Joe LeBlanc, the Conference Chair and founder of the Butch Voices Conference August 20-23, 2009, told me about the conference almost a year ago and I loved the idea. Watching it develop since October has been really incredible. What began as the germ of an idea has become something really big and amazing. If you can road trip or take a last-minute change of plans and go to this conference you absolutely MUST. The Femme Conference changed my life--I can only imagine how incredible Butch Voices will be.
Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.
I am Femmecee identified. This term, coined by Rachael in Atlanta, is for me a way in which I use my gender as a mechanism for hosting. This often means on a mic, doing what a traditional emcee does, but sometimes it is just hostessing at a party, holding court and/or introducing people and keeping an eye on folks who aren’t participating and finding subtle ways to include them.
Me Femmeceeing the first Dollypalooza. Los Angeles come out October 29th for Dollyween: An Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton! Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice (check out more pics here!).
Gender doesn’t need to play a role in the way we host things, but for me it does. This feminine flamboyance is easiest to spot in my appearance, but there’s a steady streak of matriarchal and maternal energy that flows in me that I think comes out a lot when I am hosting.
At our first meal in Israel, I encountered a woman who is now among my role models for effervescent, enthusiastic and graceful hostessing.
We had just finished shepherding and doing a group go around, we then piled back on the bus to drive about a half hour to Tel Aviv. We got to the restaurant a little after 10PM and I was already fantasizing about getting into bed. I had no idea what time my body knew it to be and only had middle seat airplane sleep in the previous 2 days. I felt like a washed out version of myself but was trying to rally for dinner.
We walked about five minutes through tiny streets and made it to Racha, a family-owned Georgian style restaurant. I was immediately dying over the plates and decor. The aesthetic of mismatched but it really all deeply coordinates on a stylistic level is my favorite, so are tiny roses on porcelain plates and ornate light colored frames of family photos and mismatched chairs. I had to strategically choose seating, long tables close together are difficult to navigate as a fat or tall person, especially when there’s a crowd. I ended up with a seat at the end of one of the long tables.
The food and wine started coming out. I don’t drink but I do enjoy a sip (literally a sip) of wine now and then. It’s hard to communicate even without a language barrier that you only want a splash of wine in your glass, especially when the inclination of the servers is to keep the glass full. This was also the first of many Israeli restaurants that would not have unsweetened iced tea.
After the first course this beautiful woman walked into the room. I say beautiful to describe her essence not conventional good looks, though she is a total babe. I believe an expansive definition of beauty liberates us from what the media tells us is beautiful. Lili, our host for the evening, was robust in her generosity of spirit and it glowed from within her.
A lot of Lili’s hostessing enthusiasm involved clapping. Photo by Fabien Levy.
I noticed her long before she took center stage between our tables, partially because I was right next to where she kept her glass of White Zin (the drink of choice for my family’s matriarchs) and the ipod from which Georgian music was flowing. I watched her curating the whole experience, checking the playlists, checking in with servers and managing the feast. I recognized her work because that is work I do.
She stood between the tables and introduced herself. I love a meal with a story and history (as my friend Erin O’Brien says about her performance art sausage company, taking storytelling to the plate). We heard about their family from the Racha region of Georgia and the history of the restaurant. They had recently moved the restaurant from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for reasons I couldn’t hear from my seat.
Maggie and Bill.
We had the next round of food and Lili came by my seat and sweetly scolded me for not having anything on my plate. Mind you, I had already eaten plenty of appetizers and had a couple of bites of meat but it was a new group to me and I tend to hold back among new people. Even something as simple as “pass the whatever” can be a social challenge for me in a new situation. But her urging was really helpful, and along with verbal urging she kind of just leaned over and put stuff on my plate.
Nicholas and Rick Sorkin.
Now, it’s not the most body autonomous thing to insist on people eating, and I often encourage people to mind their own business about food. However, because of the roles women have been required to play in our societies for millennia, matriarchal expressions of love and connection often come through preparing food and feeding people. Herstorically, feasts are a creation of women.
I received her nudging to eat meat very appreciatively, in the celebratory inclusive way it was intended. I continued to wish I was dressed for celebration instead of still in my travel and now kind of sheep smelling clothes.
After the “meat course” Lili nominated a person to be the tamada, to lead a series of blessings over a horn of wine that they then drink in one gulp. She picked Oak and I would have, too. Oak is a hunk and I mean that in both the conventional Magic Mike sense and in the radiant, wonderful kind, deep, hilarious human sense that I would come to know.
Oak gave the most sincere and beautiful blessing (I wish I had it on video!) and we went around the room giving more blessings and then he drank it all. I was so glad to not have been chosen both because I don’t drink and because I don’t know how he didn’t get sick from drinking an entire horn of wine on a very full stomach.
Video by Fabien Levy.
Lili then began the dancing portion of the feast. Grabbing people from their chairs and inspiring them into a circle dance. I knew I could easily stay in the back and fade from the jumping and dancing I was too tired for, but I also was seized with inspiration from Lili’s joyful spirit and a dose of YOLO and dove in. I kind of didn’t care that I felt foolish and was just trying for the joy of it.
When we left the restaurant I took time to give Lili a sincere thank you and a thoughtful compliment about her hosting. Honestly, I will be sincerely working to replicate her level of thoughtful joy-filled hosting at all of my events for the rest of time. Among the many things I want to do in Israel when I return is hang with Lili and interview her about the mechanics of throwing a great party. And take a lot more photos in the restaurant of the homey decor, I loved it so much.
After a dreamy walk lit by yellow street lamps through tiny Tel Aviv streets to the waiting bus, we only had a few minutes until we arrived at our first hotel. I was delighted to note it was on the beach! I had no idea we were going to be beachside in Tel Aviv and it was so rad. Checking in 50 people is no joke but they had our room keys waiting for us in envelopes with our names on them and iced tea! I was so delighted I drank a whole glass without thinking to ask what kind it was (I was assuming a citrus mint). Turns out, it was green tea!!!! Green tea, for those who don’t know, has caffeine in it. And when you’re very sensitive to caffeine because you gave up coffee to address a chronic digestive disorder, and you drink green tea at 12:30AM, it doesn’t bode well for sleep.
My Find Your Chill tea would have been the perfect iced tea to welcome folks to sleep. Chamomile, lavender, a little bit of cat nip (has a soothing effect on people) and citrus. Instead, I slept fitfully all night.
However, my roommate assignment boded well for a great experience! Megan is such a fun person and a heavy sleeper. That first night we were excited because we had already met, hung out (bonding over our middle seat angst for the flight over) and liked each other. I’m so grateful for the roommate experience of the trip because I think it enhanced everything for me to have someone to debrief with and to support and check up on each other. She was also vital to my success with some of the very confusing Israeli double shower head situations.
The Carlton in Tel Aviv is a beautiful hotel and we had a cute terrace with no time to linger on it because we were getting to bed at 1AM and having to be finished with breakfast and ready for our day at 8AM. I barely slept, thanks to the green tea and not thinking about taking a benadryl until it was way too late. By Day 3 of the trip, though, I was just popping benadryl whenever to preserve what sleep hours I could.
Next up on my trip diary, The Baller Breakfast Buffets of Israel.
Me and Megan above the valley where David met Goliath.