Monday, June 30, 2003

All my food/cooking problems solved: from now on I will just stare at the sun.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

The Gypsy Kings (sort of)

The Gypsy Kings blew in to Ber Sheva yesterday. Ber Sheva. The GYPSY KINGS, for crying out loud. The latin american community in Sede Boqer as well as Ber Sheva was abuzz with excitement. I have been listening to their music ever since I left high school, but not too much of late because it doesn't take too many listenings before the songs become engraved in the head. So we went there and the ticket was fairly expensive by Israeli concert standards, but hey it was the Gypsy Kings, what did I care, and besides we had already made the 40 km trip to the big city. Then I saw that the ticket read 'Tony Arenas from the Gypsy Kings'.

Well, ...okay, maybe its one of the nephews or cousins of the Gypsy kings who's taken off on his own but still plays GK music or something. You see where this is leading to, don't you...Anyway the Show was great, absolutely fantastic despite the lackluster opening act by the Salsa Groove (they pronounced it as Grove), even though they had a girl dressed in mirrors (well, that's how she looked ). Salsa Groove sang songs that I didn't know; so it was okay, but when they did play a song I knew, I realised how they were mangling the songs. Some sins: a salsa song in hebrew, and including a line about israel and palestine in Guantanamera(warning: MP3 link)!!!! My first spanish concert, and the guitars sounded and echoed all around the quasi parking lot turned concert hall. Of course all the audience wanted was the original Gypsy Kings stuff, and the difference in response between the old songs and the new songs was remarkable. Tony Arenas sang most of the new numbers but let one of the others do duty for the old songs. It was fun. When the concert ended the local salsa club organised a DJ to play contemperory salsa/latino dance music and the in-crowd started their bizarre manoueveres, which essentially looks like all of them have been taken over, you know ...inside.. and they perform the same steps in robotic or zombie fashion, it was amazing and fascinating to watch them. We left sometime then, a long taxi ride into the negev night. And today when I'm writing the post, I realise that "tony arenas" doesn't exist on the internet. Which only means that...he doesn't exist.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

spiders still missing

from our special correspondent
The spiders in the Arava valley are still missing. The event was first noticed in this post and their disappearance has been a mystery to many respected scientists (me). These scientists have suggested that the spiders have gone on vacation to escape the heat of the Arava, but these theories cannot be confirmed. A Spokespider which remained was strangely noncommital to our impassioned queries. Where have they gone? when will they be back? How many will return? A curt "no comments" was all we heard. But there are signs that the population is on the mend. In another spider neighbourhood (called Acacia TREE), several individuals remained. When asked why they hadn't left, they replied," This is our home. If we leave here, where can we go?" Well, thats the million dollar question, because as we all know, the desert is a dangerous place especially for unarmed spiders (legs don't count) and to leave is to risk death. Certain neutral observers (me, again-sorry) have suggested that the presence of these few individuals will be the genesis of whole new spider community with strong emphasis on family values and attachment to place, but it remains to be seen whether it will be true. Meanwhile the disappearance of the spiders has had untold repercussions on several important scientific projects (mine). Scientists are debating whether or not to ask the Spokespider, and the Chairspider of the Arava Spider Community Web for compensation, either monetarily or by allowing the import of Foreign Spiders but the issue remains unsolved. Watch this space for updates.

Photo: A Colony of Cyrtophora citricola, on an Acacia tree, before the great disappearance.

Bharatheeya Blog Mela

Vanity check: The 18th blogmela, whch included an entry from me, is at Yazad's place this week. Plus: my first real 'referrer': thanks nancy.

MC Escher

Since i seem to be on a panaroma roll, here's a very nice applet featuring Escher's Metamorphosis (2) (via incoming signals)

Friday, June 27, 2003

Crazy Mt Shasta connections

My aunt Devika who lives in Madras, sent me an email saying that "the Ayyappa of Sabari
Malai mountain is called Shastha". I thought it was just one of those crazy coincidences that crop up from time to time, but couldn't resist checking it out. I found two things. First, Ayyapa (a god of south India also known as Karthikeyan) is definitely called shashta, and also some scholars claim that the Ayappa is a buddhist deity incorporated into hinduism (don't know how much of this is verified though). Second, there is a temple now established on Mt Shasta (the US one i mean), dedicated to Ayyappa!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Dead Sea - Red Sea Canal

The Israel and Jordan governments are planning to link up the Dead sea to the Red sea. The main reason for this is because the dead sea is dying- water levels have dropped as much as 8 m below average levels. Also the two governments plan to desalinate water as well as use the pressure difference (the dead sea is also the lowest point on earth) to generate electricity (click here for a detailed description of the plan). The dead sea is itself an anomaly, and whenever i drive to the Arava Valley, i see traces of its presence everywhere. The surrounding area has such a bizarre landscape that it seems to belong only at the bottom of some water body. The Israeli Govt had a plan to connect the dead sea to the Meditteranean but the plan was dropped. I am most worried about the ecological impact. The salinity of the dead sea will decrease and there is no saying how it will affect the surrounding region. Maybe floating in the Dead Sea will be a thing of the past. Apart from that the canal will also probably affect the entire Arava valley unless they use pipelines. I am usually a bit apprehensive when people try to play with huge water bodies. In India currently there is a plan to link the Ganges in the north to the Kaveri in the south, but this is such a complicated project that the plan is revived for political reasons in times of drought . I hope they don't succeed in implementing this, linking rivers seems to be foolhardy at best and in the flood prone northern plains, it is just asking for trouble. Also in Russia , there seems to be revival in the plan to turn the Ob river from its bed and send the water towards the asian republics. Again a plan that thrives on political considerations. Left to me, i would suggest modelling the entire scenario for say a hundred thousand years and then asses the plan. By which time, hopefully the leadership would have changed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Why go to Israel, when you can have the Holy Land Experience instead?

a spider's web

Spiders have always fascinated me, but more than the critters themselves, its the webs that fire my imagination. People generally associate spider webs with orb webs (or cart wheel webs) or cobwebs, but there are hundreds of different kinds of webs. Each built with a single aim: catch prey. But building the web is also a tricky affair for the spider and Samuel Zschokke has documented the entire web building process with a video camera and made this gallery. The coloured strands are not webs, but the path the spider took to build the web. He describes the technique he used here but i think this page gives a fairly similar (and a bit technical) version of the the whole process.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Mount Shasta

I was idly looking at some of the wall decorations in Phoenix's room, and noticed that she had several pictures of a mountain. I asked her about it and she said it was of Mount Shasta, a 14000 ft high mountain near her home town in California. The mountain looked fairly impressive and i was immediately reminded of a recurring image that used to inhabit my skull from time to time. I had this vision of a mountain, high enough to poke its triangular head through the clouds, and i used to always imagine it from the air. Phoenix also told me that the mountain itself was considered quite spiritual and associated with local folklore, and i could readily believe it. Coming from a country where every distinctive peak is sacred to some god or the other, it didn't take me a huge amount of imagination to relate to this concept.

Mt. Shasta is also the site of a major gathering that happens once a year, in August, called the Harmonius Convergence. Based on a book by Jose Arguelles, published early 1987 called "The Mayan Factor", the gathering has apparently turned quite a bit commercial, but the idea is quite appealing. The mountain has also served as inspiration to all sorts of artistic activities ranging from poetry to the fine arts. Links to these as well as a complete record of anything anyone has done with respect to the mountain can be found here. The paintings by Frederick Ferdinand Schafer are very cool, and i think approximate the semi-mystical feel of the mountain. Of course, having never been there, i have no way to tell, and i can only rely on this web cam (refreshed every 20 mins) or this panaromic view (I really like these) to get an idea of the many faces of the mountain. This site has a brilliant collection of Mt Shasta photographs.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

love letters

Ever miss getting some old fashioned love letters? You know on paper and with ink. With postage stamps. Considering the rampant spread of e-mail, the chances of actually receiving a real flesh and blood letter are so slim as to be laughable. But never fear, the internet solves all problems. Since the next best thing to a real love letter is a scanned one, here is a site that has exactly that: scanned love letters. 300 of them! (via iconomy)

Friday, June 20, 2003

the indian Jews

I first heard about Indian Jews in Israel from an Australian post-doc who used to work here in Sede Boqer. He was a total cricket fanatic- he even played at the Israeli National level. He mentioned one day that the towns of Beer Sheva, Dimona and Yerucham are home to many jews from india who emigrated in 1947 and later in 1962 and that they play cricket regularly. When i visited these towns, i could see signs that there were indians around (such as a national flag or the inevitable spice shop), but since i was just passing through i never really met anyone. And then one day, some movie makers decided to make a film about cricket in the 50's and the competition between indians and moroccan immigrrants in dimona. Of course, they decided to shoot it in Sede Boqer (which is as un-Dimona like as possible, but has a great view fora backdrop), which provided instant entertainment for all us poor desert dwellers. Some students even got roles as extras in the film. They constructed huge sets (which looked better than some of the places we live in :)) and since it was about indians and cricket, they got a whole variety of people from Dimona etc, along with ancient cars and trucks. I don't remember the name of the movie but it was rumoured to be one of Israel's bigger productions. I met some of the cricket players and they actually invited me over to a game but something came up and i never pursued it.

But the story of the Indian Jews is not entirely a happy one. They were sufficiently persecuted in India, but mostly by the invading colonial countries. And then the israeli govt refused to accept their Jewishness for a very long time. Long time fears are even now surfacing once again, with DNA testing becoming more commonly used to detect Jewishness. There was an article i read about the decline in Jewish population in India, especially in Cochin, after the migrations to Israel. The Synagogue there is said to be one of the finest, but now is hardly being used, except on holidays and sabbath.

But there seems to be sufficient clues to indicate that Judaism is alive and well, nevertheless. Which sounds good to me. India has this long standing image of being tolerant, despite major hiccups, and i hope that India can be considered as a "safe place" by Jews. By israelis anyway, every fourth person i meet seems to have been to India.

secret passages? in this day and age?

An account of a burglary that's dying to be made into a book, oh wait it already has been. The moral of the story being: no matter how dark the passages are, there's nothing like the glare of modern technology to clear a few things up. (via MeFi)

Thursday, June 19, 2003

farming and jews

It's funny, reading this article sitting in the heart of Jewish territory, right next to a kibbutz and seeing an explanation for why Jews don't farm. But the author claims that Israel is pretty much an exception, because:
"Even in the modern state of Israel, where agriculture has been an important component of the economy, it's been a peculiarly capital-intensive form of agriculture, one that employed well under a quarter of the population at the height of the Kibbutz movement, and less than 3 percent of the population today"
Interesting read.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

airports for dummies

I have a serious problem with airports. A typical airport consists of so many obstacles intermixed with hours of sheer boredom thats it turns out to be such a relief to get onto the plane and get the hell away from the earth and its clinging inhabitants. I have nothing against the flying itself, because it has always been a dream of mine to see the earth from the sky. But airports! I rant because when I was returning from india, I got stuck in Jordan for around a day and then further stuck in Rehovot, in the north of israel, due to religious reasons. But this was entirely avoidable. It's just that i was a relative newcomer to airports and i didn't know all the rules of the game, especially in the post 9-11 era. I met Claudia in Rehovot and when I was busy telling her my trials and tribulations, she had just arrived from Colombia with even more horrific tales. She had had to spend a whole day in the airport in Paris (24 hrs, no less). This was entirely unavoidable, but one of the delays was caused by the fact that Israel required that she have a return ticket, and they refused to let her board her flight. These kind of problems can easily be handled if there was a detailed guide to these airports. So I suggest to any smart marketing type out there: the world needs a "airports for dummies" series.
Think of the advantages: you can have a special section for the quirks and oddities of each major airport, a lite edition with only major airports and maybe a special edition with local airports as well.
I can easily think of several suggestions:
1. How to go to the only section of the airport where they have long chairs for sleeping in.
2. How to avoid paying rip off prices in airports.(will somebody explain why the prices shift so dramatically?)
3. How to find safe places for smoking. Its very demeaning that while in Amman airport, the enitre airport is a non smoking zone, but nobody cares anyway, and in Mumbai, one has to hide in the men's room to avoid being persecuted by an overzealous and overawake cop. In Tel-aviv, they have this micro cubicle in the middle of the airport which is filled with smoke so thick, it looks like smog. Smokers, like everyone else, don't want to breathe in second hand smoke. Their own smoke is fine, but why others'?
4. How to anticipate every twist in the passport steeplechase, which of course depends on airport to airport.
5. How to deal with security problems- like Dont wear any metal!!!
6. Always carry a jacket, because, especially in the mideast, status of the transportation vehicle is inversely proportional to the coldness of the AC. Even the squib of an airport bus is infinitely colder than the plane itself.

So this 'airports for dummies' can have a special section devoted to travellers tales that should convince anybody that planes and their ilk are just elaborate torture devices, that humans like to inflict upon themselves. I think that such a book will become as indispensible as lonely planet guide books.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

the matrix: reloaded

I finally saw the Matrix : Reloaded and loved it. Of course i'm biased because i've been waiting for this movie for 4 years and had seen all the trailers and the Animatrix series. I won't give a detailed review here, in case people haven't seen it yet, and i will restrain myself to some vague impressions. The fight scenes are a bit overdone, but excellently choreographed nevertheless, and the heavy duty special effect scenes turned out to be just that-heavy duty. However, the difference between the two movies is very striking. In the first movie you went in cold, having no idea what might happen, and here, you've seen the special effects (some) copied in so many films that it takes the edge off. And also the introduction of half a dozen major characters made me wonder what their role was and who they really were, and considering that the movie moves so fast, this is not a trivial problem. The main explanatory speech was also almost too fast and it was only because of my long years of training (by watching MTV) i could follow the argument.
(following the links below can lead you to spoiler zone, careful)
I was waiting for the famous hacking scene, apparently the only such scene in modern SF that doesn't use stupid 3D GUI. And it was all of 15 seconds or less. Even though I had seen screenshots before, it was too fast to follow. Well. Guess i will have to see it again. But the real fun was when i got back and started reading all those reviews that i had been avoiding, in order to be spoiler free. There were so many takes on the movie that it was amazing. Anybody who thinks that its just a movie with guns, kung-fu and computers should take a look at all the discussion the movie has generated. One of the strangest interpretations was the Jewish one. This guy tried to identify Jewish elements in the Matrix, and come to think of it, in the theater, when i was watching the Major speech by Morpheus in Zion, i found the words singularly akin to the Israeli viewpoint. No wonder then that the egyptians have banned the movie for "promoting zionism". I don't think i should say anymore, except that there's an ultra cool twist in the end.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

those Nabateans

Here in the desert, in the south of Israel, it seems like you can't move a mile without hitting some ancient Nabatean ruin. The Negev is pockmarked with cisterns that still function during the rains, and occasionally you can see caves hidden away in the wadi walls. I've visited almost every Nabatean settlement in the Negev, thanks to a course i took with the desert school called "Desert Settlements through time and space". The really interesting things about the Nabateans were their agricultural system which consisted mainly of runoff farming and their ability to build houses out of stone. And also the mystery of the lime covering in the cisterns and tanks. Lime need to be heated to an extraordinary degree in order to function as a waterproofing agent and in the negev, there is just not enough wood to provide the heat. The jury is still out on this issue, but i personally think that there was a lot more vegetation in those times.
ok. i have to confess. i wrote all of the above just because i stumbled onto a great link to Petra, the Crown City of the Nabateans(needs QuickTime Plugin), in Jordan. Sadly, its other claim to fame nowadays is the fact that Petra formed the setting for the movie 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. But it is nevertheless an archetypal lost city. More about the Nabateans can be found here and this site talks about their presence in israel.

Monday, June 09, 2003

My sister's wedding

I originally thought I would write a detailed account of all the millions of tiny ceremonies that went into the making of my sister’s wedding, but it proved to be impossible. Mostly because we were organizing the wedding ourselves and this meant that I was at the beck and call of anybody who wanted anything. I even had to struggle to see the wedding itself, but I managed somehow. So I will just briefly describe the events, knowing full well, that I cannot even come close to capturing the feeling of a traditional kannadiga wedding or even the meaning of the various ceremonies and events. The photographs are on a website somewhere, so I will link to them as soon as I find out exactly where.

My sister-Vibha, married Kapil, a chemical engineer who’s originally from Pungnoor in Andhra Pradesh. Kapil studied in Bangalore perhaps all his life, i don't know, he's always been here:).

The first phase was the two ceremonies for the bride (deverasamaradne) and groom (vara pooje) that were attended only by the immediate families. This took more or less an entire day. The next day we had the actual wedding which went on from around 7 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. Since we had decided to not have a reception in the evening, all the guests were forced to turn up at the wedding itself and there was a huge crowd. We estimated that approximately 1000 people showed up. It was quite a sight, and a bit strange because I knew only about half of them. The next day, Kapil’s parents and relatives came over to our house for lunch. Actually, according to custom, its expected that the groom’s side invites the bride’s side for lunch after the wedding, but because they were from out of town (the wedding was in Bangalore), we decided to reverse things a bit. The next day was a bit of a break, but we had a nice gift unwrapping session, which was quite fun. The next day, our immediate family traveled to a temple in Kadiri a small town in Andhra Pradesh that is around 5 hrs away from Bangalore where they were conducting a ‘kalyanotsav’, wherein the wedding is enacted between the god Lakshminarasimha and his two wives, Bhoodevi and Sridevi. The temple of Kadiri is very nice and built out of stone, though the temple authorities are now trying to plaster every inch of it with marble. The idol is supposed to be one that had ‘emerged”, ie probably a stone formation that resembled the features of this particular avatar of Vishnu. It was an uneventful trip back. Finally the wedding related activities came to a close and I was able to roam the city like a recently freed felon.