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


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


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,


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).