Sunday, April 02, 2006

Dreams & visions


In the late 90's I was living in San Francisco after a ten-year stretch in good 'ole HLC (Holy Land Central). Despite my Americana background, the culture shock associated with the transition back was literally painful at times.

One early summer afternoon feeling acute pangs of longing due to dear friend Malcolm's departure to England earlier that day, I sat on the stoop of the Victorian I shared with Israeli roommate Vavi sinking into my sadness. Rounding the street corner and clearly searching for a specific address, a lanky fellow wearing tight drain pipes approached and asked in heavily Hebrew accented English: Is Vavi here? He had watery, gray-blue eyes.

She wasn't due back for several hours but he sat down anyway, unwittingly commencing "The Summer of Nikko".

An early 20's aspiring chef looking to make his mark, Nikko had been advised by mutual Tel Aviv friends to contact Vavi for professional leads. He hoped she might help him get a foothold. She didn't. But he and I became inseparable. We shared movies, dinners, museums, drawn out telephone talks, cafes, platonic sleepovers, parties, shopping, walks in the park, city scouting and mostly talking.

Nikko verbalized the isms of American life that made us both squirm.

I'm calling you from the street corner. A little girl holding a junkie's hand was just led down the street sobbing, I had to step over a collapsed homeless person to get to the ATM machine and someone just vomited on the sidewalk and then carried on walking. This is normal life here?!?!?

And he coined the phrase "parva" as in: American life is not milchik or fleishik. It's parva. Something's missing.

Mostly Nikko talked about dreams. Flamboyant & colorful dreams for his future. To be a successful chef, author books, find lasting love, own a restaurant and host a cooking program he would star in. He even had a local artist draw sketches of the would-be television set of his dreams.


He didn't have the patience to sling hummus at a Berkeley dive while waiting to realize his ambitions so he cut out after two months and headed to Paris for an externship. He then returned to Israel and we've been in contact on and off since. I've stayed with him on holiday visits, phoned on occasion, sent postcards and yesterday, we sat together over coffee - our first rendezvous in 5 years.

Nikko is more reserved these days and seems tired. He doesn't laugh as readily nor does he yelp with delight as was his habit in the past. But chasing dreams can do that to a person, especially if he ends up catching them.

Nikko realized every last one. He opened not one but three successful Jaffa establishments, authored three cookbooks, travels the world as a lecturing "Israeli Ambassador d'Cuisine", found a life partner and his t.v show has garnered him HLC celebrity status.

Israelis know him as Nir Tzuk. To me he's still Nikko. Nikko who helped me get through the summer of longing and who illustrated by example how vision can actualize into reality.

"That and damned hard work!" he said yesterday.

Salut

6 comments:

ontheface said...

Girl, you have cool friends. ;)

Anonymous1 said...

Since my comments are often critical I should start by saying I like this blog a lot and I found Nikko's story inspiring. But the quote "American life is not milchik or fleishik. It's parva. Something's missing" struck me as a vapid throwaway line. It was probably uttered in a moment of frustration, and it's entirely forgivable, but would I class it as a specimen of classic wisdom to be preserved for the ages? I wouldn't. And parva is actually the Hebrew word for fur. The link you posted has the correct spelling: pareve.
I must sound mean. I don't intend to be. I also don't mean to suggest that American life is ideal. But precisely because the subjective element in such judgments is so large, sweeping statements about how life in the US is neither meat nor dairy aren't constructive. The thing to do is to name one's frustrations: if one is away from home and family and having trouble realizing one's goals, then _those_ are one's problems, not "American life."
Anyway, it's good that he's doing well now.

Stephanie said...

Gee, where do I begin with that last comment? First of all, perhaps I should've written "parveh" which is the way he pronounced it. And I disagree with you; in all the years I lived in the U.S., I also felt something was missing there and identified strongly with what I felt was his accuracy in pinpointing that missing part. I didn't classify it as a "specimen of classic wisdom"...it's an illustration that resonated. That's about it. No great historical implications here

Anonymous1 said...

Yes, but accuracy is precisely what the statement lacks. After all, it's not meant to be taken literally. And what can it mean as a figurative or metaphorical statement? What do milk and meat represent? Did he find either of them in Paris? Which? Milk or meat?

I don't mean to drag this out, but the point is not that I disagree with the statement that life in the US is parveh. It's that I don't know what the statement _means._

To say that "something is missing" is different. We can start exploring what that thing is and there are certainly things I could name myself that are missing in American life when I compare it with life in Israel. But I also find certain things missing in Israeli life when I compare it with life in the US. The only thing to do is to name particular items. Parveh doesn't cut it.

Stephanie said...

In the context in which it was uttered, the messages was that life in the U.S. lacks an exuberance or spark. Now I exit this discussion because I'm not willing to enter into the ring of literalization over something so inane.

Anonymous1 said...

That's fair enough. I'd just say two last things:
i. parveh happens to have meant absence of exuberance or spark, but since it could mean so many other things (absence of purpose, for example) I don't think it was unreasonable for me to wonder what it did in fact mean; &
ii. exuberance and spark can be found in the US too.