Monday, October 17, 2011

October Magic

A few days ago I was tooling down a major boulevard in my city and couldn't pull over fast enough. What did I see? City contractors in cherry pickers, trimming the fan palms that line the street. In my broken Spanish, I explained why I wanted them. The men were puzzled at first, then very enthusiastic as they sweetly loaded me up with 17 of these big suckers in the back of my car:

They had gloves on, and good thing, too. These palms have nasty "teeth":

When I got home, I donned my trusty old, beat-up suede gardening gloves:

How I love these things. I've had them since the last Ice Age, I believe:

I dragged the fronds out of the car and plopped them in a pile on the driveway, inside a flimsy structure made of metal piping and plasticised fabric. Of course, Won Ton had to check the palms out and make sure they got his Seal of Approval:

Before WT could sprinkle his "approval," I carefully placed the fronds, one at a time with the help of a step stool, on this latticework of bamboo rods:

They looked so pretty in the sunlight:

And they formed the "ceiling" for the little structure in the back yard:

So, what was this all about? It's the Jewish festival of "Sukkot," which literally means "huts" or "booths." It hearkens back to the time when the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after fleeing slavery in Egypt. During those four decades, the Israelites had no permanent housing and so constructed little huts or tents. So we do the same today, making these little knock-down structures and fabricating a "roof" of greenery that allows us to see bits of the sky during the day and a few stars peeking through at night. And for a week in the autumn, we take our meals in the huts, and some folks even sleep in them.

Sukkot also marks the time of the year when the fall harvest in the Holy Land was gathered in. So, we often decorate the huts with harvest-themed items--fruits, gourds, vegetables--be they made of construction paper, or fashioned into cute string lights, or maybe the real deal, hung by string from the crossbeams.

Lastly, Sukkot reminds us of the impermanence of things, the fragility of life, the preciousness of being here, now, in this place. We make something we know we'll knock down in a week, and we remember our blessings. That we are here, now, together, in this little hut.

And, being Jews, we turn it into an occasion for eating and gathering together with friends and family. Natch!

Here in Los Angeles, the days are still warm, but evening brings on a bit of a chill. So I've been making hearty casseroles and rib-sticking food for our al fresco Sukkot meals.

And this year, I decided to decorate the sukkah with light. I had candle light from a chandelier, temporarily transported outside. The effect was magical:

I added lantern light to fill out the corners:

And votive lights, scattered here and there:

Votives on the table make the glassware look so pretty:

I also heaped fake fruits in a silver bowl, for a centerpiece:

Of all the Sukkot themes--Egyptian expulsion, harvest, and impermanence--I like impermanence best. When I take a moment to realize how impermanent life is, I stop. I listen, I reflect, and I appreciate everything we have a little more.

That's always a good thing, in October or any other month of the year.

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