Category Archives: Reflections

The View from my Window

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The View from my Window

It’s a cold Sunday morning in March. Outside my window, the trees span the parkway like forlorn sentinels. Their twisted branches resemble sculptures etched against the metal of the sky. Yesterday’s wind hung plastic bags instead of jewels onto wrought iron gates guarding the lawns of the apartment building where I live. Cars fly by in the service lane; riderless cars unaware of the passersby and the children crossing.

The radio announced snow.  The more affluent women of the neighborhood wearing  high heels stagger by  draped in their fur coats. It conjures up images of slaughtered creatures on their backs. Joggers suddenly appear,sauntering like pop up dolls, then bicycles competing with traffic as the lights turn green.

The window of my room frames that world as if an animated painting. In the lawn, purple cabbages retained their color and sparkle against the rusted face of the earth. The Japanese maple is sleeping but remains the meeting place of wandering minnows waiting for the seeds I sowed. Snow is announced. A blanket of white will claim its territory. And in the warmth of my room, pressing my nose against the window pane I will welcome nature creating another story.

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On Bliss

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On Bliss

Many people seem to have a bucket list; a series of unfulfilled desires or needs to be realized before life comes to an end. All of it depending of course on the chance that they live long enough to enjoy it all.

chocolate_and_strawberriesI have opted for the present moment and am indulging in a bliss list; that which gives me the most immediate and rewarding pleasure without having to compromise with fate.

I pondered briefly about what I would chose to lead the list of my life’s reward and agreed that it was that most intoxicating and mysterious of foods called CHOCOLATE.

But before indulging in the present, let me dip into the past. Chocolate’s history is fascinating and covers thousands of years. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed in its magical power and divine properties. I also learned that bee keeping was an important occupation in the Yucatan. This may account for the Aztecs using honey in their cacao mixture. There is also a rather unsavory aspect to the Aztec use of the cacao bean. It was given to sacrifice victims who felt melancholy to join ritual dancing before their death. They were give a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up! (The Chocolate Connoisseur – Chloe Doutre-Roussel)chocolate

Recent discoveries place it even further back in time. But it was the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes who brought it to Spain. Nobility there disliked it at first but when they mixed it with honey or cane sugar, chocolate soon became the favorite drink of the kings and queens of Europe. It was believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties. No wonder that Casanova was especially fond of it! And so it goes…

The Aztecs knew it all along as the “food of the gods” is now recognized to increase heart health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. But the flavanol, an antioxidant shown to have anti-cancer properties, neutralizing cancer causing free radicals is found in dark chocolate only! (at least 70% cacao.)

And there’s more…Good chocolate won’t make you fat because you only have to eat a small square of chocolate a day to satisfy your senses with delight. And your heart and skin will respond with joy as well. Ah the bliss of it…

heart_in_chocolateI have my own history with chocolate, which summons memories recalling my childhood in Belgium. I was in a convent, not as a nun but as a four-year-old child taken into safety from the Nazi occupation. I didn’t know French at the time so the nuns did everything they could to hasten the process. One in particular, Sister Clotilde, the chef in residence, became very fond of me. She was Flemish and the pronunciation of her name was quite an effort for me. But when I finally got it right she swept me off my feet and led me to her secret cupboard where she was hiding her stash of Cote d’Or chocolates. To my surprise she handed me a bar with the most beautiful wrapping. I tried not to tear the picture of the gold elephant resting on the brown paper. When some of the chocolate melted and smeared my fingers Sister Clotilde exclaimed in delight Oh, les sales petits doigts! what dirty little fingers. She watched me lick the chocolate off my dirty little fingers before devouring the rest of the chocolate inside the wrapping. Then she picked me up and as I leaned against her headdress to give her a kiss I left a dark chocolaty stain on that purest of white. She started to laugh. I never forgot that first taste of chocolate ambrosia or Sister Clotilde’s laughter cascading into the universe. The event has remained with me through time as well as the recollection of my first gustatory ecstasy.

*** More of the story in my memoir entitled Mindele’s Journey – Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust on Amazon.com

Brussels, the city where I was born, has remained my chocolate paradise. When I return vacation time, I head for the Place du Grand Sablon. I walk down the side of the square just as I did when I was a child and stop in front of Wittamer and gaze in disbelief at the shimmering window display of row upon row of the most incredible chocolate and pastry creations in existence. It is as if time stood still. I go in and after giving the salesgirl a brief explanation of my relationship with the store, I point with a trembling finger to the display of chocolates that filled my childhood with such pleasure. And as I walk out with my purchase I feel I am bringing a bit of bliss back home with me.

chocolate_slows_down_the_aging_process

I’ve been told that there are good chocolate shops in New York but anybody who knows – knows Godiva is not the same (you’d never find liqueur in pralines made in the States) and that Cote d’Or is now owned by Philip Morris and Leonidas is loaded with too much sugar and Callebaut is owned by Suchard a Swiss company. Oh well, truth be told I wait for my next trip to Belgium to load up on bliss.

I invite all who read my chocolate tale to share in a recipe that became my signature dessert.

Warm Chocolate Cake

(for your best friends or enemies who need taming)

Ingredients:

8 eggs
8 yolks
12 tablespoons flour
2 cups sugar
14 oz. chocolate (I use Valrhona)
12 oz. butter

– Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler.
– Beat eggs and yolks with sugar ( at least 10 minutes).
– Combine the chocolate and butter mixture with the eggs, yolks and sugar mixture (beat until well mixed).
– Add 12 tablespoons flour (mixing the batter until it reaches a smooth consistency).

Place the batter into buttered and floured molds and bake 12 min. in a preheated 375o oven (do not overcook as it will not have a velvety chocolate interior).

flourless_chocolate_cake

MAY YOUR BLISS BE ADDICTIVE!

On Nostalgia and Inspiration

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On Nostalgia and Inspiration: The Month of May 2013

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Road to Yasouj

Perhaps it’s this time of the year that fills me with an overwhelming longing for the past. I feel the evanescent beauty of spring settling into a memory. Yet this melancholia stirring sadness inside me also inspires an awareness of feelings that transcend time. Everything changes, moves on as we must. There is no destination but the journey we are on and the heart is filled with desires that light the way. The beauty of this month of May, the fragile joy of once barren trees now adorned in emerald, and flowers painting the lawns with color will soon be torched with summer heat. And as I place this scenery into my mind, images of other spring times appear.

I am traveling in Iran where I lived for two years.  We were heading, my partner and I, for Yasouj a city in the Zagros Mountains. I was falling asleep, dulled by the humming of the car engine when the most unusual sight appeared out of nowhere.  Tribal women were squatting in the river that glistened along the fields stretching below the mountains. They were washing their clothes and rugs in the stream dotted with snow that had barely melted. We stopped the car to take in the breathtaking moment that I recorded in the following poem.

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Desert in Iran

The Road to Yasouj

The cold breath
of the distant mountains
has melted
The tribal women
are washing
their clothes
in the icicle spotted
stream
just formed
around
their squatting shapes
cajoled by the froth
hitting the stones
they are touching

Silently their hands
are parting
the icy sheet
The brocade cloths
they have shed
colors the water
into exploding prisms
splintering
the winter face
of the river
into a smile

And I
passing by
must stay
awhile
to see
the magic garments
drying
in the arms
of trees
transformed
into
a tribal tapestry

© Mariette Bermowitz 2013

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Tribal women in Yasouj

tribal_women_iran

Tribal women in Iran

And when nostalgia captures my being again, I welcome it for it takes me back to places and moments that have filled my life with meaning. With summer approaching I am inspired to travel once more, to continue the journey, and welcome adventures where I can discover myself all over again.

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Spring in Yasouj

flowers_in_the_desert

Flowers in the desert

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Flowers in the desert.

Flowers in the desert

Sometimes we don’t have to travel very far to be inspired as with this poem I read while riding on the F train from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

                       Voyager

I have become an orchid
Washed in on the salt white beach.
Memory
What can I make of it now
that might please you —
This life, already wasted
And still strewn with miracles?

—Mary Ruefle (1952), Poetry in Motion

Love and Light

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The Little PrinceAs we come to the end of 2012 and its dire end of the world predictions, I found it difficult to connect to the joyous occasion of Hanukkah and its celebration of a miracle. And I’m finding it difficult to connect to Christmas, that event commemorating the advent of a savior born into the world.

I reflect upon the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, nature’s revenge laying bare our belief that we have no responsibility for the environment. And then another Sandy…the Sandy Hook classroom where an  unimaginable massacre of children and adults tore the heart out from an entire community. It is beyond words to conceive of such a heinous act. Yet I remember  World War II, children being sacrificed to the gods of hatred, fear, and revenge.

I wonder about a society that has accepted the alienation of those on the fringe. A society that doesn’t question the onslaught of television shows dedicated to murder and extermination, or reality shows expounding our twisted perversions of life, or video games that give sensations of power by the touch of a button, or tattoos that send a message to the  world of a tribal need to belong to something other than the instant messaging of iphones, ipads…I this, I that, I nobody.

Why is it that we have not understood that kindness, compassion, gentleness and love are not expressions of weakness but of that which empowers all of mankind. Why is it that martyred children have become reminders that we as a society have failed to provide hope for a kinder and more beautiful world for our young.

But I also know that the beautiful little faces of so many murdered children have shifted something in the global consciousness.

I believe we have come to the crossroads between dark and light. I am reminded once again of those lines  spoken by The Little Prince, a charming and seemingly frail little boy with curly blond hair and a scarf around his neck, traveling through the galaxies, seeding his words of love: L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. On ne voit bien qu’avec le Coeur.

This is the book that comforts me over and over again in troubled times. When I face my doubts, it reminds me that love and light will heal the world. I wish everyone on this planet (and in other galaxies!) the hope that this will come to pass.

On Friendship

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Mariette and Mariette At this time of the year when most families are gathering to celebrate the holidays, I think about those of us who because of various misfortunes have lost the comfort of family and tradition. These times then become moments of reflection on what we have created to bring joy to our lives. My thoughts turn to the friends I have made over the years. They have sustained me and  have become family. They have given me joy and warmth and the courage that is needed to feel that one belongs in this sometimes cruel world.

Some are no longer friends, some have died, some may not always be available but they all have a place in my heart. But the most painful is the memory of friends who have died too young. It reminds me of the way my mentor and creative source, Michel de  Montaigne, dedicated his work to his best friend, La Boetie. When La Boetie died all too young, Montaigne wrote: ce jour qui pour moi sera toujours amer, toujours sacre. (That day which for me will always remain bitter, always sacred) And so I think of my friend Mariette, who died in her early twenties.

Mariette was the first friend I ever had. Sharing the same name gave us a special bond from the beginning. It was during the war in Belgium. We were both six years old at the time. Even then she was la grande and I was la petite. I had no other friends in those days because as a Jewish child hiding in a Catholic community, it was dangerous for everyone concerned that I not say anything that might connect me to being Jewish.

Mariette and I never discussed such things. We were children, and then young  adolescents sharing the joys and moments of celebration in the village where I returned every year to be with my benefactors. Then I left for America when I was twelve and never saw Mariette again.

I looked forward to our reunion when I went back “home” for the first time after ten years of separation. I was ecstatic to return to Belgium, and looking forward to seeing Mariette again. No one had told me that she had died a tragic death three weeks before I arrived.

Mariette,Flore,Ghislaine1She carried with her the memory of her own mother, blown to bits before her eyes. Mariette’s mother had taken too long to vacate the cellar where they were hiding and was struck by the fragments of a grenade. Now my friend Mariette had taken her own life.

I cannot forget her. I recently found a picture of her and her two cousins. She is sitting at the head of a wheelbarrow holding the handle which looks like a cross. For me it represents the cross she bore of having witnessed her mother’s death.

I dedicate this holiday to all the children suffering from the aftermath of war.

And I dedicate this memory to all those who are blessed, like myself, with friends dear enough to be family.

And lastly, I dedicate these words to my beloved friend, Mariette.