blogitto ergo sum

December 17, 2016

#225 – Home Going

Filed under: absorb,Israel,on the road,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:53
Tags: , , ,

Once a year I go home.  My other home that is.  Or maybe I should call it my first home. Dual citizenship isn’t a big deal for Israelis.  It’s allowed, common, nothing to think of.

So I go to Israel.  The anchor, of course, is friends and family.


It’s a long trip.  And every year it gets harder.  The visit, that is.  The longer one lives away from home, the more one can see in a visit.  As Heraclitus said so many years ago, “You could not step twice into the same river.”  Change is inevitable; its direction however is.  and i don’t like the current one.  Not at all.

Landing 10 days after the US election, this visit was the hardest yet. Not only because of the election, but also due to the processes in play in Israel itself, and my ever evolving view of them.  there’s a lot to say about media-generated bias.

Tough, challenging, and rewarding in its own way; no matter who you are or what you do in Israel, this is always true.  And lots of fun too.  And good food.

I haven’t been to Ein Gedi nature reserve probably in a decade or more.  Nor to the Dead Sea.  I haven’t seen this much art in any two weeks. I’ve never before encountered so much bad coffee in Israel.  Nor was taken and addressed as a tourist, complimented for my Hebrew.

It was a challenging visit indeed.  At work, my answer was “it was interesting.”  At least one colleague told me how sorry she is to hear I didn’t have a great time.  So I insisted it was “interesting,” taking advantage of the double literal and colloquial usages of the word.

Interesting has its upside though.  Given my frustration with the long, too long, non-blogging interval, this trip is a great trigger to restart; head first.

The ending says it all

Before leaving my parents’ home for the airport, I went to say goodbye to dear friends living nearby.  I didn’t see this coming:


Given Facebook’s limitations, I had to attach a photo to the post or else I wouldn’t be able to include it in the trip’s album.


Nabi Ilyas, AKA Herbit an-Nabi Aliyas

The kids “posed” without any prompting, just like kids do.  Needless to say, this post got me another exchange over this sharing.  I was back home in California for a couple of hours, and there was a follow-up,  sadly confirming the intolerance and impatience to other opinions.  I’m not used to hearing a dear friend saying “I don’t care what you think,” and I expect you to respect and accept my opinions no matter what, no matter what your conscious tells you.  In Hebrew it goes

“תעזבי פשוט ..כול מה שרציתי להגיד שממש לא חשוב לי הדעות שלך וכו..”

Literally saying, “simply drop it, all I wanted to say is that your opinions are of no importance to me.”  Mic drop.

Are you ready to join my trip?


October 21, 2013

#218 – Ride Out [part I]


We didn’t plan much.  Meet @ my place, on Wednesday, 09:00. Set general direction, Eran gathered some pointers from friends, and this teaser:


Challenge:  Given the coast temperatures’ range, you need light and heavy option of everything.  Two riding jackets, two sets of gloves, storm pants for the sensitive one… and the usual packing list

Space: Limited.  Saddle bags on my bike, large square container on Eran’s

And of course, there’s the shoe challenge.  Riding boots and…?

This is what I was looking at in the morning, reassured that there’ll be some spare space if I must have:


travel light. riding boots not shown


Eran’s “travel minimal” bag

Eran’s luggage, riding gear excluded, looked different.  Some may call it gender-related bias.  Each of us, of course, packed also one iCult and one iToy.

No snacks, no to-go cup with a latte.  There are riding times in which even changing a radio station is not an option.  Forget the munchies.

Off we are

One cappuccino, one latte, tanks are filled, and we are off south-bound.  I recall the long Chautauquas in the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Mine are much less organized.  I follow Eran as my beacon.  I think of the safety that comes with a riding buddy you really trust.  Recalling diving [which I haven’t done in years], I recall of a miserable dive with a dive buddy I didn’t trust, and enjoy the difference.

The FM reception deteriorates into white noise, and i turn the radio off.  Now I’m alone with the voices in my head and the wind.  Exposed to the elements, I feel every degree change, whether is drops as we climb up or goes up as we get closer to sea level. My lululemon outfit supports the temperature’s shifts better than expected. Silver lining at its best.

And the view.  No video or blog praise to Pacific Road or Highway 1 describing it as one of the best drives in the world, is as good as riding it like we do.  This is what meditation should feel like. Shift eyes from the road to the cliff, and once we meet the coastline, it’s the water… the first breath of sea salt air, and what I take in is the smell of a vacation, a sense of freedom. I decline the offer for a breMermaid on Cokeak. My mind is… I don’t even know where, and I don’t want it to stop.  We ride on.  In hindsight, the rides bring me to the state of mind Julia Roberts couldn’t in Eat, Pray, Love.


It’s Mexican.  The Whole Enchilada.  I’m OK with it. The nachos and salsa are served, lemon test passed.  I’m happy that neither of us wears riders’ leather gear.  We would look like a caricature of riders, I smile to myself.  The enchilada, it seems, thinks of itself as a vacation spot, and the little mermaid that comes with Eran’s Coke is a proof.  The other diners have that lazy vacation look, without a purpose.IMG_3061

Someone suggests a better parking spot for the blue mermaid, and it is taken care of right away.

There’s no sign forbidding us to feed the natives, and our black friend provides the live and lively entertainment.  The beak ticking on the tiles indicates his engagement, and adds nice drumming to the sounds of the water fountain. Given the number or restaurants I’ve been to recently that came with some water fountain, I wonder if people drink or eat more to the sound of water…

Not yet finished with “documenting” the lemon test and the mermaid on Coke, I don’t let the arrival of the food interrupt the task.  I multitask.

20130918-nacho macho“You know,” Eran says, “cutlery doesn’t mean fork in one hand and a phone in the other.”  I lift my head, fork at left, phone at right, guilty as charged.  “I’m not doing email, not SMS-ing,” I say, meaning I am here, engaged.  “Am almost done with the photo,” I add, as the weakness of my defense is pointed out. Remember the time my mind has when riding?  Some of it went into this observation.  Measured during bio-breaks and stops through the rest of the day, I was embarrassed to realize that between taking a photo [or five], PIXLR EXPRESS, Foursquare, Studio, and Facebook, it may take up to 15 minutes of phone-engagement.  15 minutes in which my ears are engaged and present, but my eyes are not.  Withdrawal isn’t easy, and [as some of you already observed,] the new practice is that once I take the pictures, you get my eyes.

Fork in one hand, phone in the other – could be a slogan for something.  Maybe the camera should be on the fork, and it should be a Wi-Fi fork.  Or Bluetooth. Which one consumes less battery?

With no desire to ever return to the whole enchilada, we leave.

Cruz Saves the Day

I mean we try to.  I don’t need to look for the bike’s key.  It is in the switch.  The headlight is off.  Oh my.

Eran pushes, I, feeling like the day’s biggest idiot, ride, we try once, twice, trice, and give up.  Releasing the clutch kills the momentum, and the engine rests.  We knock on the window of the café, getting the attention of the manager.  “Excuse me, do you know where we could get someone to jumpstart a bike,” I ask.  I get the feeling that the lady has seen embarrassed morons before.  “Give me a minute,” she says and picks up the phone.  First call ends with her writing a 2nd number.  Second call ends with, “He already left, but he is coming back, he’ll be here soon.”

We look at each other, circle the building, learn that it’s the Lighthouse Harbor Grille, sit at the counter, and order one cappuccino, one latte. The gal behind the counter is trying to convince us that regular coffee is great.  “We already cleaned the machine for the day” she pleads with us.  We ask if the machine is broken and wait.  She tries again, and gets going on our drinks.  I get three, maybe four sips of my latte, and the jumping guy arrives.  I step out and meet Cruz, his truck, and the cables. We already took the battery cover off before, so there isn’t all that much to do; connect, ignite, wait. Guess our lunch was really long.  Don’t blame the social photography, please.

When this battery is dead, it’s really dead.  I get to drink a few more sips of the coffee.  Cruz refuses any drink, and I learn that he is the handyman of few of the establishments here, at Moss Landing.  The café’s owner called him back after he already left for the day.  When I try to run the engine on its own, it’s still dead, so more charging.  Patience.

Cruz refuses any pay, and with my endless thanks drives away. We thank the lady too, and… back to the road.

Thanks to Lighthouse Harbor Grille

Thanks to Lighthouse Harbor Grille

The Ride is my Meditation

Ride, breathe, look around and take it in, struggle with the little engine that can, but slowly.  Breathe, absorb the amazing landscape, get gas, continue.


The afternoon hours bring with them a long winding climb.  Between my slower taking of these curves, and the little engine, Eran’s back gets smaller and smaller, at times completely hidden.  The mirrors tell me that a few riders are politely & patiently waiting for my engine to grow.  With a somewhat frustrated sigh I wave them to pass.  One Harley, two Harleys, three Harleys, maybe four, pass me and are gone.  Now it’s only the wind, the winding road, and me.  Gear down, escalate, gear up, fall back, gear down.  Eventually I pull over to a waiting Eran.

20130918-eran-02The Harleys are all there, too. French couples with an American guide. I take in the view.  You can’t overdose on this.


And then, to my dismay, the French riders approach my bike and… take photos of it, obviously entertained.  The little bike that could, ha?  It’s too funny to get upset about.  And when I do, eventually, Eran points out the gender fact: the men in front, women sit behind.

20130918-view-02Laugh all you want.

Onward we ride.


@ Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park


@ Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer state park

Pfeiffer state park

Whenever we need to climb up, the little engine that could, can, but slowly.  It can’t harm the spiritual experience of the ride, but there’s a growing frustration.


Late afternoon – Hearst San Simeon State Park

The temperatures started to drop, and not only in the shade.  The smell of the salt gets stronger, or maybe saltier, and I consider if I need to stop and change to the winter gloves.

Eran, in a perfect timing, turns into a sand and gravel parking lot, drives to the end, and stops.  Helmet off, gloves off, and I’m COLD.  Even when we have to take off exactly the same amount of items, i.e. helmet, gloves, ear plugs, the guy is walking towards no-idea-what. I get the camera out, and follow.

Everything is sand and grey.  No amazing view to wow over.  “Why did we stop here?”

“Shh, look.” I push my way through the taller observers, and wow.  “Shh” the looks around say.

the amazing elephant seals

The amazing elephant seals, Hearst San Simeon State Park

Hearst San Simeon State Park, one of the two beaches in the Coastline of California, where the dominant among the Northern Elephant Seals, are returning, displacing the sub adult males who have been on the beach for weeks practicing their gladiator skills in hopes of competing against those giant bulls for the affection of the females.  These battles usually take place between Mid November and January, which means that what we saw are the sub adults.  And what a sight they were.

Elephant Seals in Hearst-San Simeon State Park

Elephant Seals in Hearst-San Simeon State Park

20130918-elephantSEALS-03 20130918-elephantSEALS-04

The Last Miles

It’s hard to detach ourselves from these amazing and cute animals, but the growing wind and shades are motivating.  Back at the saddle bags, I pick winter gloves, liner gloves, a fleece scarf, and hope for an easy ride.  It is still beautiful.

A stop to put the no-longer-needed sunglasses away, a gas stop, and by the time we enter San Luis Obispo it’s dark.

Traveling off-season has its benefit, and with no reservation we are warmly welcome at Petit Soleil.  No time to admire the design, atmosphere, or comfort of the place.  We are due for dinner and we better get it while we still can.

Petit Soleil, San Luis Obispo.

September 11, 2013

#216 – I ride on, little brother [part II]

3,372 miles ago, I got a motorcycle.  My little brother Guy made some comments that generated this blog post.  And here I am, riding with growing confidence, becoming more efficient in the ride initiation process that includes key, helmet, jacket, gloves, Bluetooth, choke and go.  Still unhappy about the limited shoe choices.  Or the helmet-hair effect.  Not as good a rider as I’d like to be.  Rider in progress of sorts.

Over a weekend, while riding back from Oakridge Mall out of all places, an itch in my ankle that drove me nuts, and the taste of a fly in my mouth led my frustrated mind to form two lists in my head.  Listing can be a good thing.

and as the lists grew, so did the realization. Yes, I ride on, little brother, and sometimes it’s not all cool & fun.  There are scary moments.  And I’m slower than the rest… more practice is needed.  And the only regret is that i don’t venture more, not facing enough challenge outside suburbia.

On the constant improvement side, i finally challenged the limits of a bike load of goods.  Used the mesh for the first time.  And it looks like this:


Loaded. Sep 3, 2013

On another day, I managed to load six gallons of water.  Baby steps, I know.  I am not trying to get to the level of the rider in the picture below.   After all, riding is meant to be about fun, and whenever possible, efficiency.  I can’t claim, even though it would sound great, that I got the motorcycle to reduce my carbon tire print.

So let’s go back to that ride, my very itching ankle, the fly inside the helmet, and the lists I used to distract myself.

List I – Can’t

Can’t wave goodbye, as I hit the road.  Ignite, clutch, shift to 1st, signal on, go, escalate, shift to 2nd, signal off… Starting a ride, any ride, involves lots of hand work.  Can’t spare one.  Sorry.

Shadow the Hedgehog. thanks to:

Can’t have coffee.  Thermo-mug, commuter mug.  I have a collection.  Actually drafting a post about those mugs.  But it’s not an option for the rider.  It’s not only at the beginning of the ride, it’s through the ride, one got no hands to spare.  Need both hands for riding [relatively] safely.  No drinking and driving.  Any drinking.  One of my more stupid riding moments was waving a thank you to a policeman who gave me the right of way…  The clutch didn’t like it.  Luckily, I didn’t lose complete control of the bike.

Some drinkers however, can’t deal with this no drinking imposition.  So they came up with this:

Can’t help you move.  Obvious, right?  At least this is what I thought.  Others, like Mike below, may be more helpful when you need help moving.

Michael Wiles, 29, Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway, Australia.

He did get a ticket and a fine for this, in case you wonder.

Can’t blow my nose.  Embarrassing, right?  Oh yes.  Gloves on.  All zippers shut tight.  The wind will blow or make you lose everything which is loose.  And it’s cold.  So your nose reacts.  Unzipping any pocket is challenging with gloves on.  And how do you reach your nose, prominent as it may be, when it’s under a helmet with a visor?

running nose? running nowhere. Sold on eBay.

Can’t cry.  Well, if blowing your nose isn’t an option, imagine crying.  Wind-related or not, one cannot afford to fog the visor from within. How are you going to wipe the lenses of your glasses?  Riding is not for the teary-eyed.

Please don’t cry. From dramabeans’s Bucket

More Can’ts: It’s a long list.  Think about dialing a number, with gloves on.  Think about CHARGING.  Your phone, your GPS, your headset; not an option.  Not with a 250CC engine that thinks of 72MPH as the fastest case scenario.   There are tons of accessories out there, but part of the experience is to be out there without the protection, shielding,  and amenities of the car, right?

Is “too many gadgets” a possibility?

You could always go shopping at shop at Motorcycle Gear and Riding Info.

I can almost hear you asking me about Siri, or suggesting other voice-activated apps.  And then there’s, of course, Google Glass.  Reading post, Is Google Glass the Future for Motorcycles doesn’t drive me to order one.  Not yet anyway.  Admittedly, it’d be great to have the map in front of my eyes, instead of having to look down to the not-so-well-mounted GPS. Maybe later.

Bottom line, I can’t call you while riding, and I’ve given up on figuring out the pushing sequence required to accept your call via the Scala Rider Bluetooth which provides the music.  So my riding is phone free and look around rich.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing for you.  Just saying that riding feels like the one activity that i enjoy more without it.  No phone, no text.

Go figure.

not me. from:

My list goes on.  Remember the itchy ankle that triggered this post?  Can’t take off your shoes. Not if you care for your soles.  The asphalt is hot, dirty,  and at times comes with tiny sharp objects.  Think you can rest your feet on it?  think again.

It’s gonna hurt, darling.

List II, it seems, will have to wait for the next post.  and it’s all about the things that I can and do while riding.  TBC.

October 31, 2011

#199 – peace embroidering

Filed under: life matters,on the road,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:21
Tags: , ,

Sausalito, Oct. 30, 11

 Saturday afternoon, Sausalito.  We did few galleries, a couple of gift shops, inspected lots of bead-based jewelry, had a great lunch @ Angelino, sealed it with the usual lattes and Cookies @ Il Piccolo Cafe Specialita Italiane.  I ignore all the negative yelping this place receives.  All I ever had here was lattes, cookies and attitude.  All met expectations.  Maybe one of these days I’ll try their food.

Later, Edna and I sit on a bench, enjoying an amazing day.  Edna is to teach me few stitches to enrich my knowledge of one stitch only.  I watch and practice stitch #1, watch and practice stitch #2…  Eran is either kindling or absorbing sun, and I learn.  Practice makes perfect.

As I struggle with the canvas and the needle, I notice the Muslim grandma who slows to a stop as she observes us.  One grandson [3 months] is asleep in his trolley, another [7 YO] is watching us with open curiosity.  I dare “body shuff?” I ask w/my non-existing Arabic [want see?].  granny was just waiting for this invitation.  She watches my struggle.  I can tell she is not happy with my performance.  Do you want to sit down” i ask as my manners catch on.  “yes!” is the prompt answer.  I move our bags to the grass and granny sits down.  Sleeping grandson is left to sleep; senior grandchild is observing with keen attention.

From nowhere the question pops out of my mouth, “do you want to stitch,” I ask granny.  “Yes!”

There’s an advantage to the middle-eastern directness.  You know what one wants.  I hand over the canvas, and Edna, grandson and I concentrate watching.  I try to a “normal” conversation.

“Where are you from?”


“We are from Israel.”

“I was born in Haifa.”

“I was born in Haifa too,” Edna injects.

“Where in Haifa, downtown,” my inquiring self wants to know.

“I don’t know, I was 6 YO when we left.”  I decide not to ask in what year.  I’m trying to calculate in my head.  How old is granny?  Did they leave in 1948?  Earlier?

Meanwhile she is stitching.

This is when we notice the son-on-law who is watching us from the next bench over.  More smiles are exchanged.  My embroidery practice exercise becomes an act of peace.

“You must be the daughter,” I turn to the younger woman who joins us with yet another grandson.  She is laughing as she takes in the scene.  We are all laughing.  “Yes, she wants a granddaughter.  She has no one to teach” says the daughter in a matter of an apology to us and more so to her mom.

Grandson #2 is 3.5 YO he is willing to admit as he tries to show it with his fingers.  We run into difficulties how to represent the half year without breaking a finger in two.

We don’t have coffee or food to share, and reluctantly granny gets up. And they walk away.  Edna inspects the stitches and I am smiling, running the scene in my head.  Who in Israel would picnic without coffee I wonder.  Nobody.

We didn’t exchange phone numbers; heck, we don’t even know each other’s name.  And yet, in this Saturday afternoon sun, we shared great moments of apolitical peace.

Now I’ll have to finish this practice canvas for the symbolic value if nothing else.

Not quite like this. Source:

June 13, 2011

#187 – the fun of paan

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,on the road,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:06
Tags: , , , ,

i could have enjoyed India without ever hearing of paan.  many visitors do.  luckily, friends who support and encourage experiencing [mine, not theirs, obviously], introduced me to this very diverse snack/digestive.

Bukhara, New Delhi

i had my first taste of paan in Bukhara, a fancy New Delhi Muslim restaurant located within the ITC Maurya hotel.  Bukhara is known for its grilled meats [all shahda halal].

dining @ Bukhara with two vegetarians meant no extra carnivorous  to share more of its flag dishes with.  at the end of our meal, when asked if i wanted to try something different, very local, of course i said “yes.”  and paan arrived.

an infomercial moment:  The betel leaf is popularly known as paan in India. It is a medicinal plant whose leaves are taken as a spice. Paan is an evergreen.  The leaves are glossy and heart shaped. Of the many varieties of betel leaves, the best one is called magahi and is from the region of Magadh, in Bihar, India.
The paan leaves are generally chewed either by themselves or in combination with slaked lime, betel nuts (areca variety) and other exotic stuff like aniseed and sometimes tobacco etc.

my first paan

first taste: a bit chewy, no distinctive taste…  can’t determine if i like it or not.  definitely a labor intensive jaw work.  i file it under “requires further investigation.”

Bangalore, a day or two later.  i spend the day with Narayanan, an old friend who moved from the valley back to India.  i mention the paan and am surprised to learn that there are more kinds; let’s call them the sweet and the interesting, otherwise known as zarda paan and meetha paan.

Narayanan and i tour Bangaluru and once again i’m reminded of how different a town feels when you walk it with a local friend who knows you and knows the city.

sometime between lunch and our afternoon dessert we pass by a paan man.  it’s a one man show on the back of his bicycle.


“do you want to try a different paan?”

of course I do.  a whole negotiation dialog is taking place.  while waiting for the special one paan to get prepared, i get to eat two very sweet paans. love it.  would be perfect with tea.

paanman is putting whatever he is putting together, rolling it, while I’m being “coached” for my special paan tasting.  i am to follow very strict instructions:

  • you chew it.  thoroughly and slowly
  • under no circumstances you are to swallow anything.  do you hear me?  swallow NOTHING!  you’ll get very sick if you will
  • whenever you accumulate juices you spit.  you MUST spit.

hold it right there.  i was taught NEVER to spit.  and in the street?  what would my mom say if she saw me spitting in the street?!

in return i get an extra slow explanation for dummies: “don’t swallow any of it.  you’ll get very sick.  spit it out!!!”

people gather to watch.  paan  is ready.  i get yet another warning.  “SPIT!  remember to SPIT!”

i start chewing.  almost instantly juices start to accumulate.  the website says, “In urban areas, chewing paan is generally considered a nuisance because some chewers spit the paan out in public areas. The red stain generated by the combination of ingredients when chewed are known to make a colorful stain on the ground. This is becoming an unwanted eyesore in Indian cities such as Mumbai, although many see it as an integral part of Indian culture.”

now i don’t know about you, but spitting taboo means that i never got any practice.  i have no idea how one creates the momentum to create a nice arch.  thoughts of Dune and the samota chewing and spitting run through my head.  meanwhile the saliva level in my mouth keeps rising.  I’m getting to the point of having no choice.

the fun of paan

“spit” narayanan orders, “spit!”  and i do.  it doesn’t go very far.  i dig into my pocket to get some tissues.  now try laughing, chewing, spiting.  tough.  “people are watching you”, Narayanan informs me.  it doesn’t help.  i laugh harder, which makes spitting harder.

Betle Leaf

the orange drops stain my lips, i can feel it.  and then Narayanan orders, “spit it all out.  enough.”  i obey.  “how do you feel? anything?”  nothing.  we walk another block and then i get a zarda message from my head, it’s about 0.25 meter above my neck.  two minutes later it’s over.  much a chew about nothing.  only now i get to hear Narayanan’s own paan story.  no wonder he was so protective of me.  this one is filed under nice.  happy to try again.

i asked a few Indian friends.  answers vary.  Harry M, not your typical Indian, said “i love it.  in my experience, the one with gulkhand [a sweet preserve of rose petals] is the best.”  and i think; this is the sweet paan.  makes for a great after dinner sweet.

and how come only HM told me about the paan khajur, which if made of dates and it “to die for.”  still hadn’t had a chance to taste one.

got paan?

No more paan for me

researching for this blog, i came across this byte of information, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards the chewing of betel-quid and areca nut to be a known human carcinogen.  The main carcinogenic factor is believed to be areca nut. A recent study found that areca-nut paan with and without tobacco increased oral cancer risk by 9.9 and 8.4 times, respectively. [Source: International Journal of Cancer, Volume 86, Issue 1, pages 128–131, 1 April 2000]

remember that Fall Out Boy song?  “Thanks for the memories.”  paan out.


May 24, 2011

#185 – and God said take off thy shoes from thy feet [part I]

“And he said, Approach not hither: put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place on which thou standest is holy ground.”

[Exodus 3:5, Webster’s Bible Translation]

and they do.  the Indians that is.

one needs to cover one’s head when entering a synagogue, but covering your head in a church is disrespectful.  high-end resort restaurants require footwear as part of a mandatory attire, yet when entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple one is required to take off shoes out of respect.  the same goes for a mosque.  and don’t forget to take off your shoes when entering an Asian home [China, India, Japan..]

i put on shoes as a self-expression act.  i may say, oh it’s just something I threw together about my outfit, and mean it too.  rarely I’d say such about shoes.  this is  the biggest challenge/dilemma biking presents to me, together with rings and earrings.

Shilparaman, Hyderabad

yet, it’s no effort to get me to take off my shoes.  barefoot is my default footwear at home, to the long-lasting disappointment and frustration of my mom. from her POV, walking  barefoot reflected on my lack of manners.  eventually she gave up on ‘ridding’ me of the barefoot habit.  to be fair, as kids and teenagers, the barefoot thing wasn’t about taking off your shoes as you walked into the house.  it was walking barefoot.  period.  and it is indeed dirty.  luckily, i don’t think my mom will read my admission here.

worshiper @ Jagannath Puri Temple, Hyderabad

few years back, seeking the advice of a feng shui consultant, i met Ran Ben Eli.  i was speechless when he said matter of fact 10 minutes into our appointment, “and you love walking barefoot.” forget psychics, this is not something one’s body language reveals.  and i had no cracked skin to telltale on me. “why?  how did you know?” i asked.  “well, it’s simple,” he said.  “you have too much energy flowing through you and your mind wonders; you require grounding.” that simple, ha?  to stress the point, plus few others, he suggested that quieting my mind would do me only good.  20-something needles and 90 minutes later i felt nothing.  back at Avaya’s office, where i was working in that home visit, it took my friends about 20 minutes to notice that I’m quieter than usual.  took two days for the “slow down; be quiet” to wear off. go figure.

@ Jagannath Puri Temple

taking shoes off  is more prominent in India than in any other place I’ve ever visited.  given how dusty or dirty the streets are, it’s the sensible thing to do.  if your store is stocked with merchandise, floor included, dusty sandals won’t do it any good.  it may be a force of habit. i didn’t inquire.

@ Shilparaman, Hyderabad

where taking off your sandals is a common practice, how can i resist “documenting” it, along with some of the creative footwear one finds in India.  and so i did.

May 23, 2011

#184 – Pashmina, lady?

Filed under: on the road,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 11:30
Tags: , , , , ,

the fun of going places is the fun of collecting new experiences. my fun-challenge is exchanging opinions, trying to have effective, honest communication between different paradigms, often with a language barrier to complicate things further.  it’s  seeing, smelling, touching, drinking, eating…  things.  sometimes it even involves spitting.

obnoxious as this sign is, it offers great guidelines for the experiencing traveler to follow.

can’t wait to see an updated version, maybe “follow us not, but on twitter; befriend us not, but on FaceBook.”

more than anything else, visiting places means conversations; honest, interesting, miscommunicating  conversations. sometimes the answers i get feel more like questions about my own world and paradigm.  and i love it.  mostly.

when it’s hot and humid, these conversations may be less of the learning visitor type; more of a pain.  as was the case on this day.

Hyderabad, May 2010.  30 something degrees in the shade, humidity that won’t shame a Swedish sauna.

“pashmina, just come look, don’t have to buy, best quality, great selection.”

“no, thank you.”

“pashmina lady, you must see.”

“i don’t like pashmina.”

“pashmina, i have the best, no need to buy.”

the humidity is playing touchy-feely with me. much too touchy.  too hot to be nice to pushy sale guys who need to make a living.

i really don’t like pashmina.  it’s too warming, it’s high maintenance, and frankly, it’s not my style.

guys keep pushing.

tired of being polite, i try a different approach.  “do you speak English,” i ask.  “yes, yes.”

“good,” i say. “can i get a frozen pashmina?  if you have one in your freezer, i promise i’ll buy it.”

blank face.

i try again.  “if you have a frozen pashmina, you got a deal, otherwise please stop.”

finally, the guy gets it and walks away.  my relief doesn’t even last a minute.  i feel bad.

and then another mosquito wants a taste of me.  well, at least one buzzing has ended. i feel not as bad.  really, how do you say “no, not interested” in a way that is properly heard?  no idea.

did i mention it was hot?  see for yourself.

how much longer do i have to sit here?

in Hebrew i’d say “חם, חם בטבריה.” and no further explanation would be required.  what do you say in English?

sorry baby, i can't make the heat go away

taking a moment

one can say, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”  in Hebrew, there’s an idiom about dog’s chill [קור כלבים].  it means some serious chill cold.  but what about hot dogs?

loyalty first; a cooler spot later.

May 15, 2011

Happy to be home thought [to become a post]

Filed under: on the road — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 12:16
Tags: ,

this is what getting home looks like. SFO

am in unfamiliar territory.

less than 16 hours home, and the first load in already in the dryer,  some stuff had been put away, most mail had been opened though only the junk had been acted upon.

guess I’m happy to be home.

compare to the usual:  major unpacking waits until something, like that specific pair of shoes, is needed, or the next trip;  whatever comes first.

no food shopping yet though.  hey, not even breakfast.

i think I’m gonna enjoy a cup of tea.

May 12, 2011

#182 – the book says… [Indian Intake IV]

| Publication: Kuperard | Author: Nicki Grihault |

sometime between my first trip to India and the 2nd one, i bought a book.  India, the essential guide to customs & culture is only one of the culture smart! series which covers just about 60 countries.  Can’t wait to read the Israel edition.

putting guides to test before, i generally have rather low expectations of travel guides.  surprisingly, this book turns to be a rather god one.  while I’m reading the 2003 edition, a new one is out.  should be fun to compare.

today, over a great breakfast that included [thank you Vinnie] chikoo smoothie, i read with great interest the section titled “Be Prepared for an Indian-Style Toilet”, page 91.  i was a bit surprised as i read “… There is no toilet paper, as its use is repellent to most Indians.  It is generally believed that it is cleaner to use water.  There is usually a tap by the side of the toilet, and a small pot.” book then goes to explain the business of cleansing and ends the section with “…  a toilet roll and soap are essential items in your baggage..” [page 92]

indeed, all Indian toilets I’ve been to included a tap or, more frequently, a small hand-held shower head.  AND toilet paper or at minimum, the orphaned roll holder. all, until today.

in the crossword bookstore in Hyderabad, where Terrence and I were having our after-lunch coffee break, nature made its call and i followed.  as i walked into the private room, the book’s words flushed in my head.

"There is no toilet paper, as its use is repellent to most Indians. it is generally believed that it is cleaner to use water." (p. 91)

how often do travel guides are spot-on?  practically never.  so i gave virtual kudos to the guide and went on with my business, relaying on the Kleenex in my knapsack.  i would have never thought this to be an experience worth sharing, if it wasn’t for what followed.

as mom taught me, and health authorities confirm, one isn’t really done until one washed hands.

so what if the sink is dirtier than the toilet itself?

right paper, wrong place?

just in case you are not sure, or still laughing, here’s another photo – so this is what they do with the toilet paper?  creative.

location, location, location?!

on a second thought, why not?…

of course, east can meet west, to accommodate any guest.

east meets west?

May 8, 2011

#180 – Destination India

I wasn’t about to complain when I learned that I’ll be going back to India.  I was about to make plans.  Leave a few days early, enjoy the great hospitality of good friends, work remotely, make time for some sightseeing and, most important, experience India as I love, less like a tourist.  Delhi seemed a perfect fit for the job.

Given the struggle of few of my colleagues to get an Indian visa, I was happy with the foresight of getting a multiple-entry year visa on my first trip 6 months earlier.

Saturday.  Force of habit made me look for the cherished visa before placing my passport in its carry-on designated pocket.

What do you do when you realize that your multiple entry one-year visa is actually only a 6-months one?  What do you do when on April 30th you realize, holding a ticket for a May 2nd departure that your dear Indian visa expired on April 21st?

You sit down.  The urge to bang your head against the wall, scream, and chant “why didn’t I check it when booking the trip a couple of weeks ago?” is stronger than you could imagine.  F&S words run through your mind, solving nothing. An on-line visit to travisa doesn’t help.  Non-US passports are treated slower and are not entitled to the 24-hour visa processing, reserved for US citizens only.  I should have known better, smarter.  Last time, I was told that getting an Indian visa will take me 3 weeks in the US; a week in Israel.  Do I dare try? Is it worth is?

I go to bed with my self-directed anger, without packing a thing.

Sunday is the Saratoga Rotary annual art show. The biggest juried art show in the whole region and two of my friends, Mei-Ying and Ron are showing their art.  Of course I’m going.

'Lounging Liberty' (Oil, 32x42) by Mei-Ying Dell'Aquila

Morgan Territories 5 / Ron Dell'Aquila (from Organic Landscapes series)

Five hours later, Julie and I with deep fried necks are well done.  Not without some takeaways of course.

I still can’t decide what I’m going to do about the trip, visa embarrassment… at least I didn’t find out at the airport.

Each country has its own off the rules culture.  In the US, process wins, even  when absurd and inefficient.  In China, if you know how to ask and what to say, you may find flexibility.  Guanxi helps.  In Israel, one learns that if you have a case that you feel strongly about, you should try talking your way to making an exception.  Compassion helps; friends too.

But I’m in the US, very much wanting to go to India, and with no connections to use. I guess the Israeli thing of going to the airport and hoping to talk my way through the passage to India is not an option.  It’s late in the evening when I call to cancel the morning flight, the ride to the airport and the pick-up in Delhi.  Then I go upstairs, submit an online application for an Indian visa, book an appointment and go to sleep.

9:30 Monday morning.  I’m @ the doors of Travisa office in San Fran and sent away.  My appointment is for 10:20, and I’m so happy to have made it early, hoping this means that I get in early.  Wrong.  Their idea of appointment is that it is the time in which you are permitted to JOIN the line inside. Until then, you are not even allowed into the building.  “Come back at 10:10 and I’ll let you in” says the guard that looks like a club selector.   “OK, thanks.  Where can I get a good coffee around here?” I ask the guy that can’t smile.  “You can get the best coffee in the city around the corner.”  He gives me directions to the Blue Bottle Coffee which is 4 minutes away.

40 something minutes and a good latte later, I’m allowed to join the line.  And guess what, muscle guy doubles as visa application’s inspector.  My papers are all in order, no compassion to my “look at this ticket; I was supposed to be boarding my flight just about now.”  Next, submitting the application.  I try again.  The gal behind the counter empathizes.  She asks if she could get a copy of the ticket, so I hand it over.  Her supervisor is not too impressed.  “It’s minimum five days.  But it’s not a busy time now, so foreign passports are returned in 5 days.”  [which explains why it was 3-weeks in October – the weather was right!  No sane person should go to India when temperatures rise above 40C°] “Is there a way to rush it maybe?  I know it’s my own stupidity and you owe me nothing, but maybe there’s something you could do, please?”


“So when should I expect it back?”

“In a week.”

“A week means this Friday or Monday?” I try to gauge my chances.

“A week.”

Meanwhile, I overhear one explaining the rest of the process.  Once your visa is approved, you get an email inviting you to pick up your passport between 4:30 and 6.  No, they don’t care if it takes you 3 hours to get here.  Check your email is the laconic answer.

This opens a week of torturous “refresh” clicks on the status page.  useless.

Current as of 05/05/2011 3:04pm PST



05/02/2011 1:19am India visa application completed online
05/02/2011 10:51am Passport & supporting documents received by Travisa Outsourcing, payment processed
05/02/2011 11:13am Documents prepared to go to Consulate
05/02/2011 11:25am Documents dispatched from Travisa Outsourcing to Consulate
05/02/2011 11:44am Documents received by Consulate
05/05/2011 2:00pm Pending approval of the Government of India

On Thursday, thinking positive, I reserve a Friday night flight to Hyderabad.

Friday.  Should I pack or should I wait?  At 4:30 I’m ready to give up and forget about India.  If I hit “refresh” once more I’ll puke.

5:25 PM.  Ding.  An email tells me:

“Dear yael wagner,

Travisa Outsourcing has received your passport back from the Indian Consulate. We have verified the visa is processed correctly. You may come in and pickup your passport with the Indian visa between 4:30pm – 6:00pm…”

F-words run though my mind.  Eran is in Israel, a quick phone call tells me that Ant is in San Diego.  Who else do I know that may be able to help and save the trip?

I call Jacob and ask for half an hour of his life, if he can spare it.  NOW.  He is on his way out for dinner.  “What’s the problem?” I explain.  “Let me call you right back.”

Ring-ring.  “what’s the address?”.  I scan and email the barcode required to claim the passport back.  Mobile had never been so useful.

5:50 PM – “I’m in line” says the SMS.

6:45 PM – SMS “got it.”

It takes EIGHT phone calls to the travel [read – trouble] desk.  I was put through the travel centers in UK, India and what sounded like South-Africa, plus multiple dead-ends, before I got to talk to the American desk.  There’s exactly one travel option if I want to make it on time to JavaOne and take good care of my POD. I take it.

Email car service for a pick up.

Drive to the city to pick up passport and be speechless trying to thank Jacob.

00:22.  It’s past midnight and I can’t make myself pack.  2 hours of sleep allow me 2:20 hours to pack.

Saturday, 4:46 AM.  I sit in the car.  We are on our way to the airport.

Destination: India.

April 7, 2011

#176 – Bettolona, NYC. Eat, Drink, ENJOY

The king sent me there.  and i didn’t even know i knew a king.  but as far as Sando, owner/manager of Bettolona is concerned, i do.

when Andreas gave me the lay of the land, he pointed out Bettolona as his favorite and the best place nearby, recommending the food and the owner’s warm and welcoming attitude he did well.  all proved to be very much true.

My love story with Italian restaurants is longer than the ones i have with any other cuisine, Chinese included.

it started years ago, when i lived in Toronto.  there was that Italian restaurant, not far from the office where my bookkeeper and i had our lunches there now and then; dinner when she had to work late…  my expense reports  BTW, were always on time then – she managed to get a lot done in one day/month.  with time, i introduced other friends to the restaurant; all were happy with many returns.  eventually, i became a regular.  at first i was offered Sambuca on the house, which was politely yet always rejected.  Anise and I don’t meet. then it was desserts, “you must try this dish i made today”…  eventually, i stopped looking @ the menu and asked Mario – the chef/owner – to surprise me. disappointment was never present.  the game changer was, how predictable, a cup of cappuccino.  one evening, i asked to make my own.  “do you know how to use the machine?” was the skeptical question.  “of course i do” was my confident answer. pause, hesitation and “OK, but be careful.”

in an Italian restaurant, where all the staff is male, a gal behind the bar was a very unusual sight.  i had 4 pairs of eyes carefully watching me making that test cup.

i passed, nothing exploded, i didn’t burn myself.  there was a silent respect in the air.  only now, years later, i am ready to admit that it wasn’t my best cappuccino.  one needs to know a machine, the pressure of the steam…  first cup with a new machine can hardly ever be a good one.  two weeks later, i asked to volunteer in the kitchen, one evening a week.  i didn’t mind doing any and all dirty jobs, but Mario had to answer all my questions – that was the deal.  i went through evenings in which for 4 hours i cleaned shrimps.  other evenings were devoted to peeling and mincing garlic.  DO NOT RUB your eyes after such evening, unless you have a very good reason to cry and some sins to pay for.

being part of the kitchen scene, being a part of the flow of a restaurant evening, helping when a party required 40 servings of Chicken Parmigiana pronto was an amazing learning experience that completely changed my view of food making, efficiency, stress…  Conducting this orchestrated performance is no easy task.  in this world, deadlines and processes are measured in minutes, not in man weeks; you cannot delay launch time, a bug in your delivered product may easily be beyond fixing…  ever.  and you may lose more than one customer…

the immortal Swedish chef / Muppet show

i hold great respect for the chefs/managers who manage to schmooze with customers, never revealing the stress of “do i have enough chicken breast tonight to accommodate all these light eaters?”, “the couple in table 4 is having a fight, what can i do to make them happy?” “we may have half-cooked too much pasta tonight”, “i need another 4-people table NOW”, “i have to visit that one @ table 6 again – she is friends with the king”…

While taking my MBA, i convinced the school to offer us a business plan writing course.  i had to “recruit” enough students who’d commit to taking the class, convince the president of the school [Thank you Lyn] it should be part of the curriculum…  it was fun.  the business plan that my team wrote was for a restaurant.  P. said she wanted to open a restaurant and we went along with it.  the idea we finally agreed on was cool, still is; a noodle restaurant that offers noodle dishes of the world.  Fusion yet basic food in a bowl.  we were a fusion-ed team alright; one Thai, two Chinese, one Israeli.  i even created two dishes for our proof of concept testing/tasting dinner, one of them was to be the “house dessert” as i named it “noodles nest” as was the name of the restaurant to be.  My friend Vivian designed our logo pro bono.  it was an amazing learning experience.  nothing else would convince me as strongly that doing it right, with the quality and style that I’d want my restaurant to be, is as close to slavery as a business can be.  so many factors compute into becoming a success that it’s a gamble, and a very expensive one too.  more so when it’s your first restaurant.  the success rate of 2nd restaurant owners is dramatically higher.  sounds like any start-up land, doesn’t it?  i wonder if the success rate is similar, pretty sure the payoff in technology is greater than that of the food industry.

Enjoying Bettolona - Silvano's amazing cookbook, cappuccino & tiramisu

all these memories and insights run though my mind as i enjoy the food, the atmosphere and Sando’s company @ Bettolona.   Training last under Silvano from Da Silvano, the strong commitment to quality, simplicity, using the freshest ingredients and diversity is all present.  the menu offers something for everyone; and it’s something good.  i love the fact that they do not follow the trend of small portions that get lost in monster-size plates.  i hate it, and the small tables in most restaurants hate it too.  so normal size plates, great.  the portions though are tastefully generous.  in two of the meals i had, i ended up taking home part of my meal.

“so, what’s with the king?”  i asked  Sando in my last dinner there.  his answer demonstrates why he manages to create such a great atmosphere for the restaurant.  being a good people reader is key to knowing how to reach out to them, how to communicate with them.  “he always walks in with class and style, polite and friendly, yet maintains distance, smiles but…”  i couldn’t help laughing.  if you know the king, i think you’d agree with this description.  i, on the other hand, got no title, but more than enough attention, royal or not is arguable.

trying to characterize the clientele, i realized it’s practically impossible.  the diner featured in the the photos above was a photographer’s joy, but in no way a typical patron.  students, professionals, all the way to over dressed heavily old-fashioned jeweled patrons who enjoyed  the a concert in the Manhattan School of Music 3 blocks away; all shared the joy of eating.  having dinner served at 10:30 is nother pleasure i painfully miss in the valley.  and sometimes, in San Francisco too.

bottom line?  great restaurant, even if the location is a bit out of your way.  take #1, get off @ 125th street, and walk 3 minutes.  you can do it.

my last dinner before leaving the city

salad, pasta, dessert @ Bettolona

Swedish chef from:  thank you.


April 14, 2001

#62a – Newport Mansions, April 2001 [Hebrew]

Filed under: on the road — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 19:34

אחוזות ניופורטSource: The Breakers in Newport, United States [1]

יש אחוזות, ויש אחוזות.  קוצר הזמן, כמו גם חוסר הכבוד שלנו לבתים גדולים ללא סיבה או טעם, ולמדריכי תיירים שיודעים לדקלם אך לא לחשוב בעצמם צמצמו את הביקור שלנו לנחלה אחת, הגדולה, הידועה והמפורסמת ביותר.  תוכנית הטיול המקורית אכן כללה שתי אחוזות, ולכן שמורים אצלי הספחים בהם לא השתמשנו, ממתינים למבקר הבא ביניכם, שיחזיר אותי לניופורט.  מה יותר מוקדם יותר טוב.  הקיץ האינדיאני שנחת עלינו כאן בשבועות האחרונים רק מזמין שלא לומר מצדיק ומחייב ביקור כזה.  The Breakers, נחלתם של בני משפחת וונדרבילט, היא האחוזה שחובה לבקר בה. ELLE ב-Legally Blonde, הושלכה על-ידי המלפפון ההוא מניו אינגלנד שבחר להתארס עם קלאסה אמיתית, בת למשפחת וונדרבילט.

הטירה עצמה, הבנויה בסגנון פלאצו איטלקי, היא הגדולה והמקושטת (יש אומרים מצועצעת?) ביותר בניופורט.  למעלה מ-200 בעלי מלאכה עמלו בבנייתה בין השנים 1893-1895 כדי להשביע את רצונו של קורנליוס וונדרבילט ה-II, נשיא ויו”ר הרכבת של ניו יורק, ונדרשו לכך 70 חדרים.  לא פחות.  מרשים, גדול, אבל לא מסוג המקומות בהם ישמעו אותי אומרת “בכיף הייתי גרה כאן”.  ממש לא.  חדר השינה המקסים ביותר בבית הוא של הבת הקטנה.  חדר השינה שהיית מצפה שיהיה הפחות מפואר.  ומה מתגלה? שלחדר שינה זה תצפית מדהימה על האוקינוס, ויציאה למרפסת רחבה, שאין כמוה להתחרדנות בשמש, להפסקת אספרסו, או לקריאת הספר העומד בראש רשימת ה”חובה לקרוא” שלי.

בנסיון אחרון לתת למדריך החמוץ שלנו (שכל הזמן עוקב אחרי שלושתנו, חושד בנעמה שתצלם למרות שאסור, שאולי ניגע במה שמעבר לגדר החבל… או סתם לא אוהב מבקרים ששואלים הרבה שאלות) הזדמנות להוכיח שהוא יודע על מה הוא מדבר, אני שואלת “איך זה שחדר השינה היפה ביותר בבית מוקצה לצעיר הצאצאים”?

אדון הבית, אומר המלפפון, התגורר בחדר השינה הקדמי כדי שיוכל לראות מי מגיע.  לא יודעת.  לא ממש נשמע משכנע, יש מערכת אינטרקום בכל הבית, ומספיק משרתים כדי למקם אחד בתצפית על השער…

אבדתי סופית עניין במה שלמדריך יש לומר, ומעכשיו אני מתמקדת בהתבוננות מעמיקה בפרטים.  הוילונות והריפודים במצב פחות ממשביע רצון, אבל הפאר ניכר.



אחרי המטבח ובו ה-Switchboard בו ראו המשרתים מי קורא להם והיכן הוא נמצא, עברנו לביתן הילדים.  בחצר הענקים בנו מבנה בן שני חדרים להעסקת הילדים.  תקרה נמוכה, ריהוט מיניאטורי, וכל הספורים על ההורים שחלקם בגידול הצאצאים הצטמצם לברכת לילה טוב לילדיהם לפני שאלו הושכבו בידי האומנת עולה בדעתי. רק לאחר המעבר ההכרחי ב”חנות המפעל”, כלומר חנות המזכרות שהמדריך לא הפסיק להזכירה בכל פעם ששאלנו שאלה עליה לא ידע לענות אנחנו חופשיות לסיור בגן.  והגן, כמו שראינו מלמעלה, גובל באוקינוס.  ובין האוקינוס וביננו מפרידה רק גדר.   ופתאום כבר לא.  מה יש?  לאחר ששלמנו דמי כניסה מה לא בסדר בלטפס מעל הגדר ולצאת לחופשי.  אבל זו תהיה היתממות מצידי להכחיש שתחושת “שוברים את החוקים” והחופש שהתלוותה לדילוג מעל הגדר, כמו גם מבטי האמריקאים ההמומים תבלו את קיצור הדרך.

רק הגלישה והשיטוט ברשת בחיפוש אחר תמונות גלתה לי שיש מסלול הליכה מוסדר ומדהים ביופיו לאורך החוף.

אמרתי כבר שאני רוצה לחזור, נכון?

ואם באמת רצית לדעת מה ניופורט מציעה למבקרים בעיר בדצמבר:

[1] אם כי האתרים הלא רשמיים מוצלחים הרבה יותר.  כעיקרון אין לצלם באחוזה, כך שמבחר התמונות מצומצם ביותר.  הם רוצים שנבוא (ונשלם), מה לא ברור?

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