Friday, June 27, 2008

The Dead Sea

The original plan was to go to Tel Aviv, this time to go to the beach as one is supposed to: with a bathing suit, a towel, sun protection and a lot of time available. The only problem would be taking my hair and leaving at home my belly...
It was not supposed to be this time.
At work there was someone organizing the foreigners to go to the Dead Sea. I accepted the invitation.
So today, Friday, which is the equivalent of a western Saturday, we set off at 9:00am for the operation. We met at the office to do the preparations, which almost comically seemed like the ones for a military operation. There was some logic in it, after all the dead sea is located in the West Bank which is part of the Palestinian Authority and because of what one reads in the news.
We went in three cars not knowing what to expect, over-organized and ended up getting the worst route possible, reminding us of so many CG productions we've been in.
It was an experience to go past there, but not an adrenaline filled one. There are many tourist buses going up and down the highway, and it is much less militarized and tense than one would imagine. Of course there were tree or four check points, but there were no traffic jams nor any hassle as we passed them. Remember that Friday is a busy day on the highways.
The only thing that really reminds one of the troubles in the region are the modern looking houses surrounded by barbed wire by the road. They are probably the famous settlements, some scattered condominiums which apparently are impeding the progress of global peace talks...
We passed a sign indicating that we were going below the sea level. The road continues to go down quite a lot after it, the dead sea is about 420 meters below the ocean level. If I am not mistaken it is the lowest point on this planet.
The vegetation is scarce and there is hardly anyone or anything to be seen by the motorway except for the odd camel for tourists to take pictures on, gas stations some farms, yes farms in the middle of the desert, and an Arab shepherd here and there. We pass by Jericho, made famous in the pages of the Bible, just before arriving.
The Dead Sea is surrounded by mountains, one side of it is in Israel, or should I say the Palestinian Territories, and the other one is Jordan. There is not one wave on it, there is some humidity in the air and the place is horribly hot.
Our final destination was a kind of a Spa, or beach, by the sea which we paid to get in. The beach is probably the strangest one I've been in my life. There is no sand, just little stones that are a torture for the foot, the bed of the sea is muddy and stony, and there are these big solid clumps of salt. The water feels like hot oil and when one is in the water it seems as if someone filled you up with air, you actually float!!!!
If you try to stand in the water it kind of pushes you off balance, you can't really swim in it because even a drop in your eye is extremely painful. All very very weird.
Then there is the black mud that people pass on their skin, everyone was passing it so I decided to give it a go, one looks as if one has a wet suit when it is on, it does not feel gooey or anything and comes off easily. After the shower I went to this covered pool of natural sulphuric water which also wasn't the best experience on earth. It was bloody hot and had an unpleasant smell!!!
Finally there was a children's pool with normal cold water, probably the best place to be in the resort. The place was full of overweight and senior citizens, the both pointing to my inglorious physical future.
The whole place gives an impression of something that was not supposed to be, the water should be connected to the sea, there should ships sailing through it, waves, pretty young ladies walking it's beaches, life...
I once read something about the Dead Sea portraying it as a situation which one should avoid getting into: isolation, drying out because of lack of contact, shrinking to the world. The Dead Sea is like the conflict in the region: a stalemate.
On the positive side I hope that what they say about going into the Dead Sea, and going into Sulphuric water being good for your health is true.
The pictures are coming soon...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pictures Finally

Yep.. this is the view from my window!!!! What else can I say?
Click on it to see it larger
Follow this link to see more pictures:

The second weekend

Not really much to write about this time.
I had the very sad and shocking news that my fiend Michael passed away in Glasgow. He was in my farewell party only two or three weeks ago and we jammed to a Rolling Stones song. May he rest in peace, and my thoughts go to my great friend Pennie, his partner. It is only a shame that he can't write us a blog from where he is, being the charming and cool guy he was he'll do just fine.
My time was spent basically making the flat liveable or my family. As I wrote before the landlord is a writer and has a sea of books and stuff in the house, it was actually surprising not to find books in the fridge. Opening space for us was a battle but I finally got some things organized and am just waiting for phase two: putting the stuff into boxes to feel the place minimally mine.
There was my first embarrassing moment in Jerusalem: I went to the supermarket and made a huge buy there, when I had put everything in the plastic bags and handed over the card surprise surprise! The card is not accepted. My great luck is that a work friend had decided to come to the shopping centre with me to buy some shades and was with me in the line. He was kind enough to pay with his card.
Supermarkets here are similar to the ones in Brazil where one can find almost anything one wants but the brands are different. This is not the EU nor America. There are two things worth mentioning in terms of food and stuff. I have never had better houmous or industrialized fruit juice in my life. The trip is worth it just for the sake of trying them.
Another troubling or saddening thing I noticed is that in front of my window there is a park where only Arabs go, almost on the other side of the street there is another one with an almost exclusive Jewish presence. They are both as nice as the other. As I read in an Anti-Defamation League leaflet belonging to my Landlord, what one sees in Jerusalem is not Apartheid; it is two different readings of a reality, two rivals fighting for the same thing.
Specially in Jerusalem the match is not over yet.
Hopefully one day there will be understanding between both sides. They key in my view is tolerance, mutual recognition and acceptance.
This happens in every day life, one sees Arab people everywhere, and differently to Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany they have the same rights and status as the Jews, it would be a lie to say that both sides are friends, but most people are much smarter than the leaders and people who who take sides without being directly involved, they simply try to get on with life despite the mess.
At work things are VERY slowly defining themselves hopefully one day things will make sense.
Soon the internet will be set up at home and I'm looking forward to posting the pictures when that happens.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Apartment

Thursday, which is the equivalent to a western friday, began pretty standard.
As I explained before they are finishing off a trailer (which is starting to look very good) and as I am not directly involved, there is not much to do, my role is becoming clearer though, I am a proud member of the lighting team, so now its just a matter of waiting for the scenes to begin pouring in, and deciding what techniques we'll use.
By talking around it seems that most people are committed to making a good job similarly to myself, they are just waiting for things to become clearer and to begin the working. There is a lot of positive energy in th air.
At lunchtime I get a call saying that my appartment has been found and I am to move by the end of the day. Wow!
The apartment is two minutes away from the hotel and from work. I first come to have a look, and the view... well... it probably could not be much better, the old city, mount Zion, the the Wailing wall, Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque are right in fornt of my window. Fantastic!!
I'm just humbled by my luck, or, if you will, this undeserved blessing. As all the above weren't suficient I can also see the Scottish flag which I have mentioned before. I just wonder wher the Brazilian flag is..
It's time to move.
The father of one of the most liked guys in the company has just died so most people will be attending the funeral, moving in the afternoon is not a problem.
Too close for a taxi ride but, on the other side, too much lugagge to carry down the street, the solution was to get a supermarket trolly, it must have had some comical value to see me with my guitar hanging on my back, a heavy suitcase being rolled by one hand and a trolly full of cases by the other. Funny or not, I made it in five minutes.
The apartment is pretty spacious, it has a biggish living room, an american style kitchen with no walls separating it form the living room, two nice bedrooms and even a little varanda in front of the bedrooms facing the back of the building which is pretty nice on it's own: a lush garden and a steep wall covered with vegetation with some nice old houses on top.
Nothing is perfect... unfrotunately.
I quickly discover without a big detective effort that the owner, who will be away from the country for a year or so, is a writer and the house is full of his stuff. There are very few two empty cupboards and wardrobes the rest is just filled up. It is almost just as if I am lending a friend's apartment for a weekend, cheeky...
There are some paintings and objects that really offend my aesthetics These are easy to deal with I just take them off the wall and put them in what will be Renata's bedroom. The guy from the company has already told me that they will provide me with boxes and a storage area to keep his unwanted stuff. Which is a huge relief for me who is not fussy. I can only imagine Libia's.
At first I think the guy could be an interesting scholar with heaps of interesting books, but no, he is what is known a Messianic Jew, which is a recently invented religion which attempts to mix two things which in my opinion are unmixable: Judaism and Christianism, and he must have collected all the literature on this written to this date. There is also a lot of pro-Israeli literature in the flat which is OK by me, but a bit too close to the Christian Zionism coming from the US to make it welcome reading.
The interest in his books quickly turns to aversion and I try to put all of them into the remaining empty storage areas in the flat, quite a job, when I look at the watch it is already 9:00 pm, clearly time for me to go out for a meal.
I notice that there is an SMS on my mobile, it is a work colleague telling me the guys are drinking somewhere, I reply asking if there is any food there, the answer is yes so that is where I head to.
When I get there some people are already leaving,
I am left with my british friend, an Israeli guy and the Production manager, a German lady with a very strong character. Portugal and Germany are playing, I see Portugal's defeat and Scolari's upset face in glimpses.
The coversation becomes quite amusing, and after eating I take one or two beers, to follow a Brazilian saying: I drink to make other people more interesting...
The bar closes and we are kicked out. Despite the apartment's excess of books and stuff, realizing that I know much less of the rendering software we will be using than most of my peers and missing my family, I am happy to be be here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 06 - Sunday, Bloody Sunday

For the first time in my life I start my working week on a Sunday, and worst of all it is my first day.
There are many interesting people at work.
First of all is a guy from Trivandrum where I worked in India, he actually worked in the same company where I was. He seemed to be relieved and glad to meet someone, even a total foreigner, who had something in common with him. He said he was very homesick, missed the food and being near his people.
There is a teacher from Savannah College in Chicago, contrary to the what one would expect he's actually british, has lived in Brazil for a short while and is friends with my ex-boss at Cineste in LA. He realy knows his stuff and is teaching us the software, I guess I'm very fortunate to have him around.
There is a guy from Canada but who worked with a spanish friend of mine in Australia (what a salad!!!). This friend is a real character so we had some good laughs telling each other stories about him.
There are russians, americans, french and of course Israelis. The atmosphere is very upbeat. I also took a look at the film, its at a very raw stage but it is excellent. There is a lot of work ahead, which is overwhelming and exciting at the same time, there is a lot of scope to do cool stuff.
The company has just moved, there are many new people, so work in progress is the best way one can describe the general setting. These are early days and hopefully the team will be able to get it's show together and make a great job.
People leave quite early and the Hotel is literally across the road which makes the evening long, and it can get a bit boring. I guess I'll use the time to catch up with some studying of the software. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff to learn.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

day 04 and 05 - The first Shabbat

I slept in Tel Aviv and woke up pretty early. Time to go to the beach!!
Stupidly enought I did not bring my bathing trunks, so it was just restricted to walking and looking.
It was easy to get directions to the beach and after some 45 minutes of walking: the sea!!!
The beach in Tel Aviv reminds me of Barra da Tijuca in Rio, which everyone sais is similar to Miami. Tall modern buildings, a large avenue by the beach, a large path for bicycles, lots of jogging and, of course, cycling, lots of people at the beach (even though it was a working day), retired people sitting in the shaded areas, and everything else one can imagine by a lovely beach.
The weather was cloudlessly sunny, I had my earphones on. They really block out the surrounding noise so there was a mixture of crazy music, walking, heat and sun. I sat down after some time to look (looking is permitted) at the young and beautiful ladies who were walking up and down.
After an hour or two it got boring, it was time to go back to Jerusalem for the Shabbat.
I had purposely not visited the western wall in order to keep that moment for the Shabbat. The Lonely Planet book and logic state that this is an unmissable event in Jerusalem.
My first Shabbat as an observant in th Holy Land.
It was not dissapointing, the vibe there is undescribable. What came to mind is the intensity of the warming up for the Samba Schools in the Rio carnival parade, but in an un-sexy way of course...
There is no coordination in the praying, there are several groups praying with the same intensity in defferent areas. The guys really go for it, very serious stuff... There are also the laymen like myself who just go to the wall and say their prayers as honestly as they can, but they are obviously amateurs. By the wall there is an entrance to a hall, the intensity there is the same.
One can help but getting carried away. There is a special thing to the Shabbat there. Obviously in the days of the Temple the cerimony, the dressing, the singing were different but there is a direct line to that era in one way or another. These guys are one hundred percent devouted to G-d. I respect that although I can't help the feeling that there is something missing somewhere in that crowd, don't ask me to tell you what.. I don't know.
At the end of the ceremonies (one could not say it was one) there was a lot of dancing and singing. Obviously men and women are separated by a fence and the dancing goes on independantly.
I was hoping to be invited to a Shabbat dinner by one of the Ultra Orthodox there, which apparently is a common thing, but unfortunately this did not happen, next week I'll try to get there earlier.
The next day was pretty much uneventful, almost everything closes in Jerusalem on a Saturday so it was time to study some material the company gave me. My work starts tomorrow and I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day 3 - Getting real

The day started with a visit to Renata's future school. It is located in a very beautiful place. Actually Jerusalem is much greener than one would imagine.

The school is located in a campus that was built to accommodate parent less refugee children after WWII and it gradually became a sort of a campus for several educational institutions, so it is all very green with a lot of space for children.

The school I must admit is not very impressive, as a work colleague put it, it is does not appear to be well nailed down, but it is definitely the best choice. It is English speaking, secular, reasonably priced and close.

After the school "interview" I went to work to get some files to study at home, there was the mezuzah setting ceremony. Mezuzahs are small boxes with a small paper with a prayer in it that Jews should put on their doors. I got to meet some of my future colleagues, all people I met were pretty friendly although I heard some comments about chaos in the production, the usual thing...

After lunch I went back to the Hotel, and slept off the champaign I drank, the tiredness of a short night and the jet lag. Hey someone has to do the tough work....

After the "kip" it was time to go to Tel Aviv. I'm starting to find out that speaking only English in Israel is a possibility, one would not die of hunger here not speaking Hebrew, but the experience is much better knowing the language, there are frustrating moments when you can't communicate.

This observation came from the difficulty in finding my directions to the bus station.

I have my first bus drive through the non-touristic part of Jerusalem. It surely reminds me of the Rio de Janeiro I grew up in: a lot of traffic a huge diversity of small shops, all kinds of people. The surprise for me is the relatively big amount of African Jews, I love diversity so it is a welcome and interesting novelty.

Getting into the bus station here is like getting pass the security check in a 3rd world airport. Lots of people crowding in front of an old x-ray machine. The security people are for sure much less posh than in a modern first world airport.

Not knowing the language and looking Israeli definitely is not enjoyable in these situations, one is mistreated as local but does not know how to answer back...

In Tel Aviv I went to the craziest shopping mall I've ever been in my life, there are high street shops next to food stands, crappy shops, travel agents, exchange bureaus and anything else one can imagine in this cramped but huge place with an intricate architecture.

The area I was in Tel Aviv definitely reminds me of Copacabana, where I grew up in the 60's and 70's, it is extremely urban, not too elegant and crammed with people. The Orthodox and Arab presence is much smaller so this gives it a very western feel. There are many attractive boys and girls here which is a massage to the eyes after 9 years in rough Glasgow ... :-) Hey!!! I didn't look at the boys!!!!

Speaking of Copacabana in the sixties and seventies I met up with Uri, who looks exactly the same as I last saw him 22 tears ago... crazy. He is playing music in an alternative dance gig. The place is one of these kind of intellectual under-funded arty places. I am waiting to see the show, but confess that my expectations aren't great....

The show was much better than I expected Uri does a kind of a noisy distorted background music on the guitar for the show, anyway dancing is not my cup of tea and I'd be lying if I said I loved it.

The day ended with us exchanging experiences over the 22 years we had not met and remembering the good old days... pretty cool stuff...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 2 - Like a chick in a garbage depo.

The second day was in the lack of a better word brilliant.

In the morning I went to see the company which is literally on the other side of the road.

They have just moved in so the office is a work in progress, the people were very friendly and the work looks pretty good.

After the walk around I came back to the Hotel and spoke on the phone to my childhood friend Uri who moved to Tel Aviv when he was about 10 and with whom I had lost contact in many many years ago, we are going to meet again as old geezers which will be pretty interesting.

The rest of the day was dedicated to tourism, my camera was almost shooting on its own. I am not posting the pictures for now because the internet time in the hotel is expensive but as soon as I can I will

The old city of Jerusalem is THE most interesting place I have ever visited, one can see everything at once in the same moment and place. Haredi Jews, Arabs, Christian priests, Neo-hippies, tourists from every corner of the world, children, old people.

History, recent and ancient just breathes, through every street.

There is the tourist hassle, but nothing as bad as India. There is almost no visible poverty.

The Palestinians and Jews were much more tolerant towards each other than I imagined and one does not feel hostility in the air. I mean.. I am not naive.. there is hostility... but it is definitely not on the surface.

The positive thing is that it seems at least that people want to carry on with their lives and no one really wants to get themselves or their children hurt. The down side, I think, is that the divide is so internalized that it may never be solved. Perhaps this is good in a way... in the U.S. ethnic communities live totally apart and the country seems to be getting on well.

Brazil is a different case, the people mingle and get along, perhaps better than anywhere in the world, the ethnic divide is not such a big deal, it is more about who has money and who does not.

But the crime rates are terrible over there.

Anyways I must admit that the everyday Palestinians deserve more sympathy from Israelis, as well as the Israelis deserve more sympathy from the world. I was here before as a boy in the mid seventees and remember it being poorer and more tense.

The economy has improved and it seems that most people have grown up and know better than accusing each other for their misery, and want to get on with their lives. I feel most people on both sides would be willing to give peace a chance.

In many ways the western media is responsible for magnifying the problem by demonizing people and caricaturisation the situation, the people involved in the conflict are human and want to improve their situation.

The old city is a community and a world of its own, it's mechanics work, it is organic. Hopefully this will spill out in form or another, lets hope sooner than later.

After walking for hours discovering the old city, lunch time! The shwarma and the Hummus I had was the best in my entire life. I stuffed myself it is true, but for a good cause!

Came back to the hotel and slept the walking and the food away. Someone has to do the hard work sometimes...

Day 01 - the journey

Finally the day has come!!

Wake up time: 3:50 am !!!

The truth is that it felt pretty healthy to be physically active carrying luggage.

After being extorted a lot of money (I mean a lot of money!!!) for excess weight from the air company and getting a rough treatment for trying to negotiate, it is time to get on board. The Dutch crew is happy because their country won a football match against Italy yesterday in Euro 2008.

It is a weird thing to be passing through Amsterdam before going to Israel. My dad escaped from the Nazis from there and my cousins are/were Dutch.

My sister's husband who is Dutch too will be submitted to an important operation today.

My wish is that everything goes well for both of us.

At the airport in Amsterdam I'm still pissed off about being ripped off in my extra weight. The stay passed fairly fast, unfortunately there was no time to go into Amsterdam for some fun...

Soon I see some security guards by a gate with machine guns and think: hmmm... I guess this is the gate, and, surprise surprise, I was right..

The flight is finally called, I get in to the security, when it's my turn the girl talks to me in Hebrew I say I don't understand and the she asks in english: did you do the security check??


- Security check!!!


I go down to take the security check which I think is going will include a rectal search and mental torture, but no, everything goes smoothly. My “million dollar” luggage is the only one that hasn't boarded yet and the plump security guard who interviews me is simply relieved to see the last of the luggage board..

In the plane everyone is speaking Hebrew, Hebrew newspapers, Hebrew newspapers, adds in Hebrew on the screen, as one would expect. I still can only understand one word or another although reading it is not a huge problem. This causes some hope and a bit of frutration.

Two noteworthy events happened in the plane:

The air hostess comes up to me and asks if my name is Richard Klein, I say yes and she says they have found my one and only cash card on the floor by the security check machine, can you imagine my relief??!!!

The film that I worked on but had been refusing to see because everyone said it was rubbish: 10.000 BC, was shown during the flight which was a bit weird in terms of fate. Actually I did not find it that bad.

On arrival the fear of being questioned in a dark room preceded by a rectal search comes back but everything goes very smoothly again.

I am finally in my hotel room. The hotel (Dan Hotel) is pretty good but it is still a hotel... the driver who got me here was not at all likable, I hope all Israelis are not like him.,.

I went for a walk nearby the Hotel which is on Hebron Street, it was already night but I found it very pleasant. It's great to be here, I have a sensation that it would be great to stroll down these streets with my deceased dad, both of us would have enjoyed the moment very much.

My day ends at the Hotel I phone Libia and Renata and finish up by writing these words.