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The Long and Winding Road

You’d think they’d WANT you to leave Israel. But they make it really, really difficult. Hell-Al Airlines takes waaaaaay to long to check you out of the country. Yes, yes, I know they’re looking for bombs. But come on, can’t we do a little reverse racial profiling here for the shicksa redhead with the blowdryer, flat iron, iPod, charger, international adapter set, camera, phone, and assorted plugs and wires?

Arrived in London last night, and on my way to have my morning tea. Then out to the country to meet my friend, who will show me how Real English People go about their day. Everyone’s quite polite so far, and the transportation has been excellent.

I’m still in foreign-language mode, however, and keep expecting people to not understand me when I speak to them. Shalom! I mean, ”hi!”

Vanessa McGradyThe Long and Winding Road
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Sure, She’s a Shicksa …

Shu Shu the camel makes my Prius Look Like a Hummer

But it seems there just isn’t enough hummous in Israel for me.

Last night we beat it out of gritty, hot, complicated Tel Aviv and arrived at the Dead Sea. We stayed with a friend in a nearby kibbutz. Then this morning we awoke, early, 4-wheeled it to the “shore” (think rocky desert lunar scape) and soaked in hot springs, slapped mud all over ourselves, and floated in the water. As I lay on the beach, my torso in the stream of supersalty hot water rushing from the pool, with my legs out toward the cooler sea water, it felt that there has to be some kind of sin cleansing through all this. How could there not be? I mean, like, if I had any sins to eradicate in the first place.

This is truly an amazing trip on so many levels. Seriously, if anyone wants to come to Israel, I know a couple great tour guides.
Vanessa McGradySure, She’s a Shicksa …
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Just Ask

The other day we went to deliver a suitcase from the States to Mother Catherine, a friend of Ilya’s. She works at St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox church in Jerusalem. She’s actually from California, and came to be a nun after she was miraculously cured from cancer by drinking goat’s milk. She’s super cool. I instantly loved her after she told me the story of Mary Magdalene through a series of four paintings in the entryway of the church. Her cell phone kept ringing “Ave Maria.”

Upon leaving, she invited me to stay in the convent the next time I was there.

Now, I’m not a particularly religious person, and I certainly shy away from all denominational labels. But here’s the weird thing. We walked through the lovely garden graveyard and as I left through the gates, a voice came into my head. “It’s okay to ask for miracles,” it said. Clear and strong, just like that.

What do I have to lose?

Vanessa McGradyJust Ask
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The Reason I’m Here

Bedouin rush hour

Today we all piled in the truck and rode out on these rutted roads and found a few Bedouins chasing around a few hundred goats. They invited us to drink tea made of sage and sugar with them. We sat under tarp tents and Ilya and Gali spoke to them in Arabic. Four or five little kids ran around, shy and smiling. The boys thew stuff at the donkey to make him bray. It was hilarious for everyone except the donkey.

Also, I saw a camel.

Also, I don’t want to go home and I’m having one of those “why don’t I just chuck it all and go on the road” days, you know how you do when you’re traveling.

Also, I think Ilya is my new hero.

The 40licious realization here is that you think you know your family, and then they do something super awesome like take you to the Bedouins to drink tea.

Vanessa McGradyThe Reason I’m Here
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This Land Is My Land, This Land Is My Land

It’s a pretty amazing place, this Israel. After waaaaay too many hours on the plane, I arrived. My brother’s betrothed, Gali, is amazing. I would choose her for my friend, but happier to have her as my sister. 

The short story of why I’m here is this: My father married a woman named Liz in the mid-60s. They had Ilya in 1965. She kidnapped him and took him to Israel when he was 3, in hopes that my father would never have access to him. Dad then met and married my mother, and I was born in 1968. for many years, he tried everything he know — legal and, eventually, illegal — to get his son Ilya back. 
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Ilya was raised every day to believe his father was a monster. His mother would quickly remarry and have two more daughters. Cut to 1982, and Ilya was finally allowed to visit us for the first time. It was a good homecoming, it was instant family and he and I have had a very special fondness for each other ever since. 
Today Ilya, Gali and I sat around the table and Monday-morning quarterbacked the last 42 years. Versions of history clash, accusations become memories become truths. I am very — quite possibly overly — defensive of my dad and his honor in all this. Ilya and I keep reminding ourselves and each other that the past, while not irrelevant, doesn’t need to be figured out, because we are good, we are here, we are family.
Everyone and their versions of the truth. In the end, whether it’s family or a fucking holy war, I think everyone’s doing the best they can. Aren’t they? But can’t we just do a little better?
Vanessa McGradyThis Land Is My Land, This Land Is My Land

Across the Universe


First, the amazing news: Uncle Mike has had his ups and downs, but seems he’s doing swimmingly. I went up there last weekend, brother and cousins met up and basically hung around the Olympia hospital room. What I came away with was this: I am proud to be part of a family that shows up.

It’s been a grueling week what with Corporate America crushing my poor rose-petaled soul like an old soggy Armenian cigarette. I see how it is now, and it’s quite disillusioning. I am tired of being the responsible one. The one who takes the high road. Who refuses that last glass of wine and goes to bed early to better perform the next day.

However, tomorrow this 40licious heads on a plane to Israel to stand by my older brother, Ilya, as he gets married and introduces his newborn son, Adam, to all of us. Again, I guess it’s just about showing up.

Then I get to traipse around England with the Sexy Brit. Roll up for the Mystery Tour!

Vanessa McGradyAcross the Universe
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Sound. Tree. Falling. Woods.

I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to pray at this point.

My Uncle Mike, the guy who stepped in for my dad when he was alive and after, the guy who led the charge in the biggest battle our family ever waged, the guy who taught me it’s good and important to be funny, might be slipping away from us. He is one of the finest men there is.

He had a stroke and then complications this week. He’s the kind of guy that chooses dignity over a lesser life. Every time the phone rings I get a cold shock through my body. I need to go home and see him. Even though I know he doesn’t want ANYONE to see him this way.

So it is at this point I am supposed to pray, but I am not sure for what. I feel like I’ve got an open line to Ben AND Jerry, but I don’t know what flavor to ask for. I don’t know if I should ask for something impossible — fat-free, sugar-free, no splenda organic Cherry Garcia — or something simple, that goes down easy.

Do I ask for what Mike wants, or what we want? Or omakase?

I think I need to clarify that I am not an overtly religious person. Spiritual, OK. I think it’s all the same, really: prayer, visualization, meditation, wishing. There are 108 beads on a rosary and on a mala — a Buddhist prayer necklace. Also, I put my dad’s rosary in my purse in Vegas and won a shitload of money. So there’s that.

Any recommendations happily considered.

Love,

Vanessa

PS — Mike hates religion, so please, nothing too Jesusy.

Vanessa McGradySound. Tree. Falling. Woods.