Sunday, September 10, 2006
SO, DON'T ASK!!!
So how are you receiving this, you might ask?
My dear friend Marallyn- she of the Friday morning breakfasts - is sending this out for me.
If any of your emails to me have come back to you, please keep them for me as I am in the process of buying a new computer.
Hang in there, I'll be back as quickly as I can...don't give up.
For any of you who need to get in touch with me you can email Marallyn... email@example.com and she will make sure I get your message.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
"Va'ad Bayit" - or Instant Insanity
When I lived in New York I lived in an apartment building - not large by New York standards - 96 flats - known as a co-op - which had a management company to take care of the building and the owners paid their monthly maintenance fees and went on about their lives. Yes - there was a Board of the Co-Operative - but in the main the running of the building was left to the management company.
Here, we do things a bit differently. As a rule we don't use a management company - we run the building ourselves. And what a headache that is. The building I live in here has 32 flats - 4 separate entrances - and a Va'ad. No one wants to serve on the Va'ad. Or to put it another way - no one wants to serve on the Va'ad - and everyone wants to have a say in what the Va'ad does. I served as Treasurer of the Va'ad years ago - which is a joke as I can barely balance my own checkbook. But I was very conscientious and everything balanced. As the Va'ad is not supposed to be a lifetime position, at the end of our term we stepped down and another Va'ad came into being. After their time was up I - in a moment of utter madness - agreed to be President of the new Va'ad. That was a mistake and a half. Sheer and utter craziness. The people who live in the building think of the Va'ad as their mommy. Whatever goes wrong they call on mommy. Doesn't matter what time of day or night. Doesn't matter what day it is - weekdays or Shabbat. I think that G-d meant for even a Va'ad to have a day of rest.
A waterpipe burst on the roof at 3:00AM? Call the President. What was I supposed to do? Am I a plumber? (Imagine, if you will, me in a nightie and robe with a frilly shower-cap on my head - I had just had my hair done (!) - wandering around on the roof with a flashlight looking for the cut-off valve.) It was to laugh. The inter-com doesn't work? Call the President. The garbage hasn't been picked up? Call the President. The boiler isn't working - there is no heat? Call the President.
And in this country people believe that paying the monthly Va'ad fees is an option - not a requirement. See how far that gets you in another country. There is even a flat in our building that was left to the city in a Will - the city doesn't want to pay.
Anyway - after three years I left the Va'ad. O Happiness. O Joy Supreme. What peace at last. And then there was a new Va'ad. And then that Va'ad felt overwhelmed and overworked and decided to resign. And then the building was left without direction. And then - idiot that I am - I agreed to "oversee" a management company which we would hire - because, of course, there are such things in this country even though almost no one uses them. And so now we are interviewing people - and tomorrow I have to interview two people - and I can assure you that that won't be fun. What did I tell you about everyone wanting to have a say? The old treasurer - who resigned in June - and in any case speakes neither Hebrew nor English - insists on coming to the interviews. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Or as we say in Hebrew - "Ain li musag" - said with a shrug.
So - this is where we stand at the moment - no Va'ad - no treasurer - no management company - and I'll let you know the rest of this saga as it unfolds. And you thought you had problems???
Monday, September 04, 2006
"Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin" - PART II
But I digress. On to Berlin. Although I know that there is still of latent - and not so latent - anti-semitism in Germany - I was still happy to be there. Yes - when I stood in the middle of the Potsdamer Platz and saw how beautifully rebuilt it was after it had been razed during WWII - and I thought of all I had read and heard about the Jews during the Holocaust - and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live there during that horrendous time - I can't begin to tell you how ambivalent I felt. On the one hand it is a vibrant and vital and exciting city. On the other hand - there are still a lot of ghosts walking around.
Today, one goes freely between what was East Berlin and West Berlin. You simply get on a train or a bus and you go. When I stood at Checkpoint Charlie and at The Wall I could only imagine what life was like before The Wall came down. Today, at various points in the city, there are different colored cobble stones in the street marking what used to be the boundaries between East and West. And The Wall - I had always imagined it to be a massive structure overwhelming everything around it. Rather - it is just a rather small concrete wall - a symbol really as most of it has been removed - and not at all intimidating. Oh - but what it represented. I was reminded of the first time I saw the Jordan River in Israel. I had imagined a large, wide, deep river - you know - "Swing low sweet chariot....." Instead it was just a little, narrow, muddy stream.
And what did we see and do in Berlin? Everything we could possibly fit in in the time we had. I won't describe it all - you can read a guidebook for that. We went to the KaDeWE - a department store (founded by Jews) - which is akin to the more famous Harrod's - with food halls on the sixth floor (there I am, back to food) that one can only dream about. Acres and acres and acres of foodstuffs from all over the world - I wanted to buy one of each. Prepared foods, and food to cook, and all kinds of frozen stuff and fresh produce and meats and fish and condiments and wines - everything you can imagine. And I found a shop that only sells kitchen wares and I bought a "spaetzle macher" - a little machine that makes spaetzle - a kind of noodle that is served in Southern Germany and which I am crazy about. You eat them with sauerbraten and red cabbage. (I'll make them in the winter when the weather is cooler and tell you about my meal then.) And we went to the Zoo and Aquarium - and spent more than seven hours there! And we went to the Jewish Quarter and to the Daniel Liebeskind-designed Jewish Museum and to a street fair and just wandered around the streets soaking up flavors and feelings. And sat at cafes in different parts of the city. And got lost - of course I got lost - I have the sense of direction of a toaster oven. And one day we went to Potsdam to soak up some history and on another day we went to Dresden - which today is a gem of a city. I had a late friend whom I met in Stuttgart - who was a Jew who was born in Dresden - and I had a difficult time reconciling this rebuilt gem with her tales of living underground in order to hide from the Nazis.
And one evening we went to the theatre - the "Friedrichstadtpalast" - where Marlene Dietrich sang. It didn't matter that Ros speaks no German - we saw a musical extravaganza - "Casanova" - and while all the songs were sung in German the lack of language didn't matter.
We took our trusty maps - bought bus/train tickets - asked a million questions - and found our way around the city. Can I "shvitz" (brag) for a minute? I studied German many years ago in Stuttgart at the Institut fur Auslansbeziehungen and actually got a diploma. Then I didn't speak German for years and years. When I got off the plane something strange happened - everything came back to me. There I was - speaking and reading and understanding and translating for Ros - and feeling perfectly at ease in German. How cosmopolitan can you get - I spoke in German to the Germans - we took our tours with an Israeli company and so we spoke in Hebrew - and Ros and I speak a mish-mash of Hebrew and English to each other. There are times when I can't believe how far this nice Jewish girl from the Bronx has come.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
"Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin"
So - I always dreamed of going to Berlin - right - don't you always want what you can't have? Finally, three weeks ago, the stars were in the right place in the heavens, there was room on the flight we wanted, my friend, Rosaline (who is my good travelling companion - more about her at another time), had a week off because her office was closed - and so we went to Berlin.
They say - whoever "they" are - that when you want something so much and look forward to it so much - that you are inevitably disappointed when you get it. Wrong! Berlin was fabulous. I can't now imagine what I thought Berlin was going to be like and look like - but it wasn't. Does that make sense? It doesn't look at all like the rest of Germany, the food is completely different, the people are different, they speak a beautiful and clear German (very unlike the terrible-sounding Schwaebish dialect we spoke in Stuttgart) and the city is absolutely elegant and very clean.
We stayed at a little boutique hotel off the Kurfurstendam - familarly known as the Ku-dam - a boulevard very much like the Champs Elysee in Paris - sidewalk cafes, restaurants, shops and people parading along day and night. The Germans have a very well developed "cafe culture" - do you know the kind of place I mean? - an inside, of course, but on the wide sidewalks little tables with chairs side-by-side so you can face the constant parade of people and watch the world go by. The cafe near our hotel was called "Dressners" - to my mind a perfect name for a perfect place. Don't ask why I thought the name was perfect - somehow it just fit. And we drank large glasses of very milky coffee which they called Latte - not a German name to be sure - but very much like the delicious "cafe hafuch" (literally upside-down coffee) which we have here. And most of the patrons were eating the most delicious pastries - always accompanied by "shlag" - whipped cream. I don't even like whipped cream - but I loved it there. Go know. And if they weren't eating pastries and shlag they were eating what seems to be a very popular nosh in Berlin - plates of "kartoffel ecke" (potato corners) little pieces of roasted - fried? - potatoes accompanied by sour cream. Now there's a nosh for you.
There isn't a typical Berliner cuisine - except for those kartoffel ecke and a kind of sausage called "curry wurst" which you eat on-the-go - on paper plates with plastic forks - don't ask. And of course, there is the famous pork knuckle served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and a portion of split pea puree. What knuckle - it looks like the whole leg hanging off the side of the plate. Those of you who have had the good fortune (!) to eat a meal with me know that I will eat almost anything that isn't tied down - fish heads (the eyes are the best part), brains, "beitzim" (bulls testicles if you must know) - that pork knuckle just doesn't do it for me.
Lest you be worried, however, Ros and I didn't starve. The Berliners serve wonderful Argentinian steaks - order it "English" (pronounced AYN-glish) if you want it very rare and that's what you get - just the way I like it. And good Chinese and good Italian and those lovely pastries and and and....
I will never understand their pricing though - Ros is not a wine drinker and I very definitely am - so at dinner I would order a glass of wine and Ros would order a Sprite or a ginger ale - and my wine - very good by the way - not plonk - cost less than her soft drink. She's still carrying on about it.
I started to write about Berlin - and went off on a tangent about food. How like me. I relate everything to food. Directions to someplace - where is it in relation to a restaurant? Have I been to a particular city - what did I eat there? So - next time I'll tell you about Berlin - probably with a little food-lore thrown in.
By the way - the title of this blog is the title of a famous song sung by Marlene Dietrich - it means "I still have a suitcase in Berliln" - wherever she is in the world a part of her is still in Berlin. I think I feel that way about Germany - strange, isn't it - but some very important and formative years of my life were spent there. That's where I "grew up" to be "me".