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Procreation, Pleasure, Pain, Passing away…  Sex and death are entirely connected, yet so divorced from each other in how we perceive them.  Or should I say, our Western society chooses not to connect them.  Ever.  Now that I think of it, “we” are uncomfortable speaking about both sex and death, even separately.  Sex ed, STDs, terminal illnesses, school shootings, the afterlife, bodies…  Uncomfortable creepy crawly conversations.  Taboos.  For such an “advanced” age, it’s no wonder there are so many problems.  Why have I chosen this as a topic for a blog post?  It’s one of those convergence of things that I came across in the last couple days, along with stuff I have thought about for ages.  Now… I wrote too long a blog post last week.  I’m prone to this.  So instead of writing voluminously, I’m just going to post links and photos and videos.  Let’s see if you all can connect the dots.  Or at least enjoy this seemingly meaningless set of things I’m presenting.  At least sex and death, as topics, can be pretty…interesting…on their own.  Enjoy your mortality, folks!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Mortician

Caitlin Doughty went to the University of Chicago right after I did, and through mutual theater acquaintances on facebook, I came across her website, The Order of the Good Death, and her incredibly funny and informative videos.  Her mission: to bring back mortality into daily life.

Fuck the Pain Away

Your friendly post-feminist ultra out-there rocker, Peaches,writes and plays the instruments and performs all her own work.  I think it’s brilliant.  Years ago I created a performance piece that some of you may have seen in Chicago entitled Inventing Eve.  We closed with “I’m the Kinda“.  Here’s her breakthrough song, “Fuck the Pain Away.”

Alien Diseases in Deep Space 

In the season 5 Star Trek Voyager episode “Disease,” love is likened to a disease. Young Ensign Harry Kim has sex with a gorgeous alien and develops a biochemical bond.  His skins starts to glow and everything, and leaving the alien causes him to suffer lots and lots of aches and pains, and could be potentially fatal to him.  Here’s the “dramatic” trailer.  Oooh, steamy!

Send Your Remains to Outer Space – FOR REAL

I’ve been researching ways of disposing bodies. Why?  Watching Caitlyn’s videos got me thinking seriously about how I want to be disposed of.  Yes, this is going to sound a lot like “what I want to be when I grow up,” but instead is, “what I want to be after I die.” So, after I donate as many organs as possible, I want to donate my body to “science,” and after they’re done with me, there’s a sort of “green” chemical liquification sort of alternative to cremation they’re doing in England, and then I want my remains sent out to space.  Yes, space, as in outer space!  For a few small thousands, they will fly a few ounces of your cremated remains on a rocket into space.  I MUST do this.  Check out this amazing company Celestis.  They really ham it up – each launch has it’s own “mission” name, like “The New Frontier Flight,” and they call the dead, “The Participants.”  There are several options, an orbital flight, a return flight, a deep space flight, and even a final resting place on the moon!  If I can’t get there while I’m alive, I might as well get there when I’m dead.  Lots of famous people have done it, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife, actress Majel Barrett,  a few Star Trek actors and astronauts, and lots of ordinary people ride alongside them.

I can’t help but think about the ramifications of sending human remains into space.  I know that ashes have no remaining DNA.  But I can’t help but think of this Star Trek TNG episode “The Chase,” where the crew of the Enterprise is in a race with other alien species to solve a genetic puzzle.  Some sort of algorithm was imprinted in the DNA of many species of aliens, a result of a very advanced species who were alone in the galaxy who scattered their DNA among many planets.  I’d like to imagine my DNA bringing life to other planets.  See this moving video clip:

So I ended up writing a lot.  So what.  I hope you enjoyed the videos.

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Respite

Latin for “storm tossed but not sunk.” Approximately.  More elegantly translated (via Wikipedia), “He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it.” This was the motto of the school I attended in Paris, France during middle school – and I later learned, this is also the motto of the city of Paris.  Figures.  It also quite possibly fits as the motto of my life – recently and otherwise – or perhaps a motto I must keep in mind, one to which to aspire.  I try to avoid thinking of the tragic sea-related stories that cross my thoughts – The Old Man and the Sea, the horrible shipwrecks of recent weeks, my lack of kayaking activity due to huge storms and sewage spills on alternating weekends.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while.  I’m busy. I  just survived Israel’s biggest, most important wine expo, and holiday wine tasting season is huge and right in front of me.  I’m often overwhelmed.  And despite this, I find my calmer moments to be lonely ones, yet because of complete mental, emotional, and bodily depletion, I find I can do nothing but watch TV like a zombie, and in my better moments, read quality science fiction.  I wonder, in the few more lucid minutes, how I have entered a less “examined” phase in life.  My ideas feel fuzzy and buried deep within my brain.  In these few brighter times, I yearn to write a few words – yet although I have started once or twice – I just couldn’t spit out anything even remotely coherent.  Lists.

This post is a small attempt to force myself to take a break, to be me (I have literally 2.5 business hours left before the weekend, I had been frantic, but this post is helping).  Fluctuat neg mergitur feels quite like a motto of coping, of getting by.  It implies triumph over adversity, sure, but there is a darker flip side of this view, a hanging on by the skin of one’s teeth.  Living, somehow, under the constant threat of defeat.  Life hanging by a delicate thread.  I need to focus on the aspects of my life over which I do have control.  It will make rising with the waves easier.

Without further ado, here are some great articles I’d like to share

 

Blithe Spirit: the story of the unique English-aged “early-landed” Cognac.  Fascinating.

Dirty Words of 1811: add some true gems to your vocabulary, impress your friends and enemies alike, and swear like an erudite sailor.  My personal favorite: “Born under a threepenny halfpenny planet, never to be worth a groat” – a remarkably unsuccessful person.  And I love the word groat.  Feels nice in the mouth.

Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret: An oddity.  I had been unaware of Jerry Seinfeld’s method of getting things done, but this article is weirdly inspiring.

How to move to Paris with no money: this post is exactly what it says – a step by step guide to getting by and settling in Paris with absolutely nothing.  A dream of mine.  Very cool to think about.

My sister bungee jumping new New Zealand: so brave.

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LOOT! The extreme smörgåsbord brought to me by my father on his current visit. An odd variety of smoked salmon, gourmet pancake & scone mixes, and a "limited edition" Christmas pudding from Harrod's, made with vintage Port and contained in a velvet box - it cost more than many of my monthly bills

Today, the last day of 2011, is a Saturday.  What a year.  I’ve not blogged in a while, as has been the recent trend, not that I’ve not been collecting material.  So, it’s a great time to share a review of recent, and not so recent events, as some of them are quite awesome.  As for the year to come?  Well… that’s for another post, but I suspect I’ll be reading more classic literature, traveling more, and studying for a wine certification…I hope.  Enjoy the photos!

March - June: Alkalai Wine Bar, I lived in Bourgogne-wine-land every day

WINE: I transformed my career, somehow, with luck, with some concrete planning, with hard work. I went from an online marketing/editing/PR drifter and hopeless fiction writer, who worked part-time doing wine tastings, to a wine bar sommelier and cook, to an invitee representing the winery in a French exhibition, to a full-fledged winery employee.  I’m proud of myself for going for something I wanted and succeeding.  You never know what was entirely based on chance, but I know that whatever had happened, I would be working full-time in wine at this moment, whether at the winery or a restaurant or a hotel.  I learned how to leave a job I hated, work hard, ask for help (which was not easy), and ask for what I wanted (which may have been even harder).  I love my new job.

Christmas Day: Katzrin, Israel. Visit to the winery. I'm pouring our Yarden Heights Wine 2009, a Gewurtztraminer ice-wine-style dessert wine. Yummy.

Christmas: Yonatan vineyard, Golan Heights. Organic Cabernet Sauv.

TRAVEL: Hmm… where did I go…  Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny (in Normandie), Chicago, Kauai… I changed planes in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – though those aren’t supposed to count… and that’s it.  Fantastic adventures…but not as far and wide a selection of places as in years past.  I was very privileged in these, however.  They really were incredible trips.  Wine, food, laughter, hard work, hard play, art, beautiful weather – always – and especially the interesting people that I traveled with and met along the way. (on an interesting side note – after having been featured on an American Travel Channel television show, I was recognized all over the world, by random people, some of who plotzed and took photos with me and my sister).

June: the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Incredible book reading, and I met and spoke with author Nathan Englander, who graciously signed my book, in Hebrew and English. Extraordinary last day in Paris

April & June, Tel Aviv & Bordeaux: OYSTERS! Huitres!

FOOD: I cooked less this year, but ate just as heartily.  Perhaps too heartily.  The most typical New Year’s resolution may be in order for me this year.  From scrummy wine bar fare like prosciutto & Parmesan, fatty French cheese platters, and freshly steamed Thai dumplings; to oysters, foie gras, chestnut creme crepes,  Armagnac ice cream, crisp lemon squid, a simple Chateaubriand steak I’ll remember for a long time, more hearty soups than I can remember, and much much more.

March: squashing tomatoes with my bare hands for shakshuka at the wine bar

KAYAKING: an odd adventure sport I picked up and stuck with.  I suppose I needed some more exotic expensive exercise-induced adrenaline in my life.  Begun as a crazy lark in Hawaii (the Na Pali coast is rated the #2 adventure to take part in by National Geographic), I was thrilled and proud I survived the craziness, I decided to roll with the momentum and immediately join a kayak club in Tel Aviv.  It’s been interesting, and terribly challenging.  It has added another dimension to this ever-changing life.  It has also added  painful dark bruises to my legs and arms every week, and taken a large chunk out of my paycheck for water-tight clothing.  Oh well.  Life.  Better to go for it than to sit on the sidelines.

August: Kauai, Hawaii - kayaking the Na Pali coast

December: Rosh HaNikra, Israel - border of Lebanon - inside the deep caves

December: my kayak club with the Israeli navy

AND let’s end the year with some videos!  Going along with the title of this post, Tom Lehrer wrote some excellent songs that still ring true today.  In honor of all of the revolutions this year, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. In remembering all of the precarious situations that remain, Iran, North Korea, the Euro-zone crisis, the upcoming American elections, the environment going to hell, flu, honeybees dying out, and Israel practically becoming a misogynist theocracy, and of course the future of my physical, mental, and especially social fitness.  Let us hope, but more importantly, let us work hard for a better year and a safer, happier world.  And here’s some laughs and satire for us all.

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Goodness gracious is it difficult to find a decent greasy breakfast in Israel.  As delicious and healthy as the standard Israeli breakfast fare is (eggs cooked any way, but usually as omelet or scrambled – accompanied by a large fresh salad, dips/sides – tahini, feta, cream cheese, tuna, fish roe in cream sauce, homemade jams – and fresh bread), I have been craving something more typically American or even British.  Something with animal fat, a mixture of creamy yolk, bloody juice, and spicy carbohydrates.  Oh, the agony!  My kingdom for a proper fry up!  And I’ve been coming up empty.

Not that Israelis don’t try.  But the couple times I have ordered the “Steak & Eggs,” slowly cropping up on trendier menus, I have been so sorely disappointed to the point where these eating establishments should be ashamed of themselves.   I won’t name names.  Just be wary.  I’m going to keep ordering it until I can create a more comprehensive picture.  Honestly, last week I was presented with three pitiful strips of “steak” that was as thin, tough, and stringy as boot leather (I refer to the classic Charlie Chaplin sketch below), topped with 2 overcooked “sunny side up” eggs (the yolks were almost solid), all over “hash browns” that embarrassingly consisted of what I can only describe as a giant lukewarm mound of ordinary fries cut up into smaller segments before being fried – with absolutely no seasoning.  Sadly, the best part of this dish was its name – “The Texas Hold’em.”  As you might imagine, I politely complained, and still insisted I pay for the entire meal.  I don’t believe in something for nothing.  It wasn’t the delightful waiter’s fault, after all.

Send me your recommendations for restaurants to try!

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I have just returned to Israel more tired than I can remember in a long time.  Due to Ms. Irene, the hurricane, not me, my flights were all canceled.  No, I was not stranded in paradise.  I was stranded in Chicago.  Three days were spent in alternating phases of work-absence-anxiety-and-catch-up AND having a lovely time seeing friends with whom I didn’t otherwise have time to spend.  Now home.  To a scary and very exciting month of work.  I took a moment today to look up some favorite poems.  Calm before the storm.

For Laughs:

You’ll Drink Your Orange Juice and Like It, Comrade

By Ogden Nash
There’s a Cyprus citrus surplus
Citrus surplus Cypriotic.
No Sicilian citrus surplus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus
Not a Cyprus citron surplus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus
Not a Cyprus citrus circus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus.
It’s a special citrus surplus
“Just a surface citrus surfeit,”
Says a cryptic Coptic skeptic.
But the bishop in his surplice
Certifies the surfeit citrus –
In his surplus Sunday surplice
Certifies the cirtus surfeit
Who’ll assimilate the surplus
Siphon off the Cyprus citrus?
Sipping at the citrus cistern
Who’ll suppress the Cyprus surplus?
Says the Soviet to Cyprus,
“Send us all your surplus citrus;
This is just a simple sample
Of Socialist assistance.
Should you show a similar surplus
In the simmering summer solstice
Send a summons to the Soviet
For surplus citrus solace.

Now on Cyprus they’re all reading
Victory by Joseph Comrade.

One of my all time favorites is “Lanyard” by Billy Collins

A fantastic montage made to the recording of “Man in Space,” by Billy Collins

 

On a more tender note:
The following poem is by A.E. Housman, a fascinating person – revered classics scholar and popular poet. A dear friend once inscribed a book to me with this poem, and I’ve never forgotten it.

It is no gift I tender,
A loan is all I can;
But do not scorn the lender;
Man gets no more from man.

Oh, mortal man may borrow
What mortal man can lend;
And ’twill not end to-morrow,
Though sure enough ’twill end.

If death and time are stronger,
A love may yet be strong;
The world will last for longer,
But this will last for long.

Alas, I really have to go to bed. 2 am. Jet lag has to be beaten somehow. And so I bid you adieu with these words of Robert Frost‘s:

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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No joke.  Someone sent me these two videos recently.  They’re TED, so they’re 20 minutes long.  Dan Barber is a chef, food writer, and an important voice on raising people’s consciousness about what they eat.  If you have the time, they are riveting.  This is rather “old news,” but it was new news to me, and fascinating nonetheless.

Dan Barber’s foie gras parable

Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

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The European oyster - the native Oyster of France - "Huître plate" or "Gravette"

I could not resist.  Many know that for the past year or so I’ve been a de facto vegetarian.  I do believe it’s OK to eat meat – I simply do not want to consume the hormones and antibiotics that swim in our meat pool.  I’m for healthy happy animals.  Regarding seafood, I’ve been on the fence.  Overfishing is a big issue, and lots of species (other than the ones being targeted) are being annihilated in the process.  As I’ve not quite made up my mind, I have simply abstained from eating all animals this year.  Until Friday.

One each of five different kinds of oysters flown in directly from France

A guy in my yoga class, someone I’ve seen once or twice a week for over a year but have never actually spoken to, mentioned to our teacher after class that there was an event at his restaurant the next day.  Turns out he’s a chef at one of my favorite wine-tapas-y-bars in town, Basta, and they were flying in crates of oysters direct from France.  Free-for-all true-blue French oysters, best in the world, from 8 am until they run out.  I knew I would be there.

So after an excruciatingly long wine tasting (hot, little business, new high heeled boots), I walked about 20 minutes until I reached the Carmel Market area, a strange yet fitting location for this bistro.  Friday is my favorite day in the shuk – I can get the best deals – everyone wants to get rid of their produce before the Sabbath starts – and I know where the best vendors are.  10 minutes later, laden with all the fruit and veg I’ll need for a month – and I’m at Basta – looking at this:

Basta's oyster spread

France and oysters go way, way back.  From Roman times when France was known for the best oysters, all the way to modernity when France became the first country in the world to start cultivating oysters on a large commercial scale – the French take their oysters and oyster culture seriously.  This fantastic website I discovered, devoted entirely to oysters, quotes the poet Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947): “I love oysters. It’s like kissing the sea on the lips.” So here I was, thrilled beyond belief to be sitting at this charming Tel Aviv bistro – meters from the raging-pre-Shabbat shuk, (the vendors now screaming and lowering their prices every few minutes), about to consume these gorgeous, rare gems – about to plant a slobbering wet kiss on the lips of the sea.

I think they're just as beautiful on the outside

To tell you the truth, that expression is bang-on.  I’ve always told my curious kosher-keeping friends that eating oysters is like eating a mouthful of the sea.  But kissing the sea – on the lips – oh my – that injects the sexy passion into the act of eating oysters.  It feels so natural,  feeling the cold, creamy, briny loveliness slide into your mouth.  It’s like French-kissing your food.  A food that is the embodiment of French-kissing.  But cold.  Ice cold.  Weird, I know.

And so, my friends, the time has come, to talk of cultural oyster references.  The first that comes to mind is, of course, Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice Through the Looking-Glass.  The most famous stanza:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

However, my most favorite oyster scene is from Tampopo.  Please excuse the inane “commentary” from the person who posted the video onto YouTube.  Just watch the movie.

Ahh! So damned good.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter, "You've had a pleasant run! Shall we be trotting home again?' But answer came there none-- And this was scarcely odd, because They'd eaten every one.

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Georges Brassens

I’ve not been able to write, and I’m still so stressed, I don’t really know how I manage to stay upright (most of the time).  But as I’ve been getting some adamant requests for more posts, I’ve decided to share some easy favorites of mine.  Videos, links, juicy awesome things to laugh and revel over.  Enjoy this video.  Yes, it’s in French, but the translation is below (it’s line by line so you can follow along), and it came from this truly unique Brassens in translation website.  The singer is the unbelievably beautiful and somewhat talented Carla Bruni, former model, now the first lady of France.  All you really need to know is that this song is by the legendary Georges Brassens, it’s considered so lewd it was banned (and is still banned) from the radio, and the verb “bander” means “to have or to get an erection.”  If you know any French at all, do not use this word in conversation.  It’s very vulgar.  Of course, it also means “to bandage,” so, you know, unless you’re a nurse or something, be careful.

Fernande
Une manie de vieux garçon,
Strange habit of an old bachelor
Moi, j’ai pris l’habitude
I have got into the way
D’agrémenter ma solitude
Of spicing up my loneliness
Aux accents de cette chanson:
With the accents of this song

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

C’est cette mâle ritournelle,
It is this popular male refrain
Cette antienne virile,
This long-time virile chant
Qui retentit dans la guérite
Which rings out from the sentry box
De la vaillante sentinelle:
Of the valiant guard on sentry duty

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

Afin de tromper son cafard,
In order to beat his boredom
De voir la vie moins terne,
To see his life less gloomily
Tout en veillant sur sa lanterne,
While tending to his lamp
Chante ainsi le gardien de phare:
The lighthousekeeper sings out like this.

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

Après la prière du soir,
After evening prayers
Comme il est un peu triste,
As he is a little sad
Chante ainsi le séminariste
The trainee priest sings out like this
À genoux sur son reposoir:
Kneeling at his altar

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

À l’Étoile où j’étais venu
On the Place de l’Étoile where I had come to
Pour ranimer la flamme,
In order to revive the flame
J’entendis ému jusqu’aux larmes
I heard moved to tears
La voix du Soldat Inconnu:
The voice of the unknown soldier :

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

Et je vais mettre un point final
And I am going to bring to an end
À ce chant salutaire,
This salutary song
En suggérant aux solitaires
By suggesting to lonely people
D’en faire un hymne national.
To turn it into a national anthem

Quand je pense à Fernande
When I think of Fernande
Je bande, je bande,
It’s so hard, It’s so hard,
Quand j’ pense à Félicie
When I think of Félicie
Je bande aussi,
It’s hard as well,
Quand j’ pense à Léonore,
When I think of Léonora
Mon Dieu, je bande encore
Good Lord, it’s hard once more
Mais quand j’ pense à Lulu,
But when I think of Lulu
Là, je ne bande plus.
There, it is hard no more
La bandaison, papa,
An erection papa,
Ça n’ se commande pas.
Decides things for itself.

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Firefly's Kaylee enjoying an extremely rare delicacy

Until last year, I fasted on every Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the most serious holy day of the year. I even read the Torah portion from Leviticus 19 for many, many years in synagogue.  Then last year, I found myself in Avignon, France, surrounded by the French, their art, culture, and of course, wine and cuisine.  I didn’t want to be a seeming “ascetic” while my friends and hosts luxuriated in their amazing market findings.  It could have been perceived as rude (I know that wouldn’t really be the case), or at best weird (more likely).  And I wanted to eat.  And I didn’t feel any deep down moral objection.  Even though I planned on fasting, and I brought a Machzor (a prayer book) with me, it didn’t feel wrong to eat.  No guilt.

Bouillabaisse: a signature dish in Provence

So this year, back in Israel, I’ve decided I want to eat again.  Not being abroad, though, this is a much bigger decision.  One that has to be justified.  Proved.  You’ve got to have a prepared, “I’m an atheist,” or, “I believe in the spirit of it all, but I’m not religious and don’t feel it necessary to deprive myself,” etc, etc, etc.  Many people, secular people, do fast…but they also don’t go to synagogue and they sit around in their AC and watch TV and movies all day.  Not too difficult.  Which is what fasting is more or less intended to be.  Not that fasting is torture.  I’ve been told many interpretations over the years on why we fast.  The most common is that we deprive the body of all luxury so it can focus on the task at hand, namely, repenting before god, apologizing for any and all sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly.

Opening heaven's gates

Another interesting explanation is that on this day we should act as though we are dead — not dead, dead, but that we are weakening ourselves, humbling ourselves before god, wearing white robes and no leather, humble clothes, like Jewish funeral shrouds — and in the States at my temple, at least, we ran a food drive.  People were encouraged to donate at least the equivalent of what they would have eaten in that day they fasted.  All of this so that we can ensure we’ll be written up in the book of life for another year — asking god to keep death away for another year.

I’m fine with food drives.  I champion food drives.  I’m fine with introspection, of analyzing my own behavior.  Improving myself.  And certainly, most certainly, apologizing to PEOPLE in my life for having offended or mistreated them.  But I don’t have a relationship with god.  I just don’t.  I also believe that good behavior comes from within, and if people do good deeds to look favorably in the eyes of god, they’re missing the intention of it all.  Guilt.  Shame.  Incentive.  I believe in goodness for its own sake because it is simply the right thing to do.

Women at the Western Wall

I am proud of being Jewish, but I don’t believe that I have to pray in a specified way because that’s the way it is.  I believe I am a good Jew, in my behavior, in the way I live my life.  I believe in holiness.  I think I have been a good emissary of my people (I have been the first Jew many people have ever met, and goodness knows I have saved our reputation on more than one occasion).  I just don’t attribute that to god.  Fasting can be an important method of introspection, whether religiously or more meditatively.  I think that I am skipping the fast this year because I have decided I do not need to fast when I am told.  That I MUST fast as a symbol of being Jewish.  That’s an Americanism.  Going to shul because that is the way to maintain community.

Not so in Israel where secular holidays are religious holidays, where eating matzah on Passover is a national tradition, like Americans eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  Many olim, immigrants to Israel, often observe that it’s easier to be a Jew here…and hence…they become more lazy than they ever were back home.  Everything’s in Hebrew, the biblical language.  Biblical references are thrown about like Shakespearian references would be in Western literature.  Everyone understands the holidays.  They structure our year.  Kids have a bible study class every year from the age of 6 until graduation, whether secular or religious.  But because of that, you don’t have to try so hard.  I’ve certainly succumbed to that.

Defeat: Arch of Titus with Menorah carried to Rome

On the other hand, living in Israel has freed me in many ways.  Before, I felt a duty to express my Judaism when living abroad.  I’m still a Jew, and I never hide this fact when traveling abroad.  It is an important part of what made me, me.  But my real deep-down beliefs have surfaced much more easily here.  Relaxing the Jewish fervor, not being in a minority group anymore, I am finally comfortable with expressing my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Judaism.  I don’t have to put on a face, trying to “accept” interpretations to make my following of certain rituals logical to me.  I had been interested in different meditation techniques for years, but I believe that I avoided any sort of exploration because I thought it would be seen as disloyal.  So many Jews marry outside the faith, we’re disappearing, we’re forgetting — what responsibilities on our shoulders!  Keepers of the faith.  Keepers of our special nation.

No more.  For me, I am beginning to understand that it more important to be a good person than a good Jew.  These things are not contradictory, but at this point, I am finding that the Jewish definition is limiting.

Tomorrow, I am co-hosting a sci-fi marathon.  All 14 episodes of Firefly followed by the sequel film, Serenity.  Like the world of Star Trek, in many ways this brilliantly imagined series examines the human condition and celebrates compassion in the midst of a difficult, violent, and unjust world.  I’ll be making pizza from scratch.  I’m content with my decisions.

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I am absolutely fascinated by Rolf Potts.  He is traveling the world with no luggage at all.  Everything he is carrying is on his person, in a vest and cargo trousers.  He calls it “The No Baggage Challenge.” Check this out:

Here is his route, and also the rules he is going to live by on this 42-day 12-country tour.

I’m posting this A) because it’s totally awesome; B) because I adore travel; and C) I have realistic aspirations of doing something similar, albeit different (I know that makes no sense).  I’ve done lots of research on “round-the-world” trips.  Dozens of countries, varying routes, varying modes of transportation to get to it all.  When I was 20, I challenged myself to make it across Europe and finish in Israel without leaving the ground…or water, I should say.  And I did it.  Buses, ferries, trains, an occasional taxi, and my good old two feet helped me accomplish this.  Now I’d like to see if I can do it on foot.  I’d also like to broaden my scope and do a world tour without any money (or a very set specific budget, with rules, ala Mr Potts).

Here is my fascinating discovery week:

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Working my way around the world and getting free room and board by gardening, plowing, cooking, cleaning, milking, teaching, etc, etc, etc… sounds absolutely amazing.  Now that’s an idea for a challenge, a blog, a book (although I’m pretty sure it’s been done).  1 year, dozens of countries, set max budget, and an incredible way to learn about and teach people worldwide about organic agriculture, its history, cultural differences, and future.  From the ground.

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