The great outdoors

AriCooks

When you leave a place, certain things always stay with you. During my 11 years in Boston, after leaving [a life back and forth between the States and] Israel in ’99, certain aspects of life here stayed with me, while others faded away. Some smells never left me: the gardens and cypress trees in our neighborhood in Jerusalem; campfires and dust from my days in the Tzofim (Israeli Scouts); the orange groves in Pardess Chana, where I graduated high school; and laundry hung out to dry on every balcony in Beer Sheva. The taste of a certain Israeli brand of toothpaste was on my tongue before it was actually on my teeth, and the overly-sweet smell that hits the back of your mouth was there before I ripped the foil off of a container of chocolate spread — the Israeli answer to peanut butter.  I remember how to push my way to the front of a line and how to speak loudly if I expect to be heard, but I forgot that people ask strangers for help without a second thought and that unsolicited advice is given on every topic under the sun, with little provocation. I also somehow forgot about picnicking.

On any given night in our neighborhood and in the park just a short walk away, hundreds and hundreds of people are outside eating dinner — sometimes in small groups or couples, but more often in large gatherings that seem to run into one another, making it hard to tell where one family’s brood starts and another’s ends. Pita, hummous, vegetable salads and meats cooked on make-shift grills are the most common fare, though more elaborate spreads are visible as well. There is not an ounce of self-consiousness to these outdoor meals: no Martha Stewart wicker picnic baskets or glowingly clean checkered blankets. These are just weeknight family dinners that happen to take place outside, creating an atmosphere of unintentional yet welcome community.

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