Thursday, June 28, 2007

Scandals and family

An family vacation in Israel with a bright, sports loving 10-year-old is not the same experience as an organized tour group, or an adults-only travel experience. Even if you want to delve into complex and controversial areas, you aren't going to get very far -- because children's activities must take precedence.

We had thought of going to the Holocaust Museum, but Eric said "no, that is too depressing, I don't want to see the skinny bodies". So I needed to find an alternative, and we settled on the Bloomfield Science Museum.

This museum is like many similar museums in North America, with interactive kids oriented exhibits, and a lot of malfunctioning computers and machinery. I enjoyed the Einstein exhibit, especially reading his 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, advising him of the potential of a nuclear bomb, though he thought it would be too heavy to put on an airplane. However, he said the bomb, delivered by ship, would certainly destroy the port! Roosevelt thanked Einstein for his letter, and set in motion to research program that resulted in the 1945 bombs on Japan.

We returned to our new hotel, the full-service Dan Panorama. It is a 3.5 star type place; not dumpy, but not overly luxurious.

I set out to exercise in the modest fitness centre. On Israeli television, a woman was holding a press conference. She turned out to be the woman the former Israeli president is accused of sexually assaulting.

And, so this headline in the International Herald Tribune: President Katsav of Israel to plead guilty to sex crimes but avoid jail. The hotel fitness centre attendant without prompting from me said: "Everyone here knows that the woman is no angel -- she's slept around with all kinds of people, used blackmail, and threatened politicians -- Kastav is not the first." Of course, Kastav's reputation also is not particularly spotless, either. So we have two less-perfect-players creating a national scandal and an international blot on Israel's image.

Tomorrow, before things shut down for Shabbat, we'll head to the old city, the Wailing Wall -- the place where the conflicting religions co-exist in a strange but well choreographed set of images and patterns.

(Israeli taxi driving image -- Every community I know has its own rules and traditions when it comes to taxis, and Israel is no exception. The ground rules: Tipping is not expected, and you can either elect to use the meter or negotiate a flat rate. The latter option invites all kinds of creative options for cabbies.

Today, in transferring hotels, we used the taxi dispatch centre/stand near the place we had been staying at. One of the cabbies keeps his meticulously washed Mercedes right in front of the stand. When we pulled up with our bags, he said "40 sheckels". I said "Meter". He responded, "okay, I'll charge 3 shekels for each bag (we had five bags)". I said "no" and proceeded to unload our bags from the cab. (We aren't talking major money here, there are about 4 shekels to a dollar, so the fare would be $10, but I also knew this cabbie was gaming us and was going to give him as much he could get.)

We waited a few minutes in front of the cab stand, wondering if I'd made a big mistake. Another cab pulled up. I said "how much" and when the cabbie said "30 shekels", we wasted no time hopping in. But I think if we had a metered fare, the true cost would have been closer to 20 shekels. I know, we are talking only a few dollars difference, but this is part of the cultural experience -- and working with the creatively innovative and agressive cabbies in this community takes a certain a mount of fortitude and patience -- unless you want to be sucker-bait.

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