Friday, July 20, 2012

Bar Mitzva Ari and New York, 2012









At long last it is Ari’s turn. This is the one whose survival was a miracle and who continuously surprises us with his take on life. And now he is barmitzva and is taking the synagogue service on his own.
So how would we not come to Winnipeg and then share in his dream of visiting New York? 

We were lucky to have smooth flights with no delays and crashed into bed at the Winnipeg hotel around midnight, which was eight am for us. After a reasonable 7 hours sleep we were able to get our act together sufficiently to walk to Forks for breakfast  before moseying over to the family home. There we discovered we had to hasten back to the hotel as there was only an hour before rehearsal and picture time…

So all dressed-up and made-up we drove back to the synagogue where Ari was already doing his thing with complete aplomb,


Family approves

– until he folded from the stress and lack of sleep. The photographer was dancing around, instructing, demonstrating, grimacing, posing us, never still, to get us to do what would result finally in a wonderful set of pictures, but the operation was demanding of time and patience from us all. I took advantage of the posing to take snaps of my own, but Ari swore he would never be barmitzva again.

Then we were supposed to dine early with the family so they could meet Maya at the airport, but we crashed again and overslept and found ourselves in the doghouse . And here I am at 5 in the morning, writing a blog. Ah, the joys of jet-lag!

Friday 29th June – Saba shopping day.
We started a beautiful day with a longer walk than intended

Shadowy characters         


along the river bank, communing with other walkers, runners, our own shadows and some Canada goslings  shepherded by concerned parents.


Then the children took us Saba shopping to the electronics shop.Toys in hand, they asked to go home to play with their new possessions before Shabbat.. At the CAA shop nearby, where I spent some time trying on  Tilley hats,. three heat-stricken members of the Hoult family showcased their version of child abuse
Alert social services!

After another long siesta, we met with everyone (including Barb, a family friend who, according to Hadass, had had the chutzpa to move back home to British Columbia)


for the traditional Indian buffet supper near our hotel. The trouble with Indian food is that unless you are very familiar with the cuisine, you cannot tell what is under the sauce until you taste it (and sometimes not even then). Samplings of every description filled our plates with spicy food and necessitated copious washing-downs with water.

Delicious mango ice-cream and mousse were among the desserts. Then we welcomed Shabbat with joyous song and dance and conversation - and more desserts of Hadass’ making ( I haven’t eaten rhubarb in a generation!)- before we took Barb back to her lodgings for the night.


July 1st –Today is Canada Day
and as of yesterday Ari IS finally bar mitzvah. He carried it off with confidence and joy, reading and singing clearly and often dancing and beating time to his own rhythms, picking up easily again once when he tired and lost his place (who noticed?) and obviously thoroughly enjoying himself throughout. Someone asked - is there such a thing as a Jewish ham? The whole family participated in the Tora reading and honours, Saba took the heavy scroll around twice on his newly united right arm and I got to open and close the ark with impressive efficiency - and even shared in the general congratulations poured down for “doing a good job”! The synagogue was full of regulars and friends, including a drove of children from Ari’s classes (school and schul) who were also invited onto the bima to take part in the service. Ari threw sweets at them with a baseball hand and we remarked that he was lucky, as in Israel he would have had to hide behind the lectern while the goodies were thrown at him! A light meal afterwards was enjoyed with relief and much social interaction and then we retired once again to the hotel.

Such is jet-lag. The best remedy I know is exposure to sunlight. However with our social obligations, we could not get as much of this as could have ensured a smooth passage. Another much longer siesta than intended completely confused me and I was sure I had slept the night through. But no, we had merely missed supper again. The family took pity on us and supplied us with leftovers and we sat around chatting with Jackie until Havdala (10:30 pm at these latitudes), the children playing with Maya until they could again turn on their electronic games. And it is again 5:30 am when I have been awake off and on since four…

A:This morning we got up and walked upstream along the Assiniboine, but whereas on Friday we reached the mouth, we did not make it to the source…Today is the party and there even will be a refuge from the amplifiers for the benefit of old people.   I am getting a mainline grandchild fix. The fact that 2/3 of my grandchild population reside in North America is hard. Praise God for Skype, but here I can get a hug as well.

Monday July2nd, Toronto Airport
Yesterday was THE party. Everyone was over their various tensions and all hell could break loose in the form of noise, music, joy,  dancing  and other indulgences.
Shira the rock star

 Food  was  galore,


and entertainment for the children was in the form of an animator of a rock group performance competition.  The noise was terrific, but who wanted to be out of the fun in the (relatively) quiet lobby?
Maya is having fun

We had walked the river in the morning and taken our time to get to the festivities, but were pretty tired by the time it all wound down at 4 pm.  The ubiquitous Gustavo was of course very much in evidence and educated us in the value of transparency
.

The evening was spent with the family watching  Dr. Who (new to us)  before we returned to pack..  The transit to the US went smoothly and we finally got to Avis in La Guardia at 4  pm on a brilliantly sunny day.
Driving to Summit, New Jersey, also proved easier than we had feared.  Traffic was relatively easy except at a couple of hot spots where we were warned in advance that a lane was closed – minor irritants. We stopped at a rest stop to ask our hosts for advice on navigation, but they did not answer the phone so we called up the  Blackberry Maps app which confirmed our instincts and brought us easily to our destination. Here we were warmly welcomed by Leo and Barbara Stanger and fed and bedded.
Today Tuesday, 3d July we walked  to the local school  and  viewed preparations for the 4th July.. This necessitated avoiding the exhaust fumes from the trucks transporting the portable toilets and the noise from the leaf blowers being used for garbage collection on the lawns. After breakfast we were delighted to meet Bob and Julie Latzer . Altogether it is wonderful to meet and catch up with old friends which we cannot do very often.
We set out in two cars, Arkee and I each with one of the couples, to a park called Grounds for Sculpture founded by Seward Johnson, scion of Johnson&Johnson..The drive was pleasant despite the heat, and walking around was relatively easy as there was plenty of shade. Part of the park is a lake, with a small waterfall and water lilies with a bridge a la Monet, statues and groups by the founder in imitation of well-known Impressionist paintings

 are cached in various corners and multitudes of modern artistic works are positioned around on lawns and in smaller sections of the gardens.

 The whole park exudes a restful atmosphere and encourages one to walk and discover more and more. We started our tour with snacks and then wandered enjoyably for more than three hours before starting back for dinner at an Oriental restaurant in Summit itself. Traffic was heavy – in the opposite direction…
Thursday July 5th
I am still confused with the days of the week, having no fixed routine – every day is Sunday. But yesterday was Wednesday, the 4th of July (we seem to have been traveling lately from festive day to festive day – first the Queen’s jubilee in London – vid our blog, then Canada Day, now  July 4th in the US).  But we were only going to take advantage of the holiday to meet up with my family.
At a late breakfast we touched base with Nusha, another old friend with very fixed ideas about what is good for Israel and the world which do not always coincide with ours… but we managed to avoid too much controversy. We helped her to coffee which the Stangers do not drink and then bade our friends sad farewells before getting ourselves going to Scotch Plains. Here we were warmly welcomed by my nephew Gil,

his wife, Julie and daughter (unfortunately his younger daughter was already away at camp) and soon the others joined us – my niece and younger nephew with their families and my brother and sister-in-law.

Also present were my son Barak with wife and 18-year-old daughter Ella, on a trip before her army service. We had a joyous afternoon with barbecue and salads and sweets galore (heaven knows what all this American food is doing to our weights while I am devouring a borrowed book on the subject of the damage done to our health by eating wheat and its products…). The children prepared patriotic strawberries coloured with white chocolate and tipped in blue sugar. They made a great effect.

 The young cousins interacted beautifully,

 the older ones (Ella and the 16 and 14-year-olds) playing with the younger (5 and nearly 4) and then they all started on the Wii, competing on automobile racing with the little ones on their laps. 

Barak and Ella, not to be outdone, also took active part. I have not seen Ella so relaxed since she was small. She speaks excellent English, with a good accent and broad vocabulary.

We were advised not to drive into Manhattan, where we had rented an apartment with Hadass and Ari, before the traditional fireworks were over, as the West Side would be blocked.. So we stayed quite late, enjoying being with the family, interacting with them all, feeling that in a certain sense we had made the holiday for them. At about 8 pm we started out, but in the small town we got confused reversing the directions by which we had come in. This took quite a few  three-point turns to sort out, even once asking instructions (quelle horreur!) but we finally made it tinto Manhattan in time to see some of the fireworks in the far distance. Then we inched down Broadway, from light to light, slowed down even more by the crowds  coming back from the banks of the river, until we finally got to 49th street where, miracle of miracles (Fred?), there was an empty spot in front of the apartment block for us to unload.
Hadass and Ari came down at our call and started valiantly up the four flights of steep stairs with Saba but there was our guardian angel again, in the form of a tall strong young man who just hefted the 20 kilo bags, one in each hand and swung them up the remaining three flights with nothing more than a bit of sweat on his face (it was hot!). We returned the car and walked back, and after a glimpse of Times Square, persuaded Ari to come out and have a look before he turned in – he did not regret it.

Awesome, Ari says

The apartment is not quite what it was made out to be. The four flights up and down really try our knees and cardiovascular capacities. Situated in  a non-descript, rather rundown-looking building in the area once (still?) known as Hell’s Kitchen,  it did not look any more prepossessing on the inside. Minimal furniture, just enough to suffice. Wifi -, although I need Hadass’ password and she has gone out to breakfast. Air-conditioning – two small units at either end of a peculiarly configured flat  are not sufficient in New York heat even with an additional fan and all connecting doors open. A poky little bathroom with virtually no room to move and a sofa which is not big enough for anyone larger than a small child to sleep on, upon which Hadass sleeps with her legs up… But at least it is clean and well-supplied, there is a fire escape, quite a few leftovers in good condition in the kitchen , and surprise of surprises, even a hairdryer so otherwise, Madame la marquise, tout va tres bien. The d├ęcor and library are left-wing bohemian eclectic, which contribute to some speculation as to previous tenants, borne out by the appearance of mine host at the door this morning to collect the rest of his dues.
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Friday July 6th
Yesterday we took the Circle Line trip around Manhattan.  In the morning we had shopped at an amazingly-stocked food market originally owned by the Amish but now by Turkish immigrants speaking minimal English. They also serve meals and we breakfasted there. Then we made our way to the port for the boat.


The trip was long but quite interesting, enhanced by the running commentary by the MC.  Much of this, however, was about who lived where and how much you would pay for an apartment in each building. Historical facts added more attraction to the stunning views, and of course we had a turn around the Statue of Liberty.  The architecture is always renewing itself and the skyline changes constantly in form and colour .
At the end of the trip we walked to Times Square where we were in time to get reduced price tickets for Avenue Q, a rather adult musical with puppets. Ari, however, was very happy and we all enjoyed it.

This morning, we slept relatively late, Hadass went to do Shabbat shopping and Ari got a pre-Shabbat computer break.

After a light lunch they went to ride “the Beast” – a motor boat that specializes in thrills and loud music – and we chose an activity more in tune with our seniority – a visit to MOMA. It was free Friday evening, so the lobby was crowded with mostly young people of all nations,  all on their way to the line for free tickets. At ten to four the line started moving – fast. We walked in, picked up a floor plan and a list of temporary exhibitions and prepared to make the most of the little time we had left before returning for dinner and Shabbat.
Threading our way through the fast-moving masses, we visited and enjoyed the work of a very versatile and involved Italian artist by the name of Alighiero Boetti, much of which was inspired by his visits to Afghanistan before the Russian invasion. Downstairs there were carpets he had (had) woven in abstract and figured patterns which were striking, some even taken from a series of mathematical progressions.

Having limited time,  we divided forces to visit our favourites, mine on the fifth floor and Arkee’s on the fourth. Here it was difficult to get close to anything well-known, crowds of mostly foreign visitors with smartphones were reaching over one another’s heads to snap a photo and move quickly on to the next picture with no time to stop and stare or do more than focus the gadget, supposedly tick it off a list and leave it to look at later. But then, what is the experience more than viewing on the internet?  We took a taxi back to sup in a minor Italian restaurant where Ari could devour a pizza and clambered  up to the apartment to make Shabbat with Margaret, a friend of Hadass’ originally from Winnipeg. Between wine, ice-cream and the heat, I was falling asleep over the table..
Sunday July 8th.
Finally the rain(s) came, with a crash of thunder and streaks of lightning. But this was already past midnight and did not save us from the heavy, hot day, most of which we spent under air-conditioning of various  degrees. In the morning we  tried to set up a meeting with Sue for lunch. This was done over the internet as  we were trying to coordinate with Barak and family as well who had given up on an open air market plan considering the heat. Eventually we spoke to Sue on Skype – but then the computer gave out (it had obviously not been charging but this only transpired late in the evening and I went through the rest of the day in mourning for it) and we were reduced to using the cellphone – or else. We met Sue at the “corner” overlooking Columbus Circle where she elbowed us into a table overlooking the “square” and we had a lovely talk and lunch.
The meeting with Dafna and Ella (who were at the Met) did not work out, but we had time to spare, and so decided to go ourselves to the Museum. Here we searched for the Byzantine exhibit and found the engravings of Durer and his contemporaries on the way. These are exquisitely beautiful, need a magnifying glass (which we did not have) to be properly appreciated and opened up a whole new perspective.Then we went on to the exhibit of Byzantine art during the period the area was being taken over by Islam and saw how the two traditions had coexisted.  The exhibits were beautiful and fascinating, particularly the Bibles in Arabic and manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza which are over a thousand years old and still amazingly well  preserved. On the way out we passed  statues by Rodin and others


and the Impressionist rooms which were parallel to the corridor. “Just this one room” said Arkee, but of course who can limit oneself to “just one room” where one’s favourites are hanging? We dragged ourselves away somehow to sup with Hadass and Ari and old friend Elyahu who had come to visit and Margaret who had come to meet Elyahu. Interesting conversation ranged from the Higgs boson to religion to politics to economics until midnight and after. 
Monday 9th July
Yesterday the rain did little for the heat and we had no hard and fast plans other than to keep air-conditioned as much as we could. Finally we got our act together, aided by the fact that Hadass and Ari had gone off to meet friends at the Nintendo history museum and shop at the Rockefeller center and that we all had a date for dinner.
So we returned to the Met to pick up where we had left off and search out the recondite corners where the special exhibitions are hidden. This entails walking from end to end of the museum and taking elevators that go only half way up to where you want to because the disposition of the permanent collections and the map provided are terribly confusing and the whole place is a maze. If you are there for the first time and have steel legs, it doesn’t matter, because you view every room you pass through and can never see it all anyway. If you are a regular visitor, you know your way around. But if, like us, you come in just to see some old friends and new exhibitions and want to pick and choose, you will inevitably find yourself retracing your steps and asking directions.
Anyway, we found our way to the pre-Pharaonic (pre-writing) Egyptian art – amazing stuff from 5-6 thousand years old burial sites with proof of religious beliefs and playing of games with game-pieces as well as decorated pots etc (no photography allowed) as well as  to the Buddhist art along the Silk Road


 – interesting to compare Chinese-looking with Indian-looking Buddhas in the same dress and pose. And of course we passed on the way, just by the way, not looking at, the Rodins, the Egyptian book of the dead, Babylonian remains, all except the Rodins, as I told Boaz, stolen…. And also threw in one room of Titian, Bellini and Moroni on loan from Bergamo where the  museum is being modernized – beautiful stuff.
And paid our dues to yet another  New York taxi to come back and freshen up for dinner on the town with the Stangers who had not seen Hadass for donkey’s years. Their daughter Tobie joined us in the very noisy restaurant, but good food and company was had by all overlooking Times Square.  Afterwards YandA walked among the Sunday evening crowds, enjoying the entertainers, the flashing video screens (so much more interesting and effective than the old patterns of lights) and the general holiday mood.

End of the day –end of the trip. We decided to finish up at the Whitney, and as the weather had finally broken, walked across town to a bus route. The walk was pleasant and allowed us to feel we really had been in New York. But the Whitney was closed for Monday (and Tuesday) and the Park not very attractive. We saw a bevy of young girls identically and very modestly dressed, despite the heat.  We speculated what evangelical denomination they might represent and then saw a school bus marked Vishnitz  Hasidim and caught on.
 So we rode all the way to the Village, took in the NYU scene at Washington Square



 and had a late lunch at an ecumenical “pub and cocina” called Murphy and  Gonzales and then made our way back again by bus, tasting the various sights and sounds of the city on the way. After a very light supper with Ari, we rounded off the evening with desserts and drinks courtesy of Margo at the Druids’ garden, closed in by tall buildings but with a view of the stars. No Druids were in evidence. Tomorrow via the descent of the stairs we fly home.
July 10th started out smoothly. Ari and Hadass once again valiantly aided us with our baggage at the appointed time. Sad farewells were accompanied by promises to see one another again soon. Check-in had been done on line, but there was no printer. Never mind, these days everything is on the computer. The van programmed to take us to Newark with 9 other people was punctual and the driver did not need paper proof of our online payment either (I was prepared to show him the screen of the Acer..). We dotted back and forth across Manhattan, picking up others and then breezed past a bored Air Canada hostess and sat down for lunch.
But soon after we had settled down to read at our gate, we were told that the connection to Toronto was delayed. And then delayed again. This time even the hostess was worried. She called us up, together with a couple of other international passengers and directed us to reclaim our luggage and schlepp it cross-airport to a different terminal to check in again to a direct flight by United Airlines. The first part worked well – our bags awaited us at the right place at the right time. But the desk she had directed us to was not the right one and we had to go elsewhere  and then elsewhere again, scared lest our bags miss the uploading which would mean we could not get onto the flight, even if we were in time at the gate. When we reached the final long check-in line, it turned out to be automatic – four or five kiosks per attendant, who only attended if there was a problem – but of course there was, as we had a paper ticket, an exceptional case. It took twenty minutes for her to get to us after we had been assigned an "automatic" kiosk and even she whistled when we told her when the plane was supposed to take off. But she got onto the phone and gave our names and took our bags and we sighed with relief and started to run. At security once more I asked for, and got, some priority, which did not prevent the agent almost undressing Arkee because his suspenders always set the magnetometer off! And the specially assigned agents at the confined area designated for travelers to Israel re-examining all our hand-luggage after we had traversed a supposedly sterile corridor.. But at last the plane and the seats and the flight were comfortable and we arrived earlier than originally planned and home is home.