Monthly Archives: August 2007

Feline Addiction Syndrome

Olives, anyone?  I expect Nadine to make a fuss and beg for handouts when we eat cheese, bread, eggs, or fish.  (Well, pretty much anything other than fruit and veggies.)  But green olives?  She’s been exposed to them all her life, as they are a staple item here, but for some reason, she discovers them as if for the first time.  Now, at the ripe age of 13, she suddenly develops a mania for olive juice. 

It all happens when I carelessly leave out the lid of a plastic container that held olives.  There is nothing on it.  But Nadine sniffs it, licks it, and soon is rolling on it ecstasy.  She clutches it in her front paws and rabbit-kicks it enthusiastically.  I have only seen this behavior before in certain cats exposed to catnip (a substance that Nadine can take or leave).  But green olives?  The olives themselves do not interest her as much as the container.  Finally, after an energetic five minutes of drooling, rolling, and generally looking like an idiot, Nadine settles down for a nice shluff, still hugging the plastic lid.  She looks blissful and smells faintly of olives.

I have a strange cat. 

Wheelin’ an’ Dealin’

It pays to haggle: Time to renew my car insurance.  My usual agent gives me a quote; 9000000 gives me a quote that is 20% less.  Then bituach yashir gives us a quote that is cheap but with a massive deductible.  Knowing that all things here are negotiable, we press a little.  I point to my clear driving record and low mileage.  They crunch numbers and come back with a better quote.  It is about 30% less than my usual insurance guys.  Unbelievable.

Travel gunk: The long flights catch up with me with more than jet lag, as I spend the day feeling sick.  My computer is having sympathetic symptoms and refuses to boot.  Oi!

A Largess of Links

Catching up: Here are some of the juicy highlights that you might have otherwise missed (with multiple hat-tips to Northern LS):

We be writing signs goodly: ‘Nuff said.
pool sign

36 Hours of Joy

Door to door: Well, I’m back, but it wasn’t easy.  My trip home spanned 37 hours of traveling, including an all-time record of 6.5 hours of standing in various lines.  Oh, joy.  Part of the fun stems from United’s efforts to save on ground labor costs by having all their international flights out of SFO leave within 15 minutes of each other.  Oh, so smart.  Ten jumbo jets heading for the Asia and Europe, each with an average of 300 passengers… you do the math.  The check-in line overflowed the little Disneyland “snake” and crossed the terminal hall.  I think the back of the line was actually in another zip code for a while.  After standing in this line for 2.25 hours, I am expedited through security, and then actually forced to sprint (with my bags) to the gate, which (naturally) is at the far end of the concourse. 

Add to this some hygiene-challenged passengers, a seatmate who snores (and drools), and a seat configuration that makes it impossible to see the screen, and you have the makings of a looooonnnng flight.  The only comic relief is provided by the limp-wristed flight attendants (this was SFO, after all), who strike camp poses and sport some fierce jewelry.  Nothing like getting moisturizing tips from someone named Stewart.

In Frankfurt, I ditch my bags in a locker and take the train into the city.  While Frankfurt is not the most picturesque of German cities, it still has a small area around a main cathedral where the buildings are colorful and the plazas inviting.  I find a reasonable restaurant and sit at an open window, watching the street action.  The hardest thing was the vast number of shoe stores, all with gorgeous, well-made shoes (and some good sales), and nothing that fits me.  Several of the sparkling, trendy fashion stores look inviting, but as I walk in, I am assailed by the smell of urine.  In each, a small dog wanders around, and clearly has been pishing inside with utter disregard to the upscale price tags.  (When I later tell Gill about this, he points out that Germans smoke like chimneys, so the shop owners probably don’t smell it, and therefore don’t notice it.  Makes sense.)  What strikes me is that I see (smell?) this in three different shops.  Yikes!

Anyhow, it is good to be home.  More later when I am more lucid…

What? No WiFi?

Sorry for the dead air, but I’m still alive!  My flight from JFK to SFO is uneventful, but annoying.  The flight is late and we sit on the tarmac for an hour, ultimately landing half an hour late. The flight is full and there is a screaming a toddler a few seats ahead of me (in business class, dafka). I am not in business class, but two seats away, gazing through the doorway into the forbidden luxuries of the entitled.

Once in SFO, I decide to skip the SuperShuttle option and travel to Berkeley via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). With just one small roll-aboard bag, I was able to comfortably navigate through the system, arriving at the downtown Berkeley station in the mid-afternoon.

The hotel is a great example of overly optimistic marketing. The pictures on the website don’t actually lie, but they don’t tell the whole story, either. For example, the hallways are dingy, painted with an industrial putty color. The carpets are in dire need of a shampoo. The rooms are large and full of little extras, but also just slightly dingy. The window requires brute force to close. There are not enough electrical outlets, and those near the desk are ridiculously overloaded with plug adapters.
dongle tangle

Susan meets me and we go out for a long walk. There are bold and energetic ground squirrels who scuttle up to us and wait for treats. We walk along the marina, going out onto a pier (could it really be the half mile in length that some say?) and walk to the end where we talk to a group of good ol’ boys who are drinking beer and fishing. On our way back, we pass a Japanese restaurant, in the old Benihana’s style (where the food is cooked at the table). We had a lovely meal, cooked by a Hispanic chef, and overlooking the sun setting over the marina.

I start Wednesday morning with a swim. It has been years since I did laps, and the hotel’s tiny 50 ft. pool is heavily chlorinated and too warm, but it feels good to stretch stiff muscles and reassure myself that I can still stay afloat! When Susan comes back over, we catch a ride with the hotel shuttle to the downtown Berkeley area, where we start walking. We cover a huge loop during the day, stopping in various shops, eating way too much, and gabbing nonstop. The weather is gorgeous—sunny, balmy, and comfortable for walking.

California has me grinning the moment I land. People are friendly, the air smells of eucalyptus and wild anise, and the morning fog is invigorating. The Berkeley street people are definitely more interesting than those in NYC, and the urban areas are more open, greener, less grungy. More sky If you are an East Coast fanatic, I don’t want to hear any anti-California (or West Coast) rants.

New friends, new shoes: I meet Ganesh, Susan’s nephew, who smiles sweetly and croons musically. He makes a gleeful chuckle that sounds part evil villain and part demented parrot. Another new aquaintence is the guy at La Foot, the little boutique running shoe store that has something that works for me. I try out my new Asics on Thursday morning with a run along the water. (For those of you who do not have hard-to-fit feet, orthotics, or other special foot problems, buying athletic shoes is probably a simple thing, but for me a real challenge requiring a specialty store in the States.) The run is a hard slog but refreshing.

Meetings: We meet yesterday from 9:00 to 21:00. We work through lunch and even the dinner break is business-oriented. Help!

The Joys of Travel

Gotta love Lufthansa: More reasons why air travel is so darn fun these days…

  • A few hours into the flight, I search unsuccessfully for a restroom. I finally ask. Downstairs!” is the imperious answer. With a decidedly Germanic sense of order, they have carved out a section of the baggage compartment for four toilets, thus separating them from the seating area and keeping the aisles free of waiting passengers.
  • The seat belts are amazing—like something on a very dangerous amusement park ride: wide straps match the body’s contour and hold you rigidly locked into place. I later understand the need for this when the pilot landed so abruptly that everyone is catapulted forward.
  • The meal leaving TA is, ironically, as treif as you can get, with sausage on the omelet and both a slab of cheese and a piece of luncheon meat befouling the lovely fresh salad. I nibbled on a roll. The irony is further underscored as the meal from Frankfurt includes a veggie pasta option that is actually edible. Add in a few glasses of red wine and the flight becomes slightly more tolerable.
  • Seats are cramped and tight-fitting, like most cattle-class airline seats these days. However, Lufthansa has the bendy headrests that support you as you sleep, plus a fold-down cup holder that makes it easy to have a glass of water without keeping the tray down.  Meal conversation with my seat-mate, who is involved in aviation safety, revolves around global terrorism, security screening techniques, mentality, and politics.
  • The Frankfurt airport is a nightmare. I remember how huge it is, but know that I am landing and taking off from the same general area. But it still turns out be a rigorous trot from one end of the wing to another, made unpleasant by the German’s adamant refusal to adopt non-smoking standards, even as the rest of Europe moves towards a more smoke-free mentality. I detour only to make a quick pit stop, but it is still a tight dash to my next flight, especially as I must go through another security screening. The security guy manning the x-ray machine uses an interesting vocabulary of grimaces and hand gestures to communicate to us. Because of the time crunch, I don’t have time to replace my confiscated bottle of water, which forces me to press the call button whenever I need water on the transatlantic flight.
  • I am not allowed to carry on my small bag, but on on the Frankfurt leg, I see dozens of bags larger than mine in the overhead compartments.  The rationale that I am given in TA is that anything over eight kilos is too heavy for the overhead bins, but clearly the laws of physics change in Germany, as it suddenly becomes safe to put bags weighing twice that over our heads.  I grit my teeth and hope that my bag makes the close connection and that I am not forced to attend my nephew’s wedding wearing hiking pants and running shoes.

Gotta love NY: Making travelers miserable is not the exclusive domain of Europeans!

  • No one at JFK speaks English well enough to be understood.  I luck out with the immigration guy, who is older and has a great sense of humor.  “Oh, look at the mess they made of your name,” he says, shaking his head at the computer’s attempt to run all my names together in one long block.  I tell him that the software designers didn’t leave enough space for the middle name field.  “Yeah,” he says, “someone must have had a liquid lunch when they designed this baby.”
  • The airport shuttle driver refuses to talk to any of us, giving new meaning to the stereotype of the sullen taxi driver.
  • I turn on my cellphone and call Gill to let him know that I’ve landed OK.  The guy in the seat behind me (and note that there are only eight passengers in all in this shuttle) starts talking to me in Hebrew.
  • “It’s only x blocks…” New Yorkers can walk, and they blithely underestimate distances and time.  I’m usually a brisk walker, but I’m used to people overestimating these things.  Ask someone from Dallas, for example, where no one walks, how far two addresses are apart, and they’ll stare at you in shock.  “You can’t walk there!  It’s too far!”  This can mean over 500 meters.  In NY, anything under three miles is just around the corner.

Let the celebration begin!  I miss the first parties but make it in time for the Saturday evening party in Brooklyn at the home of the bride’s uncle.  It is a great chance to link up with family plus meet more of the neat people in the huge family into which that my nephew is marrying.  The people are lovely, the food is great, and the location stunning, but by 20:00 I am so exhausted that I am having trouble forming complete sentences.  We are lucky enough to get a ride back (rather than retrace our steps on the subway), but predictably, though I fall asleep like a rock at 22:30, I am wide awake by 02:30 and unable to sleep. 

The wedding is today.  I’ll try for pictures!

Curses, Lufthansa!

Oh, those crafty Krauts:  Lufthansa decides that carry-on bags can only weigh eight kilos.  Nadine weighs well over seven.  What are they thinking?  My carefully planned one bag trip now becomes tricky, as I am separated from my oh-so-massive 12 kilo bag.  Oh, the horror.  My big fear is that the tight connection in Frankfurt will cause my bag to go to the big carousel in the sky.  Worst case, I’ll show up at the wedding in my trekking pants and running shoes.  (And they say that Israelis don’t know anything about fashion…)

At least I zip through security in seconds flat, and thank goodness for Segafredo Zanetti, the coffee bar at the end of the C gates.  I can’t talk my way into the Dan club (only open for business class travellers), but at least I can snag a decent cuppa and a small goat cheese sandwhich to wolf down.  It i s 4:45 and we are about to start boarding.  Oh, joy.