A Tale of Two Blue Bags
Black Friday. Every self-respecting American anywhere on the planet knows what that is about: the day after Thanksgiving, the start of the ‘holiday season,’ when major retailers in the U.S. start turning a profit for the calendar year. I am required to report that ‘Black Friday’ has taken hold here in The Land, even though your average Israeli is as clueless as to what it’s about as s/he is about the English language words strung together on ladies’ and children’s shirts. (Imagine trying to explain to a bunch of grizzled old-timers, sitting around sipping their cups of ‘nes,’ smoking their lungs out, what the slogan ‘Abnormal is fine, Stupid is not’ is about. BTW, you can obtain a shirt with those pithy words of advice from the store at classicstoday.com) What Israelis do know is that Black Friday has something to do with saving money, which no self-respecting Israeli could ignore. It could be ‘Black Friday,’ ‘Black November,’ or ‘Black Friday’ in July – all of which occur in The Land.
This year found a rare confluence of American Thanksgiving and world-wide Jewish Hanukkah, so that there were two excuses to give the consumers here a break at the same time. Which might explain the message I got from the spirits emporium Pyup, advising that Yarden Malbec from that magical year 2018 would be available to ‘members only’ for 89NIS a bottle. It occurred to me Mon. morning, that if I wanted to avail myself of this amazing offer, I needed to do it that day, or forever hold my peace. Go in the morning, get in and get out, leaving me the rest of the day for other activities. I wound up purchasing four bottles of wine and a bottle of whisky for which I paid 507.70NIS (which includes 73.77 tax). What I saved (1) because Pyup was being holiday-nice and (2) I have a Pyup card was 115.30NIS. Not too shabby! I placed the five bottles into the two large blue Ikea bags I had in my backpack and walked back to the Ammunition Hill station, where one transfers from the light rail to a Ma’ale Adumim bus. That’s where things started to go south.
I boarded a #166 bus, which gets me into Ma’ale Adumim, although not to our neighborhood. I got off the bus at the first stop in town. While I was waiting for my connecting bus, I looked down and …. there was only one Ikea bag at my feet. In my haste to get off the bus, I had left the other one under my seat. It’s called the sinking feeling when you realize that something of yours that should be there is not: you lost it, you left it somewhere, someone stole it from you when you weren’t looking, etc. As Barbara would say, PAY ATTENTION.
With a little help from our friends at Google, we located the Egged Taavura lost and found, the same small space occupied by the Rav Kav (transit card) people on the third floor of our mall. My gut reaction was to drop everything – figuratively – and head back to the mall at a brisk pace. Then the tiny rational part of my brain took over; the driver probably would not yet have noticed the big blue bag on the floor of his bus, so calm down. There would be plenty of time to send out the search party, so use the time wisely. Prepare one of my state-of-the-art matzoh breis for Barbara, Aeropress myself some remarkable coffee from my favorite coffee emporium, lie down for a while, and then and only then, the two of us would walk back to the mall.
There is this one small office in the mall in which one lonely young lady sits day after day with precious little to do. When we explained my problem to her, she checked my rav card and called the bus dispatcher. They easily identified who was driving the #166 bus I had been on. He was still driving his bus and couldn’t be immediately reached. Come back in twenty minutes or half an hour. Not an issue. Enough time for Barbara to get her usual, an extra-strong decaf hafuk with soy milk at the Aroma branch one floor down (she is not as particular as I am), make a quick run to the market in the basement, and take the elevator back to the third floor.
Good news! My big blue Ikea bag had been located and was safe and sound on the bus. How were we to retrieve it? We were to meet the driver at the bus stop by the police station at the entrance to the city at 6:15PM, the same bus but now switched to a #164, the line that goes by our house, which would be heading towards Jerusalem. All we had to do was show him an empty Ikea bag, and he would give us the one I had left behind with the two bottles in it.
What am I missing? The driver spoke to the dispatcher, who spoke to the young lady in the office, who relayed the message to Barbara, who, when we were finished, explained the plan to me in English. If the guy is driving past our stop, why not meet him there instead of six stops away? There is a frustration when you’re getting a story fourth hand and in translation from another language – the sense that you’re not getting the full picture. But that’s what we were told to do, so we would follow instructions.
Because I have THE BEST WIFE EVER, Barbara told me that she would go out to meet the driver and I would stay in the kitchen where I belong, making dinner. Now here’s where things started to get complicated. There was a #164 reaching our stop at 6:06, and that would get to the entrance to the city just about 6:15. That must be the bus! In fact, Barbara got on another bus that came at the same time, got off at the stop by the police station, and boarded the #164. But he wasn’t the right driver. he had not been driving a #166 that morning, and he knew nothing about any big blue bag, Ikea or otherwise. There was nothing for Barbara to do but cross the street and, dejectedly, get on a bus heading home.
Then it occurred to Barbara that she had boarded this bus, 164, just about 6:15, and, as she always reminds me, IT DOESN’T COST ANYTHING TO ASK. Which she did, and to her delight, he was the driver with the bag, which he was more than happy to give her.
It actually made sense, as I explained to my wife over dinner, stir-fried tofu and bok choy over a bed of rice. Buses to Jerusalem start at the entrance to the city – more or less opposite the police station – make their way through the city and, then and only then, head out of town, down the road, and connect to route 1 on the way to Ammunition Hill. Our driver was technically ‘going to Jerusalem’ as advertised – just not right away. Barbara and I both could have used a stiff drink after dinner, but my nerves were too frazzled to play bartender. Perhaps a good night’s sleep.
It Was the Holiday After All
I needed to do it that day, or forever hold my peace. Was our schedule so jam-packed that it was Monday or never for my shopping trip to Pyup? Actually, yes, at least for that week, and
these sales don’t last forever. We both had medical appointments smack dab in the middle of the following afternoon, whereupon Barbara made an offer that I had no reason to refuse. Let’s go see some of the exhibitions in the Jerusalem Biennale before we go to the chiropractor. I’m glad she made the suggestion; events that happen once every two years tend to fly under my personal radar screen – even though every time we’ve gone, we’ve enjoyed it.
What’s not to like about the premise: give professional artists an opportunity to showcase their work and have it at venues that are a little (or a lot) off the beaten track. This year’s theme is ‘Four Cubits,’ otherwise known to the trade as ‘Daled Amot,’ and to the general public as one’s ‘personal space,’ and the main exhibition space was in a building that one would never get to, the old Shaarei Tzedek Hospital. Here is a sleeper of a building on Jaffa Road, between the center of town and the bus and train stations, where they are creating a High-rise City. At the very end of the 19th century, this was the finest hospital in the region, and it remained in use until, I think, 1980, when the hospital moved to bigger and better, whereupon it became the headquarters for the Israel Broadcasting Authority. When they moved out, the building remained unused but too attractive to demolish in the high-rise frenzy. It is now used as workspace for artists and others associated with Ruach Hadasha (New Spirit), a civic Jerusalem-based organization.
Always lead with your best, I say. I have to assume that someone there agreed with me. Walk into the building, go past the lobby, and right there is the large room that used to be the hospital’s beit knesset. Give that space to Sari Srulovitch for her silver ceremonial objects, designed to be used within someone’s four cubits, and fill the rest of the space in the building with 200 (I didn’t personally do the counting) works by who-knows-how-many-other artists, including the Belgian conceptual artist Koen Vanmachelen. His project involves crossbreeding Israeli Baladi chickens (two of which are strutting around in a large cage) and exhibiting profile portraits of dozens of the resulting birds. As we say, a little different.
After the appointments with our chiropractor, we sought out other Biennale venues, but we were either too early or too late for the two we tried to visit. Never mind; there’s always another day. We had two important tasks to take care of before meeting Natania, Gil, and Liel for dinner at Sushi Rehavia. The first job, after weeks of pre-holiday abstinence, was to purchase some high quality sufganiyot. As we reached the area near the shuk, the number of Hanukkah revelers on the streets and in the cafés increased exponentially. I waited outside while Barbara – on a mission – wormed her way into Roladin. I remember, in days gone by, standing on line with Natania the morning before Pesach, waiting our turn with lots of other fathers to place an order at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Teaneck Road. It’s fair to say that the crowds here in Roladin had the lines in Teaneck beat ten-fold, at least. I may eat ¼ or, at the most, ½ of a sufganiya at a time; that’s all I can digest these days without sugar overload, but the effort must be made – it was the holiday after all.
It’s an unwritten rule that if one is going to meet up with a seven-year-old over Hanukkah, some kind of present is required, even if it’s a small token of esteem. With a minimal amount of effort and a small outlay of cash, we acquired a set of twenty pastels and three packages of sketching paper, which the young lady behind the counter gift graciously wrapped for us. Off to Emek Refayim for some Sushi.
I have to assume that the sale price of eight shekels for soup, side dishes, or Kirin beer was symbolic of the number of days one lights the candles. What else could it be? When you start with an overly generous order of sushi (which Gil can pack away – just not with avocado) and then you add on the miso soup and the extras, you’re heading into take-home city.
Liel had unwrapped her present and was happily engaged in drawing who-knows-what at the table, when the manager came over. It was time to light the candles at the restaurant, and would our seven-year-old be willing to participate? Talk about only-in-Israel.
Not only was the restaurant diminishing its profits on the items on the menu and thus increasing our joy, they were also handing out the basic (parve) sufganiyot, the kind with the strawberry filling and powdered sugar on the top, to all their patrons. So what else can I say but sale on.
I have probably been watching too many films about world-class jewelry thieves recently (as in Lupin and Red Notice), causing me to fantasize about appropriating some expensive bottles of wine (as 2018 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon -see mention in previous article). Plan A was to sneak into the winery’s visitors center in the dead of night, break into their reserve room, where they store their most prized bottles, and take away as many as we could carry. Now there is a Plan B, admittedly more complicated but worth considering.
Here’s the back story. Sal and Mira, friends from way back when we were still living in Passaic, NJ (why we were there I still can’t understand) are here in The Land (Mira is on sabbatical from her tenured position at CUNY) and were staying with us over a recent Shabbat. The plan was for the four of us to head down to Design City Sun. morning before they returned to their rented and underfurnished apartment in Efrat.
We had recently been there with The Levines, but why not another excursion? Especially as there was an offer of lunch at Luciana, one of the brightest stars on restaurant row in the new super-mega-mall. But first, a lot of poking our collective noses in a number of furniture and kitchen design stores, for our friends to browse and, hopefully, to at least get some ideas for where they are renting and maybe for a place of their own down the road. After an hour or so of wandering, we set off to our restaurant of choice. What’s this? A waiting list. Give us your name and phone; we’ll call you when it’s your turn. You’ll have seven minutes to get back, or you’ll lose your spot.
We took turns waiting and wandering. Finally, we went back to the restaurant to see what was going on. It shouldn’t take this long. Wait a minute, the restaurant seems half empty; what’s going on?
It was the next to last day of Hanukkah; the mall was crowded, more so than when we had been there a few weeks earlier. Restaurant row was beyond crowded; think jam-packed. Imagine every seat, many of them ‘outdoors,’ in every other venue, taken. And Luciana – half-filled – keeping us waiting for at least half an hour. Were they complying with some directive – real, imagined, out-of-date – from the Ministry of Health, limiting their capacity? Were they understaffed, not enough servers or kitchen help, and were unable to handle more customers? We never found out. However, something else of great interest soon piqued my interest.
Since I wasn’t paying, I treated myself to a glass of wine from their list. As with many restaurants of the better source, there was already a bottle on every table, which they would be more than willing to open and pour – should you so desire. Being the curious sort, at least when it comes to wine, I picked up the bottle and read the label. Yes, it said ‘Luciana,’ but it also said ‘Psagot,’ and it also said, ‘Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018.’ That’s the same wine I and The Levines had paid top, top shekel for at the winery!
In addition to the few bottles squirreled away in the Psagot reserve room, there were dozens and dozens of said vintage in this restaurant, one on every table and a whole slew of them by the entrance. NOT FAIR!!!!!! Was this offering itemized on the restaurant’s wine list? No it was not. Other wines were, all at the usual inflated prices they get you for at any restaurant. Considering how much we had paid per bottle at the winery, I can only imagine what they ask to open a bottle at the restaurant. Just as I wasn’t going to ask why they were seating only half of the capacity, I was NOT going to inquire their price for a Psagot 2018 Cab. Sauv. – not if I wanted to sleep that night. Definitely not on sale, Black Friday and Hanukkah not withstanding.
What kind of fantasy theft could I come up with to appropriate a few of these bottles – as in, come on guys, let’s share the wealth? Breaking and entering into a deserted visitors center in the dead of night – in one’s imagination – is one thing, but planning a daylight raid on the restaurant in the middle of Design City and heisting the same precious liquid, that’s a whole ‘nother barrel of wine. You’d need a Stealth Team; you’d need a helicopter to crash through the painted sky above the plaza; you’d have to create a massive diversion to draw away the attention of hundreds of spectators while you’re confiscating the wine. Oh my! Maybe I should settle for some less exclusive offerings, while I dream on about Hanukkas to come.