Saturday, April 07, 2007

Passover a la Buchman

So last weekend was passover, my first living in New York and this year it was to have an added significance, as I was meeting Avivas entire family for the first time. Thats right, parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, three grandparents and friends so close that their children were the practice grandkids (her brother and sister-in-law were there too, but I met them the weekend before in Boston). I think Aviva must have spent 20 or 30 hours leading up to this weekend telling me how insane her family was, particularly her Dad, and how much she loved them. And she was really nervous about me meeting them (I would like to think a good nervous, but nervous none-the-less) ... no pressure though ...

I finish another hellish week of ELISAs and crazy amounts of data analysis and we head off to Cherry Hill around mid-morning, having eaten a fabulous dinner at my aunt debbies the night before. Debbie, an artist and an incredible cook (with possibly the coolest kitchen I have ever had the pleasure of cooking in) had really wanted to meet Aviva and this was the only time we could come up with to get together within the next 4 weeks. As you get older time just evaporates until you begin to wonder what alternate universe you were living in during college and high school or whenever you think back to when you think back to relaxed, empty days.

We get to Cherry Hill and enter a not-as-imposing as I thought it was going to be house, and I am immeadiately assaulted with Buchmans. They are all in the kitchen and as soon as I enter I am swarmed, "This is my sister Rachel (insert hello, nice to meet you), and my nephew Dylan, oh this is Rachels husband Larry. This is my mom, Tanya (insert hug here ... despite hands covered in raw fish) and over there is my dad and you remember Josh and Debbie (insert smiles and friendly nods) and Marley (Rachels stepson) is in there and here is Poppa Joey and Granmma Charlotte (smile as she looks up from a bowl of fish parts)." In like 30 seconds. Maybe a minute. I don't think I actually got to say anything. And my silence continues as Avivas father Bucky (an interesting nickname, reminding me of a old professor at Scripps as well as the eponymous discoverer of Buckminsterfullerene and the Buckyball formation of fullerenes) washes across the kitchen, making humorously rude comments to everyone (all of which draw humorous retorts from Tanya and Aviva and smiles from everyone else). Later on Poppa Stranger, Tanyas father, shows up. He is the older, Polish version of McGyver (I had heard a story about him moving a pregnant women a mile down hill through a snowstorm using a wire hanger and a fire extinguisher) and a great favorite of Avivas. He is a fascinating guy and I spent a bit of time talking with him in my horrific Czech, similar enough to his polish that he was kind and pretended to understand me.

After the introductions, Tanya and Granmma Charlotte continue with the gefilte fish making (at this point, even though I see what goes into it I am salivating at the thought of homemade gefilte fish) and everyone else sort of hangs out by the kitchen table, eating bagels and lox and fruit and good cheese and generally having a wonderful time. The grandparents go home after some time, everyone coos over Dylan (just born two weeks before)
and in the afternoon, Rachel, Aviva and myself submitted to continuing a game of monopoly with Marley (his favorite game apparently). He is quite good at it too, and not at all shy about letting people know of his skills ... not liking monopoly very much and taking over a losing players post, I quickly traded my way into bankruptcy and out of the game, leaving Aviva and Rachel to suffer the tedium of false economy as I relaxed a bit upstairs. A short trip to REI with marley occurred around 6, so that I could buy new boots, the back to the buchmans for pizza and crashing.

The next day Aviva, Debbie and myself got up and went for a run, and then Aviva and I went into Philadelphia to meet Rob and his girlfriend Lakshmi for brunch. Delicious crepes and truly excellent company. Lots of fun. After breakfast Aviva and I walked around south street, looking at sex shops and other interesting places. Returning to her house in the afternoon, the the day evolved similarly to the previous with one, with much hanging out and feeding/cooing over Dylan, more monopoly (which I was not involved in) and discussion of Marleys new toy, a PSP2. In the afternoon Aviva and I did some testing for her class projects ... this was much less enjoyable than I thought as it was 2.5 hours of mental gymnastics of all sorts. Being that she is getting a degree in psychology, she needs to know how to give intelligence, memory and other personality tests, I volunteered weeks before. I thought hey, this will be great, I will learn all about how smart I am and my good memory and all kinds of stuff ... yeah, its not quite like that. Lots of repeat this numbers to me backwards and remember the random dog in this picture or do you recognize these faces ... still, necessary and at some point I will be able to really discuss my intelligence in a truly unaccurate but well vetted way ... turns out I have very superior intelligence of some sort so I can't complain about the testing.

That night we celebrated Avivas 25th birthday, as well as Poppa Strangers birthday which is one day after Avivas. Dinner was good but the really memorable part was the cake. Aviva likes shitty birthday cake. You know, the kind of cake that you got when you were a little kid that was covered in nasty frosting that is made of pure sugar, tastes like a sugar headache, and actually rots your teeth as you eat it ... candles and wishes and much humor ensued, particularly because the cake was apparently for someone named Evita but we managed to steal it .. I am sure that Argentina will be crying ...

The next morning, I went into the Italian market in south Philly with Rachel, Josh and Debbie, saw a lot of dead animals and cheese, bought some excellent pesto and veggies, kissed a huge cheese and convinced a shop full of butchers that I was the devil as I told them the story of when I ate puppy in China. We got back to the Buchmans and the day was spent in preparation for the seder, which meant no eating bagels (which were removed, although we had done a nice job and there were really only one or two left) and instead eating bits and pieces of the things we were going to eat later on in the evening like gefilte fish and salad. We also did some more testing, just as enjoyable as the day before ...

Finally the main event, the seder, for which Avivas family friends Yair and Nitza and their kids came over. The kids, three girls, were adorable and had been adopted by Bucky and Tanya as practice grandchildren, although I suspect that over time it simply became a more permanent sitatuation. It was a small seder, only 13 people, just myself, Aviva, her family (including her cousin Stacy from Astoria, who was supposed to get drunk and take me back to New York in the morning because she was too drunk to drive at night ... alas we could not get her to drink enough so she drove back later that night. Still, she is cool and it was great to have her there) Yair, Nitsa and their kids ... but it still felt rowdy and crowded, as a number of Buchman family friends stopped by just to say hello all throughout the evening. Popular family, they have so many friends I could not even keep track of who was ust stopping by and who was there for the seder. Once the seder started things clarified a bit and with Pappa Stranger reading smoothly through the old Maxwell house sedurim that we were using things proceded rapidly. At the Buchmans the seder is performed by reading through the Maxwell House sedur from back to front. Pappa can certainly read, as could Nitsa and Yair, and we got through the first section of the seder very quickly. Then we came to the gefilite fish, clearly the best part and definitley my favorite ... and at Avivas the gefilte fish has special significance, because that is when we take the shots of slivovitz.

Slivovitz, or plum brandy, is one of the few hard liquors that is kosher l'pesach. It is, in my experience, the eastern european version of moonshine, often brewed in backyard stills in the Czech Republic and other former eastern bloc nations. I drank quite of bit of it while I lived in Czech a few years ago, and very happily renewed my acquaintance this evening. In fact, along with Bucky and Yair and Aviva I took several shots of slivovitz and suddenly the table became a lot more boisterous and fun ... bringing me to the plagues. In a move that reminded my of the seders my mother used to give, Tanya brought out plague masks and finger puppets
, along with glowing frogs and small rubber frogs, so that we could experience the plagues from a new perspective. I believe Yair did the best representation, doing a fine blood, although the locusts his daughter played were also quite good ..

The rest of the meal and the evening seemed to procede quickly. Dinner was fabulous, highlighted by delicious brisket, and raucous, with more wine and slivovitz and conversation. Yair and Nitsas daughters spent an awful lot of time looking for the Afikomen, first because Pappa Stranger is a brilliant hider (a real word mind you, something I did not know until I was writing this) and it took forever to find it the first time and second because that was only the first time. Once I found it the girls were having such a good time with it that they had me hide it another 5 or 6 times during the night. The evening got more raucous and food became more plentiful, stories and singing and laughing were the order of the evening, with the customary break after the meal. I believe we did in fact finish the seder, but I don't remember it all that well. Lotsa wine and slivovitz kinda shortened my memory of the night, but I do remember great strawberries and cookies for desert, general goofiness around the table and dancing in the living room. Finally the evening winds down with some wiped out kids and tired adults and every heads home or to bed sometime around 1 am.

The next day was a blur, woke up too early, Aviva drove me to the bus station where I spent too long waiting for a bus that did not show up with any seats, spent 5 hours getting back to NYC because of traffic and incompetence and who knows what else. Finally go to work around 430, said hello, goodbye and headed out to Long Island for a second Seder at my aunts (which was also excellent, but thats another story) ...

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