Friday, May 25, 2007
I recently took up windsurfing off of Tel Aviv's coast.
It's challenging. Learning to balance on the board while hoisting the sail, accounting for wind direction and wind speed, shifting direction and turning or jibing takes practice, quite a bit of falling into the sea, swallowing a very unwelcome quantity of seawater and bruising legs and feet when falls aren't graceful.
Aside from the physical aspects, twice during lessons I have been very pleasantly surprised to see religious Jewish men surfing.
I know they're religious because I see them before they put on their wet suits: yarmulkes (male head covering), tzitzit and the standard issue black pants and white button down shirts.
Today's encounter was a bit awkward - in the club changing room, odd as that may sound. But it's not, really, because most of the surf and SCUBA clubs I've seen in Tel Aviv are unisex. One or two showers for all and a non-gender-specific lock-with-key changing room if a person wants privacy.
Locker areas - generally the place people put on or take off wet suits and boots and change into or out of seaware if they're not bothered about privacy (which I've found is often the case) - are mixed.
So as I stood in my wet bathing suit and boots in the locker area waiting for a lock-key room to change into street-wear, across from me stood a religious guy removing his tzitzit and other articles of clothing. He didn't strip to bare skin. That would've been awkward. He found an empty shower stall and locked himself in for the final swap from pants and shirt to wet suit.
Once in his sea togs, you'd have never known his religious preference save a few locks tucked behind his ears.
I hear he's a yeshiva student from Jerusalem who can't resist the sea; he comes down to Tel Aviv when the wind is good or "surf's up".
Leveling the playing field. It's a wonderful thing.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Here in Holy Land Central, we celebrated Shavuot yesterday. Biblically it marks the time when Charleston Heston aka Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. It also is a time to celebrate fruits reaped from the 1st harvest.
In these here parts, however, somebody got his/her food chart confused. Because people gather together on this holiday and indulge in copious amounts of brie, Gruyere, neufchatel, creamy blintzes, and assorted varieties of cheesecake - all clearly not listed in the fresh fruit column of Miss Sally's 1st grade inverted pyramid.
I was invited to a rather nice brunch sorta thing yesterday with the type of fare described above and then some.
You MUST try my signature gnocchi. The secret ingredient is the truffle oil a friend urged in whisper tones. It was good. Very good.
But I was holding out for the cheesecake. Holding out all week, in fact. I hadn't had any sweets AT ALL because I was saving up for a nice, thick slice of homemade no-bake cheesecake. I assumed there would be some and I wasn't disappointed.
HOWEVER, as fate would play out I had to split the gathering after an hour and a half. And dessert had not yet been "busted out". I lamented to a few friends on the balcony.
Tell (the hostess) you're leaving and to bring out dessert for heavens sake! an unknown confidante suggested. It's Israel! You can do that here!
Yes, but I'm still who I am regardless of where I am. And I couldn't bring myself to impose in that manner.
Bummer. I had to go. All of the anticipation and I didn't "get my cheesecake on". My waistline (and toochas and thighs) will thank me.
Who asked them?
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
A few notes on this Saturday eve as the sun sinks behind the Mediterranean in my 'lil city of Tel Aviv:
1) The neighbor saga. Not good. Guess who read my blog and is NOT amused by my quirky (a friend terms it "cheeky") sense of humor? Despite attempts at remedying the situation, methinks no amount of patching will stymie the hole in this blown tire. shit. shit. shit.
However, it is time to stop blogging about it. Enough already.
2) Israeli lifeguards. You could write a book. They sit in a wooden tower facing the sea watching people frolic day in and out. You don't even know they're up there on calm sea days. But get an undertow or high tide going and oops! There they are! Barking non-stop at swimmers through their megaphones.
"Move away from the breakers!" "Hey you in the white swimsuit, did you hear me?" "Okay that's it. All three of you come over here to the lifeguard tower right now".
Standard stuff. Except when it's not standard. Which is the constant stream in-between the standard stream. Because...gee i dunno. It's Israel and the rules don't apply? Or they know they won't get sued for poking fun or being rude? Or because it keeps boredom at bay?
"Hey parents! Where are you? This is not your bathtub. I am not your babysitter. Does that kid in the blue even have a parent here?" or "All of you move away from the breakers. That goes for you, too, Mahatma Gandhi" or "Gina! Where have you been all morning? Come over to the tower and we'll have coffee! I dreamed about you last night."
3) I was going to write about how nuts I find the situation in Sderot & Gaza to be and how upsetting it is to see front page images of children terrorized by or glazed over from exposure to constant air raid sirens and rocket hits. But I don't have the energy for it. And quite frankly, it seems every other person in these parts has something to say about "the situation". So I'll let the others do the saying.
Over & out
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
It's time to do some soul cleansing.
& not because Big J has gone to The Eternal Tent Revival in the sky.
It's because last night I was found out. And I wish to warn others of my trespasses. Call this penance. Hail Mary. Let's eat.
But seriously. Last night during a meeting of Tel Aviv freelance writers - I organize monthly get-togethers - I casually mentioned to a friend: That's my neighbor and motioned towards the woman across the table who is, indeed, my neighbor.
Someone seated beside my neighbor who reads this blog overheard and loudly asked: Is this the neighbor you wrote about in your blog?!
And as a matter of fact it was and as a matter of fact I countered the extreme awkwardness of the moment with a casual brush-off: Yeah, I wrote about the worms, hahahaha! I said turning to my neighbor as if we shared some secret pact. (I also wrote about the cockroach but kept it mum).
What did you write? I want to see it! pressed my very embarrassed neighbor who was aware she was in the company of strangers who knew about her life.
Oh I'll tell you on the way home, I remarked casually (bluff bluff bluff).
And en route home, I fudged a little and softened here and there and promised to send her a copy of the copy. I didn't tell her it was on my blog because I don't think she's familiar with blogs. Or at least not mine. Yet.
The crux: I messed up. Because I like my neighbor but I wrote about her and embarrassed her. Yeah she's a touch hysterical; she'll readily admit to that. But she's kind. She let me borrow her chairs when I had guests for dinner, she offered to care for my cat whenever I go away and she came to last night's meeting to support me although she's not a writer.
The lesson: DON'T write potentially hurtful material about someone you care about unless you can disguise their persona. I got out unscathed this time but next time...??
Jerry, you taking notes and putting in a good word on my behalf?
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary...pass the peas, please.
Monday, May 14, 2007
The uproar has been over the apparent moral decadence of society because people didn't appear to stop & help. Drivers swerved around the victim. He lay there on the pavement and NO ONE STOPPED!
However... when cousins were visiting this weekend we debated the issue and my cousin Doron brought up several very salient points:
1) At the moment of the incident, people were stunned and pulled over out of "eyeshot" of the camera and then ran back to help the man. That takes a minute in traffic.
2) NOT EVERYONE is meant to get out and help. He illustrated by asking us all: You know (nameless person we all know)...Can you imagine her being able to get out of the car and administer 1st aid? Come on! She would need 1st Aid. He has a point. Not everyone can handle an emergency...
3) And that leads to the point of the function of those who don't function well in emergencies. They did what they could by calling the Israel equivalent of 9-1-1. I would be interested in knowing how many calls came in to 101 about the man during that scene.
It's horrendous. No doubt. The video is here. I'd rather not post it out of respect for the victim.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Years ago I wrote an article titled The Joys of Limited Motherhood about putting off child-rearing for fear of royally messing up the job. The story started out like this:
And ya know, that was kinda funny. But here in the not-joking-real-world when that kind of thing happens, it's not funny at all.
“My kid stays in the hallway closet until age thirty,” my ex-husband was fond of proclaiming. “I’ll throw in some sandwiches, a VCR, movies.... So it’ll be a little dark..But at least I won’t have to worry. The closet’s safe.”..He was joking, of course.
Several months ago my mother relayed news of a Cincinnati woman facing life in prison after habitually locking her 5-year-old and 20-month-old in a closet so that she could go to work. Neighbors summoned police when they heard the older child's screams.
In last week's Hebrew press, a similar case: a mother locked her 9-year-old in the house to clock in at her hotel job each day. The mother, a new immigrant from Guatemala, claims she didn't have time to sign her daughter up for school and daycare was prohibitively expensive. Police were called in when the girl - frightened and tired of being a prisoner in her own home - began screaming "Fire!" from a window.
In both cases, the mothers were single and out there working to support the children ultimately taken away from them. Issues at hand obviously include judgment and education. But I question the financial difficulty of juggling job and childcare costs for single mothers within society at large. And not just for blue collar workers.
This Boston Globe article focuses on a single mom earning over $50K per year and struggling to keep up with day care payments while this Telegraph story chalks up benefits for British single moms of staying on government support rather than getting into the workforce.
Either way, the closet is not an option and daycare needs to be affordable. Period.
Happy mother's day to those celebrating.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Last time we checked in with the downstairs neighbor, she was contemplating serving worm soup to dinner guests.
This evening, Stefanella's Drive Thru Cultural Department brings you:
The Saga of the Neighbor: Part II
(ring ring...ring ring)
Stefanella? (hysterical shrill tone)
Uh oh. What's wrong? What happened?
Do you have any cockroach spray? (on the verge of tears)
Uh uh. Sorry.
Do you know how to kill cockroaches? Like can you kill cockroaches? Like make them die? (Hysteria mixed with pleading)
Naw. I really can't come down and do that. I'm sorry. I don't know how to kill them (lie lie lie. We all know how to kill one if we have to)
Okay (choking back a sob) I'll call another neighbor. I can't deal with this. I have to have someone help me RIGHT NOW! (voice rising, shrill taking on higher tone) I can't talk right now. I'm hysterical.
(to self) Nawwwww...Ya think?
**both parties hang up phones **
mwahahaha... (loud) Oh shit. The windows are open. (quieter to self)
to be continued...
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The other night my neighbor phones me in a panic
Will you come downstairs? Pleeeeezzzzz? I need your help. I need your advice
Sure. Gimme 5 minutes.I reply
(Scene II: Five minutes later, in neighbor's kitchen)
Okay. I'm having guests over for dinner in a few hours and they're religious - from the synagogue I go to. And I think...I mean maybe...well there might be worms floating in the soup I made. Can you tell me if they're worms?
Yup. Looks like worms to me. What're you gonna do?
Oh god. Oh god. I don't know! What should I do? I mean what if they're not worms? Where did they come from? I mean maybe I can serve the soup anyway. I don't want to make it all over again! Maybe they won't notice. How could there be worms in the soup? Tell me what to do. What should I do?
Aside from being slightly affected by a touch of hysteria, my neighbor is also prone to different views on cleanliness and the art of food prepping. She would toooooottttaaaallly serve the soup to the guests. Because that's okay in her book. She tasted it and it was yummy& that's good enuff.
Thinking rather quickly on my feet - and knowing she's er, um, spiritually and religiously inclined I asked:
Hey, are worms kosher?
No. They're not.
Hmmm. Well if your guests eat the worms and they aren't kosher but the guests don't know there were worms in the soup to begin with, you know it's actually your sin and not theirs because they didn't know...
She toooottttallllly dumped the soup. Good thing. I mean, it is about conditioning and the fact that we have learned (in most Western cultures) that eating worms is not okay whereas in some parts of the world it's totally okay. But never mind.
Guess whose house I'll NEVER go to for dinner?
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
"Do you know where apartment #9 is?" one asks.
No, I answer. But if you count apartments from mine you'll figure it out.
"Oh yeah. Sure. Thanks" he says and that's that.
I shut the door. No way. You know how you know when something isn't right?
A minute later I very quietly open the door after checking the peephole. I then look over the railing down the stairwell. And lo & behold, Flick and Flack are jimmying open the downstairs neighbor's door. I close my door and call the police.
Who arrive, with special units, while I'm still on the phone with police headquarters. Pretty impressive.
They swarm the place and fan out over the neighborhood. They must've been looking for this crew because later I find out from a neighbor that they were part of a team. Two to each building, four teams working at a time. A truck following to collect loot.
The police caught the guys the next street over.
Shit, man. Lucky I was home, eh? And shit.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
He practices commercial law. Mostly corporate.
Is one of your parents an Anglo? I asked. How come your English is so good?
He lived in D.C. for a few years when he was a kid another friend offered.
Yeah but my English isn't all that great, the attorney chimed in. Sometimes I sit on conference calls with clients - one guy's in London another is in the States and I sit here - and they'll talk for half an hour and I don't understand a single word. I say 'uh huh' and 'I see' and 'yes' every so often. But seriously. Not-a-word.
You're kidding, I say. How in the heck do you get by?
At the end of the half hour I say: So if you don't mind summarizing..? Just so we can all be sure we're on the same page? I usually understand the summary.
This is why he makes the big bucks.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
As part of a story I'm working on, I needed to go to the West Bank. You know, the same West Bank where Palestinians live. Palestinians who don't care for Israelis all that much because ever since Israel began running "the neighborhood" in 1967, relations have been strained. Funny that.
But there was no way around going. I needed that colorful adjective-filled narrative only gotten "on location" for the article.
There were two issues at hand: 1) I'm an Israeli citizen so technically I'm not allowed to go into certain parts of the West Bank unless...2) I hold a press card - which I do. But it expired a few months ago. I haven't renewed it because I dread dealing with the government press office. But that's another story.
So I spoke with some contacts and "got around" the whole shebang. A Palestinian driver would meet me in a neutral area and take me to my destination: a small village outside Jericho.
I got to Jericho, made contact with my contact Mohammed and before you can say sahafeeya (Arabic: "Journalist") I was sitting in the front yard of a village home among eight males conducting my interview. All was good, polite and formal. They had no idea I hold Israeli citizenship. I was an "American journalist working on a magazine story."
Then things sorta changed. They were angry. And talking about the Israelis. And about the occupation. And the fact that hundreds of soldiers had descended upon the village a day prior searching house by house for someone hidden therein.
I got nervous. And thought nervous thoughts. About being female, American (probably global enemy #2 behind Israel), alone, in the company of males, the army search a day prior, the fact that they were harboring someone, the words spoken earlier that morning by an Israeli: That village? It's full of terrorists! You can't go there...
And then one of the men shook his finger in anger: "And we take one Israeli soldier and look what happens? What about the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners the Israelis are holding?" And my thoughts turned to Alan Johnston - still out there somewhere - and to ....oh all sorts of things, really. Oh shit. That's it. I'm doomed. Shit.
Cause, you know, they were pretty angry. And fed up. Things suck for them.
And so I talked... about the angle of my story... the fact that their situation is understood the world over...the fact that everyone else interviewed for the story agreed that they're in a terrible place...that the international community sees the grave nature of their plight...I appeased.
And the edge disappeared. And I was ashamed.
Yesterday in Tel Aviv I had coffee with an long-time friend who works for CBS. I told him the story. You went alone? I nodded. He didn't say anything.
Stupid, huh? He nodded an affirmative.
You can't do that these days. It doesn't work anymore. Things have gotten too weird. This isn't 1995. The stakes are high.
Damn. And lucky me. Damn.