Culture Wars: Cars.

In the hustle and bustle of a return to my “normal” life as a student in Israel, I had to put on hold for a bit my reflections on the differences between the car culture in Israel and New York.

These reflections were formulated as I wandered the vast halls of  Javits convention center in New York for the annual car show. The car show is something of a family tradition, though in past years it has been the exclusive domain of my father and brother.

Imagine a playground covering over 675,000 square feet of space. Now imagine that that playground is made up entirely of shiny new cars and motorcycles, and you have an inkling of how cool the Auto show is.

I made the rounds with my brother, slipping in and out of leather interiors and making informed comments over the size of the glove compartment of the new Jaguar (spacious) and the legroom of a Mini Cooper (Anti-Spacious). When we slipped into a new car, our identities and personas were subtly changed, from a family on mile 400 of a grueling road trip (minivan) to chic business people on our way to the company retreat in the Hamptons (Audi luxury sedan).

The car show made me think of the unique bond Americans have with their cars. For us, cars are more than a motor conveyance; they are an accessory, indicative of the kind of lifestyle we have, or wish we had. My father leases his car instead of purchasing because he (and by extension, the rest of the family) derives a child-like pleasure in switching vehicles every 3 1/2 years. I can look back on my life easily by recalling the sequence of automobiles:

Ages 0-21.5:

  1. Red car (make unknown),
  2. Green Ford station wagon with the awesome back seats,
  3. Undistinguished grey Saturn sedan, black Ford Crossover (11-14),
  4.  Black Ford Explorer (14-18),
  5. Black Toyota Rav4,
  6. Black Toyota Rav4 Sports edition with sunroof.

 As you can tell by the list, sometime after the age of ten (after the Saturn) my mother made her preference for black cars known.

In Israel you would be hard put to find a black car, or any dark colored car for that matter. In a country so damn hot, attracting more sun to a black metal rooftop is simply not worth it. The majority of the cars on the road are white or light colored, and the most of them are sedans or tiny cars imported from Europe. Israel lacks the wide open spaces America has to experiment with bigger  and bigger cars, all the more so because Israeli cities are for the most part based on ancient foundations that are not conducive to extensive road-widening. In an effort to reduce the traffic on already congested roads, the government places high import taxes on any cars being sold in the country, making a car an expensive commitment.

I don’t drive very much; by the time I got my license I was out of the house on my way to college in Herzliya, a suburb off of Tel- Aviv where having a car is unnecessary, especially for a student on a budget. The beauty of the car show is that you don’t need to drive to appreciate the cars, it’s the appreciation of the people who love them that makes it so much fun.

I needed to take a picture of this to prove such a thing could exist. At the Porsche stall, a little gift section was placed with cutesy, asshole-y things like gold cufflinks with the Porsche logo or a sign that read “Porsche Parking Only”.  But this, the set of Porsche ice cubes for $20.00 took the cake. Who wouldn’t want one of these baby’s?

The Ladies of the Car Show: 

Some cars were so special they had their own private lady person standing around next to them, presumably to look pretty while guarding the car from theft. They all looked really bored.

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Rooftop in Bushwick Eating Classy Treats.

For the past three years, I have gone back and forth between my school (in Israel) and home (in NYC). I usually come back once or twice a year; a two week trip for spring break in April and a 3 month trip in the summer.

The shorter trips are the best, because they serve as condensed reminders of the dual lives I lead; I exist as myself in two separate universes separated by 5,000 miles and a 12 hour plane ride. I always try and fit a year’s worth of experience in two weeks, carefully scheduling my days to meet as many friends as possible, eat as much thai food as possible, and walk as many streets as  possible. Balancing this with my desire to also veg at home with my family is sometimes a tricky act.

In two weeks I run around all over the city, becoming so immersed that I forget that I am here for a short time, that my friends will forgive me if I can’t hang out, that I have an entire life waiting for me back in Israel (at least, I do until graduation). I become stressed that my plan to fit a year of experience in an entire two weeks doesn’t…..actually……work.

Which is fine: Because when I cross out my schedule and let go of my plans ahead, I get the opportunity to climb up to the roof of my friend’s house in Bushwick and look at the sunset suffuse the air with depth, munching on classy pastries the whole time.

FOOD UPDATE: The above are assorted cakes/pastries from one of the oldest and greatest Italian bakeries in the city, Veniero’s. Specifically in the box are a red velvet cupcake, a mini-fuit cheesecake, a slice of sicilian rum cake, a mini napoleon and a mini raspberry tart.

FURTHER FOOD UPDATE: Not mentioned in this post is the fact that these classy pastries succeeded a lunch of transcendant lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster and a corn dog from Crif Dogs. The lobster roll, with the sweetest, most tender meat wrapped in a butter grilled slice of bread gave us what can only be described as a religious  feeling of awe, while the corn dog was simple gluttony.

FURTHER, FURTHER FOOD UPDATE: The above food treats were not documented more in detail on this blog because my lack of iphone means I cannot snap a picture of my food fast enough before I eat it. You’ll just have to use your imagination and take my word for it that it was delicious.

Epic Seder.

When I was younger, I would mark the passing of the year by the arrival of Passover (or Pesach).  I knew that when Pesach came, the year was almost over (from the ages of 5 to 15  I was under the impression that the year began in September [School] and ended in June [Summer Vacation!])

In Israel, I celebrate Pesach Morroccan-style with my grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts.  We go through the entire Haggadah (no shortcuts) and sing traditional sephardic Pesach songs, some in Arabic. Whenever I would whine to my mother “Are we there, yet?” whispering under the chanting undulations of the Seder, she would point out to me that I had it easy: when she was a child, my grandfather would recite the Haggadah twice: once in Hebrew, and once in Arabic.

Pesach in Israel is a totally different vibe: no wheat is allowed (chametz) and the days before bakeries close, and supermarkets practically give away their pasta. Those uninterested in abstaining from gluten stuff their freezers with baked goods in preparation for a week in which any trace of chametz is obliterated or covered with a black cloth: If you can’t see it, is doesnt exist.

This year, I flew home to NYC for Pesach break to celebrate the holiday with my nuclear family and friends. My mom went all out, as usual; making lamb, matza balls (light and fluffy) chicken,gefilte fish (from scratch), chopped liver, veggie chopped liver, kebabs with cinnamon sticks and maybe 8 different salads. The kebabs especially were a big hit : cinnamon sticks are meat’s new best friend.

My favorite part of the Seder, besides for the obvious act of eating, is the moment right before the guests come: when the table, gleaming in white and crystal, shines with the light of the setting sun and the promise of a good year to come.

Perfection On A Park Bench (Breakfast in NYC)

Last week, a flurry of last minute assignments, papers and general school nuisances culminated in my flight home to NYC for Passover break.

Home is great. Home is amazing. Home is everything I want it to be. Being once again in the bosom of my family, my friends and my city makes me feel like I won the lottery (On a capitalistic side note: I was really hoping I’d win the actual 650 million dollar lottery that was drawn last week, but missed it. Oh well.)

My feeling of well-being reached new heights this morning when, running early on my way to a doctor’s appointment, I sat down on a park bench in Central Park to enjoy my deli breakfast of bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and coffee.

Cold air, warm sun, bacon slick with melty orange American cheese crunching in my mouth and gulp after gulp of strong hot coffee. All those Gods up there drinking nectar and ambrosia? They don’t know what they are missing.