The Brooklyn Night Bazaar: Tagging Nostalgia

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar the other night, I traveled to Thailand, Berlin and Israel. Three places I’ve actually visited relatively recently. You walk into this warehouse in Williamsburg, where illuminated paper lanterns on the ceiling offer a warm glow to a large, one-room space. Aisles of vendors extend back into the darkness.

A dark-light miniature golf course with celebrity cardboard cut-outs sits to your left. To the right is an art installation in another room with ping-pong tables in the middle. “Never-ending trails of color” create a 4-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti piece by Brazilian artist Raphael a.k.a. SLIKS. His work comes from a lifelong sense of loneliness. Puma sponsors the exhibit, and there are glass cases of brightly-colored sneakers which add a dash of corporate flavor to the site. Instagram is in full use, with iPhone users snapping photos from creative angles. They’re tagging photos of tagging. How meta.

Night Markets in Thailand

I felt pretentious telling my friends how much the place reminded me of the night markets in Thailand; in Chang Mai, where the biggest night market stretches for what feels like miles; or in Pai, where the night market is more manageable in size but not in terms of the endless variety of creative wares, produced by artisans and craftsman you hope are local. (It was a running joke, seeing the same fabric elephant coin purse at literally every market and souvenir store across 3 different South Eastern countries. The first time I encountered the elephant, the woman selling it said “I make, I sew.” My travel companion and I loved commenting on how well that woman must have been doing, to have such a robust distributor network.)

Bars in Berlin  

A beer garden shoots off the main room, where low wooden tables sit facing a white wall loosely covered in black-outline illustrations. The casual intersection of art and alcohol and the reminded me of a 5-story place in Berlin calledTachlas. The place is covered floor to ceiling in decades of graffiti, with 5 different types of music on each floor and a sand-covered outdoor beer garden on the bottom level.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

We left the bazaar and walked down a quiet street. The light of a street lamp illuminated a drawing of a crouched, girl-like figure done on the side of the 2nd story of a building – and for a second I felt like I was in Jaffa. The quiet road, the ubiquity of art in odd places, the subdued yet powerful presence of an underground art scene brought me back to the backstreets of industrial, southern Tel Aviv.

Brooklyn Street Art

These comparisons and memories and nostalgia all feel good and bad at the same time. I make these comparisons yet don’t know for what purpose, or what to do with them. My gut reaction is to share them with others, yet I instantly feel pretentious; “Have any of you ever been to Thailand?” is a question usually met with silence.

The silence echoes inside my own head as I ask myself what to do with those comparisons and memories. Tagging them – on Instagram and my blog – makes them seem captured and categorized.

 

War Memorials are Beautiful and Intense; Maybe I Should Visit More of Them

September 11th is in 3 days.

I’m doing the social media marketing for an annual charity event held each year on the anniversary of the attacks. I thought it would be a good time to visit the 9/11 Memorial, created just in the last year or two, to mentally prepare myself for the event on Wednesday and spend some time reflecting to put myself in the right headspace leading in.

I didn’t really know at all what to expect. I waited on line and “donated” a measly assortment of quarters, nickels and dimes to get in while feeling like a jackass for never having cash on me anymore. After walking in line around what felt like an entire city block, you enter a sort of enclosed courtyard, with a few small trees and some lawn and wide, cobblestone paths.

As I wondered “What did you expect here?” I thought about other memorials I’ve been to, and my thoughts went to the Killing Fields in Cambodia: sites that commemorate those massacred during the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. I visited the best-known site, 17km south of Phnom Penh, called Choeung Ek. Very intense place, with indents in the ground where they’d have massive graves that are now covered in grass (but you still see the depression in the ground). There’s a tree where soldiers would smash the heads of babies and toss them in the air and shoot them. You listen to stories about this on a guide headset. It really leaves an impression.

A very different memorial are the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The one outside is powerful in its simplicity. It’s in the center of the city so it makes sense to have it be relatively abstract in its connection to the Holocaust; large, rectangular slabs of gray cement form a grid, and you can walk in between the rows. Grass lines the pathways, and the slabs vary in height, some are slanted, others perpendicular to the ground.

At the 9/11 Memorial, about 200 yards in to the courtyard you encounter an enormous reflecting pool. Another one lies toward the back of the courtyard; they’re both built in the footsteps of where the Twin Towers stood. They drop inward on themselves in a way I’m not explaining well, but there are waterfalls and the names of those who perished surrounding the outside of both pools. The names are arranged according to group: First Responders, Employees of Companies in the North Tower, The South Tower, passengers on Flight 93, Flight 175, Pentagon….and within all those groups, the families of those lost requested the names of their loved ones be placed next to certain other names. I saw one that was a woman’s name with “AND HER UNBORN CHILD” next to it. My cousin is a firefighter and worked in the recovery process in the weeks and months following the attack; he was fine, after not being able to get in touch with us at all that first day, and then working 24 hour shifts for the next few weeks.

All the thought and contemplation and reflection I spent today felt good in preparation for Wednesday. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Children and Travelers are Artists

picasso quote

 

You grow up. Your taste evolves. You constantly decide what looks good and what doesn’t.

Getting dressed. Cutting your hair. Choosing a background image for your iPhone’s Lock Screen. Your desktop screensaver. What to hang on your walls.

These things matter to me a great deal; my surroundings have always informed my mood and disposition. The weather outside and the decor in my living space: the space in which I exist shapes and informs my identity, in a way.

The essence of travel implies a lack of commitment to one’s surroundings. It’s easier to experience the world through the eyes of a child; your “tastes” are constantly challenged and tested.

You are reborn.

Plagued

I haven’t written in awhile. I like knowing my blog is waiting for me to get back in touch with the part of myself I’m in touch with when I’m writing here.

Maybe I should read a book about blogging. Or a blog about blogging. And then stuff myself into my own armpit. Maybe that way I’d feel more solid about what I’m looking for here.

Moving Back and Moving Forward

It’s been 1 full year since I moved back to the states. This fact makes me sick to my stomach. And the fact that it has this effect on me causes an extra layer of unease.

Why am I so discontent? What did I expect? What can I do to bridge the gap? Should I have remained living there?

How do you know when enough is enough and you settle down and stay put?

There are countless places I want to live. Really live. Spend 3 or 4 years, to fully absorb my surroundings and rediscover myself in a whole new environment. I find the process thrilling – to sift out the parts of your personality that are truly you. To separate those parts of you that keep popping up and re-emerging although camouflaged at first glance. New relationships, challenges, locations, friendships, conversations, concerns, even measurements. Flirting with the metric system. Different currencies. Asia. I miss Asia in an oddly focused way. How totally foreign it was; totally unfamiliar. A blank slate, minimal common ground with strangers.

The beauty in connecting with someone you apparently have nothing in common with. I crave. crave. crave that.

What can I do with my life that’s a) creative, b) >50% people-oriented, c) has potential to make a difference in others’ lives and d)turn into a meaningful career?

Accepting suggestions.

Comparing Tragedies May Be Fruitless…Or Opportunity for Perspective

Comparing tragedies is taboo. But this is my blog. And the point of my blog is to examine aspects of life in NY after having lived in Israel for a bit. And this week’s tragedy feels like one of those aspects worth examining.

In the past month:

  1. Israel and Gaza were at war
  2. Hurricane Sandy blew through NY and NJ
  3. Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

I can’t help but view these events in light of one another.

Hurricane Sandy was a natural disaster that more or less couldn’t have been avoided. The other two are man-made. And as complicated as the Middle East Conflict is – at least it has a story. There are reasons why people on both sides feel so strongly about the situation, whether justified or not.

Friday’s shooting has no defense or explanation. Not a single aspect of it. Friends of mine who are teachers (including my mom) are going to their jobs tomorrow, and will have to have some form of conversation with their students about the event.

I’m looking forward to hearing about it, because I think there can be an opportunity here for one of two conversations: one of healing, understanding, and peace – or one of anger, negativity and hostility. There’s no such thing as revenge or retaliation to be had. We need our teachers and legislators to be PEACE proponents here. We need strong leadership with a proactive agenda that seeks to understand and help – as opposed to blame and punish.

Having metal detectors installed in schools seems to be a band-aid, and a slippery one at that. Israelis are used to security measures at public places; I stopped noticing the guards at shopping malls and restaurants after awhile. I don’t want metal detectors to become so commonplace that they’re accepted as a fixture in our public spaces. The problem is larger than that, and requires a more sustainable solution.

Watching the War from Across the World

I don’t want to sound dramatic. I used to hate when I was living in Tel Aviv and American friends and family would call me and act as though the world was coming to an end, due to the latest border skirmish between Israel and either the West Bank or Gaza. I remember being there during December of 2008, when Operation Cast Lead conducted 2 weeks of IDF air strikes into Gaza as a defense tactic against Hamas firing rockets into southern parts of Israel, going as far north as Ashkelon.

I remember feeling totally confused, and powerless, watching both domestic and international media reporting the situation. Tel Aviv is only 25 miles from Ashkelon, and 48 miles from Gaza. That’s nothing. That’s a 1 hour drive. Israel is a tiny country, surrounded by enemies. These are facts.

Now, Israel is once again at war with Gaza, in a very similar situation as for years ago. Only now, Tel Aviv was hit. And I feel just as if not more powerless than I did four years ago. Now I’m far, far away from people I love, in a city I miss every single day, that’s actually experiencing incoming attacks.

~~~

I know of 3 reasons for a siren to go off in Tel Aviv:

1. The army conducts drills a couple times a year, to prepare citizens for what this morning was a reality.

2. Every spring, on the morning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. At around 10 or 11:00am, a 5-minute period of silence is observed by everyone on the street – in the city, on the highways, in buses, cars, bikes and on foot. Drivers stop their cars and get out and stand in the street in total silence. Traffic stops.

I remember my 1st time experiencing this, during my 1st spring in Israel in 2009. I was on a bus on the way to work. I didn’t hear the siren, but my bus stopped, the driver got out, and I had no idea what was going on. It took me a second, and then this feeling washes over you: everyone else is observing a ritual. They knew what day it was, and realized what that meant for their morning commute. From the perspective of an “outsider” (an American), it seems as though everyone is suddenly connected through a shared experience as Jewish Israelis. Yes, I’m Jewish, but as an American, I had never experienced a national observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

3. To announce a real attack.

~~~

I never heard this third type; only the first two. I know that so far no one in Tel Aviv has been hurt. That 3 Israelis have been killed, and 12 Palestinians (or 19? I’m hearing conflicting reports). What’s so hard to digest is that a missile actually struck the city I lived in. Israel’s largest city. Four years ago, no matter how confused and emotional I was, I never truly feared for my safety. I was never afraid to be on the streets, to ride a bus. Once that war ended, and things went back to normal, I ventured all over Israel without much hesitation.

I hope that Israelis can return to their “version of normalcy” as soon as possible.

A Proper English Bath

girl in bath

This is not me. It is a body double I hired for this post in an experiment I’m conducting in which I place pictures of girls in baths at the top of my blog posts to increase my audience.

When you tell an American you’re taking a bath, they make an awkward face or sound. I don’t blame them; I’m American, too. You take baths when you’re a baby. In fact, you’re “given” a bath. You don’t “take” a bath as a decent adult human being unless you’re (a) getting over a breakup, (b) are a single mom unwinding after a long day of work, (c) are an actress in one of the following films: Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets, Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, or Diane Lane in Unfaithful. (These are just the first 3 movie-baths that come to mind. All great films, coincidentally.)

I was reminded of this tonight as I tried to soothe my hamstrings that were sore from raking the lawn this weekend. (So far that’s been the extent of my Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Lots of people are volunteering to actually help people, but my parents both really wanted the lawn raked for some reason, and they were dropping casual complaints about backaches. We all do what we can.)

The English respect the taking of a good bath.

Last October I visited London and stayed with an older British couple I found on Airbnb. I could have chosen a flat with a hip, young host but I’m a homebody and I wanted an authentic British experience.

london room airbnb

My room for the week. A good book selection in a new place is so comforting it’s sick really.

They were the sweetest people and exceptional hosts who made me feel totally welcome in their cozy and comfortable Hammersmith home, a few tube stops outside central London.They made me fresh porridge every morning, along with this insanely heavy bread that tasted like a brick but I enjoyed its existence because it felt really “British”.

My “host mum” was this adorable lady named Alanna who at age 60 discovered a passion for the Alexander Technique and had recently completed instructor training. My first night there we sat at the kitchen table for hours chatting over tea about her studies, her 1st career as a piano teacher (I also used to play), the books we were then reading, our families and traveling. She said that she and her husband decided to become hosts as a way to experience “travel” inside their own home. Which is brilliant, and inspiring.

And their home had just one bathroom. And the bathroom had just a bath. No shower. Did I mention I was sharing the house with a couple in their late 60’s/70’s?

I tried to act normal (which is really, really hard for me) and not make my very gracious English hostess feel uncomfortable. My “host mum” was sensitive to this being out of the ordinary for an American and said, “This is really a traditional English house!” Then I noticed a grayish section in the middle of the otherwise white tub, where the enamel had been worn out. Evidence, of years and years of butts sitting on it.

I told myself: You wanted authentic? Go with it. 

And I did. I took baths in their bath tub. And yes, it was a little awkward, taking a bath while they’d be downstairs in the kitchen, at night when the house was quiet. I’d wonder if they were also thinking about me at the same time I was thinking about them. You know what? I like to think that I contributed a little bit to the butt spot.

So when I am mocked by my fellow Americans for enjoying baths, I say: not only are you missing out on some simple relaxation, you don’t have the experience of doing so in a relative stranger’s worn-out bathtub, and feeling comfortable enough to not really mind.