Matkot and Mojitos; Beach Inauguration

The first real beach day.The sand is all uneven and gravelly from the winter storms and the sea is nowhere near the hot soup it will soon become. People start peeling off their protective winter layers and lay back absorbing the golden rays.

Plok! Plok! PlokPlok!  the sound of Israeli beach tennis (called matkot) being played on those wooden paddles is usually so annoying; now, so early in the season, it sounds like the sweet summer music it was meant to be.

PLOK!

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Child’s Play.

The first real day of summer  packs the punch of an entire sunny week. You wake up early, it’s cold, then magically a few hours later the sun cranks up the volume and the world begins to warm. Everything becomes simpler. You’re with people, suddenly they are your greatest friends. You’re outside,  and suddenly you all reach the unanimous decision to walk to the park.

A word about the park. Herzliya may not be the sexiest, the popping-est, the coolest town in Israel- but by God, the Herzliya park kicks all kinds of ass. Hands down the greatest playground ever built resides here, and it is accessible only if you walk to it (or drive, but ew….cars.)

This playground was built by people who didn’t bother with petty questions like “Would a child get scared walking a rope bridge 30 feet in the air?”

or  fuddle around with ideas like ” Perhaps it would be better to make this jungle gym simpler so that children don’t fall and lose their self-esteem”.

No. These park builders created an enormous wonderland full of potential rope-burn, high swing sets, complicated ladders, dizzying heights, slides that loop and see-saws that whirl. There is even a zip line. A ZIP LINE. I remember when playgrounds in NYC used to be awesome-there was one right by my house that was huge and wooden, with all kinds of climby things and swingy things.  You could wriggle under the whole structure to conduct secret meetings with your team (you always were on a team) or hang from the beams and leap down.

That park waas demolished and replaced by a small, soulless metal “park”; all curves and no corners, the swings removed because they were a safety hazard, the slides two meager stumps that led nowhere. They destroyed the wooden wonderland because-get this- it gave kids splinters. Those splinters were a badge of honor, proving your toughness and climbing ability. Maybe the new park hurt less, but the metal it was made of was cold and unyielding.

So this summer day, drunk with sunshine, we threw our bags on the sand and raced, yes RACED to the swings, where in a diplomatic show of playground politics the current users graciously allowed us a set, jumping off and running towards the monkey bars.

Oh, the glory of swings! that feeling of power as you arch your back and kick your legs, propelling yourself higher and higher in ever-increasing arcs; that little bit of G-force when you swing down tickling your belly. Enough swings. Onwards to the slide!  up and up you climb, traversing a rope bridge that rocks in the wind, delightfully scaring the shit out of you. The slide is so high you cannot see the end, but no matter down you go and it is exactly like you are flying; the feeling so exhilarating you climb and do it all again and again and again.

Ouch. Having jumped off that last swing, we noticed our muscles beginning to protest. The backs of our thighs, the sinews of our arms were sore as if we had just worked out in the gym. We looked around us in bewilderment. How were these kids still running around? Not achy all over from that last climb to the slide?

Maybe we remembered for a brief while what it was like to be kids again. But as we limped off into the sunset, it was clear that we were kids no longer. So what, though? forget our gym memberships and our trainers, forget yoga class and spinning; we’ll just go to the park-these kids are in way better shape than we’ll ever be.

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I Love You, Halloween-But Purim Wins.

“Are you here for the interview? ” the bearded man wearing a red leather skirt asked me.

“Uh, yeah” I said, raising my voice to be heard above the club music.

“Follow me”

he turned, his pink feather boa trailing behind him.

We passed a group of people milling around a table full of food and drinks. The women wore angel wings and the men wore lipstick.

He looked at me sideways-

“I don’t always dress like this, you know”.

This exchange didn’t happen in a cross-dressing dive bar. It was Wednesday morning, and I was being interviewed for an internship position at a successful start-up company. What made this day different was that it happened to be the office’s Purim Party, and in Israel, people take purim (and parties) seriously.

I used to think purim was the Jewish version of halloween. Both holidays involve costumes, after all. What I know now is anyone who has only experienced purim in some hebrew school event when they were 12 is missing out on what has to be one of the greatest holidays ever.

The story goes like this: In ancient Persia there was a king named Achashverosh who drank too much one night and asked his wife Vashti to show her face to his court. She refused, and in a fit of drunken, misplaced rage  Achashverosh either had her killed (murder status) or divorced her (dickwad status).

Whatever he did,  the morning after Achashverosh wakes up and realizes he needs another wife. He chooses beautiful Esther, who doesn’t tell him she is Jewish. Achashverosh has an evil minister named Haman, who plans to kill  all the Jews, saving a special gallows for one in particular named Mordechai (who happens to be Esther’s father but no one knows this) Esther finds out, and yadda yadda yadda she saves the Jews and Haman is hanged on the same gallows he built to kill Mordechai.

Purim is celebrated by everyone dressing up in costume and getting really, really drunk. Drunk enough not to know the difference  between the evil Haman and the blessed Mordechai- to experience the topsy-turvyness of the way the evil plot of Haman was turned around at the last minute upon himself.

Purim in Israel is like a 3 day carnival where everyone  drinks, dresses up and dances like there is  no tomorrow. Without the “spooky” iconography of halloween, you see no witches or ghosts or vampires or mummies. Purim costumes are some of the most original and creative I’ve ever seen; both the ones worn during the night’s carousing and the ones worn during the day’s festivals.

Here is a sampling of the best costumes out there-and don’t worry: Come October, you can steal these ideas for halloween; I won’t tell.

Happy Purim.

NIGHT

What do a hookah-smoking caterpillar, the Waldos and the Mad Hatter have in common? They all love Purim!

                                                                                                                       DAY

All of Tel Aviv came out for the Purim street party

Two men, One rack.

There was also Cinnamon Freshener and Lemon Freshener.

Love is just a roll of the dice

The boy who cried wolf!

Pirate Booty (candy time)

Little prince on the go.

                                                                                                                       DOGS

I have never seen so many awesome dog costumes/ dog theme costumes. Tel Avivniks love their dogs. I present to you:

Shrimp dog with Mermaid (not shown). Cupcakes not included.

Punk Dog rockin' the faux-hawk.

Fred Flintstone and Leopard Dog

SuperDog is chill, surveying the scene....

A Visit To My Grandparents, In Verse.

Part One: Pantry Love

My safta cooks for me when I come visit

In her pantry all the ingredients; kilos and liters for

Couscous, beef, meatballs, roast chicken, fried fish, olive salad, matbucha, harissa

garlic, cilantro and cumin perfume.

It tastes so good

I buy the same ingredients

but when I make it at home it does not.

Part Two: Garden Treasure

My saba likes to grow things

 olive trees and pomegranates out back

The herb called flio he puts in his tea-

tastes like mint but not quite

Street cats come to sunbathe

they follow you around; friendly, hopeful

he feeds them too.