Books In The Time Of Corona

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Books In The Time Of Corona

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”  Jhumpa Lahiri in The Namesake

I think you are either a person who reads or a person who doesn’t. If you read, you are going to want to do it more. If you don’t, I’m not going to be able to convince you to put down the remote. I decided to use some of this time we have been given to read great books that I had missed. Here are ten of them.

Nostromo Joseph Conrad

At the beginning of the quarantine, I took on the daunting task of reading Nostromo. I was greatly intimidated by the very long prologue to one of Joseph Conrad’s greatest and most complex novels. Once I started, it became a compelling adventure story with profound psychological insights and political implications. Nostromo tells the tumultuous history of the fictional South American country of Costaguana. Written at the time of the development of the Panama Canal, Nostromo is set in the imaginary province of Sulaco, which secedes from the federation of Costaguana in order to protect its natural resource, the silver mine. The parallels with the ‘revolution’ in Panama by the United States in 1903 are striking; just as Panama seceded from Columbia to satisfy the material interests of the canal builders, so the secession of Sulaco serves the material interests of ‘the Gould company. Conrad creates the “perfectly incorruptible”” Nostromo who we don’t get to know until the second half of the novel. He is an Italian immigrant and a heroic symbol within the community. Nostromo, is the only man who can save the silver in the San Tomé mine and secure the independence of the province of Sulaco. The question is whether his morals and integrity are as unassailable as his reputation. Will he stand firmly in his ideals once the fate lies in his hands?

Angle of Repose Walter Stegner

Angle of Repose is a classic of American Literature. Lyman Ward is a recently divorced, wheelchair-bound retired history professor (aged 58) struggling to find his way through the turns life has taken. Determined to write a biography of his beloved and famous artist/author grandmother, he moves into his grandparent’s long-empty home in Grass Valley, California in 1970. Most of the book is about Susan Ward an accomplished writer and illustrator, who found herself an accidental pioneer of the western United States during the 1870s and 1880s.The character development in Angle of Repose is exceptional. Wallace Stegner shows great incite about two groups of people that can be hard to understand – the physically disabled and strong, complex women, of the Victorian era. His words do justice to the great beauty of the American West. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and no wonder because the prose is beautiful.

The Movie Goer Walker Percy

The Movie Goer written in 1961 is about John/Jack/ Binx Bolling, a Louisianan who drifts along. He is in a line of work that he finds interesting, but he has no real purpose in life. Like Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, he finds meaning in movies. Little things he sees remind him of different films or actors—and the films are always more interesting than his routine life. He is single and about to turn thirty. Most of the story is about John drifting through Mardi Gras and his life in New Orleans. It is a nice little tour of New Orleans neighborhoods and some of the nearby coastal bayous and by the end of the book John has matured. It is a coming of age story. You can’t help but draw comparisons to Holden Caulfield with his eye for identifying self deceit and insincerity (though in a much more Southern genteel way).The book remains current because of the alienation and despair that persist in both good and bad times and the power of language and humor to give them meaning.

Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

On a simple level, Americanah is a love story set in Africa, Europe and America. As you turn the pages, you quickly realize that Adichie uses the novel format as a social commentary about race. Protagonist Ifemelu ironically discovers that she is black as she leaves a politically tormented Nigeria for the United States. There are shrewd observations about repatriation, sizing up and distancing between African blacks and African Americans, the value of dark skin in Caucasian societies, the arrogance of white savior mentality and the fascinating world of African hair. The novel is filled with insightful blog posts by Ifemelu as she experiences America.

The Overstory Richard Powers

The Overstory is a huge novel about trees, cleverly structured around roots, trunk, branches and seeds. Richard Power’s ability to make us see something we take for granted is really special. Blending fiction, historical writing, scientific description and literary prose, he writes a story of climate catastrophe and hope. The plot of The Overstory focuses on people’s various intergenerational connections with trees. It is a human story in the context of environmental loss from climate change. The lonely broken people of Power’s story seek other people to save the trees and ultimately our world. This is a reminder that it is everyone’s problem. It was the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

A Gentleman In Moscow Amor Towles

At the age of 33, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest for life in the elegant Hotel Metropol in Moscow’s Theatre Square. Instead of his familiar suite, his new abode is now a tiny room in the attic.The book covers Russia’s turbulent years from the 1920s to the 1950s. Rostov witnesses the momentous changes in Russia, not Tolstoy-style through the debate of powerful men and the clash on the battlefields, but in the detail of everyday life in the hotel as he quietly observes the changing guests and procedures. We are left to imagine the mentality of the new regime’s leaders and life outside the hotel. I love the character of Alexander Rostov with his old school manners, adaptability, kindness and quiet dignity.The writing is elegant, effortless, beautiful and funny. I really enjoyed this book.

A Long Petal In The Sea Isabel Allende

I am a huge fan of the author and so I was glad to pick up her latest book. The story starts in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The first part of the book is captivating, and emotional as the reader is introduced to the various characters. After joining half a million refugees walking from Spain to France, the leading characters Victor and Rosa are accepted on the rescue ship M/S Winnipeg chartered by the famous Chilean Nobel-prize winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda bound for Chile. (fact) They have the same problems fleeing refuges have today and they are among the few lucky ones that make it to Chile. They begin a new life and later they are swept up in the Pinochet reign of terror. Victor and Rosa escape to Venezuela who welcomes all refugees fleeing from Chile. They return to Chile and again start a new life as Pinochet dies and Chile slowly returns to democracy. As the book headed towards a heartfelt and compelling conclusion, I found myself reading slower, not wanting to leave the book, its story and characters.This is a stunning historical literary novel and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Orphan Master’s Son Adam Johnson

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013, ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ tells the story of Pak Jun Do’s journey from life in a North Korean state orphanage to professional kidnapper to a career in Pyongyang at the heart of Kim Jong ll’s regime.  It is an intriguing and sprawling story which explores several aspects of life in one of the most secretive countries in the world. Since there is no way of knowing how authentic it is, the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurred. I found it a carefully crafted, elegantly written, fascinating book to read.

The Assistant  Bernard Malamud

The Assistant was written in 1957 and won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It is about a Jewish grocery store owner in Brooklyn in the 1950’s and the Italian assistant who works for him. The story is a tragedy about the Jewish immigrant experience in America at that time. It is also about Frank Alpine, a man trying hard to change himself. It’s a fight that each of us might be familiar with. We know what to do to be good yet we often lose ourselves to temptation, to take a shortcut to to have it easy. Malamud can write. The simplicity of the prose and dialogue and the depth and complexity of the plot make the Assistant a special book.

To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch is my number two literary crush and so I reread To Kill A Mockingbird every once in a while.(Howard Roark is my number 1). The book offers so much more than the picture of a small Southern town in the depression era filed with prejudice, injustice and the bond of love between family members and neighbors. So many issues that Scout points out, in the book, are still very real problems today. Lee’s characters define themselves every time they open their mouths and so they stay in your mind long after you finish the book. Atticus is the epitome of the literary hero, quietly dignified, moral, and unpretentious, standing alone, if need be, to do what is right. When you reread the book, you see that Scout, Jem, Boo, Tom, Calpurnia, the judge, the doctor and the neighbors who take care of each other, bring something to the human, heroic response to the world. Because we as a culture have gotten so good at rationalizing our bad behavior, we often forget “to do what’s right”. That’s why so many years after this book takes place, our world is still broken, so I thought it was time to read it again.

Stay safe,

JAZ

No One Reads Anymore

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No One Reads Anymore.

‘The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. “ Rene Descartes

It’s ironic that you are reading a blog about why no one reads  anymore. Obviously some people read books.

But readers are slowly dying off, easing into extinction as newer and flashier means of grabbing our attention evolve. Why? Because reading is hard, or at least harder than watching TV or movies or playing video games.

Reading books stimulates the brain, forcing us to focus, to remember and to perform various mental gymnastics. It provides enormous benefits. Reading reduces stress, keeps your brain sharp, helps you fall asleep, increases your vocabulary, writing skills and improves your imagination.

There are many other advantages to reading as well, including developing greater discipline and empathy, helping you better understand other cultures, building self-esteem and making you more interesting.

But a great many people still believe they don’t have time to read. Society floods us with sensory input. Our phones, our tablets, our laptops: all offer connectivity to the wider world. So we think that because we’re connected to it electronically, we needn’t pursue such an old-fashioned activity as reading.

I was not allowed to watch TV as a kid and getting lost in a book was a wonderful way to pass the time. But even I have trouble now forcing my brain to focus for that long. I’m using this gift of time to read great books and will you keep you posted on my favorites.

Reading this blog does not count, by the way. 

Stay safe,

JAZ

Neither Snow Nor Rain…..The US Postal Service

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Neither Snow Nor Rain……The US Postal Service

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds’. Herodotus

I grew up with this quote. It summons up visions of brave postal workers trudging through inclement weather conditions.  For more than a century,  it’s been synonymous with the tireless work the postal service does to make sure you get your junk mail, magazines, and birthday cards on time. 

This quote was inscribed in the NY Postal Building in Manhattan  in 1912. Architect William Mitchell Kendall was a classics scholar in both architecture and words. It comes from Herodotus, Book Eight of the Persian Wars. Herodotus was impressed with the fast travel of the Persian couriers.

When the Constitution established the postmaster-general position, the Founding Fathers were worried about how to get the new nation’s increasing volume of mail delivered. A system had been developed in the colonies, in which merchants, slaves and Native Americans would pass letters and parcels from person to person until they reached their destinations. That soon gave way to  mail carriers who traveled via horse and stagecoach and later locomotives and airplanes.

In January 1913, one Ohio couple took advantage of US Postal Service’s new parcel service to make a very special delivery: their infant son. The Beagues paid 15 cents for his stamps and an unknown amount to insure him for $50, then handed him over to the mailman, who dropped the boy off at his grandmother’s house about a mile away. People who mailed their children weren’t handing them over to a stranger. In rural areas, many families knew their mailman quite well.

It has always been  a system of trust. Today, though email and Amazon have replaced a lot of their job, it  is still our most trusted organization.

The 2020 election will definitely not look like any other election in American history.  A record number of states will allow for expanded early voting options including vote by mail.  Although mail balloting, sometimes known as absentee voting, has been around since  the Civil War, it has come under new scrutiny this year as Trump has claimed that this type of voting is open to fraud.  This is not true.

 What we should be worried about, is whether Trump’s Post Office can handle the influx of ballots with all the recent budget cuts. There are tight deadlines on when ballots must be received. Most require the ballot to be postmarked on or before Election Day and they must be received by the Board of Elections within 7 days of the election.  The mail is already backlogged. Imagine what it will look like with a hundred million mail in ballots.

Make sure you vote as early as possible. If you can, go to the post office instead of putting it in a blue box (which is as sanitary as anything else you touch), drive to the mail-in location, or drop it off the day of at your polling place. Don’t wait until the last minute. This year we need to work with the Postal Service,  like the  Founding Fathers did in the colonies to make sure letters got to their recipients. “We are Americans. We get the job done.” (I have to stop rewatching Hamilton).

Stay safe,

JAZ

Best TV Shows With Subtitles

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Best TV Shows With Subtitles

“On Friday night, I was reading my new book, but my brain got tired, so I decided to watch some television instead.”  Stephen Chbosky

Since I can’t actually travel right now, I’m traveling to a different country, one TV series at a time. These shows take me to different places and different cultures. As the virus continues, I’m sure I will be adding more to this list.

Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (Japan) Netflix

I used to love eating after midnight in college. There’s something about eating with people at odd hours that inclines one toward romance or deep philosophical discussion.
Based on the manga of the same name, the story follows a man who owns an izakaya in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, (translated into diner) which is open from midnight-7AM. Each episode follows the story of a customer with ties to a particular dish from his past. The diner serves as a meeting place for the episode’s featured characters, while the owner—referred to only as “Master”—offers sage, down-to-earth advice. The patrons range in backgrounds, from taxi drivers to physicists, writers, actors, gamblers, gang members, drag queens and strippers. There are several regulars who appear in each episode and interact with the featured character. There is nothing epic in the stories and the characters are often based on stereotypes. What I particularly love is that the setting allows them to let their guard down organically, alone in a small diner in the early morning, with no one but the proprietor to intrude on their journey of self-discovery. It facilitates a sense of separateness—almost outside of reality—where people who might otherwise be considered nobodies or oddballs can express and share their humanity. It is our favorite show. In these troubled times, it reminds us that everyone has a story and reflects a truth of what it means to be human.

Shtisel (Israel) Netflix

Shtisel is a drama featuring an ultra Orthodox family in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem. The depiction of ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture is just fascinating. At the heart of “Shtisel” is the relationship between Shulem Shtisel, a recently widowed religious school principal, and his youngest son, Akiva, a bachelor who still lives at home. There is true love between them, but their relationship is fraught with tension over Akiva’s still being single, as well as over his preference for making art instead of studying and teaching Torah. The other main plot lines deal with Giti, one of Shulem’s daughters, and her family. Her husband, Lipa, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of supporting a large family, goes abroad (ostensibly for a job) and disappears for months. Left to raise and financially support the children on her own, Giti almost falls apart under the strain. Additional strands of the dramatic narrative involve other members of the extended Shtisel family and their friends and neighbors in Geula. The Haredi lifestyle is presented as a given, and by and large the characters do not strain against its strictures. At the same time, the series does not shy away from dealing with real-life issues and the fact that all of them have “vices”. The peculiarity and foreignness of the show combined with the universal and familiar feeling of what goes on in families completely won me over. I watched it once by myself and again with the BF who also loved it.

Broadchurch (United Kingdom) Netflix

I discovered Broadchurch by accident. Like True Detective, Season One revolves around one murder case. I was on the edge of my seat trying to guess who murdered Danny Latimer. Everyone looks suspicious. Each time I thought I knew who the murderer was, a new clue came up and secrets popped out and I had to guess again. i watch a lot of detective shows and I’m pretty good at figuring out the culprit but this one had me stumped. Broadchurch was the most popular show in The UK when it came out and I can see why. The cast is superb led by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman and David Tennant. It is a fully immersive drama that will grip you from the first episode. Unfortunately, the other two seasons are not as good. But, the character development is brilliant and they have great chemistry, so I stuck with them. Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Charlotte Rampling appear in the second season. The natural beauty of the town (the Jurassic coast-now on my list of places to go) and the people that populate Broadchurch allow it to rise above the usual detective series.

Made In Heaven (India) Amazon

I absolutely adore Made In Heaven and can’t wait for Season 2. The story follows Karan and Tara as they manage their wedding planning business of the same name. It seems like a very real take on the wedding industry of the very rich in India. Each episode focuses on a different, unbelievably beautiful wedding while the characters navigate their very complicated lives. Kabir and Jaspreet work for Made In Heaven and are dealing with complications of their own. Kabir often narrates the videos of the weddings and they’re always wonderful observations and really tug at your heart. Each wedding tells a story of India, undisguised and unsweetened. They don’t shy away from politics or religion and there is always a message of hope.

Bordertown (Finland) Netflix

Bordertown follows Kari Sorjonen, a shockingly great detective (definitely on the spectrum), who decides he needs a break from the horrors he sees everyday in Helsinki. This is understandable as no horror is too scary for this show. Kari moves his sick wife and teenage daughter to a family house in Lappeenranta, a town that borders the edges of Finland and Russia. At first it seems nice. However, if you’re in a crime drama, things are never nice for long. Though Bordertown has the brooding, dark environments and intense acting of similar shows, the series is more of a family-focused drama with a killer on the loose. There are horrific crimes happening in the background — almost all of them are done to young, sexualized women. The main narrative is about this one tired, brilliant investigator who just wants to have dinner with his family. I loved the first two seasons but I couldn’t make it through the first episode of the third season. It became way too dark and gory for me.

Fauda (Israel)  Netflix

An Israeli show about an elite team of commandos looking to infiltrate a terrorist group with ticking time bombs and evil masterminds does not seem all that different from many post 9/11 shows. What makes it different and worth watching is the relationships between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It shows a bit more realistic portrayal of how they are willingly and unwillingly entangled into each others lives. Fauda follows a group of Israeli undercover agents, known as mista’arvim, who carry out counter-terror operations in the West Bank by blending in to become indistinguishable from local Palestinian residents. I think it does a good job of showing both the good and the bad on both sides. . It is clear that the two sides are past the point of no return in being able to coexist, yet they cannot bring themselves to do what is needed to end their mutually destructive relationship. The cast and directors are both Israeli and Palestinian and though there are many political critiques it is definitely a binge watch.

Henning Mankell’s Wallender (Sweden) Netflix

Wallander is the popular 62-year-old hero of a group of novels by Henning Mankell, the best-selling Swedish crime novelist. The inspector lives alone, except for his beloved dog, tends to be morose, is a good cop and a liberal idealist. Detective Wallander is both the beat-up and dysfunctional ex-husband/son/father and a professional who makes honest, human mistakes, but sticks around to see the job through. The BBC made the show as well starring Kenneth Branagh but I watched the original in Swedish. Each episode is an hour and a half and the first season is apparently movies that were based on the different books. In the first episode, Wallander’s daughter Linda returns to Ystad having successfully graduated police training. The difficult relationship between father and daughter is now further complicated by having them work together. I highly recommend watching season one. I get the feeling the other seasons were made into a TV show which was very different than season one and they don’t work as well. I like the casting-they seem more like ordinary people than actors which makes the stories more believable.

Hinterland (Wales) Netflix

Hinterland is set in Aberystwyth, Wales. Speaking scenes were filmed twice, once in English and once in Welsh and was released in both languages. The accent was hard for me but then I got used to it. The series is full of silence. These are not talkative people. They live in a brooding, windswept barren place filled with secrets. And they have their own secrets as well. Tom Mathias stars as a recent addition to the police department in this small coastal town. Mathias is not inclined to explain himself to his officers and they are often left to try to read his mind in hopes of understanding why the investigation is going as it is. He is dedicated to being the tragic figure in this series. Mared Rhys, his partner and an experienced police officer herself, has her own problems. The photography of Western Wales is beautiful but doesn’t look like a place you would want to visit in winter. There are five episodes per season and if you can stick through it to the end of season three, the payoff is good.

Call My Agent (France) Netflix

Call My Agent is about a film talent agency called ASK, and revolves around the agents, their assistants and the film stars they work for. The episodes are filled with gossip, drama and likable relatable characters. In each episode French actors play themselves as clients of the agency. The day-to-day problems are relatively unimportant: the agents are faced with non-compliant actors, try to disseminate false rumors, attempt to reconcile co-stars who have fallen out, wrestle with tarnishing media stories… As well as these behind-the-curtain dramas of the stars, the agents’ private lives are also wrought with entertaining relationship dramas and personal dilemmas. It is a highly, binge worthy watch and just what you need in dark times.

Merli (Spain) (Catalan) Netflix

In the style of “Dead Poets Society,” Merli tells the story of a philosophy teacher in a public secondary school who opens his students minds and makes them question things in a very unorthodox way. His son who has grown up with his mother, now lives with Merli and his grandmother, and is in his class. Every episode is named for a new philosopher. I like the premise but in each episode Merli seems to care more and more about himself. It is less about a great teacher and more about a selfish man that uses his knowledge to justify his actions. Yet for some reason, he still seems to be a good teacher, inspiring his students. There is only one season so it is not a huge commitment and I like watching it. I couldn’t find a trailer with subtitles (the show has them) but you get the idea.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

Chinese Proverbs

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Chinese Proverbs

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Lao Tzu

Chinese Proverbs are sayings which originate from famous Chinese philosophers and writers. Confucius and Lao Tzu are the most famous. there are hundreds of popular proverbs which usually give the reader an inspirational or motivational thought. They address all aspects of traditional Chinese society but are very applicable today. Here are some of my favorites.

“Dig the well before you are thirsty.”

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

“Your teacher can open the door but you must enter by yourself.”

 “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”

The swiftest horse can’t overtake a word once spoken*

“We count our miseries carefully, and accept our blessings without much thought.”

“If you plan for one year, plant rice. If you plan for ten years, plant trees. If you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.”

 “A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books.”

“The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.” Xun Kuang

“A bird does not sing because he has the answer to something, he sings because he has a song.”

“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”

“The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.”

“An invisible silk thread connects those who are destined to meet.”

Stay safe,

JAZ

Best Countries For Expats Part 2

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Best Countries For Expats Part 2

“You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream.” C.S.Lewis

Australia seems like a perfect place to live – beautiful weather, shrimp on the barbie and kangaroos. Australians speak English and they are friendly and helpful. They have good health care and the outdoor lifestyle is similar to California. Australian TV is like American not British TV.  Some of the natural beauty, plants and wildlife are only indigenous to Australia.  Sporting events are easy to find but outside of Sydney and Melbourne, theatre and ballet are scarce. There are 1500 species of spiders, 6000 species of flies, 4000 species of ants and 350 species of termites in Australia. Finding creepy crawly things in your home is common. I can not picture myself eating or offering a vegemite sandwich.  The cost of living like in New Zealand is very high. Flying back to America is expensive and a  long flight. LIving so far away, I will miss my friends and family and a lot of events here. 

Costa Rica feels like California with a rainforest. It has a steady democracy that spends its money on education instead of the military, A million Americans visit every year, and they have put those dollars back into infrastructure — reliable airports, deluxe highways, huge conservation districts — that make the country easy to get around and easy to enjoy. It has volcanoes, mountains and beaches. It is closer to the US than other countries we are considering which makes travel easier. My Spanish would definitely improve. Crime is a problem. If you have nice stuff or appear to have nice stuff, someone will try to steal it. There are no addresses, so if you need something mailed down, you might have to wait for a friend to bring it in a suitcase. Tourist visas are a cinch but residency can be slow going for anyone who’s not working for a big company. Foreigners have already snatched up most of the property bargains.

Warm weather, great food and “La Dolce Vita” are all good reasons to move to Italy. Every Italian city is basically a huge museum with historic buildings on every corner. The midday siesta is still a thing which is great for me because I can nap anywhere at 3:00 PM.  Real estate prices are good for Americans though many of those old beautiful houses are “fixer uppers”. Italy is not the best country for people who like big cars. It is easier to navigate the narrow cobblestone streets with  a small car or motorbike. The cost of living in the cities is expensive but there are many towns that aren’t.   The health care system is good  and if you can get into the public system, good healthcare is free.

Living in Spain sounds like a dream. I imagine a sunny climate, natural beauty,  cobblestone streets with flamenco music playing in the background, while I sip sangria and eat tapas at a local bar. The cost of living is lower than other parts of Europe. Things move slowly in Spain. When going to the post office, bank, restaurants and shops expect to wait.  Spanish bureaucracy is notoriously slow.  The regional politics are complicated and everything shuts down in the afternoon. Don’t plan on getting anything done in August. The whole country is at the beach.

Israel’s economy is very strong and the standard of living is high. There is amazing food and beautiful weather as well. Any Jew can move to Israel freely. Tel Aviv is the most expensive city in the Middle East and the cost of real estate is high. English is widely spoken here and health care is great. For a small strip of land, the cultures in different areas are diverse.We have already spent a month living in Tel Aviv so I know I could do it.  Everybody smokes which is a problem for me. Everything is closed from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown so that takes some getting used to. Sunday is Monday.  Living in Israel is living in constant fear of terrorist attacks. Lately living in America is the same with constant fear of random shootings. 

Stay safe,
JAZ

Best Countries For Expats Part One

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Best Countries For Expats Part One.

“In any given moment, we have two options, to move forward into growth or to step back into safety.” Abraham Maslow

There are somewhere around nine million American civilians currently living abroad. Where to go is an open question. Mild weather is the most important thing for us. Whether a country has a lot of English-speakers, a favorable cost of living or an immigration process that’s (relatively) navigable are other considerations.  Here are some of the possibilities we are thinking about. These countries make a pretty compelling case to leave everything behind. I think no matter how much research you do and how prepared you think you are, there will always be things that surprise you when you’re finally there. Some are good, some are bad but that’s what the experience is all about! Here are five of the ten countries that we are considering in no particular order.

New Zealand would be an easy place to move to because everyone is friendly and speaks English. It has a lot of outdoor activities, great air quality, Lord Of The Rings scenery and wineries. Wellington is a cool city. There are many areas with milder temperatures year round. It is extremely safe with no violent crime. We can really travel around Australia and Oceania. The downside is that it is a full day’s flight from America and the cost of living on an island far away from everything is high. 

We visited Uruguay for the  first time last year. I loved it. Uruguay has a stable economy, large middle class and a very low violent crime rate. There are no homeless camps. People live simply. It has a functional political system with little corruption and a highly educated population. Marijuana is legal to grow and to possess for personal use. The wine, the beef, and the national soccer team are all world-class. The Atlantic beaches are among the best in the world and the temperature in the winter never falls below freezing. It is relatively easy to buy property and establish residency without bribery. Uruguayans on the whole are welcoming, friendly and helpful. I love South America so traveling around from here would be great. It is not as cheap as other Latin American countries  to live in but is still less than the US. Thefts and muggings are common in the cities. There is not a lot of English spoken here so I will need to improve my Spanish.

Greece is sadly expensive for the Greek people but a bargain for Americans. The food is delicious and fresh – think feta, lamb, fish and tzatiki. The scenery is breathtaking and the weather is similar to California. If you want a city, avoid Athens and try Thessaloniki. I have spent many summers there and love this country and the people I have met. The islands are dead in winter and ferries don’t always run so it’s important to pick an island like Naxos or Crete that is agriculturally self sustaining. I’m familiar with the culture, the beauracracy, and the slow way of doing things. There is terrible unemployment due to their financial crisis  and as long as you are not going there to work you will be ok. 

Peru has some  of the best food in the world. No country with 5000 varieties of potatoes is anything but deadly serious about food. The food in Lima is a mix of Chinese, Andean, Japanese and Incan influences. The landscape is beautiful, diverse. and filled with history. Macchu Picchu is one of my favorite places on earth. There are plenty of Pacific beach towns as well. At the moment, the government and the economy is stable. Good health care, cost of living and travel is very affordable here if you are coming from the U.S.  A tourist visa lasts for six months so it will be easy to try it out and Peruvians seem to like Americans. You do need to speak Spanish and crime is high in the cities. Some parts of Lima are not safe.

Portugal has a mild climate, panoramic seaside views and endless beaches. The American dollar does well here. It is a relaxed way of life and there are many English speakers in the cities. The people are warm, welcoming and helpful which is good when trying to deal with the language and bureaucracy.  Health care is good and affordable even if you pay out of pocket.  Violent crime is very low and theft is mostly pickpockets in the tourist areas. It is considered one of the best places in the world to move to. The downside for me is that the language is very difficult. It looks like Spanish but is pronounced so differently. I have been to Portuguese speaking countries four times and still can only say Thank You.

Stay safe,

JAZ

Gratitude In The Time Of Corona

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Gratitude In The Time Of Corona

“Enough” is a feast.” Buddhist proverb

Some days are great. Things go as planned and you bounce from meeting to appointment to lunch and you feel wonderful inside.

Then there are the other days. Like being in the house for four and a half months quarantined with no end in sight – wondering  if things will ever get back to the way they were in the old world. There are days when you do not feel motivated at all.

I’ve done gratitude lists before.  Writing five things I am grateful for in quarantine became rote because I did the same thing every day. I realized that if I wrote one thing a day and really thought about it, it worked better. Here are some of the things I have written down. Maybe they will resonate with you during these times.

The easiest thing to be grateful for is having a roof over my head. I live in an area with a lot of homeless people. I fear it will become worse from this virus.  I choose not to take this for granted.

 I am grateful for easy access to good drinking water. We can’t really drink from the faucet like in Iceland or New Zealand, but we do have tap water that we can boil in our homes. One eighth of the world’s population do not have access to safe drinking water.

 I recently read that the  ancient Greek philosophers  started their day outside in Nature to feel calm and grateful.  I try to spend at least a few minutes having coffee outside looking at the beach. Being in “prison” for four months with people not wearing masks here, has made my relationship with the beach complicated. But every morning, when I sit and look out at the ocean, I am so grateful that I get to see this and smell the ocean air to start my day.

I am grateful that everyone I know is healthy. They have either recovered from the virus or not gotten it.  While I do my part to stop the spread  of coronavirus by staying home, others are going to work, risking putting themselves and those they love in danger of exposure. My gratitude toward these front-line professionals not only is well-deserved, but it also helps relieve stress which suppresses our immune systems.

I am grateful for the time to read good books. i wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid and getting lost in a book was a familiar feeling. Now with so many options for entertainment, focusing on a book is harder.  But now I read every day and when a book grabs me in, I remember the feeling I had as a child. 

I am also grateful for access to the internet during this time.  Can you imagine going through this without the internet? We are able to order food, medicine, clothes and any random thing we can think of – mostly with free shipping. We can take classes with our favorite teachers, talk to friends, family, doctors  and work on ZOOM.  We have access to a crazy number of TV shows and movies from all over the world. We get theatre productions and we can still look up every thing that comes into our head. There is instagram and facebook to stay connected with the world. 

I am grateful for Banksy my dog. He is my constant companion through this time and is endlessly entertaining. He keeps me sane during this time of social distancing. 

I am grateful for small kindnesses. A person who actually puts on their mask when they walk by me, a pretzel delivery from my daughter, a funny youtube video sent from a friend or the perfect eggplant parmesan prepared by the BF all help me get through this.

I am grateful for my friends and family. We are all in this together and when we are reunited it will be even more special.

I am grateful to be spending this time with the  BF.  Day 145 is definitely different then Day 1 in quarantine. It is our first year of living together.  What we were able to tolerate easily before is a bit different now. Trapped in close quarters, tense moments are inevitable. But we get through it with communication, laughter and hugs and we are really lucky to have found each other.

Stay Safe,

JAz

African Proverbs

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African Proverbs

“A bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, he told her, to which she retorted that a proverb was the last refuge of the mentally destitute.” W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

Proverbs are an integral part of African culture. Passed on from generation to generation for centuries, they are still in wide use today. Proverbs are used to illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration and advice. Here are some of my favorite African proverbs. There are many.

No matter how hot your anger is, it cannot cook yams.
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The rain does not fall on one roof.

If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far walk together.

The best way to eat an elephant in your path, is to cut him up into little pieces.

The death of an elderly man is like a burning library.

Not everyone who chases the zebra caught it but he who caught it, chased it.

Never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you.

Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off.

If you carry the egg basket, do not dance.

Only a fool tests the river with both feet.

Teeth do not see poverty. (smile)

Rain beats the leopard’s skin but does not wash out the spots.

Don’t set sail using someone else’s star.

The child of a rat is a rat.

There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree.

You must attend to your business with the vendor in the market, and not to the noise of the market.

A bridge is repaired only when someone falls into the water.

He that beats the drum for the mad man to dance is no better than the mad man himself.

Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.

Stay safe,

JAZ

Picking The Right Country

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Picking The Right Country

“When you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things that are worse, and there is nothing you can do about it.”Bill Bryson

If you are planning to live abroad by choice and not by a job posting, it can be an overwhelming decision where to live. When I fall in love with a place, I often ask myself if I can live there.  A lot of times the answer is no. It’s beautiful but it gets cold in the winter and I am way too used to California weather. I love hot tropical climates – but would  I want that all the time? They are usually accompanied by rainy seasons.  Beautiful places can be too isolated, too crowded or too many  tourists in the summer. While it’s fun to use hand motions, in an emergency wouldn’t I want someone to speak English? I’m getting older so I do not want to be a day’s drive from the nearest hospital. Will not having a support system in place be too hard? 

We will definitely rent something big enough to have guests so our friends and family can come visit. Making friends in a new country without work or school will be hard.  Quarantine has prepared us for that. 

There are some places I can rule out right away. I’m allergic to smoke and pollution so Southeast Asia and China are out. 

I would definitely like to live somewhere where the cost of living is less, not more than Los Angeles. Most of the countries on that list have cold winters so they were already out. Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, France, Iceland and Japan were not a consideration. Unfortunately. Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the Bahamas are taken off here as well. 

I do need access to a city. One of the things quarantine has taught me is that I don’t have to be busy all the time. Living  in a beach town could work now. I can’t live my life without access to culture – museums, theatre, good restaurants but I don’t need so much of it now. 

It’s going to be hard to pick the right place. The “grass  is always greener” mentality plays in here. Running away from home rarely ends well so we have to research and try to make the right choice for us. Luckily, I have plenty of time now, to do this.

Stay safe,

JAZ