Grace, wisdom and justice

November 6, 2011

The sacred and the profane.  Torn between the material and the spiritual, back to back blogs, one deals with angels, the other with humans.  Although pilipili and sakasaka are mundane things, even angels need vegetables, so the material stuff feeds the spirit at least on this earth.

After a leave of absence of sorts pilipili will make its diabetic and vegetarian and spiritual point of view known to both humans, commentators and spam readers, as one of the seven billion contributors that should be speaking, speaking up, voting and living great lives.

The gracewisdomjustice blog in remains alive thanks to the few readers taking the time to read lines that may not, one hopes, be a waste of their time.

Nelson Mandela’s bronze

May 8, 2011

Should be gold, but bronze will have to do for now.

The gigantic bronze statue, is a monument, very impressive, located in one end of Nelson Mandela Square in the Sandton City Mall in Johannesburg.  The great statesman is honored during his lifetime with a ton of bronze, and represents the best in politics, if politics is supposed to generate a high sense of honor, justice and human dignity.

Adults and children can’t miss the oversize statue, and many get close and stand in between the legs and the feet of the statesman, and being small in comparison look up to see his smile.

Standing there you can’t help but get a glimpse of things to come.

The hug

May 8, 2011

Doppio Zero is a very popular semi upscale restaurant in the Firs section of Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg.  A very decent place, always full on two floors, the smoking section upstairs with windows open.  For some reason Pedro and I went there for dinner four nights in a row early May this year.  The hostess, a tall young lady from the Cape ended up remembering my name and Pedro’s name.  I ordinarily showed up ten minutes early so the hostess would show my good friend the table.

Of all the entries I settled for the Vegetarian platter, a popular fare for those of us who used to be meat eaters and converted for reasons more or less known.  As we were leaving the last evening I mentioned that I would not show up for a while as I was going back to Central Africa.  She said “me too”, as she only works on weekends.  I said goodbye then and she hugged me! That hug would not happen anywhere else (in my humble opinion) but in South Africa.  The kindness and friendliness in Johannesburg may not be exceptional but there are moments when things like this happen and you realize that all lands may be equal but some have an extra something.

Thumbnail shine

May 7, 2011

I was minding my business in the galleria of Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg when I was asked to answer a few questions by an enterprising Israeli representative of a beauty product line based in the US.  When in South Africa I spend quality time walking in that renowned mall trying to avoid the two or three weekly stands in the middle of the main galleria going from the falafel place to the movie theater on the other hand a floor below.  To avoid the beauty product stands I tend to go up the escalator on one hand and descend on the other hand, but this particular day around closing time (6 pm) I decided to answer the call from Mister Noam.

I was used to the question and answer dynamic from my trips to Tel Aviv and Haifa.  He asked me about the women in my life (wife and daughter and mother), my birthplace, and other questions leading to the beauty products (only three) well packaged and made in Israel.  He asked me to show him my thumbnail and using a multifaceted cotton “brush” he asked me if I wanted to remove the visible lines in my nail.  Then he proceeded with the cotton brush and when he asked me to compare thumbnails I realized the one he had finished polishing was really shining.  I thought he had put in a polish of sorts.  I was impressed by I wanted to get rid of the shine.  He told me it would disappear in four weeks.

I didn’t know what to say, but I was upset because I didn’t care for that shine.  He tried a cream and something else and offered me a good deal on everything which I declined.  Mister Noam was persistent but I don’t go for those commercial strategies.  I should have never stopped to listen to the pitch and to the shine, but then again I would never have talked religion with Mister Noam.

Cargo crash

March 22, 2011

In this coastal central African town of one million the black smoke visible everywhere spread the news of a cargo plane that had crashed either on take off or on landing within the city limits of a very popular residential area of extremely modest dwellings.

Thousands of people on foot congregated in the area anxious to witness the disaster.  No one could get very close as the plane was burning.  One could only assume that many people, old and young had being killed as the plane came down.  The streets were so packed it was nearly impossible to walk.

Many long minutes after the crash cars carrying army, police, fire fighters and ambulances came from everywhere but could barely advance in those packed streets.

One single tragic event became the city’s only topic of conversation and interpretation and endless comments,  and will remain for many days to come.  It will take some guts to board a plane for a day or two.

You can’t just order one falafel! the waiter said.

March 8, 2011

It was noon and the Congolese capital was offering lunch.  I chose “Noura”, a lebanese fast food place on the Ave Foch (that may not be the current name).  Very popular, with dozens of offerings, and honestly priced.  As a diabetic vegetarian my choices tend to be very limited in any menu anywhere.  I knew the place so I went straight for the Falafel, a packaged meal that has been good to me over the years.

The price was about 4$.  I asked for one and a diet cola.  The congolese waiter said: two? No, I said, I would like the falafel on the menu that is sold for the 4$.  That is the item I want, I repeated.  We went back and forth between the one and the two.  He was getting impatient, and I finally understood that it was the policy of the restaurant not to bother with just one falafel, and the owners must have drilled their staff that they should convince customers to order two for 8$ because it was not worth their time to cook just one falafel at a time.  As I was in a hurry to catch my flight back to the coast I said ok, two falafels will do, one here, and the other one I would keep with me and have it for dinner.

So, I got back to my Anita Brookner novel and the received the cola.  No, I said, not this cola, but the famous light one.  The can came and as it was warm, he offered ice cubes.  Two pages later the young waiter came and said: we have no falafels today! I thanked him and asked for a cheese sandwich. When it came I opened to check on the cheese, and it was nicely grated.  My next falafel will be in the Cedre restaurant in Pointe-Noire, the one after in the Rue St.Andre des Arts in Paris or in the Rue du Temple (that is where they are supposed to be of an excellent nature), the one after in Rosebank Mall in Joburg, and the one after that in Haifa.

Some of us have obsessions.

Chick peas and falafel in pita

March 8, 2011

There may not be a cure for diabetes just yet, but in the meantime may I suggest to those who feel and indeed are deprived of chocolates and croissants and who patiently suffer when entering patisseries and other sweet shops and yet longingly look at all those colorful concoctions and remember sweet days of yesteryear, may I suggest, as I started saying,  that they instead find joy in chick peas gently sauteed with onions and whole wheat rice or “riz complet” on the side on mondays, wednesdays and fridays, and on the remaining days of the week find joy and relish the famous middle eastern falafel pita sandwhiches and in so doing may we all find  satisfaction in boycotting those awful fattening sweet things and be assured that in so doing we are keeping our sensitive physiology within holy boundaries.


September 5, 2010

It is an impossible task to compare French cathedrals.  It is even harder to describe a cathedral.   These days it is a rather simple click that will bring Chartres alive on any screen. Since all I have are words I’ll speak my peace so that my readers/commentators can drop their keyboards and run to spend a couple of nights in the town of Chartres.

These are not religious times, so upon entering this gigantic House of Worship, one is struck by the great number of visitors/tourists with cameras trying to capture every square inch of God’s House.  Difficult to comprehend the beauty of the structure and the colorful compositions of the hundred or so stained glass windows.

On that day, after the six o’clock mass, the public was invited to stay for a musical program presented by a visiting German church choir. The voices were not Chartres caliber and it was a surprise to me that two choir members rushed to the entrance hoping to receive donations.  We gave indeed, but that very second I had to deal with the sad contradictions and juxtapositions of faith and unbelief, the past and the present, Chartres of centuries ago, and Chartres as it is perceived and visited today.  The money thing.

The beauty of that Cathedral!  If you go take the cute and tiny tourist train that takes visitors for half an hour around the lower part of the town by the river, you will want to move and live there.  This summer most monuments were bathed in “son et lumière”  (sound and light) shows to bring back history.  All over this gorgeously clean and holy city (I felt I was in a different country) at every street corner, a light show on gigantic monuments acting as screens for the evening.

The majestic cathedral sits there and everything, river, streets, shops and houses seem to be protected by its sheltering beauty. I shouldn’t say this, but it is more impressive than Notre Dame de Paris, which is of course a beauty of a similar nature.

“On va faire un effort”

September 5, 2010

It was becoming a challenge.  Which French café would make you feel in heaven.  The expresso’s value is to be found either in the coffee itself, in the view or in the sitting, or perhaps in the service.  The eternal dilemma in France.

In our adopted corner “brasserie”, across the hotel in Paris, Alain our waiter, or was it Blaise, came by to get our morning order.  We ordered our expressos “alongés” (lengthened with hot water) and then we ordered a sandwich.  When we asked for it to be cut in half (a baguette of course) Alain said : “On va faire un effort” with a straight face.

Under other skies you would expect to hear things like: “sure”, “with pleasure”, “of course”, “no problem”, “right up”, etc.  But what makes the land special is Alain’s brand of response: “we’ll try”.  

That is France.

“Je vous en prie”

July 21, 2010

Fear not, this is not the beginning of a French 101 dialog.  This morning on our hotel’s sidewalk, to the right, we went for coffee and a croissant.  I skipped the croissant and the coffee and chose tea and a tartine.  The tartine is of course bread and butter, and since I try to avoid sugar like the plague, I told that to the waitress (no jam svp), the only employee working in that not so French-looking café.

The late breakfast started on the wrong foot.  The waitress/server was all alone, preparing the food, serving and selling the pastries and breads to visiting customers.  And we are speaking of a chic neighborhood!  My wife received her coffee, but it was so little in a large cup, we asked for some hot water.  The croissant didn’t show for a long while.  My sliced baguette came with butter and jam.  Sorry I said, I don’t need the jam, as I had mentioned when ordering.  The butter was melted in the golden wrapping.  “Miss” I said in French, the butter is melted, may I have cold and firm butter.  She said in French: “If it is melted it is easier to spread!”.

Finally the tea arrived! Barely enough water for a cup of tea.  I said nothing, as the server managed to find firm butter from the kitchen underground.  All of a sudden the server comes with hot water and says something to the effect that she remembered giving me insufficient hot water, so she was making up for that inadvertence.   I had asked for nothing and was surprised that she thought of me.

As I was processing this last move from the server I hear a loud “Je vous en prie!” addressed to me (she was looking at me, as she was leaving the table and going for some reason towards the front door).  The “Je vous en prie!” would have made sense if I had thanked her for the water with a “merci”.  But I was chewing and processing the event so I had not said the expected “merci”.  So I took her “Je vous en prie” as a sarcastic way of telling me, “guy, you could have thanked me for thinking of the extra water!”. 

I was surprised and felt insulted to be “corrected”, for not having said “merci” in the first place.  On her way back I mentioned that I was offended by the way she spoke to me.  I could barely speak.  She was surprised and asked for an explanation.  “Expliquez-vous” she said (she added “what did I say that was desobligeant?”, desobligeant meaning impolite if you will, ungracious or cutting), and I figured if she doesn’t remember what went on, I am not about to describe the incident from scratch.

And I left it at that.