Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Survival’

This is a real “Rose of Sharon,” as referenced in the bible in the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as we know it in Hebrew – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  The real rose is, as seen, I kind of lily.  This year I saw them for the first time, or at least was introduced to them, and acknowledged them as the real deal. They bloom in the autumn on the sea coast, springing forth from the sandy rocks.  So beautiful a fragrance, such delicate thin white petals, spread out along the cliffs they blow gently in the breeze, dancing.

My name in Hebrew is Sharon – it’s what everyone calls me in Israel.  Irène is reserved for my English and French language identity.  It took me a long time to like my name. Irène Sharon – “peace” (from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, protector of Plenty, and revered by Athenians), and the forested plain region of Israel – often identified with this lily.  Now that I know that this unique flower blooms only in the fall, only here, and that I learned these things at a time when I was in such crisis, so tested, means all the more to me.  I love my name.  I want to work harder.  I want to be worthy of such a powerful, important, and beautiful name.

A test of survival – this last month was the most difficult one I have known in years.  It rivals studying for 5 AP exams while acting in a play while applying for college.  It rivals writing half a dozen final papers in two weeks.  It rivals the last week of sleepless nights finishing an honors thesis.  Yes, all academic references – but these were some of my roughest periods.  The task I was given did not require months and years of research in libraries.  It was kind of an opposite task – not cerebral – but practical.  A job job.  Logistics – coordinating the actions of 50+ people, scheduling 200+ wine tastings within a 2-week period, training 100+ people within a week, monitoring and assessing the success of these events, and troubleshooting at a moment’s notice – it was a kind of mad dance – the highest usage of email, telephone calls, text messages, and meetings – long drives, rushed taxi hops, running to train stations, and constantly being called, always fixing problems.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  10-16 hour days for a month, playing Sudoku with the largest spreadsheet I’ve known (as my bosses refer to it), moving people around like chess pieces, around the country, from day to day, hour to hour.  All this to sell wine, aggressively, on a large scale, during the holiday rush.  Now that I think about it, it really was like chess – strategic moves in a sales war.  It’s no wonder my bosses refer to this mad task as “hunkering down in the bunker.”

And I survived.  And I’m so happy.  And I love my job.  And I’m a sappy sappy sod, but I don’t care.  It feels good to work hard.  It feels good to have finished an arduous task.  How did I survive?  Sadly, or not so much, with a lot of single malt, chocolate, club soda (I love club soda), coffee and early morning news (BBC or France 24 at 6 am – not kidding) to feel connected to the world like a real grown up with a routine, and KAYAKING.  I kept at it.  Yes I did.  6:30 am once or twice per week, dragging myself to the beach for the greatest physically exhausting high – paddling kilometers during lessons with a professional, learning the techniques of the craft, to master control of the vessel.  Me versus the sea and wind.

And it was my kayak instructor, a typical gruff wiry leathery sort of sportsman, who pointed out the lilies, the delicate חבצלת חשרון, and bent one down from a high cliff for me to smell.  It a special sort of thing – that this flower blooms at the end of the Jewish new year.  Well, it actually crosses over – end of the year is also the beginning of the next.  It ushers out the old and brings in the new.  Kind of like my life.  A very new and different phase.  It’s much more like physical labor than mental labor.  Maybe it’s good for me.  For now.  It may make reading books and relaxing with friends more – more – fun?  Thinking for pleasure?

What is certain is that wine goes with food, and food will never leave my life.

Shana tova. שנה טובה ומתוקה.  A sweet and good new year to you all.

Second-to-last day of madness. Yes, that's a bottle of Gamla Sangiovese.

Read Full Post »

I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

Read Full Post »

It dawned on me recently that I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t even live in Tel Aviv.  I live on the Dizengoff corridor, and that’s about it.  With regular forays into the Rothschild realm, and occasional ganders into arty-yuppie-land, Neve Tzedek, I sometimes take peeks at the sea on weekends.  Basically, I enjoy strong coffees in various cafes around the city, about which I know a great deal. On Fridays I run wine tastings at Tel Aviv’s best wine shops, and when I’m in good spirits, on Saturday nights I hop between posh wine bars and local pubs. My yoga studio is three blocks away.  My new gym is 5 blocks away.  The longest trip of the week I make is a ghastly 20 minute bus ride to my therapist, followed by another 10 minute bus ride to my meditation class, followed by one 10 minute bus and one 5 minute bus home.  That’s my marathon day.  And I never have to leave the borders of Tel Aviv.

Adding to my insular lifestyle, I don’t typically read Israeli newspapers, and I have somehow managed to keep up with the basics by listening in on bus and taxi drivers’ radios here and there.  When I walk by a kiosk, I take a look at the headlines and then walk off.  Once in a blue moon I’ll pick up the International Herald Tribune…but mostly because it has the New York Times’ arts & leisure section which contains the crossword puzzle I miss so much ’cause doesn’t it feel so much better to complete it on paper with pen instead of on a computer screen.  For news, I read the BBC online, I surf the Huffington Post a few times a week, and I click on interesting links my friends post on Facebook and Twitter.

Pathetic, isn’t it?  It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit.  It’s beyond stagnant.  It’s positively vegetative.  Me! Me! I used to work in PR and read/skimmed half a dozen papers every day.  I saved searches on Yahoo news, BBC, AP, AFP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, ABC, even Fox, and more. Local, national, international.   I LIKED reading newspapers, even as a child.  I liked the feel in my hands, I liked to be in the know.  I felt it was important.  And it really was.  It still is.

What happened to me?  Did the news become too painful?  Did I slowly succumb to life as a numb couch potato?  Did I choose the easy way out without even knowing it?  Being proactive is difficult.  For me, reading the news, taking in all the pain (along with the joy and innovation and intrigue), many times leads to action.  It’s hard to really know about the injustice in the world and sit idly by.

Better to not read the news.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Not really.  Because I know in many ways I’ve been a bump on a log.  Sure, I work hard.  I try to improve myself through yoga and meditation and running in place like a hamster.  I read great books, the greatest books.  I think big thoughts.  I write creative little sketches.  I play with words.

But I haven’t been participating in anything.  Is the daily grind of trying to make a living (which in itself isn’t easy) to blame?  Is social networking partially to blame?  The immediacy of the medium makes it all seem more important than it is.  And it’s addictive, too.  Talking talking talking.  Links links links.  When I could be out learning how to sail, or participating in a knitting group, or better yet, helping people who are suffering by, who knows, teaching, building, cooking, writing…etc, etc.

I don’t live here.  I have thoughts of “going back.” But if I haven’t really tried, how do I really know I don’t like it here.  The politics are worse than in any place I’ve ever been.  Maybe even Russia.  Well, maybe not Russia.  People die here needlessly every day.  There is a violent uprising in Jerusalem right now, a 45-minute drive away, and I’m sitting here typing in my sunny beautiful living room eating a ripe avocado and gourmet French cheese.  What gives?

Passover is in two weeks.  A holiday commemorating the Israelites emancipation from Egyptian slavery.  Every year I think about the people who are still enslaved today.  In Israel we’ve got refugees, asylum seekers, and yes, lots of illegals, all fleeing terrible conditions in Africa, coming across the porous Egyptian border every day.  As a nation we grumble angrily, curse them coming, and mostly don’t offer any kind welcome.  And here I am, uselessly trapped in my own tiny little silver-spoon world, despite the “financial difficulties” I still face.

My Passover resolution: free myself by helping others.  And to put down the sci fi for a moment and read a newspaper each and every day.

Read Full Post »