A date with Haifa

Yesterday I took my husband to the ER for symptoms he has been suffering for over a week. Fortunately he was released at the end of a very long day and evening with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Serious, but not as serious as we thought, and treatable with antibiotics. And so … relief.

We both hate the hospital. I suppose most people do. Worse than the fear of germs for me, though, is the overwhelm I experience in the middle of all that humanity.

I’m a Real Emotional Girl.

As much as my sensitivity allows me to understand and connect deeply to people, it also is able to submerge me beneath a deluge of compassion.

I may drown there.

The ill. The ones who are afraid for the ill. The ones who care for the ill. The ones who pray for the ill. The ones who clean the toilets, the floors. The ones who secure the entrances. The ones who drive the ambulances. The ones who are too young to be there. Too old to be there. The ones who moan in pain. The ones who moan with grief. The ones too weak to moan.

Through an invisible intravenous line, they enter me.

It’s rough.

For a while there in curtained off section #17, I wrote poems and jotted down notes for story ideas. Tried to read a few pages of the book I brought with me. Scrolled social media for updates on the three kidnapped boys. Then my husband told me to leave.

“Go get lunch,” he said. But he meant, “Leave here since you are able.”

I never walk around Haifa. Never; except from my parked car to the ER or from my parked car to a doctor’s office and once from my parked car to get my Israeli driver’s license.

In fact, I have never walked around Haifa for fun. Even though I live only a short drive away, I end up in Israel’s city by the bay for appointments or by surprise. And not the kind of surprise you look forward to.

I’ve never explored Haifa even though the views are known to be incredible.

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Haifa at dusk from Carmel Hospital

Without much hesitation, I did as my husband instructed. I knew I could use some fresh air, especially since an orderly had just rolled in a new elderly patient who looked as if she was on her way to meet the Maker.

I walked down quiet Smolenskin Street where I had parked the car, past old-school Israeli apartment buildings, some with beautiful gardens.

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

Garden apartment on Smolenskin Street

and momentarily felt uplifted. I traveled by foot up to Horev Street where I got an hafooch and a cheese croissant at Roladin. I hadn’t had much of an appetite all day. I think the worry finally hit my belly.

I wandered in and out of a few shops, met a Tarot teacher, spotted a Tibetan bowl I liked (hint hint: possibly a birthday present for me!), discovered the Rabbi Yosef Dana steps

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

HaRav Yosef Dana steps with view of the Mediterranean, Haifa

And, most unexpectedly, stumbled upon a small shop inside a mall on the corner of Horev and Gat, a small corner of which was stocked with used books. A whole shelf full of English titles! From Umberto Eco to VC Andrews.

used book store in haifa

I was in the middle of debating whether or not to buy Paul Auster’s Oracle Night when my husband called asking me to return to the hospital. I quickly paid for the book based solely on the jacket cover copy and the title (I’m a sucker that way for marketing). Only when I got back to his bedside did I read the first line of the book in a bit of astonishment:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore.”

It stopped me. Compelled me to look over at my husband with a bit of concern. I’m susceptible to coincidence that way in the same way I’m sensitive to the swarm of human emotions.

But he looked okay. Better, even. I wrote a note to myself: Sometimes all is well. Sometimes all is now. Sometimes all is here.

What I meant was: Sometimes if it looks like it’s going to be okay, it actually is.  No matter what upset is happening inside the region of your heart.

My husband further allayed my concerns by sitting up and chatting a bit with a me for the first time in a week.

When the doctor came by with a diagnosis (not as severe as we feared) and with a release form to leave the ER, I turned with relief to my husband and smirked, “Thanks, hun. That was the best date I’ve been on in a long time.”  My husband gave me a half smile. He knew what I meant. He’s sensitive that way.

 

 

 

Photographic memory

I love photography even though I’ve never been as good at the art as I might have liked; might have been. I’m grateful — seriously, grateful — to Instagram, for allowing me an outlet for the scenes I capture in my mind’s eye and feel compelled to share, but hardly ever render to my satisfaction on a traditional camera.

I took photography as an elective in high school — learned how to develop my own film (not very well), and presumably how to properly use a camera. Whatever I learned there didn’t stick, however, and now I find more pleasure in photography as a researcher than as a voyeur. Although I imagine there is an element of voyeurism to my research, as well.

I love the evidence photography provides. I love the secrets revealed. I love the accidental body of information that corroborates or undermines the collective or individual stories we tell ourselves.

As I dig up old photographs in my cardboard boxes, or in the basement storage room of my mother’s house, I’m getting an education on the people I love … and who loved me. But almost as often as questions are answered or light is shed; there are mysteries. There are, in those photographs, chapters to the stories of my life that were never told to me.

On a recent trip to New Jersey to visit my family, I discovered a photo album my mother acquired when my Bubbi died a couple of years ago. The album chronicled a European trip — the only one, I think — my grandmother took with her aunt when she was in her late forties or early fifties.

Aunt Edna (L) and Bubbi

Aunt Edna (L) and Bubbi

Though I can’t be sure, I imagine this trip must have been monumental for my grandmother, who grew up poor in the Midwest; who was a small school girl when she was forced to care for her ill mother and eventually watch her die; who was shifted from relative to relative as her father journeyed from town to town for business. Her Aunt Edna (her mother’s sister) never married, and was very generous to my grandmother over the years (it’s believed Aunt Edna made a small fortune by investing early in Xerox). The two were very fond of each other. Beyond that, and beyond the little I know about Aunt Edna (she was a school teacher and an author), I don’t know much more about the intricacies of their relationship. I do remember my Bubbi, in her younger days, often going out west to Indiana to visit Aunt Edna. I also remember once meeting Aunt Edna myself in the lobby of the hotel in Philadelphia for which my grandmother worked for many years: She was perched on a velvet-lined settee and looked like an Aunt Edna.  She called me Jennifer, as did most of my grandparents’ friends.

The pages of the photo album my Bubbi created are filled mostly by blurry, over-exposed shots of the landscape, of the sites, of the Coliseum, Venice, the streets of Paris, and presumably, the Alps. There are only three photographs of Bubbi in the album and four or five of Aunt Edna. There is one of somebody’s hand — opening up a compact, perhaps? Getting ready to put on lipstick? — as the other snapped a shot of windmills out the window of a tour bus.

bubbi in europe windmills

There are no captions. No notes on the backs of the matte photographs. No written word at all. There are a few blank postcards — one with a watercolor of Buckingham Palace; another from an Italian resort.

What do I learn about my Bubbi from this album? Other than the fact that she was more traveled than I thought, I am presented with more questions than answers.

Did she slide the photos in under the cellophane and never look at them again?

Did she take the album out, every year on her birthday, reminisce and long for a different sort of life?

Was she grateful for this trip? Satisfied? Or did it only give her a taste for more?

I knew my Bubbi pretty well as far as Bubbis and granddaughters go. I took an interest in her life while she was still with it enough to recall it. But she never told me about the trip to Europe she once took with Aunt Edna. Never recalled the windmills or the Hotel Napoleon or the view from the Spanish Steps.

Of course, there are so many stories we never share; never tell. Not even the ones we love. Not even the ones who ask.

In fact, it’s often the stories closest to our hearts we keep for ourselves.

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If you liked this post, you might also like this one; also about Bubbi and about photographic evidence.

 

 

 

My memory waited 14 years for this photo to catch up

annabel guitar may 2014

“We took our coffee into the living room. He stood at the stereo and asked if I had any requests. ‘Something Blue-ish,’ I said.

While he flipped through his records, he told me about the time he’d asked his daughter for requests; she was about three at the time and cranky after a nap, going down the stairs one at a time on her butt. He imitated her saying, ‘No music, Daddy.’

‘I told her we had to listen to something,’ he said. ‘And she languorously put her hair on top of her head and like a world-weary nightclub singer said, ‘Coltrane then.'”

The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Banks

 

The wail

As the two-minute siren commemorating Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen) began its descent, a poem began to rise.

Please take a few minutes to travel over to the Times of Israel, where it’s posted.

the half mast flag on hannaton