Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Today, I booked my flight for Berlin next month to visit Big Babe and research my forthcoming article on the young ex-pat hipster scene in Berlin.

Not that Big Babe is a hipster or anything. But he's part of the scene. And it is crying out to be documented, especially by a post-Holocaust era American Jew whose son has decided to make the city his adopted home. It'll also be great fun to hang out with Big Babe and his friends in Berlin's clubs and bars in the name of reportage.

Speaking of fun, at this very moment, a marching band is making its way across the Columbia campus towards our apartment on Amsterdam. The ability to witness such acts of chutzpah and silliness is one of the best parts of living across from a university. I rush to the window and watch the parade; the band members are decked out in military uniforms, feathered hats and all. There are tubas and cymbals. A true celebration... except for those who might be asleep at 1 am.

I've been sitting at the dining room table, writing in the dark -- a favorite habit. At this hour of the night, the dark settles around me, velvety and lush. About an hour ago, I fell asleep next to HOBB while watching Mad Men on DVD in a desperate effort to catch up with our friends who have been following the show since it first aired, succumbing to jet-lag from my recent trip to Israel.

Roused from my slumber by HOBB, I staggered to our bedroom, drunkenly undressed and slipped shivering beneath the covers. Thus delivered to bed, I was therefore surprised to find my mind suddenly snapping to attention, the delayed result, no doubt, of the strong cup of Zabar's French Italian blend I brewed just before running out for the screening and talkback of Inglourious Basterds at the Jewish Theological Seminary earlier tonight.

So, here I am, writing in the dark, burning off the caffeine, listening to the Columbia marching band play "Sweet Dreams," trying to recollect the highlights of my trip to Israel.

We returned Sunday night. HOBB had been away for three-plus weeks; me, for only one. As always, the trip was mindblowing and all too brief. There was Tel Aviv and Herziliyah and Jerusalem; dinners, drinks, endless cups of cafe hafukh, huge salads that were impossible to finish, gallery openings and parties, the famous Israeli breakfasts, transcendent davening, epic conversations, three different places to sleep, passion of the variety that only seems possible in hotel rooms, business meetings, friends, relatives, the lighting of Chanuka candles, red wine, schwarma, Hebrew in my lungs, King David whispering love poems in my ear, an ancient song in my heart.

There were the imprints of all my previous trips, beginning in 1968, when I first came to Israel as a young girl. Amazingly, I have reached the point where I lost track of how many times I've been, so frequent is the fact of my eastward travel. The amount has far exceeded thirty, possibly more. Last year alone, I journeyed to Israel three times -- four, if you include last week's trip.

There was the international writer's conference on the theme of exile at Mishkenot Sha'ananim and Beit Avi Chai. There were the unforgivably boring sessions on what it means to be a Jewish writer, there was music and poetry, there was the thrill of rubbing shoulders with the writers in attendance; there was the magic of hearing great authors talk about the experience of exile in their lives and work.

There was the visit to Ruti the psychic in Rehovot - my first such foray - the startling truths she told me about myself and my life. There was the joyous discovery that Ya'acov, the ancient Jerusalemite who managed the kiosk near the German Colony apartment I lived in during our sabbatical year in '97/'98, was alive and well...and still stationed behind the manual orange squeezing machine in his tiny shop on Emek Refaim.

And then, before I knew it, there was the return to New York and Little Babe, whom we had left behind. There was the joyous anticipation of Middle Babe's return from college for winter break. There was the comical, near-hysterical reunion with Alfie and Nala, our loyal Pomeranians.

It is now 1:30 in the morning. The activity of writing appears to have burned off the Zabar's coffee. The marching band has gone to bed, or was arrested for disturbing the peace. As my hyper-alertness wanes, I recall the film I saw earlier tonight, marveling at its artistry, power and message. As was amply noted when it first came out, months ago, Inglourious Basterds is not for the faint of heart, nor does it make apologies for the desire to exact vengeance on those who seek to kill us. On this, the sixth night of Chanuka, I think of the Maccabean spirit of the Basterds of the film and feel a deep bond of kinship.

Some of us are natural-born warriors. I am one, endowed with the instinct to fight for what is true and important and mine. There is no universal experience or agreed-upon quantity when it comes to an individual's experience of struggle; some are fated to face down Nazis while others are privileged (or stunted) by the lack of adversity in their lives. Most of us are delivered something in between.

I'd never visited a psychic in my life, heeding the Biblical verse, "Do not let a witch live." That, coupled with my basic skepticism about the validity of soothsayers and tea leaf readers kept me away. But it was my sister's birthday gift to me and Ruti the psychic -- Yemenite, crippled by childhood polio -- won my confidence, intuiting secrets and intimate details ofmy life. She told me that I arrived into the world like Superman, of mysterious provenance. She told me that, like Superman, I had a hidden identity because I had to adapt myself to my adopted surroundings. She spoke of fortitude and solitude. She spoke of my path, the struggles I have endured and their meaning. Looking into my eyes, she spoke the truth about my unique experience of exile -- both artistic and existential.

My time with Ruti was time out of time, a goosebump-inducing adventure, one of many in the Holy Land. I did not fear the Divine retribution that comes from consorting with those who channel dark forces, having recently learned that witches and ogres more frequently come disguised as holy people. Instead, I was mesmerized by Ruti's kindness and her smooth, coffee-colored skin, comforted by her respectful regard for the stranger who sat before her, captivated by her cheekbones, her apartment, the pictures of her family in long-ago Israel, the one I remember from my own, ever-accessible childhood.

At this hour, there is a blending of here and there, then and now, what once was and what always will be. At this hour, Hashem's hashgacha prah'ti feels as accessible as my memories of childhood; it forms a thick and cozy blanket, like the quilt I will shortly be pulling up to my chin. As I recall my recent visit to Israel from the epicenter of a New York night, I see it as complete, a lovely little package, a charming collection of short stories, a ballad, the pillow on which to rest my increasingly sleepy head, tablet for my dreams.

1 comment:

She-Ra, Princess of Power said...

WOW! you are a treasure. what an amazing account of our time in Israel. thank you, love.