26 October 2008

What I Did Today

  1. Do laundry (already running)
  2. Assess kitchen and determine what I need to buy
    1. cookware
    2. foodstuffs
  3. Start Kashering Kitchen
  4. Go to the nearby cheapo supermarket to by more Avocados (on sale 4 for 1 EUR!)
  5. Go to the Kosher Butcher for
    1. Kosher cheese and other foodstuffs at Ki Tov II Kosher Market
    2. Learn about the nearby Jewish community - Meet Jewish Expat
  6. Stroll Through Farmer's Market and Buy Some of Everything!
  7. Go to Chinatown for
    1. Cookware
    2. Groceries
    3. Sightseeing
  8. Have lunch Wolf down a baguette w/ some kosher Guda
  9. Fold up laundry and begin figuring out where all my clothing should go
  10. Do likewise for electronics and other miscellaneous stuff
  11. Meet up w/ Ariane
    1. Paperwork
    2. Payment
    3. Hot water
    4. Additional Apt. Info
  12. Nap
  13. Have dinner w/ Jen & David at Tayelet - delicious!
  14. Computer Stuff and Prepare for Work Tomorrow (gather paperwork, etc.)
  15. Have a bath, tea, and get a goodnight's sleep

What I'm Doing Today

I just spent more time than was perhaps advisable writing about Cholent. Can't quite explain why I did, but sometimes my typing-hands just run away with me. I always say "I'd write a book, if only I had something worth saying, but the problem is that I don't really have anything that worthwhile". I mean what great insights do I really possess that someone else hasn't already shared with the world? The nice thing about blogs is that they don't have that barrier of quality. So I can spew all the crap I want. Which is probably less-than-productive, but at least has the benefits that my great-grandchildren will know something about me (if I'm fortunate enough to have them and the server doesn't die and lose all of my posts).

Right at the moment, I'm sitting in my comfy bed, in my comfy apartment, feeling somewhere between great and really-ill. I'm finding it very difficult to believe that tomorrow is my first day at my last-and-final internship before returning to Columbia. And thus, quite likely, my last-and-final internship ever (since I don't think they call them internships anymore once you've got a Doctorate - I think the word then is job). I'm also not terribly happy that I'm still feeling sick, since I haven't really every gotten completely well from the illness from which I was suffering when I first arrived in Paris, and it appears to be trying to stage a comeback. Slightly comforting though, was the effect a cup of hot samurai tea (which I bought in the shuk in Israel).

So I'm not feeling too badly. Would like a hot shower though and something is up with the hot water - hasn't been working since before Shabbos :-(

But I do need to get myself up and about, b/c I've been told things close early here on Sunday (if they are open in the first place). So know I'll take a moment to lay out what I need to do today:

  1. Do laundry (already running)
  2. Assess kitchen and determine what I need to buy
    1. cookware
    2. foodstuffs
  3. Go to the nearby cheapo supermarket to by more Avocados (on sale 4 for 1 EUR!)
  4. Go to Chinatown for
    1. Cookware
    2. Groceries
    3. Sightseeing
  5. Go to the Kosher Butcher for
    1. Kosher cheese and other foodstuffs
    2. Learn about the nearby Jewish community
  6. Have lunch
  7. Fold up laundry and begin figuring out where all my clothing should go
  8. Do likewise for electronics and other miscellaneous stuff
  9. Eat
  10. Meet up w/ Ariane
    1. Paperwork
    2. Payment
    3. Hot water
    4. Additional Apt. Info
  11. Nap
  12. Computer Stuff and Prepare for Work Tomorrow (gather paperwork, etc.)
  13. Have dinner w/ Jen & David
  14. Have a bath, tea, and get a goodnight's sleep
Hopefully this covers everything b/c frankly I'm a little overwhelmed!

Cholent-in-a-Can: It's Everywhere!

So I had an odd experience in Israel the week before last. My good friend Yair, with whom we were staying pulls out a can and says "look at what I've got. Cholent in a can!" To which I responded "huh?". It appears that they are now making Cholent in a can, convenient for any occasion: from intimate dinner parties to overseas jaunts.

Now for those of you who aren't familiar with cholent, or as it's known in the Sephardic Jewish world (and I believe the Talmud as well) as Chamin (a slightly different variation on the same theme), I will give you a brief explanation. In the olden days most Jews were quite poor, particularly in the Eastern European shtetl (village). This isn't to imply that most Jews today aren't poor, although at least in the US they often don't lack for food anymore (although there are exceptions particularly with the elderly which is why I believe unwieldy, high-overhead traditional Jewish charities like the UJA are still important and relevant since they are the ones who so often make initatives like JASA possible). Anyway back to my main point. The Jews were poor. So come the end of the week they needed something to eat for Shabbos that would be nutritional, palatable, and filling - that could be made from low quailty ingredients like old veggies, bits of meat, hardened beans, dirt and whatever else they could find (the last part about dirt was a joke, mostly). So they used the brilliant invention of Cholent: a stew into which everything could be put and cooked, continously for 24 - 36 hours straight until it had all become a nourishing stew with properties all its own. Plus since it's always on the fire, it can be kept warm without running into all sorts of technical Sabbath prohibitions about heating food. It als can be really quite good (and incidentally my friends Jen & David who are coming over tonight have offered to lend me their crock pot for the duration of my stay here in Paris, so I'll definitely be cooking up some Cholent while here if you want to try).

So now there is Cholent in a can. Seems a bit oxymornic to me, since Cholent is something that needs at least 18 hours of time to make - it's not the kind of food you'd think of as a microwave meal (except leftover cholent). But I can see the utility and Yair tells me it's not too bad. Apparently folks all over the world agree, because while I was in Le Marias (the touristy Jewish area of Paris) I was shocked to again see my new acquantaince, Mr. canned Cholent - he's everywhere!

Oh and for those meat-supramacist/veggie-haters/hardcore-Yavnehites (the Orthodox group at Columbia U. whose members seemed pretty opposed to my assertion that Cholent could be vegetarian) out there - guess what? Cholent in a can is vegetarian & parve no meat, but it's clearly callin' itself Cholent.

I was always really irritated by folks who claimed that Cholent "by definition requires meat, and if your's doesn't have meat you can't call it Cholent folks". Because (1) why do you need to deride someone else's cusine when it's made with care and love simply because no animals were killed in the process? And (2) they are idiots (or perhaps simply ignorant) - after all Cholent is simply whatever arises through stewing whatever you've got available for as long as advisable (perhaps a good deal longer) - my Cholent definitely fits that definition ;-)

24 October 2008

The View from Here

Just woke up for good, going to collect myself and meet my friend Jen in Le Marias for lunch and some wandering. Still very tired but slept really well, it's nice to have a real bed again.

I wanted to share the sunrise view I managed to capture with my broken (lcd doesn't work anymore) camera. Don't be too jealous though - I had to lean all the way out the window to get a clear shot. Still it's really fantastic.

23 October 2008

Settling In

So I've just had my first bath in over 4 months and for those of you who know what an avid bather I am, you know how big a deal that is! I'm laying/sitting in a huge comfy bed in my new apartment in Paris. I feel warm and cuddly and happy. Really, really tired as well [French lesson: je suis très fatiguée - I am very tired].

How did I get here you ask? Well when I last left you I had just met Idan Raichel at a stopover in Prague. So he got on his plane and an hour or so later, I got on mine.
The plane wasn't overfull so after we took off I wandered to the back and thought I'd take a nap on an empty row. Instead, I ended up talking with the French stewardesses for almost the entire flight. You see when they came by they asked me what I'd like to drink and I tried to answer in French. Haltingly. Okay actually barely comprehensibly. Somehow they were entirely charmed - perhaps akin to the way one is charmed by watching a newborn puppy stumble around and walk into a wall, falling on its hind legs and looking confused. But then, I give my French too much credit.

In any case they began teaching me more French, and eventually talking politics with me. It was really nice. I gave them my name and the blog address, perhaps they are even reading this. It was a nice intro to France. In generally, I've been pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and helpful people have been with my incipient and garbled attempts at French. I've also been pretty happy with the Pimsleur French lessons to which I'm listening. What I've learned from listening to about 4 hours of these lessons accounts for roughly 40% of the French I understand and 87% of the French I can actually speak. On the comprehension side, another 25% I got over the course of 4 French lessons back in April and subsequent work in the Barron's French textbook and the other 35% from knowledge of latin roots.

I took the Paris metro (first RER and then subway) to my new friend Ruth's house. She was intially an acquantaince of a friend (Marni) but was kind enough to let me crash on her couch for the evening since my apartment wasn't ready until afternoon. She's a lovely person and invited me back for Shabbat. I think I'll go, although the bed at my new place is temptingly comfortable (another thing I haven't really enjoyed except for one occasion in the past several months).

I could tell you more, but that covers most of the interesting stuff. I'm happy to finally be at a place I can really call my home, if only for 5 months :-) Night. Oh, one last thing - I've now got a working mobile, check my twitter posts for the # if you want to call me.

22 October 2008

Prague Airport: Apparently a Good Place to Meet Israeli Music Superstars

My trip to Paris was quite nice, albeit long (but that's what a student budget gets you). But I've found that sometimes having stopovers in random places can be quite interesting in and of themselves.

On this particular trip, I left Israel to head to France, the third and final location where I will be interning (faire stage). I was a bit sad to leave my friends and felt like I hadn't managed to have quite as much of a vacation as I would have liked (I also still managed to break my promise to myself to go to the Dead Sea, my third consecutive trip to Israel on which I've sinned in this manner). However, I was also really excited to be heading to France - both because of all the wonderful things I imagine France has in store for me (professionally, personally, culturaly, adventurally ;-) and because I am so excited to finally be living in my own apartment with just Linda and I, a real kitchen and no house boys living on beds outside our front door! I'm also really looking forward to luxuriating in the bath tonight; I haven't had bath since I left the States, almost half-a-year ago now.

So I got to Ben Gurion 2000 airport (construction completed 2004) without much event. Although there was minor event. Namely on our sherut (airport shuttle) there were 4 Israeli Arabs, I noticed this mostly in passing when I heard Arabic, although it was brought to the forefront of my attention when our sherut was stopped at the airport security gates, and they were asked to get off, remove their luggage, and undergo inspection. This took 15 minutes or so. And of course, the one true tourist on the sherut who just had to take a picture of everything, no matter how banal (this would be me in India ;-) decided it would be a good idea to snap a shot of the Arab passengers being escorted off the sherut by Israeli security. This obviously did not go over well with said security officers.

Some rapid apologizing and picture erasing ensued, although thankfully the tone stayed light after the initial angry response by one of the security guards (who I think may have initially thought the tourist was a peace provocetour or somesuch and was thus gearing up for a big and nasty argument). The Arab passengers were cleared and we all finally went on our way. Unlike Linda who tells me she was grilled as a potential terrorist, I was waved through security, bypassing even the pre-check-in luggage screening. I checked in, went through customs and got to see the airport. Boy is it different than the old Ben Gurion.

First off you enter through a gorgeous Jerusalem stone lined passageway whose wall is currently an exhibition of Israeli poster art (featured here is one I really liked of the generations intertwining).

Shortly afterward, I arrived in the main outbound waiting area of Ben Gurion. It was a circular space centered about a large skylight through whose edges water fell into a pool below. This structure was surrounded by really fancy (and comfy looking) leather chairs, a walkway, kiosks, another walking area and finally stores. It was really impressive. Free wifi was available throughout the entire airport and the kosher falafel wasn't bad, although it was fairly overpriced.

So eventually I had to leave the wonders of Ben Gurion 2000 to fly to Prague which turned out to be quite interesting. The flight went smoothly and I got through customs equally so and then stopped at a duty-free store on my way to the gate.

What I found there was interesting - namely a row of different types of Absinthe , the green-colored liquour that is rumored to cause hallucinations and a trigger brilliant onset (in certain legends Van Gogh was purported to have drunk this before cutting off his ear) - the current CW is that it doesn't do much at all beyond alcohol.
Additionally they had Cannabis Vodka - which apparently is vodka flavored with Cannabis seeds (not psychoactive stuff since THC doesn't reside in seeds).
Both seemed like neat things to buy, but I decided to save my money and went to the gate.

That's where I met Idan Raichel, the man behind the Idan Raichel Project .
He was at the counter joking with the attendants, trying to make sure his luggage would get tranfered in time for his connecting flight. He started offering them CDs and then I thought to myself, what Israeli with rasta dreadlocks would be offering CDs except for Idan Raichel. So I asked him "Are you Idan Raichel?" to which he responded "Yes, you know who I am?". He seemed half suprised, and I assured him that "of course I knew him - he's an Israeli music superstar". He then offered me a CD to help get the baggage transfered to which I replied that I'd be happy to have the CD but couldn't guarantee that I'd be able to do anything helpful with the baggage. He had his concert manager give me a CD anyway :-) He also took a picture with me which you can see at the beginning of this post. For those of you who aren't familiar with his music, check out the link I posted above - it's really good stuff, which I've been enjoying while writing this post. Hopefully I'll get to enjoy another of his concerts in the not-too-far future (last one I saw was downtown at the Museum of Jewish Heritage with Linda and our friend Marni, a month or two before we left the States).

19 October 2008

Hampi B'Kitzur (in brief) or Elephant Blessings or Why I Haven't Written for Awhile

video video
I know I haven't written in a while. It's not because I've lost my fondness for all of you. Rather I've been busy. Very busy.

In brief: I arrived in Israel. I was really very ill. I recovered partially. There was a paper deadline. I decided it was very important to try to make the deadline. I also decided to try and contact some Israeli researchers to network - I met some really nice folks at Tel Aviv University, Yuval Shavitt's research group. I managed to get the paper done right before the Succot holiday started. I was very, very tired, still a bit ill (relapsing to a certain extent actually) and hadn't really taken care of anything else (preparations for arriving in France, email, finances). Finally have mostly caught up, but am still really tired and discombobulated - and I leave Israel in only two more days and start work in a week. I'm excited for both but feel like I could really use a vacation. I'm out of it.

So I hope that excuses my lack of posts, and I have done some fun stuff here as well - I hope to tell you about it some time ;-)

But for now enjoy these two short videos, they were taken at the main temple in Hampi and should be relatively self explanatory.

Now I will go to bed.

09 October 2008

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Today, I celebrated my first Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful experience. I'm not one much for Yom Kippur (which is the holiest day of the Jewish year) generally. The idea of a day in which the judgment of all creatures is sealed works for me - I think it's powerful and really internalize the main message of this sacred period between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on which all creatures are judged and counted and Yom Kippur, 10 days later on which this judgement is sealed: namely that Teshuvah, Tefilah, U'Tzedaka Mavirin et Roah Ha'Gezarah - Repentance, Prayer/Introspection, and Acts of Loving Kindness/Charity remove evil from the decree. The ritual fasting (no food, no water for 25 hours or so) and all-day prayer marathon make sense to me. They just often don't reverberate.

I don't really enjoy long prayer services - I get bored, tired, detached. And fasting is never terribly fun. Mostly, I'm just sort of preoccupied with life - I've got lots to do, pulling myself entirely out of that is pretty much beyond where I am emotionally, and the exhaustion my body feels the day after a fast is never conducive to catching up. From what I understand though, that's pretty much the point of the whole thing, to take you entirely out of normalacy and make you focus on the fundamentals of existence. My problem is that most of the time that's basically a chore for me.

So spending Yom Kippur in Jerusalem was particularly nice. The entire city shuts down. Nothing is open. No cars drive down the street. There are people walking everywhere instead. Secular Israelis bike everywhere (apparently it's the day with the highest bicycle accident rate). Everything slows - I really liked it. In the evening we went to the shul where we had bought tickets (managed to get there for a couple of minutes over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, so it was good to be there for a full service). The davening (prayer) wasn't as stirring as Rosh Hashanah's had been, but it was still quite nice. There was a speech in between afternoon and evening prayers. I was pleased to follow most of it, even though it was all in Hebrew, then I dozed. During the evening prayer I prayed during the important parts, read Heschel's God In Search of Man (not sure how I feel about it yet - the writing is really stilted, and some of the ideas seem a bit presumptious/avoid key issues, but I think there's some stuff in there that I will find worthwhile), and joined back in whenever the singing grabbed me. As I walked home, I felt happy.

Today I slept until 9AM, slumbered (and talked with Linda) not wanting to go anywhere until noon, then fell back asleep until 3:30PM. I woke Linda and we dressed and decided to head to the Kotel (the Western Wall). We almost decided to go back to the shul for which we had tickets, but going to the holiest spot for Jews on the holiest day, at the holiest hour was too much of an opportunity to pass up - who knows when or if we will be back on this day whose prayer ends l'Shana Ha'baah B'Yerushalayim - Next year in Jerusalem?

We walked on what looked to be the shortest route on the map, but in fact took us deep into a valley from which we had to trek up a steep staircase to the Zion Gate to enter the old city. Linda was even weaker than I and we stopped to rest for 15 minutes. All-in-all the walk took us almost an hour.

As we approached the wall, travelers from all directions slowly came together like beads of water turning to streams, joining into a river that flowed to the Wall. No baggage x-ray today, only visual checks, and we were through into the plaza. Linda and I went to the separate sections for men and women, joining the Chovevai minyan. 10 men make up a traditional minyan (more modern strains of Judaism will use 10 adults or 10 men and 10 women) and at the Wall there were dozens of groups, each praying in it's own way - Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Chassidim, Misnagdim, Zionists, Orthodox Centrists, Jews from every part of the world and of every race. A uniformed border policeman with a rifle davened next to a young man in an orange sweatshirt reading "L$D". Brestlover chassdim with long payes davened with a pierced Israeli in shorts. Everywhere the sounds of prayer were heard in different accents, but the same words. The plaza itself was filled with Jews, praying and beyond them further away from the wall, simply watching those who prayed - perhaps to be part of it in a different way, perhaps out of curiousity, perhaps just waiting to hear the Shofar (Ram's horn) blown at the end of the day to signal the closing of the gates of repentance and end of the fast. I prayed, walked to the wall, meditated, walked back and forth to soak in the experience, accidentally walked right in front of a group as they began the prayer of the priests, and ran behind them to be included. My friend Yair, at whose apartment we are staying was there. I found him and we spoke. The prayers came to their conclusion as the moon rose over the Kotel. One after another the groups of prayers began to recite the Shema prayer and then sound the Shofar. One group blew and then another and then another - it was a beautiful, cachaphonious chaos. Yair and I left to beat the crowd. We grabbed a drink at the fountain and shared some of my chocolate. Linda met us at the water fountain bearing rugelach that she had grabbed from the stand set up by Lubavitch (and apparently founded by the State) and we headed home to get some more substantial food. It was the most meaningful Yom Kippur that I've had in awhile.

07 October 2008

Journeying: 10 hours in Paris

I arrived in France dead tired, but happy that I wasn't shivering or soaked anymore and excited to drop off my baggage and see our new apartment. I grabbed my luggage, got a cab and headed off to meet up with our soon-to-be landlordess Ariane at the apartment, 35 Rue De L'Esperance.


View Larger Map

It was a truly amazing ride. The contrast between the Indian subcontinent where I'd spent the last 3 months and France was so striking (and refreshing for me). I got into a beautiful cab. The music that played over the radio was smooth French jazz, no loud half-Hindi-half-English-half-Tamil bahngra. We drove at speeds (60+ mph/100+ kmh) I hadn't attained since I had left the states. The road was so smooth and all the cars simply moved in their separate lanes. Nothing was on the road except for the cars, no cows, goats, dogs, carts, people, donkeys, camels. No dust, potholes, contruction equipment. Just smooth asphalt and cleanly delinated lines with beautiful countryside passing by. The sun came in at that beautiful fall gold you only get at temperate latitudes. It was delicious. I dozed, comfortable in a way I hadn't been for months. I was back in the West.

Within 30 minutes I had reached my destination - a cobblestone street in a part of the city that seemed more like a village than a metropolis. So clean, so quiet, so quaint. Golden fall sunlight and a crisp fall morning chill in the air with heat wherever the sunlight fell directly. I left my luggage near the building's door and crossed the street to sit half in a sunny patch and just absorbed the Sunday morning calm. After about 10 minutes Ariane arrived and I got to meet the person with whom Linda had spent so much time making arrangements.

A brief detour to tell you how we came to be in touch: Linda had been working at the JCC of the Upper West Side. One of the several classes she taught was a mommy & me cooking class for 3-4 year olds. One of the mothers in this class became quite friendly with Linda, and happened to have close friends in Paris, whom I'm quite excited to meet at the end of this month. These friends were close friends with Ariane who is an actress and was also looking to rent her apartment right around the time we wanted to rent one. So things worked out in this fortuitous way they often do for me (I'm truly a blessed man) and we ended up agreeing to let the most lovely apartment from a person I discovered to be just a tremendous sweetheart. I would arrive in Paris before my internship without having to search frantically for an apartment or find interim housing. What was even more fortuitous was way back when I was booking tickets to Israel, it turned out I had a choice of a very short stopover from Bangalore-Paris to Paris-Israel or a 10 hour stopover. I really didn't want to stretch my trip out, I mean what was I going to do for 10 hours in Paris with all of my luggage? But I also didn't want to get stuck missing my connecting flight. So I opted grudgingly for the 10 hour stopover. I can't imagining it having worked out better. Because you see we subsequently discovered Ariane and made arrangements with her and I ended up being able to go see the apartment, meet her, drop off my luggage for storage in her basement, and put down our deposit! Not only that but freed of my luggage I could explore Paris a bit and wouldn't need to shlep it back-and-forth to Israel.

But things worked out even better than that for two reasons. It turns out Ariane is just the nicest person. And the apartment was really nice as well - it was a sunny duplex at the top of the building with floor to ceiling windows that opened completely unto what I'd describe as an-almost-balcony. A tiny refrigerator was more than offset by a real oven (oh how I've missed thee), a washing machine, and a real dishwasher! I loved the place, the only drawback being that the sole bathroom was upstairs through the master bedroom - it will make having guests a bit more difficult, but we are still looking forward to hosting. I don't have much French, but from the little I know the perfect word to describe her apartment is charmante. After making me tea at the apartment and showing me around the building (and waiting patiently while I took care of getting the Citibank customer service rep to manually set the permissions so I could take out enough money from the ATM), Ariane began showing me around the neighborhood - and what a lovely neighborhood it was. Then there was the second thing - my friend Jen who recently married a Parisian was in town visiting the in-laws for the chaggim. So she came and met us and we all walked around together. We passed quaint shops and cafes. Shops in Paris are fantastic - instead of simply going to a supermarket, they have specialty shops. You get your bread at the bread store, your cheese at the cheese store, your fruits and vegetables at the fruit and vegetable store. Heck right down the street from us we passed a store which sells only honey - all different honeyies (and for those of you who know my love of honey, you know how excited this made me ;-)

I really needed some new bacteria for my stomach and was also quite hungry so our first two stops were to grab a 4 pack of activa yogurt and my first French baguette (the above picture of Jen and Ariane is outside the Boulongerie where I bought the baguette - Jen is on the left, Ariane on the right)

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At this point, Ariane had to go and get some of her own stuff done, but she very kindly invited me to come to Le Marias where she was staying if I wanted to take a nap or shower before heading back to the airport (did I mention how kind she was). Jen and I spent most of the next hour or so wandering about the neighborhood. We had a baguette in a quaint nearby park, where I made a shechianu (blessing on something new) on my first French baguette - it was delicious.

After this we walked over to the nearby freshwater spring. Yes that is correct, a freshwater spring. Paris has almost no heavy industry and very strict pollution laws, which means that this 600 meter-deep spring produces mineral water as high quality as anything you'll get in a bottle. The residents walk to the fountain fed by this spring and fill their bottles and jubs to drink - Ariane tells me she goes twice a week on the average. In fact this spring is such a good water producer that the oldest municipal pool in France was built right adjacent, fed by the spring water - I can't wait to go swimming there! The water was copious and quite tasty. I hadn't been able drink water that hadn't been filtered and UV'd for months and here I was drinking straight out of a fountain in the middle of Paris fed by the freshest of freshwater springs. I felt refreshed and cleansed (got a whole bunch of it on my face an up my nose - which helped clear out some of my terrible congestion).

I then took a moment to enjoy the artwork drawn along the a wall across the street. On the same plaza was a quaint little tent - Jen and I did a bit of exploring and found it to be a tent for children's puppet show (so cute). We wandered about for a little while longer and then headed towards the Place D'Italie where I would take the train to Le Marias (by the point I was feeling a bit feverish again, strained from carrying my heavy bag, and just generally in need of a break). I bit Jen adieu at the Metropolitan and had a quick trip to Le Marias (I like subways but will write about the Paris Metro some other time).

When I exited the train I was right on the Seine river. I was really wiped but had to see it. How beautiful it looked in the afternoon light. The day had gotten quite warm and I was a bit sweaty, but the picnicing people at the riverside looked like they were emininently comfortable. I decided I was really looking forward to living in Paris :-) Traveling is nice, but it is so wonderful to be able to live in a place and really absorb it. I made my way to the apartment where Ariane was staying.

The walk to the apartment was a bit circuitious - mainly because I took a wrong turn. But it was a fairly nice wrong turn as I got to walk straight through the center of Jewish Paris. What I found was that they are obsessed with falafel. I saw more kosher falafel places (with people lining up to eat) on that block than I've seen since I got to Israel (if this is an exaggeration, it's not a big one). when entering the area I stopped a group of orthodox teens and asked them where kosher pizza (pizza kasher) could be found. The girls were really nice and helpful (although they didn't seem too sure on the pizzeria's location) but the boy who was with them was actually quite rude saying "Bye bye" and pushing the girls down the street. I'm really hoping that this isn't indicative of what I should expect in future dealings with the French Jewish community.

By this point my shoulders were really hurting (my carry on bag was still quite heavy), I was feeling sicker again and terribly exhausted. Thankfully it was only a short walk further and I arrived at address Ariane had given me. Her friend's place was gorgeous - two fully stories, beautiful furniture, kitchen, and a roof garden with a small tropical tree. Walking on the roof I got to savor even more of the fall - it was quiet hot in the sun and the stones the sun touched were quite warm, but those in the shade had a deliciously chilly feeling.

As August ended and September came in, I had begun to feel the end of the summer and that inoxerable, melancholy and beautiful pull the fall has. Every fall in the North-East I soak in those transitional days - the color of the leaves, the crispness of the air, the amazing golden quality of the sunlight, the change in the ocean that I find so difficult to describe but so relish on my all-too-infrequent autumn visits to the shore. But none of this was in India, they don't even have a season called fall (nor one called spring) - the seasons there are winter, summer, and two monsoons. Perhaps there was the slightest hint of fall in the air in Bangalore, or more likely my mind grabbed unto the slight cooling of days as September came through as some tangible manifestation of the fall season that was coursing through my veins, even though I was so far from home - like a transplanted temperate tree dropping its leaves in sultry weather. But for one day in Paris I truly got to enjoy fall. It wasn't quite the fall of home, the warm gulf-stream current moderates Frances climate too much for that. But it was so close, and so wonderful. I would have been very sad to have a year without fall and this was really a gift. As Yom Kippur quickly approaches fall is in the air here in Israel as well, but it's nowhere near the same (although it's still nice), and by the time I return to Paris at the month's end, fall will have transitioned to its dying phase, fall in a minor key, with few leaves left and the summer heat but a memory. I am truly blessed that things little and big have worked out so well for me. I know this is a difficult and scary time, but I'm truly feeling hopeful. I think this year will be one sealed for the good, despite its difficult beginning and I wish you all to be sealed for the good.

Perhaps continuing now is anticlimactic but I want to finish my Paris story. After arriving, I was able to take a shower (which really helped the feverishness that was returning), neti for the first time in 3 months (ironic that the only place I couldn't use the nasal cleansing technique developed in India b/c the water quaility was so bad) to clean out my clogged sinuses and change into a clean set of clothes. After really taking my time in the bathroom, I had only 20 minutes to nap, but I took advantage of them - swallowing down another container of yogurt and lying my broken body down on a couch. The clock ticked in the background and a fly buzzed, but otherwise there was nothing but silence. Silence was another thing I had really missed - it doesn't really exist in India, except in the deep wildnerness (which is a different thing and also usually full of cricket buzzing and other animal noises). I dozed.

I woke, packed, had a spot of tea and Ariane took me to the Metropolitan and helped me get the right ticket. But that wasn't all. Gracious as ever, she accompanied me all the way to the train that would take me to the airport so I wouldn't get lost. I said goodbye, looking forward to returning. Then I jumped on the train and began my journey again.

The ride was a bit hot, filled with the noisy conversation of some African-French men sitting across from me (I'm not sure why he needed to yell everything he said, but I liked his accent at least - couldn't understand a thing). Sunlight slanted in and in a daze I watched the suburbs pass me by. I arrived at the aiport found my way to the check-in, waited and was on my way again, now to Israel - to see my friends (mainly Efrat and Yair) and be reunited with Linda. But I'll tell you about that in a later post.

Shanah Tovah, v'Gemar Chatimah Tovah - Happy New Year and may be be sealed [in the book of judgement] for the good.

Journeying: Bangalore to Paris

Note: this journey took place on the eve of Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New year - I left Bangalore at 10:30PM Saturday night, Sept. 27th and arrived in Jerusalem at 6:30AM on Monday morning, Sept. 29th - just about 12 hours before the start of the Rosh Hashanah. I took me over a week to recover from my illness enough to put out the first blog post!

In a trip of many difficult journies, traveling from Bangalore to Jerusalem may have just been the most difficult.

I began feeling ill towards the middle of last week but didn't get really sick until Friday night when I found my temprature had risen to 102F. That afternoon I had already felt pretty bad which made my last day at Microsoft Research somewhat more rushed than I would have liked (especially the goodbyes) as most of the day I had been moving in slow motion. However, I did manage to finish up many of the things I had hoped to and say goodbye to most of the folks I now miss. I was really privledged to be there, and to work with such a fantastic bunch of people as the MNS group led by my wonderful advisor Venkat.

Anyway I was pretty upset to be so sick and had difficultly sleeping, eating, packing - all of which were quite necessary actions as I was due to leave for the airport at 10:30PM, just a couple of hours after the Sabbath ended. But I perserved, and so did my fever, despite my taking two doses of antibotics I had secured that Thursday. So after Shabbos ended, I immediately called the lovely doctor I had seen, Priya Ravi, my colleague Ram's wife. Priya is exactly the type of doctor I like to see - clear, concentious, easy-going, willing to explain the whys and whats and answer the innumerable questions I always have. She was so helpful. She increased the dosage of my then-current course, prescribed backup antibiotics and several other goodies to bring down my fever and clear up my breathing, and arranged for all of these to be delivered to my apartment before I left. She really was a lifesaver!

I did manage to finish packing around 10:45PM a couple of minutes after my cab arrived. We stopped at MSR to drop off some books lent to me by my friend Chandan (a series of graphic novels on the life of the Buddha - very nice stuff) and many bags of donated goods (weight limit concerns precluded me bringing them on the plane) and we were off to the airport. I was sweaty and half-delirious w/ fever but quite proud of myself and rather sleepy.

We arrived at the airport, I bed farewell to the transport folks and walked in. Various skinny Indian men approached me. One waved a dirty yellow ID tag saying "Lufthasa? I help!" and attempted to paw the baggage cart out of my grip. I asked him if he would be taking me to the check-in counter and when he nodded, explained kindly that I could find it myself. Another fellow began jabbering at me "Come for wrapping! For safety and security". After some miscomunication I asked him if this was an extra paid service. When he nodded, I explained that I didn't at the moment need that service. Then finally there were no more people trying to grab me and I slowly rearranged my baggage and proceeded to the check-in line.

Check-in went uneventfully until my baggage was weighed. At that point things became less pleasant. You see, I was informed my baggage was 22kg overweight (apparently the allowance was 20kg split between two bags). This was more than I had hoped, especially since I had called ahead to my travel agent and inquired how much the weight overage fee would be (5 Euro per kg was the answer). 110 Euro is alot for an iterant student intern, but I figured I'd argue a bit and then suck it up. A wheedling sentence to ask if we could reduce the charged amount by a couple of kilos formed in my throat. The check-in attendant said overage would be 30 Euro per kilo. I choked. 30 Euros per kilo?! Is that some type of sick joke. No apparently this is simply Lufthansa policy now, or so I was told. Still not sure if I can believe it. A quick mental calculation said I now had one of two options: (a) pay $1000 for my baggage or (b) throw all of my stuff out into the airport garbage can. Since neither of these struck me as satisfactory I chose option (c), raise a ruckus (at least insomuch as one can half-delirious with 102F fever with clothing soaked through by sweat).

The check-in lady was up to the task.
That's tremendously high.
That's our policy.
I was told 5 Euro per kilo by the travel agent.
You were told wrong.
But I was told 5 Euro.
I'm sorry.
After some of this type of back-and-forth I asked to speak with a manager.
This is where luck began to favor me.

The fellow who came to the desk was a turbaned Sikh with a very pleasant manner. After assessing the situation he looked over my iternarary and concluded that since my ticket had been booked as a series of flights originating and terminating from New York, I was entitled to the US baggage allowance (23 kilo per bag!) and didn't need to pay an extra cent! What a relief - from $1000 bucks of overage fees to $0. The only hitch was that one of my bags was 26 kilo while the other was 18. I needed to move 3 kilo from the heavier bag. I thanked him profusely and rushed over to the weighing station. But try as I might, I was unable to cram an extra 3 kilo in the other bag... I was sweaty tired and nearing the end of my emotional resolve. But then I had an image of a thin young Indian man blathering at me "wrapping for safety and security".

Eureka. I shoved a bunch of extra items in between my bag and it's slipcover. Would have never held through the flight by itself. But with several layers of the shipping equivalent of saran wrap, loss would be a non-issue. I had the bag wrapped for 200 rupees ($3 and change) and returned to the counter truimphant.

The initial check-in lady was as dense as before. "Your luggage is still 42 kilo, you need to remove more items". "No", I told her. "I just needed to switch 3 kilo from the heavier bag to the lighter one". The manager was quick to correct her when we asked. I asked him if there was somewhere I could send a note praising his excellent service. He gave me two email addresses and his name, Pushppreet Singh Chandoke, which I took gladly and then finally proceeded to the boarding location (after taking a couple of moments to sit down and collect myself).

The next leg of the trip was very long, but not terribly remarkable. I continued running a high fever and felt pretty aweful. I dozed a bit, moved from position to position to ease my sore muscles and generally abided. I had gotten stuck in a middle seat, but I had nice neighbors on either side. After 10 hours of flying we finally arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.

My fever still hadn't broken but I had to go through customs. It's a good thing we had an hour-and-a-half stop over b/c the famed German efficiency I had heard about was nowhere to be seen. Frankfurt International had the very worst queuing I have ever seen in an airport (and I've seen lots of bad queuing in my time ;-) After almost an hour, I finally made it through and got on my plane to Paris.

Now by this point, I was pretty wiped out, but the plane was quite empty and I had a whole row to lay down in right near the bathroom. This was particularly good since my fever had just broken (I was so happy). But you see the same antibiotics that had finally started to wipe out the bacteria making me sick, had been much more effective and wiping out the commensular bacteria in my intestines that allowed me to absorb water. Thus to put it politely I had more than a bit of stomach upset, making proximity to the bathroom very valuable.

I had initially thought to put my journey entire in one single post, to really provide the feeling for how long a trip it was and how transitional. But while I had to do it that way, I'm starting to feel there is no reason for you to do so. Just read the posts back-to-back-to-back and you'll get the idea. So I'm stopping this post here and will continue with my arrival in France in the next post.

Technical: Running iPhone Apps in the Background: How to Find the Application Bundle Name

UPDATE: Newer versions of the backgrounder software come with a GUI interface that lets you do this stuff, so unless you are using an old version (can't think why you would) the below instructions are deprecated.

This post probably won't be terribly interesting to those of you looking for travel adventures, but I figured if I've got a blog, I might as well keep track of useful things I learn how to do and share them with the world. For now my plan will to start any such post this with the string "Technical: " so that the uninterested reader may safely skip over it.

I've recently started using a fantastic jailbroken application for the iPhone: Backgrounder. The beauty of this application is in it's simplicity. It lets you do a straightforward thing that for some reason Apple entirely prohibits, namely run applications in the background.

Why would you want to do this? Well the default behavior for any third-party application is that as soon as the home button is pressed and that app disappears from view the application stops running entirely. Now this is good in many circumstances, but there are times when it's a real pain or worse. For example let's say you are using the new Fring client on your phone. Wonderful you can make and receive calls using Skype (or another SIP provider). There's only one hitch: you can only receive incoming calls if you have the application open. This means you can't even check your email if you want to be certain not to miss a call! Here's another one. Let's say you use NetNewsWire to read your news and you quickly close the program to do something else. When you go back to NetNewsWire, you'll have to wait for the program to start up and then renavigate to the story you were reading - what a pain! Another app for which backgrounding is essential is Pandora (I'll let you piece the why together).

Backgrounding lets you avoid all of this pain. However the default behavior is that you need to manually enable backgrounding for the applications you desire each time you start that application after having rebooted.

There is a way around this, by specifying the applications that you want to automatically background, as explained on the Backgrounder documentation page. However, you need to know what the application bundle name is and no one seems to fully explain how to do this.

So how do you do it? Well if your application is from Cydia then all you need to do is look at the package Details and use the contents of the ID field as your application name. However if your application comes from the app store things are significantly harder.

First you need to find the directory in which your applications is stored:

find / -name *
youAppNameHere* -print
example: find / -name *Fring* -print
/private/var/mobile/Applications/A6864F56-1004-4243-B45E-43C10803813C/Fring.app

Yes Fring.app/ is a directory.

Once you've found the proper directory cd into it and look for the Info.plist file (theoretically if you've got the BSD subsystem running you should be able to see it using more, however in practice I had to first scp it over to my laptop and examine it there). It should look something like this:
bplist00^A^B^C^D^E^F^G^H
^K^L^M^N^O^P^Q^R^S^T^U^V^W^X^Y^ZESC^R_^P^OCFBundleVersion_^P^RCFBundleIdentifier]NSMainNibFil
e_^P^RCFBundleExecutableYDTSDKName_^P^XUIRequiresPersistentWiFi_^P^YCFBundleDevelopmentRegion
^DTPlatformName_^P^]CFBundleInfoDictionaryVersion_^P^]CFBundleResourceSpecification_^P^SCFBun
dleDisplayName_^P^QCFBundleSignature_^P^SCFBundlePackageType\CFBundleNameW1.0.1.4_^P^Scom.Fri
ngland.FringZMainWindowUFringZ(SDK_NAME) RenXiphoneosS6.0_^P^SResourceRules.plistUfringT??
??TAPPL^@^H^@%^@7^@L^@Z^@o^@y^@<94>^@^@^@^@^A^U^A)^A?^AL^AT^Aj^Au^A{^A<86>^A
<87>^A<8a>^A<93>^A<97>^A^A^A^@^@^@^@^@^@^B^A^@^@^@^@^@^@^@^\^@^@^@^@^@^@^@^@^@^@
^@^@^@^@^A

The string following
CFBundleName highlighted in green is the actual app name. For whatever reason there will be a series of characters that appear to specify the app version along with some garbage characters before the actual app bundle name, which terminates at ZMainWindowUFringZ. Often it's fairly straightforward to find the bundle name as the convention is that is starts with com. however not all developers obey this convention so sometimes you'll just have to make an educated guess.

Anyway once you've gotten the name you can put it in the preferences files at /var/mobile/Library/Preferences/jp.ashikase.backgrounder.plist . To test that backgrounding is in effect simply open the application and then hold down steadily on the iPhone's home button, if you get a message saying "Backgrounding Disabled" then you know you've done it right (on the other hand if it tells you "Backgrounding Enabled" you are either using the wrong name or have otherwise messed up the instructions for enabling automatic backgrounding of that application).