[Deep] Reflections of a [Returning] New Yorker.

“You are from New York. Therefore you are just naturally interesting”-Hannah, on Girls.

“New York, I love you but you’re bringing me down”-LCD Soundsystem

Once upon a time there was a girl who was born and raised in New York City and didn’t think about it too much. This girl (she loved to draw) rode subways to middle school and trick or treated down apartment hallways and was impressed by the lush yards of the New Jersey houses she would occasionally visit.  Surrounded by artists in an art high school, she went to groovy parties and didn’t  know they were groovy because she had nothing to compare them too.

Then the girl went off to an international college in Israel, where she was embarrassed by the excitement other people showed when she told them  her origins. It seemed her new classmates either thought her life in New York resembled  Sex and the City  (her protestations as to the ludicrousness of Carrie’s lifestyle in comparison to her meager one column a week employment status fell upon deaf ears), or a densely populated commune of liberalism and fashionable snobbery (This she denied vigorously, until she would slip up and mention a protest her friends were organizing or make an offhand remark about the return to culinary basics as evidenced by the recent popularity of organ meats on trendy restaurant menus) .

Tired of trying to defend her normalcy, the girl gave in and shut up when new acquaintances waxed on over how lucky she was, preferring the company of friends who didn’t give a damn. Upon her graduation and eventual return to New  York, the girl realized she had changed in two significant ways. One, having spent so much time away from the city with people of wildly different cultural attitudes, she  now fully realized how lucky she really was to have grown up there. And two, having spent so much time away from the city with people of wildly different cultural attitudes, she found herself looking upon the teeming masses wondering, for the first time, if all these people weren’t batshit crazy.

The Ugliest Mug in the World.

This, my friends, is The Ugliest Mug in the World. I chanced upon it today while tagging along on a shopping mission at a small home-goods store. I like these small, family-run businesses because you can never really be sure what you are going to find in them. Lord knows I was not expecting this to be hidden among the innocuous flowered mugs sitting on the shelf.

Like an enigma, this mug is puzzling and inexplicable; rife with hidden meaning. Why is the pony singing? Why is it wearing lipstick? Why does it have two sets of back feet?  Is the handle the same pony? Or a mutant cat-pony hybrid? Is the handle pony creeping on the mug pony, or vice versa?  The questions were endless.

I brought the cup over to the saleslady/owner for some answers.

“Do you know where you got this mug?” I asked.

She peered under the mug, searching for  a mark, a symbol, anything to identify this cursed ceramic. Spotless.

Looking slightly perplexed, she shrugged.

“Nope.”

And with the transfer of 12 Shekels (about $3) the mug was mine.

Unwrapping my purchase at home, I realized what had been naggingly familiar about the mug pony’s face. It looked like David Bowie.

This mug has the appeal of a train wreck. It is horrifying and grotesque, yet I cannot look away. I am actually becoming kind of inspired by it; If there is room in the world for a mug with a singing, prancing, David Bowie-esque horse thing and a cat-pony handle,  then surely there is room enough for me.

And so, with the smugness of one who knows she is unbeatable, I challenge YOU, dear reader, to find a mug uglier than this one.

It is a task I do not envy.

 

 

5 Reasons Why This Tea Set Will Make Me A Better Person:

Oxford, England:

There I was, standing at the cliff edge of consumer doubt, debating whether I should take the plunge and buy the whole damn set. So what if I only wanted a tea pot, considering I have a set of vintage teacups back in New York. That was before, and things have changed considerably since then. A fierce argument was taking place inside my head-between rational, budget-conscious Shelley and crazed, compulsive shopper Shelley.

Rational Shelley: ” You don’t need this. How will you carry this 9-piece set on the plane back to Israel? and HOW will you carry this set back to New York when you  finish school in two months? answer me that!”

Compulsive Shelley: “I want.”

Rational Shelley: “What the f*&^ are you going to do with a goddamn tea set in Israel? It is REALLY HOT THERE RIGHT NOW.You’re telling me you are going to sit in the 90° heat and have a steaming hot cup of tea?”

Compulsive Shelley: “I want.”

Compulsive Shelley was making some really strong arguments. But Rational Shelley required more. So Compulsive Shelley obliged with an orderly list of all the reasons why this tea set would make Shelley a better person.

Reason 1: THIS TEA SET WILL BE AN INVESTMENT YOUR GRANDCHILDREN WILL INHERIT.

Look at this workmanship! this is vintage English and French China from the 30’s; your great-granddaughter will pine for it as it sits on the top shelf of your granddaughter’s china cabinet. Then one day, against her mother’s explicit orders she will stand atop a chair to take it down and reaching up on her tippy toes bring the whole thing crashing to the floor, shattering it into a million pieces.

Reason 2: PURCHASING THIS TEA SET MAKES FISCAL SENSE.

This tea set is a steal! How much would this fine English China cost you in the States? heck, even the new ones in England are more expensive than this. You are actually  saving money by getting this in one lump sum. And you know you are ALWAYS about saving money. Do it.

Reason 3: THIS TEA SET REFLECTS YOUR REFINED SENSIBILITIES.

Who else goes to Oxford, England for 3 days and comes back with a friggin’ tea set? You, thats who. Others may be satisfied with a knockoff T-Shirt showing the Union Jack humping Big Ben but you are cut from a different cloth. The discriminating-souvenir-hunter kind of cloth.

Reason 4: TEA PARTIES ARE CLASSY.

Beer Pong? Puh-leaze. Nothing says baller quite like inviting your friends over for a tea party, and then actually having a tea party. With crumpets and shit. Which reminds me, you need to buy some crumpets*.

Reason 5: HAVING NEVER WANTED A TEA SET AS A CHILD, YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO WANT ONE NOW.

You never played tea party with your stuffed animals, pretending that they were “drinking” while you shoved a plastic teacup in their face and talked to yourself. Maybe you were unconsciously waiting the whole time for this one moment, when a real tea set would be staring you in the face daring you to say no. You going to let down your six year old self?  I think not.  Besides, a little regression never hurt anyone.

*Author’s Note: I bought it. The tea party with my friends was everything compulsive Shelley said it would be, and crumpets are just big english muffins.

The Oxford Follies.

The Transportation Options in Oxford.

The other week, I flew to Oxford, England to pay a 3- day visit to my good friend Noam and his girlfriend Sophie, both of whom are students at Oxford University. In my last 2 months in Israel, I am determined to take advantage of every available opportunity to crash on a friend’s couch in another country. Carpe Diem, right? My time in Oxford can be condensed into 8 mini-anecdotes, or minicdotes.

Minicdote#1: Oxford, England’s clouds look different.

I really lucked out on my trip: I was fortunate enough to enjoy the first 3 days of sunshine Oxfordians had had the entire year. Although my Mediterranean sun-accustomed skin was freezing; feebly trying to soak in warmth from layers of flimsy cardigans, my hosts and their friends flounced out of the house wearing shorts and gauzy tops.This time of year in Israel the sky is devoid of any disturbance except perhaps a wisp of condensation in the air. Although the sun was shining in Oxford, I was struck by how the clouds hung in the sky; heavy, solid masses, they looked the very picture of grudging acquiescence to the blue firmament.

Minicdote #2: Oxford Takes It’s Grass Seriously 

Oxford University has been around since at least 1096. That means that there are 916 years of accumulated bureaucracy and rules in place. This causes some interesting situations in 21st century life. Like the grass. Oxford University is divided into 38 separate colleges, each with it’s own internal structure and building. Wandering around where you do not belong is generally frowned upon, and it is quite possible for respected professors who have been in the university for decades to have never stepped foot in most of Oxford’s Colleges. Each college building has a patch of beautifully manicured, soft, green grass. Used to the hard brown patches in Israel, I wondered aloud how pleasant it would be to relax and have a picnic there.

Noam quickly vetoed that idea. Apparently, the grass is strictly off limits…unless (wait for it) ….YOU ARE PLAYING CROQUET.

Thats right. Croquet. So on nice days the grass is literally covered with Oxford students trying to play, or pretend to play, what has to be (to my crass American eyes) the most pointless game in the history of the world.

Minicdote #3: They Knew How to Build’em in the Old Days: Imposing Architecture.

Oxford’s colleges are these massive, impressive stone structures with every architectural influence known to Europe since about 1200. One of the most impressive examples was Christ Church College, the only cathedral that is also a college. Christ Church seemed surprisingly familiar; the interior of the student’s cafeteria was the model for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Adding to Christ Church’s literary cred is this fact: Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodson, a student and teacher at Christ Church. He was a brilliant mathematician who invented the Alice in Wonderland stories for the amusement of the Dean’s little daughter, conveniently named Alice. Bam.

Minicdote#4: The Radcliffe Camera Library Should be Location-Scouted for the Next Bourne Film.

This building on the upper left? that is the most badass library ever. The building is called The Radcliffe Camera, “Camera” meaning “room” in French. Tourists are not allowed to enter, and students can only enter with a swipe of a valid school ID card. In a move worthy of the greatest secret agents, I passed off Sophie’s card for my own, walked in behind Noam and watched carefully while he exaggeratedly swiped in (for my benefit) under the watchful gaze of the Librarian. Even with Noam’s guidance, I still bungled it up and swiped it in the wrong way, setting off an annoying alarm. Shit. I quickly flipped the ID over and swiped it in correctly, muttering nonchalantly about “these stupid cards”. Phew.

The inside of the Rad Cam was, of course, architecturally beautiful. What struck me though was the sheer force of the concentration shared by the students who spent a significant portion of their Oxford careers hunched over a desk, studying. The silence was complete, without even the hushed whispers found in most libraries. No, the students here were studying for dear life, and the atmosphere reflected the gravity of that purpose. I spent only a few minutes in the upper floors with Noam, so out of place I felt without a book or a purpose to read it. Than Noam took me to the two levels beneath  the library. These underground basements were as depressing as the upper floors were uplifting. No windows, industrial steel columns painted a thick  grey color, shelves upon metal shelves of books were placed close together, operated apart by use of a manual crank. Noam pointed out a small round table in the corner with a fluorescent halo above it. “I spent 10 hours a day here last semester”, he said as we left. Although I much preferred the upper floors in terms of decor, the basement part of the Rad Cam had one outstanding characteristic; an underground tunnel connecting the library with another library. Sweet.

Minicdote#5: The Discovery of Brown Sauce and Fish & Chips with J.R.R Tolkien

Allright, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I ordered a traditional English breakfast. It is basically the same as an American diner breakfast, but with the addition of beans and fried tomatoes. This was why I was caught off-guard when I was asked if I wanted “brown sauce” with that. Did I? Sophie said yes. Brown sauce is actually a version of HP sauce (which I’ve never had), and Brits smear it on their ham pieces before consumption. It has a soury, umami flavor that becomes strangely addictive with every bite.

My next food quest was to the Eagle and Child; an old, old pub famous not for being old but for being where J.R.R Tolkien and friends (including C.S. Lewis) would hang out and (presumably) get drunk. As a self-confessed LOTR nerd this was hands down one of the greatest moments of my trip. We ordered fish and chips, and were chatting happily when I accidentally pushed too hard on the edge of my plate, sending the half-eaten fish and chips sliding gracefully to my lap. There was a moment when everyone who saw stopped and stared to see how I would “react”. Trying to ignore the burning in my cheeks I did what any girl would do; swiftly pick up the fish and chip pieces from my lap, return them to my plate and continue eating, as if nothing had happened.  Only later in the privacy of the loo did I scrub my jeans with a soapy paper towel, fearful lest I smell like stale fish for the rest of the day.

Minicdote #6: The Morning After, and Jubilee Pride

 Friday night, Oxford. Word on the street was there was a house party across the road. Nice. House parties are chill. So why are all of Noam’s house-mates wearing bright purple and green and debating the use of glitter? Ah. Right. The house party is “mardi gras” theme. Wait- house parties have themes that people actually follow? this concept was completely alien to me. I friggin’ love theme parties, and have tried desperately to throw them in Israel and in the States. Fancy outfit theme party, 90’s theme party, 20’s theme party, Alter -ego theme party….the end result is always me and one other person going all out with the “theme”, then feeling awkward the rest of the night when everyone else shows up in jeans. Not so in Oxford. Theme parties here are taken seriously, as are house parties. There was talk of a chocolate fountain, gold eyeshadow and tights. Ultimately, we went to the house party, where I felt awkward in jeans, then to a pub which kicked us out at 11:30 pm. Wandering the Oxford streets searching for food, I thought how funny it was that in Israel, a night out that begins before 11pm and ends before 4am is considered a bust. We finally found a halal kebab place that sold fried chicken and chips, which we devoured greasily from it’s styrofoam container in the dark kitchen at the ungodly hour of 1am. The next morning the evidence of some other hungry students’ ketchup-smeared,  late night styrofoam meals was found speared on the  wrought iron fence of some quaint Oxford street.

Now about the upcoming Jubilee. The Brits have a deep affection for the Queen, which is understandable, as she has been Queen for  60 years. In America and especially in Israel, our political figures come and go so quickly we simply dont have time to develop lasting bonds with them. We don’t have time to celebrate their 60th year of reign, or put their faces on collectable tea cups that cost a fortune, or make “jubilee cupcakes” proudly displaying the union jack. I flirted with the idea of buying a jubilee tea cup, but in the end the 15 pound price tag and my innate fear of disrespecting the Queen (spilling instant coffee down Her Majesty’s face)  kept me from doing so. Long Live the Queen!

Minicdote#7: The Importance of  Tea, and Impulsive Shopping .

I am no stranger to tea. In my house we always drank tea with fresh mint, Moroccan style. Later on I would start every morning with sweet black tea and milk. To me, tea in the morning is like giving your stomach a hug, whereas drinking coffee in the morning is like kicking your stomach in the face. Many times I am the only tea drinker in the room, so it was with a feeling of homecoming that I touched down in a country where tea is for real. Strong, black tea in a ceramic teapot that has a tea cozy to keep it hot kind of real. I became obsessed with the idea of owning my very own English China Teapot. I never had tea sets or tea parties as a child, so  maybe I was regressing. Whatever. This idea took root in my brain and wouldn’t let go, especially as I was surrounded all over by tea parties in progress.

Sophie was kind enough to take me teapot shopping. My requirements were twofold: One, the teapot had to be made in England, and Two, it had to be as twee* as possible (ATAP). What followed was an epic journey in and out of 8 wildly different stores, from malls to boutiques. None of their teapots fit the bill. Finally, faced with the prospect of returning home teapot-less, and coming to terms with the fact that very little English China was made in England anymore, we walked into an amazing vintage shop called The Ballroom Emporium. There  on a shelf stood  not only a beautiful, twee teapot MADE IN ENGLAND, but an entire complete set of tea cups and saucers, creamer and sugar cube holder. The cups were made in France but this only increased their appeal; I am all for peace and co-existence between the Brits and Frenchies on my Tea-table. That was how, in an impulsive decision, I ended up flying back to Israel with an heirloom-worthy 9-piece English/French Tea set. I bought sugar cubes and biscuits too. Tea party anyone?

The Ballroom Emporium: 5&6 The Plain, Oxford, OX4 1AS

*Twee |twē| adjective Brit. chiefly derogatory, excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental

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.

.

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....

The Fondue Whisperer.

The other day my friend Dani and I went out into the crisp Tel-Aviv night for a refreshing walk, having spent the whole day indoors studying.

Spent the day staring longingly out the window....must.....study...

 Strolling down King George street, we were lured down a narrow passageway  by the sound of Frank Sinatra crooning “Fly me to the moon”….not your average club song. The music led us to one of those hidden treasures that everyone hopes to find. The passageway opened up into a garden; an exquisite flower of a bar called “Par Derriere”. We stood there dumbly, taking it in, when a waitress timidly asked us if we wanted to be seated at a table. Her question jolted us back to reality.

“Hell yes, we’d like a table!”

(ok, I didn’t actually say the hell part but I was thinking it)

Ordering was easy. Fondue. Melting cheese and wine and butter. The holy trinity of decadence. All the ingredients of happiness dipped in bread. Dani, who hails from Australia, erupted into squeals of excitement when she saw an Australian Shiraz on the wine list. So we ordered that too.

Nothing like some robust Aussie vino to go with Fondue.

The fondue arrived in it’s fondue pot. Our waitress, concerned for our fondue-experience, worriedly checked the pot every couple of minutes to make sure the flame underneath hadn’t gone out. At one point, she announced that the fire was too low to maintain the proper heat. Rushing back from the kitchen, she knelt down and fiddled with the pot, replacing the defective flame with a fresh one, while Dani and I smiled stupidly. We’d had a lot of wine and butterwine cheese by then.

Finally the waitress got back up from her kneeling position by the fondue pot.

“I think it should be fine now.” she said, giving it an affectionate pat.

“You are like The Fondue Whisperer” I said to her.

Dani smiles for the instagram, cheesy bread en route to her mouth....

She smiled but I don’t think she knew what I was talking about.