Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

The Globo-Life August 15, 2010

Years ago while sitting in a San Francisco cafe, I moaned to an Israeli friend: “I like being here but I miss Israel.  And when I’m in Israel the things that drive me crazy there make me want to come back to the States!  I’ve moved around so many times I feel like it’s time to make a decision about where to settle down but I just don’t know where that should be!”

My friend, bless her Zen-filled heart, replied calmly:  “Why?  Why not be a global citizen?  That’s the way I feel.  I’m  comfortable wherever I go.  Of course there are places I prefer to be but I’ve learned to relax, enjoy and take the best of what each place has to offer wherever I am.”

I didn’t get it.  My then-mindset dictated a MUST DECIDE attitude backed by conviction that loyalty to one-place-only indicated good sense.  Die hard locale fidelity was my internal dictator.

But this summer the meaning of her advice clicked.  And as the surreal nature of realizations go, it hit me head-on right in the middle of a two-step move to Toby Keith’s Trailerhood as I line danced with total strangers in a small Cincinnati working class neighborhood bar.

I spend summers in Cincinnati with my 8-year-old so that he can get to know his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, go to an English speaking summer camp and gain exposure to the multi-cultural experience of Israel versus the U.S. For me it’s a break from the intensity of Mid-East living and work and it’s also an opportunity to spend quality time with family and loved ones.

Thanks to Facebook, I started reconnecting with old Cincinnati friends each year, adding a dimension of fun and depth to our stays.

Over steamy cups of coffee and at dinners, parties, meetings, restaurant openings, Salsa on the Square, movie nights and art exhibits or during hours spent poolside, on shopping excursions and meeting new people via my old friends, I discovered I have arrived. I am globalized.

Because as I broke into a slight sweat alongside our a 60+ year-old line dance instructor Patty all decked out in her denim miniskirt and matching vest that I was reminded of Tel Aviv.  Saturday morning folk dance sessions along the Med pulsate to different strains but the Patty’s, Rex’s, Letta’s and Jimmy’s of Western Hills are alive and well inside the bodies of the Itziks, Chanas, Loolees and Shai’s of Israel.

As one friend shared the story of her beloved husband succumbing to cancer, another talked about Botox treatments, others spoke of job and financial woes,  methods for cutting costs in a flagging economy, choosing an education plan  for a 1st grader and facing the challenges of elder parent care, I realized I was physically in Cincinnati.  But I had lived all of these talks in Tel Aviv.  And Paris, London, Thailand and Singapore.

Vive la difference, I didn’t have to choose anymore.  I was having a damned good time with my global family and friends and rather than seeing the differences that separate us all, I was noticing the similarities forging our paths.

SO…..to my collaborating partners in crime – dear family, global friends, colleagues and an extra special someone held close to my heart:  Thank you for conspiring with me to make life richer, fuller, more meaningful and funner wherever I go

See you next year…..!

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Israel & the Oscars: Round Three February 3, 2010

There’s a Hebrew saying two acquaintances exchange when unexpectedly running into each other twice within the same day or week:  “If we see each other a third time, you buy me ice cream!”

I thought about that yesterday when the American Academy announced Israeli film Ajami as an Oscar contender in the Best Foreign Film category.  This is the third year running for Israeli films to be nominated in the foreign movie category and I’m hoping it’s “third time lucky”.  Third time ice-cream.

I have to admit, though, that yesterday’s announcement took me by surprise.  I didn’t expect Ajami to make the short list.  And that’s because – and here goes another admission – I made an ignorant, snap judgment about the movie and wrote it off.

Months ago I attended Israel’s  version of the Oscars – the Ophir Awards – and watched, unimpressed, as Ajami knocked out Venice Film Festival winner Lebanon to take top honors.  This will never make it to the Oscars, thought I.  Not that I had seen any of the Best Film competitors…My opinion was based upon seeing the trailers before and during the ceremony.  And I was appalled.  Ajami appeared as an amateurish piece of work featuring non-professional actors and dealing with local crime issues.  This will never get picked up.

After yesterday’s announcement – and considering the fact that I am on deadline to write a story about it- I sprinted to a midday movie screening to come up to speed.

Hours later, I am still processing what I saw.

The film is good.  Really good.  It’s complicated and intense and brilliant and it’s a microcosm within a microcosm  with numerous parallels, messages and sub-plots – so many that it was a bit mind-boggling.  The story takes place mostly in the Ajami Quarter of south Tel Aviv’s mixed Arab-Israeli Jaffa enclave and it deals with issues faced by local residents while simultaneously fanning out as far as the West Bank and southern Israel.

In addressing local issues, it manages to touch on the Arab-Israeli conflict, poverty, organized crime, scandal, co-existence, futility, loss and the simultaneous complex& simple mix that is life  in this part of the world.  The actors were all non-professional – I nailed that one during my trailer viewing – and this is a first film for Arab and Israeli co-directors/writers/producers Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani.

I won’t give away plots or divulge anything about the characters or story but I will say that I walked away with a few distinct impressions:

1) Like it or not, the Israelis and Arabs living in this region are inextricably linked.  For better or worse.

2) That saying “It’s all Good”?  It’s not.

3) I got scared for a bit watching the film and contemplating where I live…the deception, thuggery, payoffs, crime, big shark eats small fish messages.  Then I remembered:  Oh yeah.  It’s the same everywhere.

I’ll be pulling up to the t.v. set on March 7th with my bowl of ice cream.  I hope third time charm works its magic.

 

Death and Facebook December 11, 2009

I love Facebook.  Since signing on a few years ago, I have met new people, hooked up with loads of old friends, laid some ancient squabbles to rest and scored invites to parties, political events, gallery showings and lectures.

My armchair voyeur side enjoys viewing pictures and perusing real time text depicting the diverse lives my friends and family lead.  From reading one friend’s description of Japan’s meticulous recycle and trash laws to following scores of Cincinnati friends’ enthusiastic postings about the local college football team to friending and helping out a fellow journalist I admire,  to keeping up with popular culture:

But there’s one wee kink I think Facebook has yet to iron out.

A few weeks ago, a pop up window appeared on my Home page suggesting I reconnect with a friend I haven’t communicated with for a while.  Well..uh..there’s a reason for that.  My friend died this year.  But when I saw her photo surface on the right hand corner of the screen, I experienced a very surreal brain blip: “She’s alive!”

A super uncomfortable, conflicted state followed when the reality of the situation dawned.

If there’s no one to log a person off FB, does their profile live on forever?

A friend of another FB friend recently shared that when someone she knew committed suicide, that person’s FB friends continued posting on his wall as a means of transcendental communication.  They hoped to reach him in the world beyond.

And when a person has, indeed, passed to that other realm, what of the phenomenon of discovering the news via FB?  It is chilling to learn of death via a wall posting:  “John Jones  – 1955-2009″.   The news of a person’s passing is a jolt even when it’s expected.  But I have mixed feelings about the informal, public announcement aspect of receiving the news via The Wall.  And experiencing someone’s real time agony as he/she publically anguishes over a loss is equally discomfiting.

I wonder:

 

The Birthday Bailout November 25, 2009

Last week myself and another set of parents co-hosted our sons’ 2nd grade birthday party .  It was an ordeal.  To say the least.  The hoopla was originally scheduled to happen at a local museum but due to logistics, the venue tanked.  So the other parents and I scrambled at the last minute to find a back up: the local bowling alley.

As the date approached, my son fell ill with fever as did his co-host.  We held off, hoping for health and instead, three hours pre-celebration we postponed.  Thank goodness for SMS, email and cellphone technology.    It all makes last  minute change tenable.

We re-grouped and re-scheduled for the following week and luck was to be on our side:  The celebration happened as planned.  But not without incident.

Let’s just say that when you invite 35 kids – thirty-bleedin’-five – there’s bound to be a “hiccup” or two.

And so, the post-party day after was devoted to ME-chill out-time.  I needed it.  To regain my voice – lost as I attempted to out-shout the background music (score! on Lady Gaga), video arcade din and general bedlam.  I also needed to relax after the tension of all that last minute hiccup stuff.

While chilling at home, I emailed my dear friend Keith with a party re-cap. I had to share it with someone.  His reply: “I laughed out loud.  Then I read it again and laughed again!” – prompted me to share it here.

It’s post-birthday party chill day.  My friend D just showed up impromptu and we went to a French brasserie for coffee/food together.  I also briefly met with a graphic designer for a project.  Otherwise, NADA else on the schedule.

The party was slightly hectic – 35 kids.  And honey, let’s just say these littl’uns  DID NOT grow up playing in the local league.  They was throwin’ the ball backwards into the spectator area, bouncing it from lane to lane, rollin’ it down the center panel between lanes. . .EVERYTHANG!

I was certain someone would get killed or lose a foot.

And of course, the “active” kids are the ones whose parents dropped them curbside and screeched away out of sight, leaving only tread marks in their stead.  Bless their little hyped up souls.  I went hoarse coaxing them NOT to throw balls the wrong way, drop balls on other kids’ toes, roll balls  down the lane while the machine was wracking or take them to the toilet á la “this is mine!”…It was a job.

And let’s not forget the crying:  One inconsolable who arrived as dinner was starting and missed the gaming, another who sobbed that his lane-mates were robbing him of his turn and another who DID NOT want to bowl – he had come for the video arcade!

But it was fun and my son had a really good time as did the other kids.  And he got tons of gifts.  And truth be known, it was the easiest party I’ve ever put on in terms of personal involvement.  I merely had to buy party favors, email invites and shell out $$.  Not too tough.

But, as the co-host-mom said the on the phone when she rang to check in:  ‘It’s sort of like the Last Supper.  Good thing it happened because it was the last time.’

I would have to vote an ‘Amen, sister!’ to that.  Less is more & mass invite parties are passé.  Even if it was my first.

 

Israeli Oscars September 27, 2009

Last night I slipped into a little black dress and a pair of heels and made my way to Haifa for Israel’s version of the Oscars: The Ophir Awards.

Attending Israel’s upscale events is always an interesting venture. Because, compared to the U.S., they’re pretty scaled down and lacking pretense. Dress codes don’t rule and most anyone can get away with whatever their personal interpretation of gearing up or down might be.  That includes nominees, as demonstrated here by Best Actor winner Sasha Avshalom Agronov for his role in The Loners. Dig the hat.
IMGP0051

Also glaringly absent at these affairs are hulking bodyguards (unless government ministers are present). Sure, there’s security at the entrance but once inside, the press mingles with celebs and it’s a sort of everyone hangs out with everyone free-for-all at the bar and buffet kinda thing.

Which is why I was able to walk straight up to Ajami Producer Mosh Danon, congratulate him on taking best film and wish him luck at the Hollywood Oscars. I grabbed this shot of the film’s Israeli director Yaron Shani as he was being interviewed for radio.  His Arab co-director Scandar Copti was, unfortunately, in Europe.     IMGP0047

I also shook Lebanon film director Samuel Maoz’s hand and congratulated him on his Venice win.  I felt truly sorry that his film didn’t clinch the top seed.  Because imho, the movie based on his personal experience as a soldier during the 1982 Israel incursion into Lebanon, would have been a serious Academy Awards contender for best foreign film.  I’m not sure about Ajami, a story about the crime ridden mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhood of the same name in southern Tel Aviv.   Yes, it’s a microcosm of the Israel-Arab flashpoint conflict at large but it somehow feels too local.

But then, I’ve seen neither  and am basing that rather broad opinion on trailers,  discussions with colleagues and the reception for Lebanon thus far in the world arena.

Here’s a clip.  A reportedly super intense film, it takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank  in Lebanon.  Last night the movie nabbed top honors for Best Supporting Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best Cinematography and Best Design.

A few notes about the ceremony:  The high point was seeing Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Assi Dayan take to the stage.  A legendary Israeli actor and director, he has been plagued by negative press throughout his career for drug abuse, mental instability and domestic violence.  But he is talented.  And his peers gave him a standing ovation.

Heart wrenching, on the other hand, was witnessing producer Uri Segev’s widow and two young children take to the stage to receive an honorary award in his name.  46-year-old Segev died last year of heart complications during the wrap of  Lebanon. The audience, on their feet again, applauded warmly as his wife and children stood at the podium. And there was neery a dry eye in the house as his wife thanked the film academy with broken voice and his 8-year-old daugher sobbed quietly beside her.

A final note to self:  MUST SEE A Matter of Size – a film about a diet club support group that decides to start up their own Sumo Wrestling team.  It looks poignant, funny and visually beautiful.  And Best Actress recipient Irit Kaplan made a distinct impression upon the uber looks-conscious crowd by advising in her acceptance speech that we all go beyond exteriors and start digging deeper to the core where it really counts.

Lacking pretense, indeed.

 

Living In Sin September 23, 2009

I recently blogged about a woman I frequently see at the dog park who had a near death experience.   In my post, I described her as an older woman who sports a baseball cap over her kicky orange hair.

Today I saw her at the park again and she was sans baseball cap.  But her short, carrot colored hair was Working It and she had on bright red lipstick, black frame glasses, her eyes were accented with blue liner and overall, she was looking pretty darned smokin’.

He’s  trying to get your attention, you know,” I whispered to her, nodding in the direction of a 70-something-year-old gentleman who was staring intently at her from his perch on the fountain stone wall.  “He always tries to talk to you.”

Who, him?  Really?” Ruth was genuinely surprised and flattered.  Her name is Ruth.  I asked her. I nodded yes.  “He’s staring at you.”

Ah...” she waved the notion away with her hand.  “I already have a boyfriend.  He’s ten years younger than me but I’m younger than HIM in spirit.”

I laughed aloud.

She smiled with a faint hint of naughty behind the glimmer in her eyes.  “We’ve been together fifty years.  We don’t live together, though.  That’s what keeps us together.  Put us in the same house together and the relationship would be over in a week.

More laughter – raw and boisterous – from me.

I’m not looking for more boyfriends.  I’ve got enough.”

I like this Ruth.  Kicky personality matches her kicky orange hair.

 

Going Global August 16, 2009

A few years ago when I was living in San Francisco, I shared an ongoing dilemma with an Israeli friend:

I feel torn between being here and living in Israel,” I told her.  “I don’t know where I should be.”

“Why do you have to decide?” she posed.  “Of course you choose a main locale for residence but as far as I’m concerned, the more comfortable you become inside your own skin the more comfortable you become wherever you are once you’ve lived in different places.  And that’s a great place to be.  You become a citizen of the world and you can find happiness wherever you go.

At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept.  I felt I should make a decision and declare my loyalty on some level to one place or the other.  No in-between nonsense would do. And the concept of “global citizen” or feeling a sort of neutral happiness wherever I might be was way beyond my comprehension.

But, by jobe, I believe I finally got it.

For numerous reasons I won’t go into here & now, I returned to Israel four years ago after a decade hiatus in San Fran.  Since returning, however, each summer I travel with my son to Cincinnati so he (and I) can maintain ties with my family & he can retain his command of the English language and gain exposure to American culture.

My parents and two of my sibs live in “Nati” &  it’s where I grew up.  But when I left there after college – which included a 2-year overseas stint at Tel Aviv University –  I vowed never to return.  Bloody god forsaken conservative place that indicted its own Contemporary Arts Center for running the Mappelthorpe Exhibit (!) was how I viewed matters.  Not for me. Gateway to the North, indeed.  There would be no containing me THERE, thanks.  I longed for the enchanted promise of Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go.

But here I am, years later, turned completely around & feeling the warm glow of “global.”

This summer my son and I spent time in Cincinnati, took a side trip out to San Francisco and now we’re back in Tel Aviv.  And I can honestly say that in each place I found home.  Home in cultural events that included Opera and a World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, the MOMA in San Fran and upon returning to Tel Aviv, a visit to my local gallery to check out the latest exhibit.

I found home in culinary delights in Cincinnati’s trend spots: Bootsy’s for tapas,  Teller’s for rasberry vinaigrette over greens and goat cheese, my mom’s for home-cooked Indonesian chicken and a dear friend’s for backyard grilled Talapia wrapped in lettuce leaves.

I relaxed back into San Francisco food comfort with frighteningly potent margaritas served up at Puerto Alegre & generous, steaming bowls of traditional Vietnamese Pho.  And upon returning to Holy Land Central (aka Israel) I hit the supermarket on a Friday at 2 p.m. – total cold-water immersion into THIS local food culture.

Home, everywhere, is about the people.  I spent neery an idle moment in Cincy thanks to FB and reconnecting with old friends and loved ones who indulged me with tennis,  poolside lounging, movie outings, dinners, drinks and loads of engaging conversation.   Being back “Home” was an absolute treat and there are, by gosh and golly, wide swaths of WILD in Cincy.

In San Fran, I reconnected with my other sib and visited with friends and local merchants I hadn’t seen in years.  Particularly pleasant was sharing a vacation apartment in the city with friends who had flown in from Australia, Manhattan, Berlin and Serbia to be together. My son benefitted from reconnecting with children from his infant and toddler days.

Back in Tel Aviv less than a week, we’ve received separate invites to go snorkeling, camping, to overnight in the country and spend a weekend at a “mango tree resort”.  I am absolutely blessed.  No doubt about it.

I ran into that old Israeli friend last year.  She’s back in Tel Aviv and super busy with two young children and studies.  But she still has that positive outlook and cheerful disposition.  And she still maintains her status as a global citizen.

I believe I’ve joined her ranks.  Fine by me because feeling at home wherever I might be is a wonderful place to be.  But it’s also painful.  Leaving loved ones and engaging aspects of each culture behind isn’t easy.  But I’ll take it.  Because “living globally” far outweighs the absurd compulsion of having to declare loyalty or choose.