Israel: Day 14 (and a bit of day 13)

September 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and also Sabbath. All this means that Jerusalem is closed down tighter than Mitch McConnell’s mind, and even Donald Trump has more neurons than there are people in the street.  Here’s a photo taken about noon on Jaffa Street, one of the main streets of the city. It’s BARREN! The only people afoot are pious Jews on their way to and from shul:

I saw NO stores or restaurants open today—not one. This is a disaster for me, as I decided not to purchase the expensive breakfasts in my hotel, thinking that surely some Arab or secular Jew would be serving noms somewhere.

I was wrong. Perhaps in the Muslim quarter of the Old City they are dispensing dishes of hummus, but after a long morning’s walk I’m too tired to find out.  And so I’m resting in the afternoon heat, with my only food for the day consisting of cookies.

But enough tsouris. Here are a few photos from my visit yesterday to Yad Vashem, Israel’s huge memorial to the Holocaust.  It consists of several parts, including the dominant Holocaust History Museum, in which I spent over three hours, as well as a Children’s Memorial, which was closed, as was the Hall of Holocaust Art (though there’s plenty of that art in the Museum), and also closed was the Hall of Names, which tries to document every person killed in the Holocaust. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is located on the Mount of Remembrance, on the western slope of Mount Herzl, a height in western Jerusalem, 804 meters (2,638 ft) above sea level and adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest. The memorial consists of a 180-dunam (18.0 ha; 44.5-acre) complex containing two types of facilities: some dedicated to the scientific study of the Holocaust, and memorials and museums catering to the needs of the larger public. Among the former there are an International Research Institute for Holocaust Research, an archives, a library, a publishing house and the International School for Holocaust Studies; the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, the Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, as well as a synagogue.

A core goal of Yad Vashem’s founders was to recognize non-Jews who, at personal risk and without financial or evangelistic motives, chose to save Jews from the ongoing genocide during the Holocaust. Those recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations are honored in a section of Yad Vashem known as the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. [One of these is Oskar Schindler, whose famous list is in the Museum.]

Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site, after the Western Wall, with approximately one million visitors each year. It charges no admission fee.

I was unable to make reservations online for some reason, but I showed up at opening time and was the first person admitted. Here’s Yad Vashem’s site on Mt. Herzl (where Theodor Herzl, the “father of Zionism” is also buried:

The Visitors’ Center is in front, with the large triangular History Museum behind it. Other places are scattered through the lovely wooded site.

No photos are allowed inside, so I took none. All I can say is that the Museum has a ton of stuff, arranged chronologically beginning when the Nazis took power, going through their gradual oppression of the Jews, the formation of ghettos, the camps and executions of Jews, and finishing (after several hours if you look at everything) with the Allied liberation of the camps, in some ways the most heartbreaking bit.

I’ll say only three things: of the Holocaust-related sites I’ve visited, this is one that, like Auschwitz, will change your life and view of humanity. Second, if you are in Jerusalem and don’t visit Yad Vashem, you’re making a huge mistake. Finally, given the tons and tons of evidence on display, anybody who denies the Holocaust is a blithering idiot. And yet many do; it’s as ridiculous as denying that the Earth is spherical.

Here’s Herzl’s grave, which I didn’t see, in a photo from Wikipedia. He died at only 44 of heart disease and was originally buried in Vienna. His remains were moved to Israel in 1949:

On the way back to town on the tram, there were quite a few ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim). Several, like this young man, were reading bits of the Torah and praying or reading aloud. (Note the diagnosic sidelocks, called payot). While I feel a genetic kinship (and, indeed, have one) with the Haredim, their beliefs—and especially the way they treat their women and pollute the minds of their children—appall me. Such is my inner conflict with religious Jews.

Back in town, there were police (with sniffer d*gs) and IDF soldiers everywhere, preparing for any holiday-related terrorism:

But on a nearby door, the Lion of Judah was there to protect me:

I went to lunch at the nearby place I call “Mr. Falafel,” because that’s what he looks like. A falafel in half a pita with all the trimmings, including fries, makes a satisfying lunch.

Yesterday’s lunch avec Fanta. I swear: I could survive on hummus and falafel alone, and they’re healthy!

Since today was a holiday, I figured I’d have a long walk around the ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem: the Mea Sharim. Insofar as they can, the inhabitants here live the life of a 19th century shtetl: no t.v., no music, schools teaching only religion, all men dressed in black with religious accoutrements, and so on. Many of the women shave their heads, covering them with wigs and scarves, and must undergo ritual purification after their periods.

And of course shabbos is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I wanted to take photos, too, but tried to do so with some respect, not letting people see me with my camera. I realize that this too is disrespectful in a way, as I’m seeing these people as curiosities as well as humans, but sue me.

I’ve mentioned my cognitive dissonance about this group. They have so much diligence, and such respect for learning, but then squander it all on religious learning. Kids are brainwashed from birth, never getting a chance to have secular learning. Women are taught that their role is to take care of the home and breed prolifically; rarely do you see a mother without a passel of kids in tow. All this waste and oppression in the service of a delusion!

And yet why do I feel a kinship with them? I do not know.

Some photos from around Mea Sharim this morning. First a flag that I assume is the flag of Jerusalem:

The residents:

Haredim break out the fur hats, which can cost several thousand dollars, on special occasions like today. And remember: it’s hot!

Every haredi child I see breaks my heart. Their entire lives are mapped out for them, a life just like that of their parents:

Many of the haredim are poor and prefer to study the Torah rather than engage in jobs. The Israeli government, to its discredit, promotes this by giving them subsidies (ultra-Orhodox are also exempt from Army service). Some of the homes I saw were shabby, but I can’t say they’re all like that. When I took this photo I heard religious singing from within:

You never see a young family without a stroller, and often with four or five kids. The woman’s job is to have a big brood.

The man on the right is the only black Orthodox Jew I’ve seen in Israel.

All over the city are stickers showing the scary visage of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). But he wasn’t really scary, and was quite magnanimous for an Orthodox rabbi (read the bio):

From Wikipedia:

. . . known to many as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or simply the Rebbe, [Schneerson] was an Orthodox rabbi and the most recent Rebbe of the Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty. He is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

As leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he took an insular Hasidic group that almost came to an end with the Holocaust and transformed it into one of the most influential movements in religious Jewry, with an international network of over 5,000 educational and social centers.  The institutions he established include kindergartens, schools, drug-rehabilitation centers, care-homes for the disabled, and synagogues.

Schneerson’s published teachings fill more than 400 volumes. . . He is recognized as the pioneer of Jewish outreach. During his lifetime, many of his adherents believed that he was the Messiah. His own attitude to the subject, and whether he openly encouraged this, is hotly debated among academics. During Schneerson’s lifetime, the messianic controversy and other issues elicited fierce criticism from many quarters in the Orthodox world, especially earning him the enmity of Rabbi Elazar Shach.

Schneerson moved to the US in 1941, eventually building his synagogue in Brooklyn. I visited there years ago, giving my non-Jewish girlfriend a tour of NY Judaism, and we were immediately swept up by Lubavitchers. She was spirited to the “women’s section” of the synagogue, where ladies were allowed to watch the real worship below from behind a small screen, while I was draped, despite my objections, with a yarmulke, a tallis, and tefillin wrapped around my arm. I was then forced onto the synagogue floor where hundreds of Lubavitchers were praying and davening. I refused to pray, of course, but they prayed over me, hoping that this would constitute a mitzvah that would hasten the return of the Messiah.

Curiously, many Lubavitchers believed that Schneerson was the messiah, and refused to believe he had died. Read about him on Wikipedia; he had an amazing life, working 18 hours a day every day and never taking a vacation.

Back to Jerusalem: I was getting famished and saw this sign, but of course the place was closed. Even as I write this my tummy is growling:

No soup for me! Kubbe has semolina dumplings in it. I won’t mention the soup dispenser in Seinfeld.

The lost and found police station, once the residence of the British consul:

Note the lions. This is what you get when you shoot into the sun with a dirty camera lens.

And, as I see so often, a sign where a terrorist attack occurred. Those who can read Hebrew are invited to translate it in the comments:

Jerusalem Monopoly—a “fast dealing property game.” I’m dying to find out what the properties are named.

Wait: I just found out!:

Locations include:

David’s Tomb
Teddy Stadium
Presidential Residence
Tower of David, Ammunition Hill, Mount Herzl
The Western Wall Tunnels
The Western Wall
The Kotel
The First Station
Montefiore Windmill
Old City Walls Promenade
Mea She’arim
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Lion’s Gate
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
Chords Bridge
The Knesset
The Israel Museum
Mount of Olives
Mahane Yehuda Market
City of David.

This board game can bring Biblical locations to life. It also teaches some basic math and counting skills through all the wheeling and dealing among players. Monopoly: Jerusalem Edition can also be an effective Hebrew School teaching aid for children ages 8+.

A kitty outside my hotel, where I was looking in vain for food:

And a kitty on the window of a sushi joint. Hebrew readers: what is it saying?

Lord, am I hungry. Where is my manna?

Israel, Day 9

September 11, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’ve been chilling in Tel Aviv, resting, walking along the sea, and eating, as sightseeing is thin on the ground here. This is a far more secular and modern city than is Jerusalem, and somehow I find the latter more interesting—though less relaxing. As Steve Pinker wrote me when I told him I was going to Israel for R&R, “Most people wouldn’t say that Israel is a place to go for some rest.”  But for me, resting is not the aim of a vacation, and I doubt that I’ll put in any beach time here, though there’s a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean right across the street.

However, there are several sights I want to see, and today I went to the first one: the modest and well-preserved domicile of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, only a few blocks from our hotel.

First, though, some food—for humans and then cats.  Breakfast at the hotel; as usual, it’s the big meal of the day:

Fresh bread, and they have lox and an adequate cream-cheese substitute:

There is Turkish coffee, “American” coffee, or you can, as I do, order a cappuccino.

Part of the spread:

Fruit, yogurt and some veg (the fruit and veg here are infinitely better than available in the States. The melon, for instance, is perfectly ripe:

Vegetables and salads:

Cheeses, dairy stuff, tuna, and lox (depleted):

Eggs and western breakfast stuff (you can also order oatmeal, Belgian waffles, omelettes, and green shakshouka (see below):

Something I always get: the King of Israeli breakfast dishes, shakshouka (the classic red version with tomatoes):

Free red and white wine by the reception desk, 24/7:

And a free happy hour from 5-7 p.m. daily, with wine, hard liquor, juices, and all kind of tasty nibbles (I haven’t had a drink since I’ve been here: for some reason I lose my appetite for booze when traveling).  They will also make drinks for you.

Happy hour nibbles, and not insubstantial ones. Last night they had big veggie spring rolls:

I always check out the cat food in local grocery stores to see if there’s anything interesting. Here all we get is American-style cat food with Hebrew labels:

And a certificate of compliance with kosher specifications (kashrut) at a local pizza parlor. Even in Tel Aviv they take this seriously, as conservative and Orthodox Jews (though I’ve yet seen none of the latter here) take it seriously. Note that the certification must be renewed every five months.

A few sights on the walk to Ben-Gurion’s house. Below, a warning, though I’m not sure what it’s warning about unless you have a pacemaker. Are you in danger of having your hand fly off?

Tel Aviv is a center for Bauhaus architecture, and driven by seen some but haven’t photographed it.  I will as I come across it, Architectural Digest explains:

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, resulting in the closure of the Bauhaus design school that same year, tens of thousands of Jews fled Germany to settle in Mandatory Palestine. With 60,000 new immigrants arriving within just a few short years, housing was urgently needed. Dozens of architects were commissioned to build a new city. Among the most influential European architects selected were six German Jews who had studied at the Bauhaus school in Weimar and Dessau. They were key to the development of Tel Aviv’s “White City,” whose moniker is attributable to its whitewashed façades.

This may be Bauhaus:

Thie certainly isn’t, but it’s interesting, like third-rate Gaudi:

And the nearby British Embassy, surrounded by barriers.

Israel harbors 94 embassies, of which 89 are in Tel Aviv and 5 in Jerusalem (the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, and Kosovo). In 2017, Trump, facing much criticism, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

David Ben-Gurion’s modest Tel Aviv home still stands a few blocks from the sea, and is pretty much as it was when he died. Here’s a capsule bio from Wikipedia:

David Ben-Gurion (/bɛnˈɡʊəriən/ ben GOOR-ee-ən; Hebrew: דָּוִד בֶּן־גּוּרִיּוֹן [daˈvid ben ɡuʁˈjon] i; born David Grün; 16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first prime minister of Israel. Born in Płońsk, then part of the Russian Empire, to Polish Jewish parents, he immigrated to the Palestine region of the Ottoman Empire in 1906. Adopting the name of Ben-Gurion in 1909, he rose to become the preeminent leader of the Jewish community in British-ruled Mandatory Palestine from 1935 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which he led until 1963 with a short break in 1954–55.

Ben-Gurion’s interest for Zionism developed early in his life, leading him to become a major Zionist leader and executive head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946. As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he was the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led the movement for an independent Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine.

On 14 May 1948, he formally proclaimed the establishment of Israel, and was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which he had helped writing. Under Ben-Gurion’s leadership, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War saw the uniting of the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the expulsion and flight of a majority of the Palestinian Arab population. Subsequently, he became known as “Israel’s founding father”. Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel’s first prime minister and minister of defence.

There are three things to add about him. Without Ben-Gurion, it’s likely that Israel wouldn’t exist.  Second, he was an intellectual and deeply read man, which you’ll see in a second. Finally, he was deeply beloved by Israelis, and may have been the best Prime Minister ever. (He’s buried by a kibbutz in the Negev Desert.) Here’s a photo from Wikipedia:

Here’s his house at 18 Ben-Gurion Street (of course):

Except for some honors and awards, and items behind glass (his office is glassed off), the house is pretty much as it was when he died in 1973. It’s not humble, but neither is it grandiose. What makes it stand out most is the huge number of BOOKS.

Ben Gurion’s office (the only room behind glass). Perhaps this is just as it was when he died:

The kitchen and eating nook, with an old Israeli fridge:

Formal dining room:

Two bedrooms (looks like, as many couples did, they slept separately):

The living room adjacent to the office:

And oy, the books, divided by language and topic. Here, for instance, are his books on Hinduism:

. . . and on American Judaism:


This is a panoramic shot encompassing bits of four rooms (click to enlarge):

Besides the books, there are many photos of Ben-Gurion with famous people and heads of state, as well as awards given him by heads of state, like this tusk;

David and Winnie:

David and Nixon (I don’t know who the woman is, but perhaps Ben-Gurion’s wife):

The old equivalent of bobblehead dolls. From left to right: Menachem Begin, Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Theodore Herzl.

Finally, right by the door is a WEIRD MANNEQUIN of Ben-Gurion, perhaps to show how large (or, rather, small) he was):

There was only one other couple visiting the house when I was there, and it surely deserves more attention than that. I learned a lot by going there and reading up about its famous inhabitant.

Ben-Gurion had a wife, Paula, three kids, and yes, a few mistresses on the side.

Israel: Days 2 and 3

September 4, 2023 • 10:00 am

Note: click the photos to enlarge them.

I spent most of yesterday with a man who works with a private agency that translates documents from the Arab world (also Russia, China, and other countries) into English and Hebrew, so that we (and other government agencies) know what is being said in mosques and in Arab state media.

If you know where to look, all the stuff to be translated is online, including sermons in mosques.  Lots of horrific things have been revealed, but I’m not sure how much of what I heard is for public consumption. Suffice it to say that the day was very interesting, and I learned a lot about how Israeli security works.

On the way to meet my friend, I passed the “Kippa Man” stall, a place that sells only kippas, the Hebrew word for the Yiddish “yarmulke”. These are the skullcaps or beanies worn by observant Jews. There are many stores selling them in the center city, some (like this one) selling only kippas, while others sell them along with other souvenirs, like the tee-shirt below.

You can find a kippa to fit your style and taste. The prices below are 20-25 shekels, about 5-6 American dollars.

But you can also buy other souvenirs. Here’s one that caught my eye, but I didn’t buy it. (Wearing it on an American campus would get you demonized!)

You can get burgers at his McDonald’s but no milkshakes (or even milk). It’s kosher, Jake!

At my friend’s office, he showed me a rare document: Mahmoud Abbas‘s Ph.D. thesis, for which he paid a thousand bucks. Abbas, of course, is the president of the Palestinian Authority, apparently for life. (He was elected in 2005 for a four-year term, but extended it indefinitely, and is sill in office.} He’s also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Abbas is 87, and apparently will leave office only in a box.

Abbas doesn’t read or write Russian, so it’s weird that he has a thesis written in Russian and conferred by a Russian university (it’s about the dangers of Zionism with an addendum that denies the Holocaust).

Tablet has an article about it, saying that although a 19-page abstract is available publicly, this document isn’t:

Abbas’ dissertation has been a subject of considerable interest over the years. The thesis isn’t publicly available: By all accounts, it is kept in an IOS special storage facility requiring special authorization to access.

Well, no, because I saw it. But I can’t read Russian so I can’t shed  any light on it.  It appears to be Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda, and I don’t know who translated it into Russian, or even if Abbas even wrote it (his signature is at the bottom).

Lunch at a nearby restaurant: hummus and falafel at last! It was very good hummus, thick and creamy, mixed with hot, crispy falafel balls and served with good fresh pita bread, but my host old me that there is far better hummus to be had in Jerusalem. Ergo my search continues. He also demanded more olive oil from the waiter for me to pour atop the dish. I was still full from he huge breakfast at the hotel, so this is all I ate.

The next three photos are by Jay Tanzman, whose captions are indented.

Public toilets (read the red sign):

“Information for Shabbath [Sabbath] keepers. The toilets are activated by pressing an electric button.”

JAC: Since pressing a button seems to involve forbidden “work” on the Sabbath (which is why my hotel has a “Sabbath elevator” in which you don’t have to press buttons, as it stops on every floor), why is it not considered “work” to flush by pressing a button in a public toilet? This must have been the result of a fierce rabbinical discussion. Later, I was told that perhaps the Orthodox are being warned that they would have to press a button if they flushed, and that might deter them from doing their business.

But why not use the system they have in U.S. airports: when you stand up, the toilet automatically detects that and flushes. Standing up after using the john cannot possibly constitute work! As for urinals, they can flush sporadically without pressing buttons or pulling levers.

Jay says of the photo below: “Speaks for itself.”

[JAC: The Gazans were firing missiles at Tel Aviv just in the last two weeks. Fortunately, the Iron Dome knocks out nearly all of them. I have been told what to do if I hear the “incoming missile” siren: run, following everyone on the street.]

A group of young soldiers on their way somewhere. I surreptitiously took their picture from behind. I cold have gotten a picture from the front earlier, but I didn’t know how well that would go over.
Note that there are both men and women in the group. In Israel, everyone except the Orthodox Jews must serve two to three years in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Even Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot did her stint. The exemption of the Orthodox from military service constitutes, in my view, an unwarranted coddling of religion, one of the things that makes Israel a partial theocracy.

This is a photo Gadot put on her Instagram showing her reporting for duty at the IDF for the first time. She served two years, from age 18-20, as a combat fitness instructor. This is after she was crowned Miss Israel in 2004.

Gadot in uniform. I love Jewish girls! (And don’t dare criticize her for doing her mandatory military service for Israel. She’s already taken a lot of heat for that from those who hate Israel, simply because she was born here.)

This afternoon we went scouting for good hummus again. On the way we saw what looked for all the world like an Orthodox Jew playing electric guiar for money in the streets. That can’t be rue (for one thing, the hat is wrong, and it’s culturally inappropriate. You be the judge:

And for lunch we went to a well known hummus joint in the center city, Hummus Ben Sira. The hummus plate came with lots of fresh pita bread, a big plate of hummus topped with whole chickpeas and olive oil, salad, and tomatoes, pickles. and sliced onions. It was a lot of food!

The hummus was creamy and delicious, beating yesterday’s selection (see above) by a long shot.

Jay had shakshouka, described by Wikipedia as

Maghrebi dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion, and garlic, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. According to Joan Nathan, shakshouka originated in Ottoman North Africa in the mid-16th century after tomatoes were introduced to the region by Hernán Cortés as part of the Columbian exchange.

This spicy dish is common for breakfast in Israel; in fact, it was on this morning’s breakfast buffet:

A hungry customer waiting for his hummus:

Jay (Tanzman) and Anna (Krylov) in front of the hummus joint. If you’re in the Center City, I recommend this place, but the most famous ones in Jerusalem are in the Old City, where we’re planning to go tomorrow.

A panoramic view of the walls around the old city:

. . . and more shelters. The area near where I took the photo above is a gorgeous residential area, but houses are hideously expensive in Jerusalem:

One of the quiet and lovely streets nearby:

A house sign, which I’m told shows the family name:

And of course no matter where you are, there are always bomb shelters nearby:

Jay found a friendly and meowing tabby street cat to pet. Jay and Anna own two kitties, including a gorgeous gray British Shorthair named Mishka (see here; their other kitty is Geddi).

This has got to be the world’s fanciest YMCA: the Jerusalem International YMCA, whose construction began in 1926 and took 7 years.

Across the street is the King David Hotel, the most prestigious place to park your carcass in the city.The hotel, which partly housed British military before Israeli independence, was site of an infamous Jewish bombing in 1946, when the Brits were fighting the Jews.  From Wikipedia:

The British administrative headquarters for Mandatory Palestine, housed in the southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, were bombed in a terrorist attack on 22 July 1946 by the militant right-wing Zionist underground organization the Irgun during the Jewish insurgency. 91 people of various nationalities were killed, including Arabs, Britons and Jews, and 46 were injured.

The hotel was the site of the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine, principally the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. When planned, the attack had the approval of the Haganah, the principal Jewish paramilitary group in Palestine, though, unbeknownst to the Irgun, this had been cancelled by the time the operation was carried out. The main motive of the bombing was to destroy documents incriminating the Jewish Agency in attacks against the British, which were obtained during Operation Agatha, a series of raids by mandate authorities. It was the deadliest attack directed at the British during the Mandate era (1920–1948)

The King David Hotel:

From Wikipedia, the hotel after the bombing:

A colorful kitty statue nearby:

. . . and a fancy and very expensive pottery shop, which had lovely handmade stuff:

We saw a lot of security today, with heavily armed cops stopping people on the street (we didn’t know why) and asking for their ID. Across the street from our hotel as we returned, two guys were getting badly hassled by the cops.Again, I have no idea why:

Thus endeth Day Three of the Trip to Israel.

Galápagos: Fernandina

August 15, 2023 • 9:30 am

Yesterday morning we made a trip to Fernandina Island, the youngest in the archipelago, and home of a still-active volcano

First, though, I’ll show you the breakfast buffet.  There are several stations, and a fair amount of Ecuadorian food:

The omelet station:

Pancakes and, at upper right, green banana balls, which I couldn’t resist:

A great breakfast: mango juice, Ecuadorian latkes, a cheese and ham tortilla, a sausage, a green banana ball, fresh fruit (the pinapple is terrific), and I had a cappuccino on the side. I try not to eat too much at breakfast, as I never have it at home.

On to a 2.5-hour walk on Fernandina Island:

Fernandina Island (SpanishIsla Fernandina) is the youngest and third largest island in the Galapagos, as well as the furthest west. It has an area of 642 km2 (248 sq mi) and a height of 1,476 m (4,843 ft), with a summit caldera about 6.5 km (4.0 mi) wide. Like the other islands, it was formed by the Galápagos hotspot. The island is an active shield volcano that has most recently erupted in January 2020.

Here it is, with the top shrouded in clouds. Even the ship’s naturalists cannot access most of the large island. Like us, the naturalists must stay to the paths, which are only along the shore. Clearly there are undescribed species on this island, though it’s regularly accessed by scientists who are allowed to climb to the top.

Here’s where it’s located (arrow):

And the view from the landing site:

Some flightless cormorants, a famous endemic bird species that’s hard to find and photograph. It is the world’s only flightless cormorant, and of course is found on an island with almost no predators.

My one shot of this bird in which you can see the rudimentary (or vestigial) wings.  They do help the bird to balance, showing that a vestigial trait need not be a useless trait.

Two love-cormorants courting. Females are larger, so she’s probably on the right.

And of course the marine iguanas, the world’s only marine lizard, are ubiquitous.

And when I say “ubiquitous”, I mean ubiquitous. You have to watch your step lest you tread on one

Face on shot:

Head shot. Darwin found this lizards odious and ugly, but I think they’re lovely and marvelous:

Our naturalist guide displaying the skeleton of a marine iguana:

A lava lizard. There are seven species in the archipelago, and I don’t know which this is:

The Galápagos mockingbird, one of four endemic species in the islands. The mockingbirds were found one species per island, which helped give Darwin the idea that the species descended from a common ancestor and formed in geographic isolation. This notion, however, didn’t come to him until several years after he returned to England. Mockingbirds are mentioned in The Origin, but you won’t find any word about finches in that book.

Another lava lizard; it may be the same species as above:

The endemic lava cactus. Imagine: a cactus that can grow on lava! It helps create soil that eventually allows other plants to grow.

These markers are set in the ground by the National Park and are used by satellites to measure the movement of the tectonic plates on which the islands lie.

An endemic Galápagos sea lion:

And her baby nearby. Babies suckle until they’re nearly three years old, though they also learn to hunt a bit during that time.

A contented mom.

A Sally Lightfoot crab, quite colorful.

Another herd of marine iguanas. They need a name for a group of these animals. Can you suggest one?

A lava heron hunting crabs. This species is also endemic to the archipelago.

The Galápagos brown pelican, an endemic subspecies though some sites call it an endemic species. Since it’s geographically isolated from other pelicans, this is a judgement call.

Sea lion with her pup, which, we were told, was about a year old.

She had another pup nearby, only a couple of months old. They can nurse several pups of different age at once as they have delayed implantation.

While going back to the ship, a young pup climbed up on the dock and made friends with a traveler.

Finally, I didn’t know there were endemic snakes in the archipelago; I thought the only endemic reptiles were the iguanas and lava lizards. I was wrong; behold the Galápagos racer!

A lot of life to see in only a couple of hours!

The Miami airport

August 11, 2023 • 1:00 pm

Miami isn’t one of my favorite American airports, as it’s large and unwieldy, but it does have decent food.  Scouting the offerings on the internet, I found that there’s a highly-rated Cuban restaurant in Terminal D, close to my departure gate. Here it is:

I knew what I wanted: ropa vieja (“old clothes”), a shredded and stewed mess o’ beef, black beans and rice, and platanos maduros (fried bananas). And they had these things, and, as Hemingway would say, I deserved them and they were good. I added arroz con leche (rice pudding) for dessert. No Cuban coffee for me, though, as it’s very strong and I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.

Here’s my lunch. Only $19, very filling, and inexpensive for an airport:

By the way, the Hemingway trope comes from his wonderful short story Big Two-Hearted River, in which Nick Adams, back from World War I, where he was badly wounded (as was Hemingway), goes fishing in Michigan to recover. His wartime trauma is never mentioned, only implied, which is what makes the story great. But I remember the food bit in that story: Nick backpacks to the river to fish, but takes along a can of beans and a can of spaghetti. He tells himself that if he’s willing to carry those heavy items in his pack, he deserves to enjoy them.

In honor of that story, I once mixed a can of prepared spaghetti (no meat) and a can of pork and beans and ate them. And damn if it wasn’t good!

Hemingway knew what he was about, though later he’d be eating potato salad and quaffing beer in Paris, as he describes in his book A Moveable Feast:

“It was a quick walk to Lipp’s and every place I passed that my stomach noticed as quickly as my eyes made the walk an added pleasure. There were few people in the brasserie and when I sat down on a bench against the wall with the mirror in the back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer I asked for a distingue, the big glass mug that held a liter, and potato salad.

The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes a l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread with the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly.”

Hemingway didn’t write about food very often, but when he did it always gets your saliva flowing

Last meal report from Paris

May 15, 2023 • 11:00 am

For some reason I didn’t have time to write about our last meal in Paris, at the esteemed and old fashioned restaurant Sébillon in Neuilly, a small town that’s not in Paris, but might as well be. It was recommended by one of Winnie’s friends, and it turned out to be an excellent recommendation. It’s a little bit out of the way, so although it was jammed for Sunday lunch, we saw no other tourists. Winnie’s friend Nicole joined us for the house specialty, gigot (leg of lamb) served with the traditional white beans. And it’s served according to the two most beautiful words in French: à volonté, or “at your will”.  The proper English tradition is “all you can eat”. And I was prepared to eat plenty of lamb leg, especially if was cooked the right way: pink on the inside, or even rare.

I got off at the wrong Métro stop, but I didn’t know that. Because I was early, I went into a nearby Catholic church (St. Jean-Baptiste) as I heard the sounds of Mass within. I hadn’t been in a Mass since 1989, when I wandered into the midnight Mass at Notre Dame in Paris. What with the singing, the organ, and the swinging censers spewing incense, and the church (before it was burned) that was quite a spectacle.

A few scenes from the Neuilly church:

A kid getting baptized, as per the church’s name. You don’t get dunked like a doughnut any more; this priest simply dipped a hankie in the holy water and wiped the boy’s forehead. That’s baptism on the cheap!

St. John the Baptist:

A memorial to those who died for France in WWI:

. . . and the painting below it:

The Mass:

Suddenly my phone buzzed; it was Winnie telling me I was late. It turns out there are two stops on the Métro like with the name “Neuilly” in them, and I had gotten off at the wrong one. Fortunately, the right one was just two stops down the line, and the Restaurant Sébillon was right by the stop. And so we were only a few minutes late.

Restaurant exterior:

The interior. It’s a panorama, so click to enlarge. It’s an old-fashioned place, lovely and just perfect for Sunday lunch when, according to tradition, adults take their parents and older relatives out to lunch:

I had the prix-fixe menu, which included a choice of oysters for the entrée. My haul:

I had a white wine whose genre I can’t remember (it’s been too long)

Winnie and Nicole had the white asparagus, which was in season. (I almost went for it.) It was served with a butter sauce that both of them eschewed

And then. . . . the GIGOT, brought to the table on carts. I could specify that I wanted rare lamb, and knew that I could get more:

My first plate (I had three). This is how I like my lamb, and this was terrific: juicy and flavorful. The beans were also excellent (the quality of gigot-accompanying beans does vary among restaurants.)

We all had gigot. Nicole, whose appetite is normal, was satisfied with one plate, and I think I even beat Winnie, who had two (she generally can outeat me). But we differed in our desserts. I had the baba au rhum (rum-soaked spongecake), served with a bottle of rum (yo ho ho!) on the side if you want more. This was the rummiest baba au rhum I’ve ever had! I was tipsy after the meal, and I think the rum was largely responsible.

The ladies had a crème caramel and crêpes for dessert:

A selfie of all of us.  The room was filled with locals, with many tables occupied by families as well as and seniors, the latter presumably grandparents.

On the way out, we passed a huge and luscious-looking apple tarte:

I decided to visit the nearby Musée de l’Homme while the ladies went off to nap. It turned out that I should have napped too, as the famous anthropology museum was huge, and I was too full to take it all in. But I wanted to see the exhibit of early human art that had influenced Picasso.

Here’s a reproduction of the Venus of Lespuge, between 26,000 and 24,000 years old,

And a Picasso nude, “Bust of a Woman” (1931) showing a similar style:

Also on view: beach stones that Picasso picked up and sculpted, presumably influenced by “primitive” art. These must be worth a gazillion dollars.

I was too exhausted to peruse the anthropological collections, but did note two things. First, a wall of rubber tongues. When you pull on one, it speaks the language it represents (each tongue connects to a speaker so you can hear the language). Very clever!

And, right outside is a famous Parisian landmark:

Thus endeth my Parisian food jaunt, that included eight restaurants.  As for the Sébeillon, I recommend it highly, but do go for Sunday lunch, and reserve!

Paris: Day 8, Meal 8, and tourism

April 18, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This will be a quickie, as I must scribble this post and then pack, for I’m leaving early tomorrow for home.

Our lunch destination was the Café des Ministères in the spiffy Seventh Arrondissement, where there are lots of fancy apartments and government buildings (ergo the name of the café). One of Winnie’s friends recommended it for its large portions of good food (always a draw), and it also has famous chou farci (stuffed cabbage), for which it won the “best of” prize in France last year. How could I not try that dish?

It’s a short walk from the Invalides Métro stop to the restaurant, and you pass the National Assembly (France’s legislative body) on the way. Note the “Woman, Life, Freedom” slogan in several languages on the left. That’s the cry of the new Iranian revolutionaries, and I wonder if this was to deliberately show solidarity with Iran. On the right it says “Freedom for everyone, everywhere,” with the figure of Marianne, the woman who symbolizes the French Republic and the freedom of its citizens.

A statue of Marianne:

The café, which isn’t very large. Although there were a few open tables at lunch, the proprietress (who was not very friendly) turned people away if they didn’t have reservations. But there may be a reason for that, like not having enough chou farci on hand for those without reservations.

Nicole, Winnie’s friend, was to join us again as she greatly enjoyed our meal of lamb at Sébillon. While waiting for them, I luxuriated in a park across the street, surrounded by bits of old Paris like this streetlight:

The inside of the restaurant (there’s a smaller back room) with a display of digestifs:

The menu, front and back:

Nicole’s entrée:  Leeks vinaigrette with a sauce that included minced egg and sausage. I tried some; very nice!

Winnie had the octopus starter with Spanish sausage (chorizo-like) and chickpeas. She liked it, but to save room she ate only the mollusc.

My starter: the house terrine with pork, chicken liver, and pickled veggies on the side. It was at least twice as thick as the terrine you usually get in a restaurant, and I knew if I ate it all, I wouldn’t be able to handle my cabbage. Sadly, I left about a third of it. That’s sad, because it was excellent.

The pickled vegetables below replaced the usual small pickles (cornichons) served with paté.  These were lovely. I hate cauliflower, but crunched greedily on this version and on the carrots. I’ve never had pickled vegetables so tasty. Of course I downed my terrine with plenty of the local bread.

Winnie’s plat: the classic coquilles St. Jacques (scallops, nine total) served in scallop shells and resting on a bed of garlicky mushroom duxelles. ringed with baked mashed potatoes that were crunchy on top and soft inside. She pronounced it excellent. (The French say “miam miam” instead of “yum yum”, but they sound the same.)

Scallop season in France goes from October 1 to May 15, and catching them smaller than 11 cm is not allowed.

Nicole and I had the famous stuffed cabbage. Here’s the award for Best Stuffed Cabbage in France that they display proudly:

IT WAS A WHOLE DAMN CABBAGE, not just a few stuffed leaves. I’m not sure what was in the stuffing, but certainly pork, and then, in the middle, a hunk of salted ham. It was terrific!

Partly dissected:

Partly dissected showing the coeur de jambon.  Many people ordered this but none finished it. I ate about 60%, and they even offered to let us take the rest home (if I lived here I would have!)

Desserts. Last night Winnie said that she and Nicole had decided to have three desserts between the two of them (I was going to pass on dessert and have a Mont Blanc pastry at Angelinas across the Seine.) I didn’t think they could do it, but they did!

First, profiteroles (creampuffs) with ice cream and warm chocolate sauce:

Second, rhubarb Pavlova with strawberries and frozen yogurt:

And a delicious Parisian flan with vanilla. It had the consistency of cheesecake rather than flan, and was redolent with vanilla bean (you can see the seeds in the cake). I had some and it was incroyable.

Nicole (photographing me) and Winnie during dessert. Afterwards, Nicole pronounced that she’d eaten way too much. But she has the makings of a foodie in her!

We strolled across the river to the famous Place de la Concorde, which was hardly harmonious during the French Revolution, for this is where the guillotine was set up to lop off the heads of royalty and commoners alike. In its center is one of the two Egyptian Luxor Obelisks, constructed around 1250 BC and given to France by Egypt in 1830. Moving it must have been quite a job! It was towed on its own ship by another sailing ship.

The gold-leaf cover was added in 1998, and the height of the obelisk and newer pedestal is about 33 m (109 feet).

It still has the original hieroglyphics, whose translation is here:

Two famous structures in the same frame, built more than a millennium apart:

We made a quick stop in the fancy shop of the Japanese designer Issey Miyake, as Winnie likes his clothes (he died not long ago). Her “anemone pants” are by Miyake. Here’s one outfit on display.

I looked at some price tags of the clothes, and very small blouses were over 1000€. I have to admit that a lot of his stuff is nice, though I’m not keen on the outfit below.

Then a stiff walk down the Rue Rivoli to Angelina’s. Instead of going inside, I decided to buy one of their famous Mont Blancs and take it back to my hotel. In fact, I just polished it off before I wrote this paragraph: it’s pure cream filling covered with ribbons of rich, chestnut-purée frosting, all resting on a thin cookie. It is outstanding.

Angelina’s. We skipped the line to sit down with pastries and hot chocolate, as I didn’t think my stomach could handle both.

Of course, to get at the goods, you have to open the fiendishly devised pastry box that they put the Mont Blanc in, and that’s after after you remove the box from the requisite fancy bag:

Et voila! A Mont Blanc in all its glory!:

Partly eaten. Oy, was it good!

And that was my last meal in Paris, the world’s most beautiful and romantic city (I haven’t seen them all, but this is still on top). My next meal will be whatever glop Air France decides to give me on the way home tomorrow. I will miss this town. All told, I’ve probably spent about a year in Paris (I did six months hear during my first sabbatical in 1989, when I met Matthew in the fly lab at the CNRS an hour out of town. (I decided to live in Paris, and had a garret apartment in the Sixth.)

A la prochaine!

Paris: Day 7, meal 7

April 17, 2023 • 11:30 am

We will temporarily skip the post abut yesterday’s meal—but only for a short time—because that will involve a longer post since I also went to the Musée de l’Homme (and watched a Catholic mass and baptism before lunch) and took some photos that would make this post too time-consuming to write today.  I’ll post about Sunday’s all-you-can-eat lamb leg lunch either tomorrow or Wednesday.

But enjoy an account of our gargantuan lunch from today. We returned to a place where we had a spectacular meal several years ago, and then a not-so-great one last week. We decided to give it one more try, as it might have been having an off day last Wednesday. And I’m glad we did.

We returned in fact to the Restaurant Cartet, having specified in advance that we wanted to try the navarin:  French lamb and turnip stew. Dominique, the owner, cook, manager, and server (he’s the only guy who works there) requested in turn that Winnie wear her spiky, stretchy pants, as (being a gardener) he said they reminded him of anemone flowers moving in the breeze. (Remember, this is France.).

So, Winnie donned her trousers and we met at Le Cartet, worried that the meal would be so-so like the one we had last week. But then, as Dominique unlocked the door to let us in (and then relocked it), we spotted four big bowls of desserts on one table to the right, and three big entrees on the other, and we knew we were in for another belly buster. First, the trousers in question:

What we saw upon entering: the desserts: riz au lait (rice pudding), the cream for Îles flottantes (floating islands), into which you put big globs of stiff meringue at the last moment, a gigantic tureen of crème caramel, and bugnes (small crispy pastries dusted with sugar, not visible in photo below). We did not know that a tureen of fantastic chocolate mousse, the best I’ve ever had, was also lurking in the kitchen. The huge array of desserts and entrées let us know that Cartet was back on form.

These are not ramekins; they are BIG BOWLS and TUREENS.

The entrées: beef muzzle with mustard sauce (not my favorite, but still pretty good), fresh artichokes with fresh pecorino cheese, and my favorite of all Dominiques starters, endives with walnuts, also with mustard sauce. There was a also a plate of beautiful tomatoes, which he displayed because some of them had gone into the navarin.

 Starters: the endives. Yum! This is a world-class entrée.

Beef muzzle (enough for 6 people as a starter)

Fresh artichokes with peas and pecorino cheese:

At this point we were discussing Calvados (a meal at Cartet, if you befriend Dominique, is half eating and have chatting with le chef), and Dominique displayed this bottle of Didier Lemorton Reserve Calvados from Normandy, which he said was made from 70% apple and 30% pear. He brought it out because the wine we were drinking was redolent of pear. (I am now regretting not having a small taste of the Calvados after lunch, as I see it’s highly rated on the Internet.)

The plat (main course) was navarin: spring lamb and turnip stew with tomatoes, peas, carrots, and mushrooms.  We ate almost the whole bowl, sopping up the juices with crusty baguette. I didn’t hold out much hope for lamb and turnip stew, but this is a traditional seasonal dish in France, called navarin printanier when made with fresh Spring veggies. And Ceiling Cat help me if it wasn’t delicious!

We also had the same luscious white wine we had last time

Desserts: The crème caramel, which was about four inches thick with a crispy crust, luscious creamy/gelatinous interior, and a layer of caramel sauce at the bottom. Délicieux! This is a big crock that could feed five, but we ate nearly half of it. (There is no hope of finishing most dishes at Cartet, and the chef knows it.) But Winnie and I are nearly equal to the task, for we are feeders.

Below: rice pudding, some of the finest I’ve ever had, rivaling that of L’Ami Jean before that bistro went steeply downhill due to an influx of diners driven there by Adam Gopnik’s favorable review in The New Yorker. I’ll never forgive Adam for writing about the place! We took a pass on the isle flottante as we didn’t want to waste the meringue and we were getting pretty full.

Again, this is enough for four or five people even as a single dessert. It’s very rich.  Perhaps it’s in my Jewish genes, but I love rice pudding.

On the side we got a bonus plate of bugnes lyonnais craquantesa crispy accompaniment to wet desserts. They’re basically made of donut ingredients and deep fried, then dusted with powdered sugar.

Just as we could barely eat any more dessert (or a molecule of any food), Dominique appeared at the kitchen door with a big bowl of chocolate mousse, and put a huge spoonful of it on each of our plates. Yes, it was the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had: cakelike on the top, more moussemo-ish a bit further down, and with small bits of solid chocolate floating throughout. The taste and texture were incomparable.

Dominique doesn’t like to be photographed, but he obliged me by posing with the bowl of mousse over his face.

While we were eating, he was cleaning a bunch of chinaberries (Melia azedarach) to make a necklace and bracelets from the seeds for the children who were coming this evening.

This is a TON of work: you have to boil the berries to loosen the skin, peel it off, scrub the berries with a nylon sponge-thingie so they’re clean, and then let them dry. Chinaberries are popular in some places to make jewelry as the dried seeds are crenulated like a peeled orange and have a natural hole in them, perfect for stringing. They are also used to make rosaries. The fruits and skins are toxic to humans, but are consumed by birds.

One seed. You can’t see the natural hole through it, but, when dried, these can be easily strung on a thread.

Dominique did all this work simply to bring joy to the children dining there tonight. He works because he loves to work, and he doesn’t care about money, which is why he usually serves only one table at lunch and/or dinner.

For more on chinaberry jewelry, go here. I think the trees are easily found in the US.

Here’s our reservation in the book; note that it just says “Winnie” and “2 couverts” (two “covers”, or customers). Again, there were only two of us at lunch, but there would be four for dinner. Although the restaurant opens at noon, Winnie asked to dine at 11:30 so we’d have at least 2.5 hours for lunch (not a long lunch at Cartet)—she had a later engagement. Note that “Navarin” is listed by her name, as we requested it this time.

Finally, Dominique does all the produce shopping for the restaurant, sometimes getting up at 2 a.m. for the hour-long schlep to the Rungis wholesale market, where Les Halles moved when in 1973 it evacuated its centuries-long location in the middle of the city. The market is only open very early in the morning, and only chefs and the like are allowed to shop there. It’s the second largest wholesale food market in the world (second only to Mexico City), and is larger than Monaco!

Winnie took this picture of me after lunch. If you enlarge it, I suspect you’ll see that my tummy is enlarged:

For readers, I still recommend this restaurant highly: two of the three meals we had there were nothing short of spectacular, and will be remembered fondly. It’s an absolutely unique place, and you’ll have to call for reservations.

Again, you might hit it on an off day, but if you order the boeuf ficelle, you can’t go wrong (specify when reserving, or ask what is on offer).  It ain’t cheap: lunch for two was 300 euros, but in my view we got our money’s worth. (There is no menu with prices; you are simply presented with a bill at the end that gives the total price, sometimes separated by food and wine.)

Now I am in my hotel, typing on my laptop but keeping it off of my stomach, which is still painfully distended with lunch

Bon appétit!

Paris: Day 5, meal 5; plus sightseeing

April 15, 2023 • 11:30 am

As I said, I didn’t sleep a wink last night, and though I was a total wreck in the morning, some Parisian air, a Métro ride, and a hefty lunch bucked me up.  So much so, in fact, that we did some sightseeing afterwards.

First, my favorite sign on the Métro, and I am going to use my own translation, which is mine, and one I like:

ATTENTION!  Do not put your hands in the doors, by doing so you risk getting them pinched VERY HARD.

Silly rabbit. . .

On to the restaurant; Winnie knew I liked duck and had searched out a duck restaurant, La Grange Aux Canards, which turned out to be near my old stomping grounds in the Sixth. It was in fact a Southwestern French restaurant, but every item save one on the main menu and few entées, cheeses, and desserts, was made with duck (there was one steak; see below). The menu is here.

I had stopped eating duck because I love them and take care of the mallards of Botany Pond (don’t mention my hypocrisy; I already know it), but I slipped up this one time because French duck breast, cooked rare, is to die for. I will go to hell, I know.

Of course the restaurant was full of duck-related items. This was under the main counter:

And three ducks on the wall. Winnie’s translation:

We, the southwest of France…
…if we can…
…we avoid it!

Clearly you don’t want to be a duck in southwest France! I’m not sure who the artist was.

Winnie had 12 ESCARGOTS, Beurre d’échalote au vin blanc, persillade et Bayonne. (Caps are from the manu.) That is snails with all the trimmings.

I had the COU DE CANARD FARCI AU PORC ET CANARD (duck neck stuffed with pork and duck, served with small potatoes and dressed lettuce. It was a very good starter: