Friday, October 26, 2012

Published writer

When you write for anyone, edits have to be made. A high percentage of the time they are necessary and as much as the anecdotes add color and humor to the story, I understand that they take up space and are just not relevant to the overall message. I was very excited to have my review of the Jesus & Mary Chain published on the Jerusalem Post's website. I got some really great feedback of people who liked my article (thanks family!). But reading it over I also wanted to give people more of a sense of what the concert was like. Here below I give the un-edited review.

Punk at the Barby, 2012

By: Laura Kelly

The Jesus and Mary Chain performed the first of a two night special at Tel Aviv’s “Barby” venue on Thursday night. At the edge of Tel Aviv’s hipster neighborhood Florentine, The Barby is one of the most famous venues in the city.

The Scottish band, whose only two consistent members are brothers Jim and William Reid, were part of the pop-punk movement of the 1980’s. Their appeal stemmed from catchy melodies layered over by strong guitar and percussion, aided by disenchanted vocals, both in style and lyrics. The formula fit their image as “youth’s in revolt” and reflected the times. American teens were rebelling against Yuppie greed and coming of age in the United Kingdom meant needing to be anti-establishment.

Sitting, wishing, waiting for the show to start.

The setlist.

Bass guitarist and Jim Reid, lead singer.

Jim Reid and Ninet Tayeb.
Fast-forward 30 years, Tel Aviv, 2012. I had my preconceptions on the way to the concert. I didn’t think 50-year-old men could connect with a sound and a style that was characterized solely by being young and disenchanted with the state of the world. The brothers took to the stage with close-cropped hair, William a head of gray, Jim, more of a salt and pepper. Both wore worn out sneakers, ill-fitting jeans, plain t-shirts and blazers. Blazers! Were they intending to make a good impression on this rag-tag gang of hooligans in the audience? They came on stage, sans opening act, to a raucous applause. This was curious considering 30 minutes earlier they had walked straight through the general admission area to neither a head-turn nor second glance. They opened with Snakedriver and continued into one of their most popular hits, Head on. The sound was great, Jim’s vocals continued with the same world-weariness he possessed at 20. William’s guitar emanated the noise the band was famous for; it pounded your ears and reverberated through your skin.  While the band harkened back to their classic sound, the audience was more surreal, an eclectic mix of old and young. Middle-aged rockers stretched their limbs and cracked their backs; they stuck to the edges while a mosh pit was convened by sweaty, smelly, twenty-something’s. Many a concertgoer then expressed blatant frustration at being run into by a half naked, epileptic mosher. The band looked out at the ground with the same blasé attitude I could only imagine they employed during the height of their career. Occasionally during breaks in the music Jim would try to banter with the audience. He would mumble something in his heavy Scottish brogue and a heckler in the audience would retort, “We can’t understand a word your saying!” With a careless shrug the band launched into the rest of their set. They finished out the first part with Happy when it rains, Halfway to crazy and finally Reverence before exiting the stage. It almost felt like a caricature of a punk-concert.  The general sentiment could be seen in the one pathetic attempt to crowd surf. One man, with one shoe, climbed atop his friends, launched himself onto the stage, only to be pushed off by security. After this, the crowd respectfully stood their ground and cheered waiting for the encore.

Mere minutes later, the band came back on. Despite the run-of-the-mill performance the entire first set had been, the encore was a special treat. Maybe at the realization that there’s only so much excitement five middle-aged musicians can muster, help was enlisted through one raven haired, Israeli beauty.  Ninet Tayeb, also known as Israel’s first reality TV pop-idol, took to the stage to accompany the band on 99 rainy days. The addition of a beautiful young woman brought out the best in the Jim Reid. Tayeb’s soulful, raspy vocals complimented Reid’s dark and ominous melancholy. The two continued with Just like honey before Ninet took a bow, embraced Reid, and gracefully departed from the stage.

To what end do members of a band this age still need to be playing the music they made in there twenties? As clearly seen by the dedicated fans that came out, it doesn’t matter the time or the place, it’s the feeling and memories the music elicits that makes it worthwhile. I spent most of the concert with a pair of sisters, both in there forties. They told me they had been fans of the band from the beginning, a thirty-year courtship. I told a friend of mine I was going to the concert and she reminisced about how she first downloaded their songs on Napster. While at the concert, I couldn’t resist jumping straight into the mosh-pit myself. It reminded me of going to rock concerts when I was 14 at Christian youth groups in my small town of Long Island, NY. Whether the Jesus and Mary Chain are just trying to squeeze out the last bit of success they can, or they truly are happy to be back on stage, everyone at the Barby was happy to have them there. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eating cheap and healthy

One of my favorite things about living alone is having the fridge all to myself.

That's all me in there. If I was on an episode of "Cribs" I think it would go something like this:

"I gots the fresh fruit, you know you gots to have the fresh fruit. Plums, bananas, cherry tomatoes, and Figs. Figs man, those things are bomb! Let's see, I got some vegetables, dem be good. Cottage cheese, I make it savory and sweet, got my coffee and milk, can't do nuttin without my coffee, and Tahini - just put it on everything!"

Not to take away from Tel Aviv's culinary scene, I mean my previous post was all about my near orgasmic experience eating out really yummy dinner. But most of the time, it's hard for me to reconcile going to a restaurant and buying a salad when I know everything I want is in my own fridge. I've developed a minimalist "cooking" style, the quotations are necessary in that I rarely cook and just throw together my favorite flavors, with little to no dressings or spices, just letting the food taste as it should. I do this more out of laziness and ineptitude in the kitchen, but it makes me happy.

My breakfast of champions.
To confirm how lazy and cheap I am, I use the program issued, one of two glass mugs as my bowl for my morning oatmeal. I splurged on a cutting board and a knife that is sharper than a butter knife, but I still fear for my fingers every time I chop. Most mornings I make a cup of quick oats with my handy dandy kettle, half a banana, a fig, and some apple. Fig has become one of my new favorite fruits here - a little dangerous as well since it's more than likely to have more creepy crawlers than a normal fruit haul.

Now that I'm a pseudo-workin girl, just that I actually have to leave the place I live for most of the day, my lunches have turned into random concoctions. Yesterday I had rice cakes with cottage cheese, a plum, a carrot, and cherry tomatoes. Today I had all of that, plus someone brought in a huge thing of curry lentil soup that was absolutely amazing.

A good mix of an Israeli dinner.
Dinner is my new jam. Tonight I had a cup of chamomile tea, I was in the unwinding mood. A typical salad here is aptly titled, Israeli salad. It consists of chopped up tomatoes and cucumbers and is dressed with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. My version, I add more fig (of course!), carrots, mushrooms, avocado and a hard boiled egg. I then squeeze fresh lemon for the dressing. As my guilty pleasure I have hummus on the side. A popular way to eat hummus at restaurants is serving it with a hard boiled egg and slices of onion to use for scooping. I figure if this is what they are going to serve me for 20 sheckles, I can make it myself as well. As you can see I gave myself a healthy scoop of hummus and just went ahead and put it on top of the egg. My favorite ways to eat are just simple tastes, fresh and wholesome. 

Now don't go thinking I'm some health food, all organic nut. It's by eating like this to save money, that I'll leave the really good, additive filled, oil drenched, delicious concoctions for when I crave it. For this I'll go to the experts. One of my missions is to find the best (and biggest!) pizza in Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Tel Aviv blunder

Was on my way to a concert tonight, I'm going to write a review for it. I started out walking, thinking I can find my way easily. I get turned around in the winding, curving Tel Aviv streets. Time is ticking away. I hail a cab, spending precious money I don't have on a story that I'm writing for free. We get to the venue, the neighborhood is surprisingly desolate. The cab lets me out.

The concert is tomorrow.

I walk home. I find my way easily.

"Wait, where is everyone?"

A funny thing happened last Saturday night. I had a friend visiting and I was telling her about how crazy my life is here. I'm constantly out until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning. The party scene is always on in Tel Aviv, never is there a dull moment to be found. She wasn't new to Tel Aviv but she was the first person that I could show around through my favorite spots.

We started out our night in search of drinks and small tapas. The bar we found could not have been more perfect. Unassuming, on a side street off a main avenue, outdoor seating with a popular crowd. We put ourselves on the wait list to sit outside, but once we saw the bar inside, we didn't care if the hostess ever found us again. French red wine was served to us in italian style tumblers and doo-wop and american soul music blasted out of the speakers. We clinked our glasses and surveyed the scene before us. This was no ordinary bar. The space was narrow enough to touch the bookshelf behind our bar stools, which interestingly enough was decorated with a library of vintage vinyl records and shelves of fresh cherry tomatoes. The bar we sat at also served as the line cook station. Brown sacks of fresh vegetables, herbs and prime cuts of meat was functional decoration as the chefs behind the bar reached in, grabbed their ingredients, and prepared all dishes right in front of us. We couldn't resist ordering then and there. The menu was only in hebrew so we just deferred to the bartender and told him to order us the two best vegetarian dishes. He kept trying to ask if we liked this, or would be ok with that. We kept dismissing his questions and cutting him off. We had all our trust in this establishment and believed no matter what was served to us, it would be amazing. Our trust was put in the right place. On a piece of, I can only imagine, recycled cardboard came a popular dish of eggplant served over tahini. The eggplant is whole but the skin has been peeled away. It's cooked in a way that it retains its shape, but is of a stringy, soft consistency. It's topped with fresh scallions and a spicy sauce and lay's on top of tahini, to be scooped up with each bite. The second dish was cooked okra in a tomato puree. The bartender tried to warn us that the okra would be slimy but it was melt in your mouth delicious. It was paired with a hardboiled egg and more tahini and was a really good combination of the woody okra and tahini, the sweetness of the tomatoes and then balanced by the egg. We oo'ed and ahh'd with each bite and the bartender winked at us as he poured complimentary shots of Arak. "L'chiam!" We cheered as we drank and ate in bliss.

The night was off to a good start. We went and stood outside to continue catching up on our girly conversation. Like every good Israeli bar, the time it takes to get hit on is always within a couple minutes of claiming a spot. Like clockwork, two Israeli's came over, heard our American accents and started in on the script. "Where you from? Why are you in Israel? What do you do here? Why come to Israel?" It can be refreshing at first for an American new to Israel to receive so much attention so quickly, the pickup scene in America can be downright depressing, but you learn to see this intense interest as the Israeli game and it can be exhausting and annoying. I dismissed these guys very quickly, sure there'd be better men and better times shortly down the road for my friend and I. We finished our wine and I took her to our second stop.

The dive bar we went to next was conspicuously quiet. I just attributed it to the general nature of dive bars and maybe it was still early, it was only just reaching midnight. We got some beers and I ordered olives on the side, I'm convinced, a very Israeli thing to do. With the quiet ambiance of the bar we worked hard to psyche ourselves up for the dance bar we were heading too. We traded funny stories of drunken nights past and even got up to practice "Cotton Eye Joe" in case it came on. By the end of our beer we had a happy buzz on and a party soundtrack in our head.

We walked the 15 minutes to the center, dancing and singing down the street. Again, things seemed oddly quiet. It was like the lead up in a bad zombie film. Everything seems normal and in its right place, but its this non disturbance that should be the tip off that something is off, something is wrong. When we reached the dance bar it was clear something was very wrong. The bar was CLOSED! Never, in my one month here in Tel Aviv had I ever heard of this bar closing. It is a standard, it is a reassurance that no matter how good or bad your night is, you can always end up there. I was so confused, perplexed, hurt. What was going on in my Tel Aviv? Where was everyone? Why was no one out? Why weren't the bars overflowing, the music blasting, the people drinking? I was clearly missing something big here. We walked to another bar that I knew just so we could use the bathroom and then call it a night, to crawl back in shame. This bar also was pathetically empty. The few people sitting inside were sad sights, eyes trained on any new person to walk in the door. I asked the bouncer, why is tonight so quiet? A tired looking soul leaned in from behind the bouncer, "Everyone's tired from the Holidays, they have to go back to work tomorrow." Stupid. It was no coincidence that this party stamina I believed Tel Aviv to possess was happening during the month of holidays. Just because I wasn't in real life doesn't mean other people treated their everyday Tel Aviv existence less responsibly. We went to the bathroom and left the bar in shame.

It was a sobering moment in more ways than one. The next two nights I ended up staying in, I thought my Tel Aviv party spell had broken. I would start on real life and crazy nights and crazy stories would be relegated to the weekend. I shuffled through my room in my slippers and curled up with my book or with past episodes of Homeland. The two days of sleep were necessary and refreshing. In fact, I feel I could use more. But my Tel Aviv hasn't abandoned me. Last night I went to a friends birthday party and ended up 6 drinks deep at the bar and still went to work today. Tonight I'm going to a concert and hoping I'll still be able to function for a 9 am call time. But I think that's what people do here, Tel Aviv.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"What? You're Jewish?" - every friend I've ever had.

"I used to meet many Jews from America and Western Europe who told me that they had come to Israel to 'find' themselves as Jews. I always told them that Israel was probably the most confusing place in the world to do so. It is the place to lose yourself as a Jew, because if you don't know who you are before you arrive, you can get totally lost in the maze of options that present themselves as soon as you plant your feet on the land." - Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem

I came to Israel for many reasons, but one was to explore what being Jewish meant to me. In New York I found myself exploring the religion and my connection to it more than I ever had before. It happened very quickly, all of a sudden I had a Seder instead of Easter. I was rushing home from work on Friday to make shabbat services. I was going to the Jewish Enrichment Center for fun. For fun! I liked meeting and connecting with people who also felt a bit outside the normal mainstream. It was like being part of a secret club, exclusive and distrustful to the outside world, but trusting and all welcoming to an insider. It was empowering. From my short encounter with Jewish New York, the general feeling I got from the religion was yearning for Israel. I didn't think about the dichotomy about growing attached to this yearning, then actually being in Israel and not needing to yearn for it anymore. I've been here for two months now and it seems I've been practicing less of the religion than when I was in the States. But then I also feel that just by virtue of being here, I am more Jewish than I was in New York. It's the implicit Jewishness of the whole place. The streets are biblical names or famous Jewish heads of state. The food is all kosher, its the exception when its not. And one can't escape shabbat or the holidays. The look of the general population is also inherently jewish. But what use to separate Jews from the rest of the world are now unifying features of this country.

To come to this country is to begin to see the Jewish state not solely based on religion, but as a people of a specific land. This is a thought and idea I still can't seem to fully comprehend. Over the past couple of days I have found myself in heated debates with Israeli's about what constitutes the Jewish state of Israel. Through these debates I've been shocked to discover how deep my American beliefs are ingrained in my psyche. Issues of the Arab population, of Palestine, of African refugees, when the argument facing me is "They are not Jewish, they don't belong here," it's extremely difficult for me to swallow. But my counter arguments of live and let live fall on deaf ears, I even can't fully believe in my own side, but I just can't fully accept the other.

I'm proud of the USA and what it stands for, but I also know it's far from perfect. It's like when they teach in school about how Columbus discovered America. It's a story about vision, dogged determination, and entrepreneurship. Then you get older and realize, well he didn't really discover America, he was number two and it was the Caribbean. Then if you keep trying to open your mind and expand your horizons, you find that what once was a sweet and hopeful story is actually a nightmare of colonization and genocide. I thought I had grown out of my American naivete, now I feel myself clinging onto it like the pillow I've carried everywhere since my family almost left me at a ski resort in New Hampshire.

Before I left for Israel I tried filling myself with as much knowledge about the place as possible. I thought that if I prepared well enough I could come in and automatically participate in the debates and have meaningful insights and prodding thoughts. What I've realized so far is that I have a great command of the facts; 1948 - War, 1967 - War, 1973 - War, 1982 - War, 1988 - War, 2000 - War, 2006 - War. A challenge I was waiting for was to try and understand the Israeli psyche, with myself as a blank slate. Within two months I've found in me deep rooted American themes of freedom, right, and peace. I haven't decided yet if this is reassuring or if it will lead to a hard fall. It's difficult to admit that my glasses are much rosier than I originally thought. Maybe it's not a coincidence that pink is a pervasive theme for me. But why do I feel the need to challenge my beliefs this deeply in this place? Why didn't I do it in Ireland? Why didn't I do it in China? Maybe its because this is how I'm exploring my Judaism, my connection to Israel. In my relationship with Judaism, I'm not yearning for Israel, I'm yearning to understand Israel.

"Danger Mines" - even though its right in front of me, I can't grasp the reality. I took a picture of it for pete's sake.

Cliche Holi-daze

A helpful website when living in Israel:

Today is the last day of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday that lasts 7 days (8 days in the diaspora, thanks Wikipedia) shortly following Yom Kippur. In Sukkot, a structure called a "sukkah" is built to imitate the itinerant structures the Jews had to build during the Exodus. The tradition goes that people are supposed to eat and sleep in these huts for the week but today, mostly two big meals are served, for the first and last day of the holiday. But to have a giant tent in your yard is fun too, the other day a friend texted me if I wanted to go to Karaoke. In my translation of the hebrew I thought he said it was a club called Rami, but it was actually to be in the sukkah of his friend Rami. I think Moses would have approved.

I have never had so much holiday overload. Already a normal week in Israel culminates in shabbat. From Friday evening to Saturday evening the entire city shuts down. Shops, restaurants, public transportation, it all closes and remains closed until a nondescript and ever changing "official time" says when things can re-open. It's a slightly eerie reality to watch a bustling, lively, colorful street go absolutely quiet. Everyone retires into their houses and its like you can see a tumbleweed blow down the road.

On holidays, it follows the same formula and in the month of September and October, it's like every other day is a holiday, and then it's shabbat. We had Rosh Hashanna, and then shabbat. We had all the days leading up to Yom Kippur, plus shabbat. Then it was Yom Kippur! Total and complete shut down. Then it was shabbat. Sukkot arrived! Then shabbat. Then Sukkot kept going, then shabbat. Now it is the final last days of Sukkot, then we'll have shabbat, then we will get one, full, uninterrupted work week. I don't know how I'll be able to live five full days in a row, at least I'll have shabbat.

The outside of an impressive Sukkah

Sukkah filled, popping bubbly!