Thursday, January 29, 2004
Before I clear up the issue of what the word ‘klong’ means, I should begin by saying that I was all set to post a breezy…even witty (if I may say so) entry today. I whipped it up last night, and since it was too cold to have my coffee out on the back balcony (as has become my habit), I spent my coffee sippin’ time this morning ‘fluffing the pillows’, ‘straightening the paintings’, and otherwise making changes to the post that neither helped nor hurt it. When I was finished, I scheduled the publisher to launch it onto the Infobahn about the time my east coast family would be rolling out of bed.
Now, ‘Klong’ is a word coined by my friend Mike Spengler (or perhaps a friend of his…I can’t remember). [accuracy update: I heard from mike that the word was actually coined by William Safire...thanks for keeping me honest and accurate] In any event...It means, “the sudden rush of shit to the heart”. It describes the feeling you get when you reach into your pocket at the airport and realize you left the plane tickets and passport on the kitchen counter. Witty word...witty blog post...this was turning out to be one big witfest.
Anyway, I’m not feeling very witty right now.
My boss poked his head into my office a few minutes ago and asked if anybody in my family was in Jerusalem. Here in the holy land, that kind of question can mean only one thing: a bombing.
Immediately my A.D.D.-addled brain started doing the Israeli version of that old TV ad (“It’s 10:00…Do you know where your children are?”). With sickening frequency, people here have to take a mental role call of their loved-ones. Anyone unaccounted for? Break out the cell phone numbers! Once everyone has checked in, there is that horrible mix of relief and guilt; Relief that you and yours were spared; Guilt that your relief comes only at the expense of someone else’s grief.
I knew the big kids would be in school, but I couldn’t be absolutely certain where Zahava and Yonah were. Had she said something about going into Jerusalem today with a friend? Was that my overactive imagination fabricating this recollection?
I calmly dove for the phone and dialed my home number (getting it right on only the 3rd try). One ring…two rings…shitshitshitshitshit.......”hello”….sigh. Ok, plenty of time now for that mixture of relief and self-loathing to wash over me as I read to my wife from my computer screen that there had been a bus bombing…"8 or 10 dead…50+ wounded…at least 10 critically." Like one of the town's people in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, I’m relieved that, once again, someone else's wife drew the paper with the black spot.
Now it was Zahava’s turn to experience the wonder and beauty that is klong. She had made tentative plans to go into Jerusalem with our friend Marcy, but Yonah had kept her up last night, so she had decided to stay home and maybe catch a nap. But, had Marcy gone anyway??? And so the familiar process began again and again, with people all over the country passing along the gift of klong, and calling friends and family on cell phones to make sure they hadn’t drawn the paper with the black dot.
Postscript: Marcy answered her cell phone…at home. She had decided to go into town another day. With every panicked call that was answered this morning…there came the sickening realization that amid the ruins of a city bus, there lay a shattered pile of cell phones that will never be answered.
If you have a strong heart, click on the image below.
Now go here and say thank you.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
If you haven't visited Defective Yeti (over there on the right side of the page...down...down a little further...right there), you MUST at least follow this link. I've been giggling all day about this one.
I know...I'm gonna be on the express elevator to hell. What can I say?
When people ask me what motivated us to move to Israel, I simply point at our kids. Sure, there were political, economic, and even cultural factors that entered into the decision…but in my mind, we moved so that the kids could have the luxury of being kids.
The world that existed when I was a kid (and which was, even then, already starting to disappear) - where kids wandered through woods, abandoned buildings, and private property with impunity… and rode bikes (Schwinn ‘Stingrays’ with banana seats and high handlebars) tirelessly down endless dirt roads, towards secret destinations - no longer exists in the United States. I spent countless school day afternoons, and entire summer days, beyond the range of my parent’s (or any adult’s, for that matter) sphere of influence / knowledge.
Today, American kids are catechized on the need to distrust strangers, stay close to home, and always be accounted for. It is the boogyman that dictated our children's boundaries...not Dr. Spock. We were literally smothering the childhood out of our kids. When our kids used to ask to go around the corner to play with friends, we would first call ahead to tell the parents they were coming. In a few minutes a follow-up call would be placed reporting their safe arrival. Trips to the mall were tinged with suspicion born of abduction stories. I’m talking about the current reality of a middle-class, suburban-Connecticut neighborhood here…not some urban battlefield!
Think I’m being a little paranoid? Riddle-me-this, Batman: Are you more familiar with the purpose and function of the government’s color-coded terrorist threat level, or the amber alert system (indicating an abducted child)? Now based on your answer, ask yourself which is considered to be the more imminent threat to your family – terrorism or child abduction. Be honest with yourself. “Your honor…no further questions.”
Here in Israel, the kids are able to wander around with friends after school. They have freedom of movement and autonomy very much like I had as a kid (way back in the '60s and early ‘70s). Simply put, there are no pictures of kids on milk cartons here. Israeli kids are taught to trust adults and speak directly to them. The other half of the equation is that most adults feel empowered to share in the task of parenting your children. For example, we have discovered that no matter how we have our baby clothed, somebody will approach us and chastise us for either over- or under-dressing the little dear.
I won’t attempt to downplay the issues surrounding the security situation. Yes, there are terrorists. Yes, given half a chance, they would kill my children with the studied purposefulness of a surgeon removing a malignant tumor. I have come to realize that this is precisely how they view themselves…and us. But these self-appointed ‘surgeons’ wield a very random scalpel…and their operating theater is, by no means, limited to Israel. Back on 9/11/01, I avoided being taken from my wife and children by the simple trick of working in one Manhattan office building, and not another. The deliberate randomness of terrorism convinced me that it should not be an influencing factor in the decision of where to bring up our kids.
When it came to choosing our place in the world, we decided to vote with our hearts, and with the hope that we could buy a few more years of precious childhood for our kids. By some people's standards, we are trespassers here. Sorry...I've got the land deed at home on my bookshelf, and all the angry neighbors in the world aren't about to change that. I now understand the challenges facing many African American families as they're 'movin' on up'. In another post, I may address Robert Frost's famous question, "Whose woods are these..." in the context of international law. But for now, suffice it to say, I feel confident that I am on solid legal and moral ground.
However, speaking of trespassing, I have added a new link to the ‘neat places’ list in honor of this entry. If my parents knew the many abandoned places my friends and I explored as kids, they would probably have grounded me forever. I recently found a site created by a Dutch airline pilot whose hobby is crawling around, and photographing, abandoned places; mostly hotels, hospitals and factories. His photo albums are amazing, and they allowed me to experience (vicariously, anyway) that rush my childhood friends and I used to get from our summer adventures.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Meat & Potatoes
If I had to describe the gig I played the other night with my visiting musician friends, I’d have to call it a 'meat & potatoes affair'. Nothing fancy, mind you…just good, warm, familiar, soul-satisfying music.
My friends from New York were in fine form (albeit, on borrowed instruments), and the celebrants could not have been more appreciative. The parents of the Bar Mitzvah boy could not stop thanking us for coming to play, and our music responded to the praise in kind. It was the perfect balance of the band wanting to be there (something that I can assure you does not happen on every gig), and the crowd being very receptive to what we had to say.
As for me: I’m happy as the proverbial porcine excrement wallower.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
"…up on the stage"
There's an old story about a man who has been working in the circus for 30 years in the same job; picking up the crap behind the elephants. When asked why, after all these years, he hadn't gone looking for more enjoyable work. The grizzled laborer answers, "What, and give up show biz?!"
Those of you who knew me in my previous life may be aware of my 17-year music career in New York City. Actually, ‘career’ is maybe too strong a word, since music wasn’t my primary source of income. During all those years, I played trombone in a club date* band an average of 3 times a week, so the bandstand became for me what a poker club or a bowling league might be for other folks. The fact that I got paid to hang out and jam with my buddies was a bonus, and it helped take some of the sting out of my frequent absence on the home front. When it was time for me to 'give up show biz...I was heartbroken.
The reason I mention this now, is that, just like in the old Bob Seger song ‘Turn the Page’, I’m about to go “…playin’ the star again.” You see, a bunch of musician friends from my old band decided to come to Israel for a couple of week’s vacation. When they arrived, a local friend of mine (who is also an ex-pat musician) turned them on to an opportunity to have some fun while, at the same time, giving a wonderful gift to a complete stranger. It seems that this local friend knows of a family making a Bar Mitzvah for their son this evening. They hired a keyboard player to provide music for the event, but as a surprise we are crashing the party with a full band!
I didn’t realize how much I missed the music-making, as well as the whole bandstand ‘hang’, until this morning. As I tossed my horn and mic stand into the car before leaving for the office, I got a tremendous time-travel rush from the comfortable familiarity of this little pre-gig ritual. A part of my brain that had been hibernating for the past 6 months suddenly woke up ravenous, and has been 'jonesing' all morning for its musical fix. I can’t wait!
I have no desire to get into the music business here (yet, anyway), but I realize now that I need to arrange some sort of regular creative outlet for myself. Maybe a weekly duet / chamber rehearsal…or perhaps a monthly jam session with some local jazz players… I don’t know. However, I do know I need something! This must be what it feels like to be a junkie or an alcoholic - never fully getting that craving out of your system, and just barely keeping the beast at bay.
“Hi, I’m David…and I’m a musician.”
[all together now] “HI, DAVID!”
* A Club Date band is an ensemble that performs at an event, (corporate party, wedding, bar mitzvah, dinner dance, etc.), and can play a wide range of music, including Classical, R&B, Jazz, Top 40, Hassidic, Classic Rock, etc. Every gig is different, and presents a unique combination of musical requests / requirements.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Caving in to pressure
Many of the two or three people who accidentally wander through here each week (hi Megan) asked me to put up some pics of the older folks. Well, if you look over next to the original album, 'kvell & shep', you will see a new one called, appropriately, 'older folks'.
Since one of the older folks (me) is usually wielding the camera (with mixed results) and the other (who shall remain nameless) can only be photographed without her knowledge / permission, this album is not likely to grow very fast.
There will soon be a couple of other albums here (titles pending) to provide a peek at our house, neighborhood, and general scenery here in Israel.
Monday, January 19, 2004
A great rant...
The following is a rant (alas, not mine...although I completely concur) directed at parents who inflict their unruly kids on polite company. It was posted on one of the sites I frequent, and I couldn't resist passing it along. Although I don't know the true identity of the 'ranter', the e-mail address at the end of the rant might still work if you want to pass along your thoughts to someone who claims it as his / her own work:
To those with children:
If your kids cannot keep from screaming and running and destroying all in sight for the length of a single trip to the grocery / book / department store, leave the little urchins at home. I don't smoke in non-smoking sections of restaurants. The same logic applies. Why should I be saddled with your problem? I do NOT want to share in the experience of rearing your children. Please do not attempt to force it on me by bringing your evil spawn to the movie theater or, in god's name, a frigging sports bar. A sports bar? What the hell is a 3 year old kid doing in a sports bar? I'm sorry you can't find a babysitter. You knew, dammit, you knew, that you would have to give up some things when you had children. If you don't want the things, call the child welfare office and tell them that if they don't come get the little darlings right this instant, you're going to stop feeding them. That should do the trick. If your children mind you and behave, fantastic. I'd love to meet them. If they scream a great deal, break things, and are unable to move at a slower pace than a sprint, leave them at home.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
The daily grind
Technology rocks! I love that no matter how good - how perfect - some device has become, someone can always come along and make it better. Most of the time when you see the little improvement alongside the older model, you think, “Of course that’s the way it’s supposed to work! How obvious!”
However, occasionally the engineers, designers, and mad scientists, go sailing past that exit ramp marked, “Leave it alone…it’s perfect as it is!!!”, and go driving off towards late night infomercial hell.
My personal favorite example of this is the coffee grinder. From the first time that somebody in rural Colombia or Kenya started pleasantly twitching after chewing up some of those yummy berries hanging off a wild coffee bush, there arose a need to reduce that little berry into its most ingestible form.
The part of this process that happens on the supply side (picking and roasting) hasn’t changed much over the centuries, except perhaps, for the scale (i.e. using greater numbers of twitching locals to pick the stuff, and bigger roasters to…well, um…roast it.)
The part that happens closer to home is where all the innovation seems to have taken place. First, the roasted beans came home and need to be ground up. This gave birth to a wide range of hand grinders…some freestanding, and others mounted on the wall. Then, someone came up with the idea of grinding it at the factory. Then someone else came up with the nifty idea of brewing it at the factory and freeze-drying the stuff. If it hadn’t been for the tailspin that was taking place in the taste department as a result of all this ‘smartness’, I feel confident that some Wyle E. Coyote in the R & D department would have arrived at the notion of actually drinking it before it left the factory – thus completely eliminating the need for an end-user.
Eventually, people on the periphery of the coffee industry started looking back over their collective shoulders to see exactly where the train had gone off the tracks (i.e. where in the process coffee began to taste like pond water). The consensus they arrived at was that, unless the coffee beans were ground shortly before brewing, the end result would be…ahem, unsatisfactory. The result of this epiphany was a two-pronged assault:
On one front were the entrepreneurs that realized that most people were so achingly lazy / addicted that they would gladly pay roughly the same amount for a freshly ground & brewed cup of coffee as for, say, a sports car. This gave birth to the unctuous barista, an unintelligible new vocabulary for ordering the morning drug-of-choice, and a here-to-fore never seen level of coffeeshop snobbery. It also put paid to that cherished diner perenial: The ‘bottomless cuppacawffee’.
On the other front, you had the engineers who were madly trying to backpedal to the good old home-grinding days without actually having to force the caffeine-junkie to do any real work. Thus were born a wide range of spiffy electric coffee grinders. Only problem here is that the process of putting the beans into the grinder, grinding the beans into dust, and transferring the dust into the brewing system was a noisy, cumbersome, inaccurate, and above all, messy job. Also, most electric grinders burn the flavor out of the bean as they grind it into dust, which results in those expensive coffee beans ending up tasting like motel room 'freebee' coffee.
Since I’m not a trust fund baby, and couldn't sustain long periods of public coffee consumption, I went looking for a solution to the home grinding problem. What I discovered was that the perfect coffee grinder existed between the years 1890 and 1930. These wall-mounted grinders could hold about a pound of coffee beans in a pretty glass jar, and the hand crank delivered the ground coffee (adjusted to exactly the desired grind) to a removable, glass, measuring cup. No guessing…no bare feet stepping on spilled coffee beans…no gritty ground coffee collecting in the dark corners of the counter; Just simple, functional design. Heck, you even got to work off some of that ‘grandma-tricep-jiggle’ as you operated the handle. A lot of these grinders are still floating around junk shops and e-bay (I know…redundant).
The ones I’ve found to be the best (and which I have restored for friends and family) were made by a company called Arcade, and were sold under the ‘Crystal’ name. My advice is to go find yourself one…invest in some rust-remover, steel wool, and a can of appliance enamel (white or avocado for you purists), and turn back the clock to when something, for a moment in time, achieved mechanical, aesthetic, and above all, functional perfection. Don’t thank me…I’m a giver.
By the way...If you have to splurge somewhere, buy the better beans. I happen to be a fan of Peet’s, but there are too many good suppliers out there to really get uppity about brand names.
See you on the balcony…[sip] mmmmmmmmmm.
Friday, January 16, 2004
You've all heard of the 'New Math'...well, this is about the 'New Science' as practiced by the Scientist-in-Chief, and his staff. I won't even pretend this is balanced...but I'm not saying it's wrong, either.
The article was written by someone I follow at The Nation named Matt Bivens. His daily entries (appropriately called The Daily Outrage) are nearly always entertaining, and more-often-than-not, right on the money.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
This is a link to a fantastic article by Christopher Caldwell that discusses some of the issues France is dealing with related to the religious practices of some of its citizens. This normally conservative magazine has presented an extremely even-handed analysis of the history of the issues, and the current facts on the ground.
In my humble opinion, a must-read for anyone who wants to be able to speak intelligently on this issue.
Note: The article is split in two (pain in the a**). In order to avoid the need to 'continue', it is worth while opening the printer-friendly version (upper right hand corner) and read it all in one shot.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Yeah right, I'm the problem
I had always suspected that my flashy lifestyle and conspicuous consumption would land me in trouble some day...and that day seems to have arrived.
I had resigned myself to being an obstacle to peace...what with living in Israel, raising my family here, and working here. You know...basically pissing off the entire Arab world and most of Europe just by continuing to respirate. Well today I took a quiz which told me that my offense goes far beyond mere issues of borders and religion. It seems, I am [gasp] using far more than my fair share of the earth's resources!
Now, before you start submitting my e-mail address to the Sierra Club's black list, let me explain. We all know that planet earth has a finite amount of non-renewable resources. We also know (after being reminded about a gazillion times) that the day is fast approaching when many of said resources are going to start drying up. We worry about it as we drive around in our honking SUVs. We worry about it as we pick out our teak furniture for our manicured lawns. We agonize over it as we pour lakes and reservoirs over said cars and lawns...and lo-and-behold - the problem doesn't go away! Go figure.
Well, this quiz is based upon the sound premise that each person uses a specific amount of land to provide for his / her continued existence...something called your 'footprint'.
After answering a few simple questions about where in the world I live, the number of people in my household, my commuting habits, and various questions about what I consume, I get the answer: I'm a big, fat, over-consuming, selfish, land-hog! Apparently, if everyone on earth consumed the way I do, we would need 3 earths to sustain our combined avarice!
Now, I'm not trying to make light of the obvious problems facing the world due to over-consumption. But couldn't I come to some kind of arrangement with, say, a nice family living in the Amazon basin to use some of their resource allotment. I mean, c'mon...most of the industrialized nations of the world make these kinds of deals all the time. There are actually, honest-to-goodness, signed international agreements stating that each country has a set amount of poison (call it whatever scientific name you like) it is allowed to pump into the air. Now, most of the countries who signed on to this lunacy knew full well that they couldn't possibly live up to the terms when they put pen to paper...soooo, they set about 'borrowing' some of the un-used 'poison allowance' from 'developing' countries that have little or no industry. In return they provide loan guarantees, economic aid, glass beads, trinkets, and other much-needed help to our friends still living in the jungles of the world. Good deal, right? Yeah, except it allows everyone to go on doing pretty much what they've been doing all along.
Hopefully, by now you have the results of your quiz in hand...so let's examine for a moment, my own little quiz. I call it, 'the lifeboat', and here is the set-up:
You are adrift in a lifeboat with a bunch of needy people who are just as determined to survive as you are. The boat has a fixed amount of food and water. Your choices are:
a) keep taking your share of the rations until the food and water run out, and then you die;
b) take more than your share (by force, if necessary) in hopes that this will allow you to live more comfortably...while you wait for the supplies to run out, and then you die;
c) take less than everyone else in hopes that others will follow your example...thus forestalling the inevitable point at which you all die a horrible death from thirst and starvation;
d) poke your head over the side of the boat and take notice of all those yummy little fishes swimming around the boat, and devise some way to catch a whole bunch of ‘em.
Answers 'a', 'b', and 'c', make no sense, yet nearly every single one of us has made one of these three our life's choice. Answer 'd' is the only one that makes sense, but it also requires the most work (and foresight).
Despite the fact that nearly every roof here in Israel has a solar water heater, Israel is still using coal and oil to provide most of its electricity. Sure, there are a few wind farms up on the Golan Heights, and some experimental solar steam generators down in the Negev Desert. We have a wonderful public transportation system, comprised of inter- and intra-city busses that are really dandy (when they aren't being blown up!). And, we also have a shiny new commuter railroad system that is adding new track and cars all the time. But for all that...we have really only changed our collective answer from 'a' or 'b', to 'c'. We're all still sittin' in the lifeboat, workin' on our tan.
So… why this particular rant on this particular day? I guess that quiz set me off. Go ahead and give it a whirl...maybe it really is me causing all the problems. But if your score comes out anything like mine (trust me...if you're sitting in a nice warm house / apartment reading this on a computer... it will), maybe it's time we stopped playing the blame game. It's fine for some Berkenstock-wearing, granola-eating, compost-turning, tree-hugging, spotted owl-loving, bleeding ponytail* to whip up some nifty web quiz on his iMac in order to make us all feel guilty. But at the end of the day, he’s also sitting in the lifeboat, taking his rations according to plan 'c' instead of 'd'.
* Bleeding Ponytail
An elderly, post-sellout baby boomer pining for his pre-sellout hippie days. [thanks Jesse]
Sunday, January 11, 2004
For several weeks now I have been pondering the nearly constant presence of a stray cat next to our front door. The cat is not remarkable in any way...just your typical mottled 'community effort' that one sees wandering the streets of Efrat. So why did this cat suddenly take up a vigil outside our house?
For the benefit of those who fancy themselves experts in what makes the feline brain tick, let me assure you we have not knowingly provided any food, drink or other enticement. In fact, our dog Jordan frequents the front yard on a regular basis. Jordan is a very happy-go-lucky dog, and would no sooner harm a cat than any other living thing that ventured into her domain (with the one caveat that she is very protective of Zahava and the kids when she feels they are being threatened). But when we let her out into the yard, she invariably races over to give the cat a neighborly sniff, which startles the bajeezes out of the cat! I guess this one has had some mixed experiences with canines, and wants nothing to do with Jordan's friendly advances. However, the moment we and / or the dog have vacated the yard, back comes the cat.
I looked for signs that perhaps the cat had hidden a litter of kittens somewhere nearby...nothing. I even checked to see if perhaps we had inadvertently made some corner of the yard a little too inviting a shelter...still nothing.
Then last night, as I returned from dropping off the baby-sitter, I peeked through the trees that shield the front yard from the street... and EUREKA!, there was the answer!
One of the creature comforts we brought with us from the 'States is my big Weber grill. This center of carnivorous manliness sits brooding beneath its cover, beside our front door... obediently waiting to do my bidding. I grill a couple of times a week, even in inclement weather...anything and everything: chicken, dogs, sausage, burgers, ribs, and occasionally even steaks, pass their sizzling time on the smoky surface of the gill. Well, one of the byproducts of all this cooking is a fair amount of grease that drips down into a beautifully designed receptacle underneath the Weber. I never gave it much thought...that is until last night when I spotted the offending cat up on its hind legs licking the grease out of the drip pan. With winter setting in, this slimy repository must have presented an irresistible treat for our furry nuisance.
I guess from now on, I will have to add 'REMOVE DRIP PAN FROM BBQ' to my post-grilling check list… right after "EAT TO THE POINT OF DISCOMFORT'.
Anyway, nothing here worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Elizabeth George...But yet, some satisfaction in being able to finally say, "Mystery solved".
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Treppenwitz – remembering something to say after the right moment to say it has passed – is an appropriate theme for this ‘blog, given the sieve which passes for my brain. But occasionally (actually more often than I care to admit), I also experience just the opposite of treppenwitz: The perfect conversation starter jumps to mind, and I blurt it out before having really considered how it might sound out loud. The worst part is that I don’t always notice that the harrowing trip from brain to mouth has transformed the clever thought into something truly thoughtless.
Although our little Yonah has been sleeping more lately (sometimes 5 hours at a stretch), I still sometimes wander out of the house in the morning with bags under my eyes. This is not to say I have so much to do with him when he comes out for his 3:00 AM curtain call. Zahava has really been quite reasonable about weighing her requests for nocturnal assistance. However, the controlled explosion of activity in our bedroom that surrounds each feeding / changing tends to play hell with my sleep cycle. Even when I technically get a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I miss out on that refreshing deep sleep which the body really craves.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with saying thoughtless things? Come to think of it, most of you are probably asking what the hell I’m complaining about, since Zahava is the one running laps around the bedroom at all hours of the night. Well, the truth is that I have fallen into the habit of making good-natured jokes about the reason for the bags under my eyes. When asked how the new baby is, I invariably gripe about his sleeping habits (or lack thereof), and make some off-hand comment about looking forward to him sleeping through the night. So far so good, right?
Well, picture in your mind’s eye how these comments and joking gripes would sound to someone who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive a child. Now take a moment to assess the damage these ‘complaints’ would inflict upon someone who has lost a child. Yikes!
Purely by coincidence, I found out that, among my new friends and acquaintances, there are couples that bear the weight of such private sadness. When I feverishly rolled back the mental tape of my recent encounters with them, I am fairly certain I heard the sound of a size 12 penny loafer being noisily munched.
There is little I can do to fix the damage now. They would never dream of pointing out my insensitive behavior, and it would only hurt them again if I were to broach the subject in order to offer an apology. So…I am left to ponder the lesson.
The lesson here is about gratitude. When I find myself trying to sooth an inconsolable baby at 3:00AM, I will walk him another hundred times around our house and thank G-d for the gift of having someone to console. For every time I wake up tired, I will remind myself that there are those who would trade all they have to experience again - or at all – a sleepless night for the sake of a baby. By being ungrateful...I became insensitive.
Note to self: The word to remember is Gratitude.
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Coming out of a fog
I can’t help but smile when I hear people back in the 'states complaining about their morning commute. I smile because I love my commute!
Every morning after the kids have had their breakfast, I collect my good-bye kisses and head out to the car. Yes, I am a typical car-obsessed, XY-chromosomed, Neanderthal. Having survived my mid-life crisis (Jeep Wrangler Sahara and all), I am now quite comfortable in our sexy European family wagon. The interior has all the necessary appointments, such as comfortable seating (for 7) and a really lush stereo. In addition it has a moon roof that extends almost all the way to the back of the car.
My trip to work is just over an hour. I start out from our mountaintop community, south of Jerusalem, and spend 20 minutes heading down a long winding road. I have my choice of routes, but the one I usually take wends down through a beautiful coniferous forest, towards a fertile valley floor. But wait (as they say on those infomercials) there’s more! On many mornings, the mountain roads are covered with fog. Not the kind of wispy ground-fog you may have seen in New England or upstate New York. Even the San Francisco variety is insubstantial beside our local fog. Anyone who has ever looked out the window of an airliner as it plunges into one of those big fluffy, cotton candy, cumuli-nimbus clouds has some idea what I’m talking about. One of the reasons that the vineyards on these rocky slopes do so well is that each morning the fog rolls in and deposits its moisture on the leaves and vines.
I’ll admit that until I learned the nuances of the windy roads, the drive through the fog was a bit of a white-knuckle adventure. Forget seeing cars ahead or behind…one sometimes can’t see the road directly in front of the car!
However, when I finally break out of the fog just above the valley floor, and see the sun shining on the road ahead, the greens of the crops and browns of the soil make it seem as though I’ve never really seen those colors before. A 15 minute drive through the valley takes me past fields filled with ripening produce, grazing cattle, and fragrant farm buildings.
Once I reach the town of Kiryat Gat, I turn left and race alongside the 8:00 commuter train due south into the Negev Desert towards my destination; Be’er Sheva.
The transition to desert is very gradual because so many of the communities in the northern Negev have successfully reclaimed the soil, and are bringing in crops where once there were only sand dunes! But, eventually the desert does take hold...As far as the eye can see, there are rolling hills and dunes, and the Bedouin shepherds wander from place-to-place with their goats and sheep in the search of new places for their flocks to graze. Ancient walls surround the occasional well and feral camels wander along the side of the road.
To go from Mountain, to farmland, to Desert anywhere else in the world would normally take days or weeks. I get to experience this panorama every morning during the course of an hour!
Looking back on my daily commute from Connecticut into Manhattan, I now realize that I was in a different sort of fog. I used to leave my house and arrive at work without truly being awake. It’s not that I was asleep (ok, there were mornings that I snored my way through my train ride) – rather, I just didn’t notice or care for the passing scenery.
I know what you’re thinking…that in time I will become immune to the charms of my commute. Somehow, I doubt it. Not to sound sappy (yeah, I know…that ship sailed awhile back) but I have much more of a connection to what I see out of my car windows these days. I may eventually become cynical about politics, bureaucracy, or the other drivers who 'share' the road (more about each of these in future posts), but if you could join me for just a portion of my drive each morning…especially as I break out of the fog…I think you would have to agree that this is one pleasure that will stand the test of time.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Time and place for everything
I've come to realize that there are things that only taste good within a certain setting and / or time-frame. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Take, for example, shmaltz (or pickled, cream, or even motches) herring. Try eating it on a Tuesday afternoon...in your office. Somehow it doesn't have that certain je ne sais quoi (Yikes! My computer just crashed from the clash of cultures - discussing Jewish fare in French!!!)
Anyway, herring should be eaten on shabbat...preferably at a kiddush. It wouldn't even occur to me to eat herring outside that framework. For instance, this past Friday night, I was out for a postprandial walk when I ran into a good friend who mentioned, conspiratorially, that he had some wonderful shmaltz herring at his house. To that point it had been months since I'd had a piece of herring...and I was none-the-worse for the lack. But, at the mention of it, I realized I absolutely HAD to have some! Right away!!! A few minutes walk found us seated at his kitchen table (herring is definitely a kitchen table food…preferably Formica under florescent rings) heaping herring and onions (dripping with schmaltzy goodness) onto perfect little onion-flavored crackers, and drinking kirsch. Ok…for you purists, I agree that it should have been whiskey, but hey, he's originally from Switzerland. Now, if I had run into him on, say, a Wednesday night, the very idea of herring would have been revolting! Go figure.
Another example that comes to mind is chulent. For the uninitiated, chulent is a delectable stew that one assembles in a crockpot or dutch oven on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning it is sending out aromas that make it hard to do anything but salivate. By lunchtime, this hot ambrosia has reached critical mass, and puts to shame anything else that has the misfortune to be served along with it. Go ahead and try making chulent during the week. Use the same ingredients and cook it for the same amount of time…it somehow falls flat. No, special smell…no soul-satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs warmth…bupkis! It’s like comparing your first stolen adolescent kiss, to kissing your maiden aunt (the one with just-a-tad-to-much facial hair). One is a treasure - the other…eewwww.
I wonder what it is about our tastes that makes them more receptive to certain things at one time / place but not another? Chalk it up to conditioning. Take orange juice, for example: For generations, orange juice was found exclusively in a little glass on the breakfast table. One day the Florida orange juice cartel starts telling us “It’s not just for breakfast anymore”, and suddenly we’re swilling the stuff night and day!
I dunno…you can teach me a lot of things…but I don’t see myself sneaking off any time soon to eat herring on a weekday afternoon!
Monday, January 05, 2004
Ok, fun & games time...
Here are my results:
Take the test yourself and let me know how things turned out. The most important thing is to be honest (with yourself, anyway).
Thursday, January 01, 2004
A true romantic
By cinematic standards, I failed the basic romance test last night. Midnight found me flat on my back under my sink. Having just finished hanging my medicine cabinet over my sink, I was putting the finishing touches on the legs supporting the basin. No bubbly...no Auld Lang syne...no lingering kiss....and nothing that could be considered by conventional standards to be even remotely romantic (unless one considers 'plumber's smile' romantic). Yet, as will soon be made clear, I was doing something truly romantic.
Lest the reader begin to think that our marriage is in trouble, perhaps some additional information is in order. First of all, it is important to understand that, here in Israel, people don’t make a big deal about New Year’s Eve like they do elsewhere in the world. January 1st is even a regular workday! Don’t get me wrong, some Israelis mark the occasion with parties and such, but nothing like one finds in the U.S. or Europe.
Zahava and I never made a big deal about New Year’s eve back in the ‘states. Once or twice we went to parties, but more often than not, New Year's Eve meant renting a movie, staying at home, and eating popcorn in front of a roaring fire.
So, where is the romance in doing a little late night home repair, you ask? A clue can be found above in the oddly possessive way I referred to the fixtures I was installing. Yes, that’s right. The sink and medicine cabinet I was installing are MINE, ALL MINE!!! Still not feeling the love? Then let me bring you up to speed:
Zahava and I have been married for 12+ years. In all that time…in every place we’ve lived…we have always shared a bathroom sink and medicine cabinet. Sounds like a typical arrangement, right? Sure…for a few months everything would be fine and amicable. But then, without warning, Zahava’s ‘things’ would begin to creep towards mine. I’m not talking about mingling, mind you. No, no…I could deal with my toothpaste fraternizing with her eyeliner. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Somehow her things would begin to push and nudge my things out of the way. Before long, my toothbrush, razor and deodorant would be relegated to some dark corner of the bathroom, or crowded into a box in the linen closet. I’m not accusing Zahava of having a hand in any of this. She just seems to have really pushy stuff.
Well, when we first began house hunting in Efrat, I decided that I was going to have my own sink and medicine cabinet, even if it had to be somewhere other than the bathroom. Last night’s bit of home improvement put the finishing touches on this new bastion of manliness. The basin consists of a dark wood washing stand, supporting a brushed stainless steel basin. The medicine cabinet is also a very nice dark wood. All of this manly goodness resides on my side of our bedroom. The bathroom sink and (soon to be installed) medicine cabinet are now my wife’s exclusive domain. She can spread out her creams, scrubs, and lotions to her hearts delight. She can balance cotton balls, lipsticks, and q-tips on every visible surface. Heck, she can even create modern sculpture out of her make-up jars and tubes. You see, IT’S ALL HERS!
Now if that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.
For a glimpse of my own little slice of personal hygiene heaven, click here.