Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


J.S. Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring





I had problems uploading these so they're not placed how I would like.  The top is me placing a stone on top of Oskar Schindler's grave.  That is how people in Israel honor their dead.


The second is the excavated site of the city of Capernaum.  And the bottom is part of the wall of Old Jerusalem.


The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 This is considered one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. It is arguably the best novel Fitzgerald wrote and certainly deserves its place as one of the sterling examples of the Jazz Age.

The story is told through the eyes of a man named Nick. He lives in Long Island next to the property of someone named Gatsby. It takes him a while but slowly he gets to know his neighbor.

The development of Gatsby is about as perfectly drawn as any character I've ever read about. At first he is mysterious. Who is he? Is he really an Oxford man as he repeatedly claims? How did he get so rich? Why is he here?

All sorts of artsy, intellectual, fashionable, and pretentious people populate his house. It seems he continually hosts parties.

As time goes on, Nick realizes that Gatsby has one goal. To meet a woman he fell in love with years ago when he was in the army, but who married someone else. Everything Gatsby is doing is driving him to this goal. He has envisioned the perfect strategy. He will woo this woman back.

Daisy is your typical beautiful, vapid Fitzgerald dream girl.

A lot of the conversation in this book is devoted to showing just how inane certain types of people's conversation is. Daisy is inane and shallow and vain. But Gatsby is obsessed with her.

Daisy encourages Gatsby. She's impressed by his wealth, by his attentions.

But sadly, she's too shallow. Even though her husband is cheating on her, she is too inert to change anything. She enjoys drifting.

Also, I think that, as much as Daisy is capable of loving, she truly loves her husband.

This story is one of tragedy. Gatsby created a legend of himself and a reality based on artificial construction.

Everything about him is artificial. His wealth, his background, his friends. Especially his friends. I won't give away the ending except to say that when it really mattered, Gatsby had absolutely no friends. They all dissolved like the shapeless, formless, people they really were.

I think it is effective that Fitzgerald narrates this story with an objective third party. I think this is the only story I've read of his that does that. It allows us to see the characters clearly, including that of Nick and his own role in the farce.

The story concludes appropriately: with an ironic twist. No doubt expressing the author's view of his own life.


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Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much by Mark Shaw

The season's not over until Epiphany:  Carol of the Bells



These photos were taken up near the Golan Heights where the Yom Kippor war took place.  Below is a bunker.











On top of a Soviet Tank









The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy KilgallenThe Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark  Shaw
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Since I became addicted to watching What's My Line on Youtube-I mean the old version from the fifties and sixties- I have become interested in the panelists and stars that appeared on the show.

Dorothy Kilgallen was a well-known reporter back then, although obscure today. What intrigued me, though, was that she died from a barbiturate and alcohol overdose. Nowadays that doesn't surprise us at all, since famous people not only make no effort to appear decent, but actually try to seem even more outrageous than they actually are as a way of promoting their career.

We all have come to realize that a famous person dying "unexpectedly" is code for an overdose or suicide.

As clean cut and classy as Dorothy came across on TV, she abused alcohol and drugs, had multiple affairs (one of her children may not even be her husband's) and was a tigress when reporting.

I will take this moment to say that, even though no one was any more innocent back then than they are now, I found the veneer of decency that was required of television shows and personalities back then to be a relief. I don't care who is sleeping with who or who made a video mostly naked. Oh, to return to a time when classy, not trashy, was fashionable.

Mark Shaw has written a book that I suspect he is hoping will get him a Pulitzer, or at least credit for re-opening an investigation on-not only Kilgallen's death- but also President Kennedy's.

According to Shaw, Kilgallen was murdered by the mafia because she knew that JFK was not really killed by a lone crazy person craving notoriety, but a plot by the mob to avenge the push-back Robert Kennedy gave to certain crime bosses.

To be honest, I don't know. But I can't say that Shaw's book persuades me one way or another. It primarily consists of speculation, peppered with a lot of sentences beginning with, "What if...?" and "Common sense dictates..." or "therefore it is logical to infer..."

What I liked came in the first half of the book: a biography of Dorothy Kilgallen. Smutty dark underbelly aside, she was an interesting person. She was also an ambitious, hard-nose, relentless and at times, savage, reporter and writer. One would not suspect that from the sweet persona one sees on What's My Line.

Shaw probably did not intend this, but the conclusion I formed of Kilgallen is that she chased after a Kennedy conspiracy like a pit bull because she couldn't resist seeing her name in lights. No doubt she imagined a Pulitzer or even Nobel Peace prize as the spoils of her efforts. I think she wanted her name to go down in history as the one who blew the lid off the Kennedy assassination cover-up.

Instead, she is primarily known as a panelist on a game show.

The second half, if I may be so blunt, comes across as Shaw's starry eyed notion of himself as Kilgallen's savior. He hopes that justice may finally be served as more and more people, especially "young, educated, intelligent" people come to understand how "ludicrous" and "absurd" the notion is that Oswald acted alone.

By the end of the book, his writing reads like a man who has stayed up late at night, drinking numerous bottles of whiskey. He gets increasingly maudlin and grandiose as he winds up his book. It got a little silly.

It is also interesting to note that Kilgallen's children, all of whom are alive, refused to speak with this author.

As I mentioned before I have no idea if Oswald acted alone or was part of a conspiracy. To me President Johnson had the most to gain from Kennedy's death. He was from Fort Worth and got voted in through corrupt cronyism and organized crime outfits locally. Why has no one suggested him as a suspect? He was a lousy president. Thanks to his "war on poverty" an ever-growing portion of our population has become increasingly dependent on government assistance and we now have generations of families who no longer understand what a work ethic is.

But I digress. In conclusion I found it to be an OK read, hence the two star rating.


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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Reading goals for the first quarter of 2020

I like this song.  I can see a movie scene with this in it.  Heaven's Gate by Dawn Landes.

I spent the new year with my parents on the gulf coast, but more about that later.




I have been enjoying reading the reading goals of my fellow bloggers.  A lot of them are linking together on certain read-alongs and I look forward to reading the reviews in the ensuing months.

Part of me would love to join, but I know I can't narrow my reading.  I'm too scattered.  It's why I stopped reading books for publishing companies.  I want to read what I want to read and going along with other reading lists interferes with that.

Having said that, I decided to get on the bandwagon and create a tentative list that I hope to finish by the first quarter of the year.

I completed my goal on Goodreads of reading 300 books in 2020.  I freely admit that in December I started puffing the numbers with quick reads.  My intention was to make a dent in my 700 plus TBR pile.  It didn't work because I bought as many books as I read.  Sigh.

My goal this year is to read 300 hundred books, but this time I'm going to make a concerted effort to read only books on my pile and I'm going to start with the piles of books lying around the house.  I lovingly call these my "poor little homeless books" because there's no room for them on my shelves.

I haven't bothered to list them, so you'll have to look at the titles in the photos best you can.  The following are the first one hundred, if you include the anthology of mysteries on my Kindle.

So without further ado, here they are, piled according to genre.

Classic

The upside down book is The Third Man by Graham Greene



Christian




Philosophy




Science

I have been especially interested in how memory operates.



Biography

I may have mentioned that I have a goal of reading a biography of every single president.  And also every composer I love.




History

I'm especially excited about that fat blue book.  It's a history of Texas.  The bottom book was irresistible because my maiden name is Barrow.  I know that my father can trace our ancestry back to Jamestown, but I've never seen anything where a Barrow contributed to history.



Foreign Language


Pop Culture




Scary/Supernatural

I eat these books like Godiva Chocolates.  Fattening but delicious.




And, of course my fun weekend reads:  Mystery

The Library of America book is a collection of David Goodis mysteries.  He's a recent discovery and I'm really enjoying him.  I read Don't Shoot the Piano Player and I'm currently reading Dark Passage.  The man can create suspense like nobody's business.  He cleverly provides a hook at the end of each chapter so you end up reading farther along than you intend.

Notice my new Kindle on the right?  Hubby Cubby surprised me with it.  It has back lighting so now I can read in bed in the dark and not bother him.




It's interesting to see what genre I'm heavy on.  I didn't realize that non fiction books outweighed the others.

Well, that's my list.  We'll see how many I read by March.

Let's get started, shall we? Happy reading 2020!



Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Chaos of Cults by J.K. Van Baalen

Joy to the World! on YouTube.

The Jordan River



The Wailing Wall 




Sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane
The Chaos of Cults a Study in Present Day IsmsThe Chaos of Cults a Study in Present Day Isms by Jan Karel Van Baalen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My edition of this book was published in 1953. Baalen's writing style is a bit quaint, and can also be a little confusing when he speaks from the first person when describing the traits and doctrines of the various groups.

Baalen devotes 11 chapters to as many different cults, going into their history, founders, dogma and how they deviate from Christianity.

In the first chapter, Baalen defines the term, "cult". He explains that they are religious groups who claim to belong to the Christian religion while denying Christianity's essential beliefs. This excludes other world religions that make no pretense to being Christian, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam or any other non-Christian belief system, for that matter, although he does include certain groups that claim to embrace all belief systems, such as Bahai and Unitarian/Universalist groups.

What are Christianity's essential beliefs? The divinity of Christ, his sinless life, death and resurrection, the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, salvation through faith, not works, works produced by faith, not vice versa; the inerrant, inspired word of God: the Bible. These are the essentials. Non-essentials can characterize various Christian denominations, but these essentials are non-negotiable.

After the first chapter, he then devotes the next eleven chapters to religious groups that claim to belong to the Christian religion. He describes each one, how specifically they deviate and why their doctrine is false.

These chapters include: Spiritism, Theosophy, and the Liberal Catholic Church; Rosicrucianism; Christian Science; The Unity School of Christianity: Baha'ism; Mormonism; Destiny of America; Seventh-Day Adventism; Jehovah's Witnesses; Buchmanism; and Unitarianism/Modernism.

I looked up some of the names I was not familiar with to see if they were still active. Buchmanism, also known as the Oxford group and, since 2001, Initiatives of Change is still around. Buchman was pro-Hitler because Hitler was anti-communism, because he equated communism with the anti-Christ.

Destiny of America is today known as British Israelism and was continued in American by Herbert Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God. This cult believes that the Anglos of England are the lost tribe of Israel.

The other groups still exist, although I'm not sure that Seventh-Day Adventism is still considered a cult. However, there are certain sects that have branched off Seventh Day Adventism that are legalistic and believe that not observing Saturday as the Sabbath will incur the wrath of God.

The chapter I found the most significant was : Unitarianism/Modernism because this cult has infiltrated most mainstream Protestant denominations where the Gospel of the Bible has been watered down to a "feel good about yourself and try to make good life choices" philosophy.

Even though the book is dated and has a stilted writing style, I found it informative and interesting.


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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Self-Portriat in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams

Tis the season.  Here's some Christmas Renaissance Music.


Oh, OK.  Here's a few more photos of Israel.  I took so many you're going to see them all year round, I think.

At Jericho, I got to ride a camel.



He was a friendly camel.




Here are the remains of the oldest city in Israel, Jericho.  Do you see the burn line?  That level dates back the time of Joshua.  "Joshua fought the battle at Jericho, Jericho, Jericho..."







Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning RaceSelf-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race by Thomas Chatterton Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have always been fascinated by race: what constitutes race; how do people self-identify; how important is it, and how has it impacted culture and history.

Thomas Chatterton Williams grew up in a bi-racial home. His mother was a white woman, the daughter of a conservative preacher, and who attended Wheaton College in Illinois. His father, a black man, grew up in the South. Williams grew up in the northeast and led, what some would call a privileged upbringing.

It sounds to me rather that he grew up in a household with a father who expected him to succeed and he did. He attended college in New York City and while still a student was offered an advance to publish a book on race. Because I listened to this book on Hoopla, I am unable to refer to specific facts, such as what university he attended and whether it was this book or a previous book he wrote that was published while he was still in college, so for the sake of accuracy, I won't say.

Being a man that considers himself black while not looking black (many people, especially in Europe assumed he was an Arab) caused Williams, maybe not an identity crisis, but certainly led him on a journey, the fruit of which is this book.

What does it mean to be black? Is it cultural? Genetic? Both? Williams himself married a white French woman. How should their children view themselves? They look less black than he does.

So are they black? What is the "black experience"?

While I thought Williams was fairly even-handed, even though his political slant veered away from my own, neither did he jump on the bandwagon of "evil whitey who is the source of all the black man's problems". He points out that authors, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes in a way that assumes every white person is a type rather than an individual and any interaction with black people can only be racially motivated-whether with hostility or kindness (they're only being condescending) really only serves to create racial division and mutual suspicion.

Williams protests against seeing anyone as a "type". We are just individuals and if we are going to accomplish racial unity, we're going to have throw out the old paradigms.

He believes this can be accomplished in a couple of ways. One, as the population of bi-racial people grow, there will be more and more people like himself that cannot view themselves as either black or white but as both. In other words, if we blur the lines of racial divisions to such an extent, people will not be able to view each other in such delineated ways.

Secondly, he believes race is an artificial construct. Humans created the concept of race, when, in fact, there is only one race, the human race. As people change their views on this, racism can one day be eradicated.

I think with the first point he is right to an extent. I recall a concert venue in Detroit that wanted to charge white people double. Backlash resulted in rescinding the policy, but what was not given enough media attention, in my opinion, was that not only white, but many bi-racial people refused to attend because it meant one of their parents was being treated unfairly.

I also agree that race is a man made construct that has an entrenched history and clearly delineated cultural lines. Instead of helping to erase those lines, many "woke" people today of all races seem to want to persist in the hatred. Maybe it gives them "raison d'etre", I don't know.


However, I must also point out that, human nature being what it is, if America became populated with a new race, people would only find other things to hate about each other.  Look at the African countries.  They have been beset with tribal warfare for hundreds of years, probably thousands, and it has nothing to do with race.

So it is indeed bold of Williams, while still very much liberal, to take an unpopular stand about race and its definitions and the repercussions of those definitions.

To complain, I will say I felt there was a little too much naval gazing. Surely every minority does not go through life with their wrist against their forehead, muttering "What am I? How do others view me?"

Most people of any color or combination thereof, surely have more meaningful things to do with their life. We cannot control how others view us. We are only in control of how we deal with the good and ugly things that life throws at us.

I think primarily the difference between Williams and myself is that he is an atheist, therefore must turn to Utopian hopes and ideals, while my identity is that of a child of God and this life is very short. Focus on eternity.


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Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Double Blind by John Rowan Wilson

Here is Handel's Behold the Lamb of God from Messiah.


I love people watching.  Here are a few of the people I watched while in Israel.  These photos were taken in the old section Jerusalem near the wailing wall.



















The Double BlindThe Double Blind by John Rowan Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book came with a group of books I bought on eBay. I only wanted one of the books, but it is serendipity that this book arrived as well.

The author, John Rowan Wilson, was a medical doctor and his stories, at least this one, circle around some sort of medical problem.

In this case, a surgeon, Peter Mayne who is now working as an administrator for the Royal Ministry of Health, must travel to a tropical island off the coast of Africa where a rogue doctor is testing a vaccination against encephalitis on the population. After three deaths, a local priest demands that the testing stop until it is ascertained whether the vaccination caused the deaths.

There are many elements to recommend this story. Wilson is able to weave medically technical information into a well-written plot and create an exciting, fascinating story.

The term "double blind" concerns studies where both doctors and clients do not know if a test drug or a placebo is being administered for the duration of the trial. (Results are studied afterward, and by impartial third party experts.) This prevents psychosomatic responses from the patient, and bias from a doctor who is eager for his medication to work.

Mayne's job is to travel to the island of Cajara, investigate and determine whether the local doctor, Martin Farrell can continue with his study or if the blind needs to be broken.

As if this particular assignment wasn't difficult enough, there is also a personal element. Peter and Martin were friends in Catholic school together. Martin married the woman Peter loved. Due to certain other acrimonious events aside from this, Mayne and Farrell fell out of contact. This interpersonal dynamic only adds to the tension that inevitably results from such situations. Now Mayne must confront a man he has not seen in ten years and also the woman he once wanted to marry.

If the plot line were all the novel had to recommend it, fine and well, but this is much more than that. This novel is one of the most excellent studies in psychological manipulation I have ever read.

As we read about Mayne and Farrell's childhood relationship and subsequent reunion, we see a well-fleshed out character study of narcissism that threatens to become a borderline paranoid personality disorder in a man who also is brilliant enough to play mind games that divide people into his slavish devotees or sworn enemies. His enemies initially started as a devotee until they ceased to be useful.

"Between the honeymoon and the final, inevitable disillusionment there was a stage, always distressing to watch, when the first doubts began to appear, when the idea began to obtrude itself that the association with genius might have certain disadvantages."

The evil genius in this case has the ability to leave everyone he comes into contact with shaken and second-guessing themselves, even those who have wised up to his true character, which is the case with Peter Maynes. He long ago figured Martin Farrell out, but every conversation was still an exhausting chess game.

The story is narrated from Mayne's point of view so we get to read his thoughts, which are quite perspicacious in his ability to read others.

Wilson also deftly draws an accurate picture of colonial countries and their relationship with the Mother Country. What responsibility does England have toward 3rd world countries where the life expectancy is thirty? Is it permissible to use unapproved drugs on the local populace, with their consent, especially since the death rate is already so high in large part due becoming infected with encephalitis from mosquitoes?

But what if the vaccine is infecting people with encephalitis, rather than inoculating them? Is the life of an islander worth that of a patient in the U.K.? Are third world citizens the new clients of the slum hospital clinic?

I also like how Wilson shows the various types of well-meaning First Worlders who live on the island. The priests are there to save souls and advocate for those that have no voice. The governor is there to make sure everything meets with mainland approval. The doctors are there to provide health care. While each is a type, Wilson manages to personalize them. No one is lampooned; everyone is multi-faceted, allowing the the reader to sympathize with each character, even the ones they might generally deplore.

There are a few odious types, at least that is how Wilson paints them: The rabid Socialist who is there to radicalize the people and make them revolt against their oppressors. What I found insightful was showing how unintentionally condescending they could be to the natives (of course you're primitive, ignorant and backwards, poor things, but it's England the Imperialist's fault).

The only failing I found was the romance. I understand inserting a love triangle adds an extra element of tension that allows one to see yet another side to an insecure and devious personality, but frankly, he needs to stick to what he does best, analyzing human nature. The romance between Mayne and Farrell's wife, Barbara, in addition to being adulterous, is awkward, stiff and painful to witness. If he had left it out, I would not have missed it.

Thankfully, the romance is mostly marginal.

Other than that quibble, I enjoyed this story and will be looking for more of this author's works. Probably not an easy challenge since I'm sure most of his books are out of print.


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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Yesterday's Papers: A Harry Devlin Mystery by Martin Edwards


I hope you enjoy:
Pahud & Langlamet play Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto



My dad reading Pat McManus to my mother.


For Thanksgiving week I traveled to Florida to visit my parents.  As I said last time, the day I left for Israel, my mother was admitted to the hospital.  My mother is now in a rehab place called The Manor where they are trying to get her to walk and balance.  It was a nice week.  Every day I went and visited her.  

In the mornings we sat in a courtyard at The Manor.  I sat in the cafeteria with her where we met some very interesting people.  The two men there are Vietnam Vets.  Bill (at the table) was an airplane mechanic for the cargo planes.  He was stationed on almost every far Asian country during the war.

The other, Bob, was a boom operator on B-52s and F-4s. He said it took three officers to get him off the ground so he could lie down and pass gas.

My dad, also a career airman (he spent the Vietnam War in Turkey) is just out of sight.




In the afternoon I checked my mother out and we watched the sunset on a beach just down the road from The Manor.



In the evening my father read to my mother in the commons room at the manor while I painted.  I was painting Christmas cards.  A group playing dominoes at a nearby table were listening to my dad read.  They then oohed and aahed over my Christmas Cards so naturally I had to give each one a card, with their name on it.



I could tell you a story about each of those people at the table playing dominoes and maybe I will in a later post.  I had not had so much fun since I was in college, getting to know so many different people.

But on to the review:


Yesterday's Papers (Harry Devlin)Yesterday's Papers by Martin Edwards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Finding this book at an Ollie's store was a happy accident. I got it for a dollar and I could not resist the edition put out by Crime Classics.

Harry Devlin is a lawyer (or solicitor as they say across the pond), but cannot resist a good mystery. A man by the name of Miller approaches him and tells him of a miscarriage of justice that happened back in the sixties. A teenage girl, Carole Jefferies, left her home one night and never returned. Her body was found in a nearby park in the bushes. A neighbor, a socially awkward and anti-social teenage boy by the name of Edwin Smith, confesses to the crime.

Edwin in great detail describes Jefferies on the night of her murder, what she was wearing, what she was strangled with and why he murdered her (she rebuffed his advances in the rudest terms).

Later, however, Edwin recants, but no one, including his lawyer believes him. He is sentenced to be hanged, but tries to kill himself first. By the time he has recovered from his attempted suicide, the death penalty in the U.K. has been outlawed. Nevertheless, Edwin shortly afterward succeeds in killing himself. Case closed.

But now this strange little man, Miller, insists that Edwin Smith was innocent and he was going to find the real murderer. Would Devlin join him?

Devlin does.

Without exaggeration this may be one of the best developed mysteries I've ever read. I love most mysteries I read, but the ending often is a let down. It's more like, "Oh. (shrug) It was that one.

Not in this mystery. There are many positive elements and let me try to list them:

There is no dead time. While this is not a thriller, it's definitely told in a way that the author keeps dropping bread crumbs and the reader keeps following close behind picking them up. Each crumb is significant and leads up to something else later in the story. When we get to the climatic ending, we don't shrug. There are many surprises in store.

Secondly, the entire story takes place in Liverpool, home of the Beatles. The Murder takes place in the sixties, even though the time setting for the story is the nineties, thirty years later. Edwards nicely creates a realistic and interesting backdrop, intertwining the two time periods. It'd make a great movie for that reason alone.

Thirdly, the characters are interesting. And, perhaps even more importantly, the good guys are likeable and realistic- not perfect, but people you'd like to get to know. The bad guys are complex. They are more sad than evil.

With the exception of a couple who were just flat out evil, or maybe I should say, pathologically narcissistic. That also was entirely in the realm of what could happen in real life. No one was so over the top, you couldn't take them seriously.

The development of the story was neatly done, all the pieces coming together in a satisfying way.

Are there any negatives? Just one, for me. Here and there spattered throughout the story, the author chose to use some foul language.

It was strange, because it was infrequent, almost as though his publishing contract said he had to have so many f-words included. They didn't seem natural and were jarring.

Well, maybe one other. I felt he harped a little too much on the fact that the sixties were when homosexuality was repealed as a crime. I mean, did this law change anyone's lifestyles? No. It's like fornication (when it was illegal), it's an unenforceable law. Too much is made out of it.

Edwards admits as much by portraying characters who belonged to the "swinging lifestyle" then. In fact he makes an interesting point how many homosexuals became gatekeepers to the music world, determining the future of many artists and their acts. (Makes you look at the early David Bowie persona in a different light. Interesting that Bowie shed the "gay" persona when he became famous enough to have autonomy over his own career.)

Which is why I gave an otherwise marvelous mystery four out of five stars. Without the language it would have been my idea of a perfect mystery.


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And before we go a few more photos of Israel:

Here is the city of Capernaum.



What a treasure trove of archaeological digs!


Until next time, have a great week!