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I’ve been remiss is keeping up this journal. We spent a very busy week with Caroline, cramming in a lot of Barcelona and Gaudi buildings, and then took an overnight trip to see Salvador Dali’s house, hike in a natural park with volcanoes and stroll through Girona. Now, Liz is here!

I’ll spare everyone a boring travelogue (at least for now). But here’s an observation I’ll share.

Read more... )


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Yesterday we toured the bullfighting ring and went to its museum.

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On Thursday, a cold front from Siberia swept into Spain. It’s not as bad here as in Eastern Europe, not by a longshot (and it's still warmer here than in Vermont), but it’s been colder and the wind is just howling. It was particularly upsetting to see some beggars in bare feet. (I still can’t get the image of one old lady out of my head – she was at a minimum in her late 70s, sitting on a cold sidewalk with her legs and feet bare. There was nothing I could do – I couldn’t communicate with her or the police. There was a young woman talking to her as we walked by, so I hope something was done for her.)

Pictures and more! )


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A few more notes about food, illustrated with photos:

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Thoughts on Spanish and English, and visits to two museums.

Read more…and see pictures! )

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Success! Found oatmeal. The big Carrefours supermarket was no help (but at least it was a big supermarket compared to the dinky one we went to yesterday), but we passed a health food store along the way that had it. I did learn that vegetarians (at least, the vegetarians at this health food store) won’t eat honey.

Today we went to the Reina Sophia Museum. Perfect day for a museum, since it was raining all day. This museum specializes in Spanish 20th century art, so there was a lot of Picasso, Dali and Miro. The highlight was Picasso’s Guernica.

The museum is an old converted hospital. I kept imagining nurses in nun’s habits scurrying through the huge cavernous hallways. The ceilings were sky high and the hallways as wide as the rooms. They certainly don’t build hospitals like that anymore. 

So, does this look like General Grievous or what?



And I think that if an artist includes "Are you confused" in his artwork, he's in trouble.

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Several people have asked me what the "best" part of the trip was. I had so carefully planned this vacation that there were few disappointments. But there were some special highlights.

The hike in Gamla.

Gamla is an isolated spot in the Golan Heights. The Golan is a disputed territory, but not like the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. It is a beautiful, remote, mountainous region in the northeast of Israel, bordering the Galilee.

Gamla means "camel," and the name comes from the hump-shaped mountain that Gamla is on. An ancient Jewish settlement was once perched on this promontory, with steep cliffs on three sides and spectacular views of the Sea of Galilee and a large waterfall. One commentator described it as looking as though it "hung in mid-air."

But in 68 AD, the same Romans who obliterated Masada and the Second Temple in Jerusalam and dispersed all Jews from Israel also destroyed Gamla. There was a siege, a breach in the wall, an attack, and thousands of people died.

To reach the remains, you walk down a very steep and rocky hill, studded with wildflowers, then along a flat path that leads to a more gentle incline. The first thing you see is the breach in the ancient protective wall. The path curves up, then you walk up a few steps, and come to the remains of an ancient synagogue. Next to the synagogue is a mikvah, the ritual, cleansing bath. These remains date back to the early first century, and are believed to be of one of the oldest known synagogues.

When we were there, there were a few other hikers, but we were alone when looking at the synagogue. It was late afternoon, hot and hazy, and there was a quiet hush at the site. I don't go to services very often, and I've never used a mikvah, but it was so powerful to think that more than 2000 years ago, there were Jews at this remote location singing the same songs and saying the same prayers as I do now. I have a blood and spiritual connection to those long-gone people who worshiped there, who sat in this synagogue looking at the wild mountain crevices in the distance. Their souls surrounded me. It is a miracle that they eeked out an existence in this isolated location, and a miracle that our traditions survived their death and the next 2000 years.

This picture shows Gamla, the steep mountain in the center.



The roof in the Old City.

Our first day in Jerusalem, we took a tour of the Old City that ended around 5 pm. We wandered around a little, not sure what to do. Dusk approached. Finally we decided to check out a tip from Caroline, to visit the Austrian Hospice, climb to its roof and then have some apple strudel at its cafeteria.

It was minutes before 6 pm when we climbed to the roof. The sun was setting, but there was some residual light. The roofs of the old city unfolded before us. I told Rich to get a video of it. As he started filming, all the mosques in the city turned on their loudspeakers and began broadcasting the call to prayer.

The wind was howling, the lights were sparkling and these unworldly sounds filled the sky, surrounding us. It was a very eerie, foreign moment. It was a singular moment, because it was unique -- to be in this city, at the intersection of three religions, and understand how religion has created and destroyed and defined the place.

The Taggart fort

I must have been 12 or 14 when I read Exodus, Leon Uris' book about the founding of Israel. I learned a lot about the Holocaust, the Warsaw ghetto, Zionism, the kibbutz movement, the 1948 war and Israel's statehood from that book -- which I read numerous times. Much of the book takes place in the Galilee region of Israel, especially the Upper Galilee, where he describes views from mountaintops, turning swampland into fertile fields, the destitution of Arab villages. Many of his locations were fictional, but a few were real. We went to Mount Tabor, which two of the major characters had climbed -- and that was crowded with Christian pilgrims. We drove around the Sea of Galilee, visited the Ein Gev kibbutz. One of the main fictional locations was called "Dafna," and there happens to be a Dafna in Israel -- we went there, but it was nothing like the fictional namesake.

Another location mentioned in the book is a British fortress overlooking the Hula Valley, named after Abu Yesha, a nearby Arab village. And one of the main characters talks about the view of the Hula Valley from the mountains on the Israel-Lebanese border, near this fortress. This fort is a real place, and we found it. It's called the Yesha fortress. Behind it was a scenic overlook, and from there I saw that view of the Hula Valley, and could place myself in a location that was important in the novel. And that was cool. I've been imagining this location for almost 40 years. Now I've been there, seen it.

There were other amazing experiences -- touching the Western Wall, walking around the Temple Mount, touring Yad Vashem, climbing Masada, floating in the Dead Sea and snorkeling in the Red Sea, seeing countless remains of synagogues and homes and mikvahs and ancient streets and arches -- but those three were the most special.

Behind the cut is the fort, and the view.

pics )

Books!

Mar. 23rd, 2009 09:49 pm
slyvermont: (readingmagic)
I read three books over my vacation. Here are my brief reviews: 

"The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (P.S.)" by Marilyn Johnson: I love learning about parallel universes, and this is one: people obsessed with obituaries. This book has one of my favorite all-time lines from a book, which came from an obituary of a Mormon: 

“After mentioning that Allred was survived by eight wives, 23 children and more than 200 grandchildren, McKie (the obit writer) referred to one of the wives as ‘his better eighth.’” 

I particularly appreciated the section on the alt.obituaries newsgroup, where people discuss obituaries and lots of other things. 

"White Oleander," by Janet Fitch. I enjoyed this rather sad, depressing book – a condemnation of the foster care system and a study of a messed up mother-daughter relationship. The plot: A woman angry at being ditched kills her boyfriend and is sentenced to life in prison, sending her 12-year-old daughter into foster care where she encounters one bad placement after another. She has a sexual relationship with the boyfriends of two of her foster mothers, is shot by one of them, and witnesses another one commit suicide. It was sad to watch a talented, brilliant young woman be destroyed and not able to fully take advantage of her talents. This was a first novel, and seemed a bit overwritten – too many metaphors and florid descriptions and obvious imagery. But I enjoyed the plot and the characterizations. And I wonder if Fitch realized that she was writing about someone with borderline personality disorder. 

"Fortune’s Rocks," by Anita Shreve. I had read and enjoyed "The Pilot’s Wife," so got this for 50 cents at the library book sale (same for "White Oleander" – although that was just 25 cents). The connection between the two Shreve books is that the house the protagonists live in is the same – and it is a real house on the Maine coast. This book starts in 1899, with a hard-to-stomach romance between a 15-year-old girl and a 41-year-old married man with four children. I have a great deal of trouble accepting this relationship (which the author wants you to believe is the “real thing” – true love). I just can’t accept, under any circumstances, an affair between a teenage girl and a middle-aged married man – their relationship just didn’t work, and the author did not convince me it should and I resent that she tried. I did enjoy the book, and the payoff at the almost-end was worth it. I’d actually call this feminist literature, since the main character eventually fights for a right that few women had 100 years ago. It was a thought-provoking – very disturbing – story.

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Pete Hartt, the former sports editor of the Times Argus, died yesterday. He was 52. He had a heart attack while working out at a fitness club. 

Pete was a very big man, overweight -- although apparently he had lost some weight recently. But 52 is still much too young. 

He was a great deal of fun to work with -- he was one of the reasons I looked forward to going into the office. He was a journalist with his priorities in the right place. He sat across from me, and I enjoyed catching his eye about things that were absurd. 

And he’s the second Vermont journalist to die this year – Peter Freyne died recently, too. Peter was very sick; he had quit his job a while ago. He was such a staple of Vermont journalism and politics that it’s hard to imagine that he’s gone. 

He wrote a weekly column called Inside Track that was mandatory reading for every politician and journalist in the state; one of his hallmarks were the funny nicknames he gave politicians. Howard Dean was HoHo; Gov. Madeleine Kunin was Queen Madeleine; Patrick Leahy was St. Pat. He also covered the state's media, calling them out for mistakes and following who was fired and hired. For a long time I'll bet every new reporter in the state was told on the first day on the job about Peter and the necessity of reading his column. 

Peter Freyne was young, too, just 59. 

Here's an article about Peter Freyne and one about Pete Hartt

Twilight

Feb. 1st, 2009 09:20 pm
slyvermont: (readingmagic)
I’m not watching the Superbowl, although I did watch the halftime show. Go Bruce! 

So I’ll talk about what could be the polar opposite of football: “Twilight.” 

A week or so ago I finally got my hands on “Twilight” and read it. I just don’t get it the appeal. 

The writing is horrendous – and I tend to be pretty lenient when it comes to bad writing (within reason – but in general if there is a good plot and reasonable dialogue, I can overlook bad writing). What bothered me most is that I was totally unable to buy into the Edward-Bella relationship – and if you can’t fall in love with that, the whole book falls apart. 

So Bella and Edward see each other across the lunchroom and immediately fall in love – or should I say, in lust. Because there is no foundation to this relationship. There is no connection of the minds, no interest in the same things, no genuine friendship – nothing that most couples build lasting relationships on. There are couples that fall in lust first and go on to have successful relationships. But I saw none of that here. 

My second problem was with the pace of the book. It was so damn slow that I read quickly just to finish. The minutia the book focuses on – like what Bella eats for meals, every meal, every single day – and what happens, minute by minute in school – omg, so boring. It read like my high school diary. Back when I was in high school, I’m sure my diary was fascinating to me. But when I read it now, I realize what a drab, boring life I led. Bella is starting a relationship with a vampire, yet her life is as boring as could be. 

And may I say that for someone in lust with a vampire, she is way too casual about the whole thing. I can deal with her not freaking out about it, but a little show of emotion when she discovers his secret would have been nice. 

Not to mention that the whole idea of being in lust with someone who is cold as granite is very unappealing. 

So, just so not there.

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I am so psyched. In 2 hours we will have a new president. There are literally millions of people standing shoulder to shoulder on the Mall, milling around the streets of Washington, DC, clogging the Metro. It’s an amazing sight, and I’m not even there. 

In 1961, John F. Kennedy told the country that “a torch has been passed to a new generation.” When he died, when his brother died, when Martin Luther King Jr. died, that torch was snuffed. That flame is being relit today; the joy of young people, of people of color, of so many Americans and citizens throughout the world, is infectious. I hope it’s a light that can lead us through the troubles we have today. 

I’m hopeful, I’m teary, I’m overwhelmed with joy – I’m so glad our country’s heritage is working, that we are peacefully transferring power. 

Since 7 am I’ve been switching back and forth among every news channel. In a few minutes I’m heading downtown, where I hope to watch the events at Montpelier City Hall. Tonight there’s a couple of inaugural balls here; at one I can spend $1 to dance with a cardboard standup of Obama. 

Last night I had a moment when I realized I could get into the car and drive to DC in time to be there in person. Part of me regrets not being there. But I am there in spirit. 

slyvermont: (Obama Vt)
All I can do is cry with joy.

I hope to write more later. But I wanted to post this website now. It has the front pages of newspapers from around the country. It will change tomorrow, when the front pages change (although there does appear to be an archive). So if you want to see how Obama's victory is reflected in newspapers, now's your chance.

Yuck

Aug. 8th, 2008 05:53 pm
slyvermont: (Sark)
Damn. Why can't politicians keep their pants zipped?

Edwards admits to extramarital affair.
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On Saturday, the 3 of us went to see Bruce Springsteen. I’ve written about his concert, and about his most recent album, which I’m obsessing a bit over.




Set list )
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So, Vermont's US senator, Patrick Leahy, is this big Batman fan, and after being an extra in the last movie, he got a speaking role this time around. He also managed to arrange a special screening of the film in Montpelier as a fundraiser for our local library (Leahy grew up around here). We got 3 tickets. So the 3 of us are getting to see "Dark Knight" a week before (most of) the rest of the world, plus get an introduction from Leahy and Warner Bros Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer.

Pretty nifty, huh.

In other news:

I picked the most delicious, sweet strawberries today. We’re going to be eating strawberries constantly for the next week, to get through the 10 pounds I picked. I also bought fresh peas. I love this time of year. End of June, beginning of July – peas and strawberries. Yummy.

If you haven't seen the Where's Matt Now dancing video, go check it out: http://youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY&feature=user. Here’s the NYTimes story that explains the video.
slyvermont: (Resistance)
Barack Obama clinches the Democratic nomination for president tonight. As you know, I was torn about the voting decision between him and Clinton in the Vermont primary. I am disappointed she isn’t the nominee – I would love to see a woman president, and I do like her. I am happy with Obama, but I am particularly struck with the historical significance of his nomination, that a black man is receiving a major party nomination as president.

This is what I mean:

I am reading a book called “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I knew Lincoln fought the Civil War to preserve the union, and that his original goal was to prevent the spread of slavery rather than its abolition. But it still amazed me to read his words.

Said Lincoln as he ran for office: he had “no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races” and he was not in favor “of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry.”

The black man, said Lincoln, “is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral and intellectual endowment.” Lincoln conceded that the black man is only equal to the white man in “the right to eat the bread which his own hand earns.”

150 years ago, this attitude was commonplace, and most Americans weren’t even willing to grant the black man the right to earn money, as Lincoln was. We think of Lincoln today as the Great Emancipator, but in reality, he didn’t consider the black man his equal.

I am disheartened by the prejudice still expressed by many voters who say that they will never vote for a black man for president. I hope that if Lincoln were alive today he would vote for Obama. And I hope many Americans can overcome their prejudice and not cast a vote based on race. That a black man could be president was inconceivable 150 years ago; but it is a real possibility today.   
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I was intrigued enough by the bizarre list of 106 most unread books that I decided to do some google searching. 106 seemed like such an arbitrary number, and too many great books that no one has read were missing (I mean, nothing by Faulkner? Melville? Proust?)

So I found the source, www.librarything.com/tag/unread&more=1, with 200 books, plus the authors’ names.

I’ve bolded what I’ve read, (to lazy to figure out the difference between what I read for me and for school) and italicized what I started and never finished, or only read parts of. I’ll underline what I want to read. It's a good list to help me figure out what to get out of the library next.

Hubris

Mar. 11th, 2008 09:49 am
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When I walked into the health club yesterday and saw the CNN breaking news was that Eliot Spitzer was linked to a prostitution ring, I stopped short and just stared. First I wondered if it was April 1. Then I wondered if The Onion had taken over CNN. There was no way, no way that could be true.

Well, it’s true. And according to the escort service, he liked kinky sex. Ewww.

Hubris. Bites you in the butt again.

How could he be so stupid? And how could he drag his wife in front of the cameras? His wife standing beside him with her puffy eyes and shell-shocked look was what bothered me the most.

I told Rich last night that if he ever got caught like that, I wouldn’t face the press with him.

At least he didn’t drag his daughters out.

Can he survive this? I don’t know. NY finally gets a Democratic governor, and look what he does. I just can’t get over how stupid this man is. What is it about sex that makes men do these incredibly stupid things?

So, say you’re the governor, your wife won’t do kinky sex, and you have needs. What do you do? What’s the least damaging way to satisfy the urge (besides a cold shower)? Is there anything he could have done that wouldn’t have gotten him in trouble? We’ve already figured out from Clinton that hooking up with an intern isn’t the best solution – although, Bill managed to survive that. So, if Clinton can survive Monica, can Spitzer survive this? Should he?

And poor Hillary (read that with some sarcasm). Spitzer was one of her supporters. She doesn’t want to lose a superdelegate, but supporting Spitzer now would not be a good thing. What’s Bill Clinton’s wife supposed to do?
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... to Caroline!!
slyvermont: (ritaskeeter)
On Wednesday, I covered my second funeral for The Times Argus. Here it is.

I realized as I sat in the pews that covering funerals is not something I learned in journalism school. What is appropriate? Do I wear black? Do I interview people? Do I sit up front, or toward the back?

This particularly troubled me when I went to the reception afterwards. I mean, do I interview people – or just write about the memorial service?

The couple that died – what a sad story. They died last week. Their house caught on fire, they were in the basement, and couldn’t get out. The stairs were burning. There was no outside door.

The guy I had met a few times – we both took a Hebrew class through the synagogue. It turns out that he was a really interesting person. He was the state auditor of accounts in the early 60s, the first Jew to win a statewide office in Vermont. He was also a Democrat who won, which was very rare in Vermont back in those days. He served on a ton of statewide organizations, and was a professor at a local college.

In the end, I did interview people at the reception. I stuck to either people I knew, or people I was introduced to by people I knew. And politicians – I knew that former Vermont Gov. Phil Hoff would talk. (There were 2 governors at the funeral). But I didn’t interview any family members.

The rabbi left a message on my voice mail this morning saying my story was good, and well-received by the family. Whew.

In other article news, here’s another story I wrote recently, a book review and interview with Julia Alvarez. I loved this book, so if you’re looking for a fun read, consider it.

And I am not, repeat, not, looking forward to the nor’easter coming on Sunday and the 10 to 20 inches of snow it will bring.

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