Friday, June 09, 2006

Graffiti Near the Train

It’s Global Warming Stoopid
Holloway Road Tube Stop

Fettered Pleasures

Never made it to this sex shop down the
block, so my pleasures remain unfettered

Saigon Surprise

Alas, the Vietnamese place is closed. I think we were supporting it single-handedly. When we returned from holiday, it was out of business. Their noodles with tofu, chili and lemongrass was a thing of beauty.

Buddhist Center (tan building)
and Library (limestone)
2 blocks from our home

Ben on the Computer in our bedroom.
Yes, it really was that color.

Our doorway

Walk past the wrought-iron gate
and down into the first floor

The other half of our block

Counsel (low income) Housing on Courtney Rd – The apartments built on the bombed out part of the block are covered in scaffolding because the windows were being replaced

Our House on Courtney

Our block was bombed in the blitz
Our half of the block remained.
Our stairway is behind the right-most

Monday, June 05, 2006

Farewell to Frieda

My Great-Aunt Frieda, who died recently, was a force of nature -- witty, accomplished, good-hearted, impatient and very, very fast. She had an explosive laugh and a true presence. Her last five years were robbed by Alzheimers, but I was heartened to realize that everyone remembered Aunt Frieda in her frenzied, inimitable prime. She was the last of my grandparents siblings. Uncle Abe (Savta's brother) died last year. It is the end of an era of titans. Below is what my mother said at Aunt Frieda's funeral:
Frieda Pusin was my beloved aunt, one of the first people in my life. She and her twin sister Rose, z'l, lived with my parents in Durham, North Carolina, when I was born. I adored them. Frieda became my friend and mentor. She took me to my first play, and made me feel like a grown-up when she let me stay in her apartment in the village during my teen-age years. She also was my personal historian. Frieda used to say that if she hadn't been there, nobody would have believed that I could talk before I was 10. She claimed to remember and she repeated all my "hochmas"; actually, with her wonderful and incisive wit, I think she made most of them up.

Frieda was an extraordinary resource & model. She was the person to go to if you wanted a recipe or a word to complete the Sunday crossword puzzle, or advice on a serious problem, or the telephone number and the latest news of a relative anywhere in the world -- from NY to CA, from England to Israel & Australia. She was the glue that kept the family connected.

And she had a wonderful talent for friendship. There was no better friend than Frieda. She was a model of hahnasat orhim - of generous and giving hospitality. Her dinners were legendary - not just because she was an such an excellent cook - Uncle Max said that it was the Peking Duck that first enticed him - but because everything was prepared with love.

When Jehiel and I got married, we asked Frieda to be our Maid of Honor. She was a radiant and beautiful one. I realized only much later how hard it must have been for her to be in the wedding in that capacity - she was not married at a time and in a family that made a single state difficult for a woman. But she was so happy for us that I never suspected. It's not that Frieda didn't have many opportunities - I can give you a long list of names - but Frieda would not compromise until she met her beshert. And, of course, she was right. One of the smartest things she ever did, one of the greatest, most precious gifts that Frieda ever
gave us, was to marry Uncle Max, whom my Bobe, Frieda's mother, called her "brilliant" her diamond. He is just that. And because of Frieda's determination and wisdom, Jehiel & I and our children have also been blessed with having Rusty & Nikki & Steve & Sam & Marin & Aliza & Jenna & Molly & Noah as part of our closest family.

When I was a very little girl in Durham, Frieda taught me to sing the Star Spangled Banner. My mother later told me that when I came to the last line, what I sang was - "From every mountainside, let Frieda ring." That may not have been what Francis Scott Key wrote, but it was correct. Like freedom, Frieda was a major force. Her talent & intelligence & goodness rang loud and true, & will continue to serve as a model and inspiration for me and for all those who were ever lucky enough to know and love her.

On the Street Where I Live(d)

Goodbye to the Old Neighborhood

For our last two weeks in London, we’ve moved out of Courtney Street in Islington (Zone 2) and right into the heart of things on Bloomsbury Square (Zone 1). We miss the our nabe (short for neighborhood, Szonyi, who is a busy man often abbreviates words, hence the term “refridge.” But I digress). Our new place is much larger, but also sparsely decorated and used exclusively as a rental. None of the homey touches of Courtney Street such a teletubby stickers on various surfaces or Noddy and Mr. Men dishware. In fact, there’s nothing on the walls here at all and it looks and feels like a 2-star hotel, down to stained carpets and the small sliver of soap and threadbare towels they provide. (Although in fairness, the guy who came by to fix the oven, toaster, lamps and replace the rubbish bin was horrified and promised to shampoo the rugs by tomorrow morning the latest). Still, this new, not so swanky place comes to us at a cost of more than double our rent in Islington. We are across the street from a beautiful sqaure. Our living room is on the third floor, facing west, and we see the sunset on the rooftops of London. Chim chim cheroo. Alas, in the basement of the fancy Victorian place across the street there’s a bowling alley, and the drunken Brits can be quite loud after knocking down some pins and some pints.

Above is a pictorial tribute to the old neighborhood of which we are very fond. (Less fond of the landlords who charged me £20 for damage to a desk that was already beyond hope, and whose immediate trashing of the place made my careful cleaning irrelevant and stocking of the fridge friar-like. Oh well. I am so blessed by having Yvonne stay at my house that I tried to emulate her level of care. )

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Although I tend to be free with advice, it may nevertheless come as surpirse that I am a genuine advice columnist (true, it is for the Fort Fairfield Maine "alternative" paper, but a gig is a gig). Here are my latest columns. Feel free to send me questions, in fact this is the first column for which I don't have to make them up, a trend I'd like to continue.

Dear Aviva,
I am currently in a relationship with a man who is wonderful inmany ways -- funny, handy, good-looking, and generally kind, but he recently did something that really disappointed me. When my father was ill, my boyfriend did not seem to understand that I needed to be with him in the hospital. My boyfriend was angry at the time I spent away from him and intolerant of my time with my family. I am surprised because he is very family-oriented and we often spend time with his parents and brothers. I don't feel comfortable approaching him about this, but I can't forget his attitude, even though my father is home now and is much better. Should I forget about it or forget about him?
Sincerely, A Confused Girlfriend

Dear Confused,
It seems obvious that your boyfriend behaved badly. The questions are: (1) Why? and, (2) What does this mean for your relationship? Perhaps your boyfriend was jealous of the time you spent with your father. Maybe he is just a self-centered jerk. Or perhaps he freaks out when confronted with hospitals and illness. It sounds as if you don’t really know the answer.
Should you continue to date this guy or was his insensitive and demanding attitude a “deal breaker?” My late Aunt Frieda famously (at least it was famous in the family) quipped: “Everyone has faults; you need to find a man with the right faults.” No boyfriend will be perfect and whether you should end the relationship depends on what you need and value. Only you can determine which faults are intolerable.
Actually, the thing that struck me as most problematic was not his behaviour but rather the fact that you don’t think you can talk to him about it. In my opinion, you need to understand why he behaved as he did, and he needs to hear how you feel. I would be curious whether he accepts some criticism and whether he tries to change.
Everyone makes mistakes. But if your boyfriend can’t tolerate an honest discussion of how he hurt and disappointed you, that for me would be a deal breaker.

What is your advice on how to handle the public school’s showing graphic sex videos to 10 and 11 year-olds?
A Concerned Parent in Fort Kent, Maine

Dear Concerned,
Your Editor, David Deschesne, has kept me informed about the controversy concerning the Human Growth and Development curriculum at St. Francis. As an indication of the graphic nature of the videos, my porn filter rejected David’s first email describing the video.

That said, I think there are really two questions here. (Hmm, there may be a theme to my answers – see the two questions organizaton above). First, what is the right way to introduce ten and eleven-year-olds to issues of sex and sexual maturity? Second, what are the rights and responsibilities of parents and educators in trying to perform this delicate and sensitive task?

I must emphasize that I haven’t seen the video. Also, unlike some people opposed to the curriculum, I don’t necessarily think that talking about erections, ejaculations, and wet dreams is a problem. The graphic depiction of a male penis in full erection, however, might be overwhelming for kids that young. The very explicit nature of the film seems to be, in the words of my best-friend, Ruthie, TMI (too much information).

The danger, however, is even graver, if such information comes too late. By age twelve, many boys are having nocturnal emissions, aka wet dreams. Boys need to hear about them from responsible adults and be reassured that such things are normal and signs of a healthy, developing body. My three boys all knew in advance about wet dreams, and their occurrence was no big deal. They informed me by starting to wash their own sheets and pajamas.

Girls are in similar need of information. My grandmother was terrified when she received her first period at age eleven – no one thought to talk to her about it and she thought she was in serious danger when she started to bleed. It was a negative experience she could recall seventy years, two children and five grandchildren later. I know of twelve year olds who have gotten pregnant. So, the ten-to eleven year-old set is a crucial audience for information about sex.

Sex ed is simply vital and, in our day, life-saving. Responsible people, however, can disagree about how explicit it should be and at what ages information should be dispensed. I do believe this is a job for public education and that we cannot count on parents alone to relay all the info. Parents can be too embarrassed, or may themselves not have fully accurate information. Parents also may under- or over-estimate the amount of information and detail their kids can handle. My inclination is to trust our trained educators on this.

But let’s face it, this is not a debate about reading methods or whether the kids should have math drills. With such a sensitive topic as sex, with its relationship to health and morality, the school system must act in partnership with parents, affording parents full respect.

I can understand the frustration of educators who can’t be expected to run every aspect of a state-wide curriculum by each parent. However, a take-it-or leave-it approach to sex ed does not seem fruitful. Parents must be involved because sex ed is not just about information. It is also about morality, religion, and behaviour outside the classroom.

I recommend that parents not enter the school during school hours – that is disruptive to learning and subverts the authority of the school. Instead, the administration should offer some time after school for parents to view the video and the other materials associated with this curriculum. This will help parents prepare their kids for the information to follow, and improve the kids’ experience. If parents feel very strongly that the video is inappropriate, their children should be excused; but then the parents have a heavy burden of making sure their children do not suffer emotionally or physically because they lack crucial information.

The Grandmothers with Baby Hannah Mathilda

Forget the kid, check out
Sylvia's new do.

House of Lords Visit

Okay, this post is impossible to do without a ridiculous amount of shameless name-dropping and bragging about history, so here goes:

Lord Richard Acton, descendent of the famous Lord Acton who famously observed that "power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely," gave me, Szonyi, and the other teachers in our program a tour of the House of Lords. Because we were such a large group, another Lord (Lady?) Ruth Rendell, joined to sponsor us for the tour and the tea. Both are Labour life peers, though Lord Acton also has an inherited title. He is a descendent of Balfour and Charles II (though since Charles II never married, the bragging rights on that branch of the family tree are offered with a wink and a nudge). Ms. Rendell signed copies of her mystery set in the House of Lords written under the nom de plume, Barbara Vine.

Our tour included the Robing room where the Queen readies herself to open a session of parliament, the chambers where the Lords and Commons meet, a lot of bad art, and ornate design (think toned-down, slightly seedy Versaille) and most memorably, the records room from the House of Lords, containing every act of Parliament. We saw the original stamp act and viewed the House of Lord's copy of the Declaration of Independence. Szonyi was in heaven. It was all pretty cool, and the tea was delicious.

Amy P. Comes for a Visit

I've known Amy since 8th grade, but we were reacquainted about twelve years ago at a Seder at Max and Frieda's. Since then I've visited her in Boston and Becket (in the Berkshires) and she's come out to Indiana. Our most recent rendez-vous was in London where we did the town up right. We went to the globe to see Coriolanus and to the West End to see Guys and Dolls (in the standing room section). [The Globe is an open-aired theatre in the round. I enjoyed it so much I went back to see Titus Andronicus, this time in the standing room area, which meant mingling with the actors and dancing at the end.] On her own Amy went to Borough's Market, the Tower of London and strolled along the river. We saw the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the Royal Academy and the National Gallery. We walked our tootsies off.

My favorite day was the (one) sunny day which we wisely spent at Kew Gardens, botany and beauty rolled into one glorious balls of fresh smelling sweetness. I particularly liked the nose-gay garden with herbal plants. I now know how to cure the "purples" whatever those are. Amy is investigating.

Another highlight of the trip was scandalizing Ben who was entirely non-plused when we announced at 10:30 that we were going out. "Where?" he asked incredulously. "A pub," Amy answered, demonstrating once again to my children how she is way too cool for me.

For part of her visit Szone was in Swizterland visiting mishpacha. I was very grateful for the fabulous company. Amy reminded me that the one thing missing from my London experience is the company of good friends.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Proud Pops with Big

Brother Emmett Alfred

A slightly older and more mature
Hannah Mathilda

An early photo
of Hannah Mathilda
and her Ema

Welcome, Hannah Mathilda

Hannah Mathilda (in English) Chani Liba Esther (in Hebrew) was named yesterday in a special Brit Bat service welcoming her into the Jewish Covenant. I have provided two pictures of the little one, both with her mother.

The name Mathilda is after Nana Mathilda. Liba is after my Savta Libby. Esther is in memory of Aunt Frieda, who died only recently.

Baby, Ema, Pops and Emmett Alfred are all doing well. Emmett informs his Ema every time Hannah Mathilda cries: "Baby Sister crying." The jury is out on whether he is concerned, irritated, or highlighting himself as the non-crybaby.

Mazel Tov to All!

Some Revamped Favorites from Sara Kober

My cousin Sara sent me a list of some retooled favorite songs for us agingBaby Boomers. .They include:

Herman's Hermits -- Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Walker.
The Bee Gees -- How Can You Mend a Broken Hip.
Bobby Darin -- Splish, Splash, I Was Havin' a Flash.
Ringo Starr -- I Get By With a Little Help From Depends.
Roberta Flack --The First Time Ever I Forgot Your Face.
Johnny Nash -- I Can't See Clearly Now.
Paul Simon -- Fifty Ways to Lose Your Liver
The Commodores -- Once, Twice, Three Times to the Bathroom.
Marvin Gaye -- Heard It Through the Grape Nuts.
Leo Sayer -- You Make Me Feel Like Napping.
The Temptations -- Papa's Got a Kidney Stone.
Abba -- Denture Queen.
Tony Orlando -- Knock 3 Times On The Ceiling If You Hear Me Fall.
Helen Reddy -- I Am Woman, Hear Me Snore.