Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009...

Wishing all you lovely bloggy folk a very happy new decade, full of thrills and satisfactions and sweetness and love...

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Unwelcome Visitor

As the blizzard covered us softly, stealthily, inexorably in a foot of lovely lovely snow...

I lay sick a-bed with influenza. Still not clear whether it is of the swinish or regular variety, but it hardly matters.

Dutiful wife and mother that I am, I made sure Sarge and Hedgehog had all their shots. Me? No, I'm invincible.

I'm still quite unwell, laid up pretty much completely. I do hope everyone else is faring better!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Me. Yet Again.

Seven things about me, requested by the lovely Kat (please do check out her blog here, if you haven't already, I'm such a fan of her wonderful writing) in exchange for a bouquet of flowers and some sweetness! I'm never one to shy away from going on and on about myself, so I am happy to oblige. Although in the interest of maintaining some distance, I did initially ask Sarge to do it for me (a new twist on a meme, if you will). He rolled his eyes and said, "you want me to tell seven things about you for a blog post?" "yes." I said. "Can you handle it if I tell the truth?" he asked. I realized right then that the only truth about me would have to come directly from me and not him, otherwise we would be entering marital encounter group territory. And who wants to do that?

Anyway, here's seven things about me:

1. Gosh do I love having my hair pulled. Probably too much information right off the bat?

now for an uncomfortable juxtaposition

2. I still like to cut out paper dolls sometimes.

and a non-sequitur

3. I think the rooftop sex scene between Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor in "Velvet Goldmine" is the most beautiful love scene in all of cinema. The first time I watched it I was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

4. I have watched "Velvet Goldmine" more times than I can count. I mean that literally. Can I somehow convince you to see this movie? If you see it, you'll know what the inside of my head looks like--and I mean that figuratively.

Okay, if number four is getting a little too weird for you, how about

5. I had a true craving for pickles when I was pregnant, just like the stereotype. But the craving only lasted one day. I bought a jar, bit into a juicy cold half-sour, was elated, sated, and done. I never had the craving again after that.

talking about one's pregnancy is gauche. Sorry about that.

6. There is only one person in the world who is allowed to call me a "J.A.P." If anyone else were to call me that I would slug 'em. Even if it were true a little bit. Which it is. Which is why I laugh when she calls me that.

and to end with something that I feel deeply, seriously:

7. To me, the written word is more seductive than the spoken. Oh, far more seductive.

I'm too shy to tag anyone, but feel free to leave me a secret about yourself in the comment section below. I would really appreciate it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dvorah and Hemda

Eliezer and Dvorah

In this picture is Eliezer Ben-Yehudah (see the link for his story, if you feel ambitious; he was an enormously important figure in Jewish history, notable for being instrumental in the formation of modern Hebrew), and his first wife, Dvorah. His second wife, Hemda, was Dvorah's sister. Yes, he married two sisters consecutively, and these two sisters were cousins of my Grandma Eva. Yet, cousins could mean anything at all really--and we wonder how exactly Dvorah and Hemda were related to us.

Eliezer and Hemda

Alas, this secret died with Grandma. Although she shared with us few specific details, it was an emotional topic for her. Apparently Eliezer, in his quest to rejuvenate Hebrew as a spoken language, was singleminded and harsh. My sister tells me that Grandma cried when she talked about it, describing how terribly abusive he became toward Dvorah when she continued to speak Yiddish, the language of her home. He demanded that his family speak only Hebrew.

But what strong connection made Grandma feel such empathy that she actually wept in the telling of a story that she could not have personally witnessed, as the Ben-Yehudah family settled in Jerusalem and she and her immediate family in Brooklyn? Had there been a closeness between her mother and this other branch of the family, had she overheard her mother's stories about the abusive tendencies of the charismatic Eliezer? Were there letters, now lost?

Although there is a great deal of information available about the famous Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, there isn't much told about the wives. I'm consumed with curiousity, and wish dearly that I could ask Grandma about Dvorah and Hemda.

photos from online archives

Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Pennies

Tonight begins Chanukah, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but festive and filled with light.

As I polish the menorah and wrap Hedgie's first little gift, I'm in my usual strange December state of mind. I'm Jewish, but surrounded on all sides by Christmas--because, of course, I don't live in an 18th century shtetl. But as I do every year, I begin to feel stirrings of rebellion somewhere deep inside.

It helps me to remember the old pennies. Every year at Chanukah, in preparation for our game of dreidl, my Grandma Eva pulled out the bag, sagging under its own weight. The pennies smelled funny, felt funny. But they held strong symbolism: of our family together, our precious faith and tradition that set us apart from others. A tradition that we had to be brave enough to hang onto in the face of the temptations of over-assimilation.

Our December holiday, though its story is grand and momentous, is truly humble in its celebration--potato pancakes, a game of tops, little presents, candles flickering in the early darkness, and, of course, the bag of old pennies.

No, Christmas is not my holiday. And these little Chanukah traditions are all I want--these, and nothing more, exactly as it should be. I don't mind being different.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Really, why is it that the very thought of snow makes me feel so melancholy?

from my favorite short story, "The Dead" by James Joyce.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Shop Girl

Much like Donald Duck, who is pictured in the comics as everything from an industrial gherkin vat skimmer to a sea captain, I have held a wide variety of jobs in my life thus far. I've been a waitress, a college professor, a receptionist, a domestic violence counselor; sorted mail, edited poetry anthologies, dipped ice cream, written encyclopedia entries, sold books, typed letters, taught Hebrew School. I've had temp jobs and careers. But looking back now, I would have to say that my favorite incarnation was as a shop girl in a high-end NYC soap shop.

Of all my many vocations, I was probably best suited to this. I love fancy soap. Love it, use it, and am well-acquainted with its many scents, properties, and varieties. No used-car salesman I, my regional manager once held me up as an example: "Leah has a certain quiet elegance [let's be honest, I was code-switching]. She doesn't use hard sell, but she sells!" High praise, and I've never forgotten those words.

Indeed, I sold. My specialty was the befuddled wealthy young gentleman, who often wandered into this foreign territory in pursuit of a gift. His unease was apparent, the heady floral scents overwhelming his common sense and reason, the boudoir appearance of the place rendering him rather incapacitated.

I had an advantage here in the merchandise for, in addition to the pretty shell-shaped soaps and rose-y creams and talcs and perfumes, we carried a very old and venerable men's line. And chief in my arsenal was the flat glass case containing, like an exhibit in a natural-history museum, the finer implements of consummate masculinity: boar-bristle shaving brushes, straight razors, and leather razor strops. If he seemed especially uncomfortable upon entry into the shop, it was to this case that I would lead him first, before we advanced to the inner sanctum. He, self-effacing; I, murmuring sweet nothings about that manliest of all ventures, the shaving ritual. Once I had wielded that gleaming and dangerous straight razor in my neatly manicured hands, he was usually all mine.

Never mind that his own home habits tended toward a Gillette safety razor and a can of Barbasol. The merest hint that he was the sort who could handle the treacherous task of naked razor against naked skin, could competently sharpen that razor to deadly glint against naked leather, when the need arose...this was enough to bolster his compromised maleness and give him the courage to forge forth.

More than once, the gentleman left the shop with an overflowing basket of pretty ablutions for his lady, in addition to the entire very expensive shaving kit that, in neophyte hands, might end an otherwise humdrum workday morning in severed carotid artery and Italian-tiled bourgeois bathroom re-painted in pint or three of fresh Hedge Fund easily I conjured the cheerful scene in my imagination as I wrapped the purchases and sent him on his way, hundreds of dollars in the old wooden till, a simple exchange of money for happy delusion. Though as far as I know we never had any true casualties of that razor, for perhaps there was a lesson in its proper use offered by a knowledgeable father or grandfather, or perhaps the wife or girlfriend stepped in at the last moment to save a life...

I will say in my defense that I never lied. I always gave a respectfully delivered caveat: "...but do remember, even for the most dextrous, it takes a little practice..."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Great-Grandma Manya

Great-grandma Manya, Benny's wife.

She stayed behind in their Russian village for several years, while Benny made his way in the new world. When he was settled, he sent for her (and how I wish I had a copy of that letter!), and Manya sailed to Ellis Island, her children in tow. She took little else from the old country save the gleaming brass samovar, carefully wrapped in woolens, destined to join a little army of its brethren all over Brooklyn; the ubiquitous bequest found even today in the modern houses of many families of Russian Jewish descent. At this very moment it sits, gleaming still, in the hallway outside my bedroom, though the black tea leaves have long since evanesced.

My mom remembers her Grandma as a lovely, lovey woman. And when I asked my mother's cousin, she said, succinctly, "there is a memory of a bosom."

I think of Manya squeezing her grandchildren close, pressing them into the flowered decolletee, the powdery scent enveloping.

take a look at some other Sepia Saturday posts HERE!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How I Named My Blog

This is my favorite book, and I say that unequivocally (the only thing that runs a close second is Laura Ingalls Wilder's "These Happy Golden Years"). It's a sequel to the almost equally wonderful "Invitation to the Waltz".

An old boyfriend, who was himself a writer, read "Weather" on my recommendation and said, "well, I'm surprised. It really isn't very romantic now, is it?" Well, not in the strict sense of the literary term "romantic"; it's a thoroughly modernist work by a woman writer. It has a ragged ending; things don't tie up neatly. Nor even very satisfactorily. The hero is hopelessly weak with shaky morals. The heroine is utterly human. But the book had the greatest impact on my late girlhood, and now my older self; it's that kind of book.

I still wonder a little bit why this boyfriend was surprised at its lack of standard romance--surprised that I would like it so much? Did I come across as a romantic, and the hard edge was unexpected? I'll never really know...

Anyway, I named my blog for this book, and because I just like the expression so much. Last night, Sarge and I were discussing this and I discovered, to my great interest, that we had very different interpretations of the meaning of the phrase "the weather in the streets." I had always thought it suggested dreaminess, daydreaming, staring out the window at the rain, a little removed, looking at things through a pane of glass...Sarge said "the 'weather in the streets' is the real deal, it's what's really going on." I hadn't thought of it that way. Two very different perspectives!

I suppose both interpretations work...