April 24, 2021

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D. got serious about the idea of reserving Thursdays for occasional excursions to interesting places. In one of her yoga classes she has an aging cycling buff turned tour guide, who recommended a couple of places, so we followed his recommendations the other day, and ended up in Ramat HaNadiv, near ZiKhron Ya'akov, which is at the southern tip of the Carmel mountains, about 30 km south of Haifa.

Our first stop was the public gardens of Ramat HaNadiv. This "Nadiv" (benefactor) was Baron Abraham Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild, who jump-started Jewish settlement at the end of 19th century. The tombs of the baron and his wife are there. I first visited the place in the framework of a professional gardening course I did about thirty years ago. This was at the beginning of the period when I became the gardener of our community, in which capacity I continued for about six years. But on that earlier occasion, we arrived just before closing time, after a longer field trip, so had time to see very little. In the meantime it has acquired various new features, and is a pioneering example of environmental technologies. The visitors center is under a green mound air-conditioned by geothermal technology, and all the water is recycled. The gardens are fertilized by composting all green waste, etc.

Israel has few great examples of public gardens. This one is well-planned, carefully maintained and pleasant. For the most part the plants and trees that you see there are commonly grown all over the country. But here they are grown to perfection, so it's inspirational to see how our untidy yuccas could look, and what we could make of that overgrown mastic tree with a little pruning. I wasn't so impressed with the formal rose garden, which seemed quite unimaginative, but there are some delightful corners of the park, as well as "windows" offering views of the coast and the blue Mediterranean. It was very blue on Thursday.

April 19, 2021

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Photo: Nazareth by night

Last week we were up in Galilee. My wife was there over the weekend for a mindfulness retreat, so we decided to go up a couple of days early, to take advantage of the holiday; I returned home when her retreat started.

We arrived on Wednesday and started with a visit to the archeological park at Tsipori, which has had many historical names: Σέπφωρις, Sépphōris; صفورية‎, Διοκαισάρεια) , le Saforie, from the Canaanite period till today. During the Roman period it was the most important town in the province. There are rich remains of houses, streets, a Roman theatre, a water system that brought water from afar, and many ornate mosaic floors. Some of those tell stories, such as of the Nile or from mythology; others have geometric designs. There is one mosaic in particular that stands out among all these for its astonishingly life-like portrait of a woman.

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D. today had a visit from two Palestinian friends from nearby Ramle. When she told them we had visited Tsipori, they told her they knew that the story of the ethnic cleansing of Saffouriya was particularly awful; that the residents had been forced to walk towards Nazareth on foot, and many were shot at on the way. I was not able to find this story, so far, but palestineremembered.com has quite a lot about the village with a pre-1948 population of 5,000. It seems that the majority of the descendants live today in the Ain al-Hilwa refugee camp in Lebanon, whereas some 10,000 live in Nazareth. There's a poignant story by a former resident.

In the evening, which was the eve of Independence Day, we went into Nazareth, where there were, assuredly, no firework displays, flags, or even any Jewish visitors. We walked around a bit, then stopped at Mahroum's cafe for some wonderful knafeh and baklowa. Nazareth is famous for its sweets. It was the second evening of Ramadan, and in the square opposite there was a public prayer. Many of the streets and houses were decked out for the holy month.

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Also in Tabash, the Bedouin village where we were staying, there was lots of evidence of Ramadan; from lights to fire crackers to the calls of the muezzin. We stayed at a camp lodge run by a Jewish couple. Our accommodations were an old (1937) British rail car from the Haifa - Beirut line. It was well furnished and air-conditioned, with a bathroom and balcony added on.

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On the following day, we had a walk in the nearby wadi, visiting its springs. Due to the holiday, we were not alone there, but we got started early enough to avoid the worst of the crowds.

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There are a few more photos in the gallery.

The Ganges, with Sue Perkins

Somewhere, somebody mentioned this series of three BBC documentaries on the Ganges River, so I found these in the torrents and we watched them. I wasn't previously familiar with this TV personality, who is surely well-known to all Brits. I enjoyed her flamboyant style and articulacy. It would be hard not to like her. In the series, she travels downriver from Gangotri and Mukhba, through Rishikesh and Hardwar, to Varanasi and Patna, and on through Kolkata and the Sunderbans, ending in Gangasagar during the Makar Sankranti festival. She manages to meet many amazing people along the way, and introduces them with a mixture of sensitivity and, sometimes, mocking, tongue in cheek camaraderie, though she always leaves a positive impression of those she meets; among these, Ramdev (the ayurvedic products tycoon), Puja Swami Chidananda of Parmarth Ashram, Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra in Varanasi, and activists for women's rights, education and the environment.

Hot one today.

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(106°F)

Links blog

What did 20 years of western intervention in Afghanistan achieve? Ruination
"The longest, most pointless and unsuccessful war that Britain has fought in the past 70 years – its intervention in Afghanistan – is to end in September. I doubt anyone will notice. Nations celebrate victories, not defeats."

Facebook planned to remove fake accounts in India – until it realized a BJP politician was involved | Social media | The Guardian
"The company’s decision not to take timely action against the network, which it had already determined violated its policies, is just the latest example of Facebook holding the powerful to lower standards than it does regular users."

India’s health system has collapsed | Hindustan Times

12 October, 2020

Fly CNN

CNN.com is a silly air travel lover's website. The troubles of the airline industry, new aircraft designs, airplane disappearance mysteries, nostalgia for long-discontinued planes... Right now there are at least six pictures of airplanes with accompanying articles. I don't know why I still look at that site.

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Palestinians who are Jews


Ironies abound in this story told by Noam, one of our Jewish village members. She has an acquaintance in Dubai, whose father is a Palestinian refugee from Jaffa. Like many, or perhaps most, Palestinians, she did not have a national citizenship. However, a DNA test revealed that her genes were a 90% match for those of Sephardic Jews forced out of Spain during the Inquisition. On this basis, she was able to receive a Spanish passport under Spain's repatriation scheme for Jews. She will now be able to visit Jaffa, and Noam.Links
✭ Fifth of countries at risk of ecosystem collapse, analysis finds | Biodiversity | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/12/fifth-of-nations-at-risk-of-ecosystem-
"Countries including Australia, Israel and South Africa rank near the top of Swiss Re’s index of risk to biodiversity and ecosystem services, with India, Spain and Belgium also highlighted."
Israel is at the top of the list.
https://www.swissre.com/institute/research/topics-and-risk-dialogues/climate-and-natural-catastrophe-risk/expertise-publication-biodiversity-and-ecosystems-services✭ 'Devastated' Indigenous owners say Rio Tinto misled them ahead of Juukan Gorge blast
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/oct/12/devastated-indigenous-owners-say-rio-tint
✭ This is my message to the western world – your civilisation is killing life on Earth | Amazon rainforest |
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/12/western-worldyour-civilisation-killi
"We Indigenous people are fighting to save the Amazon, but the whole planet is in trouble because you do not respect it"
✭ Mental health and caste: Society needs to talk about the politics of well-being
https://scroll.in/article/974131/mental-health-and-caste-society-needs-to-talk-about-the-p
In India today, there is little to no representation of people from Bahujan communities at any level – media, cinema or government –
✭ Census of India: T 00-005: Total Population, Population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and their proportions to the total population
https://censusindia.gov.in/tables_published/a-series/a-series_links/t_00_005.aspx✭ The Dalit-Bahujan Guide to Understanding Caste in Hindu Scripture | by Valliammal Karunakaran | Medium
https://medium.com/@Bahujan_Power/the-dalit-bahujan-guide-to-understanding-caste-in-hindu-
"We assert that both the Shrutis and the Smritis bear condemnable caste advocacy."
"It is absolutely necessary to understand now that large populations of the subcontinent remain colonized by Brahminism. The white man has come and the white man has gone, but Bahujan society has not yet been released from the millenia-long hold of Brahmin colonialism ."
✭ Samar Halarnkar: The twilight of Indian democracy
https://scroll.in/article/975478/the-twilight-of-indian-democracy

In the blink of an eye, India has been dragged from flawed but functioning democracy with reasonably robust institutions to the doorstep of great-leader autocracy. Every disfigurement of the law leads to another, often greater in severity, straining the credulity of the justice system and pushing it further into disrepute and disrepair.

✭ In Dune, Paul Atreides led a jihad, not a crusade | Opinions | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/10/11/paul-atreides-led-a-jihad-not-a-crusade-here

Having studied Frank Herbert’s notes and papers in the archives of California State University, Fullerton, I have found that Herbert’s understanding of Islam, jihad, and humanity’s future is much more complex than that of his interpreters.

An interesting article.

Still in Kochi

Still enjoying Fort Kochi, a town that is inherently interesting and enjoyable. Perhaps too many tourists, though thanks to them there are so many guest houses, restaurants and cafes. You can't have it all ways. But the kind of tourists seems to be wealthier and older than in most places in India, which influences somewhat the prices. There are still enough backpackers to ensure that there are also cheaper places to stay and eat. Prices go as low as 250 Rupees or less for accommodation in dormitories. I would not stay in such places. I have a pleasant, though non-A/C room with attached bathroom. It's clean and in a good location, close to the main tourist area, but on a quiet street.

I'm having trouble sleeping at nights due to the heat. I sleep best in the early morning. Then I wake up refreshed as if I've had a full night's sleep. It's true that I often have naps in the daytime. It's always been a puzzle to me why hot weather makes it impossible to sleep at night but is conducive to sleep in the daytime.

When they are open, I have breakfast at the vegan dhaba - just about the same breakfast I have at home: granola (actually muesli) with chopped fruits and coconut milk, together with a cup of coffee. The fruits usually consist of pineapple, papaya, pomegranate and maybe apple. I refill my water bottle there too.

I have lunch in mid afternoon in any one of various restaurants, then have a snack in the evening - a chaat, a sandwich or a dahi puri or something.

In the afternoon to early evening I walk on the promenade by the beach and sometimes sit on the rocks. There's always a pleasant breeze blowing from the sea. There are cultural activities, but these are of the kind specifically for tourists.
I've enjoyed taking many photos, just with my mobile camera, while here.

Kochi 2

There's a nice little vegan dhaba around the corner that's run by two Japanese women. Yesterday I arrived just a little early for lunch and so had to eat there a second breakfast; a kind of muesli that was was more like a bowl of smoothie. There I got talking to a young English guy called Joseph who was in India for the first time. He'd just been writing his diary. I was telling him about the many Malayalis who come to Israel and the Gulf countries. He'd read an article about the mistreatment of foreign workers in Dubai, and said that after reading it he'd decided to cross Dubai off his list of destinations. I said that if I started like that I would need to cross off Israel, where I live, and India, which I often visit, and there would be no end to it. He hadn't heard a thing about the latest political developments in India and said that he'd stopped watching the news.

I had a better meal there today; a miso soup and plate of mixed vegies and beans; good and worth the money. The place is frequented by foreigners, as far as I can see. A young Indian man stopped by on his bike and asked for some juice - maybe papaya? The woman told him they didn't have any. So he asked for a smoothie, and she also said she didn't have any. So, a little flustered, he walked out. I wonder if my understanding of the situation was correct? If so, it may be that she had weighed him up in a certain way. He hadn't sat down to read a menu, as other people would, but walked right up to the counter. Maybe she decided that he was really there because he'd seen a pretty foreign girl seated in front. Probably her reaction was based on some previous experience.

Yesterday I was seated at a juice bar, Kochi Walla, just next to the field where all the young guys play informal cricket games, all day long. Five guys were seated there, as usual, chatting away the evening. Their motor scooters were parked out in front. A man walked by wearing an immaculate white vesti and kameez. All the young guys politely got on their feet and greetings were exchanged. I decided this must be a local politician - someone they all evidently knew and felt required to show respect to. Next door there are a couple of small municipal buildings; one called the "village office", which is a bit strange, for a city, and another which seems to house an anti-drugs program, as there lots of scary murals about the damage caused by drugs, on the surrounding wall.

Enjoying Cochin

I arrived on Monday morning in Kochi, a direct flight on Arkia. The plane was full of middle-aged to elderly Israeli tourists, many of whom appeared to be part of organized tour groups. A few young people; two or three Malayalis returning home. But it was an easy flight. Arkia, unlike what seems to have been the arrangement a few months ago, took a route that skirted Saudia Arabia, heading down the Red Sea as far as Djibouti, then turning east. So it was longer than in could have been. But since it was a night flight, it didn't make any difference. While on the plane and waiting for departure, I booked a room in a guest house. Although this wasn't necessary, I think it makes a better impression with the immigration people if one has an address to give upon arrival. The room wasn't great; full of mosquitoes, and cockroaches emerging from the bathroom grate at night. By the second day I found something more suitable, though still inexpensive.

In Fort Kochi this is at about the end of the tourist season. Southern India is beginning to heat up. I was once here in August, during the monsoon time, and it was more pleasant. But early morning and from about 4 PM the temperatures are fine. Today, I went out at lunch time, intending to visit the nearby Indo-Portuguese museum, but finding it closed, took a longer walk, shaded by my umbrella. The latter I bought in Kumily last year, but it was made in Aleppy, not far from here. As Dorab says, in India it's always a good idea to carry an umbrella, because it is good against both the rain and the sun. And Indian umbrellas usually have a silver underlining against the rays of the sun.

I walked along the road that goes down by the ferry port, hoping to find a small cafe I had remembered from my earlier visit, but it seems to have gone. I found another, the Los Angeles cafe, which, despite its name, was very nice. I had a vegetable thali (supposedly a complete meal tray) and a glass of lemon iced tea. It was a tourist style variation on a thali, really - with papad, pickle, sabji and a whole grain, but quite good and nourishing. Here in Kochi the main speciality is fish and shellfish, but these are off the menu for me. It's quite easy to be a vegetarian and now even a vegan however. Trying to be completely vegan is something I have not bothered with much in India. But here, besides the traditional vegan options, many restaurants offer more eclectic vegan portions and desserts. And I've discovered two entirely vegan restaurants so far.

Along the road by the ferry, there are many old homes with courtyards overlooking the sea, or rather the inlet between the mainland and the island. I snapped a couple of photos of these along the way home, as well as some of the graffiti on the walls siding the streets.

The Guardian today has one of its Long Read articles about India, "How Hindu Supremacists are tearing India apart", which seems to give a good account of the troubling slide in secularism that worries everyone not subscribing to the ideology of the BJP. But so many quite ordinary people do. Just as in Israel, in the UK, in Italy, the US, and so many other places, inquiring into the views of one's neighbors can be very disappointing. As the article points out, the danger in India, may be still greater than these other places, given the country's existing propensities for civil unrest and its shaky union between so many disparate cultures, languages, religions, castes and ethnicities. The Muslim minority in India constitutes 180 million people.

While here I have been reading some of the writings of Paul Bowles, who I only recently discovered. "The Sheltering Sky", his writings on travel, and now "The Spider's House". He's an intriguing writer, with a fascinating life story. He was acquainted with some of the significant writers, musicians and artists of the 20th century. It was Gertrude Stein who persuaded him to go live in Tangiers, where he settled and lived for decades. I read a little of his travels here in Kerala today. What a different style of travel from today! He carried with him eighteen suitcases. He describes how at a border check between two Indian states, the customs officers were concerned that he was planning to sell clothing. "Why would I want to sell my clothes?" he asked them.

I think that the kind of travel writing that he describes has completely gone by the wayside today, and perhaps some people would say, good riddance. Especially that of white people discovering Africa and India. Amitav Ghosh's book, "In an Antique Land", was perhaps more interesting; a post-colonial traveler whom the "natives" (Egyptian villagers) saw as coming from a still more backward place (India). But that book too was published almost thirty years ago.

Bowles is a sensitive traveler. His novels are very well written, and obviously distance themselves from the views of their sometimes racist protagonists. To what extent, Bowles' own views might be out of date, I'm not sure yet. Certainly, all writers are a product of their times; and earlier times usually equates to less enlightened than our own (though sometimes we're proved wrong about that. But amusingly, it's much easier to pick out the imperfections of earlier times, and much harder to notice the flaws in the mannerisms and ways of thinking of our own times. I've lived long enough to know that much.

Munnar and the Tea Museum

In Munnar i had some extra time so, for a lark, visited The Tea Musem, which traces.the origin of the plantations in the Western Ghats from the time of the British to the present time. Today , according to their film, the Kenan Devan Hills Plantations Company is 82% privately owned by the plantation workers themselves, and run with a bottom up management "the first and largest participatory management company in India, with 12,500 employees as shareholders "(2005). They have started to change over some of their plantations to organic teas and are doing research on organic methods. Unfortunately their teas, under the Ripple brand name, are available only in Kerala, according to the sales woman.

The man who gives the talk at the museum is an inspiring example of a person given a comparatively simple role of museum guide, but using it to advance a personal agenda to change the world. He started by saying that our lives would be permanently changed by his talk. He then launched on a deep discussion of the health benefits of green tea as a universal panacea. But he didn't resrict himself just to tea, but advocated a healthy lifestyle that included yoga, cleansing of the bowels, proper ways to evacuate these and more. Daringly , for a tea company p.r. person, he pointed out that most indians have no idea how to make tea and were actually poisoning themselves with the stuff. He advocated a special green tea making device which is available in the gift shop by the exit. I think his talk was effective - i saw people buying it.

Quiet time in Kerala

For meals I'm kind of under house arrest, in this rainy and remote location. They bring them to my "cell" twice a day. In the morning it was idli (fermented rice cakes) and vegetable curry; and in the evening I just had a chapatti and a fiery dhal (bean or lentil dish). Admittedly there would be chicken or perhaps fish, if I weren't vegetarian. I saw the son of the household with a fishing line this morning.

At midday, on my walk, I bought coffee and a cake from a stall on the road. It was a beautiful walk, by the river, passing tea and coffee plantations, waterfalls, in the lush Kerala hill country.

In Kerala

There are big differences from place to place in India. Kerala - at least this small town - seems a lot better organized than what I saw in Tiruvannamalai. At night sometimes there, I had to close the shutters, despite the 30+ degree heat, because people burn rubbish in the streets, including plastics, which create dangerous fumes. They burn it because the municipality doesn't collect it. It doesn't collect it because the officials are corrupt, and, according to my host there's questionable arguments, because people there are mostly illiterate, don't understand anything about health or hygiene and have no idea what cancer is. Whereas here in Kumily, they separate the garbage, collect it every day, fine anybody who tries to burn it, and even smoking in public is a punishable offence. The national park is off-limits to anybody who doesn't have a permit, and they have eliminated poaching of animals and sandalwood trees by placing guards and CCTV cameras everywhere.

Children

I always like interactions with kids in India. Met Ameer and Anvar, a couple of boys, probably around 8 years old, on their way to school, , who were so talkative and fluent in English. One of them, in this small Kerala town, is into Spiderman, so he has a Spiderman school bag, shoes and umbrella, "everything Spiderman". A motorbike passed us, so they commented that wow, that's a high powered racing bike: "modified", they said. They go to a tribal government school where they learn Malayalam, Tamil and English. I don't think they mentioned Hindi, though Modi and the BJP are trying to press schools in every state into teaching it.