ISRAEL & a tiny bit of ATHENS

THURSDAY:

The clouds swooped by my airplane window.  They were big white fluffy clouds dancing around us and as the plane shook slightly and the blue Mediterranean was below… we see LAND!

Sky scrapers, farms, trees, beaches and rock. Organized neighborhoods that remind me of southern California and then vast areas of desert. Three hard left turns and our 777 had landed after 9 hours and 30 minutes of flight. We were early. Fabulous flight on Continental!  http://www.continental.com

Amir – my producer met me at the airport and through his friends at security, I got 100K worth of camera equipment into a country without a  carnet. I spoke the few words I rehearsed on the plane to the head of customs and it went a long way – simple greetings like manish ma and todah’s are good to know.  Then we were off to the camera house to meet the AC and deliver the film camera for additional check out. I came to Israel to Produce a commercial.

It occurred to me about 15 minutes into speaking with everyone at the camera house – that Aaron who was there working – was indeed Aaron from Long Island City, New York and a person that I had worked with between the years 1996 and 2005.

Aaron? From Movie Mobile? oh my god, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?

Well he runs an equipment house in Israel  since his daughter lives here and does about a month in Israel every 3 months. I had not seen Aaron since 2001. It was a reunion and the world continues to close in on us… the more you travel the smaller it gets.

After a great check out and an exchange of family pictures by the assistant cameraman that claims even though he is a grandfather he does not look like one (he actually had nice legs!) we were off to scout the city of Haifa, about an hour north of Tel Aviv.

HAIFA is a HUGE port town with about 1 million people. It is also where the tech world is (ie: intel which is the commercial I am working on) and it also has a huge technical university. It would be considered the silicone valley of Israel.

Haifa

The city is perched high on a mountain ridge and over looks the Mediterranean and it is well, nice,  not horribly  beautiful and not ugly… like many of the cities here, it is built  of limestone.  Everything is very dry… there are some amazing gardens and such…  but on a historic level, nothing to write home about,  literally. Jerusalem apparently just takes care of all of that jazz.

We had a tour of the Intel facility  and there is intense security getting into these buildings… there is even security entering restaurants like the one we went to on the beach today. In 2002 there was a bombing there. (mom don’t worry) it is safe now… but as a result you have a man at the door checking everyone’s bags before entering. I am told that it is status quo around these parts.

The HUMMUS and SALADS and OLIVES and fresh mint lemonade was DELICIOUS. So for me as the veggie I am already in veggie Heaven.

Work Lunch with Amir - Amazing Vegetarian Food!

Israel is a sustainable country so everything you are eating is home grown. On the highway you pass farm after farm and greenhouse after greenhouse, they are proud that they turn this arid land into farm land. It is not easy… On the way back to Tel Aviv after scouting the area- Amir was kind enough to let me sleep and not wake me. I was tired and I was on hour 36 or something like that.

We arrive in Tel Aviv at around 5ish. The Hotel Dan is on the beach and it over looks the main drag. Like south beach or even Ipanema, just no mountains and no tropical plants… did I say it was dry and hot here? oy vey it is HOT AND DRY and that SUN IS STRONG.

After a nap on the terrace and watching the sun dip into the ocean I took a LONG shower and got ready to go out. Amir and Marilyn picked me up for dinner and I was hungry. Marilyn is a cousin of my best friend Dahlia so I am in good hands… We went to the old city of Jaffa which is on the water and sits on the southern side of Tel Aviv. Cruising the beach road they point out to the lights of Jaffa that sits on a point. “That is where we are headed. It is an old city and where Arabs and Jews actually live in harmony together.”

There was so much energy and lots of traffic due to the fact that they were celebrating “White Nights”. A night  of no sleep! They hold concerts on the beach and the nightclubs and restaurants stay open later and outdoor markets as well. You could feel the energy of the city just by looking around.

We find parking and enter Jaffa by foot.

Jaffa is OLD – not like 200 years old but like 1000’s + years old. I am told it is one of the only heavily arabic neighborhoods that lives peacefully side by side and in and between and next to Jews. This is great news to me as I always wish for peaceful existence between everyone!  The feel of Jaffa is like Plaka in Athens. It feels a little run down but I am told it is becoming a hot neighborhood for new residents. Young people are buying up the old buildings renovating them and and moving in! As we enter the main area of Jaffa we are surrounded by people and open air markets. They are also backed by restaurants and shops and they are all open for business!  There are also stands selling everything from nuts, falafel, kebabs, ice cream, sweets, jewelry, scarves, clothes, socks, tees, hats, fabric, etc…the works…

Jaffa at night

We ate at a  small self decorated (an everything is for sale by the way) eclectic restaurant named Poa. We dined on lentils with rice and dried fruits, a nut fruit and salad, tomatoes and feta, and spicy pumpkin fitters that are sauteed in a sauce. We ended with local berries and fruit. The wine was local Israel pinto noir that was just delicious. The dinner was with marylin (dahlia’s cousin) and Amir her boyfriend (and my producer) and Eytan and his wife Katherine, Eytan, also a good friend of mine and Dahlia’s.

Katherine, Amir, Me & Eytan in Jaffa!

A lovely night of food, drinks and friends in a bustling corner of the world where no bombs went off, no fighting occured and no terror. All quite harmonious with amazing small shops of eclectic findings. A mixture of the Middle East – the Mediterranean and Europe.

Me and Marilyn at POA - Look at this FOOD!!!!!

I am hearing of tough Israelis – rude people – and so far I have found everyone just lovely, maybe it is the few words I have learned to break the barrier, a simple shalom  – manish ma – mazel – tov – to dah – goes a long way….

Tomorrow is a run on the beach and a little shopping for shabbat dinner. I will be bringing the wine. Tomorrow is like a Saturday – no work! woooohoooooo! I can finally sleep in!

Love to you all!

Stephanie

FRIDAY:

Dear All!

Many of you would be happy to hear that I slept 11 hours last night. My plans of running around this morning were overturned by the sound of the ocean and a comfortable bed…

I did not wake up until 12:30 and I think I threw my phone at one point across the room after turning off the alarm… Wow, I am like having my own personal revolution here! ha ha! Of course at that point of waking up late I am in a state of emergency… what about my list of things to do? I missed breakfast! Well I let it go – I put on my running sneakers and went a running along the boardwalk of the beach toward the old city.

Blinded by the scorching sun, I thought, shit, I should have put on a long sleeve shirt,  it would have actually been cooler…. also, I needed a baseball cap… and some sunblock, but that is another story… sometimes I am shocked at how organized I can be and then how ridiculous I am – going for a run at 1pm in the Middle East…

I went running along the beach boardwalk that sometimes smelled of urine.. sorry it’s the truth! – The beach is a mix of everyone. There is a strong riptide here, so flags a line the beaches as swimmers are pushed toward safer areas….

When I reached the old city and my eyes finally adjusted to the bright light, I opted for a return, too HOT as I darted back…I soak in the city – that was  really built in the 50’s and 60’s so the architecture is similar to what you would see in Athens or Ipanema  or Miami Beach. Modern buildings made of limestone or cement. To tell you the truth, I was surprised at the lack of vegetation or anything for that matter spilling from the balconies. For some reason I was expecting colored buildings with shutters and BUGENBELIA (sp?) and tons of flowers.. but instead everything is kind of the same sandy color, building after building streets after street. Airconditioning units stick out with hoses and wires dangling from them… and many of the apartments look shuttered. I can’t decide if this is for privacy or for coolness – perhaps for both. It is not the most beautiful city I have ever been to, and I don’t know what I expected but –  still there is an energy here that pulls you in. I can’t quite put my finger on it, I will keep you posted….

The beaches were packed, today is a weekend day for Israelis- so a beach day for city dwellers, really the best relief for the heat. Also I notice there are no clouds in the sky today. It was HOT and DRY. There were smells from the beach restaurants of grilled fish, eggplant (took me back to mykonos actually) and spices! The charcoal mixed with the sea air was mouth watering… I wished I had run with some sheckels in my pocket, I was inclined to grab a lemonade and some fish… instead of this nutty idea of a run which made me run faster. I wanted it to be over!

As I head back to the hotel things that I saw:

Men fishing, woman in black burkas, girls wet with full clothing and head scarfs eating ice cream, hassidic families with 2 and 3 kids in these double decker and triple decker strollers,  they also dressed in head to tow wigs and skirts and suits; tanned bodies, young israelis, tiny bikinis, teenagers, gay men tanned and shirtless,  what a junxtaposition – to see some people in brazilian bikinins and speedos walking by  people burkas and religious clothing!

There seems to be a tempo here, and frankly it works…

A "simple" reminder when leaving the beach

As I sprint towards my hotel to get my towel – find myself yearning for water! I had only run for 30 minutes and it felt like an hour.

As I ran toward the sea and jumped in I was in heaven!  The water here embraces you! You know the feeling of you having to break through the water? Not today, the water completely took me in. No jellifish, no plastic bags, no shells, no rocks, and no seawed, just very salty crystal clear water… AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Besides the lifeguard with a pot belly and a speedo on a microphone literally yelling at swimmers to keep them safe from the current (which by the way, was not that bad today) the scene is quite serene. The city dots along the beach with very little force or energy… it lets the water do all the talking.

All in all a great afternoon!

FRIDAY NIGHT: Next up: shabbat dinner!

Shalom Shabbat!

Eytan and his wife Katherine live in a beautiful home surround by exquisite tropical gardens in Herzliya,  an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv. We blessed the wine blessed the bread and had a feast of fish, chicken, potatoes,  shredded salad, hummus, bread and dessert. We had a FABULOUS evening and were intoxicated by the warm welcome to their new home! Eytan and Katherine educated us with stories of the history and geography of the country with great stories of their own. It was just lovely.

On our return to Tel Aviv, about a 20 minute drive…. with the lights of Jaffa in the distance,  the waves crashing onto the beaches, the Ofra Haza playing on the radio and the shabbat dinner we experienced – it did indeed feel that we were in ISRAEL!

Tomorrow we are going to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem  – we can’t wait!

Love,

Stephanie

SATURDAY:

I woke up this morning and jumped in the Mediterranean Sea. It was divine, although I got caught in the current for a minute! There really is a strong undertow here and it was really scary!!! I returned to the hotel for a bit of breakfast and we were off! Amir and Marilyn picked us up about 11am to head East.

To completely understand this nation and this part of the world you need to put the newspapers down and come see if for yourself. First and foremost, this is by far one of the longest tales ever told… who really does belong here in the promise land??? and worse? There is NOTHING promising here? No natural resources! To say it is tough to cultivate anything here would be an understatement, still in the past 60 years the Jews have… farms, vinyards, electricity and a full blown city with a world trade center… it is all quite impressive… when they came here, they got a place of enormous complexity… today I was able to scratch the surface – only to find myself even more frustrated and confused… talk about layers!!!! We were lucky to have an amazing guide with us…. ok here we go on a few things I learned!

This Arid Land

(I was actually taking notes in the car)

When you leave the city due east straight for Jerusalem… the very modern and sleek highway starts to weave its way through the desert country side… on either side you see “towns” or settlements if you will… even though they all might look the same, they are very different. the highway would be considered a B zone meaning, it is considered safe… A is completely Israeli and C is completely Palestinian… C is not too safe and the Israli’s do not take responsibility for you….

This highway which is a super highway towards the holiest of lands is sourrounded with Palestinian settlements. You know they are Palestinian because those buildings are topped with black water towers… so black water towers = Palestinian… then just across the hill – you see stucco houses with clay roofs… this would be a Jewish town, neighborhood or settlement… then you pass another hill and realize they are literally staring each other in the face oops! more black water towers, so = Palestinian… these are HUGE towns, with apartment buildings and mosks and temples… they have not just appeared out of no where, they have slowly been expanding over the past few decades = each believeing the deeper you dig in your heels the better you have a chance to stay….

The highway is Israeli, but underneath the highway are a series of Palestinian roads the cross cross their way to connect each other. Even more confusing there are fences and walls and exits and signs… it can make you dizzy!

As we cruise through this arid land and Amir continues to tell us about Israel and what is actually happening here he points up to our left. Behold the city of Ramallah. Ramallah is considered the capital city of palestine and LITERALLY over looks Jerusalem!!! You can see the end of one sprawl (with those black water towers) and the start of the next one (clay roofs)… this is what makes everything so difficult…. it would be impossible to carve out a border at this point. It would have a coast line as long as the state of Maines which weaves in every direction in and out of areas… proving impossible..

Take a simple look at the numbers. There are 4.4 million Jews in Israel and 2 million Palestinians in its territories… so even though the minority an enormous population of people. I was told today that no one wants to have to deal with the Palestinians, not Jordan, not Syria, not Lebanon and their failure to settle with the new borders increases this areas impossible tasks of living in peace… but it is not that simple… the Israelis are sitting on land that they feel is theirs! It is literally  a pissing match between two people that are fighting over a land that was deemed promising in a book of God, written by a human! this is really nuts!

OK, back to all these villages – there are times of peace and times of rock throwing and bombs,  so there are tons of walls and borders… walls and borders is what defines this region – I never have seen so many walls.. old and new, cement and lime stone, barbed wire and chained… every which way you want them, you got them! WALLS EVERYWHERE!!!!!

Oh by the way! Welcome to Jerusalem!

We enter the city on the back side or front- I am not even sure – all I know it was from the university side that over looked the West Bank – yes! the West Bank!! As we weaved through an Israeli Arab Neighborhood which is kind of chaotic by the way we come to the point that over looks the largest Jewish burial ground  – which is another problem, since it is on the Arab side.. or at least I think so… the game switches moment to moment – until of course you hit a wall… yes the famous WALL that separates the Palestinians from Jerusalem.. oh – it is about 3o -50 feet tall and literally splits the neighborhood in half.. On the Jewish side a house can go for 300K 10 feet away on the other side the Palestinian house of the same size has a value of 30K. Big difference… now remember – there are Israeli Arabs that live in harmony – I learned today that they have it too good to leave. Most work, have homes and jobs and are pretty much left alone in a sense… I asked what happened if they got caught doing something bad like their child bombs a bus or something – in this case the entire family under Israeli law looses all of their property – no matter what… so it is incentive to stay in line… still sometime terror happens and parents claim they don’t know about it – even then they lose everything. There is a zero tolerance attitude on the Jewish end…

The Golden Globe - The Mosque

When we got out of the car and looked over the city a small Palestinian boy walked up to me and literally gave me and olive branch – and he passed some others out too, he wanted money so I gave him 10 sheckels… he took it…  at this moment, the mosque prayers began – and there was an echo through the valley from one mosque to the others earie prayers or moaning and talking for about 10 minutes… it was all quite surreal… looking up to the side there is literally an apartment building with an enormous Jewish flag flying from it and next to it a Palestinian black water tower….  I just shook my head, this is an impossible situation.

Um, can you say WALL?

I was told today that as much as the people want peace, the borders on decision day will be the borders,  so as a result they keep fighting for every inch until that time comes… digging their heals in! The West Bank wall keeps out a ton of terrorists. One statistic says as a result of the wall they are able to catch about 2 attempts per day… I found that to be a extraordinary! 2 per day? wow!

As we got back into our cars after using very very clean public bathrooms, we continue to weave through the Arab Israeli neighborhood which I was sad to say is dirty and with lots of garbage. I also still can’t seem to get over the black veils on women. It was 90 degrees today!

On the right side of the main road that takes you to Jerusalem is the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Men walking around in those huge fur hats… in the heat, again… it is daunting, I don’t know how they do it. Today was shabbat, so no cars or electricity – only walking or sitting at home… did not see to many of them… they are literally in Israel to pray and get money from the govenrment to do so. They also get more and more money with every child they have and usually they have about 7. There is a big discussion on getting them to do something else… like social work- they don’t even serve in the army and an enormous amount of taxes go to them. They started out in Israel with 1000’s of people that were meant to keep the religion of the Jews alive – now there are 400K living off the government – a frustration for the Secular Jews that pay taxes and go to the army  – 2 years for the girls and 3 for the boys.

We parked and entered the old city by foot. First from the Catholic quater that leads you into the Muslim section and then finally to the Jewish section…..

Fully covered, we walked through the souk – which offer lots of religious gifts – potery, scarves, and moving through the souk you get to the dried fruits, spices and even sox and underwear… there are tons of people and everyone is bargaining… it is pretty touristic but none the less a lot of fun….

Spices in the Arab Quarter

Streets of Jerusalem

We first entered the cathedral – where Christ was brought after his crucifixiton – washed and is buried… the old building was beautiful and it was full of people, many Eastern Europeans, bowing and praying and bringing gifts. Everyone is in Jesus hyper mode and wanted to touch the stairs he walked on and give gifts to the place where they washed him and then to walk through his grave site… there are priests everywhere literally pushing you out of the way in order to shake the incense around… (elke you would have had a tough time) people are lighting candles and praying and running around taking pictures… the priests are flying around in their robes…  with the incense burners… it is all very I hate to say it, theatrical… but it was beautiful. The architecture was amazing and the mosaics and just the idea of being in this place… pretty cool!
I lit a candle for Uncle John specifically – and then another for everyone I know; I enjoyed that…  it was in a quite part of the upstairs part where christ was brought through after his death. so it was a holier than holier place to ask for and say a prayer…

For Uncle John

Next the whaling wall, which was also pretty amazing!  Not too many people since the Jews were on Sabbath, that made it less hectic… girls on the right boys on the left, you can walk right up to it and place your wishes… I had all of mine in a zip lock, I took them out and place them all gently in a hole of the rock all together – then put my hand on the wall and thought a bit… it was nice but it was HOT! people around you are also praying and nodding and swaying all all that… very interesting to see how people react to these places… you walk away from the wall with your face toward it, so people sometimes bump into you.. it is cute… I made the sign of the cross and hoped for the best… this space was spectacular, with the limestone walls all around you… The only thing that bothered me were all the family advertisements posted on the building across from the wailing wall. Something about who donated what to what… That seemed a little tasteless to me…

Behold: The Whaling Wall

The Mosque and Me

Jerusalem demands that you use the limestone for all buildings so most everything is the same color.. with the bricks.. pretty amazing… so when you look around, it is always bright and light as you can see from the picture above.

After the wall we jumped in the car and had the most amazing lunch in a local arabic place. Hummus, salad, falafel, tahini and some local soda.. (lemon lime!) all delicious!)

But Jersalem has its problems.. due to all the disputes, there are not too many young people in the city. Israel is starting to offer incentives of free rent if you study there… the threat of the Palestinians right across the way is real – which brings me back to the west bank wall . It is so intense and so obvious. I was told that the prime minister of the palestines actually owns a cement plant! go figure… If you want to be in business in Israel it is in fencing, wall building masonry or cement… oh and of course security…..

There are check points all around… but the city is  still intoxicating. I found it most beautiful from the hill- it sits gently on the hillside with these huge juniper trees dotting the neighborhoods. You forget that the gold dome that is so representative of Jerusalem is actually a mosque – which show the Islamic stronghold of the area… still – the fact that even with its walls around – people from everywhere make this pilgrammage to the place where it all seems to have begun.. Israel holds the oldest cities known to man – Jericho I think is the oldest…

The waves of takers that have come through the area is intense… to follow its history and understand the borders of who and what belongs to who is difficult to comprehend and follow.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem back and I got news for you: Israel will never do it… as a result – Jews are not allowed in Bethlehem and many other areas..

Even weirder – people really don’t hate each other that much. The Palestinians actually speak pretyy good Hebrew and the Israelis tell me that they are Smart and NOT to be underestimated. They need jobs though, and the walls often times deter them from working. There are acts of palestinians scaling the walls every day to go to work in Jerusalem…. there is an enormous financial divide between the 2 groups which is just another added pressure….

I could go on, but you get the gist…

A Palestinian Lunch

As we finished our lunch and thanked out Arabic cousins – we were off to the Dead Sea…

What I did not know is that we were going straight through the West Bank to do it… the highway again is a B – so it is safe… but on either side – bedoin shantys, goats, camels and desert – like NO TREES NO VEGETATION! it was incredible! as we start to descend – the Dead Sea is 1200 feet below sea level the most beautiful mountain range of pink across from what I thought was a very Large Dead Sea…. this is JORDAN! Which Israel has a peace treaty with….

The pink mountains of Jordan and the Dead Sea

The Floaters!

Dead sea was awesome – you throw on some mud and sit in the salt water for about in hour. You really do float, it is the strangest sensation! Like being on the moon!

We drove back through Jerusalem only to see more of the famous wall  driving into the sunset over Tel Aviv……

The West Wall in front of a Palestinian Town

The day ended with an amazing dinner in Tel Aviv at a place called Suzanne..It was made up of okra – feta  – shrimp – eggplant – and root vegetables!  (just like the greeks!)

delicious….

Amir and Marylin were amazing hosts today! You have no idea how lucky we were to have them with us! I learned so much!

Amazing day! Lots to think about! really just overwhelming!

Love,

Stephanie

SUNDAY:

I worked today. But in the interim – learned and saw more!

Haifa is a huge port town, bigger than Tel Aviv. They have an enormous arabic population and actually international population for that matter and guess what – they live pretty well together! Who knew!

I have to tell you, I can’t and won’t  side with anyone on this israeli-palestinian conflict – as Marylin said for 6 million people living on in a state the size of New Jersey,  they make a ton of noise! both sides! there are billions of people on the planet and yet – so much to hear about in this neck of the woods.. again you can thank religion for that! LOL…

The Palestinian people are not bad people. They did not get the best end of the stick either… I think the most annoying part of this whole trip is the very fact that you can tour the holiest of cities: Jerusalem – side by side with very religious people in very sacred places and yet, we still talk of hate and we still have war… I mean the joke is really on us isn’t it?

They have a  mental illness here, it is called the Jerusalem syndrome and people literally get it after visiting the city and go nuts for god… and literally LOSE IT… I really don’t think this is what God intended… nothing should have a such a strong hold on us..

Today I had amazing interaction with a few individuals that made my heart very warm… and made me want to make sure i wrote to you about the other side too!

Meet: Charbel-

It all happened when we were scouting a vista location that would overlook the entire city and port. We stopped at a parking lot and Amir pointed at these very slender doors… he said that was the entrance to houses that actually GO DOWN… the hill is so steep you enter from above… with breathtaking views we etched our way to the front door when we saw a man coming toward us… I got nervous…

“Hello! what are you doing here?”

“Manish Ma – sorry” I responded – “We are here shooting a commercial so sorry to be on your front door step but we are taking a look at the view.”

“Nothing at all!” he responds… “This view is nothing! Come inside! I will show you are view!  You thirsty? You want a cold drink? – What are you shooting? INTEL? My brother in law works for Intel!”

Karen, Kyle and I refused as much as we could and before we knew it we were in Charbel’s amazing apartment. He is a Lebanese Christian – he offered us lemonade and told us all about his  life and his father. Charbel is a lawyer! (always good to know a lawyer) and his father the first supreme court judge in Israel that was not Jewish! He then opened an album of family pictures with the pope and presidents and others!

Charbel asked:

“You on facebook? I’m on facebook – let me write down my name- you friend me if you want!”  “Hey listen – don’t watch the news! we are all good people! all of us, Arabs, Jews, Catholics! It’s the politicians and the governments… those guys are the problem! – I want you to see a nice side of Israel – not all that bombing stuff! If you need anything? You call me!!!!”

we took pictures we left charbels home… feeling great!

from left to right: Charbel, Stephanie and Kyle

Next stop the arab neighborhood by the port… it was really broken down. What I am learning more and more that they don’t have the best chance of building up… they are not treated the best way and have a hard time getting jobs… so poverty is rampant – education is poor and well- it is a likely story right? But you can’t really blame them… sure there are bad eggs, but you think there are not bad eggs in Israel that are Jewish!? There are two sides to every story- and their side is not that pleasant …still the Israeli Arabs trudge along – Haifa has an enormous population that lives there and on other spectrums have the ability to also do well too! I find it hard to cast any stones here (thank you Jesus, that was a good lesson you taught us.) There is neglect in the USA too. Solutions are not always easy for people of minorities and lesser means and when a people is guilty before proven innocent – well that then it is even more difficult… but then I saw a bright side to all this!!! Especially just about 20 miles north in and ancient town called AKKO!

Akko is like 5000 years old…I got to get close enough to my first mosque which was just beautiful! We were welcomed in by the gate keeper… who was lovely… it was amongst the many mosques in the neighborhood and there are also churches and synagogues… the open market is amazing and the architecture spans thousands of years… everyone came through here at one point – from the Ottomans all the way back to the Egyptians! Just incredible…. Here I met Oscareen! He is like the mayor of Akko! He is Muslim and a friend of Amir, our producer – and Oscareen is the reason we will be able to shoot in the Akko area… as we move through the twisty turning streets of this incredible ancient port town – he knows everyone! He speaks broken english –  and told us that we were his guests…. the best part is? He was wearing crocs…

He was upset that we arrived late – he wanted us to have a fish dinner with him at his friends restaurant – we took a rain check… he pointed at everything and said “nice” “nice” he is going to be our saviour on Wednesday when we come into this area with a film crew… already we had kids following us. There was an enormous sense of community there and although nuances that you just notice being american – it all seemed woven quite nicely together. This is one of the neighborhoods that still has a mixed neighborhood. Does it give you a sense of hope? Certainly!

The neighborhood had an energy to it that is difficult to describe – the green painted gates and doors and turquoise peaks of the mosques were beautiful… I really enjoyed it….

Oh and the music! The Arabic music just coming from different doors and the smells of grilled fish and cumin and spices was divine….

Oscareen offered us fresh grapefruit juice from a vendor… THE BEST!

Amir, Kyle, Oscareen and Me!

On our shoot day we enjoyed our lunch at the famous HUMMUS SAID! oh my god, does life get any better than this? Tourists, Jews, Arabs, Christians easting hummus together!

Best Lunch Award!

If you are curious how they put together these amazing dishes, see the video below!

Hummus Said and Me!

Meet Said, the owner of this joint. He was happy to greet his American customers… this busy lunch spot is an oasis of hope in my eyes!

Akko itself is beautiful. Here are some images of the town…

So in a nut shell? Another amazing day…. again – I am usually seeing through the problems here and being just south of Lebanon – there are problems – but I am finding ALL Israelis to be extraordinary! The people of this land have embraced us – been kind to us – and really opened my eyes!

Love, Stephanie

TUESDAY:

Hi Everyone –

Tomorrow I shoot my last shoot day here in Israel – race to tel aviv and jump on a plane to Greece which I will be reporting from momentarily…

So tonight I leave you with my closing statement from Israel – a few thoughts a few things I left out…

thanks for reading these little diaries!

ok:

– it costs the israeli government 37 times more to support a settler than it does a regular Israeli citizen living say in Tel Aviv or Haifa… “oy vey!”

– yellow license plates- Israel – white license plates =  Palestine –

– there is a restaurant at the dead sea named V. I. P. izza.

– if you put the dead sea  mud on long enough on your face – it begins to burn like a peel… if you can last long enough you take it off and i swear for 10 minutes you are actually looking like a kid again! it is the fountain of youth and i urge you to visit and heal yourself…

– fennel is a huge part of their cooking and it is used just right!

– the israelis know how to eat – fresh everything, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, peppers, eggpant, okra, figs, peaches, watermelon, melon, apricots, dried apricots, dried everything, fresh dates! greens, onions, potatoes, lentils, goat cheese, more goat cheese, i have to say  – some of the best food i have ever had!!!!

– israeli pinot noir rocks the house….

– gas costs about 12 dollars per gallon

– someone keeps blowing up a natural gas pipe near the suez canal – wreaking havoc on their Israel’s energy source

– israel found natural gas off the coast and jordan claimed it.

– they have nuke power here

– jordan is totally cool with israel

– egypt is alright with israel

-israel exports food to muslim countries!!! (yes they do!)

– there is a boat that greece is stopping to bring aid to the gaza strip – it is huge news here and i say the boat should go! “FLOTILLA”

– there are always hand washing stations where ever you go… ( i love that!)

– the coffee fucking rocks…

– you can’t get coffee with milk in a kosher kitchen! interesting

– that many palestinians work in jerusalem everyday benefiting form the tourists there.

– at intel – there were tons of russians working there…  800K russians have immigrated to israel!

– intel in israel won a massive account instead of intel bringing the biz to india… that is the woman we are working with  she kicks ass.

– the art of negotiation was most certainly invented here

– i did not need to see everyone that has donated to the wailing wall’s name opposite the wailing wall – jerusalem although beautiful is like a charlie brown christmas.. very very commercial.. same goes for the catholic scene… and every other scene, every denomination has huge signs outside their buildings of who they are! jerusalem can claim to be the center of the universe but really no one likes each other there – which to me is NOT very PIOUS at ALL!

– if you want to see the real deal? go to akko – it is really where 3 religions are side by side.

– that the muslim prayers are very different than what i grew up with but i have found them quite beautiful the way they echo through the old cities…

– after buying the most delicious food with filo dough from a muslim husband and wife who ended up giving me cookies as a thank you were just very kind and trusting – even after i spoke hebrew hello’s to them – not knowing…

– that someone described tel aviv as scruffy – and it is…  and bad ass too!

– that there are so many kinds of jews!

some with black yamikas

some with embroidered yamikas

some with white yamikas

some with different colored yamikas

some larger yamikas

some smaller yamikas

some have hat and curls

some just hats!

some just curls

some women with wigs

some with scarves

some in brazilian bathing suits

some in full skirts wigs and long sleeves

some in skirts but with long sleeves and no scarf!

some with red hair

some with black hair

some black

some brown

some white

some with freckles

some with snow white skin

some with tan skin

some really mediterranean looking (hot)

some really german/polish looking (cute)

**** you get my point! or maybe not – let me explain! Israel actually holds every kind of person you ever saw here. It is truly a melting pot…

the jews definitely have a special club. Even with all their differences within the group –  there is a sparkle in their eye when you talk of israel – and how special it is that they have it and that they are jewish!

– that the issue of security here is very serious and that they are willing to fight for keeping this land… and yes boys – the israeli women look hot in their army uniforms and would kick your ass!

– that the contrary to what you believe – that i see arabs and israelis living together here in haifa and akko and jaffa… if we would just concentrate on that instead of the negative press and stories – that maybe they can see their way out of it.

– that i pray that palestine can get their state so that they can move on and be successful as a people

** i did not really get to see them too much i would have loved to spend more time hearing about their lives… and what they think…

– that there are israelis and palestinians that work together – that the hate is not as bad as you think…

– that every doorway has a mezuzah!

– that saturdays are really special (less cars!)

– that el al airlines does not flies during the SHABBAT or sabbath

– that israelis really only have 1.5 days of a weekend.. from friday at about 2 pm to sunday morning where they go back to work!

-that in order for isralis to get these beautiful veggies they worked their ass off! it is like dirt and sand and sun! no fresh water!!  no rain!

-that the dead sea loses 3 feet of depth per year due to the fact that we are taking water from the sea of galilee to water the farms and kibutzes

– that there are no pig farms here (thank god!!) no pork! no piggies suffering!

– that kibutzes worked at the beginning but are now being privatized. some are broke.

– that secular jews are very different from orthodox and sephardic jews and that they all complain about each other,  ha ha ha

– that the arab israelis and the palestinians that i met were lovely and amazing to me!

-that israel is a major destination for jersey jews to have their bar or bat mitzvah’s what a business it is for them here! they come in by the bus loads!

– that the catholics/christians here are a gross minortiy but have their place here and seem to love it!

– that i understand that israel cant cave in, but i wish that the borders can be settled somehow….

– its hot – there is turmoil – there are constant reminders of hard life

– my crew that i am working with has been amazing – they are thorough and honest – my producer amir is amazing and this job is not easy and they have all stepped up to the plate.

they are kind and funny and hard working. i  love the people i am working here with!

ok – so not the most PC email in the world – but you get my candidness….

i did not see everything… but i saw a ton! and it got my wheels spinning i hope yours are too!

i would like to end this note with a fact. that in the end we are all cousins. especially the muslims and the jews. there are so many similarities in food and culture… men on the left and women on the right – sabbath – prayers – food… my friend eytan said to me – that the ironic thing is in fact – we are all cousins…. why all the hate?

– it makes me think of family members – we ask people in the world to get along that has such similar cultures and yet each and every one of us can name a family member or friend that we don’t talk to anymore…. if we can’t as people solve our most intimate relationships in our own smaller lives then how do we expect cultures of millions with 4000 years of history between them to do this…

– it is only in our immediate lives and neighbors that we have to embrace each other – only then will it continue throughout – this trip has taught me that there are more good people than bad people in this world and we also need to choose how to be when confronted with the road to take – do we take a road of hate or a road of love an acceptance…

the future lies in our hands……

i do believe in god but – we need our faith but we have to help ourselves.. and solve things not to make it more difficult. we all need to take a reality check….

l’haim

todah

besherda

shalom

manish – ma

and good night!

Love from the craziest place on the planet!

The Last Supper!

Stephanie

THURSDAY:

The security leaving Tel Aviv was in short: intense. Leaving Israel the exact opposite on how I came in… over land and then water was bitter sweet. The notes I wrote to you were probably about 15% of the thoughts in my head as your brain is constantly in flux when confronted with such a place… in the end. Heart felt about Israel and was feeling lucky to have been there…

At 4am the Tel Aviv airport was like grand central station at 8:30 am. I never saw anything like it actually. Checks questions and more checkpoints… flights going everywhere!

My flight was at 6:30 am…

About 2 hours later – touch down in the new and improved Athens… it had been 16 years and 3 weeks since I first touched down in Greece. That day – funnily enough the taxi driver who picked me up actually had worked in the states for my grandfather installing kitchens…

Vassilles or BILL as I like to call him picked me up and off we went.. on the new super highway built for the olympics…(just incredible) Greece might have become a first world city after all!

Super Highway? In Greece? 🙂

Bill lives in the north part of the city – after a frappe and an organization of my bags and a change of clothes (it was HOT) we were off – literally following a road that I drove 16 years prior.. places i had seen, restaurants I had gone to… only difference was it was cleaner and new and improved….

Greece is broke, period. but as bad as it is.. There are not bombs going off and although one night of protests got ugly – they are practicing the very basis of what they invented: democracy… the politicians are now completely hated – they can’t leave their homes with out getting harrassed or screamed at… many of the accounts are of people that parking out side the homes of politicians and just screaming at them…  in general greeks (no offense) are actually the most narcissistic people in europe. still they are upset over the mismanagement of govenment and banks and in general are worried for their money – their investments and their future. they are pissed at germany for not just “giving them money” because the germans want  receipts.. ha ha so in the end they sit and wait.   even more they are now involved with israel – in that they are refusing to let ships go to the gaza strip to send aid to the palestinians. so yes – greece is in the news…. but still – they are trudging away from what i saw… traffic is less since the recession … was something that i remember bill telling me…

I can’t explain flotilla – but google it if you like…. it is complex just like everything else… but greece is also involved in that too! related to israel…

The new acropolis museum was amazing and beautiful. It is a walking tour of the history of the world BC and underneath your feet are clear floors that actually show people excavating ruins underneath – with the back drop of the acropolis just over your shoulder… besides the fact that the united kingdom still holds on to many pieces of the acropolis in their national museums refusing to give them back to greece (been a fight for a ling time) they still have tons of pieces.. and the sculptures that surround you in this space are just incredible.

The Acropolis

The glass floor to the ruins below at the new acropolis museum.

After a quick stop to the museum we stopped at a cafe – on our way there I say a gypsy with her daughter. she was setting up a place for her daughter to perform on the small acordian… the way she grabbed and pushed her daughter around was frustrating… i walking over and tapped the woman on the should and i told her – ” you can pull and push you child like this….” she did not understand it and in front of us pushed her kid… i of course raised my voice and in greek said “no… that is bad! “!!!!!

at that point the we left realizing we were silly for even trying to do anything and  just feet away were other romanian children at their small pianos or instruments playing and begging for money… this is the new pedestrian stip where all the tourists are and where poor people pull at their shoes heart stings for a few euros.

when we sat at our table at a cafe not far away – our littlle gypsy found us… she kept getting grabbed by the hostess as she tried to run to our table… she finally squeezed through and before we knew it was standing right in front or me and bill – she put her finger on my spanikopita and then the waitress yelled – then the little gypsy  grabbed bills sandwich  but did not quite get it before the waitress grabbed her away and hit her on her bum and sent her along… after the waitress offered fresh food i laughed. i thought it was funny.

at that point i cut  out the piece she touched actually brought it to her – when i gave it to her at first she motioned as if she was going to throw it! i screamed at her and said “NO!” then she started eating it… she did not even smile.

her eyes read blank. she may have been 6 years old  and she was already gone… when i did not finish my dessert i wrapped it in a napkin and brought it to her at the end of my lunch. she waited nearby and i noticed her watching me and bill for the time we ate lunch… as we walked away i turned as she sat next to her acordian devouring my baklava… just behind her – was her mother walking toward her. she probably got a smack from her… i turned my head before i would happen.

greece has now become a first world country in that – they have immigration coming through turkey – and also africans. there are some people begging on the street which to tell you the truth i did not see that much years ago.  the crime rate has risen and now the country is broke…

still i saw an athens in a more mature state. there is an underground metro – a train – national parks – pedestrian zones – manicured streets and of course a huge beautification project for the olympics… many buildings had been renovated since i had been there and i actually found the city to be quite beautifiul. flowers spill over the balconies and colored awnings are seen through out. athens looked great!

we headed then for the beach – we found a cove just outside the city where locals go…

The Cleanest Water and Best Beaches!

Greece is special in that it just has the best water in the world… you can go and swim for an hour in the clear blue sea- you can open your eyes under water and just swim and float in these waters.. i did not want to get out of the water…..

My day ended with a dinner at a friends at the port of Athens – we dined on local fish and local wine and had a reunion with friends I had not seen in 15 years… it was lovely – we then went over to a house party  and danced the night away!  It turned out that I had an hour sleep before I had to leave for the airport to get to Lisbon….

Silvia, Lefty, Me and "Bill"

Athens at night!

Arriving this morning was a relief – this was my last stop…  after doing laundry and a nap I took a swim in the ocean…after a birthday party with friends this evening I am ready for bed!

I wanted to write about greece because there are demonstrations – the country has had enormous growing pains with the olympics etc…  the news loves to concentrate on the bad things all the time…. besides regular problems… it is an amazing city that has since 1995 grown up substantially! One day was better than nothing! It was great to be back!

Love, Stephanie

For more information on the places and things mentioned in this article please see the following links to others!

http://deadseaisrael.net

http://everywhereeating.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/hummus-said-akko/

One thought on “ISRAEL & a tiny bit of ATHENS

  1. Ules says:

    Love your stories and the easy way you dircribe you adventure. I am hooked once I start reading your blog. I want to quit my job and start travelling again. Besos Ulrich

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