Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rainy Tel Aviv

After a short walk along the beach, we got rained on. It rained much of the day with gusting winds spraying the Mediterranean into the air. We had a few hours of relative dryness in the evening. I was able to sound out enough Hebrew to find the restaurant we were looking for as its sign was only in Hebrew. The place had good falafel. Then we walked to Dizengoff Center, which is just a collection of stores. Nearby is a collection of cafes. We sat in a park. Tel Aviv is filled little parks. It's also filled with domesticated dogs, stray cats, and argumentative drivers.

At breakfast, my girlfriend fed a stray cat that was huddled under our table against my protests. One time, she was too slow in releasing the food and the kitten scratched her and drew blood. Hopefully she doesn't lose that finger.

Then we ate at McDonald's. I had a fake cheeseburger which was terrible. At one point, I was trying to see the English menu, but this teenager would not get out of the way even after I said excuse me twice. So I gently guided him out of the way by force. McDonald's was expensive because of the Mediterranean view, but it was dark, so we were paying extra for nothing.

Then we went for a walk on the beach again until in threatened to rain. It's rainy and windy now. The streets are named after famous Jews in history.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Tel Aviv Run Around

After a scrumptious breakfast that included eggs, salad (which I didn't eat), juice, and hot chocolate, my girlfriend and I took a nice stroll up Rothschild Blvd and back down King George. By the end, it started to rain on us. Later, I had a meeting with  couple f Israeli boxers. I was told to go to Noah Street. It was a three and a half mile walk that included the same street changing names about seven times. I finally made it to the address and went into the building. It turns out it was a synagogue. I asked some other people and they had no idea what is boxing.

I asked an old man and he directed me to some smoking 12 year olds who pointed to the high school nearby. I asked one to walk me to the high school and he was kind enough to do so. Once at the high school, I only found a kid's krav maga class and a gymnastics show. I ran up  down the stairs searching for the gym, but couldn't even find a hint of it. I went outside and asked a man on his cell phone if I could call the boxer. He let me borrow it and told me the neighborhood I was in. It was the wrong neighborhood. I needed to get to Azraeli and Noah Mozes Street. Everyone was in agreement, I shouldn't take the #25 bus. They just didn't know which one I should take.

I tried to take a bus, but it wasn't coming, so I took a taxi. The man talked  me in broken English about American politics. After hearing that Obama favors government paid unemployment and Romney was against that policy, the driver pronounced that issue was the reason Romney had lost. This new address led me to a cafe. One more call to the boxer and I learned the gym was next to the cafe.

I talked with two boxers for an hour and had my picture taken with them. On the way back, no one could tell me which bus to take, so I took another taxi. This driver lamented the fact that you're not allowed to make left turns in many cases in Tel Aviv. I got out and sprinted to meet my girlfriend. I was over an hour late. We had dinner with a family friend and made it back to the hotel room minutes before a demonic rain  and wind storm.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To Tel Aviv... Eventually

We packed up our belongings, stuffed them into a car and left our Amman life headed west towards Israel. The man who picked us up from the airport drove us to the bus stop for Nazarene bus company. He calls me Steven. I'm not sure why.

We loaded our stuff below the bus and hopped aboard with no food in us and upset stomachs. Us and a pair of nuns constituted the foreign population on the bus that would eventually fill up at Irbid in the northwest of Jordan. The nuns spoke Arabic.

Our bus driver was incredibly nice. On the Jordanian side of the border, we unloaded our luggage and scanned it. The driver asked a guard if we could eschew scanning my girlfriend's scooter. The guard said yes. My girlfriend was permitted to stay on the bus. Then we paid our 10 JD to leave Jordan and got our exit stamp. I got my girlfriend's exit visa, but passport control said they needed to see her. They stamped mine and took my picture. So I went to get my girlfriend. The driver took my girlfriend's passport, smoothed things over, and we were set.

On the Israeli side, we were ushered ahead of the others and asked a series of probing questions. My girlfriend was requested to tell about her "problem." After I hoisted our luggage onto the security belt, I was summoned by another security worker to go through the contents of my little backpack. Upon seeing the water from the hotel water that I had pilfered (it was free with breakfast), which was in a cup suited for jello, she asked, "What is this?" I told her and she laughed, "The water in Israel is good. You don't need this."

Then we moved on to passport control. This man asked similar probing questions. "What are our parents' names? Why are we coming to Israel? What are we going to see?" and I was asked why I went to Turkey. Our passports were stamped and we were on our way. I saw the passport control guy in the bathroom a little later which made him seem like a real person.

Israel is a lot greener than Jordan. People at least pretend to follow the rules of the road. And there are curb cuts, so my girlfriend is able to use her scooter. When we got to Nazareth, our bus driver found out where we needed to wait for the bus to Tel Aviv. We flagged down that bus. The driver was curt and barely acknowledged my questions. I threw our baggage underneath and disassembled the scooter before shoving it with our luggage.

My girlfriend uses a wheelchair back home, but in Amman we had to walk. It was a nice excuse for her to hold my arm as public affection among the sexes is rare in Jordan. She was amazing traversing the beat up sidewalks that decked the arduous hills. But we had finally reached an impenetrable obstacle. The first step to the Egged bus 823 to Tel Aviv was almost waist high. I grabbed her by the waist and flung her onto it. The bus driver snapped for me to pay.

We then stopped at Nazareth's bus station and the driver told me in English that there would be a ten minute break. I appreciated his telling me. He later asked where we wanted to be dropped off. At one point, a goofy looking chubby guy asked me a question in Hebrew. I ignored him. He asked again. I told him I didn't speak Hebrew. But it was nice to know I look like I fit in. My girlfriend and I were happy to finally hold hands in public once we were on the Egged bus.

We walked a mile to the hotel from Central Bus Station, which must be located in Little Ethiopia, to our hotel. The hotel, Beach Front Hotel, charged us for a day we weren't there, which is infuriating. The whole trip took about 9 hours. We then grabbed a bite from a local Italian place, finally eating something, and argued over whether the free appetizer was the actual meal or if more was coming. More came. When we left, the woman at the restaurant raced to open the door for us and pulled down my fleece that had climbed up my back. Then we slept.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Hills Have Hills

We walked a ton today. It didn't seem that steep a climb to 3rd circle until we took a taxi back. That' s a good description if Amnan. A huge hill seems flat compared to the adjacent ginormous hills. We passed a few convenience stores that catered to Pinoys. We saw pictures of King Abdullah in most of the stores. His face is prevalent but not ubiquitous. I prefer him without the mustache, when he looks like a young William Shatner. He looks a little squirrelly with the upper lip fuzz.

We at at an Indian restaurant called Indian Restaurant. We made a plan to get into Israel on the cheap using an Israeli company. The hotel staff helped us immensely. For dinner, we had delicious hummus and falafel on King Feisel Street. And I forgot to mention, yesterday, I was nearly punched in the face by a crazy homeless man. His punch wasn't aimed at me, I just happened to be walking by when he threw it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Swing and a Miss

I hailed a cab to go to 7th circle. Traffic was miserable. The driver told me and my girlfriend that traffic is rarely that bad. We found out what the problem was when we say a group of striking protesters screaming their demands a few buildings from the Iraqi embassy as riot police braced for a violent confrontation.

The driver was amazingly kind and honest. He charged less than 2 and a half dinars for the trip from downtown. I went into the Trust International Transport company to buy our bus tickets for 20 JD per person just as Rough Guide to Jordan suggested. Instead, a man told me they only go to Nazareth and it will cost 50 JD per person.

The shock of a much higher price to take us only part of the way filled me with unease. We searched for alternatives, but none surfaced. A company from Israel can do the trip to Nazareth for much less but their office was closed today. So we'll try tomorrow. The hotel staff were incredibly willing to help us, using their cells to call for us. The room has ants, which are not as friendly, but the guys at the hotel tried to come through for us. When one man left for the day, he patted me on the shoulder as he said good bye, knowing I was struggling with trying to figure what to do.

On the drive home from our fruitless attempt to purchase tickets to Israel,the taxi driver tried to charge us nearly 8 JD to get from 7th circle back to downtown. I prepared for a shouting match. I offered him two at first and then added a third dinar. I had a look like he knew 3 was too much and he was lucky to get that. He had an embarrassed smile and took the 3 JD.

The pollution downtown sneaks up on you. Our boogers have turned black. We noticed that a fair number of women don't cover their heads, but everyone of both genders cover their arms. That's less than ideal because it's fairly warm here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Generosity in Amman

The people here tend to be incredibly friendly. We were sitting on a bench and a man offered us some of his food. Another man in a white van offered us a ride down a steep hill. I ordered a hot dog and another man apologized for the quality of his English (which was enough to ensure I got exactly what I wanted on the hot dog). I was like, I don't speak any Arabic and I'm in an Arabic country. I'm the one who should be apologizing.

We realized today that my kindle and iphone think Amman time is an hour earlier than it actually is. That explains why the azan blares into our hotel room an hour earlier than I expected. Stores closed an hour earlier than we expected. The hotel breakfast ended an hour earlier than advertised. I'm glad we decided not to go to Petra (too much effort and too expensive) because we would have been an hour late for the bus.

We walked a ton today in the downtown area. I can't stress enough how hilly Amman is. You walk more going up than going forward sometimes. Yesterday, a Palestinian guy wanted to take a picture with me at the Roman Theater because I'm an American.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Amman

We woke up early and saw the sun rise from the roof of our hotel. It was cloudy, so it wasn't as romantic as it could have been. At breakfast I talk with the owner of the hotel who said he had left his home in Nabulus in the West Bank in 1965 when in was still part of Jordan. He then moved to Australia and made a fortune in the stock market before losing it. He owed people a ton of money and fled from south Australia to west Australia and changed his name. Then for ten years he was the king of the fashion industry before losing it all again. He also said he lost a ton of money when an Iraqi bank was shutdown in the wake of the first gulf war.

He had a half- Jordanian half- Australian accent and lamented the fact that his family preferred to remain over there and shunned Arabic culture. He moved back to Jordan a year ago and was very proud of his wife who is20 years his junior and is teaching at university in Australia.

The breakfast didn't have any meat. We saw the roman theater which was interesting. My girlfriend has been wearing a headscarf but leans on me when she walks, so it's interesting how some people react to us. But we saw lots of women with uncovered hair or holding their significant others.

A man started talking to us on our way up the hilly streets on our way to Rainbow Street and I made up some weird story that I had Bosnian ancestry. This guy kept talking until finally taking his leave after I declined his offer for dinner. He soon returned trying to buy us a gift. While he was doing so we ducked into an alley before heading on our way. Rainbow street is where the upscale foreigners and young people hang out.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Traveling to Amman

The trip started inauspiciously. Headed towards the elevator at White Flint metro, a middle aged man with a bicycle pressed the close button so that my girlfriend and I would not be able to get on. Its a pretty douchey move from anyone especially someone his age. It's all the worse when you realize that my girlfriend is in a wheelchair. He made the train as a result and we missed it.

On the bus from the metro to Dulles, a bag fell off the storage rack and conked two women on the head. One woman wanted to file a report one stop before we made it to the airport. The other woman may have also if she wasn't so woozy. If a report would have been filed, we would have all had to sit there for an hour the driver said. The women were pressured to drop their petition for the time being.

One man, whose international flight was scheduled 6:15 and kept punching his suitcase when the bus was stopped in traffic before, said to anyone who would listen that he wasn't going to make his flight. When I told him ours was set for 5:50, he responded, "You guys are screwed!"

Well, we weren't. After going to the wrong ticket counter, we got our boarding passes and comfortably strode onto the plane. We had a stop in Vienna. My girlfriend's chair made sure people directed us to the correct gate. In Jordan, a man helped us with the visa and our passports because she uses a wheelchair. It was a huge help.

A man from the hotel picked us up. We traveled through poor East Amman and saw the cucumber farmers who lived in tents. The driving over here isn't concerned with lanes or lights. Then we ate sandwiches and are doing alright so far. Just tired. Neither of us really slept much on either flight.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knicks Crush Pistons in London

The Knicks traveled over to London and thrashed the Detroit Pistons in the O2 Arena. Fortunately, it counted as a home game for Detroit. The Knicks raced out to an early 16-2 lead. Carmelo Anthony was hot early and often, scoring 26 points on 19 shots. Amar'e Stoudemire added 17, making 11 of his 12 free throws.

The Knicks turned the ball over and didn't shoot too effectively from three, but this resulted in a rare win. The Pistons sputtered on offense for much of the game. Detroit cut the lead to four in the third quarter on the back of tiny guard Will Bynum, who ended with 22 points.

Iman Shumpert made his return from a serious knee injury in London. He scored 8 points in 12 minutes. Perhaps, his presence helped the Knicks show rare flashes of brilliance int he first quarter. After the lead was cut in the third, the Knicks clamped down on defense and moved the ball well on offense. The Pistons couldn't hang. The Knicks won 102-87. New York is now 25-12.

Steve Novak hit double figures, nailing 3 of his 6 threes for 13 points. J.R. Smith added 16, but missed 9 of his 15 attempts. He's been in a bit of a shooting slump of late.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Knicks Comeback to Beat Hornets

The Knicks struggled in the first quarter yet again. Carmelo Anthony missed nine of his first ten shots and the Hornets took a 7 points first quarter lead. The Hornets were able to get inside and score easily. Robin Lopez had 10 points and Anthony Davis had 13.

But the Knicks stormed back in the second quarter, outpointing New Orleans 27-12. Anthony began to hist his groove, he ended with 27 points. Chris Copeland, who kept the team in it during the first quarter, scored 22 points on 15 shots.

The Hornets hung tight in the third quarter. Eric Gordon scored 22 points. But the balanced attack and efficient ball movement, the Knicks opened it up early in the fourth quarter. The Hornets couldn't threaten after that point. New York won 100-87. The Knicks are now 24-13.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bulls Blowout Knicks... Again

The Knicks have struggled mightily with the Bulls this season. This is a Chicago team without Derrick Rose, mind you. The Bulls are physical inside and Luol Deng has gone bonkers. Deng was at it again Friday night. He scored 33.

The Knicks went 11 for 22 from three point range, but shot poorly from inside the arc. The team was never really in it, falling behind 29-18 after one at MSG. Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points, but took 32 shots to do it. Tyson Chandler added 18 rebounds and James White, who got the start, scored 11. Pablo Prigioni also had a nice game. But J.R. smith was dreadful. Amar'e Stoudemire was virtually non-existent. And Jason Kidd had his worst game as a Knick.

The trend against the Bulls is distressing. They can afford to play one on one against Anthony and it prevents open shots from the Knicks three point guns. Plus, the Bulls exhibit good help defense down low to thwart the Knicks' penetration into the paint. And Chicago finishes off their defensive possessions with rebounds.

The Bulls' weakness without Rose is on the offensive end. But it hasn't hurt them against the Knicks thus far. The problem for the Knicks comes if they have to face the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Otherwise, they likely won't need to worry about Chicago come postseason time.

The Knicks lost 108-101 after a valiant comeback in the fourth that was doomed to come up short. The Knicks are now 23-13.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Knicks Fall to Pacers

Kevin Garnett can say horrible things to Carmelo Anthony and when Anthony wants to discuss those comments, he gets suspended. That is the hypocrisy of the NBA, folks. The Knicks traveled to Indian and Pacers the Pacers without Anthony. Investigators are still trying to figure out why.

Both teams shot terribly. Both teams' field goal percentages were in the 30s and three point percentages were in the 20s. It felt more like a weather report in Indiana than a battle between top Eastern Conference teams.The Knicks just happened to shoot worse.

J.R> Smith (29 FGA, 25 points), Amar'e Stoudemire 11 FGA, 9 pts), Jason Kidd (10 FGA, 8 pts), Chris Copeland (9 FGA, 8 pts), and Marcus Camby (9 FGA, 7 pts) were among the Knicks who amassed more shots from the field than points scored.

The lone highlight for the Knicks came when J.R. smith stretched out and dunked the ball in the first half. The aftermath of the game saw Charles Barkley criticize the Knicks lack of rebounding prowess. The Knicks outrebounded the Pacers and grabbed more offensive rebounds 19-12.

It's true the Knicks are in the bottom third in rebound differential. But they have more offensive rebounds than their opponents. So the rebounding differential comes on the defensive end. But it's a mirage. The Knicks and their opponents shoot a similar field goal percentage. So how the Knicks have more offensive rebounds than their opponents and fewer defensive rebounds if they shoot a similar percentage.

It's obvious. The Knicks are first in the league in turnover differential by a wide margin. The Knicks take more shots than their opponents  That means there will be more offensive rebounding opportunities for the Knicks and more defensive rebounding opportunities for their opponents. So, when you look inside the numbers, it's clear the Knicks are not a weak rebounding team. They simply have fewer defensive rebounding chances than their opponents because they're such so good and forcing turnovers and ball control.

But it didn't help them much against the Pacers. In addition to poor shooting, it was one of the few games in which the Knicks not only committed more turnovers than their opponents, but committed more than threes made. The Pacers won 81-76. The Knicks are now 23-12. If the NBA can fine the Spurs for not playing all of their star players in a nationally televised game for no apparent reason earlier in the season, the NBA should be fined for suspending Anthony during a nationally televised game for no apparent reason. But the NBA won't do this because the league offices are filled with hypocrites.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Rough One Against the Celtics

Jim Valvano once described basketball as a game of runs. He must have been thinking about the Knicks-Celtics contest at MSG. The Knicks started first, racing to an early lead. The Celtics came back. The Knicks went on another run. The Celtics came back.

The in the second half, it was the Celtics turn to take the lead. The Knicks followed shortly there after. But time ran out eventually and the Knicks couldn't catch up that last time. With Rajon Rondo suspended, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett rose to the occasion.

Things became heated between Garnett and Carmelo Anthony (20 points on 26 FGA) amid the frenzied Garden atmosphere. Garnett was his usual dirty self, spewing filth across the court. Anthony answered and at one point, both received a technical  Garnett's venom was so inappropriate that Anthony waited to confront him after the game.

Neither Anthony nor J.R. Smith (24 points on 7 for 18 from the field) shot the ball well. Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler did, but only took 12 shots combined. Both made 4 and both scored 13 points. Jason Kidd and Steve Novak were a combined 5 for 6 from three, part of the reason the Knicks held a first half lead. Marcus Camby added 7 rebounds in 10 minutes.

The Knicks shot the ball from three effectively going 14 for 32. But The 13 turnovers were more than usual. It was one of the rare occasions where the Knicks turned the ball over more than did their opponent. The Celtics only had 10.

The Knicks lost 102-96 and are now 23-11.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

2013 NFL Playoff Predictions

3 GB over 6 Min 27-14
5 Sea over 4 Was 42-17

2 SF over 3 GB 24-16
5 Sea over 1 Atl 35-20

2 SF over 5 Sea 17-14

3 Hou over 6 Cin 21-9
4 Bal over 5 Ind 24-7

2 NE over 3 Hou 21-20
4 Bal over 1 Den 23-17

4 Bal over 2 NE 14-10

Super Bowl XLVII
Bal over SF 24-21 OT

Friday, January 04, 2013

Knicks Sweep Spurs

The Knicks and Spurs were close throughout the first half. Int he third quarter, the Knicks broke things open to sweep the Spurs this season. At one point, J.R. Smith caught an alley oop that went waist high. Smith grabbed the pass and threw in a memorable reverse dunk.

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points on 20 shots. Smith had a great game with 20 after a slow start. Tyson Chandler had 14 rebounds. Pablo Prigioni had 9 assists. Raymond Felton has been out with a fractured finger. Mike Woodson has gone with a big starting lineup with Felton out and it hasn't worked out that well because Anthony is better at power forward starting Prigioni is the answer. Amar'e Stoudemire had 10 points and Steve Novak scored 15 on 5 of 7 threes.

The Knicks 100-87 win was impressive. It ended the Spurs' 7 game winning streak, although it was their fourth game in five nights. The Knicks advance to 22-10.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Knicks Comeback Fails Again

For the second straight game, the Knicks fell behind before making a valiant comeback only to come up short. This time is was against Portland in MSG. This was Amar'e Stoudemire's first game back from injury this season.

Stoudemire started out cold, but finished with 6 points. Carmelo Anthony had 45 and J.R. Smith scored 28. Smith now has 4 straight games of 25 points or more, all coming off the bench. But Anthony was the only Knick who had a good game. He shot effectively and was instrumental in the near-comeback. Overall, the Knicks shot an abysmal 10 for 37 from the three. The Knicks only had 10 turnovers though.

The Knicks lost 105-100. Their record is now 21-10.