Sunday, May 31, 2020

Week in Seven Words #509

This covers the week of 10/20/19 - 10/26/19.

Her campus is embedded into a hillside. She leads us up and down flights of stairs and shows us her favorite corners, like a nook in the library or a bench on a quiet lawn. In different corners, lemon, grapefruit, and olive trees grow.

A golden light has settled on the hill. On the remnants of a fortress, a chunky, plastic playground has sprung up.

I walk among peach-colored blossoms, and geese waggling their butts, and cats dozing in high grass. A booming noise, like the sound of car meeting concrete, ruptures the afternoon. It turns out not to be car-on-concrete, but one car glancing against the other, with thankfully no one hurt, though one adult is shouting and a baby is wailing.

The sun presses like a warm hand on my arm and head. When the pressure gets to be too much, I find refuge in the scented shade of the garden. Later, we slip into the museum, which is laid out brilliantly, especially its archaeology wing. From room to room, with detours into adjacent civilizations, it's easy to follow the historical timeline.

Parts of the day are marked by clean air, and clean, sharp flavors and scents. In the morning, we're in a forest with evergreens, and the purity of the air is stunning. Later in the day, I drink a rich, foamy, tart, sweet juice of pomegranate and red apple. Towards evening, we stop in a shaded yard. The air is cool, and the flowers spray from the shrubbery as from a fountain.

Dinner is served on many small plates, which we pass from one person to another while helping ourselves to dollops. The conversation gushes along, and into it we pack many missed conversations from over the years. Afterwards, we walk along broad, well-lit, empty streets.

The ceiling fan in the bedroom whisks air over me cool as milk.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Week in Seven Words #508

This covers the week of 10/13/19 - 10/19/19.

Her cooked vegetables are in autumn colors: moist purples, tender shades of orange and gold.

The windows of the plane are tinted, so that the clouds look like they're dipped in blue. Soon, the plane tilts and soars over the water, which is all dark except for silken spills of light, like shifting dunes, where the clouds have cracked open to admit the sun.

I show her a song sheet she gave me years ago. She sings quietly with tears in her eyes and says, "I came from a warm household. Poor, but warm."

There are wild parakeets in the park. They look like bright, chattering leaves that have peeled away from their home trees and now go where they wish.

They arrive in homage to a religion they lightly practice. They feel that some traditions are worth preserving, at least for their kids.

Just because I use the expression "relatively small," she guesses that I have a research background.

Two men – pot-bellied, slow, gentle, sure, with ruddy, cube-shaped heads – discuss weight loss. "You know," one says to the other, "losing 50 pounds is like strapping a sack of potatoes to you and walking around with it all day. It takes effort."

Monday, May 11, 2020

Recommending Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz

Tel Ilan, a pioneer village, already a century old, was surrounded by fields and orchards. Vineyards sprawled down the east-facing slopes. Almond trees lined the approach road. Tile roofs bathed in the thick greenery of ancient trees.

In Scenes from Village Life, Amos Oz opens windows into the lives of different characters living in a village in Israel. Many of the residents continue to operate farms, but the face of the village is changing. People have opened up restaurants and galleries and have leased out land. They're making a living from tenants or from visitors who come by each weekend to search for art, furniture, and other items of interest. Along with the external changes in the village, there are private transformations, unsettling and destabilizing occurrences experienced quietly.

These are some of the qualities of the book that stood out most:

- So many of the descriptions enfold you, the sensory details chosen with sensitivity, hitting the right notes ("A deep, wide silence lay on the garden...")

- In many of the episodes in the book, an absence is what brings people new insights or forces them to confront what they've been avoiding. A nephew who doesn't show up, a wife who disappears after leaving an ambiguous note... during each incident, the characters who remain behind discover something important about their lives, such as a truth they've ignored or denied.

- Characters probe at the limits of what they can understand about themselves, other people, or life. For instance, in one part of the novel, a man shines a flashlight under a bed. In this dark space, a teenager had previously killed himself. What does the flashlight illuminate? ("I had no further reason to turn my back on despair." Does despair still linger in that empty space in tangible form?)

- The novel captures the village's instability, not just in the way that personal relationships become unstable and unpredictable, but also in how the village has changed. Its connections to its farming days are weakening. The future is uncertain. Long-standing residents aren't sure what comes next in their own lives and for the community as a whole. At the same time, there's much that remains familiar. The things that haven't changed may accentuate everything that's different.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Week in Seven Words #507

This covers the week of 10/6/19 - 10/12/19.

In an old spiral notebook, I start a bullet journal, and so far it's working well. The method at first seems cumbersome, but in practice it's pretty easy to use, and there's no need to make it fancy.

It's a home with an aggressive commercial quality, like the set for an ad. There's little that's personal in it.

Her mind is ravaged by dementia, so she doesn't realize she's at a Yom Kippur service. She thinks it's some kind of simcha, like a wedding party. "I can't dance," she keeps saying. "Oh, there's the wall," she cries, her fingers tracing the mechitza.

Searching for a hat in a department store. Racks and racks of clothes, people rifling humorlessly, each item subjected to sharp inspection.

Golden chrysanthemums, a golden haze to the afternoon.

Praying part of the time outdoors, alone, in the cool air.

The movie theater lobby smells like a dank basement toilet. The movie itself is like an air freshener. Beyond being light and pleasant, it doesn't leave a strong impression on me. What I remember more strongly is the walk afterwards, late into the evening.