Lynda and I at a Wild West BBQ at the Fairmont
In nearly thirty five years we have been married (that’s right, my marriage predates my electronic Facebook marriage announcement by about thirty-three years, but thank you all anyway for your recent and misguided avalanche of heartfelt good wedding wishes: bring them on down anytime!) we have never gone away for Pessach on any program. We made just two exceptions ages ago: two Passovers where I was bedridden while waiting, flat on my back, for two of our premie children to be born. Both programs were in a honky-tonk style hotel in the Poconos (with some heart-shaped bathtubs for honeymooners, no kidding!) called Mount Airy Lodge, complete with mountains of monochromatic heimish foods that looked and tasted just like summer camp (kosher gourmet, and Levana restaurant, had barely raised their just-conceived conceptual heads and were still struggling to see the light of day), simcha dancing and borscht-belt comedy nights. So one can appreciate all the more the beautiful Passover vacation programs that sprouted everywhere in the country, three of them run by Presidential Kosher Holidays, or PKH, in conjunction with my brother in law Sol, of Levana catering, and co-owner of Nobo Wine and Grill Teaneck: PKH runs Passover programs in Fairmont Hotels in Scottsdale Arizona, Turnberry Isle Florida, and Mayakoba Mexico, and has just celebrated their twentieth anniversary: many many more!
After all these years of running my home kitchen sweatshop – with me as the slave, not the slave-driver – my husband and I decided to make an exception this year, leave our home behind (yes Maman we cleaned the house thoroughly before we left!) and experience the famed Scottsdale Princess Fairmont Hotel Passover vacation program first hand. So we went with my daughter Bella, her husband Meir and baby Tsofia.
We had been repeatedly told the Fairmont Passover programs were a kind of Shangri-La, so we could easily be excused for letting our Arizona-here-we-come excitement and anticipation get the better of our vague guilt feelings at leaving our regular Pessach house guests (and many more) behind to make other plans while we were gone, just this once.
At the hotel, we unabashedly expressed our quasi ghetto-dweller delight (after all, although we are a short walk away from beautiful Central Park and Riverside Park, two of my children including Bella live in cramped Crown Heights) at the sumptuous grounds that seemed to stretch miles all around us: majestic palm trees towering over ponds and fountains everywhere, at each center of which was something that later turned out to be a flame that was ignited at nightfall, which along with a myriad of whimsical lamps artfully “hidden” in trees branches gave the place its magical and mysterious allure at night. I couldn’t decide where to look first, and ran from one place to the other as if it were all a mirage that might just vanish at the end of a reverie under the most perfect unbroken-blue sky: The tall sumac trees, oleanders, giant geranium pots, dozens types of cactus pushing yellow and pink flowers, and the intoxicating fragrance of roses, kumquat trees, orange trees. Grackle and jay birds flying lazily overhead and rabbits scampering everywhere, and one gorgeous and haughty heron standing placidly on the edge of one pond as if he owned the place, which of course he does. I needn’t have worried about the enchantment coming to an end: the very next day I followed the landscape artist on a scheduled tour of the grounds with a few other guests, guiding us with perfectly understandable pride, and all this and much more was still there, looking glorious, a model of understated and bucolic elegance and beauty.
We had arrived exhausted and hungry at around noon, after waking up at four thirty the night before to catch the five and a half hour flight to Phoenix, and headed for the dining room, where a magnificent spread was laid out in a huge room. Not quite yet used to this lavish treatment (remember, I’m the girl who never buys a pint of prepared food!) we reasoned that we were a few short hours away from Seder dinner, and we had better pace ourselves. Ah! But that was in the very early stages of our induction into the rough sport of Passover dining in a resort. As the week progressed, with one meal more delicious than the next, with the most attentive and professional serving staff doting relentlessly on us, it occurred to me I had never heard so much rationalizing in my life from anyone, myself included of course: But this is vacation! But we don’t get too many opportunities to indulge in this way! (you bet we don’t: good thing too, or we would be in some way disabled by now Heaven forbid!) But we have to (that sounded eerily like our grandchildren clamoring for more cookies or more candy) try that cheese (oyoyoy the cheeses: that’s where I lost it!) But tonight is rack of lamb! But there’s a choice of about two dozen salads and vegetable dishes! But we can’t pass up the prime rib! But they have seared sea bass at one of the stations! But we can choose any fillings for our omelets and have it made right on the spot! But we can’t miss the blueberry sorbet and the pineapple ices! But this is a brand new wine from California! But they have these teeny heirloom tomatoes and a dozen kinds imported olives! But… Oh never mind, we were blissfully doomed by day three. Fiber, veggies, protein, fruit, sugar, wine? Uhuh, right right right, keep talking: One uninterrupted and delicious blur: we just soldiered on: the party will soon be over, a few days later, a few pounds later, a few inches later…..
Oh the wonderful people we met: there were lovely Blanche and Yonah Gewirtz, of the program’s Star-K Supervision, our table companions, on an annual Pessach tete-a-tete break from their children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren, I heard with a shock: no, not a chance I will look the way she looks if G-d grants me enough years to see some great grandchildren in my lifetime: Tfutfutfu!); there was beautiful and gentle Frumeth Polasky and her husband (what a shame they live in Detroit and I can’t see her more often, I thought!); there was Rabbi Steinmetz hard at work in the cavernous kitchen and humongous dining room, “visiting” his family at their table whenever he could steal a moment (how can he be always smiling even while he works so hard? You have to ask him!); there was Rabbi Etshalom with his singing family, guest speaker from LA (I never missed any part of his series on Megilat Ruth, not only because I enjoyed his presentations immensely, but because the book of Megilat Ruth was my husband’s very first gift to me: imagine this bubbie still going down memory lane!); there was Rabbi and Mrs Bulka from Ottawa (we were familiar with several of his books, and it was an honor to hear him in person); and Thalia, and Chef Ray; and Lawrence, my endearing twitter friend from Chicago, assisting unflappable Lynda in running her tight ship (oh the Fellinesque getups he came in on those delightful BBQ nights! Lawrence, my husband misses your cognac and cigar boy seances, you hear?) Willy, our table-hopper new friend from Boston; thanks for the tip, Doctor Styler: thanks to your suggestion my granddaughter enjoyed drinking her soup with a straw and even had seconds! Dr Mark Goldenberg, with his wife Debbie and their beautiful family, from LA via Teaneck New Jersey: KAO whadayaknow: the dentist is also a talented Chazan, an inspiring speaker, and an ardent Ohev Israel: What else does he excel at? Come on spill the beans! If he is as good a dentist as he is a Chazan, root canal couldn’t be such an ordeal. And if only we had more devoted and unwavering Zionists like him, no one would ever dare hurt a Jew anywhere! Yes dearest doc: we will REMEMBER TO KEEP UP THE (OMER) COUNT, if only for your sake! I look forward to hosting your children next Shabbos lunch: it’s a date! There were the Berkowitzes from my neck of the wood on the Upper West Side (where I never see them, in typical NYC fashion….) and their lovely family! And then gigantic tables set up for family reunions, come literally from all over the world, speaking and singing in every imaginable language, age zero to… who’s counting? Impressive, awesome, humbling, no words begin to describe the feeling.
And the clamor of children all sizes watching the ball game and playing pool; laughter erupting from tables where guests played cards and word games; the pool, the tennis court, the spa: this essential-oil lover heard too late about a eucalyptus steam room in the spa: quel dommage! next time G-d willing!
I was fortunate enough to make two presentations of my own on the Pessach program: I hope it was as much fun for the guests as it was for me, and yes I wore my life-size sterling silver garlic head around my neck, to better harangue the crowds: This good food missionary just can’t help it!
I will always remember a wonderful day spent with some relatives of my son in law Meir (they were also meeting for the first time) who live in nearby Sedona and gave us a fabulous tour which included the beautifully quaint artistic enclave, recently built in Sedona and whimsically called Tlaquepaque.
A visit to Taliesin West, home and architectural school of Frank Lloyd Wright, gave us a better idea of the man’s genius, with his compression-and release principles reflected throughout the home and its grounds (I urge you to read the story of his complicated and fascinating life: The Women, by T.C. Boyle)
Good bubbie that I am, I saved the best for last: my granddaughter Tsofia, the inner city child who had the birds and the rabbits and the fountains and the flowers under her dominion for a memorable week, bossing them around in baby talk: Hey! hey! Bod! Rabbee! Hayou? Laughing deliriously when they came near, lifting her palms helplessly upwards when they flew or scurried away, fretting and stamping her little feet until they came near again. Not a child she didn’t start with, even an extra large one, Eli from Toronto, a gorgeous teenager several times her size. Forgive me if I cried when it came time to leave her, at Newark airport, where she was at it again, albeit in a rarefied cement sidewalk setting, tipping her head way back, trying hard to cajole one lone pigeon out of his grimy hiding place, where he looked oblivious to the deafening commotion below, perched on a cold and dark steel beam way overhead: Jaded New York City pigeon with an attitude, what do you expect? He was just informing us we were back in town: thanks buster, as if we needed any reminding! Tsofia will have plenty of time to find out for herself why some places and sounds are pastoral while some others are noisy and crowded and don’t seem to grow a single blade of grass. Good bye darling Tsofia, although I will see you very soon G-d willing (remember our weekly babysitting date!), I will miss the sheer joy of seeing you every day for a whole week, with your mother, my own baby Bella.
Last night at the resort: Just when I thought that this whole production was magic, something happened that made me think it may well be prestidigitation. A couple hours after havdalah (incidentally, my husband staged a little off-the-cuff Seudat Mashiach right before Maariv services, on the lawn outside the shul) lo and behold: a BBQ dinner, complete with an oldie jukebox, this time with beer, corn on the cob, hot dog and hamburger buns and a dozen other Chametz treats! How is that even possible? Leave it to the expert management crew of PKH!
If you decide to check out the Scottsdale or other gorgeous Fairmont resorts on Passover, you are in for a treat: there’s no place like home, and there’s no place away from home like PKH! PS: I was thrilled, on the morning of our departure, to see that my somewhat precariously fitted dress zipped up obediently, revealing …. a real waistline! Who knew I still had one?