With a Little Help from My Friends

I can’t remember who was unavailable first; was it one of us or one of them? We kept taking turns, being unable to get together because one of the four of us was under the weather, recovering from surgery, or in too much pain. (We are, after all, card-carrying members of the W.W.W. – Walking Wounded of the World.) And then, when it seemed we were all in good enough health, Boobie, one of The Levine’s dogs, got sick, and they needed to stay home to give her medicine. But it did happen – finally. Richard and Barbara did arrive on a Thurs., with the stipulation that we wouldn’t be doing too much or going too far. Fair enough, said we, we are prepared to just chill.

For several days, our activity was limited mostly to going from the living room to the dining room table. (OK, I did venture forth to shul on Shabbat.) But came Sunday, and we had plan to meet our mutual friends Carol and Moshe at the First Station for lunch. We sat outside at Fiori, a newly opened restaurant, where the food is good and the service a little haphazard. The news of the day from C&M was that they would be moving in a few months from the seniors-only building where they are now living to another similar facility in a different part of Jerusalem. We were certainly happy for them, but I was especially pleased as punch for myself, because I felt that I had dodged a bullet.

When the subject of senior residences was first broached several months ago, (my) Barbara got interested in the idea. There will come a time, she said to me, when our apartment will be too large for us to manage and the stairs too many for us to climb. As it might take several years of waiting for an apartment in one of these residences to be available, maybe we should start considering it now. You are free to look around, I replied, just as long as you understand that I ain’t going to no elderghetto – no way, no how.

I realized that I needed to back up my demurral with some credible reasons, which I proceeded to enunciate as they occurred to me. I reminded my wife that we had always been the banks’ favorite suckers in The States, moving around in New Jersey every 6-9 years, meaning that we were paying off the interest on our thirty-year mortgages and only a miniscule amount of the principal. ‘Suckers’ is right! Here we’re in the twelfth year of our twenty-year mortgage. We’ve actually paid off part of the principal. Why ruin a good thing? Especially when these residences are charging top dollar – for which, in fairness, they provide a whole lot of services.

But it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents, or shekels and shekels. I’m being asked to consider moving away – from the friends we’ve made, from the apartment we have so lovingly upgraded, from our priceless view, from a sense of comfort in knowing where you are. And then these places don’t allow pets. You’re talking to someone who’s been hosting a series of cats for over fifty years. I’m not going anywhere without them – whoever ‘them’ might be at the time. And that’s final. You want to consider a smaller apartment with fewer steps or an elevator, that we can discuss, but that won’t involve a three-year waiting list. Barbara did check out one place, but the financial reality plus my lack of enthusiasm sort of dissuaded her from going on with her inquiries. Whew!

We had nothing specific planned for Monday, but we all knew what was a possibility. What do wine lovers do when they have the chance? Visit a winery, of course. What else? We made a reservation for a wine-tasting at 2:30, leaving us several hours to do something else. The Levines expressed an interest in checking out Design City (a/ka DCity), which would be on the way, so off we went.

This mega-mall, all 150,000 sq. meters of it (that would be the size of 50 American football fields), with a nearby amusement area, has been open for several months now, and previously I had minimal interest in heading that way – even ignoring the difficulty of getting there without a car. (There are shuttle buses from Jerusalem, but none from Ma’ale Adumim, even though DCity is just down the hill in Mishor Adumim, and you’d think…..) For one thing, it seemed that this was a place to go if you wanted high end furniture, bedroom sets, kitchen cabinets, and the like, none of which we are lacking. (Window shopping for a dining room table? I’ll pass, thank you very much.) Plus, it got a royal raspberry from Haaretz, listing it as number 11 in their survey of the ten ugliest public buildings in Israel. Think, Holyland project. I can find ugly all around me; I don’t have to make a special trip to find it. So why bother?

But we were bothering, so make the best of it. Truth be told, it could be a lot worse, considering that it is supposed to be in part a replica of the “famed Venice Hotel in Las Vegas” – as opposed to any building in the actual city itself. Ugly, no. Middle-of-the-road kitsch, yes. But it’s a shopping mall. The ones we’ve been to here and in The States are, shall we say, uninspired architecturally. We’re not talking Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Stack Sullivan, but in a Disneyfied world, it’s not out of place.

We walked around, and there were a number of familiar shops from Talpiot, like Aeroflex, where we got our new beds, and Hollandia, where we couldn’t afford to buy anything, and lighting stores we had been to in search of fixtures for our apartment. There were also, as advertised, some restaurants, many clustered in a huge space with a cloud-filled fake sky, reminding me of the twinkling stars on the ceiling of the Loew’s Paradise movie theater in the Bronx in by-gone days. But there were also a bunch of who-would-have-thunk-they’d-have-it stores scattered about.

Barbara L. and I were sitting and chilling on a bench, leaving the other two members of our crew to wander about. Richard and Barbara C. came back separately with the same report. All the way at the end of that road, past the video game place, is a coffee store. Not a coffee shop like Powers where you go to get a latte; a store where they sell coffee equipment. Barbara L. and I rose as one and headed off – maybe not lickety-split, but with at least all deliberate speed. Sure enough, there it was, selling kilos of different coffees, all manner of coffee-making devices, even some actual coffee grinders. They don’t have anything like that in Talpiot or anywhere else in Jerusalem, as far as I know, so they get points just for being there. Barbara L., with an unerring eye, spotted the single remaining Aeropress left in the store. (It was a matter of my gentle persuasion: after sampling Sumatran coffee made in my Aeropress, she was sold on the idea and leaped at the opportunity of getting her own.) We suggested to the young Arab guy working in the store that he tell his boss to restock Aeropresses and sell the filters as well. He thanked us and gave us something to drink from the quasi-espresso machine they had around.

While we were in coffee-mode, Richard went exploring on his own and found a Doctor Gav store, where he bought a specially designed pillow for his back. Back at our central meeting spot, we crossed the road to Katsefet, just to verify that their ice cream was as out-of-this-world as at other branches. We were, without trying to be, the kind of shoppers the developers must have had in mind when they laid out seven hundred million shekels (!!!) to build this place close to the middle of nowhere – as in, if they (the curious) show up, they will invariably spend some money on something. As we walked around, I could see small groups of people wandering about, usually with at least one person carrying a bag of whatever they had just purchased. As it was the middle of the day, most of them had likely spent some money on a snack or a meal. Will this project be a success? I don’t know, but I expect The Levines will want to go back. Maybe for one of those coffee grinders.

It was now past 1:30; time to head up to the winery, so let me begin with an analogy. You have a bookcase, fifteen feet high. You’d have to borrow a ladder from a neighbor to reach the top shelves, so what’s on them remains undisturbed, collecting dust, year after year. In addition, there are plenty of volumes on the shelves you can reach that you have no interest in perusing. As a result, you read and re-read the same books over and over again. According to one source (the recently published Wine Journey: An Israeli Adventure), there are some 110 kosher wineries in Israel, almost all of them offering the chance to sample their wares on site. Some of them are on kibbutzim or moshavim in the hinterlands, and many of them we’ve never heard of, usually making miniscule quantities of their product out of a garage or the equivalent. Of the eighteen we have visited, there are a number that we go back to time and time again because their wine is wonderful and their visitors centers are convenient. One such is Psagot, less than an hour north of here, even less if you’re starting from Design City. The last time we were there, we made an enormous loop, going far out of our way. This time, thanks to Waze, we arrived twenty minutes early.

Is this where we were before? It sort of looked familiar, but then again it didn’t. It has to be the same place. I’m sure they didn’t move. But they had; not that far away, but to a much larger facility, this time divorced from the Binyamina Regional Center, which had shared their previous space. Sure enough, they were setting up for a large wedding when we arrived. But we had a reservation, and they were expecting us. There at the other end was a table with four wine glasses. A little sign on the wall behind the serving bar said, “First coffee, then wine,” and that’s what we were offered. (Can’t go wrong!) After the coffee, the bread and cheese arrived and then a selection of first white and then red wines.

More often than not, when Barbara L. is in a wine store or at a winery, she will start explaining to whoever is in attendance about her ongoing, in-depth examination of Israeli rosés, producing an annual review of everything we have collectively been able to locate (this year, over 60). As an added touch, she will whip out a copy of her spreadsheet, listing any and every rosé she has sampled. That final display usually gets someone’s attention. In this case, it was Noa, one of Psagot’s main wine people, who showed up at our table to chat with us and find out who we were while we were sampling their selection. What they were offering us was quite good, but I was on a mission, and so I asked, do you have anything from 2018 on hand?

She knew what I was asking, but you probably don’t… Months ago, I was beginning to wonder, Is it my imagination, or do the 2018 vintages seem particularly good? But then, Avi Davidowitz, a local wine expert whose articles I massage before he publishes them, made the following pronouncement about the vintages in Israel: 2018 wines, good; 2019 wines, some good, some not so good; 2020 wines, not so good.

That called for immediate action on my part. I began scampering up and down Agrippas St., going into the various spirits emporiums, removing bottle from shelves, and squinting at the labels in search of the elusive 2018’s that were still on their shelves before they were all gone, replaced by more recent and less desirable vintages.

Certainly, Noa said, they had some 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon around, just not on the shelves for the masses to purchase. She went into their temperature-controlled room where they keep the crème de la crème – if I may mix my liquids – and came out with a bottle to show us. I suggested to all assembled – only half in jest – that we needed to find a way to break in and raid the room. Who knows what treasures they have lying around?

Noa announced how much a bottle of the 2018 would go for. (Let’s just say a significant multiple of what a 2019 would cost.) No one blinked an eye. You probably know the saying, don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry. The opposite warning would be, don’t go shopping for wine after you’ve just drunk four glasses. The Levines took two bottles; we took one – and a few other wines as well, along with the aforementioned Wine Journey, some marzipan, and some toffee. After four glasses of wine, most everything in the place seemed worth buying.

The sun was setting; time to pack up and head back home. Tues. would find us at our local Waffle Bar for a farewell brunch before The Levines would head back north with all their goodies stowed safely in the back of their vehicle. The perfect ending to five fun-filled days.

After paying an arm and a leg for the 2018 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon, I am even more determined to get other examples of that vintage while the getting is good and affordable. But the question is, why can’t buying wine be less traumatic? Think about coffee, for example. Every year the local growers pick their coffee berries and go through the several steps to turn the crop into green coffee beans, which are then shipped in burlap sacks to roasters large and small (such as Brandon), who then roast the beans and sell them to eager customers (such as yours truly). There are always new crops from different parts of the world arriving, and when one crop has been used up, another one is arriving. Prices vary according to supply and demand, but there seems to be enough to go around. Brandon does not have some secret stash of 2018 Tarrazu on offer to special customers only for 400NIS a kilo.

So why am I running around, obsessing over a Cabernet Franc from Or Ganuz or a Petit Verdot from Har Galil from that one special vintage? Maybe I should calm down and not be so fussy? Oh wait….. I just got a message from Pyup; they’ve got the 2018 Yarden Malbec on sale for only 89NIS. Will I have time tomorrow to head down to Ramat Eshcol before they run out? It’s every man for himself.

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