Archive for January, 2010

I remember my first time in Prague. January 2006, Bruriah High School Euro Trip. The temperature averaged 10 degrees below Fahrenheit, and the Czech all managed to roam the streets of the city in light wind breakers and scarves. Meanwhile, we, as Americans, slowly but surely fell prey to colds, flu, and other such arctic weather related ailments. Myself, quite unaccustomed to winters in Eastern Europe, took a particular disliking to the climate. If not for the discovery of the magical Czech castle, where I determined if and when I find a non-feline, to wed him there, I might have joined my ancestors in the infamous Jewish cemetery. Actually, while standing in the fiftieth synagogue our tour guide took us to in the city, I distinctly remembering throwing off my NorthFace Jacket, Gap gloves, and Urban outfitters scarf and hat, and turning to the heavens. At which point I uttered the following: “G-d, if you kill me now, I promise we can still be best friends for life. I won’t hold it against you. I’m mature like that.”

Now, January 2010, only four years later, and I find myself recycling the same prayer. The reason: The lack of hot water in my dormitory. For the last month I have been using my friend Adina’s shower, as my own seems to have taken an extended holiday in Bermuda, where it is probably sipping the White Russian I have yet to experience. And now because the hot water gods prefer Yaffa the Penguin to Yaffa the Warm-Blooded Mammal, they have deprived me of Adina’s shower as well. It, too, seems to have joined the Bermuda rendezvous. [At least I have next weekend in Paris to look forward to, eh?]

Meanwhile, in the midst of the my shaggy and disheveled state of being, I got to experience the wisdom of Italian New York women, who apparently think you [meaning: Adria, Marissa, and me] push British men away when we talk about our smittenkitchen cooking sprees. And if our discussion of food is not revolting enough, we then put up “foodie pictures” on Facebook, which in the secular world is apparently the matchmaking kiss of death. Twenty-somethings chatting about portobello stuffed mushrooms don’t exactly scream available and interested. Her advice: Stick to your four calorie cranberry and vodka lights, and drink them slowly, seductively.

In other words, no more of the this:

A cooking venture a day keeps the Brits far away.


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7:30 PM. Outside Edamame, the sushi restaurant that ONLY serves sushi on Thursday. To cite a submissive and far too obedient Orthodox housewife, “We don’t ask questions.”

Conversation ensues.

ADRIA: Yaffa, why do you have so much energy tonight?

YAFFA: (pauses to consider whether honesty is really the best policy; shockingly decides ” yes”) Two grande skinny vanilla lattes, three cups of Turkish pomegranate tea, and multiple diet cokes.

MARISSA: Seriously?

At which point two loud American men, with a propensity for propping doors to warm restaurants wide open so cold Oxford air can consume one caffeine-drunk and her two cohorts, interrupt our conversation. They don’t say anything of substance– just make noise in the way ex-pats do. And if I hadn’t been looking to escape a lecture on the dangers of caffeine overdosing, I might have minded. Of course, I did little to redeem myself at dinner.

WAITRESS IN THE MOST ADORABLE SWEATER DRESS: (to me) And what would you like?

YAFFA: The makizushi. Oh, and a diet coke.

Worth every bloody pound.

Laughter commences. At what I am not quite sure. Adria and Marissa collectively remind me that I just ordered another diet coke. My inner Holly Golightly just got a little more sprightly. Or, as a journalism teacher once said, “I am over-charging on the super charge.” Honestly, though, in this academic culture, where I am expected to churn out two 3000 word essays a week, the amount of time alloted for slumber is minimal- especially if I want to pursue zumba, ball planning, and cocktail tasting on the side.

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Meet Vinny.

When I complain about being single my mother usually remarks, “Well, you aren’t exactly making an effort. Being the tiger. Putting yourself out there.” Ah, spoken like a true matchmaker. And often I think she is right. I need to be more aggressive, more outgoing, more New York. I can’t be Kansas and expect to form a solid, long-term relationship. Somehow, however, whenever I am ready to embrace my inner feline, I encounter a man who makes me want to join the nunnery and adopt Vinny, my favorite orphaned cat.

I bet he always leaves the toilet seat down.

Take last night, for example. Marissa, Adria, and I go to scout out a potential band for the ball. The band is performing at “Jammin’ for Justice,” a division of Climate Camp, a safe space for tree huggers and pot lovers. We arrive a bit early and a man missing three front teeth, a self-described recovered alcoholic with a propensity for cannabis, remarks, “It is lovely to meet you all, but especially you (and gestures in my direction).” He then proceeds to follow me around, interrogating me on the “Legalize Marijuana” Party in Israel. Oh, did I mention he had less than 10 hairs on his head?¬†Yes, I attract men– ones in need of serious dental work and in a perpetual state of highness. With pickings like these, I am ready to jump on the next bus to London and see “Sister Act.” Hell, I’ll even join the cast.

But before I join the Divine Order of the West End Theatrical Sisterhood, I should probably bask in the glory of my happy news: I just got approval to thesis in African Politics. HIV/AIDs public-policymaking, here I come.

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Yes, Oxford builds excitement. And since my flat is so centrally located, this excitement is literally right around the corner. Last night was a typical Oxford bopping fun time, but with a stabbing thrown in for good measure. The night began with the “London Underground” themed-bop. Claire, my Wellesley friend who reminds me on a daily basis that an unmarried Yaffa is not, in fact, an incomplete, reproductive organ-wasting human being, accompanied me to the college bar. I dressed as Victoria, both the tube line and the tube stop; and she was my Albert. We considered making me king, but the height differential between the two of us made that pretty close to impossible.

Putting the Wellesley stereotype into marital status.

When we arrived at the bop– late, as per the fault of Ms. Bow Street (pictured below), I discovered another more intricately-adorned Victoria (also featured below), who made my 2.25 pound crown look like it was worth 2 pence. Since the first Noah’s Ark bop, where young deer reigned supreme, I have been unable to live up to my costume designing standards. I think it’s the lack of face paint in subsequent costumes. As my kindergarten teacher once said, “An art project is only complete if the end product includes paint on the walls of every room and faces of every child.” I might add that pipe cleaners also help in achieving a true Martha Stewart effect.

Dolla', Dolla' bill, yo.

After this realization, I decided to introduce Claire to the wonders of the infamous 6-shot Cross Keys, our college’s signature drink. She become a VERY happy camper very quickly. Oh, the magic of Oxford alcohol. You give the bartenders 5 pounds, and they give you the world of happiness, harmony, and hangovers. Apparently, Lady Gaga also accompanies this spiritual experience, as the bop featured “Poker Face,” “Just Dance,” and “Bad Romance,” all within a 20 minute span of time. For Claire, I think the lines, “I’ve had a little bit too much, much; all of the people start to rush, start rush right by” took on new significance. Yes, I have come along way since my alcohol-is-the-way-of-the-goyim (non-Jews) days. That being said, I had to put my lovely friend to bed short thereafter– at which point I was notified of a stabbing. Shockingly, alcoholism was linked to the incident.

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You know those moments when all your tutorials are going wrong; your pathetic attempts at ball planning are just that– pathetic; and you once again are notified of an engagement from your high school class? Well, it is those moments that I play “Empire State of Mind” on repeat. I become quite nostalgic for my hometown, my mom, and a certain vegan cupcake shop downtown.

This week marked the beginning of Hilary Term (better known as the term without SUN) at Oxford. And instead of basking in academic bliss, I have been experiencing one of those existentialist crises I have a tendency to go through at the beginning of the new year. Something about excessive amounts of rain and the disappearance of the Starbucks red Christmas cups makes me question all my life’s choices. Of course, to add to the insanity, I then go to the Oxford Museum of Modern Art and watch “Werckmeister Harmonies,” a 2000 Hungarian film that provides some of the most beautiful and self-reflexive visuals in cinematic history. And these visuals– in all their black and white glory– make me hungry. Hungry for Spanish tapas, but also for change– to be the change I hope to see in the world. Yes, clearly I have spent far too much time with Nelson Mendela this last few months.

And while I don’t want to write a self-deprecating rant about an ungrateful Jewish American Princess, I feel like I need my New York. My Wellesley roommate refers to these symptoms as the “New York drug fix” ones. An honestly, the city is like a drug. Once you start, you can never really leave.

Since I am planning a New York-themed ball, one would expect that my fix would be satiated. Only it isn’t that simple, especially when event organizers suggest that the way to truly Gothamize the ball is with an ice sculpture of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue isn’t even technically in New York waters; it kind of hovers between the Big Apple and the Garden State. And Lord knows, a “Jersey Shore”-themed ball would hardly be classy. However, if all else fails, I am planning on intoxicating all the ball attendees and creating the Oxford edition of my favorite MTV show.

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Mother always told me to face my fears. And despite my departure from my teenage years, I still felt the need to rebel against that ideology. The following anecdote, in addition to reflecting a failed act of rebellion, also demonstrates a “what not to do” in relationships. If you should encounter a gentleman caller, as my grandmother refers to such marriageable prospects, make sure to maintain contact over extended holidays (translation for American=breaks). Otherwise the following situation could happen to you…

LOCATION: Oxford University Social Science Library

CAST OF CHARACTERS: Under-caffeinated 20 year old version of myself, gentleman caller (now GC), and GC’s friends

GC and company are “conveniently” situated near the library desk, where books must be checked out before departing for another, less academic location. Myself, desperately seeking to avoid awkward encounter with GC, suddenly realizes there is no strategic way to maneuver around these groups of boys unnoticed– at least not as my under-caffeinated self. Which is why, in a moment of shear madness, I remove my scarf and create a mock hijab. Yes, I get down and dirty with my inner Muslim. Then, as if my rather pathetic excuse for an Islamic head-covering is not enough, I make my way to the library counter. The librarian takes my card and quickly notices that my card presents me hijab-less. She remarks how cruel secular governmental structures can be to religious Muslims like me. I nod, smile, and motion her to speed up the process. Every second I stand there is another second GC can deduce the absurdity of my actions. After a few moments, I am prepared to bolt through the library entrance, African nationalism books in hand, when a certain oh, so perceptive Swede remarks to the GC: “Is Yaffa Muslim or Jewish?” Without a second thought, I speed through the front door, never to return again. At least not until the following day, when I must check out books on Middle Eastern colonialism.

What do we learn from this story?

1. When avoiding awkward encounters, do not resort to religious garb other than your own. Instead, always carry a face mask. You stand the risk of being mistaken for a robber, but at 5’2” I assume most people would consider me of little threat.

2. Beware of Swedes. They are quite perceptive, and they can see right through your ridiculous excuse for a hijab.

3. Confront your fears immediately. The longer they linger, the harder they are to heal. Not even systematic desensitization can counter them.

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Never ever intoxicate a 19 year old Asian girl, who has the tolerance of a peanut, possibly an almond if we are being generous. And if you choose to provide her with numerous shots of hard liquor in the course of an hour, at least have the decency to clean up the inevitable intestinal mess that will clog your local kitchen sink. Yes, that was the introduction Ranit (my Wellesley roommate for life) received to the Oxford Visiting Students. I promised her that while there is a tendency to intoxicate on Saturday nights, it usually is not a collective experience. Only select individuals will do so, and there will always be a crew ready and prepared to handle the physical and emotional aftermath. Apparently last night, I, single-handedly was the crew. And with one tiramisu cocktail already in my system I would hardly say I was qualified.

Oh, and then there was the food fight. An entertaining cinematic moment, only it wasn’t a movie. It was a reality enveloping our common room. 20somethings wielding banoffee flavored pie at one another like the bananas in the baked good were in peak season. And given just how delectable said pie is, it was a shame to see it in the hair and faces of drunken partygoers. But then again, this is college and it is about time I experienced life beyond the Wellesley “Bubble”. It is also England, and as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” A corollary to that proverb is “When in Oxford, do as the Oxfordites and consume exorbitant amounts of alcohol [thereby allowing you to escape from the hardships that accompany brilliant minds].”

And this is why I ZUMBA.

The one comical (in an ego-shattering sense) part of the night was a new reminder that I am still in Oxford, where people are far more qualified and intelligent than I am. Enter: Joe, a 24 year old getting his PhD in some esoteric part of chemistry. His qualifications for Oxford: Cambridge undergraduate, MIT Fulbright scholar, Harvard masters degree. Yes, Toto, we’re not in Essex County Community College anymore.

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