Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Want to Drink Water

My sister Tamar is starring in a production of Lorca's "Yerma". On the surface, this is a play about an infertile woman's decline into insanity. Beneath the surface it portrays the moment in which our pain becomes who we are. Beyond that point we will accept neither condolences nor solutions. We must continue to suffer or we forsake our identity. The implications of this in the Israeli political sphere are boundless.

One replica from the play remains strongly in my mind since last night's performance. Yerma speaks to her husband Juan, trying to convey her plight to him. "I want to drink water," she says, softly and poignantly, "and I have neither glass nor water, I want to climb a mountain and I have no feet."

This line is the apex of the play, the moment of transition from the freedom granted by hope to the prison of ultimate self pity. On one hand is the metaphoric lack of water, but water and a glass can be found somehow. If you have no feet, well, that's a bit different. You're not going to climb that mountain. I want what I lack to always be water, even if I lose my feet. As long as we hope, we're fine.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rain and War

It's raining hard right now, very hard. In this country the weather is the one thing we all experience in common. The most extreme zealot settler gets pissed on just as much as his Jihad-supporting neighbor does. Of course, the Palestinian is usually poorer and may not have money for gas heating this winter. He may live in a shanty at a refugee camp that would be prone to flooding much more so than the settler's cottage, but he may also live in an old stone house, built in a traditional way that provides far better insulation than that of the cottage.

It's interesting to see how rain figures in the culture of a land where such is the case. Yehuda Amichai has a short poem entitled "Rain over the Battlefield":

Rain falls over my comrades,
Over my living comrades,
Who cover their heads with a blanket -
And over my dead comrades
Who no longer cover.

So death is when we no longer cover. Life is when we cover. Remember this the next time you take shelter from a sudden shower on a Tel-Aviv street. you're alive! Remember it when you emerge from the store entrence or the bus stop and find that there's no longer any way to cross the streets around you. They have all become roaring Yangtze gorges. The block is your Pitcairn and you might as well walk back in and buy something, like a book of poetry by Jacques Prevert.

...A man took cover in a doorway
And he called your name: Barbara!
And you walked towards him through the rain,
Charmed, glowing, dripping,
And you threw yourself in his arms.

Then later on:

O, Barabra! what a fucked up thing war is!
What has become of you,
Under this storm of fire, of steel and of blood?
And he, who held you in his arms, lovingly,
Is he dead, missing? perhaps still alive...

Why do rain and war mix so well in poetry? partially because the muddy battlefield makes for a more sordid picture. Both torrent and drizzle are useful atmospheric tools, artillery fire tends to create rain clouds and there's the nuclear rain of course (During the Sixties, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" was often read as a song about nuclear holocaust, although when Dylan was asked what it is about he replied: "it's about rain").

Then again, rain is also powerful in that it is oblivious to our reasons for killing, hurting and dehumanizing each other. The Arabic word for rain is "Mattar", which has the same exact meaning in Hebrew. The settler should be able to offer the Jihad member an umbrella. He won't and nor would such a gest be well-recieved. Nature is laughing at us by crying over us. O Barbara, we're too dumb to deserve umbrellas!

The slum dogs, they are barking
At the rain children on the streets
And the tears that we will weep today
Will all be washed away
By the tears that we will weep again tomorrow.

That was Nick Cave for you. Anyway, I think I've bluesed us all enough, so lets conclude with this lovely musical bit sung in sunshine, and a wish for a dry, peaceful evening for all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Beautiful South

It was Daniella's idea to go hang out at the dives near the central bus depot, where the work immigrants drink. She even picked a Friday afternoon, the one of the latest earthquake. I ended up not being able to join her and I'm not sure she went, or you would have read about it on her fun blog

A few nights ago, however, I was sitting at the Little Prince with friends Shtulki and Flashki (this is how I call them, you'll have to cope). On the table before us was a book entitled "250 things to do in Tel-Aviv at night", published by Time Out. Oner of the suggestions was: "Hang out with work immigrants".

This sounded good to all three of us, which is no small thing. The bus depot area is not really that inviting at night. It is a derelict third world slum and the hub of prostitusion and petty crime in the city. In fact, it's not even very pleasant during the day. I'm writing these words from an internet cafe at this exact neighborhood, having paused here for a quick post on the way to an event in Holon. You can be sure I wash my hands properly after handling this sticky keyboard.

That night, however, the neighborhood recieved us just beautifully. There aren't real bars here, what they do is place plastic tables outside convenience stores that offer cheap beer (Baltika 9 = 8% alcohol content, Bavaria 8.6 = 6% alcohol content) The one we picked turned out to be populated with a mixture of Palestinians, Nigerians, old Romanians and Latin Americans.

It's the latter group that took advantage of Shtulki's guitar. Jorge, an Equadorian with a stylish wide rimmed hat and a Bolivian scarf, picked it up for what sounded like a well thought up tribute to my previous post. he played "Todo Cambia", a Nueva Cancion classic, then a Mexican medly featuring "Que Nadie Sepa mi Sufrir" and "Besame Mucho". Later I picked up the strings for "Razon de vivir":

So as to advance towards the unknown,
While the heart keeps beating in the fog,
So as to mix joy with sobriety,
to be with you and not to lose the longing,
Ahhh! Fogata De amor y Guia
Razon de vivir mi vida.

On the old, tiny television screen, Arsenal were playing Milan. My downtown lover, a football fiend, asked to be updated as to the score. When her dinner engagement was over she arrived at the dead of the twilight zone, emerging from a cab between the dark chateaux of beat concrete. I don't know many girls who would make so smoothly the transition from Sheinkin's cloth tablecloths to Neve sha'anan's beercan jungle, but here's a profound urbanite. What she didn't expect was to be quickly espoused to me by the happy bunch ("You should bring your wife here more often!")

Arsenal and Milan tied at 0. When the whistle sounded We were already away, moving towards another nighthole and knowing that we're also perpetually on the move forward towards the next intense experience of Tel-Aviv. There are far more than 250 things to do in this city at night. I'll be happy to sacrifice more mornings for a spontaneous Besame Mucho, or Waltzing Mathilda, or Biladi Biladi, whatever's in order.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sosa, Parra, Winter.

The most severe weather system of the season is drawing in from the Balkans (it snowed last night in Athens). My football training is cancelled. There's little to do but to stay home and get warm.

There are many good ways to get warm and all of them somehow involve brandy. Another good winter spice is Nueva Cancion. Here's the obvious classic: Mercedes Sosa doing Gracias a la Vida. Notice that this video got nearly half a million views. Each one of these people has some kind of a relationship with this woman and with this song, and I realize many of you, my dear readers, do too. my own story involves a ring in which the title of this song was engraved, a failed date in Paris with an Argentnian beauty who finally realized she's in love with her Tango instructor (I don't remember whether her tears litarally mixed with the sauce of the Moules Marnieres, but they might as well have), and a moment in which I held the Sosa's own hand while she was singing.

Violleta parra, who wrote this song, was a unique poet, political activist, artist and quilt maker on the Chilean side of the Andes. She committed suicide at age 50 over a heartbreak. here's some pure Parra for you all. It's a very short documentary in French that begins with lovely lament. Ay yay yay!

True, it seem unthinkable that someone responsible for the most passionate love song ever addressed to life itself would take her own life, but no great art is possible without some darkness and Gracias a la Vida has a strong dark undercurrent of longing and potential loss. It wouldn't have worked as heating otherwise.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tangled in History

It takes gallons of guts to be Kosovo. Not that they're at risk, but no one familiar with what used to be Yugoslavia can read the headline: "Belgrad declares seccesion illegal" and not shiver a bit.

Something else catches my eye besides the headline. In the photo appearing beneath it on the Haaretz website, Albanian flags are seen flown next to the Star Spangled Banner on the streets of Pristina. in the days of Communist Tirana, who'd have ever thought this combo would someday make political sense?

Ok, fine! fine! I'm willing to shake off the past. It's irrelevant. I blame fashion designers. It's those stupid comebacks that prevent me from realizing the 80s and 90s are over. Down with the huge sunglasses! long live whatever new Republic pops up next.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


If there's anything Israelis of the younger generations find hard to stomach it is "good old Israeli songs". I'm refering to a genre that was popular around the fifties and sixties and remains a fav with people of my parents' generation, who get together in suburban homes and sing these songs with great pomp.

Musically, the style shuns both occidental pop influences and local Middle Eastern vibe, prefering to draw on Russian folk music and some European chanson. Textually, many of the songs speak of Israel itself, an imagined, utopian land that, once more, is devoid of both western commercialism and Arab flavors. The songs don't sound political to the Zionist ear, but they really are, which is why I'm not a real fan.

One such song, however, is haunting me now for a few days. I went on Youtube and found four pretty miserable versions of it. I'm trying to learn how to play it on the guitar but that's hard, because it is a musical masterpiece. Each one of the song's three verses is gently different than the other two. Good old Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer is responsible for a feat of Brahmsian variations and for the following lyrics:

To sing,
Is like to be the Jordan.
You start off up in the north,
Young, brisk, gushing and gutsy,
You hear birds in the brush
And each one of them -
The bird of Paradise
to sing is like to be the Jordan.

Your days
flow like the Jordan,
And like it - so you flow south,
On the banks wild grass grows
But onwards onwards onwards -
The roar of your waters.
After all,
Your days flow like the Jordan.

You're destined
To die like the Jordan,
To gather slowly into the dead sea
At the lowest point on earth
but from the crests of snowy mountains
In great cheerful sound
Along your tracks
Your songs ebb on,
To sing is like to be the Jordan.

So sue me! I'm touched! There's something about this that plays so well into life right now: The long nights full of red wine, the days shifting between meeting with diplomats and football trainings and post offices and rainbows over the skyline, Hummus mornings and old vynil records and television shoots and a congested sink and great tenderness, the promise of travel, The rain falling over the awnings in Jerusalem's Machne Yehuda market, The feeling that I'm several ages at once, the notion that I'm destined to die like the Jordan.

True romantics are contagious. I always knew Naomi Shemer was one and I was scared of catching what she's got. Now I've got it, so I might as well flow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Overgrown Backyard Town

Historic Gdera (est. 1884) is known for the unique group of early zionists that founded it. I like it best, however, for its unkempt lawns, its sandy, ramshackle playgrounds and quiet, raggamuffin charm.

On the seesaw is Mimi Asnes of "stranger" fame, who's paying this land a surprise visit. I doubt that she's heard of Gdera before we headed there, so you're actually looking at a place coming down the road and surprising a (seasoned!) traveler.

This trip was also the last I'll be taking with Alon the photographer for our book project covering Israeli towns. Through the project he's become one of my favorite people on earth.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Four Happy Moments


At 4:00 AM Vizan calls to ask me something about his new novella. "Just a second" I say, "I need to pay."

"Where are you?"

"At the AM:PM on Sheinkin. I'm buying a bag of Doritos."

He knows about my recent romance and needs not ask me what I'm doing downtown at this time, which is a pity because I would have loved to poeticize in his ears about the evening. "Why don't you come over?" he asks instead, "Haddas is here, and Sivan."

"No thanks, I really need to sleep. I'm working tomorrow."

Still, I decide to skip the cab option and walk home through the quiet streets, my mind full of soft music by Moustaki. At the entrence to the market a buxom older woman in a ragged sweatshirt pushes in front of me a supermarket cart full of large, freshly baked, hyssop topped Palestinian bagels. "So good to see you!" she exclaims, "You will kickoff my day."

I reply that I don't want a bagel, to which she responds vehemently that I have to give her a little money to supply her with luck for the day ahead and that the bagels are all from Abu Al-Afiya and what's 12 sheqels for two bagels. I barter her down to one for six (not a barter at all, I know) and head down the silent market with its closed stalls.

A bakery is open, smelling just fine. Elsewhere, a vendor of greens is arranging his stall. The night is surprisingly warm, the sea is black and full of promise of journeys to come. I make it on foot all the way to Jaffa, blissful.


Daniella comes to Jaffa to interview George Hinnawi, Israel's most famous butcher. He tells her a bit about the lives of local gourmands, then lets her taste raw lamb and she loves it. When all is done she calls me to let me know she's in the neighborhood.

When she arrives with the best ground lamb the local currency can buy, I try and coax her to cook it, but we end up cooking an omelet with spinach and mushrooms and good Danish cheese and having artichoke and salad and red wine and black coffee (that she did buy) and tea with Thai condensed milk (great stuff).

At one point our mutual friend Jeff calls and invites us to go Boar hunting. He's producing a film on the pork industry in Israel and wants to join hunters in the Galilee to complete his research.

"What will we do with the boar?" Daniella asks.

"We'll skin it and eat it," I presume.

Daniella is obviously not vegetarian and she doesn't keep kosher, but she doesn't eat pork. She's a true environmentalist who cares for this world for a living. nonetheless, she will join the hunt. How cool is that?

I appreciate cool people and especially people who are fun to eat with (though Daniella will remain dear to me even if we had to fast on a desert island). She keeps saying how much she loves the city and especially its Fridays. that's funny because when you cook at home you don't know anything of what's going on in the city on Friday. On the other hand, it's spread out in its entirely outside the window and beyond the soft screen of rain.


My neighbor Hamada owns a nargila joint (a "hookah dive"? what would such a thing be called in English?) just off Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa. I hit it tonight past midnight for some social lonelyness, planning to sit a bit like the old Palestinians do: smoking and musing innertly and silently.

The place is full of people, most of whom know me from the neighborhood. they're all doing exaclty that. There's a big T.V. screen showing a tournement of some new mix between boxing ans wrestling. I prefer traditional boxing if only for the flexible ring. When a guy gets knocked into that kind of ring it extends into the crowd and there's always a fear\hope that he would sault over it and land on someone's face. Here the ring is solid and the fighters only land on each other's faces, but they do so very passionately.

Somehow this is the perfect thing to stare at while blowing smoke in perfect peace. Maybe because there's really nothing to comments about. Every few minutes a new fight begins and some other guy gets demolished by the other. The only bit of conversation I exchange is the following dialogue with Hamada:

Me: So who do you root for?

Hamada: Only Hapoel.

Hapoel Tel-Aviv is every Jaffoite's favorite football club. To me this means that nothing matters except what you love most simply. I, for one, love sitting quietly in warm company. remembering my Irish friend Tom, who was a boxer in Boston, and how he knocked a guy out before my eyes in the second round at a U.S. Army faciliy in Dorchester, remembering friendly nargila places in Alexandria, Aqaba, Nazareth and New York, remembering that life can be as calm as apple flavored smoke.


I have an extra ticket to a concert of Haydn's "The Creation". Alon the photographer "picks the glove" and joins me outside the concert hall.

Since my invitation cought him on his scooter, doing errends around town and dressed quite casually, he actually passed on the way at a shop and bought himself a sharp new shirt.

We get fifth row seats. This is great because all three soloists take a very mild and gentle approach to the singing and the acoustics hit us just right. Haydn is Haydn, completely graceful. The piece may be lithurgical but the Libretto (sung in the original English - Haydn used a German translation) is infused with values of the enlightment and somehow doesn't feel altogether religious.

Hell, it ends with a love duet, between Adam and Eve, of course.

"...But, without thee, what is to me
The morning dew, the breath of e'vn,
The Sav'ry fruit, the fragrant bloom?
With thee is every joy enhanced,
With thee delight is ever new."

"With thee is every joy enhanced," No kidding. How can I not think now of everybody who appears in this post: Vizan who casually calls me so late at night, Haddas and Sivan, though I didn't get to see them, even the bagel bandit, who ended up keeping me fed on my long walk, Daniella with her appreciation of Fridays, Jeff with his boar adventure, quiet Hamada and broken nosed Tom, Alon in his new garments and my downtown lover, who's waiting for me out in the night, making sure I'll have more material for this happy post than it can contain.


Don't forget my show tomorrow: Saturday the 9th at 9:00 PM, Cafe Lin, Ben-Yehuda 104, Tel-Aviv. I don't promise bliss, since I never got to test the sound system there, but that should also be kinda fun.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fête du Foot, Waffle Bash

Know the right gringo in this town (David, owner of the Dancing Camel brewery) and you'll end up spending Sunday night at a Superbowl party complete with a bluegrass band doing "Lord, I Was Born a Ramblin' Man".

Know the right commercial attaché (the terrific Gino Nale) and you'll end up the following night at the Belgian Ambassador's residence for a culinary feast, complete with fries in cones, lambic ale and waffles. This time the soundtrack was Jacques Brel and I was only equipped with my phone camera.

It boggles the mind to think of how many diverse events take place in this city each night. Of course these two were not opposites: They both somehow centered around beer. Cheers for universal values!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Show and Tell

I never before used this blog as a bulletin board, but when my music finds a new stage I naturally get excited and want to draw my blog readers as an audience, if they're near enough to attend. The upcoming show will be at cosy Cafe Lynn, 104 Ben-Yehuda St in Tel-Aviv, on this Saturday night, February 9th, at 9:00 PM. It'll the first time I'll be playing in public since the summer.

I'm feeling pretty romantic these days, and still going through a phase of infatuation with all things Italian. Here to express both is Paolo Conte's "Lemon Ice Cream". If I understand it correctly, that ice cream cone is the one in a list of things he promises a woman who enters his life "with suitcases full of doubts".

One of the other things he promises her is "the intelligence of electricians". The degree of poetry these Italian singer-songwriters achieve is inimmitable. Conte paints between the lines a dark, dour city, in which the two lovers seek beauty through each other. He does so ingeniously. I'd rather take that to the stage on Saturday as an inspiration than intimidation. See you then.