Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two portions exactly

All that is left in the living room is the sunlight and our memories.

"Let's make a list," he said on the way to the Mahane Yehuda shuq, our local market. "First: quinoa."
"Quinoa? Why quinoa?!" At the time, I was unsure of how to spell the word in my head. That is how you know we missed out on the required post-graduate years of American yuppiness.
"Because I want to feel hip."

Alright, then.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, it was pomegranate season. The first sound I associate with our Jerusalem home is the crackling of seeds separating from the pomegranate. We came with the pomegranates; we are leaving with the cherries. We pass by the apricots, since the seller will not let us buy anything under a full box of them. There is no time left for a full box of apricots.

The shopkeeper asks how much quinoa we want. "Enough for two portions," Elijah responds. This is the smallest quantity in which anyone has ever gone food shopping in Jerusalem's market. "We only have enough time left for two portions exactly."

Two portions is the loneliest number.

Later that night, I watch him prepare a quinoa tabbouleh salad because, if you are going to feel like culinary hipsters, it might as well be regionally-inspired hipsters. Diced tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, cilantro, cheese, a dash of lemon. A side of guacamole, for those of us with stretchy hearts that are always missing other foods and other places. We eat our quinoa tabbouleh on the bed, since most of the other furniture is already gone. Moving house is the sound of your voices echoing on the walls.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jerusalem swan song

If I were writing this in an hour, I would be sitting on the floor. This is a floor both Elijah and I have scrubbed to no avail. The old Arab tiles that form its jigsaw pattern are too beautiful to be replaced and too historic to ever be fully clean. In an hour, our landlady is stopping by to pick up her furniture. The orange chair whose fluorescent monstrosity I had bemoaned is leaving, and so are we.

With 15 days left in this chapter of life, I am inhabiting the Jerusalem version of "Goodnight Moon." I am eating as though I am seeking to satiate a constant craving for everything I will miss. I am shoving falafel and lemon cheesecake milkshakes and fruit crumbles down in the hope that they will ease the pain of departure, as though I am nursing a bad break-up.

And yet, the break-up could not be more amicable. I am still in love with you, Jerusalem, and part of me probably always will be. You are that lingering former lover who has changed a girl's life in ways so profound that even when she has found love elsewhere, even when other places make her smile, even when there are other caverns she calls home, she looks back to you wistfully and with gratitude for stretching her heart.

We have invested millions of steps onto these streets. We have seen the tulips on King David street be replaced by roses and those, in turn, replaced by snapdragons. We promised to always kiss under that one tree that always smells nice, and we kept the promise. Now we are nearing the point at which we talk about the making of memories in the past: "Remember that one time when I found a paper flower in the street for you and you told me not to pick it up because you thought it was a bomb?"

For years, my brother has joked that I have an MPA, a Masters in Packing Administration (being a Dorkosaurus runs in the family, I know). I have mastered how to condense life into two suitcases. I am an expert in sorting and sieving, in selling space heaters and voltage converters. I have learned to relish the lightness. I increasingly distrust the people who tell you "oh, it's not goodbye, it's see-you-later" because I know to cherish the closure. I should, intellectually, know that these are the times that call for mindful presence and for breathing in every moment we have here. I should, intellectually, continue to make memories until the second the plane takes off with two suitcases of my life in its belly.

And yet, this time, I am drawing on that process with which I am perhaps more familiar than transcontinental moves: mourning. I feel myself gliding like a ghost through the stages of grief: denial, anger, remembrance, nostalgia. I am mourning the end of the Jerusalem chapter. As my teacher in grief and in love, Joan Didion, has put it:
"A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image."
We are spending our last 15 days here loving radically. Like a band on its farewell tour, we have loaded the car with wafers and pretzels and have driven nearly 2,000 kilometers to live out every item on our wish list. We felt the spray of a waterfall on our faces and rafted down the Jordan river. We saw the sunset over the sand dunes of Caesarea and drank cardamom-flavored coffee in Akko. We caught a glimpse of Syria from one border and swam in the Mediterranean the next day. We even had a drink at Messi bar, in an homage to the hundreds of hours of Barcelona games we have watched in bars across this country. Neither of us has unpacked from this last trip, the Farewell Tour, because we know that will mark the beginning of the sorting and sieving and donating. It will mark the beginning of the moving on. 

Friday afternoon, near Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem

Affection on the beach in Akko in the north of Israel

Coffee in Akko tasted like cardamom and clove.

Father and son on the rocks of Caesarea

A horse in the sand dunes of Caesarea
The hike to the Banias waterfall 
A tree grows over the rushing waters near the Banias waterfall


Banias springs, near the ancient temple for the God Pan
And then we made it to the waterfall...

E found some wet cement and E hearts R will stay in Banias for a little while longer...

The city of Zefat wakes up with Yemenite breakfast.

Collecting good luck charms: A doorway with a hamsa and an evil eye in Zefat

Trust us to take a photo in front of a Danger sign...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Resisting cynicism

Rose petals in the Old City of Jerusalem, just because.

Last night's Greek elections have given me little from which to draw buoyancy and lots with which to be disillusioned. Because the universe has a way, I have come face to face with my own words. The ceaselessly kind Christine Mason Miller, whose book Ordinary Sparkling Moments changed my conception of what constitutes a book well-loved, asked me to discuss some of what is close to my heart in her Global Inspirations series. At the time, I said:
Resist cynicism. Silence the voices that tell us we are not creative. Believe in the power and magic of storytelling. Learn about the most effective ways to serve; not all manners of service feel true to everyone, and not all make the impact we think they do. “Slacktivism” is easy and meaningful impact is hard. Be skeptical of narratives that portray individuals in conflict or post-conflict areas in ways that minimize their agency over their lives or their integrity. Take leaps of faith, and reward those around you who do. Acknowledge those who have inspired you, and write to tell them that. Mentor someone. [...] Smile when the universe winks at you (I firmly believe it does), and draw strength and inspiration from each wink.
The rest of the interview is available at Global Inspirations today. Thank you, Christine, for reminding me to resist cynicism on the days when cynicism seems like the easiest path and for giving me a forum to discuss that which makes my heart fill with gratitude.