Friday, September 28, 2007

the non-spiritual side

Courtesy of Slate, our favoritest former president, Richard Milhouse Nixon, on the chosen people, on July 3, 1971:
Nixon: Now, point: [Fred] Malek is not Jewish.

Haldeman: No.

Nixon: All right, I want a look at any sensitive areas around where Jews are involved, Bob. See, the Jews are all through the government, and we have got to get in those areas. We've got to get a man in charge who is not Jewish to control the Jewish … do you understand?

Haldeman: I sure do.

Nixon: The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a [White House Counsel Leonard] Garment and a [National Security Adviser Henry] Kissinger and, frankly, a [White House speechwriter William] Safire, and, by God, they're exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?

Haldeman: Their whole orientation is against you. In this administration, anyway. And they are smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do—which—is to hurt us.
And then on July 24:
Nixon: One other thing I want to know. Colson made an interesting study of the BLS crew. He found out of the 21—you remember he said last time—16 were Democrats. No, he told me in the car, 16 were registered Democrats, one was a registered Republican [inaudible] well, there may have been 23. And four were Declined to States. Now that doesn't surprise me in BLS. The point that he did not get into that I want to know, Bob, how many were Jews? Out of the 23 in the BLS, would you get me that?

Haldeman: [White House deputy assistant] Alex [Butterfield] is getting it.

Nixon: There's a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this, working with people like [Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur F.] Burns and the rest. And they all—they all only talk to Jews. Now, but there it is. But there's the BLS staff. Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [inaudible] that isn't gonna be loaded against us? You understand?

Haldeman: Is Alex working on that?

Ehrlichman: Malek.

Nixon: Oh, Malek is. Oh.

Unidentified Person: [whispering] I'll get this to you today.
Well, tricky Dick gets three points for using the word "cabal" correctly. Malek gets ten points for coordinating the anti-cabal effort then and now being the national finance co-chair of John McCain's campaign. And I get fifteen points for holding in my vomit.

I know this is a relic -- well, I'm 90% sure. But it never ceases to amaze me that smart people, people in power, had these entrenched ideas about Jews. Mr. Ben's mother, my MIL I guess I should say if I can do so without fainting, recommended an excellent novel to me recently, Mary McCarthy's The Group, a very realistic, detailed, absoring look at eight Vassar women who graduate in the early '30s and go on to lead very different lives, mostly in New York City.

McCarthy presents the women's opinions about everything from shacking up with men to Stalin vs. Trotsky to breastfeeding and toilet-training with a matter-of-factness that never betrays how she herself feels about a subject. Which is great, most of the time, and unsettling when every woman's attitude about Jews ranges from distantly tolerant to politely hostile.

I don't know why I was surprised. I remember how disappointed I was reading Virginia Woolf's diaries -- she *married* a Jew and yet couldn't get over her genteel dislike of the people as a whole. I know how powered by anti-semitism the America First movement of the early war years was, and how Roosevelt's hands essentially were tied by it. And yet. I always expect better from this country -- or maybe it's more honest, if scandalous, to say, from educated people. Ugh & ugh again.

On the brighter side of things, Mr. Ben and I are going to the Vendy Awards tomorrow, a fantastic only-in-NYC kind of event that he helped pioneer when he worked for the Street Vendor Project. Tickets are a little steep, but food is included, and the experience (I hear) is not to be missed. Come support street food! I didn't know how much I loved it til I got to Japan and it was (almost) nowhere to be found.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

mulled whine

As befits a High Holiday Season in which Mr. Ben and I missed the lead off holiday, we had a pretty mild Yom Kippur. It's a bit like starting a play with Act 2. Still, you go to synagogue on Yom Kippur; you recite the somber, haunting "who will live and who will die" litany with everyone else; you practice repenting farther, repenting faster. It's just what you do.

Mr. Ben, serious young man that he is, pestered me with questions about why we do these things. I looked at him, kind of baffled. I can explain why the rabbis suggest we do Crazy Religious Custom X, Y, or Z but not why I do anything except "my family always did it while I was growing up."

And apparently I give off an air of seriousness about religion that I don't intend. This is perhaps how I earned the unfair nickname "Superjew" freshman year of college. Friday night at the big fat gay synagogue Kol Nidre service we attended in the Jacob Javits center, Mr. Ben's friend leaned over and said admiringly, "I see you know the Amidah." Well yes, yes I do. We became well acquainted over the 13 years that I had to recite the damn thing every morning. But I never mean to give the impression that just cuz I know the prayers, I know how a person is supposed to feel while reciting them.

For all intents and purposes, I have no spiritual self. I realized that when Tara Leigh begged me to adopt some label, any label, so that she could explain me in her book. Religion is fascinating. I love learning about it, I love talking about it (except when crazy comes to town). It's so important to me that I would never describe myself as secular -- I think that's an insult. Where does this leave me, not to mention poor Tara Leigh whose pencil, so to speak, is still poised as she waits for an answer?

Meanwhile another year starts. The idea that an authority in the sky has decided who will perish by fire and who by wild animal and who by cancer and who by hurricane is, hopefully, a metaphorical one. I really truly am going to try to let go of grudges this year, to stop telling the stories that bring the hurt swirling to the surface. I'm going to try to be more generous, more patient, less judgmental. I'm going to do yoga again. I'm going to finish revising Draft II of my book. I'm going to figure out what it means (to me) to be married. I'm going to practice de-escalating conflict. I am going to buy clothes that fit and only clothes that fit. I am not going to be afraid.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


honeymoon photos up on flickr!

the peace, or, if you prefer, verizon signs ben is making here are an imitation of what every japanese kid must do when being photographed. like so many other things about that fascinating island (the cat with the waving arm? what is THAT about?), it's a mystery.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

in temple(s)

This is very strange. When was the last time I spent the New Year abroad? I've cobbled together seders in Moscow & rummaged for pesadika food in Copenhagen but I can't remember when I've ever not been in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. It's funny, too, cuz Mr. Ben & I did spend the morning in temples: Buddhist temples, huge ornate buildings well-situated among ancient trees. The sound of rushing water everywhere reminds me at the very least I ought to tear up some bread and watch it be carried away. Bread being one thing the Japanese haven't figured out at all -- they have one variety, whiter than Wonder --, that would be no loss.

We only have a few more days here, the rest of today in Nikko and then two more days in Tokyo. We got here yesterday having completed our whirlwind weeklong tour of Hokkaido, a huge Northern island that's essentially the Canada of Japan, not densely populated (comparatively) and full of natural beauty. We are in fact chock full of natural beauty, having been up and down mountains, around lakes, fruit picking in orchards, driving through the rolling hills of endless countryside, and surveying the ocean from rocky cliffs.

Despite the eager rain, which has followed us around and led to two headcolds, and thus much nose-blowing of which we hear the Japanese disapprove (oops), we've managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The food can be fantastic. It can also be a salty & mediocre but mostly we've been really lucky. The night before last, to bid farewell to the rural, chilly, soggy, lovely, fish-friendly north, we feasted, for only the second time this trip, on Serious Sushi, and we nearly passed out from how good it was.

There isn't too much English up in Hokkaido; back on the mainland it's a shock to see words I can read again (though I've come to be able to recognize certain Japanese words, very important words, like 'Ramen' and 'Karoke' and 'Entrance' and 'Exit' and 'Food'). To break up the monotony of isolation, we met up with an English-speaking university student in Sapporo who took us around by car with two friends of hers and showed us an amazing, off-the-guidebook time that included a hidden onsen -- we bathed outside naked in the rain, the steam rising off of us in sheets.

Otherwise, we've been entertaining ourselves, reading aloud to each other and making lists of things to do to make Japanese women die a slow, convulsive death in front of you: 1. Ask them how they are. 2. Tell them they speak English well. 3. Compliment them in any way. 4. Ask them for a recommendation.

Genderwise, this country seems to be stuck in 1962, though technologically it's 2013. Women, by law, it seems, must wear heels and skirts; they tend to look glamorous in a low-key, well-kept way. The trend is to wear three-quarters length black leggings, and thus, they all wear three-quarter length black leggings if they're not in uniform.

The men somehow morph from being androgynous skinny punks to suit-wearing automotons, though when this transformation happens is hard to pinpoint.

Generally, people are extraordinarily polite -- even, or especially, when they're being unhelpful. They must always have the last word by ending an exchange with 'Thank you, respected persons!' No matter how many times they've already chimed it, if you so much as breathe in their direction they will say it again. Best to be silent and smile and go away, or they'll waste their whole day bowing and saying goodbye.

I will definitely miss it here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

ueno is bueno but sapporo is supero!

(x-posted from lj)

!!!JAPAN!!! -- that's what it's like here. lots of exclamation points, neon ones, surrounded by others, and katakana that it takes forever to decode and turns out to mean 'karaoke.' Karaoke is the one word I can definitely recognize at this point. we have not tried it yet BUT we have gotten some amazing things done:

1) talked to other foreigners. everywhere, all the time. we have no compunctions about striking up conversations with strangers.

2) the fish market! imagine Reading Terminal Market except three times as big and ten times as confusing, filled with fish carcasses and men with swords and other men smoking cigarettes while racing around on motorized carts and everywhere buckets of smaller fish that aren't quite dead yet and are thrashing about in a pathetic way. our first morning here we woke up at 5:30 and decided to make the most of it, so we got to see the market in all its wet, bloody glory.

3) fresh sushi for breakfast, post-fish market. this was one of those unforgettable experiences that we just stumbled on, having left the fish market. we saw a line and we queued up, figuring why not? and indeed, we were not disappointed. a chef served us sushi like we'd never had before, sushi that was only Mostly Dead, sushi from his hands to our mouths, sushi that it turned out cost $70 (7000 yen total) which was a problem when it came time to pay because we only had $28, or 3000 yen.

so what did we do? naturally i surrended myself and became a hostage, sitting on a stool in the corner of this tiny sushi bar, trying to be inconspicuous, as poor mr. ben raced around for an hour and twenty minutes trying to find an ATM that took international credit cards. not in japan 24 hours and we already created our own video game!

eventually i was redeemed. it was great.

4) walked. walked walked walked and walked some more. my legs are tired all the way up to my hips. the day before yesterday when mr. ben and i both reached that stage we took a break and got cheap tickets to watch one act of traditional kabuki. because this is how we relax.

5) bought tickets to a japanese baseball game! for someone who is utterly uninterested in sports, i am totomo excited for this-des. that means, I cannot wait.

6) shrines, temples, park with huge lake covered in lotus taller than i am.

7) noticed that japanese women do not wear bright colors. really! no red.

mr. ben and i have now landed in sapporo in the blessedly quieter northern region of the country where, we can only hope, the food will not be quite as salty.