Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Unforseen Problem of the Dating Life

When you're in my bed
Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk about Eric.
Me and my whatshamicallit don't like Eric
Eric causes us to shrink.


This plea belongs to Israeli singer Shlomi Shaban. His song about a woman simultaneously dating two men was a big hit on Israeli radio two or three years ago.

Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk.
You wanna talk about Eric?
Go be with Eric.
Don't talk about Eric
No more.


Life has bestowed Erics on me and made me an Eric to others multiple times this passing year. It's perfectly fine when a woman casually dates a few guys - bring the competition on, I say. It's another thing when she has someone who's been taking her seriously for a while and yours truly ends up playing third wheel. I escape these situations as soon as the facts come to light, but this doesn't always happen on the first or even third date. In at least one instance, it took a week for the "other guy" to get cautiously mentioned, and another for him to be crowned "boyfriend".

So what's the story with this Eric,
That you're always reminded of him
When you're with me?
Are you playing this game two-directionally?
When in Eric's room, are you speaking of me?


Needless to say, this late in the game my heart was already crackling like a bag of microwave popcorn. Her's was too, it seems. She quickly left the guy to be with me, then felt uncomfortable and left me too. See what I tell ya, these things don't end well.

Another girl pulled Mr. boyfriend out on me while we were being intimate. Trust me, few things are more frustrating. When I was married I made a point of bringing up my wife whenever I happened to speak to a pretty girl, as early in the conversation as possible. Why don't I deserve similar treatment?

Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk about Eric
Don't talk.
See, you just mentioned Eric
And I've gone a bit berseric.
Don't talk about Eric
No more.


Girl the third said she only wanted casual fun and was afraid of falling in love. She let me know that there's someone else in the background. Only later did I find out that that someone else was never told about me, nor was he told that she only wants casual fun. What a shame, she was knockout.

I told her that I don't mind being superior to other men, taking the first place on her list as she did on mine. I don't mind being equal to other men if that's the agreement, but I can't be made inferior to them. No go.

This Eric, she added, he's right-on!
If he's right on, I wondered, why are you right-on-top-of-me?
And seeing that you are anyway right-on-top-of-me,
Why is he right-on-top-of-us?
Why is he our Eric burden?
What have we done wrong?


Girl the fourth was the likeliest candidate for wild romance I've met in a while. I wonder how well she fits her Eric. Four in the morning of our first night out was when I got the "ummm, see, here's the problem..."

Don't talk about Eric.
No more.


There was a redeeming factor in this last case: she was sensing that she herself may be faced with an Erica on her Eric's side (Is this getting confusing?). I still took a step backwards. "Listen," I told her, "There was a time in my early 20s when I could not get dates with girls, but for some reason was constantly hit on by gay men. These days I'm a hit with girls who are taken. I'm not into that."

Oh, but I still prefer them to the guys, and I prefer such misadventures to loneliness and boredom, so long as no one gets hurt. I'll take this chance to wish you all a happy new year, a year of true love or of messy romance, whichever you prefer.

And now the truth,
I want the truth.
Who's a better lay? Eric or myself?
What do you mean "each one's different"?
Give grades, lady,
Give numbers.

Don't even answer me,
Don't even answer me,
Don't even answer me -
It's none of my business.
See, you just mentioned Eric,
And I've gone a bit berseric,
Don't talk about Eric
No more.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Big Cage, Small Cage

I was invited to a New Years' party in a town 35 kilometers from my home, but I can't attend. I'm not legally allowed to visit that town.

Since the beginning of the Intifada all large Palestinian towns have been out of bounds for Israelis by decree of the military. The party is in Tul Karem, just east of the Israeli city of Hadera. I called a friend who sometimes sneaks across the lines to visit Ramallah and asked him how easy it would be to go to Tul Karem "under the radar" of the soldiers at the checkpoints. He said Tul Karem was completely out of bounds and if I did get in, getting out would be highly difficult. If I'm caught by the Palestinian authorities while in Tul Karem, they are obliged to turn me over to the Israelis, who would then have to interrogate me about my contacts with the enemy.

Just to be clear. I don't have enemies in Tul Karem. The people there who are furious towards me don't know me, because I'm not allowed to go there and converse with them. The people on this side of the wall who are afraid of people in Tul Karem can't think this fear through. They are not allowed to visit and get to know their scary neighbors. What a brilliant way our leaders have found to perpetuate war.

The ban that forbids me from going to Tul Karem, to Ramallah, to Lebanon and to enormous chunks of Africa and Asia is minuscule compared with the travel bans imposed on the Palestinians by Israel. We are talking about millions of people who are not allowed to leave their towns without going through an often humiliating inspection, who must travel unpaved, winding roads, while Israelis zoom by on roads paved only for them, who are barred from visiting the holy city of Jerusalem, found mere miles away from their home, and the Mediterranean coastline that they can often see from their windows. These are people for whom international travel is virtually impossible. Their world is as narrow as their village and the nearby town - if they're lucky. In times of turmoil, Palestinians are often placed under curfew, sometimes for months on end. They are not allowed to leave their houses under threat of death.

The security considerations cited by Israel are not legitimate. Yes, there have been terror attacks in Hadera, Tul Karem's neighbor to the west, as well as in my city of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo. Yes, I also want security. I love life and I benefit from the fact that this year had seen less Israeli victims than any year since the 80s, but nothing justifies the bending of human rights. We want security? let's find a legitimate way to gain it. Such a way exists. The current policies only offer symptomatic, temporary relief while nurturing disdain and anger that would later stir more violence.

As someone who loves travel, the condition at which my neighbors are placed by my government is infuriates me. Israel has turned the West Bank into a terrain of concrete walls, barbed wire fences, intimidation and sadism. Gaza, in turn, became a besieged disaster zone where multitudes are allowed to rot and die, trapped away from the public eye. Tonight a "critical mass" bike ride will take place in Tel-Aviv to protest limitations on travel. I bought a bike so I could join in. It's a cheap bike, but let's paddle it forward. The freedom to move is a basic right of every human being. Something has to change in 2008.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

חג מולד שמח

Osnat opens the door in a sort of a sexy Santa dress. I don't know where she got her hands on such a piece of clothing, especially here. maybe she made it. Keren soon arrives in something even more exotic. She's dressed up as Santa's granddaughter - a figure in Ukrainian Christmas tradition, with which she is familiar by virtue of being Ukrainian. It's nice to see people bringing in personal content to a Christmas party, especially considering there's only one non-Jew around, Jonathan the Berliner, and he's half Jewish.

I brought ingredients for wassail, an American punch that Lin taught me how to make. In a large pot throw some wine, some cherry juice (we're short on cranberries here) some orange juice and apple juice. Add mulling spices, cinnamon, whole cloves, nutmeg, and some strange Thai leaf found at the market that seemed like it would fit, pour in a bit vodka, simmer slowly, drink quickly.

I see this party as being less about rebelling against our Jewish backgrounds than about finding yet another excuse to dance all night mid-week. In this sense, there's something very Jewish about this Christmas party. Since Zionism is a Jewish movement, Tel-Aviv was founded by Zionists, and what Tel-Avivians do is party wholeheartedly. This is, without doubt, an Israeli occasion: No group of diaspora Jews in their right minds would throw a Christmas party. Fact.

Inadvertently, though, we do rebel, since Judaism is so much about resisting such things. We are celebrating Christmas more as a joke on pop culture's influence on our lives than as a holiday, but we aren't really threatened by it, as Jewish tradition teaches us to be. So, are Israelis Jewish? Is Zionism causing Judaism to disintegrate slowly?

Sorry, no time to worry about such stuff. Gilly arrives all the way from Jerusalem, to make good use of the mistletoe. The "Maayan" crew is entering with much pomp, stirring the dance floor, then disappearing into the night. Dana and Adam dance like lunatics, as they did Saturday, in a Jaffa mansion with chessboard floors, and a few days previously, in an industrial workshop by Bloomfield Stadium, and probably in several places in between and since. Nimrod Flash the youngster sticks a cigarette in my mouth so I'll do my imitatation of poet Jacques Prévert (for some reason people find it very funny without ever having seen or heard Prévert himself read). A.B. Dan goes across the street, returns with two guitars, and those who didn't overdrink nor vanish into Florentine's many bedrooms stay to jam and watch the sun come over another workday.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Magnificat

I just changed this post completely, there was a lot of babble here about Christmas and classical music. Instead of all that, here is a bit of music as a gift for the holidays to my avid readers. It is the first protion of Bach's Magnificat, played on period instruments with the wonderful Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting.

May music pervail on earth.

Charles Clore Park Embankment Haiku #3

Wearing long, dark coats
A disharmonic choir of
Drunk Palestinians.

Check out summer's variant and autumn's variant. Could have waited longer for the winter one, but it's so damn cold tonight I just had to set it free. I vow not to abandon this blog before there is a set of four.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Raw

Today was the Muslim feast of sacrifice (Eid al-Adha). All over Jaffa you could see slaughtered lambs being taken apart for the big evening cookout. Near Abu Hassan I saw an old grandpa extracting what he could from a lamb's head, with the rest of what used to be the lamb piled before him, while chatting with his toddler grandson. My childhood was nothing like that.

Some of you may find this odd or even revolting, but that pile of lamb looked really good to yours truly. Meat, like anything else, is best consumed raw. I bought 50 sheqels worth of entrecote today for a stir fry and while waiting for the onion to brown, couldn't resist having a bit of it "au naturel". Jaffa butchers deliver quality that allows you to do that. Hinnawi and Abu-Hilwe are the best known. They can always be trusted and the Arab raised livestock from which their meat is derived is not at all your typical industrial farm fare.

I also bought a fresh palamida (Atlantic bonito) from across the street for the dinner's starter and went for it sashimi-style while cutting it into the curry. Rawness is simply such a gift and again - reliable vendors are the key to a good life. That palamida was still wet with sea water when I bought it. The one fillet I have left will still be good for an avocado and grapefruit ceviche tomorrow morning.

Life in Tel-Aviv metro is being kinder and kinder to lovers of raw. Steak Tartar (also known as "filet a l'Americain" although very few Americans would regard it as food) is now available in at least three places: the Brasserie, Joz Veloz and Yoezer Bar Yayin. The sushi scene is crazy, with sushi bars competing with falafel stands for domination of the streetscape. Onami on Ha'arba'ah Street is considered the finest in town.

Sticking to fine meat is similar to preferring cigars. It's expensive and thus not consumed in high quantities. It is more fun and its consumption doesn't contribute in the same way to a disgusting industry as does eating run of the mill meat/smoking cigarettes. Sure, this isn't vegetarianism, but there's some value to it. Pulling on an unlit cigar, however, is nothing like eating a steak tartar. This is where my analogy dies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three Good Reasons to Live

1. Having lunch at Ioji's blue collar Romanian restaurant in Haifa, with his photos of past celebrity clients and lovely pastry in rum.


2.Sharon being a volcano after smoking nargila on the ramparts of ancient Acco.


3. Merhav's birthday party at the Little Prince, complete with arrak and singing. May he live to be 120 and may we all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I ♥ Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi (born in Iran, working in France, a master of the documentary graphic novel) is lyrical in everything she does, including this rather political cartoon commisioned by the New York Times and readable by linking here.

Art is at its best when it uses the personal as a tool. Mozart's late piano concertos fall into this category. His melancholia and fear of death spice them and enhance them in the gentlest manner, without taking center stage.

Even when Satrapi is seemingly using her own life as subject rather than tool, it is a tool rather than the subject. in "Persepolis" she wrote about Iran, her family and the experience of exile and homecoming. All of this touches on the universal. Iran is Israel. Her autobiography is my biography.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Gift of Hopelessness

"Make my Heart Tremble" is the last play by great Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin, published posthumously. It is now being produced by Tel-Aviv's Kameri theatre company, with Rami Baruch and Meirav Gruber both impressive in the starring roles.

Thing is, there's very little "starring" going on in Levin plays. The man is an expert on futility, defeat and embarrassment. His characters always wind up losing out completely, no matter what their aspiration. This is certainly the case in this play. The laughable Lamka spends his entire adult life futilely courting beautiful singer Lalalala (who grows less and less beautiful as the play progresses). He remains unloved till the last curtain. Meanwhile, Lamka's married friend, Pshoniak, isn't all that much happier in his married life with the dreadfully unsexy Caha Caha, whose name literally means: "so so", and who isn't at all happy with him.

There's a hint of optimism, though, or at least joie de vivre. "If I'm ever asked what was the essence of my life," Lamka says to Lalalala, "I will say it was standing below your window, with my heart a-tremble and no hope at all. There, right there, was life."

That's a Jewish line if there ever was one. As Jews, we await a messiah who is not allowed to arrive. As soon as we believe he's arrived, we cease to be Jewish. Levin brings this cult of disappointment to the modernist stage and the realm of romance in all its pathetic beauty. There, right there, is art.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Will Work for Contrasts

Yesterday I went with Alon to Sakhnin in the Galilee, where we sat with the Sufi elders and spoke with them about football.



Today I attended master class with 26 years old Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who is considered a genius and the next great conductor in music history.


Within an hour I became convinced he's just that grand, and also that life is one crazy gift.

Sankta Lucia

An editor with whom I work wanted to move our meeting from Wednesday to Thursday. "I just hope Thursday isn't another holiday," she joked on the email.

Coincidentally, Thursday is a holiday, and a special one. Through my various ties with Scandinavia I've been celebrating that region's semi-pagan festivals ever since first coming there in 1997. Sweden's observence of St. Lucy's day, the 13th of December, is the most peculiar and probably the most beautiful of these festivals.

In the early hours of the dark, Nordic winter morning, the children of the house all wear white. The eldest girl wraps a red scarf around her waist. It symbolizes St. Lucy's blood that gushed out of her eyes when they were picked. On her head she wears a wreath decorated with live, burning candles. The children then march into the parents room, bringing the coffee and saffron buns and singing this haunting melody, even more beautifully arranged here. In houses without children, lovers can be each other's St. Lucies, and in the towns appropriately attired choirs march with her hymn on their lips.

When St. Lucy died, her body was taken apart and sent to many churches around Italy. I once met a Sicilian woman who told me that her parish church is home to a toe of the saint. She also said that every year a blond girl is sent from Sweden to sing St. Lucy's hymn at that church, in presence of the toe.

I told my editor all of this and she replied that she's not sure she wanted to know it, certainly not the toe bit. I, however, love this night. It combines the morbid and the familial, the purely aesthetic and the completely bizarre. Being woken up to this music by a candle-sporting heavenly phantom, bearing steaming coffee and luminous mystery, that's a unique experience. I'm grateful to the Swedes for preserving it despite the reformation and despite the headaches caused to the Stockholm fire department.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Star Spangled Dinner

Hi Leora,

Last night was really nice. The food was terrific and the company
interesting and easy going.

I must tell you I found myself surprised by how "Israeli" I felt in this company. For years I lived in the States and was completely comfortable in 100% American company, last night I was very comfortable but also amply aware of cultural differences. Perhaps It was the fact that the evening took place in Israel that is to blame, or perhaps it is I who's changed. I may have grown more Israeli since my ex-wife left. Maybe the recent (Thursday) news of our divorce being final caused me to be more conscious of these issues. Who am I? How close am I to the language and attitudes that used to make up my world? I found myself thinking about these things on the way home.

What are these differences? They start with small stuff like saying "no". When we were lighting the candles, there was talk of how Israelis name Tupperware containers "Mozzarellas". I've never heard of such a thing and I assumed it was used in the kitchen lingo of the restaurant in which your friend works. As soon as I said: "That's not true" I realized that an American would never have said that. However, if in Israeli company I were to say: "I believe that may not be true", or some such thing, no one would take me seriously for the remainder of the
evening. Each time I said "no" last night I was aware of it, even a bit embarrassed, but don't worry. it did dot detract from my enjoyment, only added food for thought to the chili and guacamole.

Another time I felt different was during a conversation about your other friend's documentary on pork in Israel. I found myself defending my right to eat pork, despite this being the "Jewish State" and all. For the first time in my life I felt that this issue affects me. I was bothered by the idea that someone who doesn't live here should think a restriction should be imposed on me for ideological reasons. Your friends had flexible views of this matter, but they didn't necessarily consider it unthinkable that ideological restrictions would be condoned by someone who isn't subject to them. The Claustrophobia of the Israeli identity came out into the open during that conversation and there was no way for me to really explain it.

I left that conversation feeling that Zionism only works if you're "first generation", i.e.: if you come here in order to "do it". Once you're born into it, it's too damn problematic. This sentiment, carried over several conversations, created a wall of misunderstanding between me and the other people I conversed with. The one exception actually being your friend who works at the Shalem Center. I think he deals so often with such complex questions, and in such a bizarre environment, that he's beginning to develop an Israeli complex of his own. He's quite a unique chap.

But all of you guys are unique, and your company is a gift. BTW, I left my salad bowl there, so I'll call you next time I'm at the "Prince" to see if you're there and pick it up.

Have a wonderful evening, thanks a lot again and take care,

Yuval

In Memoriam, Moshe Ben-Shaul

A slender, aging man in jeans and T-Shirt was sitting on the rooftop of Sabkuch Milega, an Indian restaurant in Florentine. The day was hot, but there was no room for him in the shade. Moshe Ben-Shaul was the only person over 35 years old to take part in Ketem's forum for translators. He refused to take my seat in the shade, refused to be "the old guy".

Moshe was in love with youth. Ironically he dedicated the later decades of his life to the early decades of another man's life. His translations from the works of Arthur Rimbaud were an invaluable gift to the Hebrew reader. Rimbaud produced all of his poetic output between the ages of 15 and 19. Moshe translated it in his 60s and 70s.

When given the microphone at the Sabkuch Milega, he preceded his reading from Rimbaud with a reading of his own poem dedicated to the French prodigy. It was entitled: "I Am Speaking with a Dead Poet". Thursday night, at the age of 77, he joined Rimbaud at the super-hip bohemian cafe in the sky. Now they're really going to chat.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mad Tom of Bedlam

Louisiana born, San Fransisco based folk singer Jolie Holland is my favorite singer. I payed her no attention so far on the blog because her material available on Youtube tends to be relatively pale. This bit Isn't pale at all. In fact, you can't go any darker than an ancient English minstrel that demonizes mental asylum patients. "I make mince pies of children's thighs / and feed them to the fairies"... Add a bit of moonshine chic to that and you've got a masterpiece.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Metaphores for Fun


On paper, poetry doesn't stand a chance at the "Desert Poetry Days" festival, primarily because of its location. The Sde Boker desert educational facility is situated right on the clifftop overlooking this:


Desert nights also have a bad influence on "Desert Poetry Days". Gather scores of passionate souls from across the country, many of them young and unattached (or pretend-unattached) to a secluded oasis and you're going to get some serious sexual tension and the breaking thereof. It's interesting to see how unpoetical poets can be when casually courting. A party at nearby kibbutz Sde Boker was the primary amorous crucible of the festival. It was wild, loud and filled with such complex works of verse as:

Heeeyyy... Yaaaaaaa.. (OHH OH)
Heeyy Yaaaaaaaa.. (OHH OH)
Heeeyyy... Yaaaaaaa.. (Don't want to meet your daddy, OHH OH)
Heeyy Yaaaaaaaa.. (Just want you in my Caddy OHH OH)

No one showed any criticism and the older poets who stayed by the clifftop, drinking vodka and chatting, weren't taking life a lot more seriously. There are exceptions there, of course. Editor and poet Raffi Weichert annoyed me earlier in the evening by announcing that he is editing an anthology of contemporary Hebrew verse that is to be "devoid of junk and vanity". Junk and vanity clearly being the experimental works of the younger scene. I quickly let him know that a competing, kickass anthology is a long time in the works.

What Weichert overlooks as an editor is that poetry is an adventure. So vast canyons, Outkast and hormones can go very well with it, and broadening its horizons doesn't render it junk.

The most successful event of the ones I attended this year was a half-impromptu nocturnal session with high school students. "Ma'ayan" poets Chicky Arad and Nimrod Kamer, popular poet Rony Somek and yours truly brought a guitar, a few original works and a translation of a poem by Brecht. The students shared their own material which was both spicy and precise. They amazed us with their talent.

This morning I mediated a panel with editors of the "younger" literary reviews. This was no easy task after two nights without much sleep, but we held the event outdoors in a small ampitheater and all present, including the 100 or so spectators, were being relaxed and fun (and equally tired). I was impressed by the editors of "Dakah", published in Beer Sheva, and experienced for the first time some of impressive poetry appearing in "Meshiv Haruach", a journal dedicated to Jewish themed verse. Poetry ended up taking center stage after all. I even went on directly from the panel to an indoor reading session, but not before stopping at the clifftop where a herd of gazelles was leisurely hanging out, taking in the view of the expanses and having a little romantic daydream of my own.

In the photos: Chicky jamming (with Yehezkel and Seffi) Matti Shmueloff flirting (with Michal but not with Ellain) Yours truly reciting (with a few young poets waiting to strutt their own stuff).



Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday


I Just had the great honor and pleasure of spending an afternoon with Hadas Reshef, creator of the "Homage to Edward Hopper and Eric Fischl" given above, right over Hopper's own "Morning Sun" and Fischl's "Bad Boy".

Hadas does other peculiar things to familiar works of art. She made a version of Millet's gleaners in which the three bent-backed women stand upright in the field, as a feminist, socialist statement. She was also a major player in the Tze'ela Katz incident. Today Haaretz Journalist Ofri Ilani met with me to discuss the finer points of this story and I invited Hadas to join and offer her own two cents. From there we somehow ended up sitting in a barbershop where I got a free beard trim and both of us were served free hot chocolate. Gotta love the company of artists.

It'll be a wild night for those who appreciate the company of artists. Michel Gondry's latest film "Be Kind, Rewind", is to get an illegal screening at an undisclosed location (if anyone wants to join: call me). Later on poet, barmaid and general good soul Osnat Skoblinsky is throwing a beach party at her apartment in honor of her birthday. Beachwear a must.

One final and far more dramatic bit of good news: My beloved friend, mentor and favorite author Yoram Kaniuk has just gone through his last radiation treatment today and a toast in honor of that is due. When will I ever get to do my work? I have got to switch to the insurance agents' clique soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mieleni Minun Tekevi

A high school student from the south is coming to meet with me today. She's writing a paper about Finland's mythology (otherwise known as "Kalevala poetry"). The millions of readers who frequent this blog and don't know me personally may not be aware of it, but I'm considered a prime expert on Finnish mythology among Hebrew speakers, which is the single most random thing a person can be.

Truth be told, I'm not even sure how big an expert I am today. Five years have passed since I published my book on the subject and the relevant volumes I've collected at the time have been pretty dormant since. Still, there are some aspects of the culture with which I remained in deep contact. They can be summed up in this:


There are no angels in Finnish lore, but there is a lot of Finnishness in this angel, created by painter Hugo Simberg to adorn the walls of Tampere's cathedral.

Finland's legends date back to the stone age and they are at one time intensely minimalistic and very complex. The Finnish hero is hardly a hero, but a living, flawed human entity. Väinämöinen, the Kalevala's chief protagonist, is more similar to impulsive and often morally lax King David than to marble-statue Theseus or Perseus. The melancholy of dark forests and long winters is evoked in his failures, his wrath, his wry sense of humor.

There's a deeply abstract core to the Finnish legends and this element is apparent in a lot of Finnish art. The story of Simberg's painting is entirely the work of Simberg's imagination, but it is steeped with the Kalevala's spirit: the mix of magic and realism (industrial Tampere's smokestacks appear right over the angel's head), The potent melancholy, the deep modesty, the mystery of things left unexplained. You can take your mind off of Finland, but you can't take a dark bit of sorcery away from your life once it's touched you. One look at this painting and I feel prepared for the meeting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mull of Kintyre

Why am I thinking of the Mull of Kintyre, a windswept cliff on the west shore of Scotland, after a day of traveling through the Israeli/Palestinian desert with Alon?

It's just another twist of this peculiar week, I guess.

I've visited the Mull of Kintyre with Maya Honn and Noga Weiss nearly a decade ago. We found a very cheap hotel by a secluded beach on the west coast of the peninsula. I never did sing the famous Paul McCartney song in its cozy bar. It would have been too corny, but watching The video on Youtube I recognise a lot of what made those times special, bonfires on the beach, the grassy knolls and the sense that everything is open.

The desert we traveled through today doesn't give the same feeling. The Dead Sea is dying further due to human activity. It's simply drying out. Concrete walls along segregated West Bank roads are depressing. The roadblocks are disgusting.

But I shouldn't be ridiculous. This goddamned desert is even more arresting than the Argyll. The sulfur baths in Ein Gedi (we got in for free, part of the job) were intoxicating, and getting to stand 400 meters below sea level is a privilage. The Mull of Kintyre is fantasy incarnate. Israel and Palestine are reality. Annapolis (site of the current peace convention) is somewhere in between. We'll yet see where all of this leads.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Grateful Living

When a family mourns, the nerves are exposed and a lot of old tensions can come to the surface. The shiv'a - that traditional seven-day-long reception on which friends drop by to offer condolences - can be hard on the spirit: to much small talk, too much uneasiness, too many cookies and burekas and way too much coffee.

It turns out to be mostly the opposite this time around. We're spending the Shiv'a's days at my uncle and aunt's place. Everybody's being lovely. Late last night, after a good dinner there, my cousin Yaron took out a guitar and we sang Arik Einstein songs. His pajamaed four years old son Tuval decided he is Spiderman and I gave him a hand at climbing walls. My aunt Rachel said "Who would believe that we're in mourning?"

But we are in mourning and these days are emotional. My sisters and I all had work to do this weekend, none of it got done. I find myself being particularly upfront and expressive with people around me, Whether it be on the phone, on the street or in the pub. I notice that I'm more easy to express love, and I know my family living and dead to be that love's source.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lunch Poem

Missing Paris, empty plate Paris, shoplifting Paris,
Ex-girlfriend Paris, on an empty plate,
Empty place ten sheqel afternoon.
Orr bites lower lip, Eli hands tip.

Light in, light out. In my head you said: insist.
Then we got lost in L.A., missing Paris
Till it turned day, and I ate
Paris, I ate grits in Jacksonville, and you.

What good is my head, what good
These Irish cliffs In a town without topography?
I ate you up, made full stop, ordered coffee,
Young again but without the tent.

Roaring in winter, smoking litter,
Sketching school, missing Paris. The shopkeeper said:
May Satan take you. I say: Thank you
Orr for serving me all this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Memoriam, Safta Shulamit

When my grandma died last night, my sister Tamar was in the shower. She was thinking of my grandma's suffering and quietly sang Shalom Aleichem, the family's beloved song for shabbat, as prayer that death will finely embrace her.

When my grandma died last night, my parents were with her. They were returning from a wedding and stopped by at the hospice. my father touched her forehead and said: "She's warm, but something's wrong". They called in the nurse who inspected her and told them: "she's dead. She waited for you and died".

When my grandma died last night I was at the opera, Watching Rossini's "Journey to Reims". In it, a group of travelers are stuck at an inn, unable to embark on a journey that would take them to the coronation of king Charles X of France. The modernist director chose to place the action in a grounded airplane.

Last night's loss turns the rather goofy libretto of "Journey to Reims" into an existentialist work. My grandma was anxious to die, but her airplane waited long for clearance. I don't buy any afterlife theory, but if she's reuniting with my grandpa there and with her former self, that would be a coronation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

War and Peace

My neighbor Mishu is renovating his flat. The knocking down of walls goes on well into the night.

Moving to Jaffa, I knew I was in for noisy nights. People here have a different approach to the idea of noise pollution. Usually, though, the noise consists of music and chatter, not of doomsday bangs. At midnight I walked down to ask of them to stop. I had a long day at work and needed a lot of sleep.

"Now you've made a mistake." said Mishu, "So far you've been OK, but now you made your big mistake." He was clearly furious. I came out of whatever prissy Jewish Zionist town into his native Jaffa and quickly seek to make changes. "This isn't Ramat Gan, you get that? We are different people here! You go back to Ramat Gan where you came from."

This created a problem for me, since I know nobody in Ramat Gan and can't really go back there. For a moment we stood in the hallway like two tomcats with our hairs on end. Him red with the collective memory of Kafar Qasem (see last post) et al, the occupation, the daily encounters with racism, me hearing "go back to Ramat Gan" as though it meant "go back to Poland". But My family was murdered in Poland! you get that, Mishu? They were murdered even though they were good neighbors and never kept anyone up knocking down walls after midnight!

Wow, what a bad spot. We had to break out of it. "Thank you." I said, nodded and walked back upstairs. They kept working in his flat but made no serious drilling or hammering noise. Somehow, I felt that this was no accident.

This morning I came over with two bags of freshly ground coffee. Mishu opened the door unsmiling.

"Listen, I brought you coffee because you didn't make too much noise after I left last night," I said, "One bag for you, one for your laborers, so they do an extra good job."

"Is it Arab coffee?" he asked.

"It is. I also got me some ear plugs."

"You should have gotten them sooner."

"Look Mishu, it's important for me to be a good neighbor and I want you to know that I respect Jaffa. I didn't mean to offend your culture and I don't think you meant to offend mine. In fact, I think I simply came knocking on a bad day."

It turns out to have been a horrible day. "I fought with everybody yesterday. I lost my voice completely. Man, I'm going to Jerusalem to be with the kids. That's it, I'm taking two days to relax, I need it.

"Sounds good." That meant sleep to me.

"Come on, let's go eat something."

So we went and had hummus and grilled meat and coffee around the corner. Then I went back to work and listened to my prissy Zionist French Chanson music. Barbara singing: "Never let the days of fear and hate return / 'cause there are people that I love in Gottingen." A beautiful rainbow appeared out the window over Tel-Aviv's skyline, this being the second day of serious rains. Pretty cheesy, huh? I was just glad it occured to me he might have had a bad day. We tend to disregard such factors when we have an enemy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Yemeni Book of Living and Dying

This, my friends, will be my longest post to date. Some days simply deserve that.

When Alon Sigavi, the book's photographer, joined me this morning, we had a few options of places to visit and document. We could go to Sachnin in the north, but the city is famous for its football club and we preferred to go there when there's a match going on. We could go to Netivot in the south, where well known miracle maker Rabbi Baba Sali is buried, but their unique market is only on on Tuesdays. We settled on Rosh Ha'ayin, a blue-collar eastern suburb of Tel-Aviv.

What seemed to be the least exotic option turned out to feature my first experience of consuming a recreational drug as part of a job assignment.

Rosh Ha'ayin was funded in the late 40s as a tent town for Jewish immigrants from Yemen. It's still a very Yemeni place. Almost everyone downtown is endowed with the physical characteristics associated with Yemenis - a particular petiteness, burnt sienna skin and black hairs. We enjoyed fatty and savory "hoof soup", which was served with special pancake-like bread and "hilbe" - a strange condiment that effects the body odor of those who consume it. We saw a photo exhibit of the historic migration and of mud skyscrapers in Southern Arabia, but that's the boring part of the story.

It was the warden at the local historical museum who showed us the way to a qat vendor named Shalom. Shalom's old car was parked behind a kiosk and he was offering green bunches for 50 sheqels apiece. "sheqel" and "qat" are both words amply familiar to Scrabble players in English. They allow the player to use a "Q" without having to wait for a "U". I don't know how common scrabble is in Yemen, but qat is just as popular there as it is at the professional Scrabble world series. It's a national pastime, the drug of choice. Here in Israel it's fully legal to grow, sell and consume, but for some reason isn't available in supermarkets. You have to know the right guy in a Yemeni community to score some.

Chewing the leaves gives a serious buzz - and something extra. Qat is perhaps the most powerful natural aphrodisiac known to man. When my marriage was ending, I bought some qat drink at the Yemeni quarter in downtown Tel-Aviv. I wanted to offer her a courtship gift, to show her that I care and that I'm intent on finding imaginative ways to refresh the bond. Qat wasn't enough to save the marriage and that's not where the problem was to begin with, but even the mere memory of getting stoned with her is one of my fondest of the period.

The drink anyway has a lighter effect than actually chewing the leaves. Equipped with a bunch the size of a major head of lettuce, Alon and I now went on to visit a Yemeni Jeweler named Ezra. He made us Yemeni "white coffee" (don't ask me, somehow it's white and it's coffee), showed us some of the most astounding works of craftsmanship I've seen, and asked to check our stash. He said it was B-grade but would do, and that we should fill up our stomachs before we consume it. He also taught us how to choose the right leaves to chew. "I don't take it myself", said ezra "If I do I go crazy, I don't sleep at night. I go crazy! A spliff in the evening, that's all I need. I don't need this kind of stuff."

The comparison made qat sound like some serius narcotic. We were getting nervous, but the concept of the book is that we experience each city in Israel through the five senses, and Rosh Ha'ayin without qat is like Dublin without Guinness. Interestingly, qat is legal in the U.K. but illegal in the Republic of Ireland. This random fact may only be of interest to my friend Liat Sayaf, who is part Yemeni, part Irish, but bear it in mind if you ever think of carrying any of this stuff south of the Six Counties.

We thought of carrying our own to the Antipatris fortress, an imposing ruin situated just west of town. First we stopped at Kafar Qasem, a large Palestinian-Israeli town, to stock up on baklawas lest we hurt our stomachs. Kafar Qasem is the site of a major pogrom commited by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian-Israelis in 1956.

At the time curfews were commonly imposed also on Arab communities inside Israel (and not only in the occupied territories). An officer in Kafar Qasem ordered that all those breaking curfew are shot dead, without effectively notifying the population of the curfew. The monument at the heart of the town lists the 48 victims, among them girls and boys as young as 8 years old. The officer who initially gave the order was fined 10 Israeli cents. Other officers involved were somehow slipped away from imprisonment and given high ranking government positions. The people at a Kafar Qasem cafe were hospitable to us regardless. We stocked on sweets, took a photos of the mosque and the monument and headed on.

Unfortunately, it turns out the national park authority locks Antipatris fortress before sunset. Our alternative junkies' niche was a bit bizarre: the cemetery at Kibbutz Einat.

It's not just any cemetery. Einat is a rare place in Israel where secular funerals are conducted. This means that Jews lie there next to Non-Jews, and that many free minded people such as artists choose to be buried there. Each plot is a small garden where the bereaved plant trees and place objects related to their loved ones. The entire cemetery is a flowering garden of love and longing.

I never felt so sad in a cemetery before. The one in Bnei Brak I visited recently was starkly impersonal, while this was so obviously the resting place of individuals. You could tell those who died Young by the toys placed in the flower beds, the ripe old agers by the engraved quotes by forgotten poets and the occasional garden gnome. This is what loss is really about: a cherishing of what was once alive. Walking there, my own life and the lives of those dear to me gradually gained more and more value in my eyes.

To celebrate being alive, we spread the fresh greens on a bench and began chewing. Soon enough it hit us, the "sutul", the sense that everything is well with the world, and if it isn't, who cares. The sun was setting over massive Highway 6 - Israel's noisy toll turnpike, shining its last rays on the West Bank only two miles away to the east. None of this could disturb the deep rest of the dead nor of the living. We were one with them, for a short while. We were also one with the struggling families of Rosh Ha'ayin, with the still scarred elders of Kafar Qasem and with ourselves. Finally we said a last cheer for Yemen and its people, and headed back to the glowing lights of the big sober city.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

There's Only One Real Solution to Our Problems as a Society, and Our Government Spits in the Faces of Those Doing the Work

Tonight at 20:00, on Rabin Square, there will be a rally in support of the striking teachers.

If we're too busy to go tonight, we'll need to free many an evening in the future, to demonstrate about all the trouble into which this country will get itself for lack of education.

Expect good music by Muki and Church of the Brain.

----------------------------

Post scriptum: We did quite well. Here are the results.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Home and Non-Home

"Where, rhyming amongst shadows of fantastic things
Like a lyre I plucked the laces, the strings
Of my wounded shoes, my foot near my heart."

-Rimbaud, "Ma Boheme".

My shoes are wounded too - from walking all day around the town of Umm Al-Fahm, another great place not served by Israeli public transportation because its 60,000 residents speak Arabic.

Never mind. I'm at home now, at the back of the Little Prince cafe, having a pint with Lior Kodner, my sweet and down to earth friend who is an editor with Haaretz. Into the yard walks Dana Guidetti, a high tech professional and the muse of much poetry written in Tel-Aviv these days. "You're so right on / Dana Guidetti," wrote Chicky Arad, "You are the breeze at the upper floors of the El Al Building /... You are the scarlet of a terminated revolution's blood". Her grey training suit doesn't quite evoke that metaphor, but Dana lives across the street and doesn't mind looking homey around her friends.

The circle of these friends widens. Vizan is here with Osnat Skoblinsky the poet. Nathan Zach dropped by recently and Vizan bought him a glass of Scotch. Shlomo Kraus, the publisher, will soon arrive, inspiring us all to be both more serious and more fun as literati. We may move on to his house, right down the alley, with the lion's statue in front. We may fish through his fridge for food, we may hum an old Israeli tune as we do so:

המדבר כיסה אותך
באבק לבן ורך
עץ ירוק בארץ חרבה
איך נשכח את בית הערבה?

The desert shrouded you
In soft, white dust,
A green tree in an arid land,
How will we ever forget our Arava home?

My life is at the junction of such different wonders. Umm Al-Fahm's streets are steeper than San Fransisco's and more labyrinthine then Venice's. They smell strongly of roasting coffee and car fumes. I can barely read the signs over the shops there and I don't understand the aesthetic of the monument for the dead of October 2000. At the municipal art gallery I was shown a punishing piece of video-art concerning roadblocks, then taken to the roof by Hadil, the owner's daughter, to look at the mess of structures climbing up the hills. Beyond them is the countryside, barbed wire fences and olive groves, roasting lamb and byzantine mosaics.

Then there's the city, every night. The chai, the beer, the rock band playing the late show at Levontin, Shlomo throwing two eggs in a pan for hungry Vizan, Lior letting me look over yesterday's foreign news pages, to locate an error, Dana talking about her love for Mario Vargas llosa.

And there's the final walk to Jaffa and to bed along the waterfront, and thinking of Rimbaud. To live a balanced life you need a home - a place from which to escape and to which to return. You also need somewhere to escape to and return from. I have both at this point. I make the escape each day and return each night. Rimbaud had only the latter. Once he escaped he never returned. maybe this made him into the great poet I'll never be, but I pass on the honor. My foot is nicely close to my heart as it is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Charles Clore Park Embankment Haiku #2

Migrating sparrows,
a sliver moon and a kite
look down at the sun.

(and check out last season's variant).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nocturnal Jerusalem 101

As dusk was falling over Jerusalem, I clicked my phone for one last shot of its savanna wildlife.

My workday brought me to some pretty interesting places, including an abbey near Beit Shemesh where the nuns wear white Obi Wan Kenobi hoods, keep silent for years and fall to the church's floor in ecstasy during prayer. It ended at Jerusalem's "Biblical Zoo" where animals are only kept if they are mentioned in scripture (they're pretty sure the panda is in there somewhere).

Seeing that such was the case, I decided to head downtown and visit my friend Gilli Stern. From Gilli's window no Jerusalem Giraffes are visible, but you can see the Kingdom of Jordan: mountains the color of dolce de leche rising beyond the Old City's ramparts. Smoking on the balcony, Gilli reminisced about sneaking onto those ramparts one night in July. The idea was yours truly's and we were joined by Theo, Erika, Magen and Morane.

"Ever since we did that, I've come to thinking about how little I know of the Old City," he said. "I actually started asking people to walk me down their 'Jerusalem trails'."

This was a request. Most native Jewish Jerusalemites, myself included, have a strange relationship with the urban miracle beyond the walls. Ever since the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, we mostly avoid it fearing "danger" or simply skip it, thinking it irrelevant to our lives (it's not, especially on the human rights level, since our tax money funds a lot of discrimination in East Jerusalem, and our votes sanction it).

The change occurs when a teacher arrives to open our eyes and ears and lips and nostrils and fingers to all that's there. In my case this teacher was my cousin Karen, born in Paris and thus free of Zion's little paranoias. Twelve years ago she simply assumed I knew of some Ethiopian monks living on the roof on the holy sepulchre church, among sacred trees that they are not allowed to touch. Never have I heard of such stuff, and you can't beat that kind of tease to the curiosity, I headed in.

Gilli was now putting together an entire faculty of such teachers, and I was recruited to give tonight's lesson. I picked Damascus Gate as our port of entry, Ja'far's knafe bakery as station #1 and Cafe Central, down Al-Wad St. as a place in which to wash down with tea and coffee the excess sugar consumed at station #1.

Big mistake, there was a lot of sugar in that coffee. There was sugar in the atmosphere too: in the calm of the card games and the hospitality of the owner. We head into Palestinian hangouts anticipating spice - a brawl, perhaps, involving us getting murdered, of course. We end up sitting leisurely trying to get a ring of Nergila smoke to form a halo around some guy's head, for the photo's sake.

Our love of halos, as well as a few German friends Gilli made at the pub, led us to station #3: The Austrian Hospice. This hospice isn't a place to die in, but a hotel for pilgrims, owned by the Catholic church (and hence decorated with many a halo). It's a chunk of Europe located in the middle of the Muslim Quarter, and when I say Europe, I mean that I once waltzed all night there to a string band, at a New Years' ball.

No ball tonight, but the friends were there, showing us their artwork on the computer, drinking Taibe beer and shooting the scheisse.

Leaving the hospice late, we found ourselves on very quiet streets. The Old City empties at night. We took the hint, skipped on the monuments, mausoleums, secret cycterns, wailing walls (yes, there's more than one), holy trees etc., headed for Jewish West Jerusalem and started looking for sufganiot, the jelly filled donuts that are a staple Jewish winter food. All bakeries have run out of them already, except one at the Machne Yehuda market. We ended up sitting on an empty stall of the market, mixing the knafe in our stomachs with some Yiddishkeit, for good measure.

Ach, Yiddishkeit. Where else does it mix so naturally with zebras, Johann Strauss, rose water and ecstatic vipasanuns? You tell us.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bonnie

At the risk of turning this blog into a jukebox, I'm following up the last post with more offerings of the finest art form.

A musical week marked by the Top Hat Carriers oddly leaves me a Bonnie Raitt fan. Early this week, I noticed people were gossiping about me (sweetly! they were wishing me well in a whisper). This brought back Raitt's Something to Talk About, and a memory: When I stayed in Denmark with my friend Inge, rumor spread around her provincial hamlet that the two of us were lovers, even though she was nearly two decades my senior. Inge kept making fun of small town attitudes and singing this song. Somehow I reckon she wasn't all that opposed to the idea.

Looking for the tune online, I found this beautiful clip of Raitt in her 30s, doing John Prine's painful and lyrical Angel From Montgomery. They broke the mold into a million pieces after they made Bonnie Raitt. Idiots.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Land is Defunct!! The Land is Defunct!!

Some things will cause you to pop out of your seat and make a fool of yourself. One such thing is the music of the Top Hat Carriers, a Jerusalem based band that produced punk-tinged tunes with Dadaist lyrics in the late eighties.

I was invited yesterday to take a minor part in a project featuring Top Hat Carriers' frontman Ohad Pishof. Later last night, at the house of my friends Shlomo and Ricky, I told them of this. Shlomo then got up to the computer and magically made it play a rare track from the Carriers' debut tape, which was distributed in 500 copies around Jerusalem sometime in the previous century.

In my garden, the world is perfect.
People are mean, it's a boring city,
A boring city, you can pinch the sun
Vanish in fire.

Motherfuckers!
The land is defunct!!
The land is defunct!!

Two pints of beer and a glass of whiskey turned into a dance in the midst of the living room, shaking the floors of Tel-Aviv's most ornate and precious historical building. I may have lost my reputation for seamless dignity in the eyes of my friends, but you know how the saying goes: Dance like no one's watching, and love like you'll never be hurt, especially if you love Jerusalem punk-music.

If you do, or are inclined to, check out the Carriers here, in a relatively mild mood and here, ending a concert with the legendary listing of their names in the feminine Hebrew form. Interestingly, the popular Ynet internet portal happens to mention today this homemade and rather revolting clip, in a feature on classic Israeli clips of the eighties.

If besides Jerusalem punk-music you like Tel-Aviv underground poetry, tonight at 9:00 or so the latest Ketem evening will take place at "Makom", 12 Vital St. in Florentine. It'll feature legends Efrat Mishory, Maya Bejerano and Professor Gavriel Moked, live jazz and a few lines in Finnish to be recited by yours truly.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rabin, Sacco and Vanzetti


Lin sent me all the way from Utah an invitation for a march on behalf of African refugees. It took place in Tel-Aviv this morning and was a massive success. Thousands of people, about half of them refugees, came together to protest the threat of deportation. I've posted on the subject before, the bitter pill is here.

There are more political gatherings in store this weekend. Tomorrow night will be the annual rally in Rabin Sq. in memory of our assassinated Prime-Minister. I recommend this recent post from Homefris's blog for those who wish to get a clear view on where this story stands today, with the murderer potentially only eight years away from release.

Sunday will bring a different sort of protest. First the high-school teachers went on strike, for being payed pathetic wages. They were joined by the faculty members of the state universities. Now the waitresses working at the "Coffee To Go" franchise right outside Tel-Aviv University campus have also formed a picket line. In an act that's meant to draw attention to all labor struggles, Tel-Aviv artists have arranged an evening on their behalf.

I was invited to participate in this evening. my plan is to bring my guitar and sing Woody Guthrie's ballad of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The two were union leaders who were framed for murder and executed in 1927 Boston.

Sacco and Vanzetti were no prime-ministers, but they were murdered for political reasons just as Rabin was. The Sudanese, Erithrean and Ivorians who marched with me today risk being the next on the list of victims. Here are the final verses of this rather rhythmic, refreshing folksong (Originally I published the entire lyrics, but they are readily available online), in a wish for more life and more justice.

Vanzetti docked in 98;
Slept along the dirty street,
Told the workers "Organize,"
And on the 'lectric chair he dies.

All of us people ought to be
like Sacco and Vanzetti,
And everyday find ways to fight
On the union side for the workers' rights.

Well, I ain't got time to tell this tale,
The dicks and bulls are on my trail.
But I won't forget these men who died
To show us people how to live.

All you people in Suassos Lane,
Sing this song and sing it plain.
Everybody here tonight,
Sing this song, We'll get it right.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

חידלון

In a pleasent room filled with family and overlooking orange groves, lies a woman who wants to die. She's been lonely for too long, ill for too long, alive for too long. Yesterday a psychiatrist came to see her in her hospital bed. "I want to die," my grandmother told him, out of her constant slight daze and from across a complex web of plastic tubes that are stuck in various parts of her body.

"How will you die?" he asked.

"I'll jump out the window. No wait, if I jump from here I'll just wound myself. I'll climb up to the roof and jump from there."

The psychiatrist hurried and instructed the nurses to move her bed away from the window, which my family found hilarious. My grandmother suffers from fractures in several major bones and cancer in almost every internal organ. She can't get out of bed, never mind "jump" in any sense of the word. It doesn't take intimate knowledge of her wry sense of humor to figure out that what she really needed was a stroke of her hair and the words: "I understand".

Today, however, she was not in a humorous mood. "I feel that the end is near," she told my father, out of a deeper daze than usual.

"How do you know?" he asked, "What do you feel that makes you say that?"

"A sense of khidalon," she replied.

Neither my Hebrew-English nor my Hebrew-French dictionaries even bother to translate "khidalon". It is a derivative of the root "khadal" - to cease, most neatly translatad as nothingness. In this context it conveys a powerful nihilistic void, a feeling that the force of life doesn't drive you anywhere anymore and that you ceased to have a future.

My grandmother Shulamit was born in Romania and brought up speaking Romanian and French. While a genius at crossword puzzles, she's not ever been a poet. I'm awed by how she used a single rare Hebrew word to answer such a difficult question, and how perfectly it worked. Too bad she later used similarly high vocabulary (the word "Mish'i") to express her hope that I trim my beard more neatly. I love her so much and I wish for her whatever she truly needs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

1918, 2004, 2007

It can happen twice in a decade or twice in a day for all I care. When the Red Sox win the world series - that's history.

Last time it happened was right after Israeli hip-hop suit Hadag Nahash performed in Boston's theater district. The only way I could convey to the band the magnitude of what just happened was to say: "The world has just come to an end." I invited them to go out with me and hug random strangers in what might be the most impersonal city in America.

In honor of that city, the one that taught me dedication and perseverance, that introduced me to the ninth inning stretch and to the true meaning of obsession, here's an on-point piece from "The Onion", published a couple of days before the current win.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mystery

I made a mistake, rather then rest and recover after the surgery, I decided to write an article for Time Out Tel-Aviv, and uncover a mystery.

The project was to tell the story of a lie and if possible find out the truth behind it. A mysterious female poet named Tze'ela Katz was responsible for several biting poems published in the cult magazine "Ma'ayan", for an active website and for hundreds of Internet comments and emails, many of them subversive and insulting.

New's of Katz's death were first given two weeks ago on the blog of Ma'ayan's editor, Roy "Chicky" Arad. The rumor soon spread that she was fiction - a nom de plume of a man, perhaps several men. could this be so?

Trying to dig into the story involved getting in touch with a lot of interesting figures in the Tel-Avivian literary and artistic underground. It also cost me my health. Someone started stalking me under a false name, threatening me via email, mocking my temporary inability to speak, discrediting me before my editors and sending cryptic phone messages.

When the article got published, with a fair bit of praise to the artistic endeavor and only a hint to the mystery's solution, he called to apologize.

I figure that this man, a talented and sharp high tech professional, is responsible for at least the majority of Tze'ela Katz's texts. He was afraid of being uncovered, worried that all journalists are there to trash people, and spun into what appeared to me as some sort of a paranoid episode.

I respect his needs and won't publish his name here. I will say, however, that whimsical musician A.B. Dan, who was named as Katz on her website one day after publication, wasn't the primary figure in the project.

The full story features a nocturnal journey into a basement in Tel-Aviv's dead suburb of Nes Tziona, where a memorial service to Katz was held. It includes several emotional late night exchanges and a climax involving Time Out's editor in chief and publisher. Rather than go into all that, I'd like to present you with a translation of a Tze'ela Katz poem. It is the art, after all, that matters.

(Notes for the foreign reader: "Superpharm" is an Israeli chain of drug stores, where perfumes and make-up products are available along with pharmaceutical goods. "Burger-Ranch" is a chain of fast food restaurants. the word "overdraft" is used in Hebrew as is, to imply a checking account minus.)


Superpharm / Tze'ela Katz

1.
Don't drip sun on me
Take me to the Superpharm

2.
The word Superpharm has a young sound,
Like Burger-Ranch or Overdraft

3.
I'd like for you to shave your chest hairs
Before we go into the Superpharm
I'm mad at all the women of the world
How is it possible to enter the Superpharm in peace?

4.
You remind me of the days
When I can hardly fall asleep
Afterwards my sense of smell sharpens
And entering the superpharm becomes a nightmare

5.
All girls go to the souk and to the Superpharm
The superpharm's design says beautification
The souk's design says discrimination

Actually
The souk's design says: "There's fish sold here
Here you won't pay for sex"

6.
The orange vendor at the souk says:
"Half to eat and half for juice."
He knows how to talk to a woman.

Picturing myself at the Superpharm
buying orange-chocolate
flavoured condoms.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Talkboard

Still a few days before I am allowed to break the silence, in the meantime I received a thousand words to share - my father finally managed to send a photo of me at the hospital taken by his cellphone.

So he's dealing with high tech communication technology, while I present my simple "talkboard". Somehow, both of us manage to get through in the end.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A söchtener Reuter möcht i wern, wie mein Voater gwen is

One morning in the year 1828, as the sun came over the town square of Nurnberg, a teenaged boy was seen standing motionless in its midst, holding out a letter.

In the letter was a request that the good people of Nurnberg take care of the chap, Since he's been held in complete isolation since infancy and has not even the ability to speak. His name was Kaspar Hauser, as is known to all who've watched the beautiful Werner Herzog film: "Every Man for Himself, and God Against All", which is based on this true story.

Hauser was the victim of atrocious and bizzare abuse. The hand that wrote the letter was possibly also the hand that held him prisoner, and the one that murdered him, a few years later, with an ax. It isn't true, however, that he could not speak at all. He could say this one sentence, in a heavy South German dialect: "I want to be a gallant rider like my father was before."

No one is quite sure to this day what this sentence means. To me, tonight, it means a lot. See, I can't even say that. I am completely mute following my surgery, running a one man vipasana workshop in the midst of a very talkative town. I walk around with a little notebook trying to convey my needs. I confuse my friends, not all of whom know how to handle my situation. Strangers are convinced I'm hearing impaired, and the many pretty women of Tel-Aviv are generally unapporachable to me until I heal, in a week or so.

In such a situation, one just wants to yell something out, to make a statement in bold red type. This is why I put Kaspar Hauser's inimitable phrase as a title over this text. Let this be my message to the world, I want to be one too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

4'33"

Tomorrow morning I am to be operated on my vocal cords. Consequently I will lose the ability to speak for a week.

In honor of this experience I am presenting you with a clip of 4'33" by John Cage, a piece of music compesed entirely of silence.

While the work was initially composed for the piano, this is its full orchestral rendition.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Season's Greetings


This Eid Al-Fitr is a time of good tidings, beginning with a surprise email from Gloeta Massie, one of the world's great travelers. My poetry is being reviewed for a cool anthology of new Hebrew verse. Lin is finally getting money she was owed from Israel, while her stepfather Jay is retiring and heading for the life at sea he's always dreamt of. Al Gore and Doris Lessing got the Nobel. Only bad news is that Ramadan lights will now be taken down and the neighborhood will be a little less colorful.

Oh, big deal, it's pretty colorful anyway.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Show Me Pain, Johnny

Girl meets boy. Boy reaches only up to girl's shoulders. Girl fancies boy nonetheless. She invites him into her room and says: "Come on, my wolf!"

"Show me pain, Johnny Johnny Johnny,
Send me to the sky, Zouuum!
Show me pain, Johnny Johnny Johnny,
I like loving that goes 'boom'."

The little ballad that opens thus was written in 1956 by French novelist, jazzcat and general rascal Boris Vian, and sung by prolific actress and chanteuse Magali Noël. It goes from the erotic to the goofy to the just plain disastrous. poor johnny sits on the bed, stripped down to his colorful, striped socks. He doesn't know what to make of the advances. "I've never hurt a fly," he explains.

"I'm not a fly," the temptress laughs, already a bit annoyed, "Bzzzz."

She then tries to get him to join in her game by slapping and verbally abusing him. Johnny gets offended. He kicks her with his colorful-striped-sock-clad foot (not precisely what she meant by "pain"), then runs away. "Good grief, I'm getting sick of this," sighs the bruised belle at the end.

"Fais moi mal, Johnny" was a favourite song of my long lost Turkish friend Emine. I remember her using my hat for cabaret pizazz as she sang it while we walked on the street late one night. We were in Rome, it was her birthday, and the alleyways around Campo Di Fiori were her stage. a memorable moment? perhaps, I still managed to forget the song, until Theo brought it up before leaving town. We searched for it on Youtube and discovered a small loot.

It turns out that two groups of young people made amateur "Johnny" clips. They have a lot in common. Both groups applied a simple narrative approach, both shot in black and white. In both cases the participants seemed to have a great time. S&M misunderstandings make for a fun shoot.

There are differences though. this clip emphasizes the comical and treats details mentioned in the lyrics with great care. This other one emphasizes the erotic. The ambiance ends up being quite different in each.

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I took a pause before adding the political perspective to this post. when sex is the issue, politics should be left seperate so as not to spoil the fun.

Vian's work was seen as very "American" in France while it was made. In reality, 1956 McCarthyist America could never tolerate "Johnny" (see under Lenny Bruce). Even in 2007 there's little chance such a song could get radio play there. Another famous song of his, "The Deserter" is so daring an anti-war ballad not even Bob Dylan would dare write anything similar.

Vian's was a peddler of an American fantasy. His successor in this is Serge Gainsbourg. Both loved American Pop Culture yet knew full well that they owe their success to the gutsyness of French culture. There may be a hint of this in "Johnny". There, the consevative male protagonist, with his English name, confuses and frustrates his sexy French partener.

Vian's last words were uttered in a cinema where the filmed version of his book "I Spit on Your Graves" was shown. He didn't like how the filmmakers treated the work, an unyildingly tawdry novel of the American South. "These guys think they're American? My Ass!" he yelled, then suffered a fatal heart attack.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Make it Canada!

Iranian president Mahmud Ahmedinijad suggested yesterday that Israel be relocated to Canada or Alaska, where it would benefit from the vast expanses and absence of sensative Jerusalem. Every Israeli to whom I spoke of this said it sounds like a wonderful idea. "I'm ready to pack" said my friend Ravid, and honestly, I'm a little sick of Jerusalem too. It really is too goddamned sensative. Ahmedinijad can have it, along with all the fanatical loonies who cling to it with hopes of witnessing a violent catharsis.

In all seriousness, though, Here are the facts. I was born in Jerusalem, a city which Ahmidinijad had never visited. I respect all three religions that admire this city, which I think justifies me as a good Jerusalemite. I am an Israeli born to parents who were both born in Israel. I have no other country to call home and no one is offering me any other passport.

Moreover, I don't want to immigrate. I just want a home. It took me a very long time to come to terms with this insane country. I made great efforts to replace it and failed. The same thing would happen to Ahmidinijad were he to move anywhere. It takes one comment on Homosexuality he made in New York to prove that.

OK, I admit we Jews are relatively used to being exiled. We are the latest to hit the neighborhood and haven't behaved so well, so maybe it is us who must take the burden. I just have one thing to ask of Ahmidinijad: make it Canada. No offense to Alaska, but I really have a thing for Canada. I miss Erika Richmond who lives there, and Megan too, and Greg Nickel of course, though he lives in Seattle. I love the accent of the Newfies and the rocks near Port aux Basques, The belugas in the Segaunay, the northern lights over Sheshatshiu in Labrador, magnifiscent Lake Louise, Sesquechuan silos, Vancouver's glass towers and BC wine, I like Glenn Gould and Leonard Cohen, Moxy Fruvous and Barenaked Ladies, Neil young and Joni Mitchell. I like David Rakoff's short stories, "Jesus of Montreal" is one of my top movies, and Maya Pasternak, who rears from Toronto, is my conceptual artist of choice. I love Maudite beer, Trois Pistoles and Fin du Monde, grade B maple syrup and Caribou game. I've been a habs fan ever since reading "the Hockey sweater", by Roch Carrier. you've got to love a nation that puts its favourite sport, as well as such a sweet text, on its money. You've got to love a country that has a falling leaf on its flag.

What if we removed the star of David from our flag and put an olive leaf instead? Would I then not have to leave? I'd do it, Mahmoud, and happily, too. Unlike you, I don't believe my country should be a theocracy. You do, you're opressing millions of Iranians. why shouldn't it be you who starts packing? Maybe it's the Iranian regime that should be sent to Canada for some serious schooling, along with members of the Israeli cabinet (Lieberman et al.) and Hammas officials.

It may have been a bad idea to place israel where it is. It may have been a bad idea to form it in the first place, but these "may have beens" have expired over a half a century ago. At the moment, I'm here, and despite all my love for Canada, I'm not Canadian. Israel needn't be moved. It needs to be changed, as does Iran. Let's send all the horrible Middle Eastern politicians and their extremist chummies off to freeze in forests of black spruce. The rest of us would stay here to make the region at least as good as the country described above.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hugging Hebron

When he's not praying with me in Bnei Brak (see this post from a week ago), Michael is a full time peace and human rights activist. Much of his job is done around Hebron, where 600 hateful zealots are holding tens of thousands of Palestinians hostage with the aid of a well armed military presence, thus encouraging zealotry and hatred on the other end. Michael is fighting to allow Palestinians the right to walk on the streets on which they live (many of them are only allowed to leave their houses via the rooftops), to prevent settlers from taking over their stores and houses, and to keep people aware of the violence and abuse that take place in that city daily.

He called me today to apologize for not returning my phone call from yesterday. "I took a day off with Yaelle and we went to the old city of Jerusalem," he explained, then told a bit of their fine adventures.

"I was actually in your turf." I told him. "I went to Hebron to give free hugs."

A short pause of bafflement ensued.

"Yeah, you see, I met this German girl at a party in Jaffa, I talked about volunteering with you in Hebron, she talked about the free hugs phenomenon, you know what it is."

"Yeah, sure I do. Keep going."

"So we decided to combine the two and give the free hugs where they are most needed. A friend of hers came along to document it. we created posters in Hebrew, English and Arabic and hit town. Now, of course if you walk with a sign in Arabic down Shuhada street, that's considered a leftist provocation. so the police gave us plenty of trouble, but that was only after we got to do quite a bit of hugging. We hugged settlers, soldiers, Palestinians, everybody."

"I can't believe you went. There are lots of people there now for the holiday."

"All the more free hugs."

Michael was overjoyed, which meant a lot to me. Hebron needs serious activism and I wasn't sure hugging there fell into that category. it was more of an experiment and an act of goodwill. If somebody who cares so much for the Hebronites likes our idea, it was probably appropriate. "Can I tell the guys about this?" he asked, meaning members of his organization "Children of Abraham"

"Of course, and tell them that I learned a lot. I was surprised that the settlers were not hostile towards us, but that the police was. It demonstrated to me once again that the problem is not necessarily the settlers, that they are just a symptom. The problem is official Israeli policy. I mean, the cops were civil with us, since we are not Arab, and I understand they're extra nervous around the holiday, but it was sad all the same. They kept asking us if we are related to any peace organization, saying 'peace' like someone might say 'terrorism'. I said that we weren't but that I guess hugging was a sharing of peace, whereupon they let us know that if we hug once more they will arrest us."

A note on the images: The first shows a rare instance of man-woman hug. In general all societies living in Hebron are quite traditional, Pamela could only hug women and I could only hug men. The Israeli soldiers come from a bit of a different universe.

The second image was taken on a street where only Jews and non-Arab visitors are allowed to walk. This is the very heart of Hebron's bubble of hatred. I was pleased and surprised to see the settler lady hugging Pamela while she was holding the sign in Arabic.

In the third image we are being interrogated by plainclothesmen. At the same time, one of the policemen says a benediction on the "four species", a collection of plants that is revered during this holiday. The source and meaning of this custom is lost. It's interesting that someone who engages in it would consider our behaviour strange.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Looting

My friend Vizan called me today and offered that we go to the fields east of the city, near Bnei Atarot. "It's a twenty minutes drive, and they've got everything there: pumpkins, cabbage, cotton. You can pick everything for free because of the 'Shmita'. Come on, man, Adam is coming too."

A shmita, in Jewish law, is a year on which crops are being neglected so that the land gets to "rest". This is a nice, romantic concept, but it has little to do with the actual needs of the land. Vizan's invitation was likewise romantic, but had little to do with reality. The three of us were stopped by the Arab guard while picking eggplants. He explained that this indeed was a shmita year, but the land owner was selling his vegetables to Muslim markets, so the fields were actully hard at work and we were technically stealing.

Rather than get us into trouble, the guard invited us to his corner of the fields, to smoke a nargila and drink coffee. His name was Abu-Mustafa, and he had a large armchair and a burning campfire at the edge of a citrus grove. We got to know a bit about him, especially that he is a romantic. He warded off all cynical talk about politics, social reality in Israel or matters of the heart, wouldn't hear of it.

"I saw your friend here before," Abu-Mustafa told us of Vizan, "he was with a girl and I saw from afar that he was lifting a pumpkin. I came over to stop him, then I realized that he was just holding the pumpkin so she would take his photo. It is so beautiful to be young like that. You -" he turned to the prime vegetable thief, "you take care of that girl, don't let her slip away."

"She's just a friend," said Vizan, "plus she's flying back to Australia tomorrow."

"You take care of her," said Abu Mustafa, "Don't let her slip away."

Upon arriving back in Jaffa, we saw someone we knew rummaging through a large pile of garbage. It was Tel-Avivian editor, artist, book store owner and general bohemian Avia Ben-David. She found a big pile of old encyclopedia volumes that someone has thrown out and was picking it up for her kids.

"What's more romantic than a beautiful woman looking for books in the trash?" Asked Vizan. He offered her a lift and said he had a few books in the back to add to her loot. On reaching Avia's house, we all went back to open the trunk. This is when the romantic within me finally popped his head out. I just fell in love with that trunk. It contained piles and piles of books, about seven huge, black, stolen eggplants and a basketball.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Baklawa Biafra

Another improbable Israeli night. Coming back from a concert of hardcore bands The Girls and Midnight Peacocks (preceded by an excellent show by more contemplative rocker Assaf Ehrlich), I find my neighbors out on the lawn preparing for Sahur, the last, pre-dawn meal of a Ramadan night.

Ten minutes ago I was in a dark cellar, surrounded by headbangers in black t-shirts and rocker girls in crazy dresses. Now I'm in the open air dipping pita in yogurt among black hijabs and clouds of Nargila smoke. Where did I feel more at home? I really can't say.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Would the Buddha Do?

Things in Myanmar are getting rougher. The police is currently shooting over the heads of the protesters. In 1988 they shot into the crowds and killed "thousands", you can always tell a murderous totalitarian state when "thousands" is the only figure available.

I'm going crazy in this room without any way to help the courageous Burmese people, and especially the Buddhist monks who are leading the protests. I'm a citizen of a nation that takes part in training the Myanmar army, the army that is killing them and enslaving them. I pay taxes that are used to fortify the junta in Myanmar, then again, so do the Burmese.

So many of us are exploited by violent factors without being aware of it and without doing much about it. Buddha is said to have taught: "Let us live in joy, in peace among people who wage war, among people who wage war, let us live in peace." (Dhamapadda, Chapter 15). This sounds like peacenik religion at its most passive, but in fact it is impossible to live in peace without being active, otherwise you end up becoming a tool of war.

The monks of Myanmar recognize this. This is why they are out on the streets, fighting tear gas. This is why they are in dungeons, experiencing torture. They know that sometimes Buddhism is exactly about breaking out of the lotus position and fighting for human rights and justice. I'll keep that in mind the next time I hear a call to action by my window.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Broken Heart is Whole, A Slanted Ladder is Straight

Rabbi Menachem Mendl Morgenstern of Kotsk was born in the 1700s in Poland. He discovered Hasidism as a child, studied with great masters, formed his own court not far from Warsaw, and spent ten years teaching his controversial and extraordinary brand of existentialist Judaism.

He than fell into a state of incredibly severe depression and would not leave his room for 20 years. His granddaughter would bring him food and all other communication with him was done through a small hole in the door. He would be washed once yearly, before passover.

The Kotsker rebbe left no written records. A disciple of his burned all his writings at his demand. some of his sayings did survive, however. most notably: "A broken heart is whole, a slanted ladder is straight". He also said: "This world isn't worth even one small sigh."

I'm thinking of this man today after visiting the ultraorthodox city of Bnei Brak with my orthodox friend Michael. Bnei Brak is a somber city and a visit to its cemetery, to visit Michael's grandparents graves, was more somber still. There was no shade there, no mercy.

The cemetery is located among high walls of gray construction blocks. overlooking it is a school for girls that is equipped with only the narrowest windows. Posters commanding modest behaviour and dress are stuck everywhere, next to grafittied racist comments ("Kahane was right" etc.)

In order to be climbed, a ladder must be placed diagonally against a wall. If placed staight - it is useless. In order to develop, a heart must experience pain. This point of view sheds a softer light on a sunstruck afternoon in an austere environment. A difficult day is a good day. A glance at death is a glance at life.

The Kotsker Rebbe said: "Death is like moving from one room into another and then choosing to stay in the nicer room." Such words make sense today. That cemetery in Bnei Brak is best experienced from within one of the graves. It is there that our slanted ladders do lead.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Boston

I'm not sure what people are supposed to do on the Day of Atonement according to Halachaic law, Probably pray. I did my praying last night with my Bulgarian neighbor Lutzi. We went to a synagogue of Turkish Jews, a rare one in this predominantly Muslim neighborhood (I've begun dating an extraordinary woman who is Turkish, so this worked out as an educational field trip). Praying there was a very different experience from what I've known in Ashkenazi synagogues. for one: rather than touching the Torah scrolls lightly and kissing the fingers that touched them, people actually went ahead and kissed the Torah itself. I did so too, I frenched the Torah.

Now, however, I'm sitting here trying to clear space on my computer, and running into an old file with photos from Boston, where I had lived with Lin. I was beginning to forget Boston when we separated, I was letting Boston go with Lin. now I see I'll never forget it. Just as time is running out to sum up the year and see what lessons it taught, I'm learning something new, something about memory and renewal and the imperfection and power of both. I'm not sure what people are supposed to do on Yom Kippur. Thinking about Boston seems right.