[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.

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!

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.

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.

.

Let It Snow….Or, Let The Dandruff Fall.

I’ve become, shall we say, disconnected from snow. After three years of balmy, 60°F winters and oven-hot summers it just doesn’t really have any place in my life anymore. So when WordPress came out with this nifty “holiday snow” effect, my first thought was “Oh, That looks like dandruff falling.”

I asked a few other people, and all they saw was delightful snow, shaking their heads sadly as I exclaimed “Really? come on, it TOTALLY looks like dandruff” to which they replied “Ew.”

I felt very alone.

And so I decided that to honor those memories of white winters past, whether it was snow or dandruff, it deserved to fall.