Monday, July 29, 2013

A Palestinian Tale Told by a Jewish American

Questions and answers with Michelle Cohen Corasanti, author of The Almond Tree- a story of Palestinian life under Israeli rule with hope for a better future.

I previously posted a review of The Almond Tree, which is being described by some as a Palestinian version of The Kite Runner. The book tells the story of a Palestinian man who grows up under Israeli rule yet despite repeated tragedies, learns to build a better life for his family through education and cooperation with Israelis.

Although possibly difficult for Israelis and Jews everywhere to read, The Almond Tree should be required reading for all as when there is understanding of the other side, peace can be achieved.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hear the Other Side = Review of The Almond Tree

Reading The Almond Tree, a Kite-Runner-like epic of Palestinian life by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, makes you aware of what it's like to exist under Israeli rule.

Put yourself in the shoes of Ichmad Hamid, a young boy growing up in a Palestinian village in the year 1955. No, sorry, that's something you can't do. Ichmad's family, living in a village under Israeli military rule, is so poor that they can't afford shoes for the children. Wearing sandals cut out of discarded tires, Ichmad plays with his brothers and sisters while his father earns a pittance building homes for the Jews in a nearby moshav.

There is an open field near the family's house, close to the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. The Israeli army has planted land mines in the field in efforts to stop infiltrators from crossing the border. But in the eyes of Ichmad's two-year-old sister, the field looks like a great place to play. The result of her frolicking is tragic, setting the stage for other tragedies and misfortunes that will befall the family over the years.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing in My Sleep

The other morning, just after 4 a.m., my cat woke me up as she does every morning. She stood at my side of the bed, pacing back and forth and crying, waiting for me to get up and throw her out of the house. I cannot ignore her meows. Cleaning up a mess in the other room is quite a nasty job. So each morning I crawl out of bed, make my way down the stairs, and let her out into the last hours of darkness before the dawn.

Getting back into bed for what I hoped would be another cycle of much needed sleep before the start of the workday, my mind woke up. Visualizing. What I was seeing, in crystal clear clarity, was the next chapter of my work in progress. Dialogue, movement, setting - everything came into place.

I ran downstairs to jot down my notes. I couldn't afford to lose this important epiphany! My next novel was coming together, while I was sleeping!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bulgaria Is One of Europe's Cheapest Tourist Destinations

During the two years that my wife and I lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, we found the country to be extremely affordable. Good food at the restaurants was available at reasonable prices, taxis were cheap, and entries to museums were very inexpensive. We traveled extensively around the country, finding lodgings in comfortable hotels at minimal cost. Of course, we were living the lives of expatriates and average salary levels for working Bulgarians are extremely low. But for tourists, Bulgaria continues to offer so much at a very low cost.

And that was the funny thing - there were hardly any tourists. Okay, there were hordes of vacationers from Russia, Ukraine, and even England on the sandy Black Sea shores, and the ski resorts in the mountains filled up with visitors during the winter months, but in the countryside, in the picturesque villages and the informative ethnographic museums, there were hardly any tourists from outside the country.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The 21 Shekel Tip

How much should you leave on the table when the service is slow and the food is mediocre, but you enjoyed the meal?

Last night my wife and I met with an old friend and dined for the first time at the First Station, located on the tracks of Jerusalem's old railroad station. The setting was beautiful - wooden planks covered the area where we used to board the train on scenic, but aggravatingly slow rail journeys to Tel Aviv and Haifa. Carts and stalls were aligned in readiness for the biweekly farmers' market, and a large drive-in-like screen stood stiff against the evening breeze, waiting for the next free film show.

There are a number of restaurants at the First Station and many of them are also open on the Shabbat. Only one eatery carries a Kashrut certification and that is where we sat down at an outside table with our friend, whom we hadn't seen in 24 years. Nearby, couples, families and the occasional cyclist made their way over the former train tracks. It was a lovely evening for catch-up conversation and what we hoped would be a pleasant meal.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Beauty of Bulgarian Ceramics

During our two year stay in Bulgaria, my wife and I fell in love with Bulgarian ceramics and pottery. The colorful plates, pots, and serving dishes were sold in the markets at very reasonable prices. Restaurants offering traditional Bulgarian food set their tables with the ceramics as part of their standard d├ęcor. And many Bulgarians use the ceramic ware in their homes.

It was obvious to us that we would be taking Bulgarian ceramics back home as souvenirs of our stay in the country. On our first trip to the Rila Monastery we stopped in a village, attracted by the display of pottery outside a shop. There we made our first purchase - a blue cooking pot with brown edges and handles, and a lid where the colorful design was repeated. The pot cost 30 Lev (about $20). We used that pot on many occasions in Bulgaria and it has served us well back at home in Israel.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Israeli Secret Agent Saves World, Again

Gabriel Allon, the star of Daniel Silva's thrillers, is called out of retirement once again to embark on another Israeli counter-terrorist mission.

The Fallen Angel, just out in paperback, is the 12th Gabriel Allon spy novel and readers of the series won't be disappointed. As in the previous books, Allon is busy in Europe restoring a famous piece of art. This time he's at the Vatican, working on one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces.  But he is called away by a friend when the body of a beautiful woman is found on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. While the police suspect suicide, Allon immediately sees that the woman has been murdered.

The investigation into the woman's death is just the first step on a mission that reunites Allon with his former team members in the Israeli intelligence agency referred to only as the Office. Back at headquarters on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Allon begins planning an operation against a Swiss antiquities dealer who is secretly funding Hezbollah terrorists.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Water Envy

My wife and I just took a trip down memory lane. Well, actually they were her memories, not mine, but after being married for 35 years, I guess I have adopted them as well.

My wife grew up in Ithaca, New York, and for over three decades she has longed to take me to her old stomping grounds so that I could understand her roots. Somehow she was not very impressed when we visited Sioux City, Iowa, where I had lived until age fifteen before making aliyah.

"Ithaca is much more beautiful," she told me repeatedly. "And there are so many waterfalls."

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Parchment Maze, a Review

The first people to leave lasting traces of their mark on Bulgarian history were the Thracians, who settled in the Balkans in the 8th century BCE. But Bulgaria's ancient history goes back much further. The Copper Age culture that developed in the Varna region (4,400-4,100 BCE), left sophisticated examples of ritual burials, pottery, and the first use of gold on earth. What happened to these ancient people, and why did such a long interval take place between their time and the arrival of the Thracians?

In The Parchment Maze, written by bestselling Bulgarian author Ludmila Filipova and just recently translated into English, archaeologist Vera Kandilova is researching the connection between the origins of Christianity and Orphism, the religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks and Thracians, when she begins to encounter perplexing symbols tied to the prehistoric civilization that mysteriously disappeared from Bulgaria. Could these symbols be indications that proto-writing, the first attempts by mankind to convey information in a written form, actually developed in the Balkans?