Where’s the Junk?!?

Recently, as I was driving back to Connecticut from New York City on the Merritt Parkway, my favorite way back to “the country,” I began feeling droopy approaching New Haven, and I thought some good old junk food would hit the spot. At least I figured it would wreak some havoc with my blood sugar and give it an unhealthy spike surprising my senses just enough – before the guilt would set in – to keep me awake for the home stretch to Hartford.

The fantasizing and planning phase of the service area stop was in and of itself perking me up; I was scheming about going straight for the good old candy and chips isle for some sweet and salty delights. And of course a Diet Coke. Note the Diet. I visualized my move as I would swiftly snag a bag of Munchos, those “light and crispy” artery cloggers that are so processed and salty they have probably been banned from most modern day snack venues, despite the fact that they are made from a vegetable. I think there was some low-carb potato in there at some point in the process.

I pull in to the next service stop – and I should add that along the quaint Merritt Parkway, the historic limited-access “highway” known for its scenic layout, uniquely styled signage, and architecturally elaborate overpasses along the route, the service stations have been recently renovated. The new bathrooms have a spa-like aura painted in subdued trendy colors with matching earthy mosaic tiles and automatic everything as well as soft background music. I enter the facilities with the focus and determination of a Federal agent on a top priority mission, and make a beeline for the snack section. Looking for my designated junk booty, my eyes give way to a worrisome scan of what appears to be a Whole Foods mini-mart. Where’s the junk?!? Granola this, yogurt that. Wrappers screaming protein power and gluten free delights. Squirrel food I say. I want my junk!

And there, all the way in the back, on the hidden, narrow side of the rack; sad, forgotten and ignored like a bunch of reject kids on a dodge ball lineup at that awfully discriminatory and mean team selection moment in high school, there were my darlings.

I walked out gently and kindly holding a Twix, a bag of Muchos and a Diet Coke, as if I had rescued orphans that were in desperate need of love and affection. Poor things.

The rest of the drive home was a breeze, and as soon as I had killed my darlings, just as the guilt was about to set in but I was still high on God knows what, I gladly brushed it and all the crumbs away with another gulp of aspartame and caffeine and instead reflected on how even junk has its rightful and just place in the world.

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On Foundations in the Norwegian ‘Diaspora’

Hooray for May 17th! Tomorrow is Norway’s Constitution Day – a much anticipated day celebrated with pomp and circumstance in both Norway and most Norwegian ex-pat communities. Some of the latter mark the day in more or less formal ways than others, of course, and in my neck of the woods it has gotten to be quite relaxed. This year it will involve skinny dipping and martinis, gravlaks, Indian takeout, and for dessert, my friend’s irresistible Chat Noir cake, following her family’s secret recipe handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of generations. Well, maybe not hundreds, but you catch my drift. Tradition.

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What impressed my boys the most about May 17th the year we lived in Norway, was that on this day, they learned that children are allowed to eat as much ice cream as they want. This is not a national dictum, and I’m pretty sure something my parents and their partying friends invented back in the 60s and 70s so we , the young’uns, would have our own experience of that era’s hedonistic values. At least for one day.

On a more serious note, since I did invoke the term “diaspora,” normally associated with the Jewish diaspora – although the term is also applied to the dispersion of any people form their homeland – the history of Jews in Norway has its own touchy significance in 2014. As this year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of the constitution in 1814, it should not be forgotten that at that time, it also included a paragraph with a general ban against Jews (and Jesuits) entering the “kingdom” (you know, those dangerous undesirable folks), a ban which was lifted in 1851 with the determined effort of Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. (Incidentally, he died in 1845 before the ban was lifted, and so did not live to see the fruits of his labor). Of course, his views were considered quite controversial back then, and his literary style was variously denounced as subversive. Imagine that! 

To express gratitude for Wergeland’s efforts on behalf of the Jews, the Jewish community in Oslo have an annual wreath ceremony at his grave on May 17th.

My sons appreciate the foundations of their Norwegian heritage, such as I have transmitted it to them to best of my ability during my own “diaspora” for the past, yikes, 30 years. They speak the language, are citizens of Norway, will break out in rap in Norwegian, tote viking necklaces interlaced with their Stars of David, yearn to go back every year, to see family and their own friends, eat skolebrød (sticky buns), drink Solo, play in the pool at Frongerbadet, the outdoor municipal pool in Oslo where their mom challenged them to jump form the 10 meter high diving board, and just feel how good it is to belong in more place than one. And such a privileged place to boot. Most importantly, they have their own memories of every day life there, which will remain ingrained in their fibers throughout their lifetimes, and perhaps one day kindle in them the desire to pass it on to their children.

This morning when I again flipped over the gravlaks that has been curing in my fridge for the last 48 hours, in preparations for my culinary contribution to the laid back May 17th celebration, I could not help but crack a smile as I removed the two bricks on top of the fish, functioning as the requisite weight for optimal curing results. The bricks, you see, are from the foundation of my old house down the street where I raised my boys; the house that I moved from when their dad and I divorced. I smiled because, optimally, that’s what we do in life, we move on and take the good stuff with us, and leave the rest behind. And those two old bricks have come to represent just that: a piece of the foundation of not only my children’s life but also of my own identity and memory.

For it’s never really just one memory and one identity. The trick is perhaps to recognize and appreciate the multiple foundations that are the base for who we are becoming. And then celebrate.

Hooray!

“Séph-Arabe” – About Imagining an Alternate Bridge

Hamsa4Jews and Arabs. Right off the bat, you probably think about conflict, but it hasn’t always been that way. Did you know that less than 60 years ago, Islamic lands in North Africa and the Middle East was the home to almost 1 million Jews? Jews that for many generations shared the Arab majority culture with their neighbors. A Jewish baby would nurse from the same breast as an Arab baby.

Imagine Arab Jews. Jews that identify positively, even passionately, with this culture. Jews who refuse to see the two terms as mutually exclusive. For that would negate who they identify as.

Today there are 0 Jews left of Algeria’s 140,000 Jewish inhabitants before 1948. 1,100 left of Tunisia’s 105,000; 60 left of Iraq’s 135,000….3,200 left of Morocco’s 365,000 Jews. The last kosher butcher of Marrakech is an old man who just opens his store to have a place to sit during the day. He has almost no customers left.

Mind you some of these Jewish communities predated the Arab conquest in the 7th century C.E., as they had landed there after the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in years 586 B.C.E. (by the Babylonians) and 70 C.E. (by the Romans) respectively.

The modern Jewish exodus from Arab lands – since 1950’s – was not easy for the families involved. Nor was it easy for their Arab neighbors to be left with the vacuum that was created. Relationships were lost. Scars and traumas resulted. Problematic memories constructed.

Literature and art was created to express these experiences.

I write about this in my “Academic Stuff.”

For those of you with an interest in literature and Jewish cultures in general, and Jewish culture of the Arab world in particular, or if you would simply like to read an article that will doubtlessly give you something to think about, check out my “North Africa, France, and Israel: Sephardic Identities in the Work of Chochana Boukhobza” published here:

http://sephardichorizons.org/Volume3/Issue2/Identities.html

As I note in my article, Boukhobza has written many extraordinary novels in French, some prize-winning, and If you are a Francophone, you can order them from Amazon.fr. It’s pricy, but they do ship to the U.S, of course!

One of her books is published in English: The Third Day, available on Amazon.com.

You can read about it here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Third-Day-Chochana-Boukhobza/dp/0857050966/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399000562&sr=8-1&keywords=boukhobza+the+third+day

And one is translated to English, (by yours truly) and is looking for a publisher: For the Love of the Father (or Pour l’Amour du Père) which I discuss in my article linked above.

So call your publisher friend today, who owes you a favor, and spread the word!

Yalla! (= “Let’s go!” in Arabic)