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.

Tapas, Jamón and Seafood, Oh My!

I am still trying to sort through my experiences in Barcelona; getting acclimated to a normal routine has been interrupted by a frantic wave of cooking in preparation for Thanksgiving later this evening ( which will be another post). This morning I ate the last of my Jamón Ibérico and anchovies, brought over from Barcelona and jealously guarded all week.

Can you be homesick for a place you’ve been in only five days?

Barcelona food is fresh and unashamed. Sure, most things are fried, but whether it is a calamari ring or a ham croquette it is made with love and respect and your stomach (like a dog) senses this and accepts it with open arms. How else to explain my lack of indigestion despite five days of non-stop scarfing down ham, croquettes, anchovies, and more ham?

In order to bring some order to the cornucopia I have divided the offerings into three categories: The Temple of Jamón, Fish So Good It’s Not Fishy and Rainbow Eats.

The Temple of Jamón:

Spain takes its ham seriously. Ibérican ham comes from Ibérico pigs. These pigs are treated like royalty. The most sought after kinds eat only acorns. Imagine how good you’d taste if all you ate was acorns.

Jamón and the penguin from Madagascar. My life is complete.

 Fish So Good It’s Not Fishy:

No big spiel. The seafood is so fresh and affordable it makes you wonder why you had seafood anywhere else in life. The end.

Even clams deserve decorative flowers.

This is what an entire dried squid looks like.

No, this is not an impressionistic masterpiece. It’s a dish from Els Quatre Gats consisting of grilled squid, Iberico ham chips and some kind of brown sauce. It was beautiful.

Rainbow Eats:

So much of the food in Barcelona just looked so darn good. The effect of a rainbow was especially felt in La Boqueria market, where I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland peering through the looking glass into a world of wonders. Food wonders.

"It's a sponge, it's a bathmat, it's a deflated brain-no! IT'S TRIPE." I wanted to try some but I think that is more of a Madrid thing.

The cherries and tomatoes could have been interchangeable. I’ve never seen that kind of red, unless you count a firetruck.

Some juvenile butcher thought it would be funny to put these cow figurines in this intimate position. He was right; it is funny.

Another Day, Another Protest.

I am no stranger to protests. Last summer I visited the  Tent City that sprung up on Israel’s Rothschild boulevard. This past September I worked a few blocks from the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park. My friends held signs in Times Square.

I don’t know what was going on in Barcelona (I think it had something to do with taxes), and I didn’t try too hard to find out. Maybe that’s bad, but whatever. I was there to eat ham and see Gaudi, not fight the system. But there were protests Every. Day.

Morning, noon or night. It would start with a cluster of police vehicles. Then a street would be closed. Then assorted loudspeaker mumbles and sign waving. Sometimes there was a siren. Then everyone would go home. All in all, the protesters and police seemed to have a mutual understanding; You let us wave our signs and do some chanting, and we will march down the street in an orderly fashion and leave. From what I understand, these peaceful protests were part of a larger series of protests this past year, some of which were more violent.

But for the time I was there, eating crepes and watching the gaily-jacketed group march past, I experienced the kind of pleasure  reminiscent of Disney Land parades.

March on, Protesters. March on.

About the flags; They are the colors of the Catalan flag and they are everywhere. Barcelona, though part of Spain, is part of what is considered an “autonomous community” of Catalonia, with it’s own distinct culture, heritage and language. Catalans have a strong national identity, and they aren’t afraid to show it.

Monument To Catalan Freedom Fighters.

Best Wind Vane Ever.

Sawdust on the Floor, Water in My Wine.

“Barcelona is so Medieval.”

  Being a tourist in the rain offers a unique opportunity to see how a city works in times of stress. Things are messier, wetter, brusque-er. Chances are everyone who is not a tourist is staying home, as you would if it was raining cats and dogs in your hometown.

On the Metro in Barcelona  I overheard a tourist say to her companion (in a contrived, world-weary tone) “Honestly, all European towns look the same.” This is like saying all neighborhoods in NYC look the same because hey, they all got streetlights, right? Silly tourist.

Barcelona, like all cities, has those little quirks that separate it from the rest. One of the first things I noticed was that almost every apartment window has an outdoor awning/curtain thing. To guard against the rain? The Catalan sun? the effect to me was that of a million mini shop windows in a riot of color.

The Awnings of Barcelona:

But awnings are not Medieval.

Sawdust is.

Finding shelter from the rain in a pastry shop,  I notice a powdery brown material on the floor rapidly turning to mud-slush under my feet.

“What am I stepping in?” I ask Maya.

“Sawdust. To soak up the rain.” she answers.

Really, Barcelona? Your number one rain-soaker is the material that for centuries was used to soak up blood in operating rooms? The sawdust isn’t only indoors, but sprinkled liberally on the streets, where it doesn’t so much soak up the rain as turn into a pulpy paste and make the bottom of your shoes look like a stableboy’s.  This sawdust puzzles me. Isn’t it grosser and harder to clean up a brown wet mess then to swipe off clean water with a squeegee? Barcelona was really tidy otherwise so I guess they have some sort of system in place.

Another habit that struck me as medieval, but quaint is the Barcelona habit of ordering a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling water and then watering the wine with the sparkling water to create sparkling wine. Nothing wrong with that, but in every book I’ve read set in a Medieval-ish time there is some line like “….and they supped on bread and cheese and watered wine…”  As far as I know, In the Middle Ages when water wasn’t safe to drink, the beverage of choice for children and adults was watered wine or beer; watered to prevent everyone from being falling-down drunk all day.

So anyway, because it’s not the Middle Ages, it was cool to see people doing that.

Rainy Day Impressions:

Sitting in the rain.

There’s a bird on your helmet.

Rainy Pow-wow.

Paris On My Mind.

I’ll admit I am somewhat of a closeted Francophile.  Or more accurately, a  Parisophile. When I flew to Paris last November for the first time, I was worried that the city would not, could not live up to the inflated expectations in my head. Could any city live up to so much hype?

Turned out, it could.

Paris is so beautiful that the constant grey rain that fell during my stay served only to increase the romance, like the melancholy beauty of an aging starlet.

I left Paris with 300 photos, a sixty Euro jar of foie gras and an abiding appreciation for The City of Light.

Nut Cart

Figures in Stone

The gull was almost as regal as the head he was sitting on.


I love the way the drapery follows the angle of the leg.

Yellow Light

Carousel at Montmartre.

My future living room.

Shop Colors

This toilet paper was on psychedelics.

"No wheely grocery cart should ever be without the handy-dandy BAGUETTE POCKET!"

I wanted to buy one but they were not for sale.

The Beautiful Nudes

At The Louvre

Tassels.

Presenting the Mona Lisa:

A Matter of Taste…

........& Pizza Pasta.