Posts Tagged ‘Stories’

I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them.  As a writer, I don’t need one.  And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day.  I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think).  The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all.  Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days.  Included in this adventure:

  •  Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes.  Ah well.  All for good.  I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish.  It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
  • A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  Great fun.  Churches, ramparts, architecture.  I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends.  But I loved it.  Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings.  It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me.  At that moment I was happy.  I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location.  It was a great day.
  • Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living.  There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work.  Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me.  But let me leave it at that. To each his own.  A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
  • A scavenger hunt.  A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required).  We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine.  Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on.  It was exhausting.  We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal.  The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery.  They know their stuff.  It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto.  It was great.
  • Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux.  A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town.  We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market).  Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night.  We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar.  Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away.  We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree.  With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight).  Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak).  So it goes.  Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements.  And lots and lots of ibuprofen.  I’m quite proud of myself, really.  I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me.  I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all.  I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through.  In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly.  It was a fantastic evening.  Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better.  It’ll have to wait for the next adventure.  But it was very good as it was.

It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do.  I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do.  People who make world-class amazing wine.  And that counts for something.  It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause.  Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think.  It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience.  What’s a wedding without wine?  New Years?  Anniversaries?  Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin?  I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways.  There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.

Read Full Post »

(In the wake of recent tornadoes, this post has gotten a lot of traffic. There is nothing too useful below on surviving or coping with surviving a tornado – just my own scary experience last year.  However – here is a great article on how to help yourself survive a tornado.  But if you’re interested in my funky adventures in Iowa, please read on, and many thanks for doing so.)

Waterloo, Iowa.  I’m here for a day.  Less, even.  So excited for the wedding I’m attending tonight. In Iowa City I indulged in “pie milkshakes,” drank a good deal of wine in a bookstore-wine-bar, and ate deliciously at the Motley Cow.  But I’m wiped out.  So wiped out. For good friggin reason:

Living in the mid-west has its downfalls.  Tornadoes are a biggie.  I have never spent any time during tornado season in rural areas prone to these twisters.  Last night, foolish and paranoid as it was, I feared for my life.  A tornado isn’t a car accident.  It isn’t a disease.  It isn’t even a random accident.  There is no possibility in high heaven that a person can be saved when one shows up and comes straight at their house.  As agnostic as my tendencies, this is truly an act of god.  This is a beautiful land.  But I would find it difficult to live here myself with this natural danger looming for several months every year.

So I spent most of the night awake.  A big thunderstorm over much of northwest Iowa dominated my night.  It was pretty bad over Iowa City where I was staying in an old wooden house on the second floor, all windows, no interior rooms.  I stayed glued to the weather service website for several hours, about midnight to 3 am.  Earlier in the day when I was showering I heard the town siren go off.  I jumped out of the shower, soap still clinging, got dressed in 20 seconds, and then stood there shaking and not knowing what to do.  I peered outside, saw blue skies, and remembered that it usually took a storm or at least high winds to produce a tornado.  The siren must have been an exercise or for something else.  Not that night when it blew for about 20 minutes at 1am.  The winds picked up so quickly, within about 5 minutes it went from a calm, balmy summer night, to where things in the apartment were blowing off shelves, curtains whipping dangerously, and rain thrashing inside.

School tornado drill - exactly what it looked like

I knew vaguely from watching the Wizard of Oz and from school drills (Chicago is mid-west, a would-be prime twister area were it not for our giant lake, and therefore completely different wind and climate region. Still, we had annual tornado drills) that you’re supposed to go below ground or to a place without windows and crouch and cover your head.  There was no way I could do this.  None at all.  I debated waking the downstairs neighbors but politeness somehow still came over me when it came to this decision.  Should I drive to a safe location?  Would I have time?  Would being outside in a ditch be safer than staying in a house whose age and debris would certainly be a serious danger.

Instead, I got smart.  Dressed, shoes and all, cell phone in pocket, wallet in hand.  Plugged in the computer and found every website I could locate with up-to-the-minute info, Doppler radar, satellite imaging, etc.  I learned that the only tornado watch was a few counties over.  First, I had to figure out which county I was in (Johnson), and which counties surrounded it.  We had a flash flood warning, a dangerous weather advisory, and something else.  I eased up after a while when I learned this and watched an episode of Lie To Me, a show I adore and that we’re a season behind in Israel, while I waited for the 3 am all-clear to come.  I slept on the sofa, in my clothes, in front of the laptop.  The cats I was sitting joined me.

Now Waterloo.  And Cedar Falls, its twin town.  Can’t call these places cities, although in some books, they might qualify.  There are farming museums, a one-room schoolhouse, a historical society.  I’m too tired, I think.  Too behind on some work projects.  Instead, tomorrow after the wedding hoopla is over, I’m going to treat myself to an excursion to a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house in Cedar Rock.  It will delay my return to Chicago by several hours, but I feel that it’s a shame to visit a region without seeing at least something it is proud of, something native, something natural and important.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Walter House at Cedar Rock

Walter House Interior

Read Full Post »