I went to Chabad House of København for Shabbos Mincha, et cetera, tonight. Unsure how to get in, wary of the utterly unmarked door and the apparently-armed possibly-Politi loitering outside to lend an air if not the reality of security, I rang the bell — surely a faux pas, disruptive of ritual, to say nothing of engaging electricity on Shabbos, but no one said anything about it to me. Not that the man who opened the door, muttering along to the liturgy through his teeth, could’ve said anything less. Le sigh.
I wasn’t thrilled with the service. To the upper balcony, we women were sent, not to one half of the downstairs pews demarcated with mechitzah for the pseudo-egalitarianism I prefer to accept. Most of my balconymates were dowdy, dowdy teenagers (or maybe early-twenties femmelets) paying me no mind and children playing too loudly while the men, below, raced through. Afterward, the lean middle aged woman in a white head scarf — Orit! — asked if I’m Israeli.
I’m American, I said, omitted the US, and she said, You sing like you are Israeli.
On the walk through the courtyards to supper I chatted with the rabbi, who invited me to give a Shavouos talk tomorrow night, and I said yes without knowing how I will.
I sat to eat beside the man-boy who I’d guessed, from above, from his polo shirt, conspicuous for its gay chartreuse in the somber sea of black and white and how it bared his arms, would alone among them be willing to shake my hand. Alon is his name — Danish-Israeli — studying finance and working in programming — and he told me that what I’m doing is brave and exciting and asked, if I’m around long enough, whether I’ll help him with a writing problem.
Orit and I talked across the table about the difficulty of taking the sort of leap that I am, of the necessity of changing one’s status quo, of not prolonging some numbing stasis, about how the United States embodies this sinister intersection of populousness and widespread sense of entitlement: the consumption, the emission, the imperative to put everything in evermore disposable packaging, to get an even bigger car. I noticed her declining the fish, the chicken soup, the salads with mayo, and asked about her veganism. She told me that in olden times all Danish housewives brewed their own beer at home, always in the same nook reserved for washing, and to this day any Danish laundry room is called the brygghaus.
She talked about how her daughter and son-in-law are expecting a boy and won’t circumcise him. It’s like beating your child, she said they’d said, which hurt her. It’s their choice not to, she said, but to put it like this… She did not finish the sentence, and I talked about what I’m hoping to do with this journey and in life, hoping to help people isolate which parts of what they say are a constructive sharing of fears and which are something that will hurt.
1. I’m on my vehicular way back to my pack. Thank you again, so much, for this hard-fought cab ride and for absolutely everything else.
2. Yo there are some things happening between some birds in whatever plaza is if you go out of the apartment and take a left and then take a right. Birds eating other birds. And whatnot. Speaking of conflict resolution.
I took a video of one — a giant seagull, maybe? — pecking at and carrying around the floppy carcass of a smaller, darker bird — a pigeon? — in its mouth, and eventually as it tried to walk away, super-casual, acting like it didn’t even notice me filming, it led me to another one doing the same thing.
I wonder if maybe something happened involving these smaller birds to have them dying in droves and now the bigger ones (are gulls scavengers? I guess that makes sense) are all over it.
Here is a picture of a third big bird trying to pretend for me that it’s not trying to fish that third fucked-up little bird carcass out of the fountain.
[I sent him a picture of some disembodied pigeon wings floating in a fountain with a seagull standing nearby, acting like it wasn’t trying to see if there was anything left to eat]
Also there is 100% an owl trapped inside one of those shuttered ice cream kiosks.
Or maybe it’s in there voluntarily.
Big day for urban birding in whatever plaza that is.
Yesterday I arrived on Naxos and was driven from the main port to nearly the northernmost part of the island, a homestead-I-guess-you’d-call-it in the hills where I’m scraping paint in exchange for my keep. The maybe-craziest-for-me thing is what a commodity electricity is — I went ahead and bought a Greek SIM card with a generous data allowance during my ~28 hours in Athens, anticipating that I’d have no internet in the hills but never imagining that the real challenge would be keeping my phone charged in the first place. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as my father a.k.a. your brother likes to say. So I am rationing, BIG time — I spent the morning working to an audiobook with the machine in airplane mode and the screen dimmed, and then I hiked the ~4km down the mountain to the village of Apollonas for a swim in the Aegean — the beaches are all rocky but the rocks are big and smooth, like huge pebbles, so it’s manageable — and now I am treating myself to a supper out, which is partly because I’m hungry and partly because I need to ask the proprietor to charge my phone for me. Just as soon as I send this. Later I think I’ll go hang around Nikos’ Jewelry & Souvenirs because Rupert, my host, tells me that Nikos is the smartest guy in town and the most likely to talk with me in any critically evaluative way about conflict and resolution on this island, and then I’ll begin the ~7km walk-via-paved road back to the homestead, hoping to hitch a ride from someone who speaks enough English to understand when I say to stop so that I don’t end up, an hour later, back at the port. Once there, I don’t know what I’ll do. Probably cut my toenails by candlelight and look at the stars.
p.s. While I was writing this, my food and beer arrived. This is may be the best olive oil I’ve ever had.
Today I followed the footpath down the mountain from Rupert’s place to Apollonas. The dogs scare me and I don’t trust their chains, the sound of which attends their barking but which are otherwise not in evidence.
At one point I tried to take a shortcut, snipping out one of the switchbacks by picking my way through the prickly Aegean bushes, but in the end I think there was no time saved.
The waves pulling back on the jumbo pebbles of that first beach at the foot of the hill make a sound that is distinctly like something else I know but can’t quite call up to write down. I keep thinking of something rushing to fill a vacuum. But what?
A third, taunting sound, after dark, on my walk back via the paved road, hoping to hitch: the wind through the olive trees sounds perpetually like a car coming, when really there is nothing more viable to ride than the breeze. Finally I caught a ride in a rattly red van — the driver and I could barely communicate but he mustered a “Where you go?” and opened the back to me and I knelt beside some tools, gripping the metal window onto the cab with my hands and not putting my head quite through, lest he take a turn too quickly and I be decapitated. I said “HERE GOOD” in advance of my stop, such as it is, and he seemed to understand that I meant the hairpin left up ahead, which I would walk to Rupert’s, and took me a bit farther.
Trudging up the last leg the house from the pavement I encountered a small Greek snake, which spooked me in particular in the dark. Rupert, who hadn’t gone out for the evening after all, professed to have worried and my skin crawled some more at his unwelcome interest and proprietary scolding. Perhaps working with him and his gentle lechery and his indignation at what White Anglo Saxon Protestant males can’t acceptably say anymore is my real opportunity for growth and writing.