Taxi Drivers’ Perceptions of Israel

I love talking to Taxi drivers in other countries, as a) it’s a good practice of my language skills and b)normally this leads to strange conversations, which I love too. On my way back from the Rio Botanical Gardens (byuuutifool), the taxi driver was surprised to find out I am from Israel and his first question after “are you from Jerusalem?”, was “do you believe that Jesus is the son of god?”. I figured that safest answer will be to say I’m an atheist (not sure why), after which he didn’t bother me.

In my next taxi from Ipanema to Copacabana, the driver, a youngish, not bad-looking guy, asked me if Israel is where they wear veils. I said it’s not a muslim country, after which he asked if it’s near Bagdad. I explained that it’s not Iraq. Then he followed to ask if it’s an evangelical country? catholic? I said, no— it’s Jewish!! He said, “oh, it’s Jewish!”. I am  not sure he knew what this meant. This kind of reminds me of my first days in a Texas high school, more than 10 years ago. Oh well, many more conversations like this to come.

I get to visit the Holyland

Many Saturdays of my happy childhood were spent around the many reservations and national parks in Israel. The parents loved to travel and took us everywhere. I hated every moment and couldn’t understand why would they not just go to the city center instead and sit in a Cafe where I could just eat my cheesecake with the other “amcha” (common people).

Twenty years later, I finally appreciate the gift they gave me, and feel the appreciation of the many wonderful natural and historical corners of our country. This past weekend, a Japanese classmate was in town and so I joined her and another israeli friend who was giving her a tour.  I spent Friday in Tel Aviv, visiting some of the old neighborhoods like Nachalat Binyamin and Neve Tzedek, with their cute shops and cafes, surrounded by the eclectic mix of new and old. We had lunch at the famous “Orna and Ella”, whose other location was featured in the film the “Bubble”, where it blew up in a midst of a suicide bomber attack. The food was to die for. Especially, the pumpkin pancakes which I plan to learn how to make in the future. For dinner we went to a Jewish Persian restaurant, “Edna”. I tried to translate the menu to our friend, but was utterly unsuccessful since I didn’t know any of the dishes myself. The night was finished at Dizi-Frishman bar and I soon observed the animal kingdom in action. The girls were sitting around the bar and having a glass of wine or another light drink (must stay in alert mode..). The guys were standing around the corners and pretending to have conversations while diligently observing any movement around the room, especially monitoring the doorway for entrance of fresh meat.  I realized I forgot about the pickup bar scene but thankfully, this experience reminded me once again.

The next day, we drove to Masada, a place which was a palace in the mountains built by kind Herod around 30 BC. It was later the grounds of the final Jewish rebellion against the Romans around 70BC. Masada holds a very special place in the hearts of many Jews as a symbol of patriotic resistance. The rebellion ended very sad when the rebels (around 1000 of them), chose to commit suicide (including killing their wives and children), rather than surrender to be slaves to the Romans.

These people were somewhat of a cult in my opinion but the symbolic value their actions hold is still very important. Anyways, the view from the mountain overlooking Jehoda Desert was  breathtaking, and we were very impressed with how these people were able to build such an elaborate imperial complex in 30 BC, seriously in the middle of no where!!  I guess a lot of slave labor was required…

Masada was followed by a short trip to the dead sea, from which we continued to Jerusalem. I got to see the Wall that separates the west bank from Israel. It’s amazing what difference it made on stopping terror attacks since it was built. I saw many cars with Palestinian plates and was surprised to find out that they are allowed to enter Israel’s territory after they pass inspection (doesn’t sound like extreme limitation to me…).

In Jerusalem, we visited the old YMCA building, beautifully built and furnished inside in old colonial style and drove around the city, finishing out visit in Arab village Abu Gosh, for some Hummus and Falafel. yum yum! The waiters I guess could not get rid of us fast enough so they started washing the floors right below us.. that was not so pleasant.. oh well.

We were passing by this new apartment complex, bearing the sign “Holyland”.. I asked if this was modeled after Disneyland, only catered to some rich old Jews. Then I was reprimanded for my ignorance. This was THE apartment complex because of which former prime minister Olmert was kicked out for taking bribes. Those guys bribed half of the country to get the construction permits. As possessors of so  much money, I don’t understand how they couldn’t figure out that the matter won’t come out to the public eye in our small country.  My friend explained that what they didn’t anticipate was the fact that the public attorney office and police would suddenly become less corrupt and actually prosecute them.. who would have known?? About such things we say “Only in Israel”.

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Grobetrotting once again – destination: Vienna

After many promises to my Italian friend who relocated to Vienna a couple of years ago, I finally booked my flight to go visit him there for a few days. So Vienna shall be visited the upcoming weekend. It’s interesting, I have a really good group of friends from my banking days analyst program. They all moved around – the Spainiards to Germany, the Italian to Austria, the Argentine to Spain and then Germany, the German to Singapore and the Turkish girl back from London to Turkey. I wonder though at what point do we stop moving and settle down? For me, I think that this point won’t be anytime soon so it feels good to not be alone in this situation.

I spent the last 24 hours in Tel Aviv. It definitely felt much closer to civilization than other parts of Israel I am used to. International crowd, many coffee shops, bars, restaurants, designer stores, etc. But still to me it feel artificial, like I’m trying to create Manhattan in my mind, but it’s really not quite it. I suppose I could live there, but it would be so strange to do be in this bubble at such a close proximity to the place where I grew up, which stands at such strong contrast to this bubble. At least in NYC, I can pretend that the other parts don’t exist, because I do not belong to those parts and they hold nothing of my childhood.

The best part of this visit was that I got to spend time with some wonderful old friends, have many intelligent conversations and attend the last meeting with the Israeli MBA crowd from my graduating year. It was also surprising to see the abundance of non-kosher restaurants, selling seafood and pork all over the place. There were times when this was unthinkable off in Israel and those times were not THAT long ago. Secularization is making very strong heads.

Update on my move to Brazil: There is no update but I managed to listen to 18 podcasts already. So far, learned that grammar is very similar to Spanish which helps a lot, that both grandma and grandpa are “Avo” which are pronounced differently in a way that I cannot comprehend and finally I learned that my memory really sucks and nothing really stays..

Portuguese sentence of the day: “Qual é o sua telphone?”