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…..!

 

Missing in Action November 9, 2009

It’s another Ruth-themed blog entry day.  Ruth, for the uninitiated, is the in-her-eighties-woman at the Tel Aviv dog park I frequent who I’ve been fascinated with lately.

Ruth has spunk, attitude and sass to spare and I’d wager she’s the type who stocks vodka in the freezer for guests.  And if the guests don’t drink vodka?  She’d probably press a bill into her visitor’s palm and send him or her off to the corner store for an alternate libation of choice and some ice.

For the past few weeks, Ruth hasn’t shown up at the park at the usual hour.  And because her health is sketchy and she has already had one near-death experience, my ruminations have meandered to concern regarding her whereabouts or possible demise.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

As I climbed the stone stairs of the dog run entrance yesterday, Jacob, another octogenarian park regular, posed:  Have you seen Ruth lately?” I shrugged and motioned for him to join as I crossed the grass path to the stone bench beneath the orange tree.  I sat beside David, a middle aged regular whose dog is named Meeklee and whose American partner is also named David.

Have you seen Ruth lately? I asked him.

No & I’ve been worried.  I know that when she was hospitalized for a month, she put Jessie in the Dog Farm.  Maybe something happened to her and she put her there again.  Maybe they know something, David offered.

I had the Dog Farm number handy – Ruth had given it to me as a kenneling recommendation – so I dialed the number from my mobile phone and awkwardly explained to the proprietor that a group of dog park people was concerned over Ruth’s disappearance.

Did she bring Jessie there?  Do you know anything about where she might be?

The Farm owner understood the gist and said that Jessie wasn’t at the Farm.  But she offered up Ruth’s last name.

One call to information later, I was ringing up Ruth’s apartment.

Hello? a small voice answered.  I didn’t recognize the accent and guessed it might be the Russian caretaker she had mentioned several times.

It’s Stephanie from the dog park.  I’m looking for Ruth.  Is she there?

Yes, mamaleh (English: sweetie).  What is it you need?

Ruth?  Is that you?  We haven’t seen you in a while.  So a few of us are sitting here and we were worried so we decided to —-

Tell her the view’s not the same without her! Jacob interjected, the relief in his voice audible.  I think Jacob has a thing for Ruth, between you and me.   

Oh,  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  Thank you for calling, Ruth soothed and I could tell she was touched.  I don’t come in the evening anymore because Jessie gets into the garbage and eats trash and it drives me crazy.

I laughed aloud and David commented  Well if she’s laughing, everything must be okay.

Ruth, give me your cellphone number, will you?  Just so I have it.  And take mine, I urged.  We exchanged and then she said:

Thank you mamaleh.  Thank you for calling.  I come on Saturday mornings so I’ll see you then.  But listen, I have to go.  I’m watching my German mystery series on t.v. and I have to see how it ends.

That’s the Ruth I know.

 

GI Jane October 21, 2009

I have posted here a few times about Ruth from the dog park.

She’s someone I love running into because at 80-something, Ruth makes up in pep for what she has lost in mobility.  Bright red lipstick, carrot-colored choppy hair, manicured nails and a cane for support, she’s got that naughty glint in her eye that says: “I know how to work it and I will if need be.”

Last week when we met at the dog run, Ruth shared that she had fallen in the crosswalk earlier in the day while out with  her dog Jessie.

Oh my God! I reacted.

Yeah, came her casual replyI was like Jesus on the cross. Spread out all over the place.

Are you okay?  Did you hurt yourself?

Me? she countered wide eyed, gesturing toward herself.  No no.  I know how to fall.  I took a parachuting course years ago.

All of a sudden I felt a pang. 

Ruth parachuting!  Wow.

And I sort of had to squint in my mind’s eye to past-blast beyond the moment and conjure a younger Ruth bodysurfing on the wind.

Of course Ruth has a past.  But I had never contemplated it.  And being confronted with it in such a lively manner sparked within me a combination of awe and sadness.

It made sense that Ruth had lived a daredevil life: skydiving, avoiding marrying her boyfriend of fifty years, and playing the con artist.

But in facing the image of a younger Ruth, I was facing myself.

THIS is why I like her, I epiphanied.

I Scuba dive and windsurf.  I was thrown from a horse into a Mercedes years ago on a wild, midnight ride at Giza’s pyramids.  I’ve done my fair share of conning and as for amorous relationships with men. . .I’ll save that for another posting.

Ruth, I realized, reminds me of me.

With luck, I’ll be like her when I get where she is.

 

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.

 

Clinical Death September 7, 2009

There’s this older woman who goes to the  same Tel Aviv park I take my dog Butch to for exercise every day. She & I tend to show up about the same time in the evenings and we usually sit next to each other.   

I don’t know her name but she has kicky, short orange hair she covers with a baseball cap and she uses a cane to get around.  Her manicured nails are always painted the same shade of frosty white, she pencils in her eyebrows, wears blue eyeshadow and her lipstick is a Sienna tinged with bright red.

On particularly hot days she brings bottled water and a communal drinking bowl for the dogs.  And before sitting down on the hard stone bench under the lime tree, she always spreads the day’s newspaper beneath her.

I met her a few months ago and we chatted back then about dog things.  That’s what we humans tend to do when  getting acquainted as the canines frolic.  At the time, she told me about a great “vacation spot” for dogs (read: kennel with a run) she had placed her furry companion in while she spent a month in the hospital.

I didn’t ask her about the hospitalization.  It seemed intrusive for a first encounter.

We’ve seen each other at the park for a few months now but we’ve never really gotten past the “which vet do you go to?” and “where do you buy your dog supplies?” type of banter. But last week I pulled her dog out of a fight and that changed the dynamic.

I didn’t have a choice, really.  No one else went into the fray and she’s physically incapable.  I mean, she is hovering around the mid-80’s mark and she’s frail and her 75-pound mutt is obtuse.  The other person was frantically trying to pull his dog away as hers attacked but he was losing the battle.

So I grabbed hers by the collar and with a sharp, stern tone commanded “NO!” while staring him squarely in the eyes.  I was attempting to present as The Alpha.  Thankfully, it worked.

After that wee bit of pulse-raising drama, I returned to my place on the bench beside the woman and remained quiet.  I really, but really don’t like making “a thing”  out of something like that and it started and finished quickly and without incident so in my mind, it was over.

The woman fretted a bit, though, about her dog being out of control and then she shifted her tone: “I have something to tell you.”

Oh?  I cocked my head and raised an eyebrow.

“I saw my own funeral,”  she started.  I was silent.  I mean, how DOES one counter a statement like that?

When I was in the hospital,” she pressed on, “I died.  I was clinically dead. I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted but they told me later they had pronounced me dead.

I stared intently and swallowed.  She continued:

While it was happening, I rose above the bed and I was transported to the kibbutz where I have my plot.  I saw my family standing there around the grave.  I was watching the whole thing,” she relayed.  “And you know what?”  I was hanging on to her every word   “It felt wonderful.  I was at peace.  It was like letting go and relaxing.  Everything was okay.

I was astonished.  “Did they tell you how long you were dead?  Do you remember coming back?” I prodded.

No, no.  They didn’t want to talk about it,” she dismissed with a wave of the hand.  “And I don’t remember how I came back.  But I’ll tell you one thing:  That business about a light?”  she scrunched her face in disgust.   “Nonsense.   Light Shmight.  Don’t believe it.  I was floating.  That’s it.”

I had to go just then.  But I could have listened for a very long time.  I’ll let you know if she has more to tell.

 

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.