Grateful

image

Last evening as I was picking my way down a rutted forest road I had to stop to let three enormous javelinas cross the road.  This is the first time I’ve seen javelinas, although I’ve smelled them, and I’ve seen their lying-down places where they rest.

I had no idea that javelinas range so far north.  I thought they were a Texas and Mexican border kind of thing, but I guess not.

Javelinas are the northern cousins of the peccary, a wild and voracious pig that travels in packs and eats anything alive that it can overpower, even adult humans.  I was trekking with a native guide through the jungle in Costa Rica when we smelled the peculiar and disgusting aroma of peccary.  We tiptoed as close as the guide felt safe, staying downwind.  If the pigs got a whiff of us, the guide said, we would be dinner.

There must have been thirty of them, with a huge boar standing sentry.  That herd of pigs could run us over and make a meal of us in seconds, he said.  So we tiptoed back the way we had come, avoiding the horrible trees with long sharp spikes all over their trunks. 

Who can have read or seen the movie “Old Yeller” that does not vividly recall the terrifying fight between Yeller and the javelinas (I think they call them “wild boars”)?  Poor Old Yeller got himself tusked up pretty bad.

I thought of that last night at dusk, when I found a decent camping spot not very far from where the wild pigs crossed the road.  Atina fretted because I wouldn’t let her out after dark.  She would be no match for a hungry, angry, or frightened tusker.

I actually ate wild pig once.  My first ex-husband’s folks lived in South Florida.  They (the folks) ate anything they could catch.  Kind of like javelinas, come to think of it.

By the time he was a year old, my son had eaten (raw tuna, but that’s normal) fried squirrel (pretty good, actually), pheasant, wild duck, fried alligator tail (very much like chewing on an old tire, vaguely reminiscent of fish), javelina, crawdads, and who knows what else.  I tried not to look.  (He lived through it, and acquired a taste for weird and disgusting food.)

Some distant relatives threw a party out in the bush.  They owned a ranch, so they took a couple of days off and barbecued a whole cow and a couple of whole pigs.

One of the teenage sons trapped wild pigs in a pit trap, hauled them out of the pit, popped them into a pen, and fattened them up for eating for a month or so.

Normally javelinas are very tough, because they have to travel long distances, and they have to work for their food, subsisting on acorns, and anything they can root up or catch, such as household pets and small children.

Fattened up javelinas taste mighty good.  Tender and sweet, but not kosher.

At the ranch barbecue, the eating was all done outside in the blazing South Florida sun.  There was a large pole building right near the barbecue pit, but we weren’t allowed to congregate in there, for inside the barn was a gigantic U-shaped assemblage of banquet tables groaning with “salads,” the kind made of canned fruit ruined with gobs of pink or green colored Kool Whip, and punctuated with contrasting colored tiny marshmallows.  Some of the endless variations on this theme were sprinkled with toasted coconut.  I believe they call this “Ambrosia.”

Much more interesting were the tables laden with every kind of pie: blackberry, mulberry, cherry, lemon,  chocolate cream, banana cream, and my personal favorite, Shoo-fly pie.  Shoo-fly pie, if you haven’t had it, is all about the thick layer of molasses that blankets a rich, flaky crust on the bottom.  The crust and molasses are baked slowly till the molasses thickens.  Then a layer of vanilla custard is poured on top, the pie is cooled, and topped with whipped cream (or not).  The result is that the molasses kind of makes its way up through the custard, resulting in a delightful variety of tastes and textures.  Shoo-fly pie, yum.  Forbidden to diabetics.

Regrettably, we must return now to the present.

After two days of cardiology testing, Atina and I decided to do the old splitsky into the woods.  It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so I’m pretty sure that most of the good spots are taken by three day weekend revelers.  So I studied the Forest Service map and picked a likely looking road.

It took some searching, but voila, the photo above shows you the delightful camping spot I found, with a fine view of the San Francisco Peaks, which are the Westernmost boundary of the Navajo tribal lands, marked by four sacred mountains.

We’re sitting right about 8,000 feet, elevation wise.  Glad I filled the propane tank; it’s gonna be a cold night.

Packed With Wholesome Goodness

And it’s heart-healthy, Zero Everything, Good For You, and 100% Whole Grain (OK, the grain is white flour, but still).

Where have I just come from, dear readers?  Planet Claire?  Well, yes, and they also have grocery stores.

I would like to find the advertising executives who work for the companies that use this vapid copy. 

Can I write for you?  I can put together asinine slogans such as, “Filled With The Wholesome Goodness of Heart-Healthy Whole Grains.”

I actually saw a number of combinations of these exemplary examples of advertising copy, as I was cruising the aisles looking for what I really wanted, which was of course buried among the Good-For-You foods.  I don’t really like things that are Good For Me, as a rule.  I mean, I do like them, but at the moment I am too depressed to prepare them, let alone eat them; so I am making do with Heart-Healthy microwave meals, which are much too small for the calories contained.  Did I mention I’m a recovering anorexic? 

It was really terribly amusing to amble through the aisles noting the repetitive, monotonous descriptive cliches.  Any reasonably motivated blogger could make a pile of money cranking out Zero, Good For You, Wholesome Goodness, with a little Delicious and Nutritious and maybe Yummy thrown in to clinch the deal.

Since all advertising has to adhere to the Stick To Eighth Grade level of literacy rule, I guess “Scrumptious” is out of the question.  It’s ninth grade.

On a positive note, I discovered a brand of gluten free Oreo knock-offs that promise to be “Wonderously Rich.”  Splendid! 

They made it as far as the van before I took a scissors to the wrapper and sampled them.  It was my duty.

I don’t know about Wonderously Rich, but let me tell you they are CRUNCHY and DELICIOUS!  It’s very difficult to find crunchy and delicious gluten free cookies.  I ate two.

Speaking of ad speak, what’s this garbage about (fill in the blank)-free?  What are these things “free” of?  Disease?  Germs?  Lead?

Caffeine.  Gluten.  Lactose.  Fat.  Sugar.

Hell, in the olden days we used to say things like, “sugarless candy,”  or “skim milk (that’s fat-free), or even “diet pop,” which might have been sugarless, but it was never caffeine free.  What’s the point?   You want a bump, maybe you don’t want 240 calories (you want to know the caloric content of anything?  Just ask any anorexic), but decaf soda?  Ridiculous.

It was an uplifting experience, strolling down the supermarket aisles and sneering at the creme-filled, whole-grain, heart-healthy cupcakes.

Bon appetite!

Expectations

I don’t know why, but tonight I’ve been thinking about the idea of “expectations.”  I have never been good at “expecting” things.  Maybe that’s because I’ve never had much permanency in my life.  We moved a lot when I was a child, so I never got to develop solid friendships. Every time we moved and I started a new school, I’d get to be the “new kid” and get “picked on” constantly, which today’s parlance would call “bullied.”

Just about the time I was starting to get at least a lukewarm reception from the other weird kids, we’d pick up and move again.  As I got old enough to understand such things, I was informed why we needed to move (again), but before I reached the age of reason, it was just: out come the boxes, in go the belongings, and off to some other dwelling, echoing, empty and in need of paint and curtains–sometimes in need of a whole lot more.

It almost became a hobby, moving into a new house and fixing it up nice.  I wasn’t aware that most families did not move every two years, plus or minus.

There were other differences that were more important to me.   Sometimes I would go to some kid’s house and it would be lunch or dinner time, and they would invite me, and the mother would call my mother on the black dial phone so heavy you could kill somebody with it, and I would get to stay.

When it came down to the actual food, it got a little tricky, because I had never seen Chef Boy-Ar-dee** canned spaghetti, or Spaghetti-Os that they served to the children while the parents ate steak, and nobody seemed to mind.  Or Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes with brown gravy made from an envelope. Or Rice-a-Roni, “the San Francisco treat.”  It just did not look, smell, or taste like food to me.  I couldn’t eat the stuff, and the mothers would get frantic or angry, depending.  But I had never eaten anything out of a can or a box, so it seemed alien to me.

We couldn’t afford such luxury food even if we had wanted to.  We grew a big garden instead.  In the late summer, my mom and I would start canning Kentucky Wonder pole beans, squash, and tomatoes.  We finished up canning season in the fall with home-made apple sauce. Every time I invited another kid to stay to dinner with us, they refused to eat my mother’s home-made spaghetti sauce with fresh veggies out of the garden.  They didn’t think our food was food, and I didn’t think our food was food.

These children, whose parents fed them Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, had real beds with headboards and bed skirts.  My bed was a door–without the handle–on a metal frame with casters, topped with a four inch thick piece of foam rubber.  If you sat on it in the wrong place it would tip over and buck you right off.

They had dining room sets encased in plastic, living room sets encased in plastic, and gigantic color televisions.  We had a trestle table with a bench on each side, like a picnic table only my dad made ours out of some nice kind of wood, and it came apart and folded up, to move.  Our couch was another door-and-foam combo, with a blue slip-cover made by my grandpa, who had been an upholsterer in his prime..  We had a “bat chair” saved from the Beatnik days, that folded up, and a few other old and trusted pieces of furniture from various eras in the moving days.  When we finally got a TV after Kennedy died it was one of those little portable ones that you could actually put on the kitchen table to watch while you ate.  Bad habit, I know.

I never knew we were poor.  Since I never really liked other kids that much, I only rarely went to somebody else’s home; and since all I knew was utter simplicity and impermanence, the houses of what I came to think of as “rich kids” (although they were probably regular middle class kids) seemed opulent and even overdone.  I liked their big TVs and swing sets in the back yard, but I was relieved when I got back to my simple homespun surroundings, where I felt comfortable.  It was as if every time we moved, the physical dwelling changed, but the interior with the beatnik furniture and all the art and paintings on the walls, remained the same as though they had been picked up as a unit and dropped into the new house, all intact.

This normalization of impermanence may be why when someone asks me “Is this what you expected it to be?” referring to an experience, not an object–I have to honestly answer, “I can’t tell you, because I don’t expect anything.”

My Buddhist friends applaud my expectation deficiency.  According to them, it is something one must strive to accomplish.  I can’t take any credit for mine, since I didn’t do anything on purpose to achieve this state.  I think it is sad, to grow up in a way that is devoid of reasons to expect anything.  But since I was never aware that I was missing anything, and the only constant in my life was change, I simply never grew the “expectation organ.”

N.B. For those of you who grew up with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Spaghetti-Os, Ore-Idas, furniture covered with plastic, large color TVs, and/or swing sets, I beg you not to take offense.  It is simply that since I didn’t, they seemed strange–just as our house and food would have seemed strange to you!

If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem

Forget, then, the power of my right hand

Make my tongue cleave to my palate

If I fail to recall you.

–King David, Psalm 137

I had intended to write a completely different post tonight, but while I was cooking dinner I was overcome by longing for Jerusalem.  This usually brings on floods of tears and heart-rending grief, and tonight is no exception.

January 11th marked two years since I returned to the States to help my elderly parents. Before that, I had four glorious years in Jerusalem, the only place on earth that feels like home to me.  I will return, God willing, as soon as circumstances allow.  I hope to die and be buried there.

Jerusalem is a city of riotous variety of peoples and ways of life.  You can go to the Old City and bask in the awe of its ancient arches.

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha'Atiqa

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha’Atiqa

 

Or you can go to the Shuk, the open marketplace rioting with color and jumbles of cultures, Jew and Arab and Christian all jostling for the best fresh pita, halva, olives, fish, meat, vegetables, cookies, bourekas (the local filled puff pastries), pots and pans, headscarves, seasonal delicacies, etc., etc., etc.

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

During festivals things get even crazier.  The wonderfully colorful and deeply mystical festival of Purim has many traditions associated with it, one of which is dressing up.

Women's Purim Party at SY's

Women’s Purim Party at SY’s

That’s me on the left, at an all-women’s Purim party that happens every year at Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s place in the Old City.  She’s a Mekubelet, a deeply learned teacher of Kabbalah, and one of my principle teachers.  She’s highly respected among the Mekubalim, the male Kabbalists who take a lot of impressing to be impressed by a woman.  That’s one of the aggravating parts of Jerusalem is the deep rift between male and female.  There are reasons for it, but it still gets to me.

I miss my religious community there…there is nothing like it here in the States, and certainly not here in Grinder’s Switch (any Minnie Pearl fans out there?)

The Men's Side

The Men’s Side

 

The Women's Side

The Women’s Side

I miss walking down the street and seeing Armenian priests in their black robes and tall hats, the nuns in black habits and impossibly uncomfortable-looking headgear, Muslim women cloaked from head to toe walking arm in arm with their tee-shirted, cut-off-jeaned, mulleted husbands.  I miss my own community, the married women seeming to compete for the most elaborate hair coverings, and of course the weddings

Bride Praying

Bride Praying

This is my friend’s new daughter-in-law praying before her husband-to-be comes, escorted by his father and her father, to lift her veil and look into her eyes deeply.  Then he will lower her veil back into place and go away.  I honestly don’t know what the men do between that time and the next part of the wedding ritual, when the friends of the groom come and escort the bride and all the women, singing special songs, to the chuppah, or wedding canopy.  The groom and the fathers will already be there, and the bride and the mothers, who are holding candles as you can see in the picture above, circle the groom seven times clockwise, and the bride then stands on the groom’s right.DSC00042

I got this shot from behind the chuppah because there were so many people packed into the wedding hall that I had no hope of getting a shot from in front.  Orthodox Jews in Israel mostly get married in wedding halls and not synogogues.  The chuppah, or canopy, that you see here is made up of the prayer shawls of the two fathers and the new one that the bride gifts the groom as part of the ceremony.  It’s very beautiful.  After the ceremony there is a huge feast.  The bride’s family traditionally provides the food.  This bride is from Uzbekestan, and we had Uzbekistani food which is honestly the best food I have ever had.

After the food comes the dancing.  There is a partition between the men’s section and the women’s section, for modesty.  The dancing on the women’s side is just crazy.  They will set off fireworks indoors, explode confetti cannons, put the bride on a tablecloth and throw her into the air, and put the bride and the groom on chairs and hold them up above the partition so they can have a little air dance together.

Why nobody gets killed at Jewish weddings, I don’t know.  They do sometimes get killed at Arab weddings, because they have a tradition of shooting off guns and sometimes somebody gets killed by mistake.

Oh right, I wanted to say that the dancing on the men’s side is mostly boring except when they have acrobatics done by young men in suits.  I have watched these things and all I can say is that Jewish weddings encourage me to believe there is a God because everyone seems to walk out able-bodied.

But most of all I miss being part of my huge Jewish family, over six million in little tiny Israel, six million to replace the six million.

IMG_1365

One of my rabbi’s sons, showing us his very long tongue.  The hole-y tights with the star belong to one of his sisters.