“I should write a book about conversations with Israeli taxi drivers”, I exclaimed to Lance upon returning late one night from a one-woman-show at the innovative and experimental Tmuna Theatre. After fixing myself a smooth milky nescafe and a side of chocolate wafers for dipping (a hot drink without a little sweet nosh is unheard of in my family and in this country), I grabbed my notebook and started jotting down bits and pieces of dialogue (rather, monologue) so that I wouldn’t forget the colorful morsels of conversation that were delivered en route. As I wrote, sipped, dipped, and nibbled, the national blended with the personal. And I came to realize there was a pungent common motif here: food, glorious food.
On our way back from a meeting in the southern part of the city (pre-bicycles), our taxi driver speaks loudly and brazenly on his phone, as is the modus operandi here, in an inimitable mix of Arabic and Hebrew: “Yalla, come meet me for lunch at the Hyatt. What do you mean? Nah, “shtuyot”, bullshit, it ends up costing the same wherever you go. Business lunch. Yalla, I’m in the mood for some fish and potatoes. Challas, I don’t want to eat pita and hummus again. Nu, are you coming?”
On my way to see a show in a rather seedy part of town, my taxi driver motions: “you see this place over here? It’s good, fairly new. They serve these sandwiches… but they pack them with too much meat. Blech. How can anyone eat it like that? I like my meat but come on. So I said to them: do me a favor, give me another couple slices of bread, I’ll pay for it, to make a decent sized sandwich. Something I can enjoy. I want something that I can fit in my mouth, that’s pleasant in the mouth. So much meat like that, it’s not pleasant in the mouth. I told him my grandmother would have said that such oversize sandwiches are “unappetitlich” (unappetizing).
On my way back home, my husky voiced taxi driver with the ponytail (only when she spoke in the feminine did I become aware that this was a woman), asked me if I am hungry and offered me what she called a “biton” (brick) cookie. Her mother’s recipe: A family tradition. No one in the family can refuse them. They’re hard as rock but they’re tasty. Her mother was something else. She misses her like crazy. She visited her everyday during the last ten years of her mother’s life when she was suffering from alzheimers and couldn’t remember a soul. Everyday except for Yom Kippur because you can’t drive on Yom Kippur. I could only mumble in concurrence as I munched and munched and munched on the very solid and very savory slabs of sesame.
I was struck by the fitting tenor of this driving monologue in view of the one-woman-show I had just emerged from, titled “No longer anybody’s daughter”, about the performer’s coming to terms with her mother’s death.
I sunk into the backseat and found myself thinking of my grandmother’s heart shaped butter cookies. And of my mother’s relationship with the beygale.
There is nothing like a post-show beygale (sesame crusted cross between a bagel and a pretzel) that seals an evening at the theatre and leaves you sated with the evening’s experience. My mother’s visit here, to my delight, was filled with theatre events. Time and again, upon exiting the theatre, inspired and moved, my mother’s characteristically brisk gait would significantly intensify. I’d leave it to her to wedge her way between the clambering people answering to the call of “beygale cham” and happily much on a beygale on the way home. The nonappearance of the beygale man on some occasions was so entirely unfulfilling that it called for an express stop elsewhere. On my mother’s next visit, I’ll know exactly where to take her when the beygale man fails to deliver. Since the recent opening of the new Ibn Gvirol branch of the Jaffa bakery-cum-institution, there is Abulafia to salvage the evening.
My mother’s course is often savory. With my grandmother it was always sweet. I remember seeing a movie or a concert with Safta and returning to her apartment to sit together savoring kaffe und kuchen (coffee and cake). The hot chocolate and the cheese Danish that we’d shared during intermission didn’t diminish the craving for sweetness. I think of her often, my Safta, for whom this country was home.
I recall the way her eyes sparkled and the way her hands danced to the sounds of Yossi Banai or Edith Piaf. I picture the way she scooped jam onto a crusty roll — with a spoon, never a knife. I summon up the story about the time she came back from the kiosk with TWO ice creams because she couldn’t decide which one to get. This was a woman who chose to eat ice cream for dinner. And desert. A woman who was the inspiration for the decadent yet simple “ice cream celebration” dessert featured at our Vancouver restaurant Bridges: loads of ice cream and a heaping helping of chocolate sauce. A woman whose warm heart and sweet tooth were inextricably entwined.
How I would love to sit with her today and have an ice cream with her and with my children whom she never got to meet.
In our home, “glida” (ice cream) was a close contender to ‘Aba’ and ‘Ima’ as far as baby’s first words go. My little one, age two, wants only to hear songs about chocolate, candies, and ice cream. I am happy to invent such songs and to sing them to her.
In the photo that I keep of Safta that was taken in December 2002, a few weeks before she passed away, she is eating a sufganya. When I showed Sebastian, my four year old, this photo of her, he asked where she is. I told him that she’s in a sweet sweet faraway place. He wants to go there. But we’re here. In the now: taking and savoring every opportunity to eat ice cream.