Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chasing the Horseradish High: Tale of a Jewish Mommy's Burnout

I got aroused Saturday night during a Passover seder...

by a bitter herb.

As a child, I remember Passover seders as interminably dull. Despite our reformed and abridged (that's putting in mildly) adherence to the tradition, I wriggled and writhed in my seat desperate for a morsel of food and a chance to go watch television. As an adult, seders have become a place to enjoy friends and family, check-in with my religion, and make sure I'm spiritually on the right track. But I never thought about the traditional Jewish ceremony as a place to get titillated.

Gefilte fish is a tightly packed, oval brick of chopped fish, usually whitefish and pike. It's served cold and usually clings to some of the clear gelatinous substance in which it's packed, like a newborn before it's made presentable to the parents. I look forward to Passover's menu not so I can eat this gag-invoking appetizer but for the beet-infused horseradish that accompanies it. I slather this red paste over the fishy white pod methodically preparing the perfect synergy of color and flavor. At first bite the sweet burst of beets transforms into an intensifying burn that swells into my sinuses like a cloud of cleansing heat. I surrender to it, a willing victim of the pleasure/pain principle.

I joke with other horseradish "users" at the table about chasing the horseradish high and I wonder, isn't much of life about chasing the high - seeking out the orgiastic euphoria of senses we know and those we only dream about?

I was reminded of a recent Oprah episode where a father and son discussed their rashomon accounts of the son's decade-long drug addiction. The son, now an adult, recalled his first interlude with crystal meth as, after years of feeling lost and alone, finally finding his life's sweet spot. No subsequent ride with the drug mimicked his virgin voyage but he desperately pursued his bliss nonetheless.

Putting the truly dangerous addictions aside, don't we all seek out our life's sweet spot in less death-defying ways? Isn't that what recapturing our youth and mid-life crises are about? We try to locate when and where we got off track; reconnect to our dreams, feel alive.

When I was young I got excited by good grades, wild parties, binge drinking, great sex, warm Pillsbury slice 'n bake cookies, and the intoxicating validation of a new boyfriend. Life was bursting with opportunities, ambition, and hope. These days my thrills come in more restrained, politically correct forms: The first daily bite of a quality dark chocolate, the first soothing sip of a red wine, the giddy recognition of a beautiful, new friendship, and watching The Tudors. (Come on, you know it's true.)

The chase is enervating but most often frustrating in it's fleeting nature; though I suppose it's what keeps me from petrifying into a Pompeii-like statue of 21st century domestic boredom.

Some sky-dive to feel alive, others cheat on their spouse: so sue me if horseradish is my current mistress.

Tomorrow I'll take up shoplifting.


Leendaluu said...

oh, I totally love this post. As a Gentile in Jewish horseradish is the saving grace of the seder.

Sonia said...

I have to agree, gefilte fish is the most disgusting food on earth... my Nana used to make it as a "special treat" when my Dad and I would fly in to visit her, and it is still the only food I've ever met that I literally CAN NOT eat. My body rebels against it! In part, this is because the odor used to cling to the apartment throughout our visit... ugh.

Thanks for the memories! ;-)

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