Where to Travel for Vacation


Where to Travel for Vacation

February is a perfect time to start planning for summer or fall vacations (unless, of course, you started earlier).  For many, their travel plans are limited to two weeks, which might determine their destination.  My wife Elfa suggested two possible ideas – a river cruise to Portugal or a trip to Iceland.  Will keep you posted.  Meanwhile, I want to encourage you – if you’ve never been, to travel to Israel.  If you have been reading my Encounters, you know it was our destination last year, and I already wrote a number of stories about this trip.  Israel is a relatively small country, but there are many attractive places to visit and to have wonderful experiences.  One of them is the Dead Sea, which is the earth’s lowest elevation located 1.412 ft below sea level.  It is also the world’s saltiest body of water with a salinity of 34.2%.  In Hebrew, the name “Yam-ha-Melah” means Sea of Salt.

The Dead Sea has attracted visitors for thousands of years.  It is called “dead” because its salinity prevents macroscopic aquatic organisms, such as fish and aquatic plants from living in it.  Actually in this case, the “dead” is good.  It was one of the world’s first resorts for at least two thousand years. Besides, the salt from the Sea was used as fertilizers and to create cosmetics.  On the website Deadsea.com I found out that in the Roman Era salt was a highly-valued strictly controlled commodity, more so than gold or silver, and was used as labors’ salary.  However, the reason for our trip was not to learn its history, but to relax and to enjoy special treatments.  It took us two hours to drive there from Tel Aviv (and about the same time to drive from there to Jerusalem).  The road was twisting along sandy dunes.  The air became hot and dry, and we suddenly saw the Dead Sea from a cliff, with the sign pointing to the Biblical place called Sodom; it was like seeing a mirage. Soon we arrived to our destination — a developed area with six high-rise hotels.  We stayed in the Crowne Plaza, which is very close to the beach.



The next two days were very relaxing.  We received mud wrapping, got massages, dipped into a swimming pool filled with salty water, lay out by the swimming pool, and of course walked in the Dead Sea, since it is not easy to swim there.  One of the attractions of any hotel in Israel is their breakfasts.  The buffet service has enormous amounts of cheese, herring, fruit, vegetables, hot dishes and desserts.  It felt as if we were on a cruise (with the advantage of having a larger room).  At night I saw the lights on other side of the Sea, which was in Jordan.  Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty on October 26, 1994, and have diplomatic relations with economic cooperation.  They work together to save the Dead Sea from drying up.

On our next trip to Israel, we are also planning to visit Petra an ancient Red Rose City located in Jordan.

P.S. These four images show some of my encounters at the resort.

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7 Life Lessons I Have Learned From Max


7 Life Lessons
I Have Learned From Max

Last week, Max turned eighteen months. When he joined our family on September 4th 2017, he was ten weeks young. A lot has happened since. Max reached his adult size (medium) and weight (about 25 lbs). During the first forty-two days with him, I recorded our encounters and experiences and recommendations from dogs’ “how to” books, which became my secondbook in my 42 Encounters series – 42 Encounters with Dog Lovers. If you have been following the Friday “Encounters” for a while, you have surely read about this book before.

1. Life is a Game; there is no winning or losing, just playing.  You can apply this lesson to anything in your life.  To do this, stop taking yourself too seriously.  If you look back, everything has a beginning and an end, and then it starts all over again, like in any game.

2. Life is Short; enjoy every moment.  Many religious traditions teach how to detach ourselves from our egos.  It is not easy; however, if we learn how not to attach ourselves to the results, perhaps we can develop a habit of enjoying the process.

3. Life is Sharing Love; it’s O.K. to lick people’s faces.  Life is universal.  If you want to be loved, share yours.  It’s easy – just connect with your heart, and do not hold back.

4. Life is a Journey; you never know in which park you will end up in tomorrow.  Most of us are creatures of habits.  That means that after we discover one way of doing things or living our lives, we rarely make an effort to change.  Thus, we do not know what wonderful things we are missing.

5. Life is Making New Friends; they are everywhere.  If you want more friends, start by learning how to become your dog’s best friend.

6. Life is a Cycle; after walking and eating comes playing and napping.  Dogs like to have a routine.  As humans, we focus on working and eating.  To live our life to the fullest, we need to practice the last two as well.

7. Life is Learning; there are always new tricks to practice.  When we stop learning, our lives become dull.



P.S. Judging by the response to my weekly Encounters and the reviews of my books on Amazon.com, I am doing a good job writing my stories.
The purchase of 42 Encounters with Dog Lovers will help dogs, and hopefully you as well.  These four images show how Max has a ball with his ball.

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Where Was Barbary Coast?


Where Was Barbary Coast?

Many years ago we worked with a Savings and Loan company called Barbary Coast. I thought it was strange to name a financial institution after the area known for Barbary pirates and slave traders who attacked ships and coastal settlements in the Mediterranean Sea and other areas. Turns out, there was another Barbary Coast, much closer to home.

I learned about this while doing research for my next photo-story book, “42 Encounters with Couples in San Francisco”. For the text portion of the book, I decided to write about San Francisco’s history. It was a challenging decision, since I obviously did not have personal experience with the subject and had to retell the information which could be easily found in other books or online.  And then there is the question, why would you care to read forty-two stories about events which happened many years ago?

It is impossible to imagine what San Francisco could be if not for the discovery of gold on January 24, 1848, when a small village called Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco in 1847 with a population of 492 people. In 1849, it reached over 25,000, and continues to grow.  By 1860, the population was 56,802 people, made up of primarily young men; some were digging for gold, others were busy in the fast growing city.

Among the new settlers, there were members from New York City gangs.  By the end of 1849, ships from Australia brought ex-convicts, who opened boarding houses, which had prostitutes affiliated with their business. Extreme growth combined with a lack of strong government would create many opportunities for criminals, corrupt politicians and brothel owners. Someone coined the area which was encompassing parts of modern-day Chinatown, Jackson Square and North Beach as the Barbary Coast. This area became known for its dance halls, concert saloons, bars, jazz clubs, variety shows and brothels.

One of the streets in the town which became known as the center of the red light district was Morton Street. Historically, the street reported one murder a week.  The 1906 earthquake, which leveled much of the city, rendered this two-block stretch rubble, and the brothels were destroyed. After the reconstruction, it became known as Maiden Lane, one of the most elegant streets in all of downtown, San Francisco.  One of the buildings was designed by the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, located at 140 Maiden Lane.  I knew this building quite well.  Upon our arrival in San Francisco, I worked at the fashion company Helga Howie, who had her boutique in the building in the 1970s through the early 1980s. In 2017, the famous Italian luxury men’s wear brand Isaia moved into the building.  When I visited the store last Sunday, I was very impressed with how it perfectly fit into the building and made it complete.

P.S. During my recent visit to the Union Square area, I was very pleased to find out that the Muni Metro construction project, which started in 2011, is almost complete. These four images are of some people I encountered in the area.

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What Is GIGO?



Many years ago, I attended a seminar where I first heard the phrase, “Garbage In, Garbage Out” – GIGO (pronounced GEE IY GEE OH).  The presenter shared his views with us.  For example, if you are getting exposed to negative information all the time, you express yourself in a negative way. It was Earl Nightingale who coined the phrase, “We become what we think about most of the time.”  And then there is also the phrase, “We are what we eat.”  The last phrase came to mind after a phone call I received today from a friend.  He had some issues with his health and after seeing a doctor; he was told that the arteries in his heart are clogged. I did some research about cardiovascular diseases online, and learned that coronary artery diseases are one of the major causes of death.  Not surprisingly, the negative news from the doctor (an authority) made him feel even worse.  Hearing him, I suggested that from the books I read lately, there might be a relatively simple solution to his condition that does not require medication.  (At the same time, I recommended to keep taking whatever the doctor prescribed until he will not need it anymore.) The solution is in the food we eat, and the lifestyle we choose. I told my friend that I will share the names of those books with him.  And then I thought that you might want to know about those sources of wellness as well, and do not want to wait until I finish writing my book, “Retirement Solutions for Smart PeopleEasy Ways to Enjoy Your Golden Age.”

Most of the members of my family, including myself, stopped eating meat forty-three years ago. Shortly after moving to San Francisco in 1980, we met a nutritionist who suggested that we should add fish to our diet. Thus, we became pescatarians. Some people ask me if I miss meat or feel the difference. The answer is “no” to both of those questions, since I feel good most of the time. But I also do not drink coffee or any alcohol and limit my intake of bread and sugar. After I read “The Plant Paradox” written by Dr. Steven Gundry (and shared it with my wife and our daughter), we decided to follow “Dr. Gundry’s Diet EvolutionTurn off the genes that are killing you and your waistline”, which offers recipes.  Since Dr. Steven Gundry was a renowned cardiac surgeon and arrived originally to what he calls “The Plant Paradox” through his personal experience, I believe he knows what he suggests to his patients.

There are other books I can recommend, including “How not to Die” by Michael Greger M.D. written together with Gene Stone with the subtitle “Discover the Foods. Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease”. There is also a recipe book with the same name.  On public television, you may have seen a presentation by Neal D. Barnard MD, who has written “Power Foods for the BrainAn effective 3-step plan to protect your mind and strengthen your memory.” Then there are books written on the subject of healthy eating by Dean Ornish MD, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Andrew Weil, MD and others. The main message in my forthcoming book is that you need to develop a mindset for healthy living, otherwise you will easily go back to your old habits and no book will help you. My determination of GIGO is “Goodness In Goodness Out”.

We are blessed to have many farmers markets, which offer a huge range of fresh foods and vegetables. These four images attest to that.

Just a reminder. If you would like to make a spontaneous gift to your friend,
“42 Encounters with Dog Lovers” will be perfect for that.
Just go to Amazon.com or Encounterspublishing.com.

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The Origins of the Kabbalah


The Origins of the Kabbalah

I would like to revisit the topic of our trip to Israel towards the end of 2018.  After spending a week in Tel Aviv, we drove to the “City of Kabbalah”. Certain celebrities like Madonna brought the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah to popularity in the 1990’s. But she was not alone. In addition to Britney Spears, Mick Jagger, Paris Hilton and Demi Moore, there are many business people who turn to Kabbalah for guidance and advice in pursuit of profit, while doing good. Actually those celebrities follow a modern, weathered down version of the ancient Jewish tradition of the mystical interpretation of the Bible. It reached the height of its influence in the later Middle Ages (you can find a lot of information about the Kabbalah online).

The reason I bring it up is because on our trip, we stayed in Tzfat – or Safed in English, for one night.  Thanks to Madonna and her Hollywood friends, it became known as “The City of Kabbalah.” Actually, according to the tradition, the study of the Kabbalah originated about two thousand years ago during the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel, to which they gave the name Palestine in the attempt erase a Jewish presence here.  After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many scholars moved back to Israel and settled in Tzfat. Among them was Rabbi Isaac Luria, or the Ari.  Though he lived and taught there for a relatively short time, his teachings formed what is known today as Lurianic Kabbalah. Though Tzfat was mentioned in the writings of the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, it became better known after the Crusaders captured it in 1099 and stayed there for about 200 years. After them came the Mamelukes (slave soldiers who converted to Islam), who ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 until 1517, when their dynasty was extinguished by the Ottomans (the Turkish Empire), who in turn were replaced by the British Empire 101 years ago. Through all those years, the Jews managed to stay there and today with a population of about 35,000, Tzfat is one of Four Holy Cities (the other three are Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberius). Besides being the center of Kabbalah, it is also known for its artistic colony, where we have always found unique works of art.

The word Kabbalah comes from Hebrew “lekabel”, which means to receive. My personal interest for the Kabbalah (some spell it Cabbalah or even Qabbalah) started many years ago.  In my personal library I have tens of books, which reference the subject of the Jewish mysticism. The latest book, which I just borrowed from the public library, is titled “Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah”, written by the world-renowned historian Yual Harari.  After reading all of those books, I’ve concluded that it can take a life-long study just to realize how little we actually know or understand of what the Kabbalah really means.

P.S. Today Tzfat is a diverse city with a growing population where ultra-orthodox Jews live side by side with the artists. These four images convey the diversity.

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