Sunday, March 28, 2010

Israel and Australia, a few facts and figures

I was browsing the internet learning about the Passover holiday, which starts tomorrow, when I got sidetracked on Wikipedia (an inevitable consequence of me going on that site). I came across a few interesting stats about Australia and Israel. These are taken form Wikipedia, so doubt them as much as you like, but it does make for interesting comparisons.

Israel
Land area:
151 largest country, 22,072km2, 0.01% of the world's surface (Excluding the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip; including the Golan Heights).

Population
 - 2009 estimate: 7,465,002 (96th)
 - Density: 356.8/km2 (34th)

GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 - Total: US$202.562 billion (50th)
 - Per capita: $28,473 (31st)

Judean Desert, From Israel

Australia
Land area:
6th largest country, 7,692,024km2, 5.2% of the world's surface     Includes Cocos (Keeling) Islands (14 km2/5.4 sq mi), Christmas Island (135 km2/52 sq mi), Macquarie Island (128 km2/49 sq mi), and Lord Howe Island (56 km2/22 sq mi).[12]  Excludes external territories of Norfolk Island (36 km2/14 sq mi), Ashmore and Cartier Islands (5 km2/1.9 sq mi), Coral Sea Islands Territory (0.91 km2/0.35 sq mi), and Heard and McDonald Islands (372 km2/144 sq mi). Excludes claims on Australian Antarctic Territory  (5,896,500 km2/2,276,700 sq mi). Largest country in Oceania.

Population
- 2010 estimate: 22,203,464
- Density: 2.833/km2 (232nd, only Greenland has a lower population density)

GDP (PPP)     2008 estimate
 - Total: $799.054 billion (18th)
 -  Per capita: $36,918 (15th)

Kata Tjuta, From Central Australia
Out of interest, the largest country in the world is Russia, and the smallest of the 233 countries in the world is Vatican City.

Read up more on Israel and Australia on Wikipedia if you feel like getting sidetracked....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Israelis are not alcoholics (like Aussies)

Last night we were heading to a friend's birthday party at about 9pm. I thought it would be nice to take a bottle of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine that is popular here), a cold one of course so we could drink it. Then Amit tells me that bottle shops aren't open at this time of night. "What?" I say, "How ridiculous! It's Thursday, which is like an Australian Friday! Every bottle shop should be open!".

Then came more incredulity as we drove from supermarket to corner store to whatever other shop, only to find that no one sells cold sparkling wine, or even white wine. You might find a few bottles of beer in a fridge, and tonnes of milk and cheese, but no cold wine (I lie, there was a bottle of Lambrusco, but I really don't rate that as much of drink).

Now this is unheard of in Australia. We are always in bottle shops (Bottle O's as I usually refer to them) in the evenings, buying wine for a BYO restaurant or a party we're going to. And you will always find at least 10 white wines and 5 sparklings of some description, along with tonnes of beer in the fridges of Bottle O's and supermarkets (in those states that allow that).

This latest incident illustrates the completely different drinking cultures in Israel and Australia. Aussies must be considered alcoholics by international standards. Nice to realise these things I suppose. I was just very mad that I couldn't find a cold bottle of wine! (Maybe I'm in withdrawal from being a normal Aussie.)

We went to the party empty handed, and that appeared to be the norm. There were some beers in the fridge, red wine on the table, and people were having a few drinks. I mean like two drinks. Then they'd be sensible and stop. And then go home. Pretty much the most different to an Australian party as you can get.

I'm drunk on the goodness of Israeli food, no need for Cava.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fly on the Wall

Amit recently started his new photography business called Fly on the Wall, and he launched his website. I've been helping with it, including the About page, which took us a good two hours to edit because we are both compulsive editors as it turns out.

Check out the Fly on the Wall website where you can even see a gallery featuring me called "Tales of the Redhead", which is in the top left corner.

Amit takes amazing photos natural photos of people, with no fake smiles in sight. So if you're looking for someone to take photos of your event, or you're coming to Israel and want him to follow you around (not stalker like), or even if you have an idea for an exhibition he should put on, please let us know!

You can also become a fan of Fly on the Wall of facebook, using this little widget below.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Tel Aviv beaches

One of my favourite things about living in Tel Aviv is the beach being a 10 minute walk away. And it's a beautiful beach, with white sand and blue water stretching to the horizon. Sometimes there is even a decent swell and some nice waves rolling in that keen surfers are catching (in their full length wetsuits). True, it has been too cold for me to go in the water since I arrived in February, but I have every intention of going for a swim on a warm day soon.

But how do the Tel Aviv beaches compare with Australian beaches? As Aussies will know, our beaches are the best in the world. So on a case by case comparison, South Broulee (south coast NSW) beach kicks Tel Aviv beach's butt. However, you can't do straight comparisons.

To get to the beach here you walk along tree-lined european streets and boulevards crowded with cafes, felafel bars, boutique clothes stores and gelaterias to a street with large hotels next to the beaches. The sand is covered with sun lounges, permanent umbrellas, chairs and people. The life guards sit in wooden towers, speak through large speakers, and there are no red and yellow flags to swim between.


From Tel Aviv friends and scenes


And then there are the people. Tel Aviv is very multicultural, so there are people of all backgrounds on the beach. Girls wear bikinis and sunbake. Guys wear shorts and play volleyball or soccer. Some guys just pose with their ghettoblasters playing loud electronic music (does anyone say ghettoblasters anymore? You know what I mean). Couples play paddleball - wooden bats, squash ball, and an incessant bang bang bang floods the beach. Families play in the water.

So there aren't any cricket, rugby or Aussie rules games on the beach. And the kids aren't wearing full body protecting swimming suits and hats to hide from the sun. They might be wearing a t-shirt or a hat. Or nothing.

If you go towards Jaffa to the beach there are muslim women swimming in the full length suits and headscarves with their kids running around amidst scantily clad sunbathers. On the grass next to the beach on a Friday you will find lots of families gathered with the delicious smells of mini BBQs cooking meat.

Towards the north there is a 'Separated beach' - where religious Jewish people have the opportunity to swim without having to see the temptations of the opposite sex. Of course if they exit the walled area they will immediately see acres of bare flesh in front of them, but not while they are swimming.


From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

Does it look like the dog in this picture is wearing a yarmulke (skull cap)? It does to me! Jewish doggies only allowed (with leads) on the separated beach!

So like I was saying, I would say the beaches in Tel Aviv are not more beautiful than Aussie beaches, but they are different, and I really like them for that!

I was thinking today that learning to love another country is about redefining your definition of beauty. Expanding it to incorporate all the new things you are discovering. I could be going around Israel saying the landscape is not beautiful, as Australia has wide open spaces and natural beauty and a huge blue sky, while Israel is covered with towns and cities, agriculture and desert. But I'm learning to appreciate the beauty in this country. In the dilapidated Bauhaus buildings. In the Mediterranean seaside. In the old streets of Jaffa. In the window boxes full of red geraniums. Luckily, the people and the food make this country very easy to love.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

a concert in Jerusalem

On the plane from Korea to Israel a few weeks ago I sat next to a really interesting man, Yitzhak Yedid, a composer from Israel who lives in Brisbane with his Australian wife and child. He told me about few of his concerts that would be on in Israel while he was here, so last night Amit and I headed up to Jerusalem for an evening at a cool venue called the Yellow Submarine. A trio of piano, violin and cello played a few pieces, some more jazz, so more celtic music, and also a world premier of Yitzhak's piece called Senstaions.

After the concert Yitzhak was in a bit of dilemma as his sister in law had taken off with his phone, wallet and keys. We drove around the beautiful streets of Jerusalem at night, with their old stone walls and atmospheric neighbourhoods. Luckily we found the sister-in-law and Yitzhak directed us out of the confusing streets of the city.

You can see some of Yitzhak's performances on YouTube.

On the way home from Jerusalem we picked up a hitchhiker, a teenager with a guitar, and dropped him further down the road. Hitchhiking is really common in Israel. I realised I have a bit of a phobia about it due to the backpacker murders in Australia. However, I think I'll get used to it here (although I don't think we'll get into a habit of picking up hitchhikers!).

Purim = randomly dressed up people in Israel

Purim is a Jewish festival about some time in history when an evil guy called Haman tried to kill the jews in the ancient Persian empire, a few hundred years BC. A few people, including Queen Esther (secretly Jewish), managed to foil the plot with the use of disguises and people hiding things. So during Purim everyone dresses up in all sorts of disguises and costumes, kind of like Halloween.

During the week leading up to Purim I'd be walking through Tel Aviv and amongst the street filled with normal looking people there would be a guy dressed up as a leprechaun. In the cafes and restaurants the staff would be dressed up as fairies or other random things.

The dressed up waitress, and my coffee served with Haman's ear - From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

Also on Purim you are supposed to eat a feast and drink tonnes of alcohol. Sounds good to me. Normally Amit and his friends would go to a huge street party in Florentin, a cool suburb of Tel Aviv. But it was raining so we were lame and didn't go out.

However, we did have a big feast at Amit's parents place, which was amazing! And we ate Haman's ears (because he's the bad guy, we eat his ears every Purim). Amit's nephews were dressed up for Purim too, super cute.

The feast at Amit's parent's place - From Tel Aviv friends and scenes