Monthly Archives: March 2001
Unsurprisingly, I’ve been busy since getting home — either busy or tired — so I haven’t had much to say here nor time to say it.
Tomorrow, Diane reads Torah during minyan services and I am giving a drash; she’s been preparing for weeks, and I’ve just barely started. Luckily, I get to do my part in English, but I’d better get to work!
Susan points out that the LA Times has an
online calculator to help figure out what effect the rate increase approved by the California PUC will have. I just tried it on our most recent bill, and discovered that our bill would have been $2.68 higher, which doesn’t strike me as a strong encouragement to conserve. Our July bill would have gone up almost $4, which probably wouldn’t cause us to make big changes, either.
But our bill did come with a new motivation to conserve — we’re no longer exempt from rotating outages. Instead, we’re now proud members of Outage Block 7, so I guess we’ll get to do our part as the weather warms up.
I am at Charles de Gaulle Airport, waiting for them to call my flight for boarding. The Air France lounge offers free Internet access so I am updqting my page as best as I can zith this very unfamiliar keyboard arrangement. I walked around again this morning and took yet more pictures, but I will not be able to edit or upload them until I get home, which, if all goes well, will be in about 14 hours.
More then, perhaps…au revoir for now!
Last Tango…err, Walk…in Paris
This morning, I didn’t have to get up in time to make an 8am meeting;
instead, I only had to get to the airport in time for a 1:30pm flight.
So I slept a little later than I’d been able to, and still had time to
have breakfast away from
the hotel (and save some money — breakfast at my hotel
cost over $20…no wonder they had smoked salmon freely available!).
I wandered around for a few minutes, then randomly chose a bistro and
had a croissant, coffee, and juice. The only glass I had was the juice
glass, which was only half-full, but
they also brought me a big pitcher of water. I thought, perhaps, that
they’d put concentrate in the glass and were expecting me to mix it, but
when I tasted the juice, it didn’t seem particularly strong. I guess
that’s just going to be a mystery of French culture I won’t solve on
I didn’t have anything to read, and I was on a side street without much
pedestrian traffic, so there wasn’t much to look at out the window, so I
didn’t linger; I continued to wander around. And a few blocks later, I
finally found some real Paris — a neighborhood with bakeries,
greengrocers, and the like.
Up till this time, all I’d seen around my hotel was “tourist” Paris –
the big department stores, some stores (like one called Paris Look)
which explicitly catered to bus groups, and plenty of restaurants and
entertainments. On my previous trips, my hotels had been in more
residential areas, and so I’d been immersed in the real Paris; this
time, I felt isolated.
I celebrated by buying an orange from the closest greengrocer and eating
it while I continued walking, then had some pain au chocolat from
the next baker I saw. Both were excellent. I even visited another
bistro and had another expresso — while it was good, I have to admit
that I would have liked to have found an American-style coffee
shops and had a big cup of coffee.
And then I kept walking, and found myself at the edge of Montmartre,
not far from the tour I’d taken on Sunday morning. The economy must be
very good in Paris, because the restaurants all had signs like this:
and some of the prices seemed a bit high:
10 euros for a Coke…that’s over $9. One might almost think they
didn’t expect to sell much food and drink — but all of the restaurants
on that street had similar signs, so I guess they must make ends
meet somehow. The street was the Rue Pigalle, for what that’s worth.
Since I didn’t want anything that was on offer on Rue Pigalle, I walked
back to the
hotel, packed, and wheeled my luggage back to Rue Scribe to get the
bus to the airport. But as I left the hotel, the tread on one of the
wheels partially fell off; I was able to fix it,though, so I
didn’t have to drag my suitcase half a kilometer — and it didn’t even
start raining until I was at the bus shelter.
Then onto the bus to the airport and duty-free shop, then the Air France
lounge for my first
experience with an AZERTY keyboard, and onto the plane, where I’m typing
these words. Soon, I get to experience the new SFO
International terminal’s arrivals hall, see what precautions US Customs
about the foot and mouth epidemic (France seemed to go in for signs, but
nothing else — there was a sign at the terminal advising people to walk
on the specially-treated carpet, but as far as I could tell, there was
no specially-treated carpet anywhere), and be driven home, where I’ll
upload this entry.
Then all I’ll have to do is keep my eyes propped open until bedtime
tonight. And worse yet, open them and go to work tomorrow, where I
already have a few conference calls scheduled.
I’m ready for vacation…hmmm, Paris might be nice….
And now I’m home!
Boy, it’s nice to be back in familiar territory. Nobody else is here yet, but it won’t be long. I can’t wait!
Lunch was an interesting experience today; I had a hard time finding something I wanted to eat (not unusual when I’m eating at an IBM cafeteria, even at home!), but I thought I’d succeeded…until I cut into the meat and discovered that it was nearly raw on the inside. The only reason I’d gone to the cafeteria in the first place was to spend time with some of my colleagues, so I didn’t want to waste the little time we had by going back and trying to negotiate having the food cooked right.
But I may bail out at a break and visit a real restaurant. There isn’t really a shortage of them in Paris — or even at La Defense (which is a huge office supercomplex, much like Crystal City outside Washington, DC). I am looking forward to dinner — and even more to going home tomorrow.
I stuck with the meeting to the bitter end, then paid for it by being in the thick of rush hour on the RER — one of my co-workers couldn’t get to the door across the car in time to get off at his stop, which, to me, is a sign of a frighteningly overcrowded system, but it appears to be business as usual here.
Then I walked down to the Louvre, wandered over to the Seine, and walked along it till I approached the Marais, then back to L’As Du Falaffel for dinner (yummy, especially after lunch!). By that time, it was raining, so I took the Metro back to the hotel, and now it’s time to pack. And then to home. It’s time.
For the next couple of days, I’ll be spending my time at the IBM location in La Defense, two RER stops from my hotel but definitely not in tourist Paris. I’m at an IBM internal meeting; everyone here works for the CIO’s office or is an official representative from a business unit. Well, everyone but me; I introduced myself as a spy, since my group is not at the right level in the organization to be officially represented.
The good news is that I have connectivity here without having to watch the phone bill; the bad news is that I’m inside a windowless auditorium instead of outside enjoying Paris!
About 30 of us converged for dinner at
Sam Pepper, which claims to be a “New York Bistro”, and which has an interesting assortment of cuisines, including things like Pastrami Quesadillas. None of the beers on offer were French — or even European; they had three Mexican beers and Budweiser, so I had Bordeaux instead. And I ordered one of the set menus, which was all French and very tasty, especially the dessert: Fondant au Chocolate Amer. The neighborhood was very familiar — in fact, Sam Pepper is across the street from the laundromat which we used on our vacation in 1998, though we never considered eating there on that trip.
Of course I mean eating and walking. If I weren’t here by myself, there would be at least one other thing to add to the list, but I am, more’s the pity — c’est la vie.
Last night, after buttoning up the computer, I realized I was slightly hungry, so I left my hotel, turned left down the Boulevard Haussmann and continued on as it turned into Boulevard Montmartre, eventually deciding to turn around just before reaching Place de la République. I spotted a creperie and got a crepe with marmalade to go, then took the Metro back to the hotel. One of the things I really enjoy about Paris is being able to take a nice walk and have a nice snack at 11pm — or even later, if I only had the energy.
This morning dawned early, and only slightly wet. The Louvre and Musee de Orsay had been closed yesterday due to a strike, and no one knew if they’d be open today (the hotel called and got no answer, but they weren’t sure if it was because of the strike, the time change, or both). I didn’t want to waste my only full free day hoping to find an open museum, so I decided to see if I could make the Paris Walks tour of Montmartre that the Mercury News had so kindly written about last Sunday. The article had omitted small details, like the time of the tour, but they gave the phone number (+33 1 48 09 21 40). The person who answered the phone didn’t bother saying “bonjour” — their clientele speaks English, and so do they. As it happened, I had about a half-hour before the tour, so I dashed to the Metro and made it to the Abbesses stop with ten minutes to spare.
Our guide, Iris, came from the Bronx and had been in Paris for about three years, with no plans to leave. She took us on a two-hour walk through Montmartre, mostly up! Unfortunately, it was cold and raining the entire time (and I’d forgotten to bring my sweater), so I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I’d’ve liked to (those of you reading this page on a dial-up connection may be grateful).
We started by talking about the history of the district (even though there are churches in the area dating to the 12th Century, Montmartre wasn’t annexed to Paris until about 1860), then walked along Rue des Abbesses, where we stopped near the house where Van Gogh lived with his brother. I couldn’t get a picture of that house, but one of his neighbors was Toulouse Lautrec, who worked in a house about two blocks away (Lautrec’s house is the one behind the traffic light, with the “D”-shaped top window and the very large window beneath that):
We continued on our way towards Sacre-Coeur, with many stops along the way; at one, Iris told us the story behind this picture:
The statue, at Place Marcel Aymé, is based on a story by Marcel Aymé about a mild-mannered man who discovers that he can walk through walls. Eventually, he builds a life of crime on this talent, uses it to escape from prison, finds a lover whose husband locks her in a room with no windows every night (no problem for this guy!), but then loses his power while leaving her one night.
Our tour ended at Sacre-Coeur; most of the way, we’d been by ourselves, but here we returned to Tourist Paris, loaded with postcard vendors and overpriced restaurants. The view was good, but I bet it’s spectacular on a clear day.
The Mercury News article recommended spending the rest of the day wandering around Montmartre on your own, and even suggested a few cafés to try, but I was cold and wanted to go back to the hotel.
Once there, I grabbed my sweater and set out again; after a quick lunch (how un-Parisian of me!), I joined my second Paris Walks tour of the day, this one through the Marais.
The Marais is one of the oldest sections of Paris; the name means “swamp”, but it’s been drained for centuries. And it’s the heart of Paris’s Jewish community.
This is the Synagogue de Rue Pavee (this was the first paved street in the Marais, hence the name). It was built in 1913 to handle the influx of Polish Jews fleeing the pogroms; after World War II, the congregation was replentished with Sephardic Jews from the former French colonies in North Africa.
Hector Guimard was the architect; he is probably more famous for having been the man who designed many of the original Metro stations.
During World War II, the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews in the territory they controlled, and the Vichy government, which controlled Paris, cooperated in that attempt. This plaque is on the wall of the Ecole des Travail, in memory of the director, staff, and students of the school, all of whom were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed.
But, though the Nazis killed six million Jews, they failed to exterminate us, and there is now a large, vibrant Jewish community in Paris. Falafel and shwarma probably weren’t common before the war, but they are now, and seeing this shop gave me a pretty good idea of what I was going to have for dinner (though I wound up eating across the street at L’As du Fallafel).
There are Kosher (err…Cacher) restaurants representing many cuisines in the area; I saw sushi, pizza, and steak, to name but three. And, of course, there’s New York style deli; this restaurant, Jo Goldenberg’s, isn’t actually Kosher, but it’s noteworthy because it was the site of a bombing in the 1980s. You can see a memorial to the victims, including newspaper articles about the bombing, on the rightmost portion of the left-hand wall, just to the left of the center of the picture.
There’s more to the Marais than the Jewish community, and we continued onward to look at some of the old mansions which have survived (many have had their courtyards filled in and been converted to apartments, stores, and the like). The Hotel des Sorbes (I may have misspelled that) is now part of the National Archives; it was owned by one of Louis XIV’s official mistresses.
Only one statue of Louis XIV survived the French Revolution; it’s now in the Museum of the City of Paris.
Our tour ended at the Place de Vosges, a huge square dating back to Henri II (or before). I took pictures, but they don’t do it justice.
If you’re going to be in Paris, I highly recommend Paris Walks; they offer many more tours than the two I took, and I wish I could take some more on this trip.
After the tour, I visited some of the Judaica shops (I saw more Judaica in the Marais than I did on my trip to Israel last week; of course, I also spent more time touring this afternoon than I did during my entire trip to Israel) and picked up a Matzah platter (inscribed in Hebrew, of course) and had dinner. I tried to visit the Jewish Museum, but there were only 15 minutes before closing and they wouldn’t let me in, so I went back to my hotel.
Daylight Savings Time started here this morning, and it felt too early to give up and do e-mail, so I decided to do one traditional tourist thing and visit the Eiffel Tower.
The last time I was here, the front of the tower was adorned with a giant countdown to the year 2000; fortunately, that particular problem is behind us, and I was curious to see what the tower looked like without the timer, so I took the Metro to the Trocadero to take advantage of the view of the tower from across the Seine:
But some unsung genius, probably in the city government, decided that the Eiffel Tower wasn’t beautiful enough as it was. So they affixed a bunch of strobe lights which started flashing on and off in random patterns shortly before 8pm, like this:
No one asked me, but I don’t think the tower needed improving — and they didn’t succeed, either.
I didn’t come to Paris to play tourist; I’m here for two days of internal IBM meetings out at La Defense. I’d like to blow them off and tour some more, but I’d probably be found out (hi, boss!), but I hope to do a little sightseeing in the evenings after the meetings end. If I can stay awake, that is — we’re starting awfully early, and I have a feeling the room is going to be hot, stuffy, and full. At least it’ll be a non-smoking hot, stuffy, and full room.
Though I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well Parisians honor no-smoking signs. Why, I haven’t seen anyone smoking within nearly a foot of any of the signs I’ve seen!
And on that note, it’s time for bed…or maybe to go out for a snack. It’s only 11pm, so the evening’s still young!
When I was a kid, our elementary school library had a book of puzzles,
one of which is pictured above. The book claimed that if you look
quickly at the picture, you’ll read it as “Paris in the spring” — if
you did, take a closer look (and let me know that it worked!).
Well, it’s spring, and I’m in Paris — but the weather is not the stuff
of legend — or maybe it is, but not the kind of legend I like telling.
My flight to Charles de Gaulle airport left late and arrived late (like
almost every flight I take these days, now that I think of it), but was
basically pleasant — even though we were only in the air for 40
minutes, they managed to feed us our choice of sandwiches, unlike US
airlines, which have given up on food for flights of under 2 hours or
flights which don’t take off or land when they think people should be
hungry. The delay was due to weather, which should have made me think
– but it didn’t, so I decided to save the company some money and take
the RoissyBus into town (48 francs, about $7, instead of 250-300 francs
for a taxi); I knew my hotel was only a few hundred meters from the end
of the bus ride and I didn’t expect to have any trouble finding it.
And finding the hotel was easy, and it was only a ten-minute walk
– but by the time I got there, I was
drenched, because a weather system caught up with us, and it was pouring
down rain. I managed to register (it’s not easy when you can’t read the
form because your glasses are wet, and when you drip all over the form
when you try to sign it) and went up to the room to dry off. A few
minutes later, I felt far better, and the rain had stopped, so I went
out to look around and have a bite of lunch (the sandwich on the plane
wasn’t very filling, but it was better than peanuts). I also splurged
and spent 35 francs ($5) on an umbrella, since the day was rather
It was late enough in the day by this point that I didn’t think it was
worth going to any museums, but I definitely wanted to be out rather
than spending the afternoon in my hotel room, so I decided to do a favor
for a friend and
take a picture of the hotel he’ll be staying at in June, the Hotel de
Trois Colleges near the Pantheon. Actually, I took six pictures, but I
won’t post any of them here — but I did take a picture of the Pantheon
as long as I was in the neighborhood.
Ever since my first trip to Paris, a few years ago, I’ve liked wandering
around the city — it’s just a wonderful city to walk through.
Everywhere you turn, there’s another typically Parisian scene, like this
one on the Rue Lagrange (in the 6th, just a few blocks from Notre Dame).
By this time, it was drizzling again — which seems to have been very
typical this year. The Seine is very wide and high (not to mention
brown and fast-flowing); it’s so full, in fact, that there’s no sidewalk
by the sightseeing boats.
And at other places, you can see that the river has taken out the paths
which are normally a pleasant place to walk.
Buildings near the river’s edge are in trouble, too.
I wanted to visit the Musee de la Deportation, which commemorates the
Jews (and others) who were sent from France to concentration camps,
mostly to be killed by the Nazis. The museum is just across the street
Notre Dame, descending from street level down to river level, but the flooding meant that it was off
By this time, I was just across from Ile St. Louis, which houses one of
the best ice cream makers in the world, Bertillion; I wanted to eat
before having my ice cream, so I set off in search of a restaurant (not
a difficult task in Paris!). I intended to follow Tim Bray’s rule –
find a busy restaurant on a busy corner and the odds are with you — but
I didn’t see anything I wanted to eat at the first few places, so I kept
walking. And then the rain started. My umbrella kept me dry, or so I
thought — but then the wind blew my pants up against my legs and I
realized that I was soaked from the knees down. So I dashed into the
next restaurant I saw and got the last table in the place.
The food was good, and they happened to sell Bertillion ice cream
sorbet, so I was happy and well-filled by the time the rain
diminished enough to leave. I walked to the nearest Metro station and
hopped a train towards my hotel. But I got off a stop too early and
wandered around some more, first through Galleries Lafayette (entering
that store 15 minutes before closing is a frustrating experience, but I
guess it saved me money!), and then somewhat randomly around the area.
In the process, I found an area with many kosher restaurants, but, of
course, they were closed because it was still Shabbat. After a while,
though, I decided I was ready to go back to the hotel and take off my
wet clothes, so I took out my GPS and discovered that it’s very hard to
see view of enough of the sky in Paris to get a position — but
eventually, I figured out what direction I had to go in to find my
hotel, and here I am.
I haven’t had the courage to check the weather forecast for tomorrow.
Whatever it is, I’ll be out in it!
On Thursday, I wrote about how Israelis didn’t
seem to be letting the “situation” affect their lives too much and
wondered how that reaction compared to what foot-and-mouth was doing to
the English. I’d have to say that foot-and-mouth is having a much more
significant effect — for example, the road into IBM had straw on it –
straw with antibiotics, to kill any germs that might be on tires on cars
driving in and out of the property (IBM Hursley is in a rural area).
And there was a scare a week ago, where it looked as though
foot-and-mouth had been detected nearby; if that had happened, no one
would have been allowed in or out of the area, and IBM Hursley might
have had to close down for a while.
There were also ads in the newspaper and on the radio telling people
that the countryside was not completely closed for visiting, and giving
a phone number to call for details — but many activities have been
At the airport, every shop selling food had a sign informing customers
that it was now illegal to take milk, meat, milk products, or meat
products out of the country (even to eat on one’s flight), and that some
countries (including the US) were banning the import of British milk
In France, there were a few signs asking people who’d been on a farm to
report to Customs to have their shoes disinfected and to stay off of
farms in France, but there wasn’t any strong effort made to check, or
even to make sure that incoming passengers read the signs — certainly,
the person who glanced at my passport didn’t say anything to me
(literally! Nor did he stamp my passport, but that’s fine; I already
have a French stamp and I’m running out of room anyway), and I doubt I
was alone in being ignored.
But when I looked at the 8pm French news, I could tell that
foot-and-mouth was the lead story here, too. I just couldn’t tell if
they were talking about the outbreak in England or cases on the
Today, I had to visit IBM Hursley to meet the conference director and
my co-chair for the
2001 WebAhead conference
(8-12 October in Hursley — IBMers only, sorry) and do some serious
preliminary planning; phone calls and e-mail are wonderful tools, but
somnetimes there’s no substitute for being in the same room, looking at
the same whiteboard, and being able to interrupt in real time.
Chris and Simon had Real Work to do in the morning (or at least other
meetings to attend), and I could be productive using the high-speed
connection at the hotel, so we agreed that I’d plan to arrive in Hursley
about noon, just in time for lunch. I left just before 11, and if I hadn’t
turned the wrong way when I left the motorway, I would have been early
– as it was, I could still claim to be “on time” by airline reporting
The Hursley cafeteria is not terribly outstanding, so we gave it a miss
and had lunch at a local pub (The Kings Head, which the 2001 Good Pub
Guide rates as a “Lucky Dip”). Since I’m an American, I contented
myself with a half-pint to accompany my food; Chris and Simon upheld the
national honour with a pint each.
Then we went back to the lab, had a quick meeting with the Assistant Lab
Director and an even quicker one with the new Lab Director, and spent a
long afternoon making plans and drawing up schedules and rough agendas.
At the end of the day, we had made great progress; I guess having done
this conference three times already helps.
Then I got back onto the motorway to go back to the hotel, zipping right
along. Until I got just past Junction 4, where traffic stopped.
Completely. With no hope of escape. Every so often, I’d be able to
creep ahead a few feet — and since I was driving a stick, that meant
having to clutch and shift, then go back to neutral to wait again. And
the car had a stiff clutch, too.
Radio traffic reports said that things weren’t going to get any better
in the six or so miles before I reached the M25. Luckily, just before I
left the hotel, I remembered I had brought a UK Road Atlas with me, and
I went back to the room to get it, “just in case.” So I figured out
an alternate route, eased over to the left lane (British drivers are
far more cooperative than Israelis!), and, a mere twenty minutes
and one mile later, I was off the motorway.
From there, it was relatively clear sailing, and I pulled in to the
Hertz lot only an hour-and-a-half later than I should have (not so
good for a one hour trip). In theory, I should have taken the Hertz bus
to the terminal and then caught a Hotel Hoppa back to my hotel, but I
was in a hurry, so I persuaded the Hertz driver to drop
me at the exit from Heathrow to the A4 (Bath Road) and I walked the 0.8
miles back to the hotel.
Boy, is this place expensive!
The Marriott is a nice enough hotel, and their base rate isn’t
insane (at least not at the IBM rate), but the incidentals here can kill
you. My rate doesn’t include breakfast, but the hotel’s happy to supply
the continental breakfast buffet for 12 pounds (plus tax and tip).
Internet access is 12 pounds a night (again, plus tax) — that’s about
double the going rate in the US (or Israel, for that matter), but it’s
far cheaper than trying to connect by phone (about a buck a minute!).
And laundry is obscenely expensive — it shouldn’t cost more to wash
something than it cost to buy it!
Passing bad currency
The UK has this nasty habit of taking coins and bills out of circulation
from time to time. When they do this, you have to bring your old money
bank to exchange it for the new model — and that can be a real pain for
an occasional visitor like me.
And apparently they’ve just taken some old 20-pound notes out of
circulation — including the one I still had from last October. I tried
to visit the bank branch at IBM to exchange it, but I was too late;
fortunately, the cashier at Tesco’s was either nice or not too observant
and accepted my bill. I’m sure Tesco’s will be able to exchange it for
new money with no problem, too.
Tomorrow, it’s off to Paris. I intend to be sure not to bring any
francs home with me, because I know they’ll be no good before my
Last night, I was up fairly late doing work (I wanted to take advantage
of the overlap with the US business day), but finally was ready to go to
bed just after midnight. I had had the TV on for background noise, and
was flipping through the channels aimlessly before turning it off, but
the program on Channel One caught my eye and I took my finger off the
What they were showing on screen was a passage from the Torah (probably
from this week’s parasha, though I couldn’t tell), with a yod
pointing to the words as they were being read, almost as if it were
being done during services (almost — there were illustrations on the
scroll, which is not the case with a real Torah).
After that, they went to a still shot of the words (in Hebrew,
of course) “Lilah Tov
m’Yerushaleim” (Good Night from Jerusalem), and I realized that they
were about to sign off for the night. I was ready to turn off the
set, but before I could, the screen changed again, showing
an Israeli flag waving, with the Israeli National
Hatikvah, playing, and the words scrolling up the screen.
Much to my surprise, I found myself singing along, with
tears forming in my eyes — and that’s something that never happens when
The Star-Spangled Banner.
I’d had much the same reaction two years ago when our tour group stopped
at Herzl’s grave and we sang Hatikvah together (it was the first time
I’d sung it since finishing Hebrew school, many years ago — they made
us sing it there during every
class, and once I learned to sing it well enough to get by, it bored
I thought it was largely due to the intense environment — we’d just
come from Yad Vashem
(the Holocaust Museum), and we’d spent a couple of
Israel in a very Jewish environment, so I was clearly primed to react,
and I thought no more about it.
But this time, it was just me, alone in my room on a business trip –
hell, I’d just turned off my laptop after dealing with
a day’s worth of e-mail, so I definitely shouldn’t have been affected.
But I was. Somehow, without noticing it, I’d turned into an ardent
Zionist, and I felt truly at home, involved, and committed. Not
committed to the extent that I have any plans to make aliyah
(Diane will probably be relieved to know that!), but I certainly
than casually invested in what goes on in Israel, and I’m very
spending more time in Israel and visiting more frequently than I’ve done
in the past — and that doesn’t just mean arranging more short
business trips like this one (though I do think IBM has gotten
significant value on my trips so far).
Watching TV can be dangerous.
Thinking about safety
When I originally planned this trip, it had three purposes. First, I
was going to speak at the official opening of the Israel Office of the
World-Wide Web Consortium. Second, I needed to meet with the team in
Hursley, England, who will be hosting our internal WebAhead
conference this fall (I’m the co-founder and permanent co-chair, but all
the hard work gets done by the folks in Hursley — I just fly in, talk a
lot, and visit pubs in the evening (that’s why we picked England for the
conference in the first place: the beer is better there than at home)).
And the third reason was to attend an internal meeting in Paris,
where the people in the CIO’s office will be planning how IBM’s
computing environment will evolve over the next year or so (my role
there is simple; I’m a spy). Because the dates of the events in Paris
and Israel were set by others, I found myself with a few spare days, and
I decided to spend two of them at IBM Haifa and the weekend between
events playing tourist in Paris.
Two weeks before I was to leave, terrorists set off a bomb in
Netanya (between Haifa and Tel Aviv, on the coast, well inside the
original boundaries of the State of Israel). And the W3C folks thought
it might be better to postpone the grand opening for a few months. And
I nearly cancelled my trip — or at least the Israel part of it — but
after talking with my hosts in Haifa, I decided that they’d put together
an interesting agenda, and that I wanted to come if it was at all
So I kept a close eye on the news (mostly the
Jerusalem Post, but also other
Israeli English-language Web pages and the BBC). And I kept talking
with people who were well-connected to Israel, like the Rabbi and her
husband (who’s a physicist and makes frequent visits to his colleagues
in Israel). And made sure my manager was still willing to send me.
And, of course, I stayed in
touch with my hosts in Haifa — I was using instant messaging with them
right up until the car service came to pick me up at home last Sunday.
Everyone said that I should be OK, and Diane didn’t seem too worried, so
off I went…nervously.
Then I landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, and I noticed that all of the
Israelis I talked with were proceeding with life as usual. Sure, there
were incidents reported in the paper and on the news — and the
“situation” (as everyone calls it) was always the lead story — but
for the most part, it seemed to have much less effect on the people I
was with than the energy situation in California has had on my family
(and so far, we haven’t been hit with a blackout). People were
shopping, taking buses, going to work, planning vacations…business as
usual. And pretty soon, the situation receeded in my mind, too.
I don’t want to make light of the danger — it’s quite real, and
eventually, the Israelis and Palestinians have to figure out how to live
in close proximity. They may never be
friends, but they either have to figure out how to live together or plan
to continue dying together.
But while I was there, I didn’t feel that terrorists were a significant
danger. Israeli drivers, on the other hand, scared me every time I went
outside — and especially when I was on the road (this trip, I chose not
to rent a car, so I didn’t even have the illusion of control). The
most popular bumper sticker in Israel isn’t political — it’s a small
sticker on the back of about half the cars which reads “Sh’mor
Mirchak” (keep your distance). It doesn’t work, of course — and there
are far more deaths in Israel from traffic accidents than from
At the airport today, I had to go through Israeli security. I arrived
in plenty of time, and even had a letter from IBM Haifa confirming that
I’d been specifically invited to meet visit them so that I could show it
to the agent. Clearing security only took about five minutes, including
opening my bags to verify that everything in there was mine (I had left
them in a semi-public area today, so I couldn’t say that they’d been
under my control the whole time), and I didn’t even have to use my
letter. I suspect having other Israeli stamps in my passport helps;
flying Business Class probably didn’t make the quiz any less thorough
(I wish I knew why they asked whether I have any family in Israel),
but it did mean I didn’t have to wait in a very long line for my turn.
And now I’m on my way to England, where foot-and-mouth disease is the
big story, and supposedly the entire country is depressed by it. I
wonder if that’s exaggerated, too.
Five minutes to play tourist
One advantage of clearing security so quickly was not having to
rush to make the plane; instead, I walked back outside to enjoy the good
weather for a few minutes. I even had time enough to cross the street
and look at the Dali Menorah outside Arrivals:
While I was taking my pictures, some other Americans walked up,
and we started talking — they were just arriving to start a ten-day
tour (since they were planning to spend time in Tiberias and mentioned
the Sea of Galilee as a special place, I doubt they were with their
synagogue) and were worried about terrorism. I told them that I’d felt
safe on that score while I was there — but to watch out for the
drivers. Perhaps I would have been more effective at setting their
minds at ease without making that last remark!
And here I am at the lovely Heathrow Marriott
I upheld my tradition of getting lost on my way here, but this time I
recovered within only a couple of minutes (I think the Hertz person gave
me bad directions) and had hardly any trouble thereafter. I may have to
switch to automatic cars, though; I’m way out of practice on
shifting and clutching.
Tomorrow, it’s off to Hursley. But for now, time to face a day’s worth
of e-mail. Oh, boy!
I still haven’t had any time to do any real sight-seeing (and probably won’t; I thought tomorrow would be more or less free, but I now have meetings until the time I have to leave for the airport. *sigh*), but I did manage to take a couple of pictures.
The area I’m in is fairly near the harbor, and there are quite a few bars around — some of them have signs saying “US Navy Pub”, and my colleagues here advised avoiding them! I don’t actually have any problems avoiding bars in general (British pubs are an exception), so that was no hardship, but I did find the name of one bar here slightly interesting:
Other than the businesses which cater to sailors (there’s even a USO here), this is not a particularly touristy area; most of the shops have signs in Hebrew only. Last night, I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant — unfortunately, it wasn’t a Kosher Chinese restaurant (I know they exist, but I haven’t found one yet). But the chicken was just fine anyway.
The view from my room is very nice, including the Bahai headquarters:
I’ve just been told that they will be having a grand opening on May 22nd to show off the gardens, but I think I’ll have to miss it.
Last night was not a good one from the jet lag standpoint; I woke up at 4:15am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So if my writing appears incoherent, there’s a good reason! More later, perhaps….
Mongolian Barbecue is Different Here
After a very full day at IBM, two of my colleagues and I went to dinner
at the Mongolia restaurant, about five minutes from my hotel. At home,
Diane Reese introduced us
Mongolian BBQ, and now we go there several times a month. We like
it because it’s fresh, fast, fun, and cheap — although the choices are
somewhat limited (four meats, six vegetables, and a dozen sauces), that
still gives more combinations than I’ll ever have a chance to try. And
so, I had a mental model of what to expect at a Mongolian Barbecue
My model got jolted as soon as I saw the interior of the restaurant.
Su’s is very plain — they’ve taken a huge step lately by putting up a
few science-fictiony paintings; before that, the most interesting thing
on their walls was the poster with the minimum wage notice. Mongolia
is definitely not plain — it looked like a typical “yuppie”
restaurant, with nice wrought iron on the walls, nice chairs, and lots
We sat down, and I got my next surprise — like Su’s, you pay one price
for all you can eat, but unlike Su’s, it’s not all self-service.
First, they brought out an assortment of fancy appetizers including
ostrich liver and chicken sate, and even more surprisingly, bread
(something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Chinese restaurant in the
US). Everything was tasty (though I chose to skip the ostrich liver –
I’ve never met a liver I liked yet), and then we were ready to go cook.
Again, Mongolia far outdid Su’s — instead of four meats and six
vegetables, there were a dozen of each, and many, many sauces (plus
fresh herbs). Fortunately, everything was labelled in English as well
as in Hebrew, but there were still things I couldn’t recognize (what
kind of herb is “aspodhel”?). But I didn’t need to try everything –
nor did I want to — I just wanted a tasty meal, and I was pretty sure I
could manage to create one.
At a Mongolian barbecue, you control what goes into your food (though
trained professionals actually cook it), and so selection is critical.
Just like Su’s, Mongolia provided some suggested recipes; unlike Su’s,
they were printed in Hebrew. And the font was quite different — at
home, I often see posters in English printed in a Hebrew-looking font;
here, they printed Hebrew in a Chinese-looking font (I wish I had
brought my camera!), not exactly designed for the non-native.
I could have asked my colleagues to help me follow the printed
suggestions (in fact, they offered to do so), but what fun would that
Instead, I decided to adlib. I stuck with what I
knew for the first bowl (chicken as the meat, and spices and sauces
which seemed familiar), and I quite enjoyed it (though I probably went a
little heavy on the peanut sauce). I experimented more on the second
bowl (turkey as the meat), and it wasn’t as successful — the sauce I
concocted went better with the vegetables than with the meat, so I was a
good boy and just ate my vegetables.
And then it was time to pay the bill, and I discovered the last big
difference between Mongolia and Su’s. Su’s is inexpensive: $8 for all
you can stand (if you’re a big eater, it can be quite a bargain). But
in Israel, Chinese food is one of the fancier options, and Mongolia was
no exception; my share of the bill came to a bit over 100 shekels (about
$25), the most expensive meal I’d had in Haifa. But it was a nice
change of pace, and I enjoyed the company at dinner (and I think they
liked the food, too, though they did stick pretty closely to the
I wonder if I can find a decent Mongolian barbecue restaurant in Paris
Shalom from Haifa!
I’ve had a full day at IBM, and a friend is about to arrive to take me back to the hotel, so I won’t have time to write much — and connecting up from the hotel has been problematical so far, so I make no promises about later on.
Besides, if you want to know the truth, I’d rather be out in the city than sitting in my hotel room writing about it.
By the way, the three movies I watched on the flight from New York to Tel Aviv were Best in Show, which I really enjoyed and wouldn’t mind seeing again; Charlie’s Angels, which was better than I expected, but rather mindless (actually, that’s a good combination for a movie one’s going to watch on a long transatlantic flight!); and Almost Famous, which I’m afraid I had a hard time concentrating on, since I was watching it during the last two hours before arrival, and I’m sure that most of my brain cells weren’t active by then. I’d like to see it while I’m awake sometime.