Not quite the end of the world

I just finished reading Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel. I highly recommend it. It’s the one of two five-star ratings I’ve given on GoodReads after going a long stretch without being able to give more than a three-star. (The other recent five-star was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, more to come on that soon.)

Whenever I read a dystopian novel — and moreso when I read a well-researched, well-written one like St. John Mandel’s — I can’t help but examine my own life and my own “what ifs” in the face of some future life-altering catastrophe I somehow survive.

Lately, as my mind has been busy with the America vs. Israel conversation (a two-sided dialogue I engage with myself at least once a day exploring the pros and cons of leaving or staying in Israel), I considered the events of the novel. The Earth is ravaged by a pandemic, killing off 99% of the population. Those who are not sickened and killed by the flu are left figuring out how — and more existentially, why — to survive. Some survivors are stranded in an airport far from home. They understand quickly they will never return. And this, today, is the question that occupied my mind:

What if I knew I would never see America again? Would never see my parents? My brothers? Any of my friends who live there?

Could I be happy, or satisfied at least, living in Israel, remaining here on Hannaton?

What if it weren’t the apocalypse (meaning: what if I abandoned the upset of knowing my loved ones were ill or gone), but an event that meant the end of international travel?

Could there be such an event? After which my parents were still alive, but inaccessible? Following which we in Israel still lived a somewhat normal life, but simply could not fly anymore? Or buy passage on a ship, even?

No. All I can imagine is disaster. There is no in-between in my imagination. There is no mild cataclysm. Either things are as they are now or the worst-case scenario.

*  *  *

However, if I were to play fiction writer, for a moment, I might say, “Hold on now. Let’s consider Donald Trump.” 

Donald Trump as American president is possibly the in-between disaster I can’t imagine; the wonky future in which the world still runs on electricity and internet and Dunkin Donuts, but international travel is forbidden. Let’s say, for instance, a Trump presidency leads to a law being passed in which American immigration is on hiatus, but citizens living abroad have a brief window to return. Once they do return, however, they are required to remain on American soil for the next four years. America, in this fictional scenario, is testing out a new policy for the duration of Trump’s term. It’s called something like “No American Left Behind.”

“The In-Or-Out” law, the talking heads dub it.

Would I leave then?

Would we pack up our belongings and run back home?

What if there was no time for belongings? Only time for the five of us with one-way tickets and that which we could fill in our suitcases?

Would that be a home we would want to live in anyway?

What’s scarier? I considered. America as a gated-community? Or the idea of being stuck in Israel for an indefinite amount of time with no certainty of ever seeing my family again?

What kind of decisions, I asked myself, do we make in the face of black-and-white? Of choose this or that?

And what kind do we make in the face of seeming interminable uncertainty?

*  *  *

To be honest, I’m not paying too much attention to the U.S. presidential election, but I noticed on Facebook today someone saying they planned to vote Republican in the primary — vote for Rubio — as a way of derailing Trump’s run. But what if that was the plan all along? Democrats, for all their intellectualism, can be pretty stupid. Conservatives are wiley. Strategic. Cool cats. Liberals, with all their free love tend to act irrationally, emotion-based, don’t think enough before jumping in heart first.

Then, on Twitter later in the morning, someone wrote they thought the media hype equating Trump with Hitler was an exaggeration. I don’t quite align myself politically with this person, so I can’t put my faith in his ease. But as a reader of post-apocalyptic fiction I can say with certainty that there is always the guy on Twitter who thinks it’s not as bad as everyone says it is. This is classic disaster narrative. Bad guy/bad storm/bad killer disease. Makes no difference. The experts keep it quiet at first, but then feel compelled to reveal the danger to the masses as they realize their calculations were too understated. Upon learning of the now likely unavoidable danger, half the masses freak out, and the other half cry hysteria. Usually, there’s the goofy teenager who makes fun of the hurricane/flood/asteroid (he’s the first to go), and often, the old guy saying in his old guy voice “I never thought I’d see the day.”

No matter what, though, there’s always the guy who — just before the shit hits the fan — says most assuredly, “It can’t be as bad as people are making it out to be.” This is the point at which you should start storing water and supplies. 

I haven’t started shopping, though. In fact, my storage room/bunker is as empty as it’s been since we’ve lived here. And I wonder why. I wonder if it’s acceptance or if it’s resignation.

And does it matter? Am I saner if I am accepting or saner if I am resigned?

Acceptance: Yes, this is the world we live in.

Resignation: Yes, there will be disaster.

Acceptance: There is no certainty.

Resignation: Why bother? You will likely not survive the apocalypse, anyhow.

I don’t know which it is. What I do know is that reading Station Eleven has me grateful for my flushing toilets, and for my Google search, and especially for my at-home, self-grinding espresso machine. It had me abandon for a few hours my ongoing, inner turmoil over where to live now or next; which direction to choose.

Neither decision, I suppose, would be the end of the world.

 

Advertisements

Gem in the Galilee

My dad and my husband have this routine:

My dad, an archaeology enthusiast, always keeps his eyes peeled for the undiscovered artifact when he visits Israel. My husband always ribs him, “They’ve already found everything there is to find, Paul.”

I take my dad’s side on this one and whenever archaeologists make a big discovery in our area in the Lower Galilee, I’ll usually send the article to my husband and my dad with the subject line: “So there’s nothing left to find in Israel…”

I am reminded today, too, how much there is still yet for me to discover here in this region — not ancient artifacts, necessarily, but unexplored paths, little known attractions, charming exhibits and people.

I wasn’t the one to stumble upon Hemdatya, a particularly special bed and breakfast in the Lower Galilee; my husband (the one who says there’s nothing left to find) did. Ilaniya, the historic community on which the b & b is located, is across the street from where he works and the company often recommends the place to out-of-town visitors.

My husband was so charmed by Hemdatya and by the owner, Atalia, when he was there recently with his colleague, he invited me to breakfast  there to see exactly what a gem in the Lower Galilee it is.

I was smitten.

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

With Atalia, yes, who was a gracious, sweet and entertaining hostess (not to mention an amazing chef!). But with the grounds themselves, and more so with her vision for Hemdatya, which is a haven for any traveler interested in ecotourism, organic agriculture, or permaculture. It’s also a charming, potentially romantic retreat for both foreigners and locals looking to get away for some low-key relaxation.

Hemdatya is located on a historic Israeli village about 15 minutes from the Sea of Galilee called Ilaniya, originally a farming community and agricultural training center for long-ago pioneers. The stone buildings of the b & b —  renovated with both historic conservation and sustainability in mind —   are constructed much from nearby materials.  Hemdatya installed and employs a system for collecting rain water and recycles gray water throughout the site. The water from the rooms (bathrooms and kitchens) drains into a biological purification system and from there irrigates the orchards that grow vegetables, fruits, and grapes for wine.

We ate in the main kitchen — a traditional Israeli breakfast of breads, salads, cheese, and shakshouka. The cheese was from goat milk; gifts from the local goats. And the eggs in the shakshouka were from the local chickens.

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Many tzimmerim in Northern Israel can claim goats and chickens, but not many can claim the fruits and veggies grown not just organically, but according to the ethics and principles of permaculture. No pesticides in her gardens, says Atalia. No need.  Using permaculture, the gardens grow in harmony with the “pests.”

After breakfast, Atalia gave us a tour of the five guest rooms (each with a small kitchenette and eco-friendly bathroom) which are so delightful in their decor, you can tell attention was paid not just to construction and conservation, but also to aesthetics. I gushed to Atalia (and I meant it), “I am sure all of your visitors are as struck as I am at how enchanting these rooms are.”

Last, we toured the grounds. Vegetables grow everywhere, from little gardens in front of the farm-house guest rooms

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

to the grape vines that overhang the entrance to the jacuzzi room.

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

The gorgeous stone pool sealed the deal and I am already planning in my mind a getaway in the near future:  a writer’s retreat, let’s say, just me, my laptop and my thoughts. Or a birthday weekend.

Hint, hint. 

 

 

 

 

 

The obligatory notice

Almost as often as I change the furniture around in my house, I like to play with the look and feel of the blog.

Please note the new design only enough to be aware that it’s still me.

photo passover 2014

Fine. I admit it. I was really looking for an excuse to post this not-half-bad picture of almost-40-year-old-me. The redesign is just a ruse.

Not half bad, right?

But DO note the new MENU in the sidebar of the new blog design. (On mobile devices this menu should appear at the top, on the left hand side.)

Soon more menu selections will appear offering easy access to the types of posts you like most. (In other words, if you don’t love poetry, you can skip quickly to travel, wellness, essay, kibbutz life or photography.)

Thanks for hanging around.

Give me your tired your poor your books

It’s no secret I love old books.

I cry over them like they’re wounded, abandoned puppies crouching behind a garbage bin in the rain.

Sometimes I rescue them, but then have no use for them. (Again, like puppies.)

Often there’s a story behind the compulsion to save them.

I’ll save any Little House on the Prairie book I see, simply because I lost my original set of them in a flood. (For the same reason, I’m drawn to Choose Your Own Adventure.)

I’ll save many an illustrated children’s book from the 1960s because the art makes me want to shake my hips in a way I don’t know how.

I’ll save a book inscribed to Marty or to Catherine. Especially if it was inscribed before I was born.

I’ll save, on the rare occasion I find one, a COUPLES or a SISTERS or anything by Christopher Pike with the express intent to read them with my daughter when she’s 12.

I like old books.

I like to imagine the shelves they once sat in, the boats they traveled by, the author, the editor, the sweat poured into their being.

Which is why, when I discovered in the kibbutz giveaway pile a year ago a Scholastic Book of Poetry edited by Ann McGovern, I snatched it up and placed it on the saved books shelf on the top floor of my house.

It was a triple threat, quadruple even, the 1960s publication of a Scholastic book club book with its retro cover, with its pages filled with poems by ee cummings and Langston Hughes and Maxine Kumin and Basho, and peppered with adorable little one-color illustrations. For the cherry on top, there was editor Ann McGovern: a goddess of children’s books and someone I remember from my days as a young assistant at Scholastic. (What I didn’t know until after I completed the project below is that serendipitously McGovern also enjoys creating collage art.)

I’ve been meaning for some time to take a book from my saved collection and turn it into something new. So it serves a purpose other than collecting dust on the shelf. I got the idea after visiting a gallery in Jaffa last year. Passing a wall of framed art, I noticed one was simply a circa 1950s Dick and Jane book cover torn out, framed, and priced at 200 shekels. After I got over my shock that someone tore off a vintage book cover, put it in a frame, and priced it at 200 shekels, I realized, “Wait a minute. I just might buy that. I am someone who would buy something like that.” And if I would, others (with a lot more money to spend) would, too.

I didn’t decide then and there to start my own recycled books-as-art business, but I filed away the idea of it. I liked the prospect of saving old books from doom and turning them into new art. Thinking about it made me happy.

I’ve always loved creating collages. Looking back at old pictures of my childhood bedroom recently reminded me of this. Why not create collages with the old books I’ve saved?

Today, I dug in and created my first.

The process, I learned, is an art in and of itself. It was impromptu and yet fluid. I didn’t know exactly where I was going when I started, but when I went to the old books shelf and saw the Book of Poetry this morning, I knew that was the book to start with.

And so I sat in front of the patio door where the sun shines in brightest, and I read Frost and ripped.

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

 

I positioned Edna St. Vincent Millay and pasted her next to Paul Bunyan.

I made sure, too, Ann McGovern still got credit and that bits and pieces of the lovely retro cover remained.

And the result makes me happy. Like a rescued puppy brought in from the rain.