Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Barack - Paper - Scissors

Jacaranda and Tel Aviv architecture
Jacaranda tree under old building, Tel Aviv

Yesterday I went on a little field mission in search of fine art printing paper. I have until now had people bring me my Canson paper from the US but I decided it was time to find a local supplier. An ETSY friend suggested I try a company in Tel Aviv where she gets her paper. I went on a Tuesday so I could also pop over to the Nahalat Binyamin craft fair and see what was new and then try to find my favorite little notions store in that area to buy some sewing supplies for my kiddos.

The gods of parking smiled upon me and I was able to find a spot not once, but TWICE in the same day. The paper store turned out to be Israel's version of Kinko's and no one understood what I was looking for. But I took some samples and continued on to the fair. There I chatted with some of the artists and met someone who until now had only known through ETSY. I recognized her jewelry immediately. Sigalit pairs red and aqua in a lot of her work and it makes me giddy. Then I walked down Sheinkin street which was once a very cool, fairly gritty hotspot with a lot of independent shops and cafes and plenty of tattooed, chain-smoking twenty-somethings to frequent them. They redid the street recently and many of the independent places have been replaced by chains. It's prettier now, but less interesting. I also strolled through the Carmel produce and random crap market. I got suckered into buying a vegetable chopper which appeared to work beautifully when the man in the shop used it and less well when I got home that night. Live and learn. By 4 o'clock I was ready to drive home and then heard on the radio that the main road connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was grizzled because Barack Obama had just arrived (in fact I think it was just John Kerry who arrived. Obama arrived today). I took it to be a sign to stay out longer since Mr. Rosen was on afternoon pick up duty and my immediate parenting services were not needed. So I went searching for the sewing store and found it! And also ran into one of my table neighbors from the art fair in Jerusalem. What are the chances? Turns out she came to Tel Aviv for the day too so we chatted and she assured me it's been tough times at the fair for everyone and not to let it get me down. Another sign.

At the notions shop I picked up some felt, embroidery floss, colorful buttons, two pairs of fabric scissors and several needles with very large eyes (I also learned that the word for eye in Hebrew, as it pertains to a needle, is KOF, which means monkey). Do you have any needles with large monkeys? Now I just need two little boxes to complete their new sewing kits and we can start on some learn as we go Passover vacation stitching projects!

From there I walked down to Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood of Tel Aviv, which has seen a renaissance in recent years. Lots of boutiques and restaurants and lots of beautifully renovated buildings. And lots of money to live there. A girl can dream though. I walked and walked and bought a book at a cute little book shop, admired treasures from around the world, sat and had coffee and read my book. Soon it was 7 o'clock and I decided I would brave the highways. By then there was no traffic and I arrived home in time to kiss three sleepy kids goodnight. Mission accomplished.

psst. Obama. Call me if you need tips for parking in Tel Aviv.

Charming stairwell
Charming stairwell - if I know Tel Aviv, that bike will soon be stolen.

Candy pharmacy concept store
Candy pharmacy

Sigalit's earrings
Sigalit's earrings - her shop

Carmel Market
Spices at Shuk HaCarmel

Favorite notions shop

Bike cozy
bike cozy

Neve Tzedek neighborhood 
Neve Tzedek

Moroccan style store 
Art Moroc

Charming book shop

Monday, March 18, 2013

Shining some light

Let your light shine

Let your light shine.
Be a source of strength and courage.
Share your wisdom.
Radiate love.
-Wilferd Peterson

Listen, I try to let my light shine. But sometimes it feels like the awful light I'm getting from the fluorescent bulb I just installed in my studio. It's airplane lavatory light. I try to be brave and wave my awesome flag. I try to radiate love but sometimes people suck and I have no love for any of them. Like when my phone was stolen at the art fair I attend every Friday. Until that happened I was loving the fair. I was radiating a lot of love. Love for Jerusalem. Love for handmade treasures. Love for cool Israeli artists. Love for tourists. But then some guy grabbed my phone while it was sitting on my table and I was looking down at my sketchbook and suddenly I was radiating something that felt a lot more like hate. And anger. And disgust. I suddenly noticed the unsavory elements of the fair.  I noticed broken glass and spent syringes on the ground. I noticed all the dog shit on the sidewalk. Everyone looked like they were about to steal from me. And then I didn't sell anything the rest of the day or even two weeks later when I returned to the scene of the crime. My jeweler neighbor said it looked like the only thing I was radiating was my bad mojo. She told me to go for a walk.

So I took a walk and I tried to channel some love. I remembered something my friend Lori wrote a while ago when she was pulled over for speeding and instead of cursing the cop who pulled her over she tried to meditate on her love for him and all people. She remained positive and considered him a dear friend for saving her from a devastating auto collision. He deserved her love and gratitude. They ended up having a friendly conversation and he dropped the charge to the minimum which was a much smaller fine and no insurance points. Wow.  So I meditated on love. This did not cause the guy to return my phone. He reportedly came back to see what else I had left lying around while I was on my walk.

I tell you it is not easy for me to radiate love, the kind that seems so popular today. It feels contrived. A lot of people swear by it. There's a lot of gratitude speak out there - books, blogs, motivational speakers. People are absolutely radiating love and gratitude and I marvel at how easily it comes to them. Or maybe it's hard work for everyone at first. But maybe its effects can be felt even when they are not at first totally sincere. Like smiling. They say that smiling, just the physical act of contracting those muscles around your mouth and eyes upward, releases the same endorphins as when your face smiles on its own from something truly pleasing. You don't have to even want to smile to get the benefit of smiling which, in turn, can cause the real deal. Maybe it's the same for love and gratitude. With enough practice it eventually becomes real and grows and swirls back to you in unexpectedly wonderful ways.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Only in Israel

Interpretive dance on top of biblical well.

A lot of things happen here in Israel that are so ridiculous that I just have to roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I start to sound very holier than thou and we already have more than enough of that sentiment around here. The other day I went to pick up my kids from their playdate at a girl's house whose mom is incidentally the woman who runs their aftercare program. She's a lovely woman and the kids enjoy the two hours they spend with her after school every day. And they happen to be good friends with her daughter. So I came over at around 6:30 pm with the baby in tow. Two minutes after I arrive, this woman gives my one year old a krembo. Now for those of you who do not know what a krembo is, I bet you can guess from the name that it's not health food. In fact it's a sticky puff of synthetic cream wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate flavored wax sitting on a cookie base, the size of my fist. It need not be refrigerated. In fact I guess they started making these many years ago in the ice-cream factories since no one wanted ice-cream in the winter. So November 1st is National Krembo Day. Well, not officially. But that's when they return to stores. It's like when the Cadbury eggs finally come out in time for Easter. Kids go crazy. My deprived baby shoved that thing in his mouth and all over his face faster than I could politely decline on his behalf. Only in Israel.

But I'll tell you the same week this happened we headed down south to see the amazing red wild anemones in bloom. Carpets of red flowers in the desert! The southern regional arts council made it into a big event over four weekends and had stations set up for enthusiastic flower seekers like us. Music, performances, arts and crafts, food tastings, storytelling. After picnicking with friends behind one of these stations we walked over to find two young women with elaborate flowery head dresses, Chiquita Banana style, doing an interpretive dance above a biblical well in the middle of nowhere. They had rigged haunting music to play from seemingly inside the well and a crowd of thirty or forty people stood around in awe. It was magnificent.

Only in Israel.

 Well dancer Well dancers

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Clearing space for tiny sparks


I am starting some new habits. Small daily practices, if you will. Until last week the only consistent actions I did each day without fail were brushing my teeth and drinking my coffee after I drop off the kids. Everything else either happened or it didn't. There was no schedule. There were just wide open days that were either productive or they weren't. It felt like bumbling. Made me long for the days when I worked in an office and someone managed me. 

WHAT? Yes, I just wrote that. Because working from home as an artist can feel very sloppy. I am constantly distracted by the laundry, the unmade beds, the thought of dinner and the empty refrigerator, the lives of the three children I manage, the lives of my friends near and far, the news, the gremlins in my own mind that are often mean and outspoken.  And this feeling like it all has to be perfect and lead to a final piece or product so there's no room to play. I know that sounds counter-intuitive - needing structure so I can relax and play. But imagine a room with hundreds of toys on the floor. My kids might jump in but then quickly feel overwhelmed and step to the side. Or more than likely they would look at the mess and whine that there's nothing to do. I need a system to manage the internal and external chaos. I need a schedule. I need deadlines. I need an order of operations. I need daily motivation and daily inspiration. I need all these things to help me quiet the distractions and allow my imagination to breathe.  It turns out the sloppy bumbling nature of my day is making me unproductive and actually stressing me out. So last week I started a daily practice to add more structure and rhythm to my life, the idea being that a daily practice, not related to my creative work, creates a space for ideas to spark. And I tell you, it is working already.

I decided I would wake up at 6 am every morning and do 20 minutes of yoga. A few months ago I signed up for this service called YogaGlo and it is fantastic, when I actually use it. You pay a monthly fee which is less than the cost of a one hour class in some cities and then you can filter the zillions of classes they have by duration, type, level, teacher, area of concentration etc.  Of course, as Murphy would have it, the minute I started waking up before the kids, they started waking up earlier too. So a few times this week I enjoyed doing shivasena with a giggling toddler sitting on my heart chakra. Nonetheless I managed to do yoga five out of five days and I actually looked forward to waking up at that ungodly hour. I'm trying to add other daily habits too. Sketching. Hand-lettering. Learning new tools, new media. Taking field trips. Writing. Sharing it all in a  way that doesn't feel socially spastic. I am finding it very challenging. But little by little I'm hoping the structure will lead to more sparks and the sparks will lead to a big ass inferno.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Coming up roses

I made this little piece while thinking about weddings. In the last month I've been asking my ketubah clients to send me photos of their ketubahs at their weddings to use in my ETSY listings and I just LOVE wedding pictures. Mine. Yours. Whoevers. I don't care. Love them all. Plus I just saw this stunning video and had a good sob. Feeling the love, I guess. Hope you are too.

The passage in this piece is from a famous love poem by Moshe Dor called Erev Shel Shoshanim* and my friend Jill sang it at our wedding as I walked down the aisle many moons ago.  

* Evening of roses
Let us go out to the garden
Myrrh, Spices, and Frankincense
Are as a carpet under your feet

Night falls slowly
And a wind of roses blows
Let me whisper a song for you slowly
A tune of love

Dawn and the dove coos
Your hair is full of dewdrops
Your lips are as roses unto the morning
I will pick them for myself

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mohammad and Me

Turns out there was cabbage under all those weeds.
Turns out there were cabbages under all those weeds.

I met Mohammad about a year ago. Maybe more. It wasn't long after we moved into our house that he showed up claiming to have worked for the previous tenants. A few others showed up and made the same claim. One was a painter. One was a handyman. They all live in neighboring villages and walk into our town every morning through the holes in the fence. Mohammad says he walks right in the front gate because everyone knows him. He's been working here for years. I've even seen him buying cigarettes at our grocery store.

Last year we had him pull out all the weeds in our yard that, over the rainy season, had grown two or three feet high. You could lose a toddler in there. And Mohammad mentioned that snakes like to hide in those tall grasses.  When can you start? So he spent three days yanking weeds and trimming trees and generally cleaning up a very overgrown yard. And I learned that employers are meant to provide the gardener with many cups of strong, sweet coffee, in a small glass, no milk. He also showed up in the fall to pick our olives. We paid him in olives.

He works for our neighbors too. Knows everyone by name. He's a hard worker and a sweet man. He speaks a little Hebrew but it's mostly Hebrew words wrapped in Arabic sentences. And he uses a lot of hand gestures like he's telling a campfire tale. I work from home so we chat throughout the day. Yesterday he asked if he could bother me for a little  hummus for his lunch. So I put some hummus on a plate along with a sliced tomato in olive oil and two slices of yummy walnut toast we had in the freezer. He was grateful. He apologized for not eating the toast. He has no teeth. I hadn't noticed. 

He's also missing his left eye. Apparently a family member took it out over a money issue. I think he said 70 shekels but that can't be right. It happened eight years ago. And he was supposed to go to court over this matter but the court date was postponed. But he can wait because he's planning his revenge, which means he will take his cousin's eye. It says that in the Koran, he told me. Yes, I'm familiar with the passage. We have one like that too in the Torah, I think. He told me this same family cut his son and then he motioned to his abdomen for which there was some retaliation, though like all of Mohammad's stories, I only caught about 40%.  Mohammad has five sons and five daughters. He married off the last one six months ago. I told him I thought it was crazy to plan revenge for his eye and that the man who did this needs to pay him money and sit in jail for his crime. Because with all due respect to the Koran, an eye for an eye only leads to more violence. You're a smart girl, he said. Maybe you can help me plan my revenge.  I think I saw his good eye wink.

Today I gave him a bag of old toys for his grand kids and he was delighted.  He asked my name. It's Susie. Like ex-President Mubarak's wife. He nodded. Mubarak was taken down, he said. He has three tons of gold sitting in Tunis but he lost his power. Same will happen to Assad. Maybe not tomorrow. Or next week. But it will happen. The big men always have power and we starve. It won't last. Then he turned his foot in the dirt he'd just cleared like he was squashing a bug. When he asked if I had any lunch for him today I said we were out of hummus so I would ride up to the grocery store and get some more. He asked if I could get some softer bread too. I smiled. So did he.

Yep, no teeth.