March 29, 2007

An article on the Cambodia blog

I realized I had not written about two important books related to Cambodia which I read while I was there, so I added them with this "Literature" post, which I prefer to have as last (?) article rather than that technical article on carbon emissions. I point there at some interesting articles on Cambodian literature as well.

March 24, 2007

Lost voice

This message only to apologize to my readers: nothing worth mentioning on this blog so far. I struggle to find a "voice".
I don't want to talk about my family for obvious reasons. Most other anecdotes are not that interesting anyhow. And my own reflections are either too personal to be printed here or too unoriginal to be of interest to you...
Stay tuned, it will come.

March 20, 2007

Pictures of Jerusalem

Old City

On the way from Herod's Gate to the Lions' Gate to visit Saint Anne's Church

Saint Anne's Church, a beautiful 12th Century church built by the Crusaders. I heard Italian and Greek pilgrims sing, so I can bear witness that it's acoustics are indeed amazing.

Outside of the Old City

A parking lot by the Russian Compound near the New Gate, looking east:

A square nearby:

The Old City in the background, the highway linking with the North (Ramallah) in the foreground, near the Damascus Gate. You can see the Dome of the Rock on the left. On the following map, I'm at the edge of West Jerusalem district #131 (see the history of the Musrara neighbourhood) and accross the highway is East Jerusalem.

I did cross the street (to see what was on the other side, like the chicken). A quiet street called Ben Shadad Street:

The busier Salah ed-Din Street, with an unfinished building on the second picture:

That's all for now! You can also read the following text which mentions Morasha (formerly Musrara) and Sheikh Jarrah.

March 18, 2007

Aharon Appelfeld

[I apologize for my non-French readers, but I will write this in French.]

Aharon Appelfeld a publié en 1999 un essai autobiographique : Histoire d'une vie (en hébreu, סיפור חיים, en anglais The Story of a Life).

Appelfeld revient sur ses souvenirs d'enfance d'une façon qui me rappelle beaucoup Georges Perec dans W ou le souvenir d'enfance. Georges Perec était né en 1936, Appelfeld est né en 1932. Appelfeld insiste beaucoup sur le manque de souvenirs précis (noms de lieux et de personnes, dates) qui l'empêche de relater son expérience pendant la guerre sous forme d'un témoignage au sens habituel du terme. Le paradoxe étant que cette expérience est imprimée à vie dans son corps par les sensations de peur, de faim, de froid, d'abandon qu'il a éprouvées. Appelfeld passe et repasse donc sur les années de guerre et d'errance pour chercher les mots justes qui évoqueront ces sensations, ces petites choses qui l'obséderont éternellement, et cela aussi est un témoignage, d'un autre genre.

Le récit de son combat, perdu d'avance, pour oublier son passé et se construire une nouvelle identité en Israël comme le voulait l'idéologie de l'époque est une autre part importante du livre. Ce sujet est évoqué par lui-même et par la réalisatrice, Nurit Aviv, dans le documentaire "D'une langue à l'autre" qu'une amie m'avait fait connaître. Cette partie a donc été sans surprise, elle évoque l'apprentissage de l'hébreu associé à la prise de conscience de l'auteur qu'il ne serait jamais "un homme nouveau", qu'il garderait toujours son passé et les lieux de son enfance comme bagage identitaire, que la lecture du Yiddish lui permettra de cultiver. Cette pression sur les individus pour qu'ils renoncent à leur passé diasporique me donne envie de rappeler à quelle point les idéologies sont néfastes...

Appelfeld, lorsqu'il parle des livres qu'il a publiés, me donne l'impression très nette qu'il éprouve le besoin de se justifier face à ses critiques. Comme je l'ai dit plus haut je n'ai rien lu d'autre d'Appelfeld, je ne suis donc pas au fait des débats entourant son oeuvre (le débat tournait apparemment autour de la question de savoir si l'on a le droit d'écrire de la fiction sur la Shoah, et sur l'appellation d'"écrivain de la Shoah" qu'Appelfeld rejette).

Ces trois sujets principaux semblent finalement naturels mais les dernières pages m'ont réservé une surprise. Dans un ouvrage où Appelfeld ne parle jamais de relation amoureuse ni d'aucun lieu où il se serait fixé en Israël, il parle en détail de l'association des rescapés de la Shoah pour, tout à la fin, déclarer sobrement que s'il est un endroit qui lui a tenu lieu de maison en Israël c'est bien celui-là.

Autoportrait émouvant d'un individu blessé qui a écrit pour survivre à son déracinement... et surmonter sa solitude ?

March 15, 2007

Snow in Jerusalem

Big flakes, as I talk to you now. But the temperature is 6 or 7 Celsius so the snow melts when reaching the ground...

March 12, 2007

What's hot in the news?

Following a friend's wise advice, I read the Week's End supplement of the Haaretz newspaper in English this weekend. Also, I gathered a few hints at hot topics from my cousin.

So what are the hot topics?

In domestic politics, the upcoming reports on the Prime Minister's corruption and the government's failures in the second Lebanon war. The Defense minister, Amir Peretz is bound to resign after the publication of the report on the war and Ehud Olmert's future is at best uncertain because of both reports. The notion of "home front" is as important as the war itself, with a lot about how the government abandoned its citizens who were under fire in the North. Benjamin Netanyahu lies in ambush, were the Prime Minister's position be vacant soon, even making a temptative move towards the center to improve his odds.


Iran, its nuclear program and its role in the region are present in the background at all
times. The news concentrate on America and how America's policy meets Israel's interests, how American Jews support or do not support action against Iran.

America's situation:

Without Iran, things will be harder in Iraq; without Syria, Lebanon
will not be stabilized; without progress in the peace process, the Sunni
Arab states will find it difficult to be of assistance in the face of the
Shi'ite front. (Shmuel Rosner, describing "the connection between the resolution of each of the crises" in the Middle East. It's not clear if it's the author's view or if he words the American position.)

The American Jews:

Given the choice between an internal threat [losing soldiers in military action against Iran] and a threat aimed at Israel, many of America's Jews prefer to sit on the fence. It is much simpler and easier to sturggle for the victims of genocide in Darfur [as they do]. (Amiram Barkat, "Mixed feelings about Iran")


Unfortuately, I can find them on Haaretz's web site, but there were an article and an opinion on Ran Adelist's documentary film "The Shaked Spirit" which has two controversial minutes on how the Special Operations unit of the Israeli army "Sayeret Shaked", in 1967, chased and killed 250 Egyptian soldiers who were fleeing from Gaza. It sparked a diplomatic incident with Egypt.

I have to go now, but remind me of returning on this subject and writing about the blood libel controversy, in the perspective of Israelis' position on public relations and anti-semitism, self-censure, etc.

Mitspeh Ramon, Eilat, Massada

Mitspeh Ramon is a town of 6,000 overlooking the Ramon crater. I enjoyed walking along the edge of the crater and staying for the night in this quite town. The sky was so clear at night, it's a joy to watch the stars. But the town is lit so you have to walk outside of the city to enjoy the night sky really. It's very very windy and, after sunset, it feels very cold.

In Eilat, I didn't do much apart from relaxing on the beach. Well nothing but relaxing on the beach. The water was still a bit cold for swimming though, I stayed only 10 minutes each day in the water...

Jordan is only a few kilometers away (one can see the large flag of Aqaba), and on the other side it's Egypt, further down though. The two countries which are fortunately in peace with Israel...

Massada was amazing. I climbed up the hill (it takes about 45 minutes in the scorching sun). The Dead Sea is at a -400 meters altitude, the beginning of the path must be at -350 m and the fortress at the top approximately sea level (I mean 0 m, not the Dead Sea level...). The most impressive things for me were learning about the water system built by Herod (water from the rainfall and floods sere directed by dams and aquaducts towards pits in the cliff about 100 or 200 meters downhill from the fortress and then carried up by animals - this water filling a swimming pool, several baths and water cisterns, and enabling some agriculture!) and seeing the remains of the camps and the ramp built by the Romans to suppress this stronghold of the Jewish revolt.

As I was about to walk down, I ran into friends from Paris who were on an extended weekend in Israel! This was really unbelievable. They were on their way to lunch so I joined them, which gave me the invaluable opportunity of spending a couple of hours in this ugly, disgusting hotel complex at Ein Bokek which includes the Meridien David, Crowne Plaza, Hod, Tsell Harim and Lot hotels. No chance to splash in the Dead Sea though, I was eager to come home with the 4:50pm camel service which brought me home through the Palestinian Territories. I thought all buses which ran through the Palestinian Territories were bulletproof but I was wrong and I was also astonished by how seamlessly we crossed in after Ein Gedi somewhere (a roadblock at which we just slowed down a little bit). I was asleep when we crossed into East Jerusalem: I woke up when the bus was somewhere between Mount Scopus and the bus station.

March 10, 2007

Matter of conscience

[You must be frustrated by the lack of pictures in this blog, I will try to improve on that in the coming weeks.

I'm back in Jerusalem tonight after traveling from Eilat to Massada and climbing up to the Massada Fortress.]

Infrastructure in the desert

First, let me give you a few more details, as promised, about the previous days. There were not too many suprises in what I saw, but let me tell of a few things which struck me nevertheless.

I was amazed by the network of water pipes: all along the road, I could see the trace of the underground water pipe which runs along it, with every kilometer or so a short section above ground with a manometer. I was told that water for most of Israel is brought that way from the Sea of Galilee, meaning that when you flush you toilet in Mitspeh Ramon, the water has traveled 200 km in pipes from the Sea of Galilee. This is surprising for me after seeing a country like Cambodia where water is plentiful but there is no single city with drinkable water (drinkable water is produced at least in Phnom Penh but the water is not guaranteed to still be drinkable when it flows from your tap because of leaks...) and no running water in most places.

Matter of conscience

Here I have a matter of conscience because I don't know how precisely I should write about infrastructures, which are some of the most striking elements for me as an engineer, nor about the military facilities and trivia, which are ubiquitous and as such worth mentioning.

On the bus from Mitspeh Ramon to Eilat, for example, most passengers were soldiers and most stops were at military bases so I could have written down the exact location of all of them and their nature (air force, infantry, engineering, etc.) and printed them here.

I could also comment on the presence of an aerostat (don't ask me if it's a moored balloon or an airship, I wasn't aware of the difference before looking it up in the Wikipedia) or other details like the sign "private road" on my map which are linked to the Dimona nuclear plant.

But I don't want to unnecessarily spread on the Internet information which is sensitive for Israel, even when it is not really secret. So my policy will be, when I think something is of interest to my readers but sensitive, to recount it only in general terms. Which means that I'm applying self-censure - you have to know that, and I hope you will excuse me.

March 09, 2007

Camel Service

My father was right, to easiest to travel in this country is the camel.

So Thursday morning, I rode the 9am camel service to Beer Sheva. I had a chance to walk around in the "Bedouin Market", which I liked a lot, it's not yet modern way, people have a coffee, a tea or a chicha, play a kid of backgammon, etc. Quite segregated but not completely. Then I took the 12:40pm camel service to Mitspeh Ramon, had a nice walk along the cliff overlooking the cliff and a beautiful sunset. Today, I took the lone 9:10am camel service to Eilat, and here I was all afternoon at the beach!

Sun is setting so I have to postpone the other stories until tomorrow night or Sunday!

Bye for now.

March 07, 2007

Days 1 & 2: What's up?

Not much! Many will be disappointed but, so far, I haven't got even close to heading for the desert on a bike. Instead, I'm hanging out in Jerusalem...

Monday was a holiday here: Purim. Many religious jews dress up on that occasion. Prize for most original costume: Jesus.

Yesterday, I had a chance to walk in the old city: Jaffa Gate, Armenian quarter, Western Wall, Holy Sepulchre, Muslim quarter, Cardo.

I was shocked because the Western Wall looks more and more like a mall: a parking lot like that of a supermarket, a security gate for the cars like a toll gate, a new construction in fake stones right near the wall, cranes in the back preparing for new buildings some 200 meters from the wall. Also, the temporary wooden bridge leading to the Mugrabi Gate of the Temple Mount is the ugliest thing you can imagine. In my humble opinion there is no need for access through that gate, i.e. from the West, and the planned final bridge (seen in red on the drawing below), if built in the same way as the rest here, will be very ugly too.

The Archeological Park nearby looks nice, what I could see of the Mosque of Omar is amazingly beautiful, with its golden dome and turquoise walls. I enjoyed the walk in the Muslim quarter, seeing again the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, etc.

Bye for now.

March 05, 2007

Day 0: How I learnt my first word of Farsi

On the plane, I'm seated next to an old man. His wife and two sons are nearby.

"- How was WWI created? A mad guy killed the Archduke of Austria.
- How was WWII created? By a mad guy.
- So you see... I don't know when... but the only thing I'm sure is there will be a regime change in Iran and in the meantime this mad guy will bring us WWIII."

Clear as cristal, right? The old man is an Iranian Bahai. Day 0 being actually the middle of the night (3 am), I got interested in the story of the old man and his family but not so much in the politics...

Pervez left Iran with his wife and children 8 years ago after the government ceased to pay his pension and barred his sons from entering university because they were Bahai. Among other things, the sons were forced to study the Quran in school. He fled to Turkey and later obtained refugee status in Canada.

He is waiting for a regime change in Iran to return and get his pension...

He says he has sympathy for the Jews because he knows what it is to be persecuted. He was engaged to a Jewish girl in his youth and when she died he thought he would never get married.

I have an invitation to join them in Haifa and Akko to visit the holy sites of the Bahai faith, I have my first Bahai prayer booklet. And my first word of Farsi is easy: Hello is "Salam".