Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brutus Finds a Home

There are many homeless dogs in Mitzpe Ramon. Some are dumped here by uncaring owners, some beautiful animals, some mutts, all homeless, all looking for food and water. Mitzpe Ramon has no animal control officer or facilities to keep them. They wander the streets looking for handouts, eating garbage. When winter comes, most die of exposure. It's heartbreaking how people can be so cruel to their pets.

One homeless animal that kept coming around our apartment was a dog we called Brutus. He was huge, with giant paws and long legs who could cover a mile in a single stride, even with a game leg. He was a gentle giant. He would come up behind you and nuzzle your hand, never putting it in his mouth. We felt sorry for him and fed and watered him whenever he came around, despite my policy of not feeding homeless animals.

The other day Pam saw Brutus with a collar and leash in the company of people she had never seen before. It turns out they had returned to Mitzpe Ramon after a year abroad. Brutus was their pet who had run away from a family in whose charge they left him shortly after they left Israel. Hooray - Brutus had a home and family.

It turns out that Brutus was actually "Swift", so called because he liked to chew books as a puppy, and the first book he ate was Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels". It was a good name for a dog who could run so fast.

Brutus, aka "Swift", no longer homeless.

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Kodachrome: 1935-2010 RIP

Eastman Kodak Kodachrome 64 FilmsImage via WikipediaToday, Thursday December 30, 2010, the last roll of Kodachrome film will come off the processing machine at Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, marking the end of the longest running color film in history. Kodachrome wasn't just any color film, it was the color transparency film of choice, making slides of incredible color and sharpness that were projected larger than life on screens all over the world for most of the 20th century. National Geographic would never have been National Geographic without this film.

It was my favorite color film for almost 20 years, until I stopped shooting film altogether in favor of digital. Digital was never better, but it was far more convenient. I remember when we moved to Palo Alto, CA in 1984 there was a Kodak film processing lab on Oregon Expressway just a mile from my house. I used to stop in on my way to work to drop off my Kodachrome slides to be developed. I was one of the lucky few who had a Kodachrome processing lab around the corner from my house. The old guys there would talk about film with reverence, all of us oblivious to the digital revolution that would blow film away in just 20 years. I used to experiment with getting the saturation of colors as deep as possible by decreasing the exposure 1/3rd stop in numerous increments. I will never forget the series of slides I took of a red fire hydrant in a California sunset in which the color just gets deeper and deeper as the exposure decreased until it was too low and the film blocked up. That last hydrant was a breathtaking, blazing red.

One thing I will never fully comprehend about this most popular color film of all time is its seemingly impossible origins: it was invented by two Jewish polymaths, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr., who would go on to distinguished careers as American classical musicians, Mannes after studying physics at Harvard and who would become the head of the Mannes Institue of Music, founded by his parents. They invented it in their bathroom after studying color chemistry for many years on their own.

Thank G-d for the Jews.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

We Take Our Driving Tests

After taking two driving "unlearning" lessons we have been deemed fit to take our driving tests. For this a tester comes from Beer-Sheva to drive around with us and test our driving abilities. So, you can get a driver's license in Israel after driving and being tested on the streets of Mitzpe Ramon only, a town without a single traffic light, and then drive anywhere in Israel. Ok. The driving test also does not require that you park the car or drive in reverse. No doubt this is why backing up is the single most dangerous thing you can do in a car in Israel.

Pam takes her test with a teenage girl who is being re-tested after failing her first test. This is after 40 driving lessons, the usual number for a beginning driver. Apparently the tester yelled at the teenager about something, and after the test she is deathly afraid she has failed again. Three strikes and you have to take 40 more driving lessons. This is why they no longer tell you immediately if you have passed or failed the test. People used to pull guns and knives on the testers if they failed the test. I would, too, if I had to take another 40 driving lessons. Pam says she thought the girl drove fine, and didn't see any problems. As it turned out later, the teenager failed. Go know.

My test, like Pam's, was perfunctory. After all, I've been driving for twice the number of years that the tester has been alive. However, I consider it a singular achievement that I got him to tell me to drive faster. That after the driving instructor told me I have a lead foot.

Later that day Chavie was coming back from the market near the Cafeneto and she tells me, Guess what, you passed your driving test and so did Mommy. How did she know? Apparently, the tester had coffee at the 'Neto after he finished testing people and Oren, the manager, asked him if we passed. So, when I got home and Pam said Guess what? I said, We passed our driving tests. She was amazed that I already knew.

Such is life in Mitzpe Ramon.

Happy Trails to you. (Click for full size.)

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Fighting Lymphoma - An Update on Spot the Dog

Ever since his diagnosis of lymphoma in September, Spot the Dog has been going to the Be'er-Sheva Animal Hospital for chemotherapy. He is on the multi-drug protocol where his initial treatment was a different drug weekly for 8 weeks, followed by biweekly treatments for six months. He also takes prednisone daily with his lunch of challah and dog food.

His appetite, always big, has become huge and he eats enough table food at each meal for a healthy adult and then consumes 3-4 cups of dog food per day on top of that! So, I finally found a way to get Spot's vet to stop making me feel guilty about over feeding him and his over weight problem.

"Ok," says Dr. Marganit, "I'm not going to fight with you over a dying dog." :)

Fortunately he has not had any serious side effects from his treatments, no nausea or vomiting. His body hair has gotten a bit thin and the hair over his rump isn't growing back well since his haircut in October, but other than that his side effects appear minimal.

For his chemotherapy a small catheter is inserted into a vein in his leg into which his medecine is injected. His biggest problem is that he has old veins which are very small and hard to use, so sometimes he has to get punctured in each leg during a treatment to find a vein that will work. Dr. Marganit, his great vet, has to use a needle made for a kitten, his veins are so small! But she always manages to make it work.

Dr. Marganit and team prepare Spot the Dog for his chemotherapy. (Click for full size image.)

When he was first diagnosed he was very sick, sleeping all the day, high fever, anemia. Since his treatment began, his blood work is back to normal, although there are still nasties circulating in it. Now he is more like his old self, although he refuses to go on walks. He was even frolicking a bit the other day. He still sleeps alot, but now he is much more alert and engaged, especially at meal time. He doesn't like to be touched and petted much any more, and Donny is the only person he will let do that.

Yair is still on the outs with Spot, and sometimes when he doesn't think we're looking, he will try to give him a kick. Spot just moves away. Spot's external lymph nodes were very swollen when he first began his therapy, and now all but one have returned to normal. But just this week, that remaining swollen gland has shrunk alot, so we are quite encouraged by his response to his treatment.

Spot the Dog says "Arf" to all of his friends who send wishes for good health and a speedy recovery.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Driver's Unlearning Lessons

Having conquered the Israeli bureaucracy and gotten all of our paper work in order, we were now in a position to take our driving lessons before taking our driving test to get our Israeli driver's license. Or I should call them diver's unlearning lesson. This where you unlearn all of the (bad?) driving habits you developed over 45+ years of driving and learn to drive like an 18 year old teenager from Pasadena.

I remember a conversation with a Russian guard at the Ace hardware store in Beer-Sheva, where he confided in us that he was taking driving lessons. How many have you had, I asked. 40, he answered! Whoa. With all these driving lessons you'd think Israelis would be pretty good drivers. And of course they're not. Russians with driver's licenses from the former Soviet Union are regraded with special skepticism, apparently because Russians bought their licenses from corrupt government officials and never really learned to drive. I suppose NATO never had anything to fear from all those tanks pointed at Western Europe because the drivers never could have gotten them there.

In any case, one of the main things that driver ed emphasizes is using your blinker for even the slightest maneuver. This is especially ironic because if there's one thing Israeli drivers never use it is the turn signal on their car. You can be standing at an intersection with a baby carriage and the car turing will no more give you a signal than Israel will ever give the Palis an inch of Jerusalem. This must just be Jewish stiff-neckedness as a challenge to the constant badgering of their driving instructor to use that signal.

Our driving instructor is Iris, and she is very nice. Apparently we are a shoe-in to pass our test after just two lessons each! Now here's something different - in Israel the tester comes to you to give you your test. This means that you can get a driver's license if you know how to drive in Mitzpe Ramon, a town without a single traffic signal, and you can then drive in Tel Aviv, a town with worse traffic than Manhattan. Go figure. See you on the road, and don't wait for me to signal a turn.

Pam behind the wheel with her driving instructor Iris next to her. Every learner's car has that "Lamed" on top to warn everyone that a student driver is behind the wheel. What does it stand for? Lumox? Lamdan (Learner)? Probably that.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

As Cold as a Two Sweater Dog in Mitzpe Ramon

It was cold enough on Monday, after the weekend's fierce dust storm, for Goldie to dress in her two pullovers. It may not have been as cold as a three dog night, but it was as cold as a two sweater dog.

Dressed for the cold, Goldie wears her two pullovers and still needs to sit in Chaim's lap to stay warm.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

When All Else Fails, Call in the Screaming Men

I woke up this morning to no water in the apartment. In fact no one had any water in our apartment building. It turns out that a big leak had sprung up in the building's water main, and the city had come by to shut off the water. Expecting them to return any minute to fix it, we waited.

When no returned for several hours we knew we were going to be in another finger pointing episode with the city and the Amidar over whose responsibility it was to fix it. The Amidar is like Israel's Section 8 Housing Authority. They own two of the apartments in our building; the rest are privately owned. So, when anything goes wrong in the building, the city says it's Amidar's responsibility to fix it and the Amidar says its the city's responsibility to fix it. That way it works out perfectly for everyone, except the aggrieved parties, because it's nobody's responsibility to fix it.

Only this time, it was going to be more complicated because it turns out that the leak was after the building's water meter, which meant it was the responsibility of the Amidar AND the apartment owners to repair, not the city. In any case, there ensued a round robin of finger pointing via the telephone between the Amidar, the city, and us over who was going to fix the broken pipe. Of course, we knew nothing about fixing the pipe or about getting a contractor (the dreaded "kablan", in Hebrew), which the Amidar insisted we do.

I hitch a ride to town in Gavriel's electric cart to confront the powers that be. (Imaginary music playing is the Wicked Witch of the East's theme from "The Wizard of Oz".)

Taking matters into our own hands three of us men - Gavriel, a Black Hebrew, the Old Russian Guy Upstairs, and me, the Amerikai - went storming over to City Hall (if you can call it that in Mitzpe Ramon) to deal mano-a-mano with the powers that be. We went into the Mayor's office where a secretary of obvious importance, and known to Gavriel, listened sympathetically to out tale.

So, she gets on the phone and calls Chava at Amidar, and the finger pointing starts again. Now a very well dressed woman in form-fitting blue jeans and designer leather jacket walks in and hears our tale of woe, which now includes how many children and babies live in the building, who will have no water. This really stirs the sympathies of all and with one phone call she orders the city water workers into action after saying they will work out the billing later, which is what we had been asking them to do all along.

The lady in the form-fitting jeans was the Mayor's assistant, as Gavriel told me latter, and she had cut the Gordian Knot of bureaucratic finger pointing with her phone call. This is called "protexia" in Israel, and is what you need to get anything done. The screaming doesn't help at all.

By the time we returned to the building, the water crew was already at work, giving the lie to the other bureaucratic commonplace, "It's too late in the day to find anyone to do the work." When the secretary told us this, the Old Russian Man just put his foot down and said, "We need water today," and refused to budge until assent was given. PROTEXIA!

The back hoe digs in delicately. (Click for full size.)

The leak is found at the coupling. All of this while the worst dust storm of the year was blowing, working in water with bare hands at freezing wind chill. Thank you!

Fixing the broken water main. A three man crew of Russians who knew all of the Russians in our apartment building did the work.

Let there be water! And there was water.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dust Storm Ends the Drought - For Now

A dust storm swept into Mitzpe Ramon on Saturday, bringing rain and snow to the Israeli heartland and mountains. This ended the drought we had been suffering from that began in September.

There was no rain in Mitzpe Ramon, but plenty of dust. We swept the floor of our apartment building entrance three times in two days before I took this picture this afternoon:

Look what the wind blew in! (Click for full size image.)

As of Sunday, December 12 at 1:30PM the weather was cold and getting colder; the wind was strong and getting stronger:

Temp: 45 F
Wind Chill: 35 F
Avg. Winds: 20 MPH
Gusts: 34 MPH

On the way to town, I captured this view of the storm and howling wind.

The storm was forecast to begin dissipating on Monday around noon.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

"If all else fails, try crying."

This has to be the best advice we got from our Nefesh b'Nefesh advisor: "We're all one big family, and we hate to see each other in pain," she said. This was her final word on how to handle the infamous Israeli Bureaucracy.

So last Thursday we were at the Israeli DMV in Beer-Sheva to finally get our application for our Israeli driver's licenses. No, wait it's more complicated than that...but you knew that already.

Why do we even want an Israeli driver's license? We already have New Jersey driver's licenses that serve us perfectly well. So, it's like this: you can't buy a car in Israel without an Israeli driver's license. Why is this? Like all unfathomable bureaucratic rules it goes back to the Russians. Before the influx of over a million Russian Olim in the '90s and '00s, you didn't need an Israeli drivers license to buy a car. Somehow the Russians, ever expert at exploiting the bureaucracy, managed to buy cars without any license at all, a loop hole the government was only too happy to plug with more bureaucracy.

Ok, so now we need a driver's license. To begin this process you need an application. You get this application at the optometry shop (not where you were thinking, was it?), where you also must get an eye exam to certify that you can see. (Perhaps there were many blind Russians buying cars, but who knows.) The eye exam is very perfuctory, but it is performed by a certified optometrist (usually Russian), who duly fills out, signs and stamps the form. The form itself is provided by the optometry shop, printed on security paper with your photo embossed thereon. All very official looking. Now, you can't go to any old optometrist shop to do this. Apparently there is a chain of optometry shops, at least in Beer-Sheva, that has a monopoly on this market. I can't remember the name, but that's where you must go.

Now, you must take the form to the local Cupat Cholim (your medical HMO), where you will leave the form over night so your physician can check off a few dozen boxes certifying that you are healthy enough to drive. There is a charge for this service, but oh wait, they forgot to mention when you dropped off your form that the first time is free, so no charge for us! Your family physician then signs and stamps his signature with his official government seal. (Hold this thought.)

So, now and only now, you can, as a previously licensed driver and new Oleh, take a single driving lesson that will allow you to just take the driver's, and not the written portion, of the state driving test. No wait, you can't do that yet. It turns out that now you must take your form to the DMV where they must fill out, sign and stamp their portion of the form that certifies that you, as new Oleh with a valid driver's license, are exempt from taking the written portion of the driving test.

This brings us to last Thursday, where we were waiting for our number 137 to be called, while they were at number 48 when we walked in.

We wait for our number 137 to be called.

Ninety minutes later our number is called, and we hustle up to the window where the clerk tells us that she will not be able to sign the form since our doctor forgot to stamp his signature with his official government seal. (Remember that thought I told you to hold in your mind?)

At this point I start screaming, being a charter member of the "When all else fails, scream at them" school. Pam, remembering the advice of our Nefesh b'Nefesh advisor, starts crying and begging, "Please, please there must be something you can do to help us." Visibly moved, the clerk behind the counter starts asking, "Why are you crying, why are you crying." She agrees to let us talk to her supervisor.

A surprisingly short time later we are talking to the supervisor who flatly says there is nothing she can do for us, the law is the law. I, of course, start screaming at her, taking her photo to post on the "Bureaucrats Wall of Shame" here, while Pam starts crying and blubbering explaining how hard it is for us to get to Beer-Sheva, how far we must come from Mizpe Ramon, please help us, yadayadayada. "Why are you crying, why are you crying?" the supervisor asks. She leaves the room and comes back in a few moments. "Ok, we have a compromise. We will fill out the form so you can take the driver's lesson and driver's test, you will get your doctor to stamp his signature, and when your driving instructor brings it in, we will put the official stamp on it." 


We still have not taken our driving lesson and test, so we still have no driver's license. But it is scheduled for tomorrow. Slowly, slowly, step by step, inch by inch, the redemption comes.

As we left the DMV office Pam said, I remembered what our Nefesh b'Nefesh advisor said, 'When all else fails, try crying.' And it worked. 'We are all one family and we hate to see each other in pain.'

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What happened to the posts?

I blame Pam for this. Never teach your wife about "The Facebook", if you only have one computer at home. She has been monopolizing it for 2 months. Well...not entirely. I've been spending alot of time posting at our sister site, which deals with many of my adventures starting my astronomy tour business and happenings in the sky around Mitzpe Ramon. Give it a try. It's not as daunting as it sounds. :)

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