Thursday, December 24, 2009

children get older, I'm getting older too

There's been a lot of change in the past month. I turned 29. My adviser returned my thesis to me. And my brother (plus sister-in-law and the four niecettes) moved to New Jersey. In the scheme of things it is probably my brother's move that is the most monumental, though it's difficult to feel from so far away and so far removed from myself. Birthdays happen and my thesis is inching closer to being done, just as it was a few months ago, but the change in my brother's life actually effects the makeup of our family. My parents are slightly hysterical about the fact that their grandaughters are now a two hour plane ride away as opposed to a two minute drive and I'm beginning to fear that Chicago as home won't be home without my brother, sister-in-law and those four little rascals there to greet me. I know I won't see them any less or be any less part of their lives, but I've always sort of taken it for granted that this story would play out in the place I know best and that home would somehow grow and age, but not change. The move necsitates a reimagining of the future and reevaluation of rootedness. As for my parents, this will probably change the way they relate to all their children. It is hard to know, now that we have all moved away from Chicago, whether we will be more adult in their eyes, or whether they will just hold on tighter. Who knows? I for one, am looking forward to now having to deal with my brother on his own terms. Until now family news has been, for the most part, filtered through my parents. Now, I'll have to get it from the horse's mouth. It will hopefully be a maturing of a relationship that should have grown up years ago.
As for my birthday, it was a birthday, low-key and friend-filled. There are more changes for me in the near-future. Once I hand my final draft of my thesis in, it's a whole new world- one that will hopefully include a job and culinary courses, but that's still over the horizon, west of the sun. One day at a time.

Book Rec: The Likeness, Tana French

Thesis Watch: There is nothing more tedious than editing footnotes

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thank you providence

I am pleased to report that this thanksgiving featured neither illness nor gas shortage; just good friends, good food and a turkey named Margaret (who, yes, was also good food, but since she was the main event I feel that she warrants a category all of her own).

As I said at the meal, I am thankful for thankfulness- that I have been instilled with a sense of gratitude that is not specified by its religiosity, but is rather secular and all-encompassing. Thankfulness is a great unifier. All of us, regardless of which deity or non-deity we believe in possess the ability to consider those things which we are grateful for in our lives. During my childhood thanksgivings in America, there was a sense (that is still with me today), that on this holiday as opposed to all the other holidays specific to us as Jews, we joined a larger mass of humanity in the celebration of thankfulness. And for this I am thankful.

Thesis Watch: It's in the hands of my adviser now

Book Rec: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stand in the place where you are

Every time I visit Chicago I engage in a small, personal ritual- the last day of my trip, sometimes just a few hours before I get on a plane I drive out to the lake and stand for 10 minutes, or 5, or however long I have, saying goodbye. The lake is always itself- shaded blue and green and brown under a wide American sky. On my left, to the north, the water stretches and flattens the horizon, reaching out to unseen places. And to the right, looking southward, the city is a grey silhouette, standing watch. I do not know how to describe the meaning of this ritual. It is inextractalbe from myself and without words. I leave you with pictures.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'll meet you somewhere down the road

Last night I emailed a pretty much finished draft (sans edited footnotes and bibliography) to my adviser. Thesis watch: 72 pages including Appendix A. I am: relieved, happy, sad and considering having an identity crisis. What does one do when they've handed off two years of their life? Wait for feedback, I guess.
Now I am off to Chicago to see family and friends and to sit by the lake and watch the leaves turn.

Cubbie Watch: The eternal cry-Next Year! (can we have Kerry back please?)

Book Rec: The Miss Hempel Chronicles, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

Sunday, September 6, 2009

walk through the fire

This is not the post I had intended to write. I had been planning to write about "Into the Wild" a movie that I thought was wonderful, but also scared me half to death. Instead real life came along and scared me half to death.
I can honestly say that up until this point I have never, in all my 28 years, found a reason to be scared walking alone. This past Thursday I especially had no reason to fear. It was bright bright Jerusalem morning. I was walking through a wooded area I know well, in a neighborhood that I spent many a childhood vacation exploring. Above me was a row of apartment buildings and the bustle of human life, below me-the main road and beyond it the parkland of the Valley of the Cross. I turned a sharp bend in the path to see a young man walking toward me. My first thought was that he didn't belong there- there was something in his manner and dress that was out of place. This was a path for joggers and dog walkers. He was dressed casually in a white t-shirt and aviator glasses, but he was too meticulous, too sterile for this little piece of nature. He stopped as I passed him and turned to ask me something. I couldn't hear him- the radio was blasting in my ears. I took out my earphones. He said, in Hebrew- how old are you? I must have smirked I was so taken aback. I put my earphones back in and continued walking. I walked a few steps and then glanced back, he too had walked a few steps away from me but then turned around and was hurrying towards me. I walked faster. I could hear the cars a few feet below me and see the the tops the edges of the apartment buildings through the trees above me, but at this point it was just me and him on the path and a long winding stretch of space until the street. He grabbed my arm when he reached me- not hard, but strong enough to make me recoil. Hey, he said, still in Hebrew, I asked you a question. I said, in English, I'm sorry I don't speak any Hebrew. I moved my feet. I kept on going forward. I asked you a question, his English was angry. I'm very busy, I replied. I'm on my way to work. He looked at me sharply then. He paused. He turned around and went the other way. I stumbled my way down to the street, glancing behind me all the while. There are numerous paths down through trees. Who knows if he would be waiting for me at the bottom? I almost asked the man I saw walking his dog, making his way up the path I had just come down to walk with me a few steps. I didn't. I kept to the main road. I called a friend. I made it to work.
Understand this- I am very small. Walking as I was, with a backpack on my back, I could easily be mistaken for a child. Understand this also-there is a school 1/8 of a mile down that path. And understand this-nothing happened. I was asked my age. My arm was grabbed-was touched. But in the space of a second I was a victim. I was ten feet in either direction from a road. I was a half a block from my adopted grandmother's apartment. I was isolated and I was completely vulnerable. There is so much unfairness in this-that with one question and one gesture I can become undone. I don't know what this guy was looking for, but I do know that he made me feel intensely unsafe. I was angry, at first, that someone could do that to me- that someone could take a childhood place and make it dangerous-that all my safety was just an illusion. By the time I got home later that day, I was scared. I jumped at every noise. I refused to be alone. I was told that leaving the house again was essential- like getting back on a horse after a fall. I've gotten back on quite a few horses in my lifetime. So on Friday I took a deep breath and got back on the horse.
I was considering going to the police- not for myself, but on the chance that he thought I was a girl, on the chance that its the schools he's interested in. But I'm honestly not sure of the reality of the situation. Maybe he was just slightly imbalanced. Maybe he was just really annoyed that I didn't answer his question. Who knows? All I know is that I was scared and I have never been before and that in and of itself is terrifying.

Thesis watch: 1.2 a chapter, footnotes and bibliography

Music Rec: Once more, with feeling- Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Cubbie Watch: I can't look.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee

August 22 was the one year anniversary of this blog. I seem to have completely let it pass me by, which is a testament to how preoccupied I am with other things (read: the rapidly approaching deadline for handing in my thesis). I do have a longer post planned, but that will have to wait. In the meantime happy anniversary, Innisfree.

Thesis Watch:Um, we're not talking about that right now, ok.

Book Rec: The Latke Hamentash-Debate

Cubbie Watch: And here comes the freefall, whee.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I am moving, hence the radio silence. The movers are coming at 7:30 on Friday morning, which is possibly the worst time in the world. (Friday is like Sunday around here. Also, Friday ends early because of the Sabbath, which means no work after sundown. Also, this Friday comes directly after this Thursday, which is one of the two 25 hour-fast days of the Jewish calendar. Fun.) As of now I am frantically packing and learning new ways to try and kill myself in my obstacle course of an apartment. So no time for writing, cooking or thinking. See you on the flip side.

Thesis watch: Ha!

Book Rec: Books are packed, sorry.

Cubbie Watch: We took first place. How did that happen?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feed your head

It has been hot as hell around here lately, making the thought of eating hot food slightly unbearable. So this weekend faced with the prospect of feeding 12 people, I decided that the meal should resemble a picnic and feature lots of different salads and absolutely nothing that requires oven mitts. On the menu was Mark Bittman's Tomato-Melon Gazpacho (which is fast becoming the go-to recipe for cold summer soup in this household), as well as his Bean Salad (Italian Style), Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Salad which I yanked from Bon Appetit via and Santa Rosa Plum Crumble (another summer favorite), among other tasty salad and not so salad-like items. (Yes, this is a lot of food. It's in my genes- I can't help it. It was my sister and me in the kitchen. "We don't have enough food" neuroses abound.) I'm sharing the chicken salad recipe. It was super easy and really good. Lemon and tarragon are the sandals and short skirts of summer fare-light and elegant. We ate it for three days straight-over lettuce and in sandwich form. Highly recommended.

Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Salad
Adapted from Bon Apettit, August 2001, via Epicurious

1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about 3)

3/4 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
, plus a handful for the poaching liquid
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Bring large saucepan of salted water (or chicken broth, if you so desire) to boil. Add a handful of tarragon sprigs and chicken breasts; reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; cool.

Mix celery, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, onion, tarragon, lemon juice, and lemon peel in large bowl to blend. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch cubes; stir into mayonnaise mixture. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

Serves 6.

In other unrelated news, I am moving at the end of this month, I need to finish my thesis by the middle of September and last night I went out on a blind date that was so bad it could have been a scene out of a rom-com (you know, part of that ubiquitous montage of bad dates that the heroine has to endure before she meets the one. I'm not so fond of rom-coms, but maybe that's because I have been on one too many bad dates) It was so awful it was funny. But these are tales for another post.

Thesis Watch: See above

Music Rec: Kings of the Rodeo, Kings of Leon

Cubbie Watch: How is it that we suck and yet are only 3.5 games out? It's like a cosmic tease or something.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

About three years ago the son of close family friends was severely injured while serving in the Israeli army. He was, in a way typical to this family, highly motivated, overachieving soldier, commanding troops during the second Lebanon war. His experience was particularly harrowing. A few days before he was injured he took part in a mission to extricate the bodies of his fallen comrades from behind enemy lines. One of those fallen soldiers was his best friend. A few days later he was back in the field. He stood up at the top of his tank to gain a better look at the landscape and that moment his tank was hit. For the first few days it was unclear whether he would live. For the first few weeks it was certain that he would lose a leg. He didn't. In a miraculous turn of events, he lived and kept both his legs. He'll use crutches for the rest of his life-but he walks. And despite all the trauma he has maintained a surprising level of normalcy in his life. Last year he started medical school. A few weeks ago he got married. A miracle indeed.
To me, his injury three years should have been just one more step in the process of my naturalization as a member of Israeli society. After all, in my 6 some years here I have lived through two wars, been witness to a terrorist attack and in this, begun to experience the awful diminishing in degrees of separation between myself and loss. But three years ago, when it happened, I didn't feel that way. The American in me, or maybe the me in me, could only feel this widening gap between myself and these family friends whom I had been so close to. With this tragedy they had taken their place in the Israeli national religious ethos. It seemed to me that the belief, which perhaps they had always held, that there is meaning in suffering for one's country, that the scars we bare are honorable, and that we must heal clean and fast, lest we show weakness, now became paramount. And all I could think was, what a waste. What a bloody damn waste is war.
A few months after their son's injury I spent a weekend at their home, as I often did. The house was filled with noise and laughter. Their son, still in his wheelchair at that point, was always surrounded by a protective bubble of rambunctious friends and family. He went out and raced through the streets of their small town, with sheer determination and no sign of consternation on his face at all. Their daughter's boyfriend was visiting, there were mouths to feed and things to discuss. Life continued and I could barely breathe. And then, in the middle of it all the youngest daughter, who was then just barely an adolescent, threw a tantrum in the way only a pre-adolescent can. There was screaming and tears and slamming of doors and dramatic pronouncements. If I recall correctly the tantrum was centered on an article of clothing and its lack of availability. It was the most hopeful thing I had witnessed all weekend. It meant more than the laughter and the motherly advice in the kitchen; more than the sight of an injured boy getting up on his own two feet and shuffling his way from wheelchair to chair- here was proof of life.
I don't mean to sound derisive or condescending. I believe in their belief. I believe that it has power and meaning. I'm aware of the strength and courage that faith like that demands. I admire it. I admire the tenacity of spirit and self-assured belief in the value of the sacrifices made. I admire the determination it takes to allow life to go on. But I also find it terribly claustrophobic. It doesn't leave room for doubt, or anger or grief. It doesn't acknowledge weakness or loss. It doesn't allow for anything other than a love of country and people above all. But why can't there be room for sorrow? Why can't we mourn the loss of a boy who will never run again? Why can't we acknowledge the sheer horror of his experiences? Why can't we throw a tantrum? Does the belief that most war is just one terrible waste inherently negate the meaning of loss? Can one still believe in the nobility of sacrifice without believing in its inherent value?
All of these questions visited me again a few weeks ago at this young man's wedding. It was a huge, highly emotional affair. But I found myself strangely unmoved. I didn't cry as he walked on his own two feet toward his bride to cover her face. I didn't cry when the father of his dead friend stood up as a witness under the wedding canopy. Even the smashing of the glass,with all its potent symbolism, left my cheeks dry. Only later, at the site of his whole family (new wife included) dancing together was I moved to tears. They stood in a haphazard circle with their arms wrapped around each, broken yet whole in the way of all families- with their own private dynamics and emotions; their own ebb and flow. It was the sheer intimacy of the moment that got to me. It was the private joy; the private love. Here was healing. The music played but they swayed with their own rhythm, and in that moment I almost believed.

Thesis Watch: 16 pages into the second draft.

Book Rec: Until the End of the Land, David Grossman

Cubbie Watch: Ugh.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Forays into food

A few weeks ago I decided that I desperately, desperately needed to make delkalach for the summer holiday of Shavuot (Pentacost). Delkalach are a barely sweet, yeasty Hungarian cheese pastry that, courtesy of my grandmother, would always grace our tables for the holiday. I'd never made delkalach before, but I figured it was worth a try. Since I have not yet mastered the art of food writing, I'm just going to post some pictures (with comments) detailing my adventure in Hungarian pastry making.

The Cheese:

My grandmother uses farmer's cheese*, which doesn't exist here in Israel, so I decided to use a mix of equal parts ricotta and tuv tam (a soft, crumbly cheese with a bit of a tang, like farmer's), which needed to be drained overnight to get it dry enough to resemble the farmer's cheese my grandmother uses. I lined a strainer with some coffee filters, placed it over a bowl and left it to drain overnight in the fridge.
Mise en Place

I just really like using that term.

The Dough, pre-rise

What a nice, soft yeasty dough it was.

Strawberries, duh

While the dough was rising, I cleaned the oven (ugh) and quickly put these lovely strawberries (which my sister so nicely washed and hulled for me) up to stew with some sugar, a slice of ginger, a chili pepper and a few cinnamon sticks. Strawberry soup in the making. By then the dough had risen and was ready to be rolled out. By then I had also realized that I had lent out my rolling pin to a neighbor months ago. So I left the strawberries simmering and ran to retrieve my rolling pin, hoping that the dough would not over-rise and deflate, or anything else my overactive imagination could come up with as the consequences of not following my grandmother's very vague instructions to a tee. Upon my return I discovered that the strawberries had boiled over and my once clean range was now covered in sticky bright red ooze. Yum. The dough, however was just fine.



Cheese, a very little bit of sugar and an egg to bind it.

And here we go

Delkelach are a bother and a half to make. The dough has to be rolled out into a thin (but not too thin) rectangle and then cut into 3 inch squares. The squares are then filled- (I actually did not fill mine enough. My grandmother said to use a teaspoon full of filling and I ended up using about a half a teaspoon-full. The cheese was barely discernible in the end product, which is what happens when you don't follow your grandmother's instructions to a tee. In my defense though, this was the first time I was making them and I was having visions of exploded cheese pastry all over my clean oven.)- and folded into a cute little packet. It's fun the first 20 times you do it, but when you get to cute little packet number 35, you're slamming the little buggers into untidy square shaped things, all the while cursing yourself for every thinking that this was a good idea.

It was worth it in the end

Aren't they pretty, the little darlings?

So what did you think of this foray into food-writing. Good? Bad? Should I post more of the same (after all I have a running commentary going in my head every time I make dinner. All I need to do is take pictures). Should I start working on my photography skills?

Thesis watch: I gave a lecture. There were blank faces. My advisor liked it though

Book Rec: The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters

Cubbie Watch: 2 games over .500. 3.5 games back. Our bullpen sucks. I miss Kerry. Can we have our Kerry back now please?

*Ah, yes, the cheese. Evidently, farmer's cheese is actually a substitute for the traditional Hungarian soft cheese called tourosh (or something like that), which is found nowhere in the world except Hungary. Or at least that's what my uncle says, and my uncle knows all. So I don't feel all that bad about my lack of farmer's cheese.

**Also, I have been trying and trying to figure out how to create an expandable post, so that these ultra long posts don't take up so much space. If anyone can give me a tutorial on how to change my template please speak up. Thanks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All the vampires walking through the valley

I have recently just finished re-reading "Sunshine" by Robin McKinley, for about the millionth time. McKinley, for those of you who haven't read anything by her, is a prolific writer of young adult fiction, and is mostly known for her retelling of fairy tales (she's done Beauty and the Beast twice) and her fictional world of Damar. "Sunshine" is neither for young adults, nor is it a retelling of a fairy-tale (sort of, it does have a Beauty and the Beast bent to it. McKinley, just can't seem to stay away from that one.) It is an adult novel involving vampires. It is not McKinley's best book (that would probably be the Hero and the Crown, or maybe the Door in the Hedge), and to be honest, it can be quite squicky, (what with all the blood and gore and demons and vampires having their hearts pulled out), and slow at times. It is also one of my favorite comfort books. In part because it reminds me of my family.
The main character of this story (which is set in a world much like our own, except, you know with magic and vampires and whatnot), is a young woman aptly called Sunshine who is the baker in step-father's cafe. The cafe and her bakery are her life. Her boyfriend is the cook. Her mother is the manager. It is an all encompassing place, where vagabonds are taken in and fed and the staff become members of the family. I know that place. That place where everyone is taken in and made to feel like family, where the feed-people gene is dominant to the point of running rampant is my parent's house. There is a sense of home that pervades McKinleys very evocative descriptions of the coffeehouse that I very much identify with. I feel Sunshine's comfort and ease in the liveliness and structure depicted even if I myself have never woken up at 4 am to make Cinnamon Rolls as Big a Your Head as she does. In the book the coffeehouse is Sunshine's center and grounding place, just as my parent's house is to me. But this is not the only, or even the main reason why I am so fond of this book. Ulitimately, Sunshine is about coming into your own power.
I have always thought that the real world should have sign posted at the enterence that reads: Here there be vampires. Or at the very least, dragons. Magical worlds, after all, are just a metaphor for our own. As with most books set in fantastical worlds, in this book the young protagonist learns that she has magical powers. In this case, it is an affinity for vampires. But unlike most books of this genre (say, Harry Potter, or any other, "hey, the kid's got magic" book) it is not about the responsibility that comes with power, rather it is a metaphor for the things people give us and how we make them our own. Sunshine receives many things from many people over the course of the book- her ability to do magic from her absent father and grandmother, healing and night vision from a vampire, a sense of her own strength from a kindly neighbor, love and privacy from her boyfriend and aid from a friend-and she takes all these things and learns to kick evil's ass. But kicking evil's ass is not the point of the book. Sunshine spends most of the book thinking she's about to die- not because she has some fairly scary vampires on her tail (or rather not only because of the vampires)- but because she is terrified that her powers can do only harm; that in accepting magic and vampire into her life means a life is fractured beyond repair. The book's resolution in not in the destruction of the big scary evil, but in a coming to terms of an identity.
For me, going home to Chicago is a sort of remembering of myself. There I am faced with all the people and things that I am made of. My family, my friends, the city, the lake. It is a good place. I firmly believe that everyone should have a place like that in their soul- where everything is easy and familiar and etched into your being. But I always have some difficulty taking home back with me and making it my own. I am never quite sure that my life is not fractured beyond repair. There is here and there is there andnever the twain shall meet. But somehow, something must come together. Somehow, I must become a cohesive person. So I read Sunshine. I take comfort in the metaphor. I cannot even really verbalize the pieces of myself, let alone make them coherent, which is why there is so much about a book and so little about myself in this post and for that I apologize. For now the fable will have to do.

"This was now my life: Cinnamon rolls, Sunshine's Eschatology, seeing in the dark, charms that burned into my flesh where I could not lose them. A special relationship with the Special Other Forces, where not everybody was on the same side. A landlady who's a wardskeeper. Untidy closets. Vampires.
Get used to it, Sunshine
I came out of the closet wearing black jeans and a charcoal gray T-shirt I had always hated. And red sneakers. Hey, red turns gray in the dark faster than any other color.
He held out his hand. 'Come then,' he said.
I went out with him into the night."

Book Rec: The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley

Thesis Watch: Lecture, June 2.

Cubbie Watch: Too early to tell.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In my head there's a railroad station

I have been meaning to write a post about my trip back to Chicago for a while now, but somehow have not gotten myself together to be able to express myself in any coherent sense. Returning to my family and childhood friends is always both exhilarating and taxing. It takes me a while to categorize and identify the emotional weight of my experience. It will come, eventually.

But, apropos of the day (memorial day, here in Israel) I give you this:

The dove, too, flies down from its perch
to stand at attention.
Wings hunched, a listening twist
of its head:
These humans they are so noisy in their death.

Book rec: Home, Marilynne Robinson

Cubbie Watch: Thinking about it.

Thesis watch: I can has a structure please?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It ain't over...

I am going out with non-coffee drinking guy again tonight. Just 'cuz.

On the thesis front, I met with my adviser this past Sunday and while he likes my work and would like for me to give a lecture in a seminar he's teaching, he also would like me to re-structure the whole entire thing. Yes, that's right, my 70 pages must be completely re-done. So yeah, all that crap in my last post about my thesis-ending existential crisis, is now no longer relevant.

Slightly very overwhelmed and frustrated.

Also, the pre-seeing my family freakout has officially begun.

Thesis Watch: fuckity fuck.

Music Rec: Johnny Cash "One"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I tried dancing on a Saturday night just to see what the fuss was about

Let me get this straight from the outset. I like dating. I like the possibility of a held hand; the anticipation of intimacy. And to be honest this blind date was not bad on the scale of blind dates. However, I was slightly at a loss to discover that this youngish man does not drink coffee or alchohol, or enjoy movies or food. It is always a bad sign when you're drinking coffee and he's drinking white hot chocolate on a first date. This man eats to stave hunger and he sleeps so as not to be tired. He seems utterly uninterested in exploring the world as it is. His saving grace is his British sense of humor and his obvious enthusiasm for English literature, which he studies. If a man has no vices, he should at least have a passion, or three. There should be a hint of something under his skin. We sat there for a few hours, chatting and I found myself wondering, despite our pleasant conversation, if this is really where I want to be at 7:30 on a Thursday night. Can my life be reduced to a life of the mind augmented by hot chocolate? Is this who I am?
This is obviously about more than just this one date. It is a question I have been asking myself as I am approaching the end of my thesis. I will soon have to make a decision as to whether I want to continue on to a PhD and stay within the confines of the academy. As odd as this is to say aloud, my thesis has been my friend for the past two years and academia my home since I started my schooling. I'm good at it. I always have been. After all, I went to a university where the cultivation of life of the mind is the prime objective; where the t-shirts read "that's all good and fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?" and I thrived there. And yet, I have been feeling lately that I want to do something else; something more visceral and palpable. I want to cook in restaurant kitchen, to open doors to other worlds with food; to watch the eyes of a child light up as they find Middle Earth; I want to feel the slick velvet oil of a horse's hide through my fingers; to come home dirty and grimy and aching with sun and a hurt that reminds me of my body's existence. I want to earn my money by the sweat of my brow and not the grace of a university donor.
And yes, I know, joining the academic world does not negate the possibilities of any of these endeavors. And yes, I know it to be a truth about myself, that like the young man I went out with, I am happiest where I am comfortable; where I know the language, the code of behavior and I don't often venture outside the realm of the already known. But there is another part of me as well. It is the part of me that revels in new places; in taking an experience into myself and walking the world with it;. It is the part of me that wants to be in Paris in early morning light and mist; to learn to dance Flamenco like I saw in Madrid and to ride a rodeo in the shadow of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. It is the part of me in sitting in a bar, waiting for the "hey, baby, can I buy you a drink?"
So whoever you are, I want you to come, walk this world with me.

Thesis Watch: Still at page 68

Book Rec: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sounds of silence

Last June I decided to move out of the apartment I had been living in for the past four years. I was determined to live alone. I was coming off of a horrific roommate experience-one that kept me shaking with fury most days- and I wanted nothing more than my own space, my own sunlight across a tiled floor, my own silence. Instead, come August, I found myself in a new apartment living with my sister.
My younger sister and I shared a room for most of our lives, so sharing an apartment just seemed like a continuation of the way things had always been. Of course, we both threw minor fits in the weeks before we moved in, culminating in my sister reconsidering her decision about a week before the moving trucks arrived. We created elaborate rules, hoping to maintain a sense of independence and a life separate from one another. Within a week the rules and the fear induced hissy fits disappeared. After a string of roommates whose lifestyles needed to be accommodated and learned, there is nothing quite like living with a sister. We settled into a comfortable pattern of domesticity- I cook, she washes. She mops, I sweep. I stumble into her room at 6:30 (if I'm lucky) a.m. to feed the cat and then stumble back into bed, she wakes an hour later and makes coffee while I sleep. Some nights we sit and talk. Some nights, when we both come home late and grumpy, we retreat with our computers to our respective rooms and shout inconsequential greetings at each other from across the hallway.
There are drawbacks to this sort of living situation, the foremost one being that when my sister is gone I miss her. She went to the states last week for a friend's wedding and left me with the apartment to myself for a week and a half. When I was living with said horrific roommate I used to treasure my solitude and independence. Cooking for myself was one of the most satisfactory things I could do. I like to think that those are things that I still treasure. My sister left last Wednesday night. By Thursday the silence felt oppressive and the prospect of cooking dinner almost brought me to tears. The joy in sharing a good meal, in feeding someone, is exponential to that of eating alone. And yet, somehow, on Saturday night when my plans to go out with a friend fell through I was glad. I didn't miss my sister any less, but I liked the silence more. I felt that I needed it to brace me for the week ahead. (and what a doozy of a week it has been). I still would rather share my food, but I also have forced myself to rediscover the joy of cooking for oneself. I was glad on Tuesday, when my good friend who is visiting from the states arrived to stay for a few days. I am also glad for these few minutes when she is off seeing relatives and I have this small calm in which to write. It's a balance, I guess, finding those things you wish to share and those you wish to keep to yourself. I'll find it. Maybe the key is having someone who will make you coffee in the morning but understand when you need to drink it alone.

Two random things I will never understand:
1) Why the old Russian ladies wear makeup in the pool.
2) Why the food at haredi weddings must inherently be cold and crappy.

Also, I miss my sister.

Book Rec: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Thesis Watch: Page 68.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Devil in the White City

I find that there is a certain intimacy in shared favorite books that is unlike any other sort of closeness. It is a sort of delight and thrill in knowing that there is a part of yourself that you need not explain to the person beside you. Some of my dearest friendships have begun with the discovery these new acquaintances of mine spent their youth devouring "The Chronicles of Prydian", or "Johnny Tremain" just as I did. Now, we have graduated to trading P.D. James, Marilynne Robinson, and Richard Russo with one another, but it is still the same concept. No matter how our lives differ the knowledge that we share an inner world; that our emotional pitch resonates at the same frequency always bonds us.
I arrived home last Thursday night and stood for a few minutes in my front hallway,feeling the need to reacquaint myself with my own apartment. I was returning from Tel Aviv where I had had a decidedly odd experience.When I started out earlier that afternoon I had expected to wander about Bogroshof street for a while, perusing the shops, stopping by the sea and eventually meeting up with my cousin Jason and his friend Josh. What I found instead was Josh, Jason and 20 year old one night stand. Honestly, I had no idea what to do. How does one relate? Is there an accepted etiquette for this sort of situation? If there is, I have no clue what it is. Now I don't begrudge Jason his fun on his vacation and I did end up having a good time, but this situation certainly upped the ante for the "most awkward evening ever" award, especially considering the fact that at some point in the evening I found myself at said one night stand's apartment, sitting on the couch, watching Miss Congeniality.
However, at some point during our wanderings in some strange social dimension I found myself deep in conversation with Josh. We began talking about books, and, as we sat in a bar in Florentine, of languages and a love of knowledge. It occurred to me that it had been a while since I felt this engaged. The bar was crowded, noisy and hot. We were talking Syriac and the early gospels, with the firm knowledge that both of us like Empire Falls and Michael Chabon. What could be better? I left the white city feeling just a little bummed that Josh a) doesn't live in Israel, b) isn't religious and most crucially c) has a girlfriend; and more importantly, feeling more corporeal than I had when I arrived in the city- as if a part of me had found itself once again and taken form.
For the past while I have been feeling slightly dissatisfied with my life as a single woman in the Jerusalem religious community. I have long stopped going to synagogue on Shabbat partially because I need the quiet and partially because I always get the feeling standing amidst the throngs of people that to them I ought to be something that I'm not. I am entirely unsure of what I'm meant to be, but whatever it is, I'm not it. I am perpetually on the periphery- that girl at the who somehow ends up in the corner juggling her drink and plate and is always wearing the wrong thing. In some sense I take refuge in being that person- it's a safe person to be- but there is also a sense in which I feel that I am not engaged; that despite the very palpable common ground that I have with many of the people I interact with in a social religious context, there are not very many of them with whom to discuss books and knowledge.
This is not to say that I have lost my faith- not at all. It is simply that my religiosity is private. A while ago I was at a Friday night dinner where the conversation somehow turned to prayer and how one should react when their prayers are not answered. There was a sharpness to my realization that despite the fact that I, like all the guests at the meal was a young educated religious woman, I didn't feel like I belonged at that table at all; that there was not one person there who I felt I could really talk to. I pray every day, but I do not ask for anything. In fact, I don't think. The liturgy is in my blood, why would I need to think? But even if I did ask for things in my prayers, I would never talk about it. My dialog with with God is sacred and mine alone. As the girls around me talked I felt so completely apart and so completely out of my element- much like I did last Thursday night sitting on the couch in a strange apartment watching Miss Congeniality.
And yet, I don't belong in a bar in Florentine either. As comfortable as I felt talking with Josh, there was still so much I couldn't- and didn't -want to explain to him- my religious life being just one of them. And as cozy and welcoming as that neighborhood bar was, I know it's not my place. I'm not sure where my place is. Sometimes I feel that my life is increasingly being marked by all the things I cannot explain and all the places I don't precisely belong.
It's not so bad, I suppose. There's always the sea, the sky and the prayer of man.

Book Rec: Straight Man, Richard Russo

Thesis Watch: 50 pages and Islamic sources.