My father came to visit, on the way to New England to stay at the beach house of his consort's family.
He was going to visit his aunt in Boston after staying a few days with me, before heading to New Hampshire's small coast. I was surprised to learn that this great aunt of mine was still alive!
A few days before he arrived in New York, she died.
It was a sunny day.
We went to Brooklyn, for no reason. I thought of Faruq.
We were near the site of our family's acquisition of Norovirus.
We kept walking, enjoying the views.
I took a hackneyed photo. Despite the extremely cheerful weather, I felt some melancholy.
I continued reading Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad. I had decided to read it because its text was often used by Zionists to claim that Palestine had been sparsely populated before the invasion or return of the Jews.
Although he did note that the land was relatively devoid of population, his main focus was its ugly appearance, and how disappointed he was that the Holy Land was so drab and unimpressive.
If all the poetry and nonsense that have been discharged upon the fountains and the bland scenery of this region were collected in a book, it would make a most valuable volume to burn.
It is solitude, for birds and squirrels on the shore and fishes in the water are all the creatures that are near to make it otherwise, but it is not the sort of solitude to make one dreary. Come to Galilee for that. If these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness, that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines, and fade and faint into vague perspective; that melancholy ruin of Capernaum; this stupid village of Tiberias, slumbering under its six funereal plumes of palms; yonder desolate declivity where the swine of the miracle ran down into the sea, and doubtless thought it was better to swallow a devil or two and get drowned into the bargain than have to live longer in such a place; this cloudless, blistering sky; this solemn, sailless, tintless lake, reposing within its rim of yellow hills and low, steep banks, and looking just as expressionless and unpoetical (when we leave its sublime history out of the question,) as any metropolitan reservoir in Christendom--if these things are not food for rock me to sleep, mother, none exist, I think.Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.
Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.
Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?
"Why are you reading instead of talking to me?" asked my father. "I came all the way from Ohio."
I brought him to the unlovely rump train station to help him navigate the crowds and malicious design to get on his train to Boston.
I am on the train in a window seat, he wrote to me, via a text message, later. The view of the coast is stunning!
That night I went to a dinner at the church with which I still maintained some affiliation. It was a luxurious affair, in the Episcopal Church style. There was unlimited wine and only partially limited meats. I had very enjoyable table companions -- sophisticated men in their 60s. We had a very nice time, even when an older woman wearing a keffiyeh (كوفية) sat with us. She had lived in Jordan, and when I was introduced as someone "with an interest in the Middle East", I braced myself.
We all learned that ultra-luxury apartments would be built on the church parking lot.
Oh well, I thought.
They were desperate times.
My quotidian domestic life continued. I wondered if the Outdoor Cleanliness Association still existed.
It was unlikely.
We prepared the children for a visit to Asaph's religious uncle in Woodmere. It was the holiday of Sukkot (סוכות).
Asaph's father and stepmother had returned from some time on the West Coast. Asaph's father drove us.
Recalculating, said the space-based satellite navigation system. Over and over. And over.
Since we always visited this religious uncle during Jewish holidays, no photographs could be taken.
Because of a brief shower, we were unable to dine in the sukkah (סוכה). It was decorated with plastic fruit and what could only be referred to as Christmas lights.
I loaded up on meats prepared by Asaph's religious uncle's wife. Our pediatrician was there, owing to marriage. She spent a very long and patient time teaching our son how to blow bubbles. Even though she was unsuccessful, I felt impressed and guilty upon observing her dedicated efforts.
On our way home, Asaph had a complaint.
"Why did you dress [our daughter] like an old lady?" he asked.
How else should she be dressed? I wondered. Tomboy or old lady were the only two options in my mind.
We arrived home in the late afternoon.
We stopped by the playground near some ultra-luxury apartment buildings.
We waited for the fall.
We went to a closed-off street to commemorate yet another Jewish holiday: Simchat Torah (שמחת תורה). Although later we learned that it was being celebrated on the wrong date and that the holiday that night was actually Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת).
Asaph got into a fight with some Israeli non-heterosexual women on the street as they commented critically on his pulling our daughter's hair back into a hair tie.
"[That hurts her]!" said one of the women, in Hebrew, not knowing that he understood.
"[No, it doesn't]," he said back, surprising them.
"[She doesn't how how to express that she is feeling pain]," said the same woman.
"[This one definitely knows how to express when she isn't happy with anything we are doing]," replied Asaph.
"בדיוק," said the other, friendlier and more masculine woman.
We arrived at the street. This holiday apparently involved the vigorous waving of flags, along with dancing.
When our son saw his grandfather emerge from the synagogue, he screamed out a mispronounced version of the Hebrew word for this familial relation. Asaph's father shed tears of joy.
We asked if there were any flags for the kids.
"Do I have flags! It's Simchas Torah!" said a woman in an extreme Upper West Side accent for her type or kind of person, using the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the holiday.
Our son would wave the flags with great gusto until they ripped from the plastic staff. Then he would hold out his hand to request a new one. This happened several times.
It was unsustainable, even though paper was a renewable resource.
Our daughter was just excited that the street had been closed off. She tried to make a run for it, heading towards Central Park. We intercepted her before she could manage a successful escape.
At home they refused to eat what I prepared for them.
We started having Audra, our paid childminder, feed them before we got home from work.
On the weekend I took our daughter on a long walk down the river, admiring her hair and anxious for a future in which I could braid it.
I walked by strange things.
I headed home, passing by preserved relics of a time with better signage.
Marine repair was no longer offered, of course. Only designer clothes and Tuscan meals.
The next day Asaph's father and stepmother headed back to Israel. We tried to take some family photos. Our "strenuous and prolonged efforts came to nothing".
We just enjoyed the park.
It was one of the few things I would miss.
Asaph and I disagreed over which playground to take the kids to. Later he sent me this photo when I had taken our daughter to an alternate location. Our son looked so old!
At home, I predicted that our view of the Hudson would be gone by All Saints.
Asaph's young sister and her young pilot boyfriend arrived. They were fun to have as houseguests, since they allowed us to sleep in our own bed -- they slept on the couch -- and they took care of the kids in the morning.
Asaph's sister's boyfriend's brother was a chemical engineer who had developed a special line of bubble mix. We went to the park to play with it.
Thus began an extended period wherein the kids said the word "bubbles" all of the time, as a plea for something fun in place of whatever non-fun activity -- having a diaper changed, taking a bath, going to bed -- we were offering them.
Asaph's young sister and her young pilot boyfriend left for a few days, for the Hudson Valley.
We were sad.
Our routine resumed.
They returned for a few days, before the young pilot boyfriend went back to Israel.
Then Asaph's young sister went to Florida to visit her grandmother.
There were occasional diversions at work, although not nearly enough.
My new Hebrew class started. A young woman who had been pregnant in the spring was back. She looked skinnier and more beautiful than before her pregnancy. Her child was three-months-old.
There was a tense new guy who wore a knit kippah. I remembered reading an article where a member of the Sephardic ultra-religious party Shas (ש״ס) had said, "As long as there are knit kippot, the throne [of God] is not whole. That’s Amalek."
Our children had picked up a love of cleaning public places from me.
We went back out to our friends in a bucolic area of New Jersey. Asaph's young sister came with us to help Asaph return with the kids, since I had planned to spend the night.
"What does bucolic mean?" she asked.
She was impressed with the arcadian landscape, especially compared with bleak Jewish Palestine, I imagined.
Our daughter knew the word "acorn".
There were numerous hirsute and middle-aged non-heterosexual male guests present, but I couldn't really talk to them, since I had to monitor the kids. I didn't have much to talk about with them anymore anyway.
There was a young heterosexual couple from a nearby district or township of New Jersey. They seemed like people out of a reality television program. They drank cocktail after cocktail without any apparent effect. I counted at least five while I was in their presence, which was only a partial sample.
Jobim was there. Even though he had renounced his Israeli identity, he commented on the difference between the young heterosexual New Jersey woman -- whose face was caked with make-up and who had a blank or vacant smiling expression as she guzzled alcohol -- and Asaph's earthy young sister, who evoked Rachel (רחל) at the well.
Our kids had a lot of fun playing with a disc rope swing hanging from a large tree. They were too young to sit on it, but they were happy to just push it back and forth and marvel at the fact that it didn't fall to the ground.
Asaph and his young sister bundled the kids into the rental car and headed back to New York.
I sat in silence watching the bonfire. It had been a mistake to spend the night -- I couldn't relate to anyone anymore. I thought of Jewish German-American classical music radio host Karl Haas and his classical music public radio program Adventures in Good Music that I had used to listen to in the car with my father when I was a child.
I slept on the couch, but I had made a grave error in thinking that I would catch up on sleep during this overnight, since a friend or acquaintance spent several hours talking in the kitchen about how he had cheated on his boyfriend and about how sometimes he was just too honest.
Eventually I took a sleeping pill.
The next morning I spent some time talking to our hosts and my friend or acquaintance who was like a gentle giant. I really liked them, and felt bad that I was no longer interesting or even remotely fun. Not that I had been much fun to begin with, but I had had a few moments.
I asked to be taken to the train station, not realizing how far away it was. A brunch trip was hastily arranged, and I was to be dropped off before the eating, and probably drinking of alcoholic beverages by the non-drivers, would begin.
I arrived at the station just moments after the hourly train to New York had departed.
I sat and read a book. Fifty-eight minutes later a train arrived.
How innocent and mild the struggle for Catalan independence seemed from my hardened Levantined perspective.
We went to experience a so-called sound installation by a Canadian artist, wherein Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium was played from forty different speakers with each speaker emitting the sound of just one member of the choir. The idea was that one could walk amongst the speakers in a way that one could not normally walk amongst a choir during a performance.
We just sat their and listened, however.
I had listened to that piece over and over during a depressed episode following the eruptions of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010.
We went out to a cloister garden.
We admired a Catalan forgery.
It was quite wonderful to be there and to chat with my long-lost friend and correspondent.
I wished that Israel had the climate of the northeastern Spain or southwestern France. But it didn't. It was much harsher and more dismal.
We went out for an unobstructed view of the river.
I was reminded of the rising building in front of my apartment's windows.
We walked through the gardens of Fort Tryon Park. The bees were still sucking away.
I thought of a birthday in my early 30s during which I had taken the day off from work and gone to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park and then eaten by myself in a fashionable restaurant in so-called SoHo, feeling all sophisticated and urban until I realized that I was still wearing my metal museum admission tag.
Sadly, the metal tags had recently been discontinued.
I headed back downtown.
Asaph's young sister was assisting our paid childminder in her duties.
I decided to go visit St. John the Divine. I went back uptown.
I wished I had a billion dollars so that the construction of the cathedral could be finished.
Had I such a fortune, I actually would have spent it on this project, and not on any other humanitarian endeavor.
I suppose this made me a terrible person.
I visited the columbarium.
I believe in geology, I remembered. And agreed.
Soon I would regret having read so much Joan Didion.
That weekend we went out to Brooklyn again.
We visited friends with small children.
We went down again to the park by the water where everyone had caught Norovirus.
There was some sort of madness involving Halloween.
"There are too many people!" I screamed. I couldn't stand the hipster dads, with their ironic t-shirts and strange facial hair, even though I was wearing an expensive gray sweatshirt that had been manufactured in the United States and that had arrived many months after it had been ordered because of limited supply.
I forced us to go back home.
I liked the kids to play in the large travertine plazas of Lincoln Center, where there were few microbes.
This was another one of the few things I would miss about New York.
But, still, there were only a few of these things.
Asaph insisted that we attend a Halloween party for hirsute non-heterosexual men. I headed over to the east side to pick up my costume from a kind friend.
Later I would regret this costume.
I took the kids to Audra's place in Brooklyn. One of Audra's daughters and I brought them to the playground in her apartment complex, even though it was a cold day.
At the playground we learned that there was a Halloween party for children in one of the buildings.
Audra's daughters immediately tried to make costumes for the kids.
Our daughter did not like being a princess.
She eventually warmed up to the idea, darkly.
An evil princess.
We went down to the party. There were many orange and black balloons scattered around on the floor, but they were overfilled with air, so one of them popped every 90 seconds or so.
It created a very stressful environment, akin to a scene in the 1997 film Boogie Nights.
The adult Halloween party was only notable for our first-time use of a mobile application to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. Despite my or me being generally anti-technology, it made the evening infinitely easier than in years past or past years.
The next day we went to what was to be a launching of candlelit jack-o'-lantern carved pumpkins across the Harlem Meer at the north end of Central Park.
We met up with two very nice non-heterosexual friends who had an adorably cute young son.
There were too many people to see the pumpkins.
Our daughter mistook a boy in a wolf costume for an actual dog.
We all took the subway back downtown, but they were going to a restaurant. With their son!
I couldn't believe it.
The child next door, whose cries I had often taken for those of our own children, bit my daughter on the arm, leaving a mark.
We stole his sandals in retaliation.
We took the kids to play by the river, another pathogen-free environment.
But the problem was that Asaph had gotten a terrible respiratory virus himself.
Then the kids got it from him, so all of my efforts to minimize the kids' time with other germy brats was for nothing.
I missed All Saints Day at the church with which I still maintained some affiliation.
I looked at photos.
It was 16 years prior that I had become a member of that religion.
I had come to associate the Christian religion with bad things. So it had become hard to participate.
I admired the new logo of the Israeli Defense Forces popular music radio station.
Then a bunch of terrible things happened.