And Time Can Do So Much

There is the idea that I should say something about the recent catastrophe up north, but I have nothing really to add to what has already been opined by others. Therefore, I will continue with my regularly scheduled programming.

(All together now: Tradition…….. tradition) We all have get-togethers with people we know that tend to recur year after year, which we look forward to with some anticipation. We might not think of them as EVENTS, but they certainly are traditions. For quite a while, our friends The Levines, Richard and Barbara, have graced us with their presence over various chol hamoeds, Pesach and Sukkot, and we always look forward to their arrival with a certain amount of joy. This year would be special, both after a year of COVID enforced absence and because we weren’t sure that Richard would be up to making the drive down from their mountain top up in the Galil. The two of them traditionally get low marks for able-bodiness, but recently Richard has fallen, if not on hard times, then certainly on hard pavements. Now both of them use metal canes to get around.

So, when they arrived at our home at the edge of the midbar the Monday during Pesach bringing with them a week’s worth of stuff, I was the only one among the four of us capable of shlepping their luggage up the twenty-seven steps to our apartment – me,

 the 80-year-old geezer. My Barbara is still suffering from back spasms, spending quality time on the couch. Her lifting is confined to transporting her heating pad from upstairs to downstairs. Barbara and Richard? Not a chance in the world. I can do it; I’m the heavy lifter, after all.

Usually, we’ve made some plans in advance to keep ourselves busy during their stay, but this time our pre-arrangements were kind of skimpy, as in one luncheon date with our mutual friends Carol and Moshe at their apartment. We’d fill in the blank spaces as we went along. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have ideas of our own. Me? I had stopped at Power Coffeeworks the week before and picked up a bag each of a light roast, a medium roast, a dark roast, and the house blend – half and half – along with a new pourover cone for Pesach, so Barbara L. and I could do some serious coffee tastings. Richard and I were finally going to get our chance to do a matzoh brei-off, as each of us was legitimately proud of our own version of gebrocht cuisine. (It wasn’t a contest per se, as we were not going to declare either one the world’s finest matzoh brei. No one is in competition with each other at my place.)

Barbara L., what was on her mind? Rosé wines. For the last four or five years, she has sampled every Israeli rosé wine available to her and done a comprehensive review year by year. I have two main tasks in this project. First, to acquire the many selections not available in the Karmiel region, and then, when she had finished her compilation, to put a post on our Facebook wine group (Kosher Wines: Tasting and Experience) to share with the multitudes. I had been able to pick up a few bottles the previous week at my haunts near the shuk, but there were lots more possibilities out there. So, Barbara L. was determined to include a stop-over at Pyup, one of the larger spirits emporiums in Jerusalem.

Richard? His mission was more under-the-radar: a visit to the iDigital Store in the Malcha Mall. My Barbara? It didn’t matter too much what we did and where we went – provided it didn’t put additional stress on her beleaguered back.  Given this diversity of interests and needs, were we able to make everyone happy and contented – even with a bit of kvetching thrown in? What do you think?

Wednesday was a good example of how to make it work. We needed to leave fairly early, so no time for a brei-off, but always time to sample one of my coffee selections. We were headed to the far reaches of Jerusalem (near the American Embassy), but Pyup is more or less on the way. We’re stopping there first.

What I forgot to take into consideration, as I tend to avoid this part of town, is that they’re tearing up the streets to lay the tracks for another Light Rail line. We can no longer park on the street right above Pyup; Richard had to drive all the way around and find a spot in the parking lot of the sprawling shopping center way down below – which meant that, to get to the store, Barbara L. would have to climb up more steps than was good for her on her creaky, surgically reconstructed legs. But never underestimate a Levine on a mission –especially one known to her admirers as ‘Badass.’

The two of us made our way around the fairly large store, Barbara slowly, I with my twinkle-toes, a little more expeditiously. There were lots of rosés on the shelves, but how old were they?  This particular kind of wine has a shelf life not much longer than the life span of a firefly. In April 2021, it needed to say ‘2020’ on the label, otherwise the wine inside was D.O.A. Even so, there were a bunch of these critters to place carefully into the thoughtfully provided Pyup shopping cart. As we walked around, we looked longingly at the shelves where they keep the Port-style wines, hoping for a miracle, that an old bottle of Adir blush port might have been added, although we knew intellectually that it ain’t gonna happen. I flashed my Pyup card at the checkout counter, which might or might not have given us a discount. A young man was summoned to carry our hefty purchases down the steps, over to where Richard was parked. Down to the Begin, and through the town, to Carol and Moshe’s we go. We were unfortunately, unfashionably late. Let’s hope the bottle of rosé we provided made up for our tardiness.

During a break in the long weeks and months of the lockdown, the two of us were able to get up north to visit The Levines and also meet Carol and Moshe for lunch in Jerusalem. The six of us were able to chat amiably via Zoom, but this was the first time the six of us were able to meet in person in quite a while. Lots of reminiscing, lots to catch up with, lots to think about. That’s what you do with friends you haven’t seen for longer than you’d like. In keeping with the celebratory nature of the day, Moshe made his justly acclaimed tomato soup, along with some fish and vegetables. (You’ll notice that in our circles, it’s the guys doing the heavy lifting in the kitchen.) We ate, drank, and chatted until we all sensed it was time to pack up and go.

Three of us assumed that, after a wonderful afternoon with our friends, we were heading straight back to Ma’ale Adumim to rest, and the route Richard chose was based on avoiding the heavy volume of chol hamoed traffic in the center of Jerusalem. But that wasn’t it at all. All of a sudden, we were at the Malcha Mall, where they just happen to have an iDigital store.

Just as I was the one to accompany Barbara at Pyup, I would have to go along with Richard on his iPilgrimage. Our friend does not always have the best sense of direction, and it seemed that everyone in a twenty-mile radius who was not stuck in vehicular traffic in downtown Jerusalem was milling about on foot in the Malcha Mall. Plus, it’s a big enough space that one can – without much effort – get farblunget. Undeterred, we fought our way through the crowds until we reached the iMecca at the far end of the second floor.

I have to give Richard a lot of credit. He can think of more reasons to get another iToy than just about anyone else I know. His immediate shopping list included an iPhone 12, whereupon he would hand over his iPhone 8 to Barbara to replace her from-the-dawn- of-time model. (It does make and receive calls quite well.) He also needed a new iPad, having broken the screen on his old one. While he was negotiating with the sales crew, I was free to wander about the store. Let me stipulate that an iDigital store here does not compare in size and razzmatazz to an Apple store in The States. There’s only so many times you can circumnavigate the store and take a gander at what’s on display before a feeling of lassitude takes over. I have been thinking about the day – may it be not so soon – when I will be convinced of necessity to upgrade from my iPhone 6 to a more au courant model, but by that time, who knows what model Apple will be up to? With all the latest and greatest features, would I find more ways to use my telephone than to make and receive calls – which is what I do with amazing infrequency. Or would I want to? True, I use the phone’s camera, check bus schedules, translate an occasional word to or from Hebrew, and view my text messages and email, but do I need a newer model for any of these? There’s something alluring about having the latest and greatest, but there’s something beguiling about owning a phone that’s on its third U.S. president – even though that’s not the normal way to measure the longevity of smartphones. Richard was finally finished, we rejoined the ladies waiting patiently in the car, and returned to home base for a restful evening in anticipation of a big day ahead of us. The Levines had notched another year of marital bliss, and we were intending to chow down in an appropriate restaurant to celebrate. Finding a suitable hash house over Pesach in usually not too big a deal in our neck of the woods – even taking into consideration matters like kitniyot and, heaven help us, gebrochts!!!! However, this year, there was also the matter of restaurants being tourist-free as well as COVID free. No travelers from abroad, no business, no stay open.

The four of us reviewed lists of restaurants that would be open during chol hamoed. Most of the ones in or near Jerusalem were your typical street food types; nothing to get that excited about. And then we chanced upon a listing for Pichonka, which is in Nes Harim (if that helps). Barbara C. remembered that place; the two of us had been there for the wedding of so-and-so’s daughter. We looked at their on-line menu. I got as far as the appetizers. Mallard breast, caramelized in wild berries sauce. WE’RE GOING THERE!!! Yes, they would be happy to seat the four of us at 2PM on Thursday.

While we’re at it…… The other thing we could do that would get everyone all excited was to go to a winery, and there just happens to be just the one in that general area, Tzora. We know where that is; we’ve been there before. The winery is on a kibbutz of the same name, and a couple who lives there organizes a folk song sing-along every non-COVID chol hamoed. Needless to say, The Levines are regular customers; Richard could probably find his way there blind-folded.

As we weren’t in such a rush Thursday morning, I was able to make my version of matzoh brei – more of a frittata with onions and mushroom, whereas Richard’s version is more of a huge scrambled egg mixture with matzoh. More coffee for me and Barbara L. and we were on our way. We had been told in advance that all the official wine tastings were booked, but we were free to show up, purchase a bottle of wine, and hang out.

The folks at Tzora weren’t kidding. All the tables in front of the visitors center were occupied by the time we got there, and several couples were having a wonderful time, picnicking on the grass. The fellow who greeted us asked if we would like to do the same? The four of us, speechless, looked at each other and then at the employee. He took another look at us, especially The Levines with their matching metal canes, and realized the error of his ways – as in, there’s no way these guys are lolling on the grass and ever getting up again. He led us inside and ushered us over to a waiting area, a large coffee table surrounded with places to sit – as in age and infirmity have their privileges. We purchased a bottle of wine and were handed four wine glasses. That’s all we needed. We are very familiar with Tzora’s modus operandi – as in, simpler is better. Every year, they produce three different Cabernet blends, and that’s it. No forty flavors of ice cream to overload your thought processes. Just very good (100NIS a bottle), very, very good (150NIS, which is what we chose), and very, very, very good (300NIS). If only everything were that simple.

Barbara Casden, Fred Casden, Barbara Levine (photo by Richard Levine)

Speaking of not-so-simple, there was the matter of our getting from the winery to the restaurant, which meant traversing winding backroads that lead to other backroads that lead to…. until you’re where you want to be. Not so simple, at least for us. Others seemed to have less difficulty finding Pichonka, for the place was mobbed when we arrived, but maybe they knew ahead of time where Nes Harim is. I assumed that the restaurant’s Pesach menu would not include braised mallard with or without wild berry sauce, and I was right.  Here’s their way of simplifying things, taking into account COVID restrictions.

You walk into the restaurant; you give proper attention to the large poster board containing a list of their Pesach offerings – sandwiches and the like; you place your order at the desk; you and your party finds a table; they call you and you pick up your order.

That’s more or less what thousands of Israelis do every day at any one of the Aroma franchises here in the Land, but the four of us were perplexed. Did it matter that we had made a reservation? Would someone show us to a table? What were we supposed to do?

Again, age and infirmity have their privileges, and maybe being bewildered, as well. Someone took a look at our decrepit crew, and we were escorted to a table. Not only that, but when we asked if we could see a menu, a nice young man picked up the life-sized poster board and brought it to us. And yes, our food was brought to our table instead of our having to pick it up ourselves. The service we got at Pichonka was way beyond good. The least we could do was leave a generous gratuity for the young man who had taken care of us so assiduously. But he wouldn’t take our money. This is my restaurant; I’m the owner. Put your money away. Had I realized that from the get-go, I would have whipped out my trusty iPhone 6 and taken a picture of him holding the over-sized menu. But who knew?

Leaving the restaurant and heading back, you can go this way, or you can go that way, or there’s another arrow leading you a third way. We figured it didn’t matter which way we went, as all roads lead to Jerusalem. Wait a minute; aren’t we back at the Malcha Mall? Apparently, there had been a mistake the previous day with Richard’s iPad order, and he needed to straighten it out.  Once again, I would be his navigator, making sure he got through the iDigital store without winding up in Beersheba or some such.  Didn’t I eyeball the same iPhones, the same, iPads, the same iMacs, the same laptops yesterday? The prices haven’t changed either, have they?  What we won’t do for friends.

Actually, Richard did wind up in Beersheba or some such – just not until the next day. That’s something else for which I have to give him a lot of credit. He will go far and wide for a folk song event, and there was one scheduled for mid-day Friday chol hamoed. While he drove down there with a friend, the two ladies rested their weary bones, and I put on my special Pesach apron and went to work in the kitchen. At least the last day of the holiday and Shabbat were smooshed together, limiting the amount of cooking I had to do. There was one more matter to consider; Barbara L. and I had to map out the wine menu for the holiday meals. Yes, it would be fit and proper to continue sampling brand new rosés, but I had something else in mind, and I needed my good friends to pitch in and help me out.

There, resting on their sides in my two wine fridges, were several bottles that I was saving for some indeterminate ‘right time’ with the right people, defined as those who would appreciate the best I have to offer. But there is a risk. You can wait too long, and the wine will have, like the Roman Empire, declined and fallen, and that is the wine lover’s nightmare. I’m sure you can appreciate my predicament; I have more wine that probably should be drunk-now than we could reasonably consume – even though we would give it our best effort.

Some of what we selected was hale and hearty; other bottles were as decrepit as the four of us – and that’s saying something. There was one bottle demanding to be opened. Remember I mentioned in passing how Barbara L. and I were looking longingly at the dessert wine selection at Pyup, hoping for a miracle, as in a few more bottles of the nectar-of-the-gods-like Adir 2010 blush port suddenly showing up. There were only two of these rarities left in The Land. The Levines had one, and we had the other. (We know there are no others because the folks at Adir keep calling Barbara, offering to buy back her bottle.) Open it, said I, it’s time.  And it was. Sooner or later – we hope sooner — we will board the train to Karmiel and visit our friends. Then they get to open their bottle. What’s the occasion? Nothing special, just that time can do so much….

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