Author Archives: JWH

Hoover Dam

I took a 30 mile side-trip from Las Vegas to visit Hoover Dam.  What an incredible construction project!  I thought Las Vegas was huge in scale until I saw the dam!

Here is an aerial view of the dam, the Colorado River, and Lake Mead.  The red arrow is pointed to some cars to give you an idea of scale. (Many of these photos are from the internet.)

The dam was constructed to control the devastating flooding of California croplands and to generate electrical power.  It is considered to be one of the Wonders of the Modern World.

The dam is located on the state line between Nevada (left)  and Arizona (right) with a road that passes over the top of the dam.  Because the dam attracts so many tourists, the road became a bottleneck for local traffic. In 2010 an arched bypass bridge was constructed just south of the dam – another spectacular building project!

During the construction of the bridge when the arch was completed.

The dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936.  To build it, the Colorado River had to be diverted so a temporary bypass was created.  On the right in map below,  a barrier (red-orange) and the underground diversion pipes (lavender) are depicted.  The 4 pipes were 56 feet in diameter and, combined, measured 3 miles in length.

A section of a diversion pipe.

The dam was built with huge, steel-reinforced concrete blocks, constructed on site.  The base of the dam was thicker than at the top.

Molds were made for the blocks, they were filled with concrete, and when cured, another layer of blocks was constructed on top.

Diagram of the block construction.

The blocks were huge. (Maybe the size if a transport container.)  The concrete was delivered in big buckets.

Constructing the dam was one undertaking, the other was the infrastructure and housing for up to 5250 workers and their families.  A rail line was built across the desert to the site to bring in materials and supplies.  During the first summer, workers and their families lived in shanties and tents in up to 130 F temperatures.  The location was called “Rag Town” because rags were used to cover poles to provide shade. The following year, basic housing was provided nearby, a site that is now Boulder City.  Transporting thousands of workers from their homes to the site was accomplished with transporters carrying 150 men at a time.

Of the 5000 workers hired for the project, no more than 30 were black.  Native Americans were hired for scaling the sides of the canyon, very dangerous work. These workers dipped their hats in buckets of tar to harden them – the first hard hat.

This is a sculpture honoring the the Native American Scalers.

Two hydroelectric power plants exist at the base of the dam, one in Nevada with eight turbines and the other in Arizona with nine.  I visited the Nevada side.

 The power that is produced is part of a grid that provides electricity to neighboring states. This diagram shows the grid.

As I walked around the site and learned about the history and capabilities of the project, I got chills thinking about the human ingenuity and commitment it took to construct this dam, the same kind of ingenuity and commitment that it took to put a man on the moon.  Humans are amazing!

 

 

 

 

More Las Vegas

As I visited the Hotels, I became intrigued by some of the over-the-top chandeliers.  This one is in the lobby of the Bellagio.  It is made of numerous handblown glass forms by Dale Chihuly.

This grouping is in the Wynn.

Also at the Wynn.

This one is at the Luxor. It constantly changes colors.

For more spectacular chandeliers, click here.

As I deplaned at the Las Vegas airport, I was greeted by slot machines at the gate! In the 3 days I spent in the city, I encountered thousands of slot machines in casinos and other locations.  But I was not even tempted!

The CASINOS are multi sensory.  There is loud, rhythmic music, the racket of the slots, the ambient noise of people talking, the swirling, flashing and colorful blinking of the machines, and there is the smoke. At my hotel, it was a struggle not to get lost in the maze of the casino floor as I wandered through the forest of machines trying to find my way from the front lobby to the elevator to my room.

I decided that the correlation between smokers and gamblers is that they are risk takers!

I was attracted to some of the designs of the slots, my favorite ones where the wheels.

I only took in one show because there was nothing else that interested me for the cost of the tickets. (I’ve already attended two Cirque de Soleil performances in Orlando.) What did get my attention was a Bee Gees tribute performance, one of my favorite rock groups.  As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago, I attended a performance in Woonsocket, RI, of another Bee Gees tribute group. The group in Las Vegas features themselves as the Australian Bee Gees and their performance in mimicking the sound, appearance, and attitude of the original members of the group was spot on. They would have made Barry, Robin and Maurice proud!

 

I spent an afternoon checking out an Arts District in downtown Las Vegas.  I was disappointed that I did not find much in the way of studios or galleries, but I did encounter quite a few murals.

I also visited the Fremont Street Experience, a four block long pedestrian mall and tourist attraction in downtown Las Vegas. The area is covered with a 90 foot high barrel vault that contains 12 million LED bulbs that provide for a continuous display of moving and flashing signage and designs. Looking straight up at the flashing lights can make one dizzy!

At the ground level are shops full of souvenirs and rhinestone embellished clothing, eateries, casinos, and entertainment establishments.  On the street are street performers, vendors, hawkers, and panhandlers. A zip line runs under the canopy along its length for the adventurous!

I was there in late afternoon and  got the sense that the place comes alive at night. During the day, there was not much going on other than people taking it all in.

While in Las Vegas I encountered impersonators looking for tourists to take their pictures for a “tip.”  That is why I photographed this Elvis from the back.

These young women wanted $10 each after to took a snap.  They were lucky to get $3.00 each!

That covers my few days in Las Vegas.  I enjoyed discovering the visual appearance and cultural vibe of the place. I’m glad I went, but I have no desire to return. Been there, done that! Next?

I will post about my side trip to the Hoover Dam in my next post.

Las Vegas Strip – WOW

I don’t gamble and I’m not a shopper. I came to Las Vegas for three days to see what it was all about. On my first day here, I discovered that the Strip is all about scale.  The hotel complexes are HUGE. The exteriors are GRAND and OVERSIZE and the interiors are VAST. Lobbies are GRANDIOSE, shopping corridors are LONG and WIDE, casinos are as LARGE as football fields. The spaces are OVERWHELMING and filled with HUNDREDS of people. High rise towers loom above in a BIG sky. The hotels are spaced at least a city block from each other and the major streets are ten lanes wide. And all of this is situated in a flat basin at 2000 ft. above sea level surrounded by Sierra Nevada Mountains about 35 miles away.

All hotels have casinos  (more in next blog) and most have several restaurants, a food court, a spa, wedding salons, many shops, convention meeting rooms, entertainment auditoriums, digital build boards flashing their entertainment, pools and health facilities. The Wynn has a golf course and New York New York has a roller coaster. There are medium priced hotels (under $100 per night) and very high-end, luxury hotels.

I stayed at the Excalibur Hotel with a medieval theme – I was not impressed with the architecture or decor, but it was convenient and comfortable place to stay. It is located at the southern end of the Strip. I was on the 28th floor looking north.

From my window I had a view of the Strip looking north. The main part of the Strip where hotels are located is about 5 miles in length.

This is night view I took from the internet. The replica of the Eiffel Tower is 2 miles away from where the photo was taken.

I satisfied my curiosity on my first day by traveling by bus and on foot up and down the Strip.  I took pictures of the hotels that have the most interesting exteriors and some of the interiors.

This is just part of the NEW YORK NEW YORK complex that fills an entire city block


Not only does PARIS feature a 1/4 size replica of the Eiffel Tower, there is also an Arc de Triumph and extensive wrought iron work canopies at the main entrance in an art nouveau style.

This is the LUXOR. The pyramid is much larger than it appears here.

The BELLAGIO is one of the most upscale hotel complexes.

This is the entrance portico for the Bellagio where there are five lanes for vehicles to drop off and pick up guests.

The Bellagio is famous for its water fountain show in the large pond in front of the hotel. (photo from internet)

The Bellagio has a huge glass enclosed atrium with a display honoring the Indian celebration of Holi, a Festival of Love. There are two 14 foot elephants with blankets made out of 20,000 artificial roses.

Caesars Place reflected in windows of high rise.

This is the canal in front of the VENETIAN. There is also a canal on this interior, second floor. I was very impressed by the extent that the hotel carried out the theme in its architecture and decor. It is large complex of buildings covering about 2 city blocks including a tower and bridge not included in my images.

This is the interior canal with a painted fake sky.

The Wynn hotel had a glass enclosed atrium with festive display made out of paper.

On the right is a sample of a delightful carpet design.

There were many corridors with mosaic patterned floors. This fellow is the official repairer of the mosaic floors.  Below is his inventory of mosaics.

More in the next blog post – stay tuned.

 

 

 

NYC Weekend of Art

I tested out my new knee during a few days in NYC going from one art venue to another.  All went well! Next week I will take my new knee to Las Vegas. Here are just a few of the interesting and delightful art encounters I had in the Big Apple.

I started out at Hudson Yards, a huge development area with high-rise residencies; a large, upscale shopping complex; and a cultural art center overlooking the Hudson River at 34th Street.  I started at the Vessel, an eight story open air architectural (public art) structure.  My knee and my age qualified me to ride the elevator to the top while everyone else climbed the stairs to enjoy the views. (Only 6 people per time on the elevator that only ran every 15 minutes.  The elevator is run by WiFi connection and when the signal is slow, so is the elevator!)

Next to the Vessel is the Shed, the cultural art center where I visited a retrospective exhibit of the work of Agnes Denes, a public artist, philosopher, intellectual, scientist, environmentalist, and draughts-women.  I usually do not relate to conceptual art because I often find the “concepts” underlying the art frivolous, but not in the case of Denes.  She believes that abstract concepts can be analyzed visually and she sets about putting data and abstract ideas into drawings/diagrams.  These drawings are incredibly rendered with delicate ink lines on graph paper, so perfectly drawn that they look computer generated, but they are not.   Finely detailed and labor intensive, she does not make mistakes – no erasing, no white outs!   Along with the drawings are explanations of her ideas, which take awhile to absorb.

In one extensive series, she focused on pyramids and here is one of her drawings.

It appears to be drawn with rows of marks. On close inspection, the marks are figures, about 3/16th of an inch high.  That is small!!

In addition to her drawings, she also has undertaken environmental public art projects.  I was intrigued by a project that she undertook in Finland to reclaim a gravel pit.  She made a Forest Mountain by mounding earth into a mini mountain and then planting 11,000 tree seedlings in a pattern that mimics the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower.  People all over the world were invited to plant the trees and anyone who could not travel to Finland could have a seedling planted for them by a child.  Each person who donated a seedling was given a certificate of ownership for the tree.

Denes’ drawing.

I also visited the complex of shops at Hudson Yards where I found a wall of interactive art created by Lara Schnitger.  The surface of the wall was covered in a patchwork of sequin fabric where the sequins were of one color on one side and another color on the other.  By moving your finger up or down, you can arrange the sequins to make marks on the wall.  The wall was attracting lots of attention.

My marks: PAWTUCKET PUBLIC ART, a committee I chair.

Then I went to visit the newly remodeled and expanded MOMA.  It was a delight to see many of the well known works from their permanent collection displayed in a new way along with many less familiar works.  Three of the floors exhibit work within the time frames of 1880 – 1940’s, 1940’s – 1970’s, and 1970 to the present. Each of these floors have many galleries where the work is curated by theme, such as “Planes of Color,” “Out of War,” “Stamp, Scavenge, Crush,” etc.  It is interesting to see and compare the works of several artists working with similar themes or formal properties. However, there were so many galleries on each floor that it was easy to get lost without a map!  I explored 2 floors and could not absorb any more.  It is a museum to visit and revisit many times!

On another floor were 11 installations created from a variety of media.  I unexpectedly found one of them very compelling. At first it looked like just a pile of junk. But the more I examined it, the more I discovered an order made out of a great variety of things. The variety was intriguing and I found the order whimsical and precarious. Parts of it had lighting, other parts had mechanical movement, even some sound was generated with bubbling water.  In the center was a moving pendulum. I am an artist that creates by arranging shapes, colors, lines, and textures in compositions where the relationships of these elements is important in conveying interest.  I could relate to Sarah Sze’s very deliberate arrangements that look haphazard until one looks closely.

Then I ventured to the Met Breuer, the former location of the Whitney Museum.  On two floors of the Breuer I viewed the paintings and drawings of another woman artist, Vija Clemins.  Here paintings were rendered in gray paint and I did not find them very interesting. On the other hand, her drawings can be admired for their technical skill. Her favorite subjects are the surfaces of rippling water and night time skies.  Using pencil or charcoal, she renders these subjects with compulsive detail.  After looking at so many of her drawings, I left the museum with these images burned into my mind.  I could not help but see ripples and starry constellations every where!

Sidewalk and tree bark along Madison Avenue.

The next museum I visited for the first time was the Neue Galerie, a museum of 20th century German and Austrian art. It is the private collection of Ronald Lauder of the cosmetic family. Two floors were devoted to a retrospective of the paintings and prints of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, an early 20th century German Expressionist. His work expresses the social decay of Germany at that time (1920) as well as Kirchner’s own troubled spirit.  This is one of his best known works depicting a street in Berlin where the well dressed elite are depicted with blank stares and empty souls. (He was influenced by Munch and Van Gogh.)

And then on another floor are the Klimt’s, the best known one is the Woman in Gold. I have seen a number of Gustav Klimt paintings in Vienna, including the Kiss, but the Woman in Gold is perhaps his most glamorous.

I finished up my art adventure with a visit to the Museum of Art and Design where there were two textile shows.  The first featured the fashions of Anna Sui, a designer known for her wonderful combinations of patterns and fabrics, textures and layers.  She was one of the first designers to appreciate the Grunge look when young people were finding and combining thrift shop clothing in unconventional ways. Sui made it her signature look by addressing her style head to toe with headwear, accessories and footwear.  It is a fun, luscious  look!

On the left is a design board for one of her seasons.

Also on view at the museum were the textiles by Vera who believed that designer textiles should be available to everyone and were priced accordingly.  She is probably best known for her lively designs on scarves and linens.

Wrapping up my visit were my rides on the new 2nd street subway. I was staying with my friend, Linda, who lives one block from the station that depicts Chuck Close portraits in tilework throughout.

Next week – Las Vegas!

Oaxaca Day of Dead 2

Throughout Oaxaca during Day of the Dead festivities, flowers are abundant, especially marigolds and cocks combs.  Flowers are used extensively on altars but are also used to create images on the ground and to create pathways to the altars.

In a large plaza several huge flower pictures were displayed.

During our first evening we witnessed a city full of fun pageantries, serious reenactments, dance contests, Catrina beauty competitions, food vendors and throngs of people having a grand time!  It was like New Years Eve in NYC!

And more Catrinas.

In the markets we discovered special D of D items such as brightly decorated sugar skulls, many of which are placed on the altars.

Papel picado (pierced paper) folk art flags with skulls and Catrinas.

And special breads.

We visited a gallery with a D of D art exhibit.

And then, for two nights in a row, we visited very large cemeteries, one in the city and one on the outskirts.  There we encountered people visiting family graves that were decorated with flowers, lit with candles and lanterns, and where offerings were placed.  Families sat around the graves most of the night picnicking and listening to recorded music or music performed by roving mariachi bands.  Occasionally we saw “live” skeletons.  (my camera was not good with night-time photos without using a flash.)

Outside one of the cemeteries, there were vendors with flowers, lanterns  and candles, etc. along with food vendors that contributed to a lively atmosphere.

There was nothing morbid about our whole experience.  Instead, it was an on-going fiesta morning, noon and night!

Oaxaca Day of the Dead 1

I am reposting images of a trip that I took several years ago to experience the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I am reposting because the original posting was on a blog site that has since been taken down.

I traveled with Charlotte, my travel buddy and high school friend, and we stayed in an apartment in the heart of the city. We arrived several days before November 2 so as to discover pre-celebrations.  Three days ahead of the Big Day, parades started taking place with people in costumes and face makeup and lots of musicians, all in a festive atmosphere.  Even people not in the parade wandered the streets in makeup while gringos looked on and snapped photos.

The theme of death might seem gruesome, but the Mexicans embrace its mysteries though elaborate ancestral traditions that include parades and costumes, food, decorations, altars, images, prayers, mourning, and offerings. The celebrations are full of remembrances, nostalgia, and respect for those family members who have passed on.  The souls of the deceased return on October 31 to reunite with the living which is both a sad and happy occasion.  These traditions have roots in Pre-Colonial Central Mexico.

An image that has come to signify the Day of the Dead is La Calavera Catrina, meaning “Dapper
Skeleton.” It originated from an etching by Jose Guadalupe Posada, an early 20th satirical artist.  The image depicts a skeleton in an elaborate hat as a way for the artist to mock the indigenous people who took on the life style of European aristocrats.  The popularity of the image also connotes the Mexican outlook of making fun of death.  (Painting faces white and black emphasizes the features of a skull but also references the French use of white makeup to lighten the appearance of their skin and Posada’s distain at its use by Mexicans to deny their ethnic identity.)

One of the art schools had a contest for students to create Catrina bridal outfits from recycled material and paper.  Here is the winner.

Many of those in the parade did the zombie walk.

There were also skits demonstrating that no one escapes death.

Also, coffins were plentiful as were references to Satan.

Throughout the city were altars decorated with photos of the deceased, their favorite foods and items such as cigarettes or playing cards.

More in the next post.

 

People of Israel and Jordan

All of the people we met where welcoming and congenial (except for the Russian hotel staff at the Dead Sea.) English is spoken wildly and taught in the schools, so communicating was fairly easy.  We also enjoyed people-watching because of the cultural diversity of dress.  Here are some people that were not mentioned in earlier posts.

I chatted with this young women in Amman while we were sitting on steps eating street food.

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I observed these women from Saudi Arabia in a restaurant.  They were all on their cell phones.

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This fellow was selling incense in the Old Town market in Jerusalem.

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Here is his frankincense and myrrh.

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This fellow was a chatty juice vendor.  He prepared fresh pomegranate juice for the group.

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This fellow was mending a carpet in one of the markets.

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This is Abraham, our Bedouin guide, on the Jeep tour of the desert.

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This is Betsey who chatted with a charming donkey driver at Petra.  We agreed that he looked like Johnny Depp.

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This is the mule driver that we hired for our retreat from Petra.

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This is David Miro, a coppersmith and an Iraqi Jew. David was one of many who fled to Israel from Baghdad after the 1941 pogrom called the Farhud. Almost 800 Jews were killed. The Grand Mufti and Hitler were linked to the Farhud. After the Farhud, life became unbearable for the Baghdad Jews. By 1950 they were allowed to leave. Many of them went to Israel and continued their business of copper work. (Photo by Rick Dallin)

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David works in copper and silver plated copper.

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This was our guide in Bethlehem.   Hasraf told us that his father was Orthodox and his mother was a Roman Catholic.  To avoid conflict, he said was an Arab Christian.

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This fellow, a Hasidic Jew, entertained us in a plaza in Jerusalem.

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This is Sandra.  She shared with us the story of her family during the Holocaust.  She was a child in Poland and separated from her family – her father was taken to a camp and her mother disappeared when Sandra was three.  She was hidden by a non-Jewish Polish nanny, then taken to a refugee camp, then to a school in France in preparation for being sent to Israel.  After the war, she was reunited with her father, but became estranged from him.  She immigrated to the States where she had three daughters.  The whole family now lives in Israel.

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This is Luna. She was our guide at the kibbutz and showed us around the complex. She  described her experience living there and how, over the years, the rules and guidelines have evolved and have become more liberal.

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This is Doris who hosted us for lunch in Jaffa. She shared with us her life in Israel as a Christian Arab Israeli who was born in Jaffa and whose family originally immigrated to Israel from Lebanon.  She is a vivacious, former Israeli beauty pageant winner who demonstrated to us that she is her own person!

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This couple, Connie and Joseph, told us about their life style as Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Joseph explained his beliefs to us and answered questions about his study of Jewish texts and how they are raising their children.  They were a delightful couple.

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This Muslim family entertained us in their home in Amman, Jordan.  Omar is in 11th grade and planning to study engineering when he graduates from high school.  His sister, Sarah, (standing next to him) is attending law school and wants to specialize in civil rights.  Jasmine, the little girl, was very sweet and somewhat shy.  Teg, the mother, is married to a tour guide.  The woman to the left helped serve the meal.  They all spoke English very well, including Jasmine, and were a really fun family!

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This is Firas, a Palestinian Muslim, who talked to us about the Israel – Palestinian situation and how each area, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, have different histories and unique politics and how complicated the issues are. There are no easy solutions, but he is optimistic that little steps forward can eventual resolve the conflicts.

This is Revital, our outstanding guide in Israel.  She made the trip fun, interesting, and educational!  She had the challenge of trying to teach us the complicated history of Israel going back 3,000 years up to the current present.  And she was up to it!

And here is the group of 16 well-traveled members of our tour group who came from all over the US.  We were traveling during the mid-term elections, and not one peep was uttered about US politics.  We put congeniality before political opinions – well done!  We had lots of laughs along the way and made great memories together.

To sum up, it was a fabulous trip, rich in cultural experiences.  Unique to this trip for me was learning how the complicated history of the Mid-East impacts current times. It was a tour packed with activities and lots of walking and climbing steps, and although I gained weight, my legs are stronger than they have been in a long time!

Here is a map of my incredible three-week journeys in Jordan and Israel.

Now I’m thinking about where I want to go next.

 

 

 

Markets of Israel and Jordan

Driving through the towns and cities, I noticed the storefront signage.  I found the characters and fonts visually interesting as patterns.  I have no idea what these signs say, some are in Arabic and others in Hebrew.

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We visited markets in both countries.  Some markets were modern with food, cosmetics, hardware, clothing, and places to eat – just like our malls.  And they had modern malls as well. Other markets were traditional markets that carried mostly food items.  In some markets we discovered tourist souvenirs.

We visited this modern market in Jerusalem where our guide took us on a tasting tour.

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Here we are being giving samples of various spice/herb mixtures by an enthusiastic salesman.

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This is a traditional shop in Jordan with narrow aisles.

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This is where I discovered at lot of tiny eggplants.

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We tried jack fruit. Smelly, but a mild, sweet flavor.

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We saw lots of candy shops with bins of brightly colored gummy treats.  They all looked like they would taste the same.

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And lots of spice and herb shops with huge bags filled to the brim.  I don’t know how they can sell that much product!  Betsey and I admired the pyramid of herbs in this fellow’s shop. If I lived there I would probably buy from him just because of his display skills.

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More for sale.

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Many flavors of halva.

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Other merchandize included yarmulkes in many styles.  You can get one with the insignia of your favorite sports team, Disney character, or political saying.  Notice in upper right, there is a “Trump, Make America Great” yarmulke!

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There were candles and ceramics galore as well as jewelry.

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And scarves, including lots of keffiyeh in a variety of colors.

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Next, some of the people we met along the way.

 

 

Food

My clothes fit tighter! It was really tough trying to resist tasting everything. A typical meal began with multiple dishes of salads served family style accompanied with pita or other bread.  Then the main course of fish, lamb, or chicken, beef less frequently, served with either potatoes or rice.  And large servings! Then a dessert.  On a number of occasions, we ate at buffets with generous varieties of salads, main dishes, and desserts.  All of our breakfasts were buffets.  And all delicious!  And hummus at every meal including breakfast! The food was a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

Here is an array of first course dishes. Enough food to make a meal just of the first course.

Some main courses.

Roasted chicken and pilaf.

We had hummus in many variations.  Because pomegranates were in season, they were used liberally in many preparations.

Our first meal in Jordan was at a famous falafel restaurant, famous because it was a favorite of the King of Jordan.  The pita was freshly baked and we built our own sandwiches.

This is part of a breakfast buffet. Salads of herbed veggies, slaws, rice, marinated veggies, hummus, and baba ganoush, etc. plus breads, eggs, fish, cereal, fruit, juices, and yogurt. In Israel, the meals were usually Kosher, so there was no meat at breakfast.

This is the meat roasting for shawerma, an Israeli version of a gyro.

Desserts included a variety of Middle Eastern sweets, dripping in honey.

This was a semolina pudding with whipped cream, honey, and pistachios.

Besides pita, we had a thin, crisp flatbread, western style breads, croissants, and huge bagels.

Betsey learned how to manipulate a banana so she can entertain her grand kids!

In this photo, she is still wearing her $4.50 watch.  It gave out on day 5.

Next, some of the markets we visited.

 

 

 

Dead Sea

On our way to the Dead Sea we drove through the Judaean Desert. It is a very barren place. The limestone mountains have eroded producing deep ravines (wadis) that make the landscape appear very rugged.

Then we drove along the coast of the Dead Sea and saw sink holes that have formed in the last 20 years because, due to global warming, the desert is drying out, the water level of the Dead Sea is decreasing, and the sandy rock has become less stable.  This area used to have recreational areas along the coast. Now because of the danger of sink holes, there are fences and warning signs everywhere.

While we were driving along, we had a rain storm that came and went very quickly.  We later learned that not long after we had passed by, a flash flood caused a section of the road to collapse. We also learned that when there is a storm in Jerusalem, the water runs to the Dead Sea which makes sense since the elevation is 1412 ft. below sea level – the lowest place on earth.  This was the same storm that caused flash flooding in Petra.

Here is a video of the hole in the road:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkfaHlhOZrQ

Right next to the Dead Sea are mountains and on the top of one of them is Masada, a fort and palace built by Herod in 30 BC.  He built it because he had a lot of enemies and wanted a place where he could get a way and be safe.

The top of the mountain is a plateau measuring 1,800 ft by 890 ft. Herod built a wall around the top of the mountain with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses, barracks, an armory, two palaces, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater, as well as baths.  The large palace he built for himself sits at the north end where the cliffs are very steep.  The palace was built on three levels.

We got to the top by cable car.  One member of our group hiked up.  It took him about an hour and 15 minutes to walk a very steep path.

Left: For scale, the arrow is pointing to a group of hikers who are wearing red shirts.

Right: The arrow is pointing to a rectangle at the base of the mountain.  It is what remains of a Roman military camp.

Some of the ruins of Herod’s palace.

Herod died in 4 BC. and the palace was abandoned. In 70 AD the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were run out of Jerusalem.  The Romans were intent on getting all Jews out of the whole area and many fled to other parts of the world.  There were still some Jewish resistance, and a group of dedicated resisters settled into Masada.  There they discovered food stored away in Herod’s storerooms,  enough food to last for 7 years. And they had Herod’s system of trenches and cisterns for collecting water.

Herod’s fortified structure, surrounded by steep cliffs, protected the resisters and their families, numbering 960, from the 15,000 Romans who built 8 military camps at the base of the mountain.  But there was one cliff that was not as high, so the Romans, used Jewish slaves who had been captured in previous battles, to construct a ramp to the top.  It took 2 years to construct the ramp and tons of rock.  In the meantime, the Romans could not understand why the resisters didn’t die of starvation since the could not leave the fort to obtain food or water.

Then in 73 AD, the Romans brought in a huge battering ram, dragged it up the ramp and breached the walls. Legend has it that all they found were dead bodies, except for two women and five children hiding in a cistern.  The story goes that the resisters decided that they did not want to be taken captive. Since Jewish Law forbids suicide and the penalty is no afterlife, they killed each other, including their families members, and picked by lot, the person who would be the last, and he would sacrifice an afterlife and kill himself.  The story goes that the women told the Romans what happened and it was recorded.  Since there is no archaeological evidence to document the event, it is disputed by scholars.  At any rate, Masada was the last stronghold of Jewish resisters which began the Jewish diaspora.

In the chamber that is identified as the resister’s synagog, we observed a bar mitzvah taking place.  The young man and his family were from New York. (photo by Revital)

In the museum at Masada I saw tiny oil lamps that dated back 2000 years.  I bought a reproduction of one in the market in Jerusalem as a souvenir.  I was very proud of my bargaining skills when I haggled the price down from 50 shekels to 15 ($4.30) until I left the store and saw them at another shop marked 10 shekels!

At the Dead Sea we stayed at resort/spa hotel where most of the guests were Russian.  Most of the staff was Russian as well.  They are very serious people.  Our guide, whose mother is Russian, admits that they can be very pushy. The popularity of the area for spa treatments is because there are a number of factories in the area that produce beauty and skin products with minerals form the Dead Sea.

The water of the Dead Sea is a beautiful turquoise color, not a deadly color at all!  Of course we bathed in it and the buoyancy of the water made it bouncy!  I felt like a coke bobbing around! Once I got the hang of it, floating was very relaxing.

It was hazy while we were there.  Across the water are the mountains of Jordan.

Before we left the Dead Sea we took a Jeep Tour of the desert.  17 of us piled into 4 Jeeps. The sky was hazy which made the landscape look dreamy.

We stopped to examine the large deposits of salt in the rock.  I was fascinated with the rock patterns created by erosion.

The ride through the desert was bumpy as the trail curved and had lots of ruts. Our guide discussed the current controversy of the future of the Dead Sea.  On this map, the larger sea area is naturally formed.  Below that is an artificially made sea where water from the Dead Sea is piped into evaporation flats where industries harvest chemicals including potash, magnesium,  and bromine. The industries date back to the 1930s, before Israel was formed, and they are privately owned.  A large amount of the chemicals go to Asia for fertilizer.  The companies are taxed, but they still make a lot of money for the owners.  They also employ a lot of workers and most of the resort/spa hotels are located along the shores.  The problem is that the level of the Dead Sea is decreasing with global warming and the piping of water out of it for the industries isn’t helping.  The industries also cause pollution, and the foundations of the hotels along the artificial sea are corroding, and it is extremely expensive to repair and stabilize them.

There have been talks of constructing a pipe line to bring in water either from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, however, there might be problems with these waters chemically mixing with the Dead Sea water.  Also, it would be enormously expensive to pipe in water for the industries.  Not an easy solution – save the industries, hotels, and jobs for private companies at public expense or save the Dead Sea and the environment by closing them down.

Evaporation flats.

Chemical factories.

Stay tuned for food and people of Jordan and Israel.