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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Risky Business February 13, 2010

I was chatting on the phone with my friend “G” the other day and the subject of his 20-year network news career came up.

How did you get started with them? I asked. 

His story was fascinating.

It was 1982 and Israel was going into Lebanon to root out the PLO. Being an elite paratrooper, I got a “Tzav 8” – it’s an emergency order for reservists calling for immediate mobilization.

At the exact same time, I was offered the chance to go into Lebanon and cover what was happening for one of the major American networks.

I was conflicted at first.  I mean, a military order is a military order.  But on the other hand, I knew that this was a huge break that wouldn’t come around again.

So I opted out of the order and went with the network.  And that’s how I started my career with them.

The irony?  After the dust cleared and I was back in Tel Aviv, I never, ever heard from the army.  It was if they’d never sent out the order.  And one of the funniest parts of it all is that while I was in Lebanon working, I SAW my unit.  They all called out to me and waved: “Hey G!” Of course, they didn’t know I’d been called up.

I was stunned by my friend’s story.  His gamble turned to gold and he has enjoyed a prestigious career that has taken him from Winter Olympics, to war in Somalia to an airlift operation that saved more than 14,000 lives to the fall of Berlin’s Wall and beyond.  He has met heads of state, international terrorists, world class artists and athletes and he has worked with the best in the business. He now languishes in retirement on a small Caribbean island.

When he relayed his tale I was reminded of Martin Fletcher, NBC News Israel correspondent of several decades who I worked with in the early 90’s.

I was always impressed by Martin’s ability to predict industry trends.  But when I read his book Breaking News I  discovered he had something in common with my friend ‘G’:  Martin took big risks that paid off.

In his book he writes that while he was stationed in South Africa, he advised editors at NY headquarters to send him into a nearby country as conflict erupted.  They refused.  He was so certain the story was cover-worthy that Fletcher went in anyway without informing his higher ups.  A short time after, entry to the country was cut off.  His editors phoned to see if there was any way he could get in.  He was already there.

I found that, too, to be remarkable.  The move could have jeopardized his career and instead it put him ahead of the game.

Internally I laugh.  My acquaintances take BIG risks.  I debate over which swimming pool membership to get.

I’d say there’s a lesson in there to be learned.

 

Cake Catastrophes November 17, 2009

My soon-to-be 8-year-old put in a special request last week for his impending birthday party:

Please Mom.  Can someone else make the cake?  Or can we buy it?  Please?  You’re..uh…it’s just…You’re not good at cakes.”

He was being incredibly diplomatic and I had to laugh at the request.  And then I reflected.  

I’ve become a Cake Wrecks.com Candidate.  Lord have mercy.

I used to bake killer apple cinnamon crumbleHeavenly bittersweet chocolate, brownie and mint liqueur squares. To-die-for créme brûlée .

But everything seemed to slide southward when I started baking party cakes circa my son’s arrival into the world.

The first failing was for fête #1.   To the naive, the chocolate-iced buttermilk cake appeared okay.  But glancing around the living room of my San Francisco apartment, I noticed the guests toying with it.  Sliding it around on their plates but not really putting it in their mouths.   I sampled it myself and my cheeks went flaming red.

4th birthday lollipop cake

 

Quickly dashing down the hallway and into the kitchen where my dear friend Jo, rest her soul, was pouring herself a glass of wine, I moaned:  The cake’s terrible! Nobody’s eating it. It’s awful!”

Jo burst into boisterous laughter and advised: Go back in there and let everybody off the hook!  Tell them they don’t have to eat it!”

Which I did, much to the relief of the dozen or so invitees who let out a collective sigh and promptly set down their plates of untouched, inedible brick.

I had added too much of je ne sais quois and the cake was wrong.  Simply wrong.

The next cake wreck was in honor of my son’s 5th birthday, served to his kindergarten class.

At the time, he was way into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  And because the Turtles eat pizza to rev them up, I figured it would be brilliant to make “pizza cakes” for the class.

Starting out by baking two thin, round white cake “pizzas”, I topped them with red tinted icing a la “tomato sauce” and grated white chocolate i.e. “mozzarella cheese”.  Next, scattered Cherry Twizzler bites served as “sausage” and bananas were …uh…bananas.

pizzacake

To complete the concept, I picked up Dominos pizza boxes to serve them in.

On the day of the party, I presented the “pizzas” to the teachers who delighted over the concept.  The kids, however, were dull and disappointed.

Nobody ate it.  It was plechs,” my son later reported.  “I threw up when I tried it.

YOU DID NOT! I protested.

But he swore he had been sick and assured me several of his comrades had been ill too.   To this day he stands by the story.

So no, I won’t bake any cakes this year.

But I want to know:  What happened?  How on earth does a person go from créme brûlée to plechs?

 

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.

 

Going to Bed Hungry September 1, 2009

This afternoon while my son & I were riding our bikes home from a celebratory ice cream shop outing to mark his 1st day of second grade, we came across a prodigious public statement/art installation in Central Tel Aviv that begged contemplation.

The entirety of Rabin Square, Tel Aviv’s largest inner city public space, had been set up with long banquet tables covered with simple white table cloths and set with glass white plates and silver cutlery.  White plastic chairs were placed at each setting.

There were, literally, thousands of place settings.

Ooh…Mass banquet! I thought but somehow knew that was wrong.

It took a minute of reckoning, eyeballing the overhead signage displayed behind the tables and ultimately chatting with the young people guarding the “installation” to understand what it was all about.

Israel is headed into The Jewish New Year holiday season in a few weeks which means family gatherings, dinners, office toasts, gift giving and general cheer.

Right around this time each holiday season LaTet (“Give) Humanitarian Organization goes into full swing food drive mode taking up food and monetary collections for those in Israel who won’t be feeling the cheer, at least not monetarily, at holiday time.

I’m accustomed to seeing the Latet people at the entrance to my supermarket handing out flyers asking for donations of baby formula, canned goods, rice and other food essentials.

Image000

But the display on the square was a phenomenal means of sending a message.  The banner beyond the tables read:  “There are 200,000 people in Israel who won’t get enough to eat this holiday season. . .”  And the empty tables, the people manning the display disclosed, represent a mere 10th of what that number might look like were everyone to sit down together for a meal.

If you want to give, you can go by the display and make a donation, pick up an extra item or two at the supermarket and drop them into the receptacles on the way out or navigate to the Latet website for instructions on donating via SMS or pay per click.

And if you’re able to make it to the square, definitely go by and check it out.  It’s astonishing.

 

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.