Friday, May 23, 2008

The Ramle Paradox

The first thing you notice about Ramle (or "Ramla") is that it looks beat up, at time severly beat up. Over these early days of heat, the town's dusty, mercyless appearance is a reminder of the summery hell that awaits us and the hell we live in year round. It's got everything that makes Israel unbearable: war scars, visible neglect of minorities, flawed distibution of public money and disregard towards historical treasure. Consider that among these treasures are israel's largest mosque (which is really a converted crusader church and looks it too), a unique underground cisteren in which one can row a boat, a monumental tower that was once famed throughout the region and a church that served as temporary home to Napoleon Boneparte during his conquest of Palestine. Ramle, one third of the way between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, could have been a turistic gem. It isn't one.

Ramle was founded in the eighth century by the Ummmayads and is the first city to have been founded by Muslims in the holy land. Ironically, it is one of the two cities from which Palestinian Arabs were officially evicted during the war of 1948 by the Israelis. They have been evicted from most other towns too, but not by shamelessy expressed governmental decree. Ramle and its sister city Lydda sit on the main road from the coast to Jerusalem. Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion thought them a risk to the continuity of Israeli control over the Jerusalem corridor and ordered them emptied. Over the years, the Palestinians dripped back. They were allowed to settle in the hellhole heart of the old city, an area that henceforth came to be known as "the Ghetto".

It's a bit odd, but Ramle's ghetto is home to another community, a unique community: Indian Jews.

It is my friend Efros who revealed to me their quarter yesterday. I was deeply charmed by it, musically, sensually, conceptually. It confused me, too. So what should we make of Zionism? While completely abusing one community it caused the country to absorb other communities and turned it into one of the most diverse and colorful places on earth. The alleyways around Ramle's "little India" are shared by Morrocans



Bulgarians, Russians, Yemenis, Persians, Hungarians, Kurds... you name it. For the most part, all coexist nicely with the Arabic speking population.

Damn it! I really love color and diversity, but is Ramle's curry worth tasting when stained with the blood of generations past? The Jewish folk of Ramle can hardly be described as vile, heartless colonialists. These are blue collar communities often as economically weak as the city's Palestinian-Israelis. Nothing justifies the existence of the "ghetto" and the shape it's in, but there's an irony to this country, and if our relationship with it is marked solely by desdain, it is because this irony often escapes us. Ramle is severely beat up, but there's a melancholic charm to it and a surreal, dark humor to how it turned out to be the way it is.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Seret Turki

One more word about "The Edge of Heaven". I happen to be a mild film weeper. I don't literally sob in a way that causes people to hush me and call in the ushers, but a truly powerful scene may silently wet my cheek.

"The edge of heaven" is the first film that ever caused me to shed a tear the following day. I was thinking back to a scene in which the viewer "spends a night" in a hotel room with Hanna Schygulla. She is a German mother who just arrived in Istanbul, where her daughter was murdered. Her last words on the phone to her prodigal offspring, one month previously, were: "from now on your on your own, work it out."

The mother's night of mourning at the hotel begins with tossing and turning on the bedcovers and ends with tearing at the blinds in interminable moans. The entire proccess, cut into five short shots, is filmed from an indifferent point in the ceiling, as if through a security camera. Schygulla's charecter is so reserved throughout the rest of the film, and even through much of this scene, that her outbreak is difficult to watch. In Israeli slang the term "Turkish movie" is used to imply "tearjerker". Oddly, it is this delicate treatment of a charecter that solidifies the stereotype.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blonde on Blonde

So you could say my birthday began with a curly headed blonde and a ponytailed brunette facing away from each other (that's Daniella in a cool Arak t-shirt and downtown lover, who threw me the party, chatting away on my balcony last night).

It ended with a curly headed blonde and a ponytailed brunette facing each other in Fatih Akins epic and moving "The Edge of Heaven", a brilliant cinematic experience.

In between came everything a birthday should contain. It really was an exceptional one. I'm damn happy I didn't stay 31.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I'll be 32 this Sunday, and am currently looking through my more peculiar achievements: those experiences that were experienced only once.

So in 32 years I skydived once
went snowshoeing once
got married once and divorced once
got stranded on a small island once (for about 30 hours)
got my heart broken once
got my jaw broken once
tried hard drugs once
got arrested once (while protesting environmental issues)
published poetry once
earned my accomodation by reciting poetry once
visited Lichtenstein once (I crossed it on foot!)
Visited Lebanon once (long story)
biked from Holland to Prague once
spent a night at a parking lot once
spent a night inside a window display trailer once
spent a night with a married woman once
met with overt antisemitism once
got spat on once (same occasion)
frenched a tree once (a dare in a truth or dare game)
saved a man's life once
broadcast a radio show once
revealed to a man that his girlfriend was pregnant with another man's child once (don't try this at home)
saw a beaver in the wild once
saw a rattlesnake in the wild once
saw an elephant in the wild once
saw a humpback whale in the wild once
visited a rubber plantation once
touched a dead man once
spoke to a head of state once (Rabin)
saw the pope once
got massaged at a Turkish hamam once
sat in a "smoke sauna" once
sat at the waiting room of a brothel once (didn't use their services)
ate jellyfish salad once
ate blood pudding in blood sauce once
ate "thousend years old eggs" once
ate alligator once and turtle once
drank authentic moonshine once
explored the underground drainage system of a city with a flashlight once
got mugged once
painted a "trial of Paris" once
pretended to be American once
pretended to be French once
pretended to be South African once
pretended to be Macedonian once (traveling the Middle East isn't easy for Israelis)
wore a bindy once
wore fake eyelashes once
had a letter exchange with the governemnt of Saudi Arabia once
shook hands with a Serbian mafia head once
saw actors performing a play I wrote once
lectured at Harvard university once
got paid a live duck for my work once

The nice thing about this list is how difficult it was to assemble. most of the things that came to my mind I had done more than once and so they didn't get a mention. Many of the things that were mentioned, I would love to do again. It's being a great life so far, perfect for reruns.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Right Feast

So downtown lover and I went to Madrid, which was really a grand town. At times it resembled New York

at times it resembled Paris

and at times it resembled Naples.

This is all very nice, but the weather was consistantly bad, so we took a train south to Andalucia and wandered between the ancient cities of Cordoba and Seville, which seemed to exist on a seperate continent. At times they resembled Morocco

at times they resembled Mexico

and at times they resembled Disneyland

The cities enticed us with contrasts

with exoticism

and with churros

This was a good trip for two urbanites. Still, Spain looked really good through the train window

so we ended up doing some hardcore traveling. First we headed east in Sevilla and chanced it,

trveling through gentle, pretty Andalucia,

deepening into the countryside

until we happened upon a friendly cookout. A bunch of friends from the nearby town, Carmona, got together to spend a Saturday afternoon in the valley . they invited us to join.

It was a right feast.

In fact, they treated us like kings

By the time we were done it was too late to hitch. At a cafe on the plaza of Caromona we asked at what time the next bus to cordoba left and were replied: "Mañana". So we were stuck.

but the town did not lack charm

nor nice views

it even had a hotel

and I mean the sweetest hotel ever

and the best tapas!

It resembled nothing either of us has ever seen.