Thursday, September 22, 2011

Idea for today: Collaborative Consumption

Today the idea that I've stumbled upon is Collaborative Consumption - the idea that the world is now moving from a time of hyper-consumerism into a new era where people are sharing, swapping and trading their possessions and time with the use of technology. Just take a look at eBay, car-sharing schemes, AirBNB, Couchsurfing, house swapping... the list goes on. Technology has allowed us to create communities that interact around the world, and you can even make money out of this! The average New Yorker earns $21,000 a year renting out their extra space on AirBnB.

Take a look at this TED talk by Rachel Botsman talking about how Collaborative Consumption is changing the world.

I got to this idea from an article about how the adventure clothing store Patagonia has teamed up with eBay to encourage people to sell their old Patagonia clothes. They launched the the “Buy Less, Buy Used” campaign because its the best way for the company to reduce its environmental footprint. Kind of strange for a company to encourage people not to buy stuff from their store, but to buy second hand! But that is what Patagonia is all about, reducing their impact on the earth. I recently read an excellent book by the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouninard, called "Let my people go surfing", about how he created a model sustainable business. It is an inspiring read.

So what can I do to reduce my consumption?
  • Think twice before you buy more stuff. Do you really need it? Why are you really buying it - to keep up appearances?
  • If you do buy something, buy something with the best quality you can afford, so it wont fall apart after you use it a few times. Or buy something second-hand, and extend the lifespan of the product.
  • Sell your stuff - on ebay etc, or swap it with a friend. Organise a clothes swap.
  • Rent your space - via AirBnB or couchsurfing. Perhaps you'll reduce the demand for beach side development ruining some sand dunes.
  • Buy green, buy local.
What other actions are you taking?

Monday, September 12, 2011

One-Pot Pasta with Peas & Tuna

I go through phases with cooking, and generally the quickest and tastiest dishes are the ones that stick with my kitchen. So here is my latest recipe, which takes 15mins maximum, and is made from food that I always have in the cupboard and freezer.

One-Pot Pasta with Peas & Tuna
Serves 2 Israelis

half a packet of pasta
1/3 - 1/2 bottle of tomato Passata
! clove of garlic, crushed (I use frozen pre-crushed garlic for extra speediness)
1 can of Tuna - 250g or medium sized can
Frozen peas, about 1/2 cup
Grated Parmesan (I buy freshly grated, and keep it in the freezer to keep it fresh)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
All the ingredients, with the pasta cooking away.
1. Cook pasta as per instructions.
2. Add frozen peas to the cooking pasta 1 minute before you take it off the stove. Put in the peas and wait for the water to boil again, then check the pasta is ready.
Adding the peas to the pasta pot, waiting for the water to boil again after its dose of ice.
3. Drain the pasta & Peas. Return to the pasta pot.
4. Add some olive oil
5. Return to low heat
The drained pasta and peas, with the olive oil added.
6. Add garlic, salt and pepper, and stir
7. Add Passata so that all the pasta is covered with red
Adding the Passata
8. Add can of tuna. Heat for 1 minute.
Adding the tuna
9. Ready to Serve! Sprinkle the parmesan over the top.
If you are a chilli fan, add some chili flakes. Amit and are are chilli wooses so we don't do that.

Now I know that Tuna is an unsustainable fishing stock, so I suggest you only eat this occasionally, or substitute the Tuna for extra cheese! Most Tuna species are currently over-fished, except Skipjack. Or you can find some tinned salmon that has been approved from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Some more info on eating sustainable seafood:
Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide
Sustainable Fish guides for all over the world

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My favourite Zimmers

Zimmer is the word Israelis use for a guesthouse/cabin/B&B type of accommodation. There is a lot of it in Israel, and most Zimmers have jacuzzis. There must have been a very good jacuzzi salesperson here that made jacuzzis the standard for Zimmers. Very odd, but I'm not complaining. Who doesn't like bubbling baths!

I fortunately have a very romantic husband who has taken me to a few Zimmers in Israel. Most of them have been amazing, as you will see.

Kadita - quirky cabins on a hill
2.5 hours from Tel Aviv, near Rosh Pina

When I was visiting Israel for the first time, Amit and I spent a night at Kadita at the end of July. Kadita is perched on a hill overlooking pine forests near Rosh Pina, just north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Each cabin has unique features, and the cabin we stayed in had a porch with a hammock, a record player and records, and a loft bedroom (and a jacuzzi of course). There are lots of windows for the lovely view, and a little kitchen for preparing food. There is also a small swimming pool for the guests.

We visited again when my parents visited in October, this time to stay in a large cabin with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. This cabin has an amazing view of the forest, with huge windows. We spent the evening chatting on the balcony, and playing the classic Israeli card game Taki (which is actually almost identical to Uno).

I'd recommend Kadita for a relaxing weekend away. It is not fancy, but it is quirky, as the cabins are built from recycled materials, and are a tad ramshackled, but that adds to their charm. It is close to the forests where you can go hiking.

Kadita - cute cabins, forest views, swimming pool

Eretz Bereshit - romance in the forest
(website only in Hebrew, but the owners have great English)
Matat, 3 hours north of Tel Aviv

When we arrived at Eretz Bereshit, the owner said that we'd better get our things from the car before we went down the 100 uneven steps, because we wouldn't want to come back up afterwards. And he was so right. After descending the 100 steps we arrived at the most romantic, secluded cabin I had ever experienced, built right into the forest, surrounded by trees, with only a glimpse of the hills in the distance (and Lebanon). I felt like I was in another country - it could have been in the hills behind Byron Bay in Australia. The log cabin had a lovely big veranda with a hammock and table and chairs, an outdoor jacuzzi, and an indoor jacuzzi, a kitchen with a loaf of freshly baked bread, fresh herbs in a jar to use for your tea, a log fire, and so many gorgeous touches I went around taking photos of the pot plants and china figurines. I was completely enchanted by the place.

Eretz Bereshit - Super romantic wood cabins built in the trees. The owners are on the right of this picture, lovely people!

Hemdatia - organic luxury
Ilania, not far from Nazareth, and the Kinneret, 2 hours from Tel Aviv.

After our wedding we wanted to spend the weekend with both sets of parents not too far from Nazareth and Beit Sha'an, places that we were yet to visit. We did a search on a Zimmer website and watched video for Hemdatia and were hooked. We just had to stay there - and we weren't disappointed. It is quite expensive, but it is pure luxury, and because the place is built on ecological principles, it is luxury you can feel good about.

The rooms are built where the old stables were located, with the original bricks and mud finishes. In the courtyard is a lovely stone pool for dipping and cooling off. There is a large jacuzzi in another well appointed room. There is even a tree house in an old olive tree out the back, where you can climb up and look at the view of the village.

The beds are extremely comfortable, there is air conditioning and a wood fired heater in each cabin, and they are all thoughtfully presented.

But probably the most amazing thing about this place is the divine breakfast. The owner and a helper were in the kitchen from 6am preparing breakfast for us a 9.30am, which was made only from produce from their organic farm. There were amazing salads, burekas, omelettes, goats cheese (from their goats), herb tea, antipasti, bread... so much delicious, organic, healthy food! Far more than we could eat.

Around the rooms there are vegetables and herbs growing. And each room has the choice of both a regular toilet and a composting toilet. The owners say that even if someone has no interest in ecology and sustainability, just by seeing vegetables growing and what a composting toilet looks like will be an education for them in someway.

It is the kind of place you never want to leave...

Hemdatia - sustainable luxury....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Talking about the weather

How much do you talk about the weather? Chances are it's highly related to where you live. So I'm going to talk about the weather now, well, more specifically, how you talk about the weather in Australia, England and Israel.

Talking about the weather. Part 1. Australia.

Australians love to talk about the weather. Every time I speak to my parents the conversations always include a weather report, and every email I receive mentions the weather. Perhaps my family is more weather focused, as my dad is a sailor and spends a lot of time at sea, but I would say it is not unusual to talk about the weather at the start of every conversation with someone you know well or only slightly. Aussies talk about the weather a lot. We do live in a country with the most variable weather in the world, where nothing is normal from year to year – where you can live your whole life in a 20 year drought for it to be broken by months of flooding rain that destroy everything you own, or the hottest day ever brings 47 degrees C and bushfires that cause unbelievable destruction, or the biggest cyclone in centuries flattens everything around. We're talking extreme weather, that is only becoming worse with climate change. It is hard to be a climate change denialist when you live in Australia, when with every extreme weather event people say it must be climate change.

The Australian weather nerd
I worked with some extreme weather nerds in Canberra. Extreme weather nerd behaviour includes:
  • closely monitoring the rain gauge in your garden, plotting the results for the season, comparing it to seasonal averages etc.
  • listening to all news weather reports. If you hear there is rain coming, you jump onto the Bureau of Meterology's website for the infamous weather radar, watching hopefully for patches of red
  • calling all your friends or running to see them when you see a red colour on the radar, representing lots of rain
  • getting jealous of all the red on the radar over north queensland in summer.
Now this extreme weather behaviour I witness (and participated in) was obviously the result of the long period of drought Canberra was in. Considering it rained constantly last winter, I'm not sure if such behaviour continues, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it does... (and this behaviour may also be related to many of these weather nerds living on farms/keeping gardens/being ecologists...

Talking about the weather. Part 2. England

Talking about the weather had never seemed that strange to me until I moved to England, where the weather is discussed on an entirely different level – the English talk about the weather all the time. With everyone. All day, every day. And the weather in England is always: Grey or greyer, wet or wetting, windy or windier, cold or colder. One day a year the sun comes out, and it's talked about all year.

A typical day of ones life in England:
7am. Wake up. Look out the window. Grey. Listen to the weather report on the radio. Grey and cold. Discuss the grey weather with your partner/housemates.
8am. Go to the bus stop, noticing the weather. Talk to the person next to you at the bus stop. About the weather
9am. Arrive at work. Say Good Morning. “Grey day today isn't it” you say to your colleague
9.10am. Make tea. Talk to another colleague. “It's rather grey outside today isn't it. When is the sun going to come out”, you say...
10.30am. Morning tea meeting with other colleagues. “How about this weather we're having, there is no end to this grey is there! When will the sun appear?”

I'm not going to continue. As you see, for the first 4.5 hours of the day you've talked about the weather 5 times with at least 5 different people. In one day, you probably discuss the weather 20 times, with almost every single person you talk with. Talk about taking the discussion of weather to an entirely new level. It's completely ingrained in the culture. I think that if an Englishman moved to Israel, where every day for 5 months is almost exactly the same: hot, humid, 30 degrees, he would still talk about the weather every single day (but only with other Englishmen...).

Talking about the weather. Part 3. Israel

Which brings me to Israel. I started working in an Israeli company, and in the tea room I met many people that I know barely. And I naturally talked about the weather with almost all of them. Well I did, until I mentioned it to my Israeli friend who said, “If you talk about the weather with an Israeli, they will think you have nothing else to say, and that you are a boring person”. Israelis do not talk about the weather. Well, it does come up in conversation, but it is way down the list. But then, there is little reason to talk about the weather, for a few reasons:
  1. The weather here is boring. In Summer it is exactly the same weather for 5 months. And there is absolutely no rain for those 5 months either. In the winter people do wonder where the rain is, but not very much.
  2. People ask about people here, how they are, are they sick, are they married/having babies yet, are they enjoying life. There is very little small talk. People are direct with their questions and answers and open with their feelings.
  3. There are bigger things to worry about. Terrorism, war, security. The Middle East peace process. Will Israel still exist in 50 years time? Big questions, big insecurities, and the weather doesn't really rate there. No one talks about climate change. I've never seen an Israeli newspaper mention it. Life is stressful here, and there is no interest in talking about the weather.
The Israelis are in line with the Crowded House song that starts:
      “No time, no place to talk about the weather
       The promise of love is hard to ignore...”

More info
Talking about the weather falls into the small talk basket. Small talk is called phatic communication, and is considered a social skill.

This BBC article on the differences between British and German small talk – the Germans don't even have a word for small talk. And Hebrew doesn't really have a word for it either. 

Talking about the weather in Australia vs. Indonesia

This blog post  talks about how social media is changing phatic communication.

And here is an American guy discussing how to talk about the weather.

Monday, May 23, 2011

סיימתי כיתה א+ באולפן

סיימתי כיתה א+ באולפן גורדון בתל אביב. המורה שלנו היה מצויינת. השם שלה אילנה. היא אוהבת מדטציה, אז, עכשיו היא נוסעת לארה"ב, ושם היא עושה מחנה מדטציה למשך 3 חודשים. בכיתה שלי היו תלמידים מכל העולם.  יש תלמידים מצרפת, אנגליה, דרום אפריקה, ארה"ב, פילפין, סודן, דרפור, רוסיה, לטביה, מולדובה, גרמניה, ועוד. אהבתי ללכת לאולפן כי זאת הדרך הטובה ביותר ללמוד עיברית. אף על פי שקשה ללמוד באולפן אחרי העבודה פעמיים בשבוע, אני חושבת שזאת הדרך הטובה ביותר ללמוד עיברית בשבילי. 

Saturday, April 09, 2011

What to expect at an Israeli wedding

1. Huge numbers! 400 is normal, 200 is very small, 800 happens

2. People will wear jeans. In fact, many dress in a style that would be appropriate for a “dinner at the local Chinese on a Friday” by Australian standards. But this isn’t so surprising when you consider that Amit, my lovely well dressed fiance, didn’t own a pair of black pants or leather shoes until three months ago (he now owns three pairs of each).

3. Weddings happen mostly at night, after work. So you can go to a wedding on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (the most expensive) nights. Friday noon weddings happen, but there are issues with Shabbat (the sabbath) entering at sunset, and as most places are kosher, they will kick you out before the sun goes down.

4. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen. No one wears matching outfits.

5. No one gives presents. Money only! Amit says that if you give a present you are hated forever (unless you are a very close friend, when it is allowed).

6. You will get invited to tonnes of weddings each summer. A rule of thumb on whether you should attend is whether you have the bride or groom’s phone number in your phone book. If you go to all of the wedding you will go broke, no doubt about it!

7. No speeches! There might be a video made by the couple’s friends though...

8. Ladies bring a second pair of shoes with them - flat ones - for dancing the night away.

9. Most weddings follow a particular format, which is almost upside-down compared with traditional Australian/American/English weddings.

So I’ll use an evening wedding as the example, which is the most common here. Below is my experience of Israeli weddings (all five I have attended so far). There are lots of slight variations on this theme, but you’ll get the gist...

Before the wedding
The wedding day starts late morning, when the bride starts getting ready. At midday on a week day you will see the hair salons filled with brides getting their hair done, with a make-up artist lurking in the wings to get started on their faces. This also happens at home.
Efrat having her hair and makeup done at home. Photo by Fly on the Wall
The bride gets dressed with her mum/friends at home. Then at about 2pm, the groom arrives to pick her up. None of this “waiting until she’s walking down the aisle” to see the bride - the groom and bride go off with their photographer to take photos for a few hours BEFORE the wedding. Popular photographing spots include: the dilapidated buildings in Neve Tsedek, the Tel Aviv Port, old Jaffa, Rothschild avenue, the Carmel markets, a field somewhere - wherever the contrast of a couple dressed up and the shabby/natural surrounds are greatest.
Ido and Efrat at their photo session before their wedding
After the photo session, the couple arrive at the venue, shortly followed by the families for the family photos before the wedding begins.

The wedding begins
On the wedding invitation you will see the time that the wedding event begins, and also the time for the ceremony (huppa). If your invitation says 7pm, most people will start arriving at 7.30, and continue to arrive for another 1.5hours.

When you arrive you greet the bride and groom, and then dive into eating all the yummy appetizers. There are usually people walking around with trays, and also there are stations for yummy food. Wedding have amazing food in my experience, and the appetizers are the highlight!

Remember you are in Israel, and unlike in Australia or the UK where you would dive to the bar, Israelis are in no hurry to drink. It’s all about the food.

Speaking of alcohol, it is usual at Israeli weddings to have an open bar - spirits and wine and one cocktail to welcome the guests. This is pretty uncommon in Australia because it would cost a fortune (as Aussies tend to like drinking more than Israelis).

Walking down the aisle
I have seen a couple walking down the aisle alone, but more often the groom is escorted halfway down by both parents, where he waits for the bride, who also is walked to him by both her parents (no father giving the bride away!). At the spot halfway down the aisle, the bride meets the groom, who puts the veil over her face. They then continue onto the ceremony location.
Ido putting the veil over Efrat. Photo by Digital Closeup
The ceremony
The ceremony and its location is called the Huppa (said hoop-a). It is held under a white canopy, often held up by 4 male family members holding each post. Under the Huppa you have the bride and grooms family, the bride and groom, and the Rabbi. The ceremony is then conducted by the Rabbi. This is where I get a bit lost because the ceremony is conducted in Hebrew, with many traditional prayers and blessings.
The Huppa. Photo by Digital Closeup

 Key parts of the ceremony include:
Blessing the wine, the bride and groom drinking from the same cup. Photo by Digital Closeup
Exchanging the Ktuba - the wedding contract, which states how much money the groom is paying for the bride?? The Ktuba is signed before the ceremony with the Rabbi and the men of the families. Photo by Digital Closeup
The groom putting the ring on the bride’s finger (on her pointing finger, not her ring finger, where she puts it later). Photo by Digital Closeup
And to end it all, the groom smashes a glass! (a glass that is wrapped in aluminium foil so you don’t get glass everywhere). Photo by Digital Closeup
This is my take on a ceremony that I don’t quite understand - for more details check it out here: Ceremony: Jewish Wedding Rituals

In my opinion, the Huppa can be a bit impersonal, with the Rabbi following strong rituals, and the bride not usually saying a word during the whole thing. And another thing, during almost every wedding I have attended here, guests are talking between themselves during the ceremony! I find it so incredibly rude! Perhaps it is a consequence of the large numbers invited to weddings... or perhaps Israelis are just rude. You decide.

After the ceremony
Once the glass is broken, people rush to the Huppa to kiss the happy couple and say their congratulations. And then they run to get their dinner (20 mins of ceremony makes you starving apparently). There will be buffets with tonnes of food - beef, chicken, fish, six salads, etc etc.

You’ve barely digested a thing when the dancing starts, and goes on and on for another 4 hours minimum. It is all about the party at the Israeli wedding and the dance floor is packed for hours with the guests.
The dance floor. Photo by Digital Closeup
The bride on the dance floor. Photo by Fly on the Wall
The groom and bride on the dance floor. Photo by Fly on the Wall
Conclusions about Israeli Weddings (from an Aussie perspective)
Israeli weddings are all about the fun. Food, a few drinks, and dancing till your feet won’t hold you any longer. There is little formality about the whole affair. And sometimes I feel that the event doesn’t honor the bridal couple enough. But the food is fantastic, and it is great fun to dance the night away!

For a humorous take on Israeli weddings, check out comedian Benji Lovitt's blog.

What about our wedding?
We are getting married in June, on a Friday afternoon. A Friday afternoon wedding is rare in Israel, but we’re not restricted by a Rabbi or a Kosher venue, so we will all party into the evening, and everyone will have Saturday to recover before work on Sunday.

Our wedding here isn’t a registered one, because we cannot get married in Israel. Israel only permits religious weddings, and mixed-religion or secular weddings are not recognised. However, if you get married overseas, your marriage is recognised for all official purposes in Israel. We are getting married (again) in Australia in December.

Our ceremony will be conducted by a wonderful friend of ours, and will have some Jewish traditions, but will be designed by us.

There may be speeches, we won’t mind if non-Israelis bring presents, and the rest we’ll leave a surprise.

We’re super excited!

Thanks the the wonderful bride and groom, Ido and Efrat, for letting me use their wedding photos. You are the best!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A round of applause

At a concert last night I was reminded of a bizarre cultural phenomenon in Israel.

Whenever I go to the theatre, opera, or concerts in Israel, the performance inevitably ends and the audience naturally breaks into a round of applause to show their appreciation. The applause is chaotic, like I'm used to in Australia, Canada, Japan, England, and other places I've been to in the world.

Then after a few seconds, a strange thing happens. Everyone starts clapping in unison, like they're clapping along to music. Now what I'm used to hearing in a packed theatre is of tumultuous, thunderous, chaotic applause. But all I hear is clapping in unison, like people clapping to a marching band of music piece. And I can't resist it and I clap along. I can't escape it. I can't understand it. I want to clap differently, to create the sound I'm used to. But I can't, I'm trapped, and even if I clap totally off the beat to everyone else, I'm just one person in a sea of hundreds.

This really frustrates me, I feel like I'm not showing how I really feel about the music, and that the audience isn't showing its appreciation as it should do. Instead they seem to be clapping along together like it's a game, and not like they've just experienced some world-class culture.

Have you ever experienced this bizarre clapping behaviour before? How do you feel about it? Is it a purely Israeli thing??

The concert I saw last night was with Richard Galliano, a musician from France who is said to be the best accordionist in the world, playing with the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. It was a fantastic performance, and they gave four encores (despite the fact that the audience kept getting up to leave the theatre even though the orchestra remained seated! And they did this terrible clapping thing! Poor Mr Galliano).

The program from last night's performance at the Tel Aviv Museum

I found another blog post from a few years ago that discusses the strange Israeli behaviour or synchronous clapping:  The Muqata: Synchronous Clapping

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Portugal for business

The pavements in Lisbon are all cobbled

I just went to Lisbon for work. I left home at midday on Tuesday, and got home at midnight on Friday. That's 74 hours away from home. It includes 14 hours on aeroplanes, 10 hours in 4 airports (Tel Aviv, Rome, Lisbon, Paris), 18 hours in meeting rooms, 7 hours in restaurants with colleagues, 27 hours in a hotel room, and a bunch of transit time.

There were Christmas decorations - my first this Christmas
Things I learnt about Portugal:
  1. They don't seem to have very good Wi-Fi
  2. They like cod. A lot. Apparently they have 200 ways to cook cod.
  3. They like eating thin steak with egg on top.
  4. Portuguese parents are like Israeli ones – calling their kids every day, cooking too much food, wanting to always be near by their children – 20mins is almost too far.
  5. The country had a dictator for many years, and a lot of people remember him fondly and wish that they still had his financial management, especially considering the country is now bankrupt.
  6. Portuguese tarts are totally delicious! Flaky pastry with a custard filling, slightly charred on the top. Like magic.
  7. Women kiss men on both cheeks even when you first meet them (a bit close for me!).
  8. The Portuguese seem to be big on hygiene. Hand disinfectant everywhere. Plastic toilet seat covers.
  9. Most people have dark, straight hair. No gingers as far as I can see. And no curly hair. So I don't exactly blend in (which I do in Israel, if you would believe. There appear to be more gingers in Israel than in Australia, and combined with curly hair being so common, I look like a local! Who would have thought).
A Lisbon street