Friday, April 3, 2009

Everybody's Business

It should come as no surprise, that in a land full of Jews, everyone is involved with everyone else's business. The sense of community here is great - it feels like everyone is part of a giant extended family. But it's a Jewish family. So while almost everyone is willing to give you a hand, they're also more than willing to give you their unsolicited advice and get involved.

  • I have a friend who sometimes cycles or rollerblades to work. Neither is recommended and the drivers he encounters are sure to point it out. They shout out of their window "You're going to die!".
  • I was in the supermarket the other day with the same friend. We were buying a bagel each. Only two of the five cashes were open and each was processing a multi-basket order. As typical Canadians, we quietly waited as the cashiers scanned the mountain of goods. One of the customers, a woman in her forties, started (what sounded like) giving the manager a piece of her mind in Hebrew. She made some comment to us but when we responded with a dumbfounded look on our faces, she switched to English and translated that it was crazy that they don't have more cashes open. She then continued barraging the manager, now in English; "These nice young men only have a bagel - how can you not open another cash! They'll be waiting in line for ages!".The manager promptly opened another cash and we were on our way.
  • I was in a small grocery store by the market. I was looking for pureed tomoatoes in a can. When most of the products are in Hebrew it can be difficult looking for something specific. I walked up to an employee and asked him to help me. His English wasn't up to the task so he screamed out in Hebrew to another employee at the other end of the store. He then looked at me and indicated that in turn, I should yell out to his colleague what I wanted in English. "Pureed tomatoes!" I yelled. I instantly got a reaction from five different customers all pointing in various directions, simultaneously yelling out the Hebrew translation. I did eventually find what I was looking for.
There's many more stories like this. Every time it leaves a big smile on my face and I chuckle to myself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today's forcest: Sand

A few days ago, we were at work, going about our business when a glance outside revealed a dirty-yellow landscape. This was not the golden hue of a sunset, nor the purple haze of a smoggy day. So, we went outside to investigate.

Upon opening the door, we noticed a sudden dryness attack our mouths and nose. The sun looked like the moon and we could taste a grittiness on our teeth. I walked to the front of our office (which normally offers a spectacular view of the old city) only the outline of the Cathedral of St. James was barely visible. I went inside to check the weather, sensing this was some sort of sand storm but not knowing why it was happening. Google stated the forecast as 'Sand' - something I've never seen before and unlikely to ever happen in Canada.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rollerblading Inferno

I had heard about this group of rollerbladers in Tel Aviv for a while. They would assemble in some part of the city and go for a skate a few days every week. Until recently, I lacked any hard info on how to join them. Last Monday, I joined them for the first time.

I left work in a rush. I heard the group was leaving at 8pm and it can take a while to get to Tel Aviv during the rush hour. We opted to go through the lesser-used and speedier highway that runs through the West Bank. Many sections of the road have giant walls to protect drivers from bullets, rocks and other projectiles. Statistically, we would have a much greater chance of getting into a bad road accident on the main highway than have someone shoot as us on this road. Plus, we were late.

We found the assembly point around 8:15pm. We forgot we were dealing with Israelis - there's rarely a reason to rush to get somewhere on time. About twenty minutes later, with the tooting of a fog-horn, we were off.

I hadn't rollerbladed in a few years. When I did, it was mostly for playing hockey indoors. On top of this, I haven't done much exercise in the past few months. I got a bit weary looking around at everybody's fancy skates and big wheels (bigger wheels = greater speed). Not that mine are bad, they're just made for hockey and not for skating at high speeds and for long distance.

As the fifty or so skaters took-off, I felt reassured as most people were getting in my way as opposed to the other way around. Once we hit Dizengoff (one of the main roads in Tel Aviv), the group took over one of the lanes and the pace picked-up on the freshly paved street. The group has several skaters designated to skate ahead and block-off streets so that we would stop a lot less at red lights.

Trailing the group are several bikers that like to tag along. One of these bikes is a Disco bike. It has a little trailer with speakers on it that are attached to an iPod.

The longer I'm here, the more I see that the stereotypes presented in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" are really true. Towards the end of the movie during the hacki-sack match, they have 'Disco breaks'. Disco lights come on, everyone gets out o their seats, bad dance music starts playing and everyone starts disco'ing.

Throughout the night that we were rollerblading, we would make short stops to allow everyone to catch up and take a short break (often in small courtyards or squares). The Disco Bike would pull up and use this opportunity, to blast some dance music while we waited. People didn't break into dance and the only flashing lights came from people's red safety lights. That was, until we stopped near the beach for a longer break. There were some religious Jews there (a shofar in one hand, a Heinni in the other and a Talis draped over their heads) who did decide to dance.

So there we are, about fifty rollerbladers and bikers, just off the beach. Disco music is blasting while some people are dancing, some people are drinking and the religious Jews are drinking beer and blowing the shofar. Two things popped into my head; this could be right of the movie and second, this is not such an uncommon scene for Israel.

The skate continued for a bit more, it ended up being a lot of fun and I'll try to start doing it every week. Of course, the skate itself finished at a Russian bar with all the rollerbladers inside (with their skates still on), dancing away to some really bad music on the disco floor.

This experience has inspired me. I'm going to start writing a post looking at the many, many stereotypes in the movie and see how close to reality they are. If you haven't seen the movie, I really suggest that you do. However, it's 'funniness' is proportional to how many Israelis have crossed your path.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Articles about Animation Lab

With all the buzz surrounding 'Waltz With Bashir' (go see it - it's great), attention has been drawn to the CG industry in Israel. Animation World Magazine recently wrote an article that features Animation Lab.

Haaretz also wrote a piece a while ago when the studio was just starting out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The War

I didn't expect it to be quiet for the entire time that I'm going to be here. I don't know if I'm in a war zone or not. For the most part, I have no sense that there's fighting going on 65km away in Gaza. I get updates online and on TV just as if I were living 7000km away in Montreal. That said, every once in a while something does happen that makes it feel a lot closer; a colleague avoids answering his cell phone because the army is trying to call him up; thick, black smoke occasionally rising from the hills around Jerusalem (it's most likely just burning tires from a demonstration); an air-raid siren sounding (accidentally) in the middle of Lunch. It is a strange feeling. I definitely have a sense of young-boy excitement, eliciting memories of action-fantasy movies but that's contrasted by a sense of fear that each passing bus will explode or walking around, using my peripheral vision to scan for any raging bulldozers. It's important to keep both in check (to avoid any dangerous site-seeing or locking myself in my apartment). As long as I do, I know I'll be safe and continue to enjoy my time here.

There's a surreal aspect to it all. About a week or two before fighting broke out, when Hamas was launching the occasional rocket into Israel, I was hanging out on the beach in Tel Aviv with two friends, recovering from a night-out. There we were, drinking our cappuccinos, people surfing in the minimal waves, when a group of Apache helicopters fly-by over the water, heading south. Later on, when we onto our second helping of everything, they returned. All that was missing was for Wagner to be blasting from the speakers and Kilgore giving a monologue. When I checked the news later that day, I found that Israel had bombed a missile launching site in northern Gaza.

This photo is from the day after the fighting erupted. I was leaving the old city with Brooke when we spotted black smoke coming from the West Bank. It initially had us worried but after scanning online news reports, we concluded it must have been burning tires from one of the many demonstrations taking place throughout the Arab populated areas. That wall is the security barrier.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The move

In early September 2008 I moved to Jerusalem to work on 'The Wild Bunch', Israel's first attempt at producing a computer animated feature film. I was hired as a TD (Technical Director) for the length of production (estimated to wrap late 2009).

I had previously been to Israel on various organized trips. The idea of living here for a short period always interested me but I thought it would involve picking pomegranates on some kibbutz for six months, not working in CG.

Israel is not easily definable. It's located at the bridge of three continents and life here reflects that. This is my first long-term move outside of Montreal and I'm sure it will be an interesting experience.