Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wine Sniffing

This Friday night I will be hosting a wine tasting of Israeli wine at CBS.  I’m no wine industry professional, but I learned a great deal about everything from the global wine trade to the evolution of wine terminology during a stint as a researcher for the SFMOMA exhibition How Wine Became Modern, which opened in 2010. I took a particular interest in wine from Israel, as the quality and number of wineries there has skyrocketed in recent years, and I had the opportunity to visit some of them during our past two summers. The irony is that, at the moment, I can neither drink wine nor can I taste much of anything.

I gave up alcohol for chemo; meanwhile, chemo returned the favor by destroying my taste buds. Bummer. It’s temporary, and it’s not completely obliterated, just muted, like the volume is turned way down. My tongue feels like it’s been sandpapered, then polished to a high shine, and all the flavors just keep slipping off. It’s incredibly disorienting, because smell is still there, and really smell is much more powerful, and my appetite is still there, but in between anticipation and satiety lies a gap where flavor used to reside.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Rebbetzin and her WIGS

The rebbetzin wears a wig. In some Jewish circles, this would be a completely unremarkable statement of fact. Of course the rebbetzin wears a wig—what’s a rebbetzin without a sheitel? For me, despite the occasional extravagant hat (a collection of which I am also hoping to build in the coming months), covering my head in accordance with the dictates on female modesty is not part of my usual practice. Ironic then, that my chemo-induced hair loss has occasioned an exploration into the world of faux locks--a new foray, not without it’s whimsy, as well as its absurdities.

In Nathan Englander’s short-story collection For The Relief of Unbearable Urges, there is an incredible story called simply “The Wig.” Its protagonist, Nechama, is not merely a wig maker, but the “best of the sheitel machers.” Orthodox women come from far and wide to experience her custom designs: “They circle the globe to see Ruchama, because they are trapped in their modesty and want to feel, even as illusion, the simple pleasure of wind in their hair.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

IN the omer

This past New Year’s Eve, ensconced in a cabin in Sun Valley, Idaho, with my family and some close friends, when it came time to toast, I commented “how about we toast to 2013? 2012 looks as if it will be a wash.” Just diagnosed with breast cancer, on the cusp of beginning treatments, which would include multiple methods of devastation and recuperation, I could see little to embrace about the coming months, preferring instead to look ahead to a future moment when things might be expected to have returned to normal. My friend Josh, who himself battled Hodgkin’s disease ten years earlier, said, “don’t write this year off. It’s true that it’s going to be rough, but it’s going to be illuminating and profound too. It won’t be a wash.”

Now several months in to the year and those treatments, I see what he meant with new eyes. I’m hardly in any place to proclaim any newfound “cancer wisdom,” but I am wading through the present, no longer trying to fast forward through the icky parts.

There is a nice article in Tablet this week about cancer patients counting the omer. In short, the author, a radiation oncologist, discusses how his patients have come to ritualize the counting of the omer in new ways, as they mark off the days of their treatments; some, however, count “la’omer” (to the omer), meaning counting up, focusing on the future, and others consider it “ba’omer” (in the omer), indicating a focus on the present.