I didn't really manage Pesach cleaning this year. Last week got slightly manic with trying to finish experiments we're working on as part of a commercial collaboration, and I ended up having to cancel a bar mitzvah class and a committee meeting due to working late. At some point I wasn't even sure I was going to manage getting things together to travel to England, but with a hard deadline like a flight to prod me, I just about made it.
The trip was very easy, in spite of Ryanair doing their evil thing of playing adverts at panic-loud volume. So there I was sitting on train from Stansted, feeling all sentimental about the evening light being the right colour and illuminating a totally familiar and homey landscape, all the may and blackthorn and intense spring green foliage and... the chrome yellow of the ubiquitous oilseed rape. That sight completely killed any inclination to be indulgent of Brooke's poetry about England in April; England in April doesn't let me breathe.
Anyway, I made it to the Carlton for the regular Thursday evening gathering, as planned. There was Cassells cider, which definitely counts in the positive side of the balance for being back in England, as do pseudomonas and cartesiandaemon and a big crowd of people who love interesting conversations about random topics to feed my extrovert energies. I really liked the dynamic of the Carlton crowd; I know a few people, though most not well, but anyway, nobody bothered with formal introductions, they just let me fit into their various conversations as if I'd always been there. ewx bounced at me about the bits of European history that don't get taught in school, and there were lots of other fun discussions where I felt entirely welcome. At some point I'd like to make sure of names and maybe match up real people to online ones, but it doesn't feel at all urgent and hopefully I'll just work out gradually who people are and how they are connected.
I stayed over with cartesiandaemon, taking full advantage of the chance to interact without a load of annoying geography in the way. And we had a moderately decadent morning before I headed back to the parents' to help with seder preparations. It ended up being mostly me and Mum, since the rest of the sibs didn't arrive until the evening and Saturday lunchtime, and Dad was at some particularly poorly scheduled meeting. I'm not the most useful kitchen assistant, but I managed to make some positive contribution and not just get in the way, and we had some good conversations while we were cooking.
We had a small seder this year, the seven of us plus two SOs and Screwy's carer. So it wasn't as much of a panic as it sometimes can be. I am really pleased that cartesiandaemon agreed to join us for our crazy family ritual, and even more so that he got into the spirit so enthusiastically. Thuggish Poet's girlfriend, though a little quiet, likewise threw herself into things, as did Screwy's carer who turns out to have some Jewish ancestry as well as a generous sense of humour. Mum had heard a sermon in which the speaker mentioned doing animal noises for One only kid, and she wanted to try that. First problem: most of the actors in the song aren't actually animals, and a lot of them don't have obvious noises. But we did it anyway and it was delightfully silly. Oh, and cartesiandaemon found the afikomen.
We had some good discussions, eg about the choice to have children either in miserable circumstances or when their comfort might be at the expense of the rest of the world, and about some of the ideas that Screwy is working on to do with holiness and freedom. He talked about
why on this night do we dip twice?, that the rest of the year holiness is about separation, but during Pesach we deliberately mix things, bitter and sweet, spring hope symbols with salt and burning and weeping and sacrifice imagery. Connect that to the clear thread in the seder narrative that liberation is completely bound up with causing damage, the Egyptians are genuinely harmed and we try to acknowledge that sincerely. You sort of hope that most of the people who get hurt are the oppressors, but it's never really that clean. So even though you strive after holiness, clean separation of the good, pure elements, real life is never like that, and you need messy, entangled processes to get there. The process is holy in its own way, as witnessed by continually repeating the cycle of
this year we are slaves, next year may we be free; even when the Messiah comes and redemption is complete the liturgy implies that we will still be praying for this elusive freedom (
"All the days of your life" implies also the time of the Messiah). Thuggish Poet said something good about the charoset, too; we were discussing that it's odd to have something tasty and sweet to represent the mortar we had to use in our miserable slavery, or rather the mortar that we didn't even have access to during the worst of the oppression. But he pointed out that as free people, we still want to build things, we still need mortar. So the sweet charoset is the labour that we choose freely and which has taken the place of the forced labour when we were slaves.
Mum had decided that no room sharing was allowed, which meant that even in the big house there wasn't quite space for all the guests to stay over. I was a bit annoyed at having to throw cartesiandaemon out immediately after the meal. Not so much because of being deprived of spending the night with him; I don't at all mind respecting parents' rules about couples in their territory, even though I find them silly. But because I was embarrassed to be put in the position of being an ungenerous hostess.
Anyway, I headed into town on Sunday morning to have lunch with cartesiandaemon, so in the end I saw nearly as much of him as I would have done anyway. With such a short visit, and with the seder itself in the middle, I didn't feel any obligation to try to do anything memorable, so we took the time to just be together, and it was very lovely.
I made it back to Stockholm without incident Sunday evening. The very curtailed visit was necessary because I ended up with teaching commitments Monday afternoon as well as Thursday. The teaching is great fun, and I should make a separate post about it.
I must admit, I feel somewhat deflated at the moment. Partly it's that I don't quite have the emotional balance of seeing cartesiandaemon very briefly and intensely and then being away from him for several weeks; I'm sure I'll settle into it, but just now I'm crashing hard after each visit. I've never been like this in long distance relationships in the past, and we have plenty of communication in spite of geography, so I'm not sure why I'm reacting like this. I think in this case it's partly plain tiredness; I haven't really had a proper break this Pesach, or even time to recover from last week being manic. Partly it's all my skin and membranes being irritated because of spending time in horrible allergenic Cambridge (though my breathing settled down within a few hours of leaving). And I think partly it's Pesach itself. I don't really like being on my own during the festival, even though I have at least managed a seder en famille and exactly as it should be. There's plenty that I can eat, of course, but all of it requires preparation and forward planning, and I can't snack on toast or biscuits or even buy junk food.
Oh well, this is a very minor complaint. Communication would be appreciated, even if it's just LJ comments, and it's much more likely that I'll be happy to hear from you than whiny.