

Our tour by night ended in...a karaoke bar, where my s.o. and I performed the Eurythmic's Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, followed by Randy's solo performance of Blue Suede Shoes. Memorable.

Today was a trekking day, also with our Israeli friend, exploring in the City of David, the very first Jewish settlement in the area (King David, King Solomon and all that...). Hot and tiring (partly due to the 3:30 AM bedtime last night). Right now, we are en route to the Dead Sea for the family part of the trip---tonight we meet my sister and nephews and the group for dinner, tomorrow my nephew has his bar mitzvah at Masada, then on to the sea resort of Eilat...etc. etc. When we get back to Tel Aviv, we will be ready for more decadent lounging on the beach. (Below, Tel Aviv's famous Carmel market, more beach fun, and a taste of Jerusalem.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Blog -- Hubby Remembers Istanbul: It's Not 1975 Anymore

The last time I was here it was the middle of my round-the-world hippie trip. The taxis in Istanbul were American DeSotos and Chevies from the 50s, left behind by US servicemen, and held together with little but ingenuity. "America good!", I recall more than one cabbie saying, with an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Coolies trudged up impossibly steep hills with implausibly heavy loads on their backs, paid a pittance, I surmised, to deliver loads of coal from the docks to smokey blacksmith shops nestled between fabric merchants and utensil vendors on the inclines of Old Istanbul. I bought steaming fish wrapped in newspaper from a boat at the docks. The fisherman gesticulated expansively and flashed me a nearly toothless smile. "Enjoy!" he seemed to say. The Blue Mosque, huge, with the most minarets (6) of any mosque in the world short of Mecca (10), was completely floored with hundreds of antique Turkish rugs, creating a fantastic collage that has stayed fresh in my memory all of these years.

Today the "taksis" bear modern badges from Korea and Japan and Italy. The Blue Mosque has a soulless manufactured carpet spanning the ginormous floor (and yes, "ginormous is a real word). I didn't see any coolies during our 24 hour layover, though I imagine that many coolie-like jobs persist. And my only run-in with fish was a bass pulled from the Bosphorus and dished out at a hillside restaurant.

In the cab on the way back to the airport I quizzed the driver, who's excellent English he credited to his British wife. "Is there still a US base here in Turkey?"
"How do Turks feel about this?"
"It is good. It keeps the Russians out."
"Are you worried about a flood of refugees from Syria?"
"I don't think that will happen."
"What about Iran? It seems that they may be getting desperate."
"Iranians are idiots." (I guess everyone has to have someone to look down on).
"Will there be an Arab Spring there?"
"I don't think so. But in Saudi Arabia -- that's where they need one. It is an oppressive society, especially towards women" (his wife speaking?)
"How's the Turkish economy doing?"
"We are doing very well."
"Glad that you didn't join the EU?"
"Oh, yes!" It was clear that our driver was proud to live in a secular, democratic state.

After spending a week in Istanbul in 1975, I had decided that I wasn't having the kind of adventures that I'd set out to have. I'd decided to walk out of the pension where I was staying. I was pretty self-contained with my backpack. I'd walk out of the neighborhood, walk out of the city, and keep walking until an adventure happened to me. It did, and that is a wonderful story for another time.

I had the feeling that that sense of adventure-about-to-happen is still around in Istanbul. I'll have to check back in another 37 years.

the vibe of tel aviv

White washed houses. Narrow streets. Sky scrapers. Beach scene. And a place for good coffee on every corner. This is our first day relatively free of jet lag (it helped that we slept until NOON!) and we are exploring our immediate environs. We are staying in a place called Neve Tzedek, which is the oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv proper--the first built outside the initial settlement of Jaffo. Like many cool neighborhoods, it started out prosperous, than descended into slumminess as the heart of Tel Aviv in the east began to develop, and in the last 15 years, it has become trendy again, with wonderful shops on every corner. This morning, we sat outside in the shade and shared Israeli honey and yogurt and a dish called shatshuka, a dish with eggs and tomato, that you sop up with incredible flat bread, accompanied by a salad with terrific tomatoes, radishes and tahini. The heat is a little difficult; we walked for an hour or so, then headed back to the apartment to cool off. The afternoon plan is to explore the local market, Rothschild boulevard (another trendy neighborhood) then end the day at the beach and a walk toward the old port. I am struggling a bit internally, because there are so many sites to see, but my impulse, and my husband's, is also just to wander and not get into the checking the sites off the list mode.

Yesterday, we experienced a bit of the beach culture. Two very hot Israeli guys set us up with an umbrella and lounges--"You're from NYC?" one asked. "You're not afraid we're going to get bombed by Iran? Good for you!" and we read and swam in the very, VERY warm mediterranean. Afterward, we had a wonderful dinner at the beach at a hip place called Manta Ray, where we shared mezze and calamari and cocktails as the sun set...

BTW, we are staying in a lovely apartment in Neve Tzedek--3 bedrooms with a roof deck and a friendly black cat named...Shatsuka. Below, you'll see a photo of her getting friendly with Randy, plus a few neighborhood views...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bare feet, sore feet, smelly feet

In the last few years, I've tried to take advantage of long layovers to do a stopover in another city--an afternoon and evening in Bangkok on the way to Bali--or a two-nighter in Seoul on the way back to JFK. This time, we arranged our trip to Israel with bookended stops to Istanbul, and it's amazing what a nice time you can have in a city in under 12 hours, even with jet lag. Yesterday, we managed to figure out how to use the token machine and took the tram to Istanbul's
Sultanamet neighborhood, where the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are located. I was introduced to the Hagia Sophia in college in Fine arts 101, or, as we called it, "Darkness at noon." (So called because the lights went off, the art slides came on, and the tired, partied out students went to sleep.) Except I didn't sleep. Fresh from my semester in London, I had fallen in love with art (partially thanks to all the prepping I got from my parents, who dragged my sister and me to art museums in NYC nearly every weekend) and I was lucky enough to have as a professor a man named Oleg Grabar, who was an expert in Islamic art. I'd never thought much about Islamic art, ("Boooor-ing!" thought my teenaged brain) but it is spectacular and surprisingly modern and graphic. For one thing, you are not allowed to represent the human figure or animals--it is purely decorative, with swirls and repetitive patterns and layers of color that soothe and arrest the eye. Oleg Grabar must have spent two full classes on the Hagia Sophia alone, and i was mesmerized--I think he may have called it the perfect piece of architecture. In any case, I needed to see it again (this is my second visit to Istanbul), as well as the Blue Mosque. Sadly, the first was closed, so I will be saving it for our end-of-trip stopover in Istanbul. Instead, we headed for the Blue Mosque, donned sarongs, doffed our shoes, and joined the other barefoot tourists beneath the airy domes. It was beautiful, spiritual, even, especially when gazing at the believers kneeling, heads to ground, beyond the wooden barrier. Until I began to notice a cheese-like smell. All those feet. Hot weather. Not a transporting combination.

Next, a taksi (taxi) to Beyoglu, the happening modern part of the city, very European, with wide streets and fashionable-ish shops. We joined the streaming crowd for the Turkish version of the passagiatta (the pre-dinner Italian stroll), though at this point, hubby and I were doing more trudging than strolling. The trendy roof top restaurant where I was hoping to share a romantic drink turned us away (my s.o. was wearing shorts, and even though I forced him to drape a sweater over his shoulders, Euro style--I thought it would help him gain entry--we were rejected.) That put my guy in a very bad mood for a while, and we did more trudging up increasingly steep (though picturesque side streets) in search of another restaurant, in a neighborhood said to be the birthplace of the author Orhan Pamuk, (Nobel Prize winner for the Museum of Innocence, a novel of obsession about a first love). No dice. At this point, we were desperate to find pretty much any restaurant that wasn't McDonalds, and after yet more slogging, my feet throbbing, my brain fuzzy, we happened upon a very narrow street that rose up sharply. At first, we thought there was only one restaurant there, at the corner, but soon we realized we were at the entrance to a kind of Turkish "restaurant row," with outdoor tables, tea lights, live music and waiters eager to lure us to a table. "You from Brook-leen? I from Brookl-leen!" Not the fine dining I was hoping for, but at a certain point, necessity wins out and serendipity takes over: We sat close together on a cushioned banquet, had a bit of mezze, some cocktails, some yogurt dressed beef for me and whole sea bass for my honey, with bits of it fed to the feral cat winding around our ankles and mewing plaintively. Then back to our ottoman hideaway for a few hours of sleep before our 2:50 AM wakeup call. And now here I sit, at Attaturk airport, awaiting the flight to Tel Aviv. The next phase is beginning.
Below, views inside the Blue Mosque, and a glimpse of the Hagia Sophia.

The tussles of traveling

I'm 49, so I've had my share of relationships. And what I've found is that airport time and jet lag can be challenging for any couple. I have gotten in some of the worst relationship fights of my life when jet lagged. You show up at a hotel and you're disappointed or you're kind of fuming at each other even before you get to the airport, when "discussing" the ideal time to show up for a flight. My husband is a "board-at-the-last-second kind of guy. Being the neurotic-minded person that I am, I'm a safely ensconced at the gate an hour and a 1/2 before the flight person. I'd rather cool my heels in an airport with my Kindle than worry about not making it. Other than that little difference, one way I knew that Randy was the right person for me was that we do pretty well in airports together--even when there are a few bumps, as there were today. First of all, we had to wait on the 4 person deep passport line when we got to Istanbul, along with a panoply of people in chadors, head scarfs and running shoes, babies, beautiful doe eyed girls and travelers and tourists of every type. Eyeballing everyone kept us occupied for a while, but when we got to the passport window a half hour or so later, we were told we had to go back and get a visa. Then stand in line again. My husband didn't like that very much and he began arguing with the security guard until I mentioned Turkish prisons. He didn't love that either.

But things picked up once we exited the airport. Our hotel was in a slightly off the beaten path neighborhood (you could even say unpromising): surrounded by partly demolished buildings on either side. But Trip Advisor came through once again: A wooden mansion with a sweeping view of the Bosphorous, a tiny-but-chic swimming pool and a bi-level roof deck (for 120E), we were greeted in the Turkish way with tea and muddy, strong coffee, and spent a half hour lounging in the sun, recovering from our 9 hour very economy class flight. The suite was lovely: more views, gilt chandelier, 2 rooms, an entire room for the shower with marble fixings and of course thick white turkish towels. There is nothing that feels quite as good as stretching out for the first time after an international flight, especially with my honey. After our rest, time for some wandering, through the narrow, hilly streets where the locals were beginning to shop for the weekend at the crowded stalls, which offered everything from spices to wooden implements to hunting rifles. My s.o. loves a good wander through an unfamiliar neighborhood, and so do I, and after some flatbread pizza and some dried dates and apricots, we were finally ready to do a bit of serious touristing. But I will save that for the next blog--it's challenging to keep up with all these time changes and flights.
below, the view from the HHKs roof deck.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The beauty of a martini

I never fully appreciated the not-so-humble martini until I met my husband. I grew up in a Jewish home, with a teetotaling mother and a father who mainly had a drink at home right before going out to avoid the inflated cost of a drink at a restaurant (and I love him for it--such cost cutting measures got me through college without loans). Which is to say that cocktail hour was never a thing in our house. Not so for my s.o. At 5 pm every day, his dad would announce "'tini time!" and rub his hands together excitedly. I am not at that point yet, but after a stressful week getting ready for vacation, my husband and i got through security and headed straight for the gate 9 martini bar, to truly kick off our vacation. Because there's something about that inverted V of a glass, something about the olive, something about the preparatory shaking that says Celebration. And my husband and I are ready for some of that. So, for the next few weeks, I will be blogging from abroad--to be specific, Istanbul and Israel, in honor of my nephew's bar mitzvah. I've been to Israel once before, right after college, and though I thought it was beautiful, there was a tiny sense of let down. Many, many people said to me that when the plane touched down on the tarmac, I would start crying (because I was in the homeland). Others said that if I didn't cry on the tarmac, then I would certainly cry at the Wall. I didn't end up crying anywhere, though I do remember being struck by the realization that most of the people surrounding me were Jewish--from the street sweepers to the crossing guards to the impossibly handsome uzzi-toting soldiers. I'm looking forward to seeing the country with a more adult eye and perspective, looking forward to exploring on my own (as opposed to on a tour), to soaking up the nature of the place like a "traveler" (as my husband likes to say) as opposed to a "tourist." And maybe I will discover a bit of spirituality along the way. Or maybe not. Shalom. Next stop--a quick overnight in Istanbul!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guest Blog: aaaaaaaaaah

The most relaxing moment I had ALL week was sitting down on the bus I'd just boarded in Hartford. 90 miles per hour to 0 in about 10 seconds. No wonder it felt exhilarating. The film strip replaying all of the events of the week in my head slowed down. My surroundings came into focus. A smile arrived unannounced on my face, but ever so welcome.

"Going to New York City?", the driver had said when I approached. Oh, yeah! Then to Istanbul, Tel Aviv, all around Israel, and a side trip to Petra in Jordan. Where they filmed the temple scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc. A World Heritage site. All with my darlin' Paula.

There'll be a bar mitzvah and time with great family.

We'll visit an old client of mine in Beer-Shiva, the CEO of a company that makes endoscopes the diameter of a toothpick. My company helped his company develop a medical instrument to treat reflux disease: GERD. We designed 2 cameras into it so that you could see both sides of the action when the esophagus was stapled to the stomach.

And maybe we'll visit a research group at Technion University, the MIT of Israel. They are working on an optical instrument that can make measurements through the skin that now require a blood sample. I hope that we can contribute to that.

And some time to reflect on what we left behind, and what's coming next. Now, finally, the excitement that comes just before a trip has arrived, with gusto -- andiamo!!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The storm before the calm

Day 19 (I think): Age 49

Sometimes I think the point of vacation is to recover from the massive amount of stress and frantic activity that takes place in the 3 days leading UP to that vacation...tying up loose ends at work, paying bills in advance, cleaning house, laundry, etc., etc. Does this mean if we never went on vacation, we'd never need a vacation? Something to ponder. I'd write more, but I'm too exhausted prepping for my relaxation time to continue.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why are men not-so-gifted at gift-giving?

Age 49: Day 18

This is not going to be a rant.  Promise. Nor will I make generalizations about men (though the title of this blog belies that statement).  But I wonder why so many women I know, women who love their husbands dearly, tend to come right out and say that their men are deficient in the gift giving department? Now, I wouldn't say that about my own husband--totally. For one thing, he gave me the life changing gift of my Kindle, after we'd been together only a year. In fact, with that gift, he proved he knew me better than I knew myself. "You love reading so much, I thought you'd like it," he said, as I opened the compact box. "It's BOOKS I love," I thought to myself. "Their smell, their feel, the browsing in bookstores." Flash forward three years later and I go nowhere without my Kindle--though at the time, I was going to tell my then-boyfriend to return it. But then my wise sister counseled: "Why don't you try it and see if you like it?" Well, I did.

Since then, though, I've noticed that my husband, usually so accomplished in every other area of life seems to kind of freak out when it comes to giving gifts. Or at least succumb to a sort of anxiety that results in me having to take his hand and tell him exactly what I want ("Write me a card." "Buy me earrings, please.") or risk being a bit disappointed. So, on the tail of my 49th birthday and first anniversary, what have I concluded? My husband does so much for me, every day, unasked. He makes my coffee (and breakfast) at 5:30 AM, when we are rushing to get me on Amtrak and I am too groggy to do more than get my clothes on. He DRIVES me to Amtrak. He opens the door for me to get into the car. Every time. He rubs my feet. He rubs my back. He tells me he loves me. Every single day and after every phone call. In short, he gives me the gift of his open heart, which is gift enough for me--and better than any material gift. Except I DO want a card.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Who's in charge? Me--or my MOODS?

Age 49: Day 16

 Why is it that I can know to my core how lucky I am, be surrounded by beauty and people who love me (or at least like me), yet still wake up and spend the better part of a day feeling snarky. Pissy. Angry. Irritable. Cranky. There was a nice piece in the Times yesterday on choosing to be anxious -- which posited, essentially, that there are things we can do to reverse a negative mindset, whether meditation, exercise, therapy or drugs (of the prescription or illicit variety). I know this more than most people--after all, I write and edit stories about happiness for SELF. Yet too often, I wake up with what my husband calls "morning demons"--a racing mind filled with all I have to do (or all I won't get done), frustrations, angry conversations I imagine having--you name it. It's in my head. I know by now that the best thing to do is get OUT of bed, have some coffee and distract myself. Sometimes I'll get in the water and swim the backstroke in our little pond, letting the warm water envelope me and staring up at the clouds. Sometimes I'll run. Sometimes I'll snuggle my honey. Sometimes I'll stroke my cat. Or have a nice, unexpected conversation with a stranger. Or lose myself in a good novel. Reading The Beautiful Ruins right now--which toggles between the Liguria region of Italy (Cinque Terre) and L.A. (Good beach read--a notch above the average. Not sure it's worth all the hoo-ha, though.)

Anyway, point being, I take action against my moods, but sometimes, after stroking the cat, stopping meditation, getting out of the mood falls back to crabby--or worse. Then I am not exactly fun to be around. I hope my friends and husband will love me anyway, even when I don't love myself.
The view from our dock. Sometimes, even THIS doesn't do it for me. What gives?