You could feel the revelry as the year crept to a close and the ‘City of Lights’ turned up the volume. Public transit is free from 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through noon on New Year’s Day and the drums were beating “party time!!” in métro stations all across Paris. We dressed up in our funky finest and joined a motley group of Jim Haynes enthusiasts for an evening of disco and jazz. Bond, James was the first man I faced in 2011 and I did it with my eyes closed and my lips pursed. We danced and sang into the new year, amazed to be in Paris — and made a final trek back to Rue Muffetard for a leisurely morning after and a cheesy omelette in a wonderful café.
But the sand in the hourglass was running out.
Bond, James and I survived 2½ weeks together in an unfamiliar city sharing a very tiny space, openly fitting our coupledom into ma journée. We had moments of disconnect but managed to talk our way back via conversations about life style choices, accepting there’s nothing now for either one of us to grab and hold on to . . . it’s about the joy, the moment.
And then he flew home — and I started packing.
The zippers on my jeans screamed as loudly when I squeezed in to them that final morning as my suitcases did when I stuffed them shut. Relishing that final bite of my last croissant on the flight to the Middle East, I promise I promise I promised that old familiar New Year’s resolution . . .
I didn’t set out to EAT PRAY LOVE but French culinary got the better of me, and now I am ready to pray in Tel-Aviv. Pray for peace and pray I can drop my Paris pounds in a New York minute on an Israeli Kibbutz.
Laughing at the thought, I lifted the window shade and blinked at the drama playing out over the horizon — Judy Collins kind of clouds, bright white and fluffy shapes floating carefree above the gray, ominous ones below. It was raining when we touched down, a sign of good luck in the land of milk and honey. I’m back here again, Papa . . .
My grandmother and I found her Russian cousin’s name in a book in Jerusalem when we ventured here in 1965, which led us to our “family.” Her children, their children and now our children have all become close. I was 14 then –Yossi was 5. At 51, he’s politically liberal, competes in triathlons, owns a good business and has been married for 25 years to a bright beautiful woman we all adore. They have two handsome boys; one just out of the army (special forces -- like father like son) and one about to go in. We’ve seen each other often over the decades; he’s my first call in a crisis – and it’s wonderful when we’re all together.
But I’m feeling unsettled. This is a week of transition, going from snow and cold to warm and sunny. I left a country where I knew the language but not the people, to come to a country where I know the people, but not the language . . . And it’s here I chose to be for that birthday.
On my last day of 59, my face in the mirror reflected my mom, older. I carefully inspected my baggy skin, felt the bulges, snarled at my aching feet – and decided to SKYPE Karen before I found a really high bridge with a low railing . . .
“I’m wimpy,” I moaned from a sidewalk cafe on my way back from an impromptu meeting with an Israeli producer . . . “you were wimpy just before your birthday last month . . . is this part of the deal?”
She did her best to sooth my discontent and after a while we moved on to sexier topics, laughing just enough (given the ridiculousness of feeling 30 years younger than our chronological ages) and hung up on the count of 3 (the only way we can) but not before she told me all was great with her and Tool Man (despite last week’s proclamation that he’ll be in Italy for the summer with his adult kids), Paley and CEO (yup, the guy is back making more promises) and Emma (having heard from Mr. Vegas – a great guy with a 4-star disappearing act ).
Yossi and Hani picked me up from our rendezvous spot in Tel-Aviv just before 10 p.m. for dinner at an Israeli hot spot: a string of packed restaurants in various culinary flavors on Ha-arba-aa Street. We settled in for sushi — and started drinking. Oh yeah!
HOT FLASH: Turning 60 is a big deal. I handled the onslaught of every other decade with a giggle and a gaiety I just wasn’t feeling with this one. I’m shrinking and feeling the impossibility of ever being 5-foot-4 again despite chewing daily doses of calcium. I’m on my own, doing what I love to do (travel), my life is up to me. I sense the heavy weight of those words more than the golden opportunities. My cousins assure me I look better than ever, yada yada. Sure. Tell that to my knees. And then it was midnight, the moment they timed our sushi to be served … and it was, with a sparkler in it. Funny thing about a sparkler … it can change everything.
That and birthday balloons tied to my bedpost when we got home, a spa morning at a nearby kibbutz (very “ashram”) and a new hair color/cut in prep for a family dinner at another great restaurant that evening. By 4 p.m. I was reborn a banged brunette without highlights, less muscle ache and a grateful smile. And then came the phone call.
Bond, James told me he would call my cell at 5 p.m. – He didn’t tell me he would have another 30 people on the line, from seven States and five countries. He directed them all in a pre-rehearsed group-sing of Happy Birthday in five languages followed by a 10-second personal message from each and a “free for all” good-bye filled with ridiculous laughter … totally hysterical from the first minute to the final 23rd. (Yossi and Hani participated from behind closed doors in another room, slipping out to laugh and snap photos.) My Italian brother, my German and Thai sisters … my four children … my sister, aunts, uncles and cousins in Chicago, Oklahoma, Arizona … Brigitte and my new friends in Paris … my pals in NYC, NJ, LA, Tampa and Dallas, singing from cheat sheets he’d sent them via email, coordinating the time zones so that all could be on the line. Everyone bonded in those few minutes of belting out a familiar tune in a foreign tongue — and this little old lady was at the center of it all. Wow. Turning 60? Piece of cake!
NOTE TO SELF: Fruit. I mean fruit. Think “fruit!”