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.

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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

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.

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.

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!

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....