Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 8, Part 1

The night before we started the Ask Otis questions, Eos announced that she wanted to know all kind of stuff about being Druze. We were seating in this Jacuzzi at the Park La Brea pool where she has a membership. I was her guest for some few dollars only and it was late, like maybe 9:30 at night or so. We were the only two people in the place, except for some small Latino woman who was doing some cleaning up of the pool chairs with yellow rubber dishwashing gloves on her hands.

Anyway, Eos said she’d never met a Druze before. So I told her how basically I wasn’t doing any praying or anything special for it. You just need to be born from a mother and father who are Druze and that’s it: you are basically Druze. My parents are secular, but even so, I told her that religion is always a small part of growing up in a small community, even if you’re not practicing because it’s part of how a family comes to be together and comes to inhabit a place. For a lot of the Druze people of Israel, that place is called Daliyat el-Carmel, located on Mount Carmel, some 25 kilometers southeast of the Mediterranean port city of Haifa.

“Even though my village is like 95-percent Druze,” I said to Eos at the Jacuzzi, “still you have every possible religion you could think of: Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jesuits, Hare Krishnas.”

“What about Buddhists?” she said.

So I had to splash some water on her for that one because she was making fun of me. Some few days earlier we’d had a big philosophical argument about whether Buddhism was a religion or a philosophy to live by.

So anyway, at the Jacuzzi I told Eos all about the one big Druze holiday of the year called Eid ul-Adha, which is basically Arabic for The Sacrifice Day. If you are able to remember the Biblical story about when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, so it’s basically this story. Muslims believe that Ishmael was the son who was going to be sacrificed, but it’s still the same story in all the big religions. The only difference with the Druze people is that we say it wasn’t an angel that came to stop Abraham from killing Isaac, but a lamb. Of course, if you are knowing your art trivia, in Caravaggio’s painting or Rembrandt’s or even Chagall’s, there’s an angel coming to Abraham, not a lamb. As far as stories go, I like the angel better too. If I were a painter, basically I could understand that an angel stopping Abraham makes for a better painting than a lamb and that’s what I’d paint, too. But I’m not a painter, and maybe I’m not even really a Druze because for me the story is just a good story about the test of someone’s loyalty and that’s really all. For me, Eid ul-Adha is just a nice reason to eat special foods and make a party. For me, the holiday is more about the special cookies and the entire family gathering around. For me, when my mother was living, it was about the delicious mograbia she’d make. This is a typical Druze recipe which is kind of like couscous but only it’s made differently in the Middle East than here in California where my father and I once tasted some at Jack’s Pita Pocket.

With my mother’s mograbia, on the side you have humus beans with fresh chicken breast and you could mix it into the couscous and it was so scrumptious. Basically, anything my mom was cooking was so much tastier than most of the foods I’ve discovered travelling in the Winnebago with my dad, or at Park La Brea with Eos. If mom ever had the chance to swallow even just a morsel of the Lean Cuisine Steak Tips Dijon Eos put in the microwave one night, I think she’d get sick all over Eos’s parquet floors.

“Why do you even think you need to lose weight?” I’d asked Eos after she explained all about the portion-controlling system developed by the Lean Cuisine company. “You are so skinny!” And she was, too. But not in a way you might call unhealthy. To me, she had a very fit physique with muscular, toned limbs and a very flat stomach. Even just thinking about her beautiful physique now starts to make me tingle inside.

Me at the other hand, I was the one who needed to be watching how much I was eating. That’s what my dad sometimes said during the Eid ul-Adha holiday when I was eating too much ice-cream. In Arabic, so we call ice-cream bouzat haleeb if it’s the Egyptian style, or otherwise just ice-crem if it’s normal. In Hebrew it’s glidah and in Russian you can say morozhenoe if you’re ever in Moscow where they eat it from vendors on the street – in the middle of winter! So crazy are the Russians. Who is eating ice-cream in the middle of the winter, outside in all that snow? When you read a book like Anna Karenina you understand how crazy the Russians can be. I read once somewhere in one of my trivia books that Tolstoy was inspired to spend four years writing the series of installments that was ultimately becoming the long 8-part book after he read a newspaper story of a woman who threw herself under a train to commit suicide. Of course, for me, the suicide isn’t the best part of the book anyway. It’s the opening line: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And I’m not just saying that’s the best part because it was one of the answers on Jeopardy! that I had way before Jake even considered buzzing in. I just think it’s a perfect, efficient way to begin a story, and to pull the reader in. If I were a writer, I would strive to come up with the first line that was this efficient and this effective for getting the audience’s attention.

When my mom was still alive, she used to fill up the extra time when she couldn’t sleep at night with writing. I remember one small story she wrote about a baby gazaal. This is the Arabic word, but I think in English it’s similar—maybe gazella or gazelle. Basically it’s a kind of antelope who can run very fast, as fast as a car on the freeway even. You can find them living very often around the Galilee in Israel and they are also talked about in the Bible. In fact, my mother was calling her story Domeh Dodi L’Tzvi which is written in the Song of Songs and means My Beloved is Like a Tzvi. In Hebrew, the gazaal is called a tzvi and you can read in that song how the maiden is comparing the man she loves to a beautiful tzvi.

Even though my mom was no Solomon, she was still writing this very loving story about a baby gazaal who got lost from his mother one day while drinking at the stream. When a gazaal sees danger coming, so basically it jumps very fast away and is gone from the scene in seconds. And that’s what happened in my mom’s story. A big truck comes zooming down this modern Israeli road that twists through a field. The truck is releasing all kind of black smoke into the air and speeding toward where the gazaal and her baby are drinking from the stream. Only they don’t know the road twists away from the stream. They think the truck will crash into them and so they jump off into the field. But the way my mom writes it, the baby gazaal gets lost at the field because it runs in a different direction from the momma gazaal. And then it spends some few days learning how to live alone and to find its own food and make its own place to put its baby gazaal head down to sleep. And when I was reading this part, I remember how sad and lonely I felt for the poor baby gazaal and how I wanted it very much to find its momma.

I thought about this story when I was staying with Eos at Park La Brea; not because I was trying to remember the first line so I could compare it with the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, because that would not get anyone anywhere. But the story came to my mind one night when I was awakened by Otis who came into the room and stepped in my hair and scared the daylights from me. When I realized it was just Otis, I remembered my mom’s story and thought how if I were a gazaal I would have jumped away. I also thought how I wished my mom could meet Otis, who was really a very nice cat even though he couldn’t help himself from stepping all over your head when you slept. But I know my mom would have liked him and would have smiled at the video Eos was making with Otis lip-syncing the answers to the questions.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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