Monday, September 14, 2015

Clean Sheets

I found this journal entry from last year at a time that I am angsting over a number of life transitions, including where to go on vacation. I’ve been here about a year and a half and haven’t traveled outside of Israel and Palestine. I MUST! There’s a whole world to see! A few days ago I was contemplating Macedonia. That’s after my Croatia kick. Then I bailed on that and thought I’d settled on Greece, but I couldn’t pick an island. So now I’m back on Istanbul. And that's just location - dont' get me started on booking hostels, figuring exchange rates, and convincing myself to take off work. But in driving to pick up my dear friend from the airport yesterday, I was reminded of a core lesson that I have over and over again been re-teaching myself: not to take life or ourselves so damn seriously. This is something that I know intellectually, but am trying to train my insides to reflect the theory (kind of like meditation when your mind wanders to grocery lists and Greek islands and all of a sudden you get a rib in the side from your subconscious reminding you why  you’re doing this in the first place: oh shit! Breathe!!)  All knotted up inside and trying to smoothe everything out, I returned home to journal last night and came across this artsy attempt to capture a little treasure: the joy of freshly changed sheets. So, with that introduction/aside (can you have an aside before you formally start?), here is a post on appreciating the little things – near and far.

Sometimes people need a change of scenery – a whole adventure peppered with exotic spices; with savory meals during a sunset that sheds a whole new light on our worldview with no added effort but for a slight change in meridian. They seek fresh perspective at the bottom of glasses of tropical fruit juice and rum or in the sage wisdom from the old man who is said to live atop the mountain's peak – evasive as the rainbow’s gold and not nearly as wise as his seekers were in the first place.

I, too, have trekked the globe in search of an answer – seeking sounding boards against steely walls of city centers and the spongy backdrop of a jungle; against the ancient limestone and marble capsules of academia and religion, listening for an echo of ‘my truth’ all the while passing too quickly through the fun house to pay attention to the more subtle reverberations that followed my query. They may very well have offered the harmonious chord I’d been listening for had I paused long enough to notice.

What if, instead, that truth – that golden wisdom or the answers in our own quiet hum or the ecstasy in the first sips from a daiquiri glass – could be found in the place to which we always return; that place that grants unwavering comfort if we acquiesce to it. That sacred space to which I am referring is between fresh sheets.

There is nothing in the whole world like clean sheets. Peeling off the under-layer of that intimate cushion to remove the dust and sweat and tears you’ve carried with you and laid to rest each night – mildly absorbed to relinquish you of your burden but never fully discarded; rather, catalogued and stored away for you to sift and sort at a later date if you so choose, or to leave permanently behind in one wash cycle. Residing there – a collective memory upon which you rest your everything and leave it all behind only to gather more the next day. And when you put on clean sheets, you strip all of that away and pull that silky fabric taut across your mattress like a blank canvass.

When I was little, my mom used to raise the top sheet up and drop it across my sprawled frame. She said that this was what angels descending feels like. Each moment dissolved like a separate grain as the angels graced each nerve ending – skimming my toes, knee caps, chest, and nose, sinking deeper across my patient body until the sheet and I were resting as one, like a single piece of smooth chocolate melting across each taste bud of the tongue.

Then I’d slip inside to slumber deeply and start fresh with a new awakening, sliding one foot along the silky space and onto the cool floor, and then the other, to grace a new day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ode to the Pheromone

I love the scent of a man as much as the next woman. Perhaps more so. You can tell so much with a deep whiff – just like burying your nose in the midsection of an ancient book. Where have you been? Has it been a hard life? What’s your story? And what’s the latest trend? Are you more than your cover reveals?

Even in middle school when most boys smelled like Doritos, gym socks, and Gak, I was convinced that their scent was one of the most powerful forms of subconscious relating. It got even better once they started wearing deodorant. Perhaps I was just ahead of my time, but social cues indicated otherwise as my peers started wearing nauseatingly noticeable layers of perfume and eyeliner. I tried to follow suit – dabbing perfume from the tester packets in magazines or from small gifts by family members desperate to see me put down my softball glove and take some level of interest in my femininity. But nothing ever seemed to be the right fit for me – I always came out the other end smelling like an old china cabinet. Even more frustrating was how to find a good scent with my chemical compositions changing every half an hour. One time I tried Olive Tree and Eucalyptus oil in the store and by the time I got home I smelled just like a Tootsie Roll.

In addition to keeping up with perfumes’ scent-shifting, it was also a constant question of ‘how much is too much?’ Should you smell me on the street? Should you smell me after gym? Should you smell me while I swim? Far more complicated than I cared to waste my precious time on, I abandoned scents altogether for myself, but just as art appreciation lives on with the artist, I never gave up on deep breathing around a good dose of pheromones.

I want to return now to one of the pivotal questions that stumped me and ultimately cut my relationship with perfumes and colognes as a youth – a question for which I never found an answer and that, I have noticed living in Jerusalem, can last into adulthood for a large sector of the population. Take, for example, the gentleman in my building whose fragrant scent lingers like breadcrumbs leading him home at the end of a long day. He seems to share my cosmic query: how much is too much?

Or actually, does he even know to ask the question? Maybe he has no strong role model or close friend with any sense of smell whatsoever or common courtesy for the public space to guide the way.  And that is why I am writing here today – to finally and decisively close this mystery from my childhood:

I can decisively ascertain that if your aftershave can curl under my front door, through my home and into my kitchen to mask the scent of my brewing coffee as you make your way down our stairwell, then you are absolutely, 100% no-question hands-down wearing too much cologne.

I feel truly vindicated and want to shout my discovery to the world. I want to slip this open letter under the door of my neighbor. On the one hand, I feel like it would be a service to society. On the other hand, what if he doesn’t see quantity with the same certainly and absoluteness that I do? Or what if he is using his musk to lure a potential lady friend from the next neighborhood over?  What if he has a long-lost lover whom he is trying to woo back across sands of time and the Negev to our little jungley enclave in the city? That’s a lot of street musk and camel pee to cross and certainly necessitates the three extra spritzes now donned upon his neck and nether-regions.

But! That brings up another question: what if, just as birth control can alter your hormones and actually change the men you are attracting (that’s real – look it up), this poor soul is masking his uniquely sexy pheromones with corporate (albeit delicious) olfactory homogeneity that puts him in direct biological competition with Ashton Kutcher and Justin Beiber? That’s science. These are the things I worry about as I choke on the indecision to inhale his manly, trite-but-never-tired Axe or gag on his aromatic overindulgence. But I will say – my dear neighbor, your audacity smells divine and I wish you all the best in attracting a mate – hopefully from very, very far away. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your Engines

Monday morning started with already elevated blood pressure as I concentrated through all the booms and pops of the celebrations from the Muslim holiday on the other side of the city. It’s not so bad when you know that this acoustic backdrop is festive, but considering the proximity to the recent war and continued tensions in the area, I can think of more calming accompaniments to the tappings of a keyboard in our office.

I went for a walk around mid-afternoon and noticed a variety of incongruities that perked my attention to some sort of something going on. The traffic patterns had been altered around the base of the Old City; and a parachute hung in the air in the distance . At first glance, it simply seemed to be a strange choice of location for the sport, but it turned out to be tethered about 150 feet in the air by a barely visible strap. My boss explained that it was a security measure – they use parachute military instead of blimps for aerial surveillance. I wondered if he had balloons and a painted face or maybe was dressed like Santa Claus (that’s logical, right?).

Usually when I do a loop past the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, I pass groups of older Russian Orthodox women with delicate scarves covering their hair, tourists from South Korea clicking photos in front of David’s Harp, or groups of Jewish families dressed up for a bar or bat mitzvah at the Western Wall. On Monday, I passed a kid with a bull nose ring and jeans holding on for dear life just below his ass and a dude wearing a gray t-shirt with yellow splotchy letters that said My idea of balanced is a beer in each hand. Neither of these offended me, but they were nevertheless a jarring introduction to a new demographic taking in the consecrated scenery of the Old City.

I should have figured it out sooner, but it wasn’t until I heard the distant growls of gunning engines (and our director came to tell us that the office was closing) that I learned a Formula One racetrack had been set up at the base of the Old City and would be doing figure-8s along the route between my home and my office. Despite my profound connection to the Appalachian hills - where racing actually got its start running liquor during the Prohibition and still has a huge following – I have pretty much always despised everything about race car culture. My encounters with racing mostly center around Bristol, Tennessee, where I simply acknowledge its existence and move through as quickly as possible – taking extra care not to get bowled over in the passing lane by some yahoo with no muffler and a Bud Light in his hand.

To be fair, I’m not judging all race car fans individually – it’s also my fear of the commanding influence of stupidity that takes over in large crowds of people. ESPECIALLY considering that we live in a politically charged environment already and are now cramming thousands of people like sardines into the perimeter of less than a kilometer with engines and emotions revving. (Awesome opportunity for creative coexistence, or just needing a spark for the gasoline? Yes.)

Also consider the environmental factor: I can think of no more efficient yet meaningless way to burn fossil fuels than doing laps around a track – aside from maybe lighting up oil fields outright. And the only sound more obnoxious than the incessant honking already plaguing the roads of Jerusalem would be to add exponentially louder engines and more aggressive drivers. In short, I hate racing and the thought of being around it made my skin crawl.

I’d been hoping to leave the office before the hullaballoo got started. But given that our timing was slightly off, Lucy and I wound up leaving the office just as the race began gearing up. We could hear the motors roaring past the Old City and turning up the main drag towards Bethlehem. We took a longer route home and cut up behind the mall nearer to the City Center to try to skirt the course, but we missed by about a block and wound up at the main junction with a huge projection of the drivers coming around the bend and about 400 people all crammed into the four corners of the intersection. One car zoomed by, but didn’t slow down enough and skidded around the turn, coming within meters of the barricades where teenagers were perched with their lemonades and camera phones. I realized that the only way to get home was by crossing the rickety scaffolding staircase that led to a footbridge over the track. 

Scores of other people had stuffed themselves into a makeshift line to get across, but were bottlenecking as they lifted bikes and baby strollers and pausing to watch the race. Lucy, whose father had not taken her to football games as a youth and hence not taught her how to ‘shoot the gaps’ in the crowds (nor who was about 14 seconds away from a panic attack like yours truly), got caught in the line. I knew she’d catch up with me eventually and I crossed and came down the other side without looking back. Waiting for Lucy, however, meant that I was standing in the street just behind the barricades, during which I had the delightful opportunity to watch the environment-leech-sound-polluting-waste-of-every-possible-resource epitomes of human over-consumption come screaming towards me at death-defying speeds before slowing to turn and thunder past some of the most sanctified sites on Earth. I would've rather spent that 5 minutes pulling out my fingernails, but managed to continue breathing, which sometimes is all you can ask. We finally escaped the crowds and made it home in record time.

This city is full of surprises. I think I read somewhere that next week they’re doing a mobile Biblical petting zoo in the park – lions, lambs, serpents, the works….