Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sinai notes

A morning black coffee and two passers by. There's nowhere like Sinai.

A cheap plane ticket can whisk you from the hypertension of Tel Aviv to the tranquil shores of the Red Sea in about two hours, including the swift processing through the almost empty Israeli and Egyptian border terminals. From there on, you're in Sinai and time slows down upon arrival. Sa'id, the Bedouin taxi driver who transported us in his classic 1979 Peugeut 506 to Tooti Cofi, said that he'd met Adam who runs Tooti in the market in Nueiba and that Adam had told him that he had guests coming. So much for anonymity, but the fact that our arrival was even being mentioned is an indication of how hard up the tourist operators are for business since the terror attacks began.

Within two minutes of arriving Adam, the Sudanese manager, was serving us tea with marmarilla (sage) under the big shade in Tooti's restaurant and we were beginning to make out scenes like this (they turned out to be the only other guests). Within half an hour we were ensconced in our own chushas (little huts made out of palm fronds) about three steps from the water. 30 seconds later we were luxuriating in the sea. Crabs scuttled back and forth along the shoreline. The hot sun, the perfectly transparent water, the salt on your lips, the sea plants and little fish tickling your toes. It was good to be back

The sophisticated wind-cooled ventilation system needed some fine tuning but soon we were ready to eat.

Meals are prepared in Tooti's ultra-modern kitchen (right) which meets the most rigorous international hygienic standards. While the staff rustled up a late lunch Adam brought us up to date with the news . Muhamad, the previous Sudanese manager had married an Austrian woman and was living in Vienna! AnotherAdam, also Sudanese who used to be Muhamad's chief cook, has moved to America! Business could be better but now that we were there everything would be all right.

And so it was. Eventually appearing from the black hole behind the counter: freshly baked laffot, tehina, salad , some bamya in tomato sauce, an aubergine salad and some feta cheese. In the evenings the kitchen produced freshly caught fish (shuri and locus) and on an off day for fishing, maggluba (Bedouin style chicken and rice on a big platter). Everything was meticulously prepared and presented with aesthetic flourishes. The cook signed the tehina with someone else's initials and the grilled fish was decorated with limes and a massive onion placed over its eye .

The next three days of swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating, walking, playing sheshbesh and gazing with awe at the stars, flowed into each other and all the times we have been to Sinai flowed into this time.
This lady is one of scores of old women and young girls selling light cotton clothes and simple jewellery along the beach. Today supply far outstrips demand, they push pretty aggressively for a sale and , if you're not interested in going through the contents of the black blanket, you have to be firm. Along our stretch of beach (from Ras Burka to Bawaki) there were maybe 30 tourists dispersed among hundreds (maybe more) of chushas. Our children and the children of our friends happily spent most of their childhood holidays in Sinai. Apart from being a wonderful , cheap place to reconnect with nature and 'clean your head' it was also one of the few places that Israelis and Arabs could interact naturally and comfortably, even if only over a friendly game of sheshbesh.

What a pity that the terrorists seem to have won and have frightened away the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who used to flock here. The worst things that happened to us were one upset tummy and a few scratches. We had a wonderful time again and only something awful will keep us away.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Return to Sinai

That's it. The agonizing's over. We're off to Sinai in the morning. Restocked with goggles and flippers and carrying enough ouzo to keep a Greek taverna happy for a week. Since we are nevertheless somewhat concerned about the possibility of a full blown Al Qaida attack on our particular stretch of the beach , we called our friend Muhamad who runs a not particularly popular place called Tuti Kofi (it's a long story) and were answered by Adam, the Sudanese cook. He didn't actually remember who we were but still said ahalan wa sahalan , and how many chushot (straw huts) do you need?
To be continued...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The three-day weekends I've been taking recently are good for the soul and should be encouraged. That extra day also gives my Olympus and I more opportunities to ignore the news, descend from the rooftop and get out and about.

Above is a corner in Neve Tsedek opposite the Nana restaurant: a corner yet to be bought out by yuppies. The original Neve Tzedek house on the left is swathed in 'morning glory' creepers that are part of the landscape around here. But fewer and fewer of these untamed preserves are to be found as the construction boom continues. The house on the right is a centre for wood carving. I passed by there one night and encountered the bizarre sight of 5 burly men furiously chisseling and carving away.

Eliyahu (70) the neighbourhood sandlar (shoe-repairer) who for the past 23 years has plied his trade in the same hole-in-the-wall sandlaria on the edge of Neve Tzedek. Soon he will be looking at the ground floor of a massive residential tower now under construction a few metres from his old metal door . Eliyahu came here from Buchara when he was "39-40" but his Hebrew is still patchy. On the earnings from his business, he and his wife managed to bring up 5 boys, all of whom are now mesudarim (taken care of financially) , and some of whom, baruch ha-shem, are already grandfathers themselves. So he's not complaining.

On the way home from dropping my car off at the garage in Florentin, I ran into the backside of the monstrous Neve Tzedek Tower, now clearly nearing completion. Thankfully, part of the ground floor has been built on stilts which, at least at street level somewhat diminishes the impression of a massive impenetrable wall. The white building in the background is one of the Templer buildings undergoing restoration, part of the deal allowing this greedy monster to rise.

But when you look up ....

Obviously time to escape to the beach again. Brisk exercise at sunset, near Frishman.

Monday, July 2, 2007

More beaches 2 (male bonding)

What these guys were doing wasn't that clear to me. Sometimes it seemed like a wrestling exhibition and then more like a kind of macho cuddle. They seemed to bonding like a herd of male elephants.

At 7 p.m. we joined about 50 people next to the beach cafe for the daily municipal sunset meditation session (well, it is organised by the municipality) . Each evening a different new age guru takes the microphone and runs you through a session of shaking, breathing, headrolling, listening, chanting, dancing, contemplating the sunset and ooohmming. On the promenade above, bemused spectators chuckle at the sight of pudgy middle class, middle-aged people happily making complete fools of themselves.

More beaches 1

The last blog on beaches really didn't begin to do justice to the subject and since on the these long, hot and humid summer days a visit to the beach after work is seriously recommended, I took some more pics this evening; this time on Frishman beach beneath the Dan Hotel. A short walk revealed a wide variety of active beach pursuits. (I'm having trouble uploading photos again so excuse the gibberish if it appears). The photo above is of course of a matkot (biff bat) player (click for detail). This is the national Israeli beach sport and great fun, if you're playing it. Less though if you get whacked in the eye with a squash ball travelling close to the speed of light. Zig-zagging adroitly between matkot players is therefore a skill that beachwalkers ignore at their peril.

Looking for dad's car keys. There was lots of energy on the beach this afternoon. The air was balmy and the breeze not too strong . Just right for a brisk walk, jog or male bonding ritual. And since I couldn't upload the next photo (of the male bonding ritual) I'm going to try to post what I have so far.

Sunday, July 1, 2007



A in New York asked for more photos of Tel Aviv beach and since she is not to be refused here are two , both taken at the southern end (Alma Beach) where Tel Aviv meets Yaffo. I'll try to take some more further north. Above, some Arab kids are frolicking in the waves on a hot spring day.

Yesterday we took our traditional Shabbat morning summer dip and cappuccino on Alma beach which, looking north, looked like this. The strong sea breeze played havoc with the the sunshades, ripping them out of the sand and hurtling them dangerously across the laps of alarmed families. The waves were high and the sea sometimes rushed unexpectedly across the carefully arranged family encampments. Swimming (officially forbidden on this beach since there's no lifeguard) was challenging.
And this is the beach we would all like to be on. Trouble is , it's not in Tel Aviv but in Sinai where there is a permanent security alert for Israelis and as much as we love it, that's enough to add a layer of concern that you don't really want on your holiday. But it is tempting. Friends are going in July - we'll see.