Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

Boys’ Toys February 19, 2010

Every Thursday my son’s classmate comes to our house after school.  It’s an arrangement between the boy’s parents and I and so far it as worked quite nicely.

Yesterday the two boys met me at the school gate as usual but out of the ordinary was their hyper-animated state.

I have 100 shekels (U.S. $25) Sonya gave me for my birthday and I brought it to buy Gogos.  Will you take us to the store?” my son’s friend asked.

Sonya is a classmate.  But I didn’t know that.  I figured Sonya was an aunt.  Gogos are the craze du jour among Israel’s elementary school set.  They’re highly appealing, mini-plastic figurines that come three to a packet.  They cost about $1.75 per.

Your mom said it’s okay for you to spend your birthday money on that many Gogo’s? I asked.

It’s my money.  My mom lets me do what I want with my money.  As long as I take her to a hotel for vacation, he responded, laughing.

How very liberal of her I pondered.   I wouldn’t let my son do that. Maybe I should loosen up. . .

Okay then, I capitulated.  Let’s go.

At the store, I browsed front page stories about Mossad agents, assassination and dual identities while the boys handled the transaction.

They purchased 14 packets and split them – my son’s friend is quite generous – and then clamored to get home and open the goods.

They alternately ran and walked the 5 city blocks to our place, urging me to hurry.  My son actually screeched aloud with anticipation as I unlocked the front door. The neighbors! I chastised with an internal smile.  Their enthusiasm was refreshing.

They dumped book bags in the entrance hall and spread the packets across the coffee table, busying themselves with the business of divvying treasure.

When lunch was ready, I called repeatedly to no avail.  Eventually I threatened to lock up the kitchen for the day in order to cajole them into eating.

At 3, the boy’s father came to retrieve him.  And Gogo Hell broke loose.

You bought WHAT?  he asked incredously.  With what money?  After I told you there would be no more Gogo’s?  Where did you get a hundred shekels?  WHO gave it to you?  You’re in some serious trouble, young man

They exited and as I heard their exchange in the hallway, my cheeks flamed red with shame.  It hadn’t occurréd to me to phone one of the parents and check the story’s legitimacy.  I assumed if a kid says he got some money for his birthday and he’s allowed to spend it….Criminy.  Silly me.

THE TRUE STORY:  Sonya, presumably wishing to curry favor, gave the boy a hundred shekels she got from God-knows-where a day prior.  He decided to purchase the toys without telling anyone – other than a gullible ME, that is.  The part about the birthday and his mom knowing?  Mmm, Mmm, mmmm.  My son was also clueless to the dupe.

Okay so I learned my lesson.  The opened Gogo packets can’t go back to the store but the money has to go back to  Sonya.   I won’t take the loot away from my son – he was an innocent.  So I’ll cough up half the $$ and give it to the boy’s parents.  Peace offering sort of thing, Innit?

When the winds of war calmed later in the day, I texted his mother:  “You have to admit, it IS funny

She texted back:  This story is going to make the rounds for years to come.

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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.

 

Heroin (NOT) Chic August 18, 2009

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I was breakfasting with a group of people at a semi-dive-diner place in the Upper Haight when my brother motioned toward the booth opposite us.

“It’s going to take them a while to get through the meal,” he commented with a grin.

I looked over at the couple he had indicated: A male and female in their mid-twenties, both tattooed and pierced – typical Haight fare.  They sat opposite each other with hands resting on the table cluttered with uneaten plates of assorted breakfast fare.  Their eyes were closed.

“Oh, they’re saying Grace,” I mused internally.  Because where I live these days aka Holy Land Central or Israel, that type of thing is plausible.  Heck, I’ve seen groups of German tourists on a busy Tel Aviv street corner holding hands with heads bowed praying for…Well I have no idea, actually.  A break in traffic?  Good beach weather?  Ideal photographic lighting conditions?  I dunno.

Then I peered more closely at the couple, their heads lolling.  Oh  Wow! the realization dawned.  They’ve dosed on heroin.

It’s been years since I’ve lived in close proximity to the urban drug culture and all it entails: addicts sprawled in doorways, eyes at half mast as the heroin high hits, crack fiends pacing nervously, their movements disjointed and stiff, wayward alcoholics with red faces and crusty clothing rambling incoherently from front stoops.

My stomach dropped and I felt nauseous.  This is insane.  We’re sitting in a restaurant and they’re dosing. My San Francisco dwelling companions snickered and rolled their eyes in a sort of  Oh God, the neighbors misbehaving AGAIN sort of way. I forced myself not to stare.

Later, my brother confided:  That was gross, man.  Totally sick.

Well…yeah.


 

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.

 

Art’s Passion August 8, 2009

For a long time I thought my overwhelming “museum feelings” were linked to certain sites or specific pieces of art.

The type of feelings that envelop with totality and without warning when viewing works of art.   

Like the time tears welled threateningly while glimpsing the Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

Or when my heart swelled wildly while touring Tutankhamun‘s tomb treasures in Cairo.

Perhaps the love affair with art began when I was in high school;  I chose French Renaissance Art as my subject for a term paper which meant spending weekends – quite willingly – in Cincinnati’s Art Museum Library conducting research.  My instinct, however, sez it started years before.

Nonetheless, I find that whenever I frequent museums or art happenings – Burning Man included – there’s usually a painting, sculpture, fixture or installation that renders me “struck”.  I get a lump in my throat and my vision goes blurry.

Yesterday’s SFMOMA visit was no exception; I was struck several times by vastly different exhibits.

Initially touring the permanent exhibits, I was quite surprised by Paul Klee early works described as “monstrous figures.”  I love Klee’s sweeping grandness and color but I was taken aback by this dark, detailed material.

Then I felt a swell of gratitude taking in originals by Dali, Diego Rivera, Magritte and Warhol.

The day, however, belonged to cutting edge fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon, whose career spanned 50+ years.

Avedon’s 1950’s-1960’s photos of Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot and Katharine Hepburn oozed natural beauty and starlet material.   But his image of Marilyn Monroe seemed to capture the icon’s mix of blazing sex symbol & confused nymph that would be her legacy.  THAT image presented an emotional moment for me.

Equally moving were Avedon’s images of Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, Nureyev’ “En Pointe” and Merce Cunningham who died two weeks ago.  His politicians spanned decades and worlds removed from Kissinger to Carter to Obama as Senator.  

Equally moving was the series of photographs documenting his father’s losing battle to cancer and the commissioned body of “In The American West” works portraying faces of middle America.  What a career span and what an incredible talent.

The MOMA also featured works by Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams which presented yet another revelation.  Georgia didn’t do it for me.  She used to but not anymore. That’s just the way it goes, I guess.  But the Ansel Adams works spurred  awe and yet another throat lump over his Sand Dunes gelatin silver print.

After touring, I sat on the museum rooftop in the sun beside the large installations basking in the afterglow of appreciation.

Museums are magical places; I am oh-so-lucky to have the mobility, eyesight and wherewithal to visit them.

 

Matthew the Bully July 24, 2009

In the car driving home from summer camp this week. . .  

Mom, there’s this kid at camp.  His name is Matthew.  And …well…last week my friend Kenny made a joke about Matthew and I laughed.

Now Matthew says that because I laughed I have to pay him two dollars.

Pay him two dollars or what?  What is Matthew **f**k** going to do? I muttered under my breath, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

What mom?  What did you say?

What did Matthew say would happen if you don’t pay him? I asked, all sweetness and light.

He’ll hit me.

He’ll hit who? I internally raged.  We’ll see who’s going to get hit.  Threatening MY BOY??  Uh uh.  No.

Sweetheart, I reassured, You don’t owe him anything and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Laughing isn’t a crime. What do you want me to do?

Could you talk to Matthew or to the camp counselor? he asked.

Sure doll.  And don’t worry about it.  It’ll be okay.

I later consulted with a level-headed male friend who confirmed that  since my son doesn’t live here or see Matthew on a regular basis i.e. he doesn’t present an ongoing threat, it would be best to bypass the bully – unless I want to add legal implications to my troubles – and consult with a camp counselor.

So I heeded his advice.  And so far, all is quiet on the Matthew Front.



 

Suleiman the Coffee Guy July 12, 2009

A few weeks ago while shopping in Tel Aviv’s Carmel open-air market I ducked into a side street tchochkes shop to buy a glass carafe.  Mine had accidentally banged against the marble counter top at home and cracked into pieces.

It was midday and the outside heat and humidity were starting to  bear down.  The narrow shop,  divided by a sales rack crammed with a range of home appliance and accessory items, was cooled only by a high-powered standing fan.    Cluttering the shelves, a range of inexpensive items vied for space.  There were glass tea pots, no-frill wine glasses, cheap dishes sets, Turkish coffee Finjans, pots and pans, stainless steel plated silverware, dime store variety candles, laundry clips, waste baskets…Garden variety tchochkes.

As I scouted a glass carafe, I bantered with the shop owner, a tanned and fit 70-something year old man with silver hair, Coke-bottle glasses, thick lips and wearing a maroon and white Hawaiian shirt.  We joked a bit about the heat, I commented about his store’s cramped quarters and, hearing my accent, he asked where I was from.

Then, while ringing my sale, he gingerly queried:  “If I make you Turkish coffee, will you sit and drink with me?”

My knee jerk response was to beg off with a “have to run” excuse.

But during the split seconds of contemplation I came up with: “I have time.  Why not?  What’s the harm?  Why not have AN EXPERIENCE?”

So I pulled up a wooden stool and seated myself behind the counter as he went to the back room to boil water.  A few minutes later he returned with two demitasse cupfuls of black sludge and sat down beside me on his stool.

He introduced himself as Suleiman (Soo-lee-mohn) and told me he was from Iraq.  In Hebrew, his name is Solomon.  He asked my name.  “What?” he repeated several times, scratching his cheek and furrowing his brow.  He then shook his head and announced:  “No. It won’t work. I’m calling you ‘Hellwa.'”

I laughed but didn’t protest.  Hellwa means “Beautiful” in Arabic.

Suleiman told me about himself.  He lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, has owned his shop for 40 years and is married.  The marriage was not good, he shared, but admitted he was loathe to walk out at his age and after so many years spent with the same woman.  “Sometimes it’s just easier to stay together,” he sighed.

His malcontent came as no surprise.  Because unless he’s a connoisseur of new people, I somehow doubt he’d otherwise be inviting a younger woman in for coffee and re-dubbing her “Hellwa“.

But he wasn’t bitter.  He was funny and his attitude was upbeat.  So when he jovially started on the a man is a man, AFTER ALL, and has needs – needs his wife was apparently uninterested in meeting –  I didn’t get the usual surge of:  “Oh god, here it comes.  THIS is going to be uncomfortable to deflect.”

Suleiman was a  coffee-pal/buddy sort of guy.  He told me about his girlfriend, a good girl he sees several times a week who he “doesn’t have to pay” and who is content with their arrangement.

And he asked about my situation and listened to my history in brief before serving up,  as people tend to do in this part of the world, advice.  Suleiman told me what type of man I should find, what type of man I should avoid and estimated the time it should take for me to “settle down and be taken care of”.

When one of his regulars,  a stout 50-ish Russian woman looking for 2 medium sized drinking goblets, dickered with him on price, he rolled his eyes and elbowed me with a grin.  “Okay okay,” he conceded.  “You’re going to put me out of business but I’ll give you your price.”

I sat a while longer and sipped my coffee as Suleiman tended to other customers.  When the cup contents were down to dregs alone, I stretched and stood to go.

“Come visit me again,” Suleiman winked and smiled before planting a peck on my cheek.

“I will,” I promised, meaning it.

It had been AN EXPERIENCE.  And I don’t mind going back for seconds.