Stripe Paintings

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.  To such an extent indeed that one day, finding myself at the deathbed of a woman who had been and still was very dear to me, I caught myself in the act of focusing on her temples and automatically analyzing the succession of appropriately graded colors which death was imposing on her motionless face.” – Claude Monet

“Life is about using the whole box of crayons.” – RuPaul

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 house arrest, I started a new series of paintings – colored stripes, one touching the other. The vision is to create strip composition inspired by places or objects I saw that left a strong impression. While continually remember that the way I see one color is seldom as it is but in-relation to the adjacent color. There are infinite variations, many types of colors, and brushes; in other words – the exploration is endless.

There are many ways to quiet down the mind at times of fear and high anxiety; some are destructive in the long run.  Of those that are not, I am always drawn to making art, working with my hands, and letting the mind be in the zone. 

When I reach the point of flow in the painting process, my mind is so concentrated on the brush’s tip that I am becoming one with it.  Sometimes, the paint’s viscosity is so soft that it feels like butter and produces long, uniform lines with one stroke.  Other times, the paint is thick like cement and must be laid dot by dot. 

Mist #1

Mist is a tiny condensed water vapor suspended in the air close to the earth’s surface, abstracting visibility while evoking a grand mysterious metaphor. Unlike a veil, which hides what’s behind it, mist blurs and distorts our vision from seeing clearly. Often it brings me the feeling that what I am looking at is not yet ready to be identified or understood – a transition state. Mist lets me know that what I am looking for is almost within my sight. It is the feeling that soon I will leave the valley of mist behind and ascend to a higher ground of sunlight and clarity.

I hear people say, “God has a plan for me.” I, on the other hand, don’t believe in an all-powerful, controlling, know-it-all God who can set things in motion for me or anyone. I struggle; I argue. I believe that we arrive at this experience called life with a boatload of free will. My choices are mine. At times, God sits on his balcony up there and is sad, sometimes even crying for my poor choices. Regardless, my God always wants the best for me; he is my number one cheerleader. He is my rock. God is there for me, rain or shine, filled with love, acceptance, kindness, total compassion, and endless forgiveness. When this consciousness is present in me, which is far from most of the time but better than it was 20-30 years ago, I find it easier to be kind.

Desert Flowers at Night

On a visit with old friends in what was a barren desert area in southern Israel, we encountered a field of gorgeous blooming carpeted fields of flowers. Years ago, the only humans who roamed this area were the nomadic Bedouins. Nowadays, it’s all developed, planted, and inhabited. These are some of my thoughts and encounters with the noble desert people – the Bedouins; it’s part of an essay I am writing, The Desert and Me.

The Bedouins

One of my first desert associations is with the Bedouins, who are nomadic desert dwellers of the Middle East. My encounters with a Bedouin were always with a male, never a Bedouin woman, as this is a patriarchal and conservative tribal society. Bedouins have traditionally raised camels, goats, and cattle to make a living, traveling from one spot to the next, following the water and grass. Camel nomads occupy large territories in the Sahara, Syrian, and Arabian deserts. Sheep and goat nomads have stayed mainly near the cultivated regions of Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Iraq. Cattle nomads are found chiefly in South Arabia and Sudan. Another source of livelihood was providing trade caravans protection and, at other times, being the raiders. Today the Bedouin lifestyle is changing as there’s less rain and grass, but even more, as modernization creeps closer to the desert, young people look to urban areas for jobs and schools for their kids.

My first close encounter with the Bedouin was during my military service. Armed with a light protective vest and an M-16 rifle, we patrol along the border fence every day early at dawn to check for anything suspicious. At the head of our patrol unit was always the Bedouin tracker (in Hebrew, the gashash). The IDF’s (Israel Defense Force) tracker unit is composed mainly of fighters from the Bedouin community. The tracker is an expert in identifying footprints and unnatural changes in the terrain. One look at the ground and the tracker can determine if and when someone crossed the fence, whether they are limping, carrying any weight, and in which direction they have gone. They can even detect IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) by a rock that is out of place. It’s fascinating how a whole world is hidden in a footprint and how it can save lives.

The Hebrew word “gashash” is derived from the verb “grope” – to look for a path carefully using one’s hands without seeing, usually due to darkness or blindness. Nowadays, the word grope carries heavily charged sexual and even political connotations, which I want to avoid. Yet, I find it fascinating, time and time again, how the words we use shape our thinking and worldview, but that’s for another essay.

There are various methods terrorists and smugglers use to cover their tracks to mislead the trackers, rarely with any success. Some will place a sponge or a sheepskin on their shoes, but the most common way is with a branch. One unforgettable incident was on the southern desert border with Egypt, where many infiltrators pass through. The Bedouin tracker immediately said it wasn’t a fellow Bedouin smuggler but a terrorist. How did he know? The first thing was the shoe size; it was larger than that of a typical Bedouin man. Second, the walking route showed that the infiltrator did not know the area. He walked on top of the hills like someone who did not know his location; he was looking for lights; for his target, a populated place. A person who knew the terrain would go in the low areas and would not need the lights. This became an all-hands-on-deck situation for dozens of units like ours and the police along the border. Within an hour, the terrorist was in our hands.

I once asked a gashash, “What’s your secret? What do you see that I don’t?” His reply was, “there is no secret, just experience. When I was six years old, my mother would send me to deliver food for my older brother, who left early in the morning to herd the goats. To find him, I had to look for fresh footprints. Life in the desert made me pay attention.” Even nowadays, when Israel launches high-tech satellites and sophisticated surveillance devices, there is no substitute for the Bedouin’s eyes and sixth sense.

My other close encounter with a Bedouin was in the Sinai Desert when I worked as a medic, escorting travel groups on hiking and camel ride expeditions. The trip’s highlight was a visit to the Greek Orthodox Saint Catherine Monastery nestled deep within the mountains at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The Bedouins have stood guard over the monastery for centuries, and in return, the monks provided them with food and other things that were hard to come by.

On one of those trips, I found myself alone with a Bedouin man and two camels. We sat by a small fire. I remember his dark leathery skin and his dignified, quiet manners. He was enigmatic and hard to read, yet hospitable. I felt comfortable with him even though we hardly ever spoke. His Hebrew was better than my Arabic, but not by much. He pulled a couple of hands full of flour, mixed it with water, added some salt, and made dough. He then laid the dough on a grain sack fabric, flattened it to a large disc shape with an even one-inch thickness, and left it to rest. Mind you, he did his thing, and I watched; there wasn’t much talking going on between us. After some time, he raked away the hot coals and placed the dough on the hot sand where the coals had been sitting. He scraped the coals back on top of the dough and waited some more. Then, deciding it was ready, he carefully raked away the hot coals and removed the bread from the fire, careful not to burn himself, scraped off the excess sand, and shared it with me. We dipped it in a canned tomato sauce. It was a delicious and memorable dinner, even forty years later.

Lake Havsgol, Mongolia

A young man wearing beige shorts, a white t-shirt, and a small backpack, has just stopped to marvel at the acrobatic walk of the ibex heading to the rim of the steep canyon wall. The ibex is a wild mountain goat living in the Judean Desert’s hot, arid climate, with incredibly long antlers that twist backward. Their agility is impressive; watching them prance about, living life on the edge is like seeing a circus act. That young man was me, doing one of many solo hikes in the desert. I knew I had to start the hike at first light to reach the road by the Dead Sea shore late in the afternoon before catching a ride back to Jerusalem. As I hiked down the gorge, I hoped to find water from the recent rain in one of the little pools.

It’s a perfect moment when I take off my shoes and clothes and jump into cold cistern water after a long hike in the desert. It makes the hours of hiking worth it. Many wadis (the Arabic word for a gorge) exist in the Negev and Judean Deserts. Some have steep rocky walls and sometimes a pool of water, especially after rain and flood. In Hebrew, this pool of water is called gev. In my mind, the gap between the desert barren, dry landscape and the dive into a cold gev is equivalent to a climb up a mountain peak.

Water and desert are not synonymous, yet moving water and winds are the forces that created and shaped the wadies. The process is continuous, never-ending, just in the same way experiences continue to shape our lives.

The Israeli practice of changing one’s name to a Hebrew word is ideological. Changing one’s name is a way of shedding a diaspora identity and becoming part of the new Israeli republic. It’s a tradition that predates the State of Israel and was even directed and encouraged by the Israeli military. So, when I turned eighteen, my brother and I decided to Hebraicize our family name. We choose to change it from Ginzberg to Gev.

Years later, and after living the last 35 years in the USA, I have second thoughts about the change. For one, with Ginzberg, I could have avoided the endless times I had to spell my short yet unrecognized family name, not to mention the pronunciation. Second, it would have been an honor to be named the same as the famous supreme court justice. In retrospect, it was a psychologically charged decision with many unconscious layers I continue, to this date, covering and uncovering.

Tsagaan Suvraga #2, Mongolia

The Hebrew word for desert is ‘midbar’ [מדבר]; it shares the same root word as ‘speak’ and ‘pestilence.’ The latter is a cattle disease. In the Book of Exodus, God’s fifth plague on Egypt was the plague of pestilence. The common root word invites an analogy between the notion of a disaster and the desert. After all, the desert is deadly in its harsh conditions, extreme heat to extreme cold, water scarcity, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. The desert’s silence, emptiness, and monotony can be even more dangerous than the physical threats as it tests both the inhabitants’ and the travelers’ resilience. The desert symbolizes the severe difficulties that await anyone following their life’s aspirations; your story – your life and what you do with it. When I face a challenging situation, be it short or endless in duration, the desert’s horizon looks like it is moving further away. All is lost, or at least, it seems that way. In my life, there were physical deserts, and there were spiritual deserts. Beautiful things grow in both. If I don’t experience loss and failure, how can I grow? I was born in a small town in the Negev Desert. Thus, in addition to being vast and lonely, the desert symbolizes roots, belongings, and a sense of grounding for me. It always offered a bounty of serenity and creative inspiration.

Dharamshala, India

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back, and may you walk safely and never stumble until we meet again. (a mix of Irish blessings with a quote from The Book Proverbs)

As Tomer and his girlfriend, Deena, embarked last week on a big backpacking trip in Asia, it’s a good time to share an excerpt from a piece he wrote in 2016 while in Dharamsala, India. (This is a link to the entire essay).

“Between taking pictures and videos of the brothers working, an epiphany rattled to life in the depths of my mind. “I cannot pity these people.” In the back of my mind, I was subconsciously pitying my new friends for their life circumstances. They were so poor, uneducated, and wearing flip-flops in a place that rained daily. I felt BAD for my new friends.

While Vinod showcased his pride in his profession, I realized I didn’t want to provide these Indians with my “pity.” Instead, I wanted to provide my authenticity in an attempt to establish a meaningful connection with these two individuals who came from a drastically different backgrounds than my own. I hope I was succeeding in this task.

“What makes you happy, Vinod?” I asked him with my revelation whirling in my head. “Anything” was his simple yet profound response. “The road, these shoes, the roof, water, my brother, chai… Anything.” Sometimes the most profound insights into the human condition come from the most unexpected places. “That’s one hell of a good answer, my friend,” I  said while warmly placing my hand on his shoulder.” (New Friends from Unlikely Places 7/15/2016, by Tomer Gev)

Florence Synagogue #2

There are many places of worship in Florence; they are magnificently beautiful. The Florence synagogue is built in the Moorish style and is worthy of the high aesthetic standards of this city. All of which made me think about creative inspiration and faith. Are they related in any way?

Pablo Picasso said: “Inspiration happens, but it has to catch you working.” Which is to say, no one becomes a great painter by painting one picture. I think the same applies to faith. Faith comes when we show up consistently to our faith practice, whatever and wherever it is. As Martin Buber said, “God dwells wherever man lets him in.”  All we need to do is to show up.

“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark,” said Rabindranath Tagore. Our faith keeps us on the path regardless of the moments of darkness and inevitable setbacks we all must face.

The mystery is a common phenomenon in both faith and creative inspiration. It’s a particular space, a proximity of sort to something words are not best at describing. It’s an experience and very intimate as such. My challenge and key is to accept the mystery that is beyond my grasp and surrender to the concept it represents.

Tsagaan Suvraga #1, Mongolia

In the book “Wind-Up Bird” by Haruki Murakami, an aging Lieutenant Mamiya recounts his activities in Mongolia during the 1930s war between Japan and Russia. While on a spy mission in enemy territory, Mongolian and Russian soldiers captured his team. Mamiya was forced to watch one of his comrades skinned alive, then left to die at the bottom of a well. The depiction is riveting and gory. The desert scenery is wild, colorful, and intensely moving. I had to see Mongolia with my own eyes, so in 2014 I went and spent a month roaming around with three other travelers, a guide, and a driver.

The Gobi Desert is an endless emptiness, a bleak place, vast, harsh, and silent. A place of profound isolation. The Mongolian people developed the solid mental state of mind needed to survive in this rough place.

One morning at sunrise, I stepped out of the ger (the Mongolian yurt) and went for a walk. From a distance, I saw the camels congregating, but I did not understand why at that particular spot. I had to check it out. I approached and walked gingerly between the intimidating big beasts to find a young man crouching over the edge of a well, pulling a bucket of water and filling up the feed trough. The camels assembled for the water. You can tell the camel’s condition by their hump posture. A firm and a tall hump is a sign of good health, while a floppy hump means the camel needs to eat and drink.

Acido Dorado #1

We spent a weekend with friends at the Acido Dorado house in Joshua Tree, designed by the architect Robert Stone. It’s a minimalist two-bedroom house of ample space. The gold color is dominant yet not overwhelming; it blends perfectly with the surrounding desert. A variety of planes and objects are covered by mirrors, the sliding doors, the tiled ceiling, the dining room table, and the coffee table. I had the rare sensation of living inside a piece of art, and it was not Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, but close.

Gold is a color that carries many connotations, some uplifting, others downgrading. Many of them are culturally related and thus differ from culture to culture. Some art observers perceive gold color as low culture. About that Robert Stone says: “The only people that care about distinctions between high and low culture aren’t interested in beauty or truth anyway.”

Florence Synagogue #1

A specific story comes to mind whenever I think about prayer. A young boy lived on a lonely farm with mostly goats and roosters for company. He did not know how to read and write. On Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday, he entered the synagogue of the Baal Shem Tov, the great 18th-century Hassidic Rabbi who lived in what is now called Ukraine. Unable to read, he concentrated on the tunes and prayers of his fellows. At some point, it became evident that the Baal Shem Tov was distressed. The entire congregation noticed the rabbi’s nervous energy and responded accordingly with intense and loud-mouthed prayers. The boy watched; his heart pounded. He longed to pray but knew none of the words. Finally, his emotions exploded in a startling cry. “Cock-a-doodle-do!” he cried, “God have mercy!” Heads spun in horror. “What a blasphemy! A mockery! On this holiest day!” they condemned the lad. But the Baal Shem Tov began to pray with joy. Later the holy rabbi explained: “I saw calamity approaching. My prayers could not sway Heaven’s verdict. All hope seemed lost. But then ‘cock-a-doodle-do,’ offered with full sincerity, and Heaven’s gates opened up.

I heard a few different versions of this story. In some, the boy used a flute, and in others, juggling balls. It does not matter. The point is, there is more than one way to pray. What’s yours?

Waiting for the cherry blossoms, Golan Heights, Israel

On my visit to Israel last April, I saw the cherry trees in the Golan Heights a month before they blossomed. It made me think about the notion of waiting for something to happen. Sometimes waiting is a choice, sometimes it’s forced, and other times, which I am most curious about, waiting is entirely unconscious.

There is a section on my bookshelf; I named it the denial section. “Books” have gone up and down this shelf throughout my life, hardly ever by a conscious decision. When a “book” goes up the shelf, it’s often an act of survival. This is followed by the numbness of waiting for the truth to unveil and awake my consciousness. Until, one day, I hear something that makes me aware of new knowledge, as if the light goes on. Suddenly, things make sense, and a “book” comes off the shelf. These moments are cues that I have learned something new and come to accept it. That I am growing, that it’s time to move on. It’s a gift like a cherry blossom.

Anais Nin put it succinctly, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Tecopa Hot Springs #2

At first glance, Tecopa looks bleak. It is a small desert town at the southern edge of Death Valley, an hour detour from Baker on the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It has a small number of scattered trailer homes, a couple of time-warp motels, and some hot springs. Barren mountains are its backdrop, with no gas stations and no stores. On a second look, I would call it an oasis in the desert!

Odem Forest, the Golan Heights, Israel

A dense forest always makes me think about being lost in the uncomfortableness of the unknown, which is more mental sensation than real. Yet, getting lost is not a waste of time because, as a wise man once said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.”

The Odem Forest, which comprises a variety of oak trees, is the remnant of a natural forest that once covered most of the Golan Heights. At the forest’s center is a volcanic cavity, 250 meters across and about 60 meters deep. It was created when volcanic gas from deep beneath the earth’s surface caused a powerful explosion.

Golden Temple #2

Most times, the painting process is easy. The painting is waiting to reveal itself, always an attractive mystery to explore. But sometimes, when something about it does not sit well with my “eye,” it’s a struggle. In most cases, it’s either the colors or the stripe’s composition. Painting the Golden Temple #2 was such a case. Numerous times I wanted to put it aside and move to something fresh and new. I chose not to do it. The main issue was the gold color and its stripe’s thickness. I experimented with a variety of gold colors and painted them multiple times. In the end, I let it be.

Varanasi, India

In 1982 I visited the city of dying. In the Hindu tradition, it is the best place to depart this chapter of life and embark on a new one. In the never-ending cycle of reincarnation, when your body gets burned and its ashes are thrown into Varanasi’s Ganges River, you are spiritually free. I was young, strong, fearless, curious, and wounded but far from being spiritually awake. On our walks in the narrow and crowded streets, especially those close to the riverbank, we encountered many sick, bone-skinny, cancer-stricken, lepers, and older people waiting to die. Many of them wore loincloths carrying only a begging bowl and nothing else. There was no sense of fear in their eyes, no despair. What I saw was calm acceptance – the power of their faith. I, on the other hand, felt very uncomfortable; it was hard to keep a straight gaze at those people. I was filled with a sense of horror. In those days of vagabond travel, I took very few photos because each film’s exposure was precious and expensive, and I was cheap and thrifty. There is a heavy presence of darkness and shadows in the few photographs I took, which look very appropriate.

Joshua Tree #3

It’s so easy to take the other path when the days are short and cold, hunker down, and not venture out. In December, the park’s temperature is cold, the sky’s color is exceptional, which gives the visiting experience a sense of a particular intensity. The park is a heaven for photography.

The sky is stunning; I dare say, at times, even more than the moon-like imagery of the boulders. The rocks look as if they were piled up one on top of the other like in a child play, but in reality, they were carved by wind and water very patiently over millions of years. In my mind, the spiky trees conjure up the nude drawings of Egon Schiele, the Austrian painter, or maybe, Danna would say, a page from a Dr. Seuss book.

Joshua Tree #2

Unusual plants grow in this park; they are called Joshua Trees. This National Park is in a desert land, sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Whenever I visit this place, which is only a 2-3 hours’ drive from Los Angeles, I think of the depth these desert trees’ roots must go into the ground to draw out some water. And how the silence between the rocks and the sky deepens my own roots into the wellspring of life. Joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance.

What did some famous painters say about colors?

“Blue is the only color which maintains its own character in all its tones; it will always stay blue; whereas yellow is blackened in its shades and fades away when lightened; red, when darkened, becomes brown, and diluted with white is no longer red, but another color – pink.” – Raoul Dufy

“Blue is the male principle, stern, and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, cheerful, and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color which must be fought and vanquished by the other two. “– Franz Marc

“Sun-bleached bones were most wonderful against the blue – that blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

“The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural … The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.” – Wassily Kandinsky

Golden Temple #1

The Golden Temple is a serene, graceful, humbling, and meditative sight. We spent half a day sitting and observing the shiny gold structure and the colorful crowd of pilgrims from different angles. The complex around the temple is large, covered with white, polished clean marble that feels inviting for the many barefoot visitors.

A few interesting facts about the shrine:

  1. The Golden Temple is covered with gold plates; 500 kg of pure 24-karat of gold valued at $22 billion.
  2. Sikh believes that the pond surrounding the temple has medicinal properties. It is called “Pool of the Nectar of Immortality.” Many devotees take a bath before walking into the temple.
  3. Sikhism opposes the Hindu practice of caste. The four entrances on each side of the temple symbolize a welcome greeting to whoever comes in. All are accepted regardless of gender, caste, or religion. There is only one God, and all human beings can have direct access to God with no need for rituals or priests.
  4. The Amritsar Golden Temple is the largest free kitchen in the world. It serves more than fifty thousand meals daily.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a place that no picture can ever fully capture its size. Even while you’re standing at the top staring down, you can’t discern how far away the bottom is. You can view the canyon from the south or north rims; both are breathtaking. The north rim’s elevation is 1000 ft (300 m) higher, but the south rim is the more popular side. When viewing the canyon from the south, the sun will be at your back, making it favorable for photography. Four trails lead down to the river from the south rim and one from the north rim. You can choose how far down to go before making the turn; no permits are required. However, if you wish to go all the way down and camp overnight before proceeding back, a permit is required. You can reserve it at the National Parks website.

Venturing down into the canyon to gaze up at the massive rock walls or feel the crisp Colorado River is not a simple endeavor. Still, anyone in decent physical condition can experience at least a few miles of the spectacular trails. If you have the full trip on your bucket list or just feel up to the challenge, I suggest going down on the South Kaibab Trail, staying at Phantom Ranch for a couple of nights, and climbing back up on the Bright Angel Trail.

Green and the two worlds in “The Matrix”

A dominant motif in the film “The Matrix” is the color green. The Matrix world, which is the unreal world, is presented through a green filter and thus distinguishes itself from the more natural colors of the real world. The directors, the Wachowski brothers, didn’t just choose green because the world of the Matrix could easily have been red, blue, or purple. One of the feelings that this particular shade of green evokes is evil. The director’s choice is a moral statement, saying, a world where people are imprisoned without freedom of choice is evil. It also echoes the computer screens of the 1990s that displayed green letters on a black background and spread a slight green halo.

Maroon Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a trance-like state of mind characterized by a heightened level of focus and deep relaxation. Conversely, the maroon color represents intensity, passion, power, risk, and strength.

The sight of these Buddhist banners inside a remote temple up in the Himalayan mountains in Ladakh was quite hypnotic.

A Pilgrimage to the Shore Temple in Mamallapuram, India

When I saw this group of women in 2015, I thought about the significance of a pilgrimage and a ritual. I imagine they came from a small, poor village, a few hours drive, wearing their most magnificent bright red and gold saris in honor of their pilgrimage to the Shore Temple in Mamallapuram, on the Bay of Bengal, India. It’s different from a tourist excursion; it’s a spiritual trip — a journey to a holy site in search of meaning, purpose, and truth.

Joseph Campbell said, “A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being reminded of the wisdom of your own life.”

Joshua Tree #1

What is the origin of the name Joshua Tree?

The Joshua tree’s upraised branches impressed Mormon pioneers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the 1850s. The tree reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. The Mormons coined the tree’s name, and it stuck, unlike other less intriguing Joshua tree names: Cabbage Tree, Spanish Bayonet Tree, Yucca Palm, Yucca Tree, or Tree Lily.

Purple Hat

“Purple Hat” is a song by American duo Sofi Tukker. I listened to their daily Facebook Live every morning during the early months of COVID 19 home lockdown. Every morning, every single morning, I would go on a 10-mile bicycle ride down Ballona Creek to the Marina and then south, along the ocean to Lifeguard Station 56. The streets were pretty much empty of cars and pedestrians, but I felt alive and in the element with nature. I am deeply grateful for their music and heart.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks is about a 200-mile drive from the Arctic Circle. I was excited to get that far up north, I thought it would be like some little old mining town in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not. Yes, Fairbank started as a gold-mining town in 1901 and still is, but the construction of the Alcan Road during WWII and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973-77 made it a hub city for rural Alaskans. It is surprisingly warm here, 70F. Today, the sunset was at 12:47 am and promptly came up again two hours later. Those two hours of ‘darkness’ aren’t dark at all but a twilight. Fairbanks is an excellent spot to observe and experience the Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights). Web sites provide predictions on when the phenomena can be seen. I am sure it’s a euphoric, spiritual experience to watch mother nature’s artistic display, but that happens only in the winter.

Blue and the Italian soccer team

In an experiment, two groups of people were given a placebo pill. A placebo pill is a substance with no therapeutic effect given in new drug testing. The tablets were the same shape and size, but one was colored red, and one was colored blue. Consistently, worldwide, the red pills wake people up. The blue pills put people to sleep except in one place, Italy. In Italy, the blue pills put women to sleep but not men.

Why would this be?

The answer is the Italian national football team uniform color is blue, or as the Italians call it, Azure; it’s a bright blue that looks like a cloudless sky. The Italian men are crazy about soccer. Accordingly, Italian men have developed “programs” that respond to blue with excitement so strong that they overwhelm the universal brain system that associates blue with a tranquilizing effect.

The experiment shows that although the innate responses to color are the same for all humans everywhere, certain societies conditioned unique meanings that could vary from the universal. Thus, researchers concluded that a single color could simultaneously mean different things to different brain parts.

Light Intuition

I once heard in a sermon that God’s voice is not as eloquent as his silence.

Walking with faith is sometimes like being in the midst of a sand storm. You think you walk to the right, but actually, you walk in circles. Sometimes, the best way is to lay low and wait till the view clears up. It’s the same thing with certain feelings; they pass and clear up. Being patient is not easy. It’s a muscle that needs constant training to maintain and strengthen. I found that it’s in the pause that I hear the whispering sound of grace.

When I lay low and wait, I can tell that the sand storm is not blowing from some far-away place, but it’s all in me. It is me. It is an invitation to dig deeper and explore the story behind the story. It’s an opportunity to expand, grow, and become a better man.

Gold Ladakh

There might be undiscovered gold minerals deep in the mountains of Ladakh, but there is no doubt for the existence of another type of gold in that Himalayan region – the spiritual one. In 2016 I was there with Danna and Tomer. I thought a lot about the Buddha’s last words: “Be a light to yourselves, seek no other, never give up.” And with the master’s last words: “Believe not because an old book is produced as an authority. Believe not because your father said [you should] believe the same. Believe not because other people like you believe it. Test everything, try everything, and then believe it, and if you find it for the good of many, give it to all.”

Olive Treehouse

Olive trees are rich with symbolism. It is a symbol of victory, healing, friendship, and peace. For me, olive trees conjure up something old, saturated with history and a sense of belonging to the land. Many olive trees are thousands of years old and yet continue to produce olives. East of Jerusalem’s old city is Mount Olives. Years ago, it was covered with olive groves. Today, the trees are few and far between. From Mount Olives, the views of Jerusalem are the best. There is a Jewish cemetery on the mountain that holds graves from biblical times. It’s also the site of a few churches, including the Church of All Nations. Unfortunately, olive trees’ mere existence and harvesting have become a symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jazzy

This painting was inspired by a sight I witnessed while motorcycling in Vietnam. It was in a town named Bac Ha, up in the northern part of the country, close to the border with China, where many ethnic hill tribes live far away from the modern world, much as they have always lived. On  Saturdays, the Bac Ha market is the place to be. All the nearby hill tribes bring handicrafts and freshly picked produce to sell in a flurry of color and tribal custom. I took many photos; at one point, I stopped looking for composition, and the images taken became a feast of colors.

Gray & Purple

Gray is always in the middle of the road type, cool, conserved, composed, and reliable. I often find myself wearing gray clothes accented with a touch of a more striking color. It feels safe as it’s neutral, non-emotional color. It controls and contains my energies.

Cottonwood Tree

In December 2000, we ventured out of the COVID’s house arrest to the Grand Canyon. We reached the bottom of the canyon, riding mules down and up, a four hours journey. At Phantom Ranch, we encountered a massive yellow shade tree—the Cottonwood tree’s bright green foliage changes to brilliant yellow in the fall. The beauty was breathtaking and memorable. Yellow is the color of sunshine, hope, cheerfulness, and lightness. 

Isla Del Sol, Bolivia

One of the most transcendent blue sceneries I have witnessed was on Isla Del Sol. It is a small island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, on the border between Bolivia and Peru, very high on the Andes Mountain range. It takes a couple of hours by boat from Copacabana to reach it. According to Inca mythology, this island is the birthplace of the sun. The island embodiment of peace and serenity is best explored at a strolling pace.

Tecopa Hot Springs #1

For many years I have visited Tecopa Hot Springs around December; I consider it a pilgrimage. I love the drive into the vast, open, colorful dessert. It’s the kind of journey that allows me to experience the depth of my inwardness and sense of self. The entire color spectrum is present in the desert’s color, yet it’s always mixed with some tan and gray shades.

Rosh Hashanah

I painted this during the Jewish New Year week, called in Hebrew Rosh Hashanah, in September 2021. For me, it’s a time of reflection and deep connection with my Higher Power. It’s time I think deeply about my purpose in life and my true promise. It’s time to pray for a good year.

Night

“The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural … The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.” – Wassily Kandinsky

We taste with our eyes

The following experiment shows how color is a powerful visual cue that tells our brain how food tastes. Four kitchen bowls are filled with flavorless and odorless jello, each with a different food coloring – red, yellow, green, and blue. Participants are allowed to see all four bowls of jello, then taste each bowl and describe what they taste. Consistently across all age groups and in different parts of the world, testers reported: The red jello tastes sweet. The yellow jello tastes sour like a lemon. The green jello tastes tart like a green apple. And the blue jello is described as yucky, having an odd taste, maybe because it’s associated with rotten or spoiled food. The best part of this experiment is when the tasters learn that the different bowls of jello are identical; their reaction is disbelief. They think they were tricked and that each jello does have a taste. Teens don’t believe it, nor do adults.

This experiment, repeated with all sorts of foods, pudding, cereal, and others, made researchers conclude that we taste with our eyes long before we taste with our mouths. And that color is a powerful visual cue that tells our brain how food tastes.

In another experiment, people worldwide were asked to rank three colored outfits, red, blue, and black, in order of attractiveness. Both men and women chose blue as the most popular and preferred color to wear. These experiments show that colors mean different things in different contexts.

Red Indian Saree

Indians are not afraid of vivid colors; this is one of the striking things I experienced. Saree is a long piece of cloth draped around the body and over one shoulder, worn by Hindu women. It consists of an unstitched drape varying from 4.5 to 9 meters (15 to 30 feet) in length. The sarees with a color combination of golden – grey magenta with orange and mustard yellow are striking.

Chalalan Ecolodge, Bolivia

Deep in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest, five hours by canoe from Rurrenabaque, up the Beni River, and then the Tuichi River, is Chalalan Ecolodge. Nestled within the Madidi National Park, on the Chalalan Lagoon banks, the people of San Jose Village built and operates a fully sustainable lodge powered by the sun. The Chalalan Ecolodge is a comfortable place to visit, with first-class food, guided hikes, and activities in the middle of the jungle. It is considered one of the most successful experiments in indigenous ecotourism in the world. The original painting is 81 by 11.5 inches (206 by 29 cm).

Merlot

In what used to be the Broadway Theater District at the heart of downtown Los Angeles is the Ace Theater. It was built in 1927 in the Spanish Gothic style, inspired by the Segovia Cathedral in Spain. It’s a gem, a beauty just like a good old wine. The color merlot is a deep purplish red, referring to its resemblance to the color of the wine’s variety of the same name. Merlot has a red color because it’s made with red-skinned grapes.

The Dark-Hunter

The Dark-Hunter is an ancient warrior who sold his soul to the Greek goddess Artemis for a single act of vengeance. Now they protect humankind from the demons who want to claim our souls.

Salvador Dali Desert #1, Bolivia

More than any other geographical area, the desert is where the horizon line is uninterrupted from side to side by any obstruction, being a structure or anything else. The desert’s variety of colors seems monochromatic, but it is rich and expansive if only the eyes open up along with the soul.

Salvador Dalí Desert (in Spanish: Desierto Salvador Dalí) is a lonely, dreamy, and surreal valley up in the high Andes mountains in Bolivia. Dalí never painted this particular desert, but the stark desert horizon and strange rock formations resemble the famous Surrealist’s work. When we stopped our car to walk and look around, I found myself peeking over my shoulder for melting clocks and flying cats; was it because of surrealism or the high altitude – I don’t know. Regardless, the Spanish painter’s works were on my mind as his paintings often portray nonsensical images against a minimalistic backdrop. Salvador Dalí Desert is a rare example of a desert named after an artist; usually, it’s the artist who is called to the desert for inspiration. After all, the desert’s bleakness is full of possibilities, and what is emptiness, if not the most profound invitation for anything?

The desert is a space to think beyond the confines of mainstream society and explore new ideas. Take the case of “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje, a terrific book made into one of my all-time favorite movies, with the handsome Ralph Fiennes and the exquisitely sensual Kristin Scott Thomas. Much of the story takes place in the Gilf Kebir, a desert plateau in North Africa; this landscape is symbolic of the English patient, László Almásy’s, lack of national identity. Almásy, a Hungarian explorer, hates ownership, claiming that no nation owns him and that he is an “international bastard.” In the vast desert, he said, “who was the enemy? Who were the allies?” The story deals with boundary issues between nations and lovers; both are intercrossing and correlating. Almásy participates in international expeditions, mapping the desert and searching for the mythical city, Zerzura. Along the way, he falls in love with the isolated impermanence of the desert and with Katharine, his fellow team member’s wife. “I came to hate nations,” Almásy said. “Nation-states deform us,” he believes; “the desert could not be claimed or owned.” National identities, like the desert, are “a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names.”

The overarching idea of “The English Patient” is: although we humans are accustomed to labeling one another based on gender, race, and nationality, inwardly, we are all the same. Almásy is hunted as a war criminal for helping the German forces navigate the desert, which he did in an attempt to rescue his wounded lover, Katharine. Even though Almasy is burned beyond recognition, he is unable to conceal his identity, which suggests that the connection between identity and nationality cannot be separated, even with the grand backdrop of Gilf Kebir.

The painting is 13 feet by 12 inches (4m 30cm)

Desert Twilight #1

It turns out that people get lost all the time.

The desert is a tough place to navigate. Bedouins, who have lived in the Middle East and North African deserts for centuries, seem to know their way in a manner that goes beyond direction and mapping as if they possess a sixth sense. Before the days of GPS, they depended on long-lasting landmarks for navigation, preferably of considerable size, such as mountains, giant rocks, permanent oases, and ruins, to guide their way. The Bedouins had to know how to navigate the everchanging dunes with basic techniques involving the sun during the daytime and stars at night. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Shadows point in the opposite direction of the sun; they are longer at sunrise and sunset and get shorter as mid-day approaches – enough to indicate approximate time. The wind shapes the dunes, which provides helpful direction; they form at 90 degrees to the wind, so if the usual wind is from the east, the dunes will run north to south.

During the nighttime, the North Star (Polaris) has been used for thousands of years to establish which direction is north, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Contrary to popular belief, the North Star is not the brightest in the night sky. Bedouins and night navigators have used methods other than brightness to locate the North Star. One very common is the help of the Big Dipper constellation. By visually tracing a straight line through the two stars at the end of the Big Dipper’s cup (called Merak and Dubhe) and continuing for five equal units, one’s eye will land on Polaris, accurately indicating true north. Thankfully, It helps that the desert sky is almost always clear.

Knowing how to navigate at night is crucial for military special operations forces, such as the Israeli paratroopers, where I served in the late 70s. The night darkness provides the elements of camouflage, invisibility, and surprise. At the same time, night darkness produces a special kind of friction that often works to turn simple tasks into complex ones and small sounds into gunfire. Success with any undertaking at night depends totally on the time invested in training under those conditions. And the desert was often our playground.

When you navigate alone at night, especially in the desert, the silence is so immense that you can hear your own thoughts. The challenge is to remain present and keep asking yourself, am I on the right path, and where is the next sign I memorized from the ariel photography maps? Lone navigation at night is also an opportunity to work on self-confidence because once you start doubting what you have memorized and learned, it’s a shortcut to finding yourself lost. Lone night navigation is one way the military prepares its future commanders for critical and instantaneous decision-making. The idea is that those who know how to navigate at night will know how to navigate during the daytime. And those who successfully manage lone night navigation will know how to lead an entire platoon to the target.

One navigation experience is particularly memorable because of its outcome. In 1979, while serving as a soldier, my platoon’s team members were tasked to complete a lone navigation route. It took place in the Negev Desert near the Big Crater. One by one, we left the starting point ten minutes apart at around 9 PM and were supposed to reach the endpoint no later than 7 AM the following morning. I don’t remember the exact route length, but it was long, maybe 60-70 KM (37-43 miles). I studied and memorized the map and practiced the number of steps I took to make 100 meters. I prepared my gear and ensured everything was tight and quiet. I thought I was ready but little did I know.

When the moon is full and close to the earth, usually at the beginning of its nightly circle, its light is bright enough to reflect shadows as if it is the sun; it’s a fabulous condition for night navigation. But the night is pitch black, scary, and disorienting when the moon is less than half full and way up in the sky. This is the condition you wish and usually plan for when we tasked with crossing the border to pick up the “good guy.” In that situation, you don’t want anyone to know, see or hear that you came or left until much later; however, truth be told, the dogs always know and bark to no end. That night was pitch-dark. I started the journey focused and in my usual mode of hiding my anxiety with silence and calm manners. I found the first couple of spots I had to locate and mark. My concentration was high, and the steps count went perfectly. On the way to the third spot, my mind drifted, and I lost my attention; I may have mused over my girlfriend’s topography, I don’t remember. As a result, I lost my step count. I found myself surrounded by darkness; nothing was visible. It was pitch black in all directions. Mind you, I did not carry a map or a flashlight. I realized that I needed to make a decision because there was no point in circling around. I knew the direction of the north, as Polaris was easy to spot. I also knew that I would reach a road about a 1-2 hour walk west. So, I walked west and, arrived at the road, walked along it until a bus passed by, I waved my hands, it stopped, I climbed up to find a few other team members sitting comfortably inside. Needless to say, we all got reprimanded.

It is interesting to admit and note that I procrastinated with the writing of this paragraph. As a matter of fact, it took me a few weeks to put pen to paper, so to speak. I attribute it to the shame I still carry for getting lost and not completing the mission. Even though when I meet my platoon friends nowadays, this is one of those tales that make us laugh hysterically. But on my walk this morning, I thought, rather than going into shame and regret, let me direct my thinking into what went right, what was positive in that outcome. First and foremost, we found our way to safety. No disastrous situation developed, which has happened to others. We all figured out what to do and which direction to take to get ourselves out of a tight situation. Rather than going into shame, today I choose gratitude.

The painting is 13 feet by 12 inches (4m 30cm)

Fusion Ocra

I painted this a year ago and put it aside because it felt very intense. The gray color dominates the piece, and the ocra is like a sliver of light, which is appropriate for the topic of the essay attached, The Desert and Spirituality. The painting is 13 feet by 12 inches (2 meters by 30 cm).

The Desert and Spirituality

Gabrielle Roth, the creator of 5Rhythms dance, the master teacher of all my dance teachers, said: “I want to take you to a place of pure magic… It’s the place athletes call the “zone.” Buddhists call “satori” and ravers call “trance.” I call it the Silver Desert. It’s a place of pure light that holds the dark within it. It’s a place of pure rhythm.” I am a 5Rhythms dancer, and many times I wondered why she named that place Silver Desert. Why Silver, and why the Desert? But then, I kind of already knew the answer. The silence in the desert mirrors our soul and spirit, and dancing, like the desert, offers us an opportunity to access the divine within ourselves. I often feel it when I dance because, in 5Rhythms, there is no choreography, and it’s not a performance; you dance to the rhythm and voice that comes from within.

The Bible tells us that when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he didn’t bring them straight into the promised land. He took them on a journey first. And not just any journey – he took them into the desert for 40 years. Again, why did he bring them through the desert, of all places? And why did it have to last 40 years?

One explanation is geography. The land between Egypt and the Promised Land is a stretch of desert land called the Sinai Desert. Another explanation is verbal wit. In Hebrew, the word speak (Medaber) has the same root (dbr) as the word desert (Midbar). Thus one can say God needed to speak to his people, and there is no better place for that than the desert.

A few famous biblical figures, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, and Jesus, wandered into the desert. Was it by accident? The Bible tells us that God wanted to talk to them without distractions; what better place for that kind of important meeting than in the desert? The Bible also tells us that the Ten Commandments, God’s covenant with his people, written on two stone tablets, were presented to Moses on Mount Sinai in the Sinai Desert. So, it all happened in the desert.

In my travels, I visited a few monasteries, some Buddhist, up in the Himalaya high desert valleys, like Ki Monastery in Spiti Valley or Hemis in Ladakh, India, and also Christian monasteries, like Santa Catherine in the Sinai Desert and Saint Goerge in the Judean Desert. Why are so many monasteries located in the desert? 

When I think about how to describe the location of these monasteries, the first word that comes to mind is wild. Wilderness engulfs these structures from all corners as they stand alone and naked amidst the purest element – mother nature. On the one hand, they are separated and completely withdrawn from society and protection. On the other hand, they are a cosmos onto themselves, at the center of a stunningly beautiful, barren, and deadly environment. Isn’t that the definition of glory?

The monks who live in these monasteries experience a spartan lifestyle, run by strict rules, chastity, obedience, and silence. They must be possessed by mystical aspirations, a search for God in his absolute mystery. I am in awe of their dedication but am also scared of their single-mindedness and totality.

I once heard a sermon where the speaker said God’s voice is not as eloquent as his silence.

Walking with faith is sometimes like being amidst a desert sandstorm. Visibility is gone; your sense of direction is upside down. You think you are walking to the right, but actually, you walk in circles. The best way to handle the situation is to lay low and wait till the view clears up. The same is true with certain feelings; even the most uncomfortable ones will not stay the same forever; they will pass and clear up. Being patient is not easy. It’s a muscle that needs constant training, maintenance, and strengthening. I found that it’s in the pause that I hear the whispering sound of grace if I am only present enough to take a breath.

When I lay low and wait, I can tell that the sandstorm is not blowing from some far-away place, but it’s all in me. It is me. It is an invitation to dig deeper and explore the story behind the story. It’s an opportunity to expand, grow, and become a better man.

Struggles and wrestles mark my journey with God. From a young age, I argued with him. I was furious at him. How could he let the Holocaust happen? How could he let my parents go through that hell, left wounded for the rest of their lives? How can he be all power, knowledge, and control and still let it happen? And more, how come people who claim to be people of faith could be sinners, thieves, and crooks? I could not understand or accept it. I researched, read Job, studied Philosophy, and tried to grasp what it all means and where God is in the picture; nothing made sense or seemed right. I had no God. I was also broken.

Years later, when I went through an existential struggle in my early forties, a wise man told me, you can make your own God. Let go of the one you were raised with; put aside religion and philosophy. Make a list of the traits you want to see in your God, and make it yours. What a radical concept, I thought, to make one’s own God, the ultimate rebellious act. Letting go of the second commandment’s God, the jealous one. The only one I knew, even though I did not believe in him. It was like going through a painful divorce. At the same time, a silver glimpse of freedom snaked through the cracks. It was like falling in love again. 

I believe that we arrive at the experience called life with a boatload of free will. The choices I make are mine. Thus, sometimes, my God sits on his balcony up there and is sad. At times he even cries about my poor choices. Regardless, my God always wants the best for me; he is my number one cheerleader. He is my rock. God is there for me, rain or shine, filled with love, acceptance, kindness, total compassion, and endless forgiveness. When this consciousness is present in me, which is far from most of the time but better than it was 20-30 years ago, I find it easier to be kind.

David Bowie, the singer-songwriter, said, “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” The journey of growing and connecting with the oneness has taken me many years and is very slow. I am just scratching its surface; I think about it every day. And maybe that’s why Gabrielle Roth named it Silver Desert.

Homage to Georgia O’Keeffe

Why do so many artists leave the big city in favor of desert surroundings? Each has an individual motive. It might be health, physical or mental, marital problems, or a disdain for the big city art scene. What they get in return are different dimensions of space and time. The desert scenery is horizontal, not vertical, which gives a sense of openness, vast space, and, I dare say, freedom. Everything is slower in the desert. There is more time to think, a critical element of the artist process.

I’d always admired O’Keeffe’s work. Large posters of her abstract and flower paintings hung in our living room. She was a trailblazer, an interpreter of natural forms, and a strong individual who adopted New Mexico as her home. A woman with the courage to live amidst the desert’s inhospitable surroundings. Driving her car to wherever her spirit points, and humbly confessing, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” She left a mark on American art history and opened doors to other women artists. 

If you google Georgia O’Keeffe flowers, surprising results come up. Many put these three words in combination with the word vagina or vulva as if they belong together. But is it a justifiable link? Art critics introduced the interpretation; all were male, as they weren’t female art critics at the time. O’Keeffe rejected the attempt to suggest some Freudian explanation, but she was astute and understood the power of public relations. I know a few male artists that similarly approach flower paintings; maybe female sexual organs inspire them; who knows?

A few years ago, I visited O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, situated amidst rose-colored mountains, about an hour north of Santa Fe in Abiquiú. One strong impression stayed with me; the surrounding colors were vibrant. It was not the pale beige or light brown, the typical desert scenery colors, but reddish sandstone and thick green bush that covered the ground surface. This landscape is a central element in O’Keeffe’s paintings. The colors are intense, often flat, emphasizing the subject’s shape rather than its’ dimensionality. No humans are present. It’s all about her inner vision, introverted, and individualistic persona. She said, “I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way, things that I had no words for.”