In the late 90’s I was living in San Francisco after a ten-year stretch in good ‘ole HLC (Holy Land Central). Despite my Americana background, the culture shock associated with the transition back was literally painful at times.
One early summer afternoon feeling acute pangs of longing due to dear friend Malcolm’s departure to England earlier that day, I sat on the stoop of the Victorian I shared with Israeli roommate Vavi sinking into my sadness. Rounding the street corner and clearly searching for a specific address, a lanky fellow wearing tight drain pipes approached and asked in heavily Hebrew accented English: Is Vavi here? He had watery, gray-blue eyes.
She wasn’t due back for several hours but he sat down anyway, unwittingly commencing “The Summer of Nikko”.
An early 20’s aspiring chef looking to make his mark, Nikko had been advised by mutual Tel Aviv friends to contact Vavi for professional leads. He hoped she might help him get a foothold. She didn’t. But he and I became inseparable. We shared movies, dinners, museums, drawn out telephone talks, cafes, platonic sleepovers, parties, shopping, walks in the park, city scouting and mostly talking.
Nikko verbalized the isms of American life that made us both squirm.
I’m calling you from the street corner. A little girl holding a junkie’s hand was just led down the street sobbing, I had to step over a collapsed homeless person to get to the ATM machine and someone just vomited on the sidewalk and then carried on walking. This is normal life here?!?!?
And he coined the phrase “parva” as in: American life is not milchik or fleishik. It’s parva. Something’s missing.
Mostly Nikko talked about dreams. Flamboyant & colorful dreams for his future. To be a successful chef, author books, find lasting love, own a restaurant and host a cooking program he would star in. He even had a local artist draw sketches of the would-be television set of his dreams.
He didn’t have the patience to sling hummus at a Berkeley dive while waiting to realize his ambitions so he cut out after two months and headed to Paris for an externship. He then returned to Israel and we’ve been in contact on and off since. I’ve stayed with him on holiday visits, phoned on occasion, sent postcards and yesterday, we sat together over coffee – our first rendezvous in 5 years.
Nikko is more reserved these days and seems tired. He doesn’t laugh as readily nor does he yelp with delight as was his habit in the past. But chasing dreams can do that to a person, especially if he ends up catching them.
Nikko realized every last one. He opened not one but three successful Jaffa establishments, authored three cookbooks, travels the world as a lecturing “Israeli Ambassador d’Cuisine”, found a life partner and his t.v show has garnered him HLC celebrity status.
Israelis know him as Nir Tzuk. To me he’s still Nikko. Nikko who helped me get through the summer of longing and who illustrated by example how vision can actualize into reality.
“That and damned hard work!” he said yesterday.