[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 Hiatus Concludes.

What does it mean to be on hiatus? so much has happened since I  last posted about my ugly mug (actual mug, not my face) almost 2 whole months ago.

I had exams. I graduated college. I went on all the trips I had been putting off. I said good bye to Herzliya and Tel Aviv. I packed up my apartment, and closed the suitcase on 3 1/2  years of living in Israel. I flew home. Ate some Thai food. Wrote my final papers. Signed up for improv classes. Was a camp counselor for a week. And am now on my way to Cape cod for the weekend.

I regret that I couldn’t blog about all the amazing things I did and saw in that last month I was in Israel. Things were too crazy, and it was a full time job just keeping my conflicting emotions about leaving this place I called home for so many years from spilling over and causing a minor environmental disaster. I’ll try and share my experiences in a series of “blogbacks”, while I continue this blog, POSTGRAD.

See you at the beach.

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.

 

 

Making the Best of Summertime with Sangria Saturdays.

It can be difficult to recognize the onset 0f the summer months in a Mediterranean climate such as Israel. Gradually though you begin to notice the increasing power of the sun, the warmth of the breezeless nights and  your ever-increasing fantasies about air-conditioning.

Summer in Israel slows things down. Rushing makes you feel hotter, so you just take your sweet time going wherever you need to go. In the oven-heat, it can be hard to imagine doing anything else but finding a shady spot somewhere and lying down, sipping ice water stuffed with mint leaves.

Saturday was such a day. Too hot for the beach, too hot for a walk, too hot for anything but to make a soup-pot’s worth of cold sangria and devour a mess of freshly made  bruschetta under the lemon tree, whiling away the afternoon enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of summer.

Summer Sangria:

Bunch of fruits (I used grapes, apples, nectarines, oranges and cherries)

Brandy/whiskey

Sugar

red wine

red Lambrusco/cava/any sweet carbonated wine

Instructions:

In a large bowl/pitcher, mix the chopped up fruits with a few teaspoons of sugar (more if you like a sweeter sangria, less if you don’t)

Pour over the fruit enough whiskey or brandy to just cover the fruit. Let chill for a few hours or overnight

Pour in your wine; one bottle of red and one bottle of Lambrusco and let chill for another hour or so. Serve in cups over ice.

Tip: If you really want to be fancy, make ahead sangria ice cubes by freezing red wine in ice cube trays, dropping a little bit of chopped apple in each cube.  As the “ice” melts, it will make your drink colder AND stronger.


Simple Summer Bruschetta:

1 package grape tomatoes

Handful chopped basil

1 large red onion

2 cloves garlic

Coarse salt and fresh pepper

olive oil

Balsamic Vinegar

baguette

Instructions:

Slice each grape tomato in half and add to bowl. Finely dice the garlic and add to tomatoes. Finely chop the onion and add to bowl. Sprinkle onions with course salt and fresh ground pepper. Thinly slice the basil and add to bowl. Pour in olive oil, about 4-5 tablespoons and add 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar into the mix. Gently stir the bruschetta with a spoon. Meanwhile, slice baguette into rounds and sprinkle with olive oil. Toast slices in oven until golden brown. Top with bruschetta and eat!

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 Glory of Tiyul [trip] Two [of three]: The Negev.

For such a small country, Israel is incredibly geographically diverse. From the lush greenery of the North to the Mediterranean beaches of the center and finally to the arid desert of the Negev in the South.

This vast expanse of desert takes up 55% of Israel’s landmass, and barring the city of Be’ersheva as well as a few small towns (including Dimona, where my grandparents live), that landmass is mostly devoid of human life. The Negev’s endless cliffs of yellow-orange stone  shimmer hazily in the sun, the heat already oppressive though it will only get hotter as the summer progresses. Faced with the undulating expanse I am sometimes overcome with reverse claustrophobia; the sky is too vast, the landscape unchanging.

I was in the Negev for a Shabbaton with my friends. A Shabbaton is trip taken over the shabbat. It is essentially the same as any field trip, except that come sundown on Friday night everyone gathers under a gauzy tent wearing dinner-appropriate clothing (desert, shmesert-for shabbat you dress nice) to welcome in the shabbat. I am not a religiously observant person, but I am a lover of beauty- and listening to the sonorous prayers under the desert night sky is an experience not to be forgotten.

The restful shabbat prayers were a fitting culmination to the jam-packed flutter of activity earlier in the day. A hike through the mountains and into a desert pool finished with a trek up a cliff overlooking an ancient monastery carved into the stone.

The hike up and down the mountain is operated by Bedouins. The Bedouins are a nomadic, Arab ethnic group who are divided into clans throughout the desert. Used to the crowds of tourists, they were yelling “Donkey? Donkey?” offering rides up the mountain on these tiny little donkeys wearing beautifully embroidered but heavy looking saddles, while a solitary camel munched on orange peels to the side. I have a soft spot for donkeys, and took way too many photos of the hardy beasts.


The sheer scale of the thing is mind-boggling; How did the monks carve that structure into the stone? what was it like to enter one of the caves hewn from the rock and remain there in solitary confinement, contemplating the universe? the questions jumble on top of each other before being released into the desert air.

Before the sun set, we settled into our campsite overlooking the dead sea. Unfortunately we were too high up to make it down and float (you can only float in the dead sea, the salt content buoys you up) but the view from up there  was a balm for weary eyes.

The Glory of Tiyul [trip] One [out of three]: Arsuf Beach

“Tiyul” is the Hebrew word for “trip”. Trip doesn’t cover the nuance of the word though. Tiyul is an adventure, an exploration; something you go on; as in, “I am going on Tiyul”.

May is the month of Tiyul. I can wax poetic for pages on the perfection of this month in Israel, the ideal balance between sun-bake hot and cool breeze, the crisp azure of the cloudless sky, the daylight so bright that the most mundane of objects come alive with vibrant hue.

My pal Eitan is a true adventurer and ideal Tiyul companion; combining the right amounts of impulsiveness, curiosity and general world knowledge, it is he who gets me out of bed at 8AM on my day off so that we can hike to the beach.

Arsuf Beach. Kind of the best kept sort-of secret in Israel, it is a beach made exclusive by it’s remote location; one must either drive or hike to a certain spot and then climb down a steep cliff to get to what is perhaps the most pristine beach this side of the Mediterranean. Arsuf is also the name of one of the most wealthy towns in Israel, and those lucky residents have the most incredible villas on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, making me reflect on what good fortune it must be to wake up to one of Nature’s masterpieces.

The beauty of the hike up the cliffs is that for the longest while, you don’t see anything. And then BAM.

It was just so Goddamn beautiful; I felt as though I was  experiencing the color blue for the first time.

Perfect time for Tiyul PB&J sandwiches.

The water was still cold, but transparent all the way down. The beach was rough with broken shells. We spent a long time picking the “good” ones before we realized they were all good and we had no more room in my bag to stuff them in. Sea glass was abundant, even rare colors like brown and blue; something I found exciting since it had been years since I found a nice piece of sea glass. Arsuf is popular with Nudists because of how remote it is; of the maybe 8 people on the beach, 2 were nude. But harmless.

Harmless Nudists.