Monday, January 25, 2010

Castles in the Sky

As I described in my post Thoughts on Falsehood, I spent a great deal of my teen years and early adulthood dreaming about glorious, far-off destinations involving art, culture, and great cities. Coupled with various outings with friends that gave me a natural kind of "high", I think it safe to describe those as my earliest quasi-spiritual experiences, following the monumental wonders of childhood.

That feeling didn`t last long. As I got older, something began to change. I began to change. But I still kept looking in the same places, thinking I would find it again.

Similarly, my early travels to Europe had felt somewhat mystical. I walked around as if in a dream. But the last time I visited Europe, I was no longer the same person - I had more knowledge and more baggage. Throughout my years in New York, following the pace of The Next Big Thing, I felt like a cocaine addict waiting for his next fix. But nothing provided ongoing contentment.

I am a long way from where I was a few years ago. Not to say that I have achieved a constant Zen-like peace of mind, but the road that I have chosen is clearer, and I am no longer lost. I`m also a stay-at-home mom. When my baby looks up at me and smiles, I experience a joy that takes me back to the way I felt as a teenager, when emotions were fresh and undiluted. It is hard to put into words, but this feeling is different, and significant, and ever-lasting. I look at my baby and all those castles I built in the sky are suddenly real again, and close to earth. I know that I am where I am meant to be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Taste of Wealth

We were fortunate enough to have spent this past weekend in our golden Jerusalem, in the most spectacular winter weather - blue skies, crisp air, and sunshine that warmed our hides enough to remove our heavy winter coats. We were equally fortunate to spend it in one of the most prestigious hotels in Jerusalem. This is a hotel of which most people like me will only ever visit the lobby on a date. The entire place closes to the public when dignified international heads of state visit. It boasts a fabulous Monday night sushi buffet which I think runs around $40-$50 per person (I don`t know about you, but I could never eat that much sushi!)

So anyway, at the expense of a very generous family friend of my husband`s, we stayed in this hotel over the weekend to celebrate his son`s bar mitzvah, and rubbed shoulders with a lot of very wealthy people. The setting was fabulous, the food amazing, and the rooms exciting (the only way to describe my reaction to the beautiful marble bathroom with the huge tub and little l'Occitane soaps, bathrobes, slippers and, best of all, no need to turn on the boiler!) I wore my best jewelry to fit in with the elegant hotel guests, feeling quite happy to have a taste of the fine life.

Over the course of the Sabbath, however, I developed a "so-what" attitude to the goings-on around me. In the dining area, spoiled teenagers were ordering 18-shekel bottles of soda and a variety of foods without hesitation. Well-groomed, finely-dressed women strutted about, looking no happier than anyone with a fraction of what they have. And truthfully, I got the impression that the wealthier you are, the more everyone tries to milk you. You`d think that for the price of an expensive hotel room you would get tea and coffee in the room, or that the dining menu would be subsidized. But no, the more you have in your wallet, the higher your spendings - if you live like a rich person. I met people who apparently were worth millions but lived ordinary lives and worked hard to get through college, get a job, etc. Like the rest of us common folk.

At the close of our fine weekend, we still felt privileged to have bedded only a short walk away from the Old City, and to have partook of a great Sabbath with wonderful company. But both my husband and I decided that, despite it all, it wasn`t worth the price. Granted, people will treat you like the gold you are worth, but at that exact cost. And it hasn`t changed our vision of one day returning to live in Jerusalem among its common people, steeped so much in the wealth of Torah that their faith is the stuff of which money cannot buy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Know He Plays in Heaven

Our book has been released! In this children`s book, a young child imagines his deceased grandfather playing with him. He envisions his grandpa chasing the balloon that flies into the sky, popping the bubbles that float away, and jumping as high as the moon on his trampoline in heaven. The book helps young people see that their loved ones live on, side by side with us here on earth.

10% of the proceeds will be donated to various charities.

I nurtured this book while nurturing my unborn baby, so it is kind`ve also my "baby".

Here are some samples from the book. It is available on Amazon (in paperback) - to order, click here. It will also be available in hardcover soon. Follow my blog to be updated!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Thoughts on Falsehood

In the weeks and months before giving birth, I tried to cram in as much reading and thinking time as possible, naturally assuming that I would have no time once my firstborn arrived. As it turns out, I now have even more of an excuse to read and stare into space than ever before - breastfeeding, once past the tricky beginning phase, presents many pleasant, guilt-free opportunities to read novels and magazines cover-to-cover, and just reflect on life in general (when not staring at the wonder that baby is!)

One such epiphany that I had, while baby and I were listening to a French children`s song, has to do with the way I view the French culture, and in fact, every so-called romantic culture out there. As an imaginative teenager growing up in South Africa, I often fantasized about far-away places, and in particular the greatest art centers of the Western world: Italy, France, England and Spain. For years I dreamed about packing all my belongings into a small backpack and disappearing into the cities of Europe for a few months. And there was something about Paris that always painted a glorious image in my mind, of artists and writers sipping cappuccinos in beautiful outdoor cafes on tree-lined boulevards, somewhere deep in the heart of Paris. I harboured this fantasy until I actually visited Paris three years ago. It rained for most of the three days that I was there. Maybe it was the weather, or the fact that I was jetlagged and exhausted, or maybe just lonely, but somehow Paris was not as grand as I`d imagined. The first part of Paris I set my eyes on was an eyesore, the metro filled with the sort of people whom I wouldn`t want to run into in a dark alley. The Louvre, while impressive, was full of tourists snapping photos of every precious masterpiece (in New York they would have been thrown out for doing so) and there were more people surrounding the Mona Lisa than paparazzi around Angelina Jolie. Even Notre Dame Cathedral was not as imposing as I`d imagined.
On my last day, under a miserable sky, I roamed about the streets of Paris in search of something to do. I was wet and cold, and wanted only to go sit someplace warm, and not the typical French cafe where the waiters would bother me every few minutes . Finally, I ran into a Starbucks, a long, long way from home (which, back then, was New York). As I sipped my hot drink out of a paper cup, it occurred to me that I was making a mockery of myself - visiting an American coffee-chain in Paris! The irony! And all for the sake of something warm and familiar. To confuse you even more, the only reason I ever patronized Starbucks in New York was because the atmosphere reminded me of Europe!

But never mind my own experience - the image of France as a paragon of the peaceful life I imagined is far from the truth. Persecution and anti-semitism have tainted England, France, Italy and Spain for hundreds of years, and continue to this day. In Paris, Jews are afraid to venture anywhere with a visible skullcap on their heads. This is not a paranoia - I rest my case with Ilan Halimi, although there is much more to say on the matter. But it isn`t my purpose to make this entry political. My point is that despite all of the above, I still feel wistful every time I hear a French song, or watch a movie like Amelie. What is it about these false pre-conceived notions we Westerners have of places? It`s like willingly choosing to bury our heads in a fantasy. That is why the world adores the rock star, the movie star, and the super model - all of whom we have only known wearing masks, acting out that which isn`t real. We listen to popular old French songs by Edith Piaf and imagine a rosy night cafe scene, when the singer`s life and character were far from rosy.

All this makes me appreciate living in Israel, where somehow people are more down to earth, be it because of the merit of living in the Holy Land, the constant threat of war, or all the social issues of living in a fairly new state. So, if I still find myself longing for baseless things, at least I can acknowledge the fact.