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…..!

 

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.

 

My Friend Jo April 19, 2009

Yesterday morning I found out my friend Jo died.  Via Facebook.

I knew Jo was ill & her condition rapidly deteriorating –  I had talked with her daughter in San Francisco earlier in the week.  But the Inbox message was shocking nonetheless.   It’s a sign of the times.  Notification via Facebook.  I don’t know if it would have been less impacting had there been a phone call.

I have been privileged so far in life  – I’ve lost no one close to me other than beloved pets.  This is a first & memories have been surfacing since receiving the news. I have cried intermittently.  It’s surreal.   What do I do with Jo’s address and phone number  in my contact list?

At one point when I was crying in my bedroom, my 7-year-old came in and wrapped his arms around me.  “It’s just like that in life sometimes, mom.  But you still have me.”

He doesn’t remember Jo but she visited him in the ICU after he was born, bringing him his copy of Goodnight Moon. She indulged his piano banging whenever we went ’round her place during his toddler years and she didn’t mind when he pulled out and scattered the cat and dog toys.  She was at his 1st birthday party, pouring herself a drink in the kitchen when I stormed in.

“The cake is horrible!” I panicked, my face flaming hot with embarrassment.  “Nobody’s eating it.  What do I do?”  Jo burst into raucous laughter.  “Tell them they don’t have to.  Let them off the hook,” she suggested.

I met Jo at the dog park when I moved to San Francisco in the 90’s.  We both had Golden Retrievers who became thick-as-thieves friends.   As publisher & editor of the reputable photo metro photography magazine, she gave me my first literary break as a reviewer of photographic works.

The years progressed and Jo & I attended photography lectures together, hung out in her kitchen, took the dogs for outings at Alamo Square, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge for a Thomas Friedman book signing and we shared. Gossip, hopes, dreams, disappointments, failings, family talk.  Jo was there snapping pictures at my City Hall civil marriage and she was there not long after offering refuge and comfort as the marriage went to pieces.

She was always ahead of her time with the latest Mac , scanner and photography gear, trying out digital but hanging onto her decades-old Leica.  When she discovered Photoshopping as a means of removing errors, she sat   for hours clicking away at dust particles and glitches.   The scanning phase…I don’t think there was a plant or flower for miles that didn’t get plucked up and pressed to the screen for scanning & photo-shopping.

Three years ago she was at the other end of the phone line as I sobbed.  My Golden Retriever Atticus had died.  Two days later she emailed. Her Golden, Chance, had perished suddenly  as well.  “Attie must have needed Chance.”  That comforted me – the thought of perhaps the two of them frolicking together in some parallel universe.

Rest,” she wrote “knowing that she is no longer in pain and that she will be with you always in the best of ways.  Don’t forget the (somewhat schmaltzy) crossing over the rainbow bridge where she will be waiting for you.

How apt.  Jo is no longer in pain.  And I hope she has crossed the rainbow bridge to meet her friends waiting on the other side.   When it’s my time to cross, I hope she’ll be waiting there for me  too.

 

Homeless Teens? April 2, 2009

Late one afternoon last week, my 7-year-old and I set out on a wee bicycle jaunt through Tel Aviv to mark the official start of Spring Break.

Crossing one of the city’s main Boulevards – Ben Gurion named for Israel’s 1st Prime Minister – we passed kiosk cafes, juice stands, parents with toddlers playing in mini-playgrounds and other cyclists also enjoying the mild weather.

As we neared the beach we heard strains of live music – mostly drumming really.  Exciting!  We neared the source and discovered a percussionist and trumpet player whooping it up, the trumpet case open at their feet exhibiting a fair amount of donated coins. We paused to listen and watch.  The spectacle was a rarity in the city.  A treat.

“Mom, do you think they have homes?  I want to give them some money,” my concerned son queried.

I guffawed out loud.  Because this was the two-man band:

musickids1Honey, they’re okay I reassured.

Clearly the formative years of his life spent  in “teeming with homeless” San Francisco have shaped some of my son’s notions.

 

Uh Oh. I’m ONE OF THEM!!! June 8, 2008

You know when you first move to a different country or state or city how you’re painfully aware of all the differences?

All the things that were “done like that” in the place you just came from but in the new transplant place aren’t “done like that” anymore? Now they’re done “like this”.

Which is infuriating.

– “What do you mean you just went over there for a minute to get something but you were really standing in front of me in line?” You were not! Okay. Okay. Maybe I’ll go down the street to pick up my dry cleaning and catch a movie on the way back and then come back here and reclaim my place in line! What do you think of that, hmmm? You don’t care? OMG!!! Where in the hell am I?

Is that guy going to move out of the way or is he going to keep walking on MY SIDE of the sidewalk and run me down? By God he IS going to run into me! But he’s on my side of the sidewalk! Right Side! Right Side! It’s like DRIVING! He Ran Into Me! OMG!!

– Honey can you go into the kitchen and get a new serving spoon? Why? This one’s fine. Trust me. Just get a new one and keep your voice down will you? The guests might hear you. What’s going on? The Vassberger kid – Noah- tasted the egg salad directly from the serving bowl, alright? Ooohhhh! You’re kidding! Did he double dip? No, thank god. I grabbed it out of his hand in time. His parents saw the whole thing and they didn’t say a word. Is that something people DO here? God, I dunno. Please. Just get a new spoon and don’t make a big deal out of it, okay?

These are but a few samples. And yes, they’re real.

I think, however, what’s more frightening than the above is suddenly realizing you’ve morphed into one of them! “When on EARTH did THAT happen?” you ask yourself.

And no, I’m not slandering Israelis. I became “one of them” in San Francisco when I took up meditation and Yoga, in Colorado when I planted skis on my feet and took to the hills and in the Sinai Desert when I resigned myself to languishing on the beach, snorkeling, languishing, smoking a cigarette or two, languishing, eating dinner, languishing and playing backgammon in a languished pose.

I must’ve been morphing all along these past few years in Holy Land Central but I wasn’t paying attention. Until last week. . .

– At the supermarket, the checkout ladies were having a helluva struggle with the new computerized cash registers. “ITZIK!” they’re yelling for the duty manager holding the magic register key. “ITZIK!” the customers in the snaking down aisle 4 line are calling after the manager with the magic register key. In fact, it’s one big chorus of ITZIK! ITZIK! ITZIK!

And instead of getting angry and fuming over idling in the 10-item only speed line for 20 minutes, I start laughing. In an uproarious sort of way. And the cash register lady pauses between “ITZIK!”‘s and asks: What are you laughing at? And I don’t know what to tell her. So I bust out some more and internally dialogue: this scenario is SO absurd it should be a sketch or episode of something somewhere. I’m not upset about “them”. I’m laughing.

– Or, as we’re exiting the pediatrician’s office in a posh Tel Aviv neighborhood, my 6-year-old steps into the nearby bushes and begins tugging at his trousers. “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” I roar. “MARCH RIGHT BACK IN THERE AND USE THE TOILET! AND DON’T YOU DARE DO THAT WHEN WE GET TO GRANDMA AND GRANDPA’S IN AMERICA!” My lord, he is morphing too.

We’re a regular comedy tag-team act we are.

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