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Monday, February 26, 2007

Question to Passengers

After a torturous 10 hour flight to Seoul yesterday, I have a question to fellow air passengers:

Why is it that when you bang your tray-table back into position violently, or use the seat in front of you as a lever to help you get up from your seat, or constantly push your feet onto the seat in front of you - why is it that you do not realise someone is actually sitting in that seat? And that specific someone might be trying to get some sleep?

Why is so difficult to understand that the back of the seat in front of you also has a front to it, with a person sitting in it?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Daunt Bookshop, London

For a while now I've been wanting to visit the Daunt bookshop in London. I had read about it a long time ago but never had the opportunity to make the visit. Yesterday I had a couple of hours off so I headed to Baker Street Station and walked over to Marylebone High Street to see it.

Although it has sections with fiction, non-fiction and reference books, Daunt is first and foremost a "travel bookshop". The books are arranged by country or geographical region, and each section contains not only travel guides but also books about that country/region. So if you're looking at Israel, for example, you will find not only the ubiquitous Fodor's and Lonely Planet guides but also books about Judaism, Jewish History, etc. Very interesting set up. I also like the fact there were several tables spread around the shop with books of all types set on them, in no particular order.

The shop itself is famous for being an original Edwardian shop, complete with dark wooden galleries and a big skylight roof that lets in natural daylight (it was a nice sunny day). All so very quaint.

I spent an hour or so browsing through the store and experiencing that familiar high-low feeling I get whenever I'm in a bookstore. There are so many books to read, on so many interesting subjects, books of all sizes and shapes and colours, all beckoning you to pick them up and lose yourself in the world the author has created just for you. But so little time! What to choose? Why would this book take preference over that one? Plus there's the constant fear of getting yet another disapproving look from my wife, a look that says: "More books?! At this rate we'll run out of space once again... And why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to keep every book he's ever read?" So, sadly, I left Daunt's without purchasing even one small volume.

By the way, I had to smile when I saw where the US section was relegated to at Daun'ts: at the very end of the gallery on the right, all the way in the back, way after books about places like Cambodia or Kuwait. I guess the shop's owners were keen on making a statement about their view of tourism to the US...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Prognosis Confirmed: Profound Malaise

I have predicted before that Israel will enter a state of profound malaise, not unlike that of France, following the botched war in Lebanon. But I had no idea that my prediction would come true so quickly and so forcefully, aided by a series of shameful scandals permeating, it seems, all walks of public life in this country.

The Economist wrote briefly last week about how Israelis "have lost their usually insatiable appetite for talking politics". The summary in the second paragraph is strikingly painful in its brutal conciseness:

The prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is under investigation for allegations ranging from dishonest property trading to trying improperly to influence the privatisation of a bank. The finance minister is being probed for embezzlement, the tax-authority head for fraud. The president faces multiple charges of rape. This week a former justice minister was convicted of forcibly kissing a young woman soldier, which could land him in jail for up to three years. The army chief of staff has resigned over the Lebanon war; this month a commission of inquiry is set to shine a harsh light on the performance of army and government.

What charming times we live in... No wonder most people prefer to ignore everything and concentrate on their daily lives. Gone are the days Israelis argued passionately about every little aspect of politics and policy. Such professed apathy may be the norm in most European countries, but in Israel it's a novelty.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid

With a few hours to spare in Madrid last week, and as it was raining outside, I decided to make a short visit to the Reina Sofia museum. Founded in 1992, this museum replaced the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art and hosts works by Picasso, Dali, Miro and others.

My main reason for visiting this museum was, like many others I suppose, to see Picasso's "Guernica". This picture was commissioned by the Repulican government in 1937 for the Spanish stand in an exhibition in Paris. I didn't realise it was such a big work of art: almost 8 meters wide and 3.5 meters tall. The hall around the "Guernica" shows Picasso's sketches from his preparation work and photographs taken during the process of painting the picture.

Most of Dali's best-known works are not hosted by this museum, but one of his classic surrealistic paintings, "El Gran Masturbador", is. Apparently, it is Dali himself who is the "head" depicted in the picture, with the woman emerging from it symbolising the masturbation. Oh well, I admit I never really understood modern art.

Another Dali work which I liked better, perhaps because it's not so "modern", was "Muchacha en la Ventana", which is apparently one of his most famous pictures, painted when he was only 20. The model standing at the window is his sister.

An hour and a half at the museum was enough. I walked up Calle de Atocha and took a short walk around the old neighbourhood where Cervantes and others lived. But the rain just wouldn't stop, so I decided to call it a day and enjoy an unplanned lunch at the excellent kosher restaurant "Naomi Grill" on my way back to the airport.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Distracting Toilet Breaks

Sitting in my hotel room in Madrid this evening, bored out of my mind, I'm zapping through the TV channels. I see "breaking news" on one of the American news channels and I pause to check it out (after all, I am Israeli; so the first thing that comes to mind is "something blew up back home").

I see it's a press conference at NASA so, thinking this is just another shuttle launch, I almost continue my zapping. But the frown on NASA's deputy administrator's face tells me this is more than just another launch. She starts talking about some Lisa Nowak but I can't figure out what's going on. So I log on to Google News and search for "Lisa Nowak". There's this story about a female astronaut (married, mother of 3) who drove from Houston to Orlando to confront a woman she suspected was involved with a colleague male astronaut she herself was involved with. Donned with an air rifle, and wearing a wig to disguise herself, she stalks the woman and sprays her face with pepper spray. Not a very interesting story; just you regular love triangle between space travellers.

But here's the intriguing part. The reporters kept asking questions about Nowak's mental stability. And the NASA deputy administrator talked about the rigorous psychological tests astronauts go through and how Lisa Nowak passed all of these tests. Nobody came right out and called Nowak a nutcase, but they were close enough. Why?

Well, you see, Nowak was in such a hurry to get to her target, that in order to avoid unnecessary toilet breaks on her long car journey halfway across the United States, she wore a... diaper! Yes, a nappy! "A piece of cloth, or other absorbent material, folded and worn as underpants", as defines it.

Ahh, I say to myself, now I understand all those polite questions about mental stability. My boring evening just ended on a perkier note: a nutcase astronaut driving around in a nappy!