Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tofu and Yahoos

There are certain things I expect when I patronize a natural foods restaurant in New York.

Tofu is one of them.

Yahoos are typically NOT on the menu.

And yet, inexplicably, there was a tableful of drunken, loud-mouthed, tattooed, conspiracy-theorist, anti-government, anti-Semitic rednecks seated next to HOBB and me at Quantum Leap earlier today.

Their conversation sounded like an NRA pep rally hijacked by neo-Nazi survivalists punctuated by the laugh track of "Hee-Haw."

Sipping miso soup, HOBB rolled his eyes as the loudest of the gang expounded his beliefs on the "media," -- a.k.a. The Jews -- and their absolute control over everything from (yawn) the international money market to Hollywood to the war in Iraq.

As the strains of this conversation reached my ears, I put down my spoon, unable to ingest my delicious dolphin-free, dairy-free salmon chowder. I was incredulous, then angry, then simply mystified. What the f@#$ were these nogoodniks from Nowhereville USA doing at this East Village eatery, where half the diners wore Tom's Shoes and deliberately uncombed hair and had an anemic, animal-rightsy look while the other half were cutting edge creative types wearing interesting designer ensembles?

It was a good question, one that HOBB and I sought the answer for throughout the duration of our whole earth, whole food, locally grown, non-GMO, fair trade meal.

Part of the answer, it seemed, is that this group had thought they would get into some legendary New York restaurant for Sunday brunch, sans reservation. When that fell through, they mysteriously ended up at Quantum Leap.

Though their irritating twangs lingered in the air, the townies eventually faded into the serene background of Manhattan on a Sunday in September. Happily, their offensive influence was shortly erased by the magic that greeted us just a few blocks away in Union Square: an outdoor exhibition of architectural magnificence -- Sukkah City -- featuring contemporary, creative renderings of the humble huts erected by the wandering Israelites in their desert journey towards the Promised Land. Though this journey took place thousands of years ago, Jewish tradition commands the construction of such huts with the advent of the holiday of Sukkot -- sometimes awkwardly termed "The Feast of the Tabernacles." Those who grew up in an observant Jewish home -- or were friends with observant Jews -- know the thrill of building this ritual clubhouse every fall, the joy of decorating it with fruit and flowers and vegetables and tinsel and trinkets and colorful posters.

The real fun is that this ritual object is entirely usable, in fact, the mitzvah is for the Sukkah to be utilized, that is, inhabited. So, for seven days -- or most of them -- observant Jews will take their meals in the Sukkah, with the extremely religious going as far as to sleep there as well.

Sukkahs and Sukkot are not the first things NJs* tend to know about Jewish tradition so it was fairly mind-blowing to note that by three p.m. today, Union Square was as packed and rowdy as a rock concert. Eager spectators of Sukkah City hailed from just about everywhere on the planet, with an especially heavy representation of French folk. A heady stew of languages and accents churned and brewed in the air. Cameras clicked. Gothamite children and oldsters mingled with teens, students, vagrants, and enchanted (though somewhat confused) tourists. Poses were struck. Videos were filmed. Everywhere people were blabbing extemporaneously -- as if talking in tongues or seized by the spirit -- explaining to their friends or passers by or no one in particular what a Sukkah is; what the holiday, nearly upon us, is all about.

HOBB and I walked, open-mouthed, through this carnival-like setting, greeting those we knew, smiling at others who looked familiar, admiring the architecture and art inspired by this ancient yet simple structure first erected by a fleeing slave nation. We marveled at Manhattan's magical, Sukkah-like quality, its penchant for serving as a harbor and home to all who seek sustenance and shelter, even rednecks just riding through.


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