Saturday, November 29, 2008

Русский Стиль

Russki Styl - now that's a cigarette!

It's horrid, to be sure, but what a packet, and what a name: Russian Style. These days, that means "sexy" to me. I'm a fool for all things Russian. This is a wonderfully mind expanding phase that began with the discovery of the old Soviet cartoons, went on to an unplanned visit in St. Petersburg and the backwater of Chudovo and ended with a renewed recognition in the sublime nature of Tchaikovsky's music (which, alas, is still on repeat mode and playing as I write this).

This northern exposure simply had to culminate a good bash. Itka, whose parents are Russian but speaks the language in what I refer to as a "Buzaglo" accent, decided to prove to us all that she's as Russian as dark bread. For her birthday she organized a visit to a Russian restaurant in Rishon Letzion, south of Tel-Aviv. She even rented a VIP minibus to take us there from Allenby St.

Itka instructed us to dress well, and mostly (exept for true blue Rock n' Roll rebel E.B. Dan), we all did, so it was a bit of a surprise to wind up in a industrial complex, climbing through a grungy hallway.

Up on top, however, tables were set brightly for our five course meal. Always on the look out for the exotic, I took a photo of the ever appealing jellied pork's hoof, but there were other offerings too: from crepes stuffed with salmon eggs and with meat to cherry dumplings. The price we paid featured all you can drink vodka and wine.

It also entitled us to a show. First all the lights were turned off, then came the diva.

Then came champagne ("champanska") for all who were celebrating events, including our Itka.
Then we danced.

Then others danced for us. The stars of Television's "Dancing with the Stars" including true celebrity Anna Aronov were performing before us. I sat next to Keren, a Ukranian at heart and a dancer herself, and we both melted. This was nearly as good as the ballet in St. Petersburg. Anna! bear my children!

It was a hard act to follow, but we went for it anyway, shaking our ovefilled stomachs to Russian, Georgian and Israeli Mizrachi music. While I vanished early (2:00 or so) Itka and her friend Itamar actually went on a dancing spree in different corners of the T.A. metropolitan area that lasted until 7:00 AM. Nevertheless, I think all of us deserve recognition for possessing a healthy level of Russki Styl. A night like this instills that in the heart for good.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kus Emmak, Mravinsky

I've got lots of things to do out of the house. I promised Itka I'd bring her Hummous from Abu-Hassan's and she already put the water to boil. There have been four birthdays this week and I only got two gifts so far, the day is beautiful and begging of me to exploit its wonders.

But I can't leave the house, all because I bought the CD set of Tchaikovsky's late symphonies with Evgeny Mravinsky conducting. They just get more knockout with each movement. The pizzicato scherzo of the fourth - impeccably subdued and funny, the John O'dreams opening of the 6th - like a richly textured oil painting (and better than Gregeyev's!). I'm in love. Shit.

These pieces were recorded in London, in 1961, when the Leningrad Philharmonic was visiting there. That's probably the place and time in history in which I'd most like to be present. Anyway, seeing that I'm present here now, I might as well go for the Hummous, right after the next developement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It snowed insaely in Helsinki the last night I was there. I was staying over at Ulla's very cute flat and helping her with her homework. Some legendary theater director from Sweden was coming to town. In preparation for his workshop she had to get herself acquainted with "A Streetcar Named Desire".

I once tried to watch this film (made after the play by Tennessee Williams, pictured above). I fell asleep twenty minutes into it. Not this time. Once you reach a certain age, or go through certain things in life - which can happen at any age - this meditation on cruelty and dignity becomes indispensible.

Synopsis: Blanche Dubois is a house guest at her sister's apartment in New Orleans. Her past is unclear but she had suffered some form of loss in a small town called Oriol. Her brother in law, Stanly, is at one time attracted to her and dismayed by her. He does his best to expose the truths of her Oriol existance and ruin any chance she has of making a new life for herself in the Big Easy.

The young Marlon Brando is so charismatic as vicious Stanly, you nearly side with him even in very violent moments, and this tention of empathy is on point. Vivien Leigh does an over the top, theatrical Blanche, that consciously contradicts the Cinéma vérité quality of everything else in the film, but forget the film. It's the play that stayed with me the next day, trudged with me among the snow banks to the train station and then the airport, and landed with me (but alas without my luggage and phone), after many a storm, here in Tel-Aviv.

I came back to an apartment occupied by Efros, my own houseguest, to Itka, who gave me solutions for my lack of phone, and to others I havent yet seen, feeling I'm surrounded by people who love me and people whom I love, here and by the polar circle. The trip was good and important. It called for a conclusion to be drawn from it, and I tend to trust Williams here. This world is about care, care and freakishly good art.

Friday, November 21, 2008


They say St. Petersburg isn't Russia. They say Peter the great succeded, he built himself a truly European city that has little to do with mother bear.

There's evidence to the contrary.

Nevertheless, I decided to take a deeper plunge while I'm here. The city has five major railway stations, gateways to the distance. I chose the Moskovskaya and took a train two and a half hours south east of the city, to a random place called чудово.

This was my first view of my destination:

I began walking and soon realized that this place was hardcore, that it defined hardcore. I've been to worn, post-Communist towns in Slovakia and such during the 90s. They looked better than this.

Here in Chudovo, Lenin still persides over the square and the smelliest polluted river is flowing twixt commie-blocks and ramshackle farmhouses.

There was literally nowhere to have lunch, only scores of tiny grocery stores all offering sausages, bottled kvas, the occasional pickle and not much more. The only sign of gentrification is in the clothes. Grownups and teens are dressed not in a westernized way, but in an conscious manner that strongly contrasts the townscape, children are in bright colors that Vladimir Ilich would have frowned at.

Almost all Chudovoers, regardless of age group, seemed to be in a good smily mood. If there's anything Russia's got to spare, it's character. I swear I'm inspired, but this does not mean that Chudovo is not a shithole. It most certainly is, and this becomes ever more apparent as night draws in.

Yes, you guessed it right. I missed the afternoon train out and had to wait for a nocturnal one. I tried to find the internet, to let my friends in St. Petersburg know I'll be late. No internet. I tried to find an English speaker to help me work out the phone information so I can call them. No English. For a few rare hours, I was outside of globalization. It felt a bit like being dead.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Evening with St. Pete

I cannot disclose the details nor show photos of my hitchhiking journey. They must remain an exclusive for the newspaper that will carry the article. I will tell you, though, that it went very well, too well, miraculously well. 48 hours (including two nights of sleep) after standing with my thumb up in Venice's Piazzola Roma, I was in a gas sation on the outskirts of Helsinki.

I ended up four days early for my Finnish appointements, and so decided to head on to Russia, arriving in St. Petersburg at night. It was a good decision. The lights on Nevsky Prospect were blinding and the sidewalks filled with elegantly dressed, beautiful women. I had a crepe with caviar on the street, then headed for a hostel to sleep.

The following day was cold.

The afternoon was colder, but the hostel supplied fine company: Piti, a landscape architect from Bangkok, fresh off the Trasn-Siberian railway.

We went into a canal-side dive for a drink and some food and met the local clientele. One guy was an art museum to rival the Hermitage.

His friend was a proper Nazi.

"We are getting out of here without a fist fight," I whispered on Piti's ear. The guys actually knew I'm Jewish (I never hide it), and my friend is obviously Asian, yet somehow it worked. We all made brilliant chums, shot down several rounds of vodka and beer and left with hugs.

Outside was dreary and getting drearier.

So we went to the Ballet.The Mariinsky company was presenting three works by George Balanchine, all set to non-narative musical scores. There was Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, the staple work of the New York Ballet. Piti almost fainted by how good it was.

There was Ravel's "la Valse"

and Bizet's symphony in C. "This is the best, most beautiful show I've seen in my life", said Piti.

Outside, the snow ceased and a random pretty girl handed us a baloon. A new night was ahead.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

2570 kilometers

I took a challange: to hitchhike from Venice to Helsinki and write an article about it. I have one week of November chill to do it. All four volumes of War and Peace (translated by Leah Goldberg) are coming along with me to keep me company.

The plane is leaving today, bringing me back on Tuesday the 25th. If I blog in between it's because I got a lift from the blog fairy herself. Otherwise, expect the condensed story to be told in retrospect and wish me lots and lots of luck.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Infinite Light

In room 310 there was a a party.

Behind the scenes at the hotel there was no party.

I skipped on both atmospheres and followed a dog into the dark streets of Safed. I was in town to perform a few of my old tunes, but Safed is not a gig-and-go kind of place. It is an ancient hilltop city (perched atop Israel's 3rd tallest mountain), was home to the great 16th century Kabbalist rabbi Isaac Luria and is famed as a hub of mystical enegry.

Safed at night is dominated by men, the opposite of Fellini's Citta Delle Donne.

but the further you venture into the labyrinth of it's old quarters, the more it is dominated by nobody. The alleyways were perfectly silent.

Rabbi Lurie's synagogue was locked and bolted.

Strangely, inside, a single kerosene lamp was alight.

I stuck my face to the glass, enchanted. This was a sight that would have made a Kabbalist out of Richard Dawkins, but maybe I'm a greater rationalist than he. Rather than spend the night praying in the small courtyard, I concluded my evening by buying shit to consume in front of the telly, and visiting Israel's most splendidly ugly public restroom.

I love Luria and his vision of infinite light - a delicate system of energies that controls the universe. Still, I'll forever be a deciple of Lao Tzu. "It appears as darkness." he wrote, "darkness within darkness, the gateway to all mystery."