Friday, January 29, 2010

Room and a Half

A very good review of Andrey Khrzhanovksy's part documentary/part fictional film about one of Russia's best-known poets, Joseph Brodsky.

I saw parts of this movie back in St. Petersburg, during a presentation at the Akhmatova museum -- the director has been working hard at promoting it. It would be very interesting to see it here in San Francisco -- the context of the viewing does have an impact on the material. In St. Petersburg, I couldn't run away from this fast enough -- but then St. Petersburg is so saturated with Brodsky lore that I enter SOS mode even as a preventive measure. Reading this review, I'm realizing how interesting is at the very least the genre of this film, a documentary with very good sources that relies on fictional elements and cartoon graphics for greater emotional impact.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vasily Grossmann

No time to blog. Instead, I'll post more links I've come across online. Sometimes, when I'm particularly busy, I start worrying about the state of my mental catalog, books I've reread a bunch of times, for example: have I allowed any parts of them to escape from my memory? Lately, I've been allowing myself to forget too much.
Good to know that the two Vasily Grossmann novels are available in translation: Life and Fate and Everything Flows. Next time somebody asks me to recommend Russian books to read, these are it.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Mild cold and time management issues keep me from blogging lately. Should come back to it soon. Meantime, I checked up on some of my past submissions to discover that the print issue of roger: an art & literary magazine with my Pasternak translation is out -- and probably has been out for a while. It's the same translation that was published online at ezra: an online journal of translation before. Still, the print magazine looks nice and I want a copy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Israel Marginalia

Back in San Francisco. My plane got in an hour ahead of schedule, at 10 am. This is 8 pm Tel Aviv time, and my goal is to stay up through the night until at least 8 pm San Francisco time. How else to get over the jet lag? It's 4:15 pm right now and I doubt that I will make it. I can't read, I can't write (blogging doesn't count), I certainly can't watch TV. Dave has been making me coffee and chicken apple sausages for energy and now is polishing toothpicks to prop my eyes open. He's the sleep police around here.

Unlike in Ireland and in Poland, where people kept asking us why we were interested in visiting their country, in Israel everyone (including us, eventually) seemed incredulous that this was our first time visiting. This was one of the standard security questions at the airport (both Dave and I got asked this, passing through security days apart from each other): This was your first time in Israel? How come?

My dad lost a nice leather jacket in a taxi cab in Haifa. We tried to drive to a restaurant that day, but Dave's Blackberry was out of juice and our maps were insufficiently marked with traffic flow directions, so we parked the car in front of a random synagogue and then walked to the restaurant and on the way back took a cab to the car. My dad tried to call every Haifa taxi cab company to ask about this jacket -- he had bought it two years earlier in Argentina and was not ready to part with it -- but nothing turned up. The only thing we could remember about the driver was that he was from Tangier in Morocco and that he was listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

We remembered the Tangier bit particularly well because on the road between cities we had been listening to Mark Twain's travelogue Innocents Abroad: an account of his trans-Atlantic journey to "The Holy Land." Tangier is one of the stops he describes in detail:
"Here are five thousand Jews in blue gabardines, sashes about their waists, slippers upon their feet, little skullcaps upon the backs of their heads, hair combed down on the forehead, and cut straight across the middle of it from side to side--the selfsame fashion their Tangier ancestors have worn for I don't know how many bewildering centuries. Their feet and ankles are bare. Their noses are all hooked, and hooked alike. They all resemble each other so much that one could almost believe they were of one family. Their women are plump and pretty, and do smile upon a Christian in a way which is in the last degree comforting."
This, disturbing -- hence, memorable.

Mike left some spices and a scarf in a hotel room in Jerusalem.

Kostya left his winter hat in another hotel room and suffered for it when he returned to St. Petersburg's -15 C.

We've stayed in three different hotels in Israel and in none of them we were given real bars of soap. Instead of bars, all three hotels (belonging to different chains) offered identical liquid soap dispensers, one or two per bathroom. Sometimes, the bathtub and the sink had separate dispensers and sometimes there was only one. I wonder if this is a cost saving measure to prevent the guests from taking the unused soap bars home. But then on the other hand, two of the three hotels outfitted their rooms with chocolate. Are chocolate bars cheaper than soap?

Every time we come home from a trip, we modify our diet accordingly. After Ireland, I've learned to make soda bread. Coming home from Russia this fall, I've been mastering the Uzbeki plov (a meat and rice dish with spices). Coming home from Israel, I found that Dave has already acquired a tub of hummus twice the size of the one we usually buy. I am also ordering tahini (a sesame seed paste) and dates from the organic delivery service we receive every Tuesday.

Okay, it's 5 pm now. Can I go to bed please?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tel Aviv family

These last few days are a mix of aimless wondering and intense meetings with family. Yesterday I missed meeting Vered at the park Gan Meir -- either my Russian cell phone is malfunctioning or I dialed the number wrong -- so instead of hanging out and talking about comparative literature I watched dogs being sold. Right outside the park, on the street of Melech George (or King George) people sit in a row holding their puppies on their laps or tied to the metal fence and advertise the puppies' qualities. "He doesn't bite at all! And she's already toilet-trained and won't stain your couch." Of course, the conversation is happening in Hebrew and there are so many curious customers that I probably wouldn't have understood anything even if I spoke the language.

My family in Israel is divided roughly in two groups: those cousins who came here within the last 30 years from the Soviet Union and the families of my grandparents' first cousins who stayed in the West after the October Revolution and then eventually found their way to Palestine. There was, for example, my grandmother's Margo's father Grisha. He came from a family of eight siblings and they lived in Riga, Latvia. The family was relatively well-off: they owned a chocolate factory and an apartment building. According to the family legend, Grisha was a gambler -- an unsuccessful one, and had to run away from his debts. So he went to Petrograd, leaving behind three small daughters aged 3, 5, and 7 (my grandmother Margo was 3). Grisha's sister Edna was studying in Germany, in Berlin, at the time. She married a doctor and they had two sons, and in 1936 another sister, Annette, came to Berlin to help Edna's family move to Palestine. The third sister, Fanya, went to the United States. Annette though came back to her two sons in Riga and during WWII perished in a concentration camp. One of her sons survived the war (I think because he was in the Red Army) and after the war he married and had two daughters. My father was very friendly with them growing up, he visited them in Riga and they came to Leningrad. In the late 1970s, at the earliest opportunity, both of them picked up and moved to the United States, to Denver. The connection though with Edna's family was lost until Perestroika, when my dad started going to Israel for work. Edna was still alive on my dad's first visit to Israel, but not a few years later when he succeeded in finding her family. Later, Edna's two sons visited my grandmother Margo back in St. Petersburg -- but I was in the US by then and never met them until this week.

The visiting continues even today, when all of us are leaving. One of our cousins told us that one of our ancestors on my mother's mother's side who had come to Palestine back at the beginning of the 20th century had started a kibbutz at the foot of Mt. Gilboa, and there's still that kibbutz and a cemetery with more than 100 graves somewhere out there. This, however, we shall have to leave for another trip. It's much too much too much too much too much.

My dad's strategy of asking everyone in Israel a question in Russian first, before switching to English when necessary, pays off with some fascinating stories. A man we met making puzzles at Nachalat Binyamin market yesterday was from Poland, but spent seven months in "Siberia" when he was nine years old, prosecuted by the Soviet authorities as an agent of the "West," a potential spy. (His parents were exiled too). "Siberia" is really a catch all term for all Soviet exiles: Vologda, the town where this man was exiled to is about 300 miles east of St. Petersburg and 300 miles north of Moscow. Not Siberia. But still.

Another man whose story we got is a cab driver who immigrated 15 years ago from Moscow. In Moscow, he worked as a dental technician (something like a hygienist?) and here he also continues to work as a dental assistant by day, and by night drives a cab to supplement his income. After a few of my dad's questions, this man started telling us why he doesn't regret his decision to move, even though things are hard here, harder for him personally than they were in Russia after the Soviet Union fell apart.

This is also what makes this trip so demanding: at the first prodding, people are telling us their life stories and their family histories. Everyone has a tale of strife and survival to share. Everyone is asking us to share our stories as well, and we're finding ourselves repeating the same phrases over and over and over again. This is one of those things that make Israel, as they say here, "a warm" country, where everyone is interested in your business and has an opinion about it. For the moment being, I'm longing to return to San Francisco (which I've been advertising as a similarly warm place), and take refuge in its relative anonymity and hide behind my desk for some months in a row. As my grandmother Margo claimed, rest is a change in occupation.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tel Aviv shopping

Dave has been home for two days already, and his American doctor reluctantly confirmed the Israeli diagnosis even though normally it does not manifest itself suddenly and usually appears in both eyes. Neither of these are the case here, so the doctor asked Dave to come back in a couple of weeks. Dave is already back to work and everyday life. Doing the laundry, picking up packages, heating up Trader Joe's pizzas for dinner. Meantime I'm still in Tel Aviv, eating figs and dates for breakfast, shopping with my parents during the day, and meeting more friends and family in the evening.

Yesterday I spent the morning with my friend Vered whom I know from San Francisco State, a fellow comparatist who is now studying for her Ph.D. in Kent University in England. Vered picked me up at my hotel, and at first we tried to find a post office because I have a couple of letters to mail -- but the one post office we found had its floor and ceiling torn out for some sort of renovation. Then Vered guided us to a Bauhaus Center on Dizengoff street because I expressed an interest in learning something about the history of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus movement. I don't want to call this center a tourist trap -- it's too small even for that & indeed the books and the souvenirs they sell are on par with the books and souvenirs they sell at the NYMOMA. I think there needs to be a special word for the museums where the exhibit space is smaller than the shop space. Here, this was definitely the case: the exhibit was located on the open gallery of the second floor, and the shop occupied the entire first floor. We bought some postcards and cool erasable pens that later turned out to be broken and had to be returned. So next Vered and I opted to do something where our expectations couldn't be foiled and joined Vered's sister, her 4-month old niece, and their friend for breakfast at a cafe in Neve Tzedek. The coffee was delicious, the conversation absorbing, and the baby cheerful despite expanding red mosquito bites on her cheeks.

Tel Aviv is a small big city, the kind of city where once you're out on the street you're bound to run into your neighbor and the guy you went to high school with 15 years ago. Also the kind of the city where everyone is in your business and has an opinion about what you should or shouldn't do to keep your baby from crying or what skirt you should or shouldn't wear. Shopping for clothes has been an easy and a pleasurable experience here. "No, no!" a sales lady is waving her finger at me. I'm afraid I've done something wrong, but she's just trying to be helpful. "This skirt is too narrow for you! Try this one. This color looks better. More wide." She's spreading her arms to indicate that the blue skirt will sit on my hips much better than the brown. I appreciate being told what to do, so I buy accordingly. Most of the clothes I've been trying on here are one-size-fits-all, and it's the kind of size that fits me perfectly. I already own a bunch of shirts to match my new skirts, because every time my mom comes here she ends up buying something for me too. The trick to Israeli fashion I figured out on this trip is to wear short skirts with thick stockings or leggings -- I think this will hold up in San Francisco winter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tel Aviv business-like

On Sunday morning, a work day in Israel, my dad and my brother had a business meeting with their partners, and later the rest of us were also invited to take a tour of their facility. This company designs complex electric cables for airplanes and boats, and then licenses the technology to be manufactured in other countries (i.e. Russia, India, Greece). Dave and I drove to the industrial park called "Airport City," where we joined my dad and my brother who were just coming out of their meeting.

The CEO of the business walked us through the engineering floor, reminding us that they don't do any manufacturing on site, but create the design and set up the assembly line in such a way that they can demonstrate it to their customers and partners so that they, in turn, could implement the same assembly line on their own site. The largest part of the engineering floor was taken up by the 1:1 model of a cable that connects the cockpit of an airplane to all of the the different parts of the fuselage. The central cable and all of its off-shoots are outlined by red tape glued to the cardboard strip, like a great red river absorbing its tributaries. Hard to imagine how many different individual wires are packed in a cable such as this, and the job that involves connecting all the wires to the right buttons on the control panel. Proper labeling is key in this business, and another part of the assembly line that we saw included several intricate labeling machines.

Most of the people whom we meet in Israel are working either in the high-tech or in the service industries or both. My cousin Dasha whom we met later the same day works for a company that provides telephone service primarily between Israel and the United States, and so she has to keep the US hours: her workday starts at 4 pm Israeli time and ends at 11 pm (9 to 5 EST). She has recently 'graduated' from the army and is thinking of traveling abroad, potentially going abroad to work -- one opportunity is to sell the products of the Dead Sea at malls around the world. This company provides young people with visas, housing, and an opportunity to earn percentage off the sales. The job is a hard one, but it's not a bad way of getting to know another country. Dasha already speaks Spanish and French on top of English, Hebrew, and Russian, so a number of countries are vying for her candidacy. She's looking primarily at Europe at the moment. Sales job is a great training for any future diplomat or a world leader -- or a singer, a dancer, a poet, a talk show host or anything else she might aspire to be.

Even later the same day, Dasha, Kostya, Dave, Mike and I met cousin Ryan and his friend Greg at a microbrewery called The Dancing Camel, where we were able to make yet another spectacular connection. One of the bartenders, Ari, went to the same high school in the Philly suburb as Dave, Mike and Ryan, and graduated the same year as Dave and Ryan. After a while, Dave and Ari were able to figure out one or two people they both knew at school -- not an easy thing to do in a graduating class of more than 900. Dave writes more about this on his blog.

The next day, Monday, was much quieter. Kostya and my dad had left Tel Aviv at dawn to fly back to snow-covered St. Petersburg, and Mike and Dave were too hung over and sleep deprived to run into too much trouble. We spent most of the day meandering around the city. Promenaded again from Tel Aviv to Jaffo, climbed the hills of the ancient town, ate the famous hummus at Abu Hassan's, admired art at multiple galleries and even bought a few small pieces at almost reasonable prices, observed surfers crashing into the waves beyond the oldest port in the world, browsed the stalls of the Carmel market and bought a handmade belt at an art market nearby. By the virtue of Dave's Blackberry our path concluded at the doorstep of yet another brewery on Rothschild Boulevard, where everyone had beers including Karen who had a sparkling cider and that counts. Dave went to the airport directly from the brewery, with only a brief stop at the hotel to pick up the luggage and the rental car. Karen, Phil, and Mike departed in the middle of the night a few hours later.

For me, the trip continues for a few more days. Today I have discovered a concept of "medical tourism" and maybe I will try to blog about it soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Haifa to Tel Aviv

Yesterday our most important accomplishment needed to be getting from Haifa to Tel Aviv. My dad and my brother are flying back to St. Petersburg at dawn tomorrow, and Dave, Karen, Phil, and Mike are flying out a few hours later -- and they didn't really get a chance to tour Tel Aviv and Jaffo yet. Anyway, we had a room reserved in Tel Aviv and not in Haifa. But there are many different ways of getting from point A to point B. We did it road trip style, caravaned in two cars and used Google Maps on Dave's Blackberry to show us the way. We split the group into two cars based on music preferences, anyone who could possibly imagine themselves enjoying Audioslave and Muse with only occasional Billy Joel and Enrico Iglesias in one car, and those who didn't suffer excruciating agony when deprived of music altogether in the other.

Our drive took us along the coast of the Mediterranean. The shore seemed mostly abandoned in the winter, and on the outskirts of Haifa we drove past Palmhenge: a strip of the beach overgrown with dead leafless palm trees. There was also a bizarre sculpture garden a few kilometers further down the road, thin blocks of sandstone shaped into geometric tin men. "It's much too much too much too much too much," sings Bonaparte in a similarly entitled song. Finally, we turned off the highway at the town called Binyamina and went to the wrong winery. We were going to go to a small family winery called Tishbi, but ended up in the largest Israeli winery called Carmel. It was originally set up by Baron de Rothschild in the 1880s and helped to create Palestine as a place where Jews wanted to settle. At the time, the tour guide told us, it was the largest winery in the world. And the vines came from Kashmir, India (because the French grapes were already diseased at that point).

These days, Carmel Winery owns four different other wineries in Israel and most of the grapes grown on Golan Heights and around Tiberia. Their goal in the last 15-20 years has been to create kosher wine that's respected around the world as good wine (i.e. not like Manischevitz). There are many rules involved in making a kosher wine, and according to our gude, the rules are more complicated in Israel than anywhere else in the world. First of all, they have to donate 10% as a tithe and every 7 years let the vines rest. Of course, this company doesn't literally let the vines rest, but on the holy year they take no profit on their sales. Wine is a holy drink, used to make blessings while reading the Torah, and Only Jews can handle the grapes from the moment they are crushed to the moment they are bottled. The bigger problem is that to keep the wine's kosher status, only Jews can handle the wine once the bottle has been decorked and is being poured. To solve this problem, many wineries "spoil" the wine by heating it -- a pasteurizing process -- before bottling. A damaged wine is not so holy anymore, and can be kosher even if not handled by Jews. But of course pasteurizing the wine that has been aged in oak barrels destroys the effects of aging. So I don't know how the catering companies get around this problem when they want the really good wine: maybe by hiring more Jewish waiters?

After ample tasting, we got back on the road and drove a few more kilometers south back towards Kesaria, Caesarea, Qisaryyia or Quesareia (invent your own combination of letters to go with the sounds). We had unfinished business there: singing at the Roman Theatre. There's a spectacularly well-preserved Roman theatre there (built at the time of Herod two millenia ago), with two cavea (sitting sections, one above the other) and a skena (a stage) with passages underneath (I found a small room equipped with a porcellain bowl surely used as a toilet as far back as the Roman times). The stage and the seating galleries all made of a weathered white stone glittered in the cold winter sunset. A score of tourists climbed to the higher rows of the theatre to enjoy the view of the blue Mediterranean waters and of the birds flying south for the winter. On this peaceful pastoral setting we unleashed our three tenors. My dad sang the song of the Napoletan boatsmen ("Santa Lucia") that he sings at every Roman theatre where he happens to be around the world, an Armenian song "The Swallow" that he's been practicing ever since his trip to Armenia this past August, and a song of Volga boatsmen (I think). Phil sang a theme song from the movie "Exodus." And Kostya sang "O Sole Mio" and Judas's aria from Andrew Lloyd's Weber's "Jesus Christ Superstar." After that we surrendered the stage to the Japanese school girl choir and went to have dinner at a sushi restaurant on the beach.

Our last stop on this road trip to Tel Aviv was Dave's cousin's Ryan basketball game at a kibbutz behind a McDonalds and Ace hardware store. The kibbutz sponsors the basketball team for which Ryan plays now and they were playing a team from Haifa. We showed up a little early, maybe 40 minutes before the game started, and watched the teams warm up, and then only had enough energy to stay for the first half of the game. Ryan's team was winning by about 15 points by the time we left, and later Ryan called to report that they ended up winning by more than 30 points.

Dave's post is here:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Haifa family

When I was about 6 years old, my parents took me and my brother on our first trip. We went to the Ukraine, to the town of Skadovsk on the Black Sea. The trip was recommended by my mom's second cousin Bella who had traveled extensively in Ukraine. My parents had organized this trip in such a way that we met up with my mom's first cousin Sonya and her daughter Jenya who was about my age. Cousin Sonya, a daughter of my grandmother's favorite baby sister Lisa, with whom my grandmother had survived the blockade of Leningrad, lived with her parents in the Ural mountains, in the city of Sverdlovsk, later renamed Ekatirenburg. Jenya and I and my brother Kostya played together on the beach. Apparently, there was a sort of an amusement park there with little trains you could ride and bumper cars and a Ferris wheel that in Russian is called "the Devil wheel" and also maybe teacups that spun. I only remember this from the pictures that we have at home. Kostya got bit by a jelly fish and almost drowned in the salty water at least once. Jenya and I tried to get into as much trouble as we possibly could, running away from our mothers and pretending we were on a treasure island. There was, in fact, an island that could be seen from the shore, and one time we all took a boat excursion there. The island was called Dzharilgach, and my mom read us stories by a very good Russian children's author, Boris Zhitkov, who wrote about this island. In fact, one of his stories was entitled Dzharilgach -- and it's probably why we all remember this island so well.

My memories of this trip are vivid, but only as vivid as memories of a 6-year old could be: lacking any sort of specificity in details. I saw Jenya one more time about 5 or 6 years later when she and her family passed through Leningrad (St. Petersburg by then) on their way to Israel. Cousin Bella and her husband Mark had left for Israel earlier. And so did my mom's cousin from her dad's side, Gena, and his wife Marina and son Artem, who got a new Hebrew name Ariel upon arrival. And so did a number of my dad's cousins. I've always known that I had more relatives in Israel than back in Russia, but it was an abstract knowledge, a list of names with only vague memories of faces and character. When I came to the States and learned to use the Internet, I've started writing letters to my Israeli cousins. I've kept in touch with Jenya, with Sonya (not Jenya's mother, but a cousin from my dad's side -- I had known her the best, I had spent 2 weeks at their country-house in Ust-Narva in Estonia once and I always came to her birthday parties back in St. Petersburg), with Artem-Ariel. Ariel is a captain in the Israeli army now, stationed near Tel-Aviv. His brother Dani is 16 and still in school. Sonya has a 7-year old daughter and is getting her degree in psychology. She has 1.5 more years of school work to do and then she will need to do an extensive internship. She's already working as a supervisor of a flat where seven mentally challenged young people live on their own. Jenya's brother Misha (who wasn't born yet during our Skadovsk trip) is finishing his service in the army and is looking to go to college in Israel or maybe in the US. The only one we didn't get a chance to meet yesterday was Jenya herself -- who is on a business trip to China right now and will come back to Israel the day after I'm going back to San Francisco.

Dave writes about the details of our excursion to Golan heights and Sea of Galilee with all the family.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A hospital in Haifa

Dave has a chronic eye condition that starts acting up every few years. The first episode happened about a month or two after he and I started dating. He was prescribed drops that he had to put into his right eye four or five times a day, and in that prehistoric age he was very scared of touching his own eye like that so I had to hunt him down on campus and try to spring the drops on him unawares. I remember we used to meet up at the library downstairs by the vending machines that sold chicken, tuna and egg salad sandwiches and Kit-Kat bars. Dave remembers us meeting up on the second floor of the library, where he could lie down between the stacks. We did the drops on the benches in the quad between the library and the science buildings and on the lawn by the college of business. Also in the dorms, in his or my room. The second episode was a lot less fun, took years to get under control, as a result Dave had to get a cataract removed in his right eye, and that wasn't even the end of it.

The third incident happened today. It began a few days ago when Dave started seeing something that looked like a hair in his right eye, a hair that would not go away. When it didn't go away for three days straight, Dave emailed his ophthalmologist in San Francisco, and she told him that this is a potential emergency and that he should see a doctor right away. The symptom -- its official name is a "floater" -- could be indicative of a condition that, if not treated right away, could lead to blindness. This sounded scary enough that we decided to let our families tour the medieval Jewish city of Tzfat (or Safed) without us and find the best hospital we could. In the morning, we packed up our computers and notebooks, chocolate and fruit and got a taxi that delivered us straight to the doors of a hilltop hospital with a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean. We passed through the metal detector to get into the lobby and then had to navigate Hebrew signs to find the ophthalmology or simply "eineim" department. We had looked up the Hebrew spelling for the word "eye" in advance, but there was almost no need to bother: people in the hospital were friendly enough to speak sign language when they didn't know enough English to answer our questions. We found the right department right away.

I don't know how the system works for the locals, but for tourists it seemed quite streamlined. At the reception desk downstairs we paid 937 shekels (about $250) to be seen by a doctor. They gave us a receipt in English to show to our American insurance company. They also gave us a folder to take up with us to the 5th floor, to the ophthalmology department. The doctor on duty saw us within half an hour. She let Dave explain his medical history, took his basic measurements, put drops in his eyes, and gave him a full exam another half an hour later. Her diagnosis was the worst case scenario with surgery as the only treatment option. She said she would call a more senior doctor. He showed up within 40 minutes dressed in jeans -- it was obviously his day off -- and saw everyone else, all the simpler cases, before he saw us. There was a young boy who needed stitches in his eye after another boy threw a rock at him. There was an older man with his very elderly mother who had very high pressure in her eyes and was possibly developing glaucoma -- the man wore a kippah (a yarmulke) and told us in English that he worried about having to stay in the hospital during Shabbat. There was a couple who spoke Hebrew and Russian, but so quietly that we didn't get to hear what their problem was.

We waited in the lobby. The ophthalmology department shared a floor with the geriatric care department, and we saw all the patients get their lunches: a dish of boiled carrots and green beans and mashed potatoes on the side. The doctors and the nurses each got a cup of chicken soup. A few patients received family visits from large extended family. The Mediterranean shone and sparkled in the large window of the lobby. Dave was suffering not as much from any eye-related discomfort as from the hangover from celebrating the New Year's the night before. He was feeling feverish and nervous, and he wanted to lie down, but there was only a metal chair upholstered in black pleather in the lobby and my shoulder. I twiddled my thumbs. We had a Blackberry with us and were reading Wikipedia articles about Dave's latest diagnosis. It seemed almost certain that surgery would be required but there were options, and after the certain types of surgery Dave would be prohibited to fly for 4 to 6 weeks. We started making mental lists of what we needed to take care of if we were stuck in Israel for the next two months. We could pay bills online. We could ask our neighbor to water our plants. Dave would need to get disability insurance benefits. In the end, it started to seem as not all that bad. We decided we'd use the time to take an intensive course in Hebrew. Hebrew Braille?

Finally the doctor got through all of the straightforward cases and called us in. Both he and the junior doctor who saw us initially spoke very good English. They joked and laughed with each other. They asked us questions about being tourists in Israel. The senior doctor said he was supposed to go to the thermal baths near Hebron today but that his colleague was obviously jealous and didn't want him to go. We laughed, and it helped. Dave let go of my hand and I started breathing regularly again. The senior doctor spent a long time looking into the depths of Dave's eye. At the end, he decided that the condition was not an emergency and that it could wait until we finish our vacation and go back to the US. This was excellent news, so excellent that we weren't even a little bit upset over the vanishing chance to spend the next two months in Israel wading in the Mediterranean and learning Hebrew. We rode the taxi back to the hotel, shared the good news with our families, rested a bit, and then had a large extended family dinner at an Italian restaurant up on the hills not too far from the hospital.

I think the taxi cab drivers who drove us to and from the hospital were the only drivers on this trip who didn't try to rip us off. One turned on the meter without us having to ask for it, and the other one charged us a very reasonable flat fee. Both of them seemed scared to turn towards us, possibly because of the danger that we might sneeze. In the hospital itself, the containers with the liquid anti-bacterial wash were placed on every door, desk and bed without exception. The hospital seemed to be one of the places where the Jewish and the Muslim populations come together to work and for treatment. Hence the metal detectors at the entrance? All of the doctors and the nurses on staff today seemed to be non-religious.

To hear amusing anecdotes from the patient himself, read his blog.