Friday, February 27, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Renegade Soul

It's raining and hailing outside and I'm here listening to old Lenny Bruce routines and sipping chicken soup. The house is very clean - tomorrow my subletter is moving in, then Saturday night Itka and I are going to take over her apartment in Paris for a month.

Paris has a liberating effect on my spirit and God only knows what will happen there. Right now liberty is on my mind, this Lenny Bruce guy, a man who was too free for his time so they had to keep handcuffing him, what a disaster.

I had an encounter with two other free spirits this week. The Berliner Ensabmle came to town with its production of the Threepenny Opera. Brecht was too free for his own good and too socially aware, so he teathered himself up in post war DDR. Weill wouldn't hear of it. Even before the war he split up from Brecht, saying he couldn't compose music to Communist manifestos. Still, while they were together, their work was truly free and balanced in its freedom. it was all about freedom: first and foremost - freedom from the most hidden prison walls that surround us, those of materialism and the bourgeois order.

"What's a thief's ladder next to a stock share?" asks Mack the Knife on the scaffold, "What's robbing a bank next to founding a bank?" We're leaving for Paris with nearly no money. The current crisis, bourne of greed, is hitting Israel and everywhere else quite hard. This is precisely the time to break loose, hitchhike a bit, eat a "demi-baguette", ramble around looking for adventure and grow intensely richer.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I spent my worst hair-day ever in Kadita.

Thankfully, I was not the only one with coiffure issues.

How do you dress up for a place like Kadita? That's a riddle. This secluded hilltop community looks like nothing else in Israel, to say nothing of the greater Middle East. It's peaceful in the deepest sense of the word.

Kadita should really require nothing in the way of attire. About thirty years ago, a few hippies came and built homes with their own hands on the foothills of Mt. Meron. Their cummnity was never recognized by the state. It is only due to the nearby tomb of Mishnaic sage Rabbi Tarfon that a road even leads there. It's not a very good road.

While driving on it we met a local Druze man who was picking wild dill in the pastures. I believe a secret garden of wild dill deserves for me to comb my hair and put on a nice shirt.

But what Kadita really requires today is a yarmoulka. Much of the community turned religious over the years. We were fortunate enough to be invited into the home of Eliran and Elinor, two devotees of hassidic rabbi Nachman of Breslau. They made us good coffee, gave us some homemade olive oil and boiled eggs from their henhouse for a picnic lunch we planned.

We got to play with their kids, Michael, Noya and Avinoam, in the pleasant winter air. We also heard two very special life stories, though seperately. In Religious Jewish society it would be inacceptible for a man to even speak with a woman not of his family. I stayed in with Eliran and flipped through the photo album of his secular days. Meanwhile, elinor took Itka out, showed her the chickens and introduced her to her nother in law.

Then we were out to roam the hillsides. Itka looks great in rural surroundings,

but she's an unrequited animal lover.

As for me, I felt a natural longing for the grassy knolls and stone fences of Scotland and Ireland. If not for Eliran's overgrown sideburns and timidness towards Itka, I could believe that we've been transported there. Turns out we haven't. Israel is Israel, for better or worse. It offers us gracious Celtic pastures on which to sit and enjoy glatt kosher eggs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'd Even Like You If You Were the Bride of Frankenstein

This weekend provides a peculiar "double date". Today is Friday the 13th. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. In honor of this coincidence, I opened today's post with a selection of eerie photos from past trips: to Sri Lanka, Belgium and Estonia. Am I the only one who finds them somewhat ghoullish?

Anyway, what really matters as always is love, so the real big day is tomorrow. My valentine to you all is a souvenir from another trip, an even older one. When staying in London during the late 90s, I stumbled upon a collection of young English poetry from the 70s. In it was this gem by John Fuller.

I will post it in its entirety, it doesn't make sense to be stingy on Valentine's day. Please read it aloud, preferably to a belle or a beau. It's not really a love poem, since it contains hardly any discussion of the lover's unique attributes ("I like the way your elbows work, on hinges" doesn't quite crack it). It's just what it sets out to be: a valentine, and a cute one too.


The things about you I appreciate may seem indelicate:
I’d like to find you in the shower
And chase the soap for half an hour.
I’d like to have you in my power and see your eyes dilate.
I’d like to have your back to scour
And other parts to lubricate.
Sometimes I feel it is my fate
To chase you screaming up a tower or make you cower
By asking you to differentiate Nietzsche from Schopenhauer.
I’d like to successfully guess your weight and win you at a fete.
I’d like to offer you a flower.

I like the hair upon your shoulders,
Falling like water over boulders.
I like the shoulders, too: they are essential.
Your collar-bones have great potential
(I’d like all your particulars in folders marked Confidential).

I like your cheeks, I like your nose,
I like the way your lips disclose
The neat arrangement of your teeth
(Half above and half beneath) in rows.

I like your eyes, I like their fringes.
The way they focus on me gives me twinges.
Your upper arms drive me berserk.
I like the way your elbows work, on hinges.

I like your wrists, I like your glands,
I like the fingers on your hands.
I’d like to teach them how to count,
And certain things we might exchange,
Something familiar for something strange.
I’d like to give you just the right amount and get some change.

I like it when you tilt your cheek up.
I like the way you nod and hold a teacup. I like your legs when you unwind
Even in trousers I don’t mind them.
I like each softly-moulded kneecap.
I like the little crease behind them.
I’d always know, without a recap, where to find them.

I like the sculpture of your ears.
I like the way your profile disappears
Whenever you decide to turn and face me.
I’d like to cross two hemispheres and have you chase me.
I’d like to smuggle you across frontiers
Or sail with you at night into Tangiers.
I’d like you to embrace me.

I’d like to see you ironing your skirt and cancelling other dates.
I’d like to button up your shirt.
I like the way your chest inflates.
I’d like to soothe you when you’re hurt
Or frightened senseless by invertebrates.

I’d like you even if you were malign
And had a yen for sudden homicide.
I’d let you put insecticide into my wine.
I’d even like you if you were the Bride of Frankenstein
Or something ghoulish out of Mamoulian’s Jekyll and Hyde.
I’d even like you as my Julian of Norwich or Cathleen ni Houlihan
How melodramatic
If you were something muttering in attics
Like Mrs Rochester or a student of boolean mathematics.

You are the end of self-abuse.
You are the eternal feminine.
I’d like to find a good excuse
To call on you and find you in.
I’d like to put my hand beneath your chin. And see you grin.
I’d like to taste your Charlotte Russe,
I’d like to feel my lips upon your skin,
I’d like to make you reproduce.

I’d like you in my confidence.
I’d like to be your second look.
I’d like to let you try the French Defence and mate you with my rook.
I’d like to be your preference and hence
I’d like to be around when you unhook.
I’d like to be your only audience,
The final name in your appointment book, your future tense.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I dare all of you who can vote in Israel to dare. Dare to vote with your hearts, according to your true convictions and not following some presumed coalition tactic. Such are the things that cause this country to lose its political direction. Give it a direction. Vote with your hearts.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I've never owned a dog. I've never even owned a goldfish. I grew up in a blissfully tailless household, under the impression that dogs are smelly, drooly creatures (which they are, let's face it.) Don't get me wrong. I love dogs. I think they are super cute, I just never wanted to call one my own.

You marry a woman - you marry her family, so goes the old saying. When you enter a relationship with a girl who owns a dog, you enter a relationship with whatever dog she fancied before you were around to consult. In the case of Itka, it's Misha: a rather massive, black Amstaf and Labrador combination. Misha is one of the kindest creatures on the face of this planet (second only to her owner) but she's a little dumb and definitely drooly. Moreover, having spent her youth as a stray dog, she's way fond of trash. A good way to break the current speed record for a living creature would be to take her miles away from the nearest pile of trash, then set her free. She will dash like a bullet to that pile of trash and start feasting, afraid as ever that this is her last supper.

Now picture me, fagile urban bastard that I am, pulling her out of the trash. I never even pulled a goldfish out of the trash. However, dear readers, I am excited about the owner of this dog and the things that have been hapenning to us. Our shift from best friends to lovers is one of the most moving things that have ever happened to me. If I want it to last, I must become more of a Doolitle. I'm putting my heart into it.

Then last night Itka went out with Misha for a stroll and failed to come back. An hour passed, the dishes were done, and I headed out to look for her. Jaffa at night shouldn't be dangerous for a girl accompanied by an Amstaf, but what do you know.

The danger came from an unexpected direction. As Itka approached me down lamppost lit Lamartin St. I saw that she's accompanied by another dog. "It took me an hour to make him follow me" she complained, "look at him! he's a puppy, three months old, maybe four."

This puppy is about half the size of Misha, which is much, but he's indeed a puppy, a scared puppy. A handsome mutt, he's blessed with a patch of sharpei squeezy wrinkled fur on his forhead, which makes him look both contemplative and extra adorable. His eyes are super-sad, perhaps partially due to an eye infection, I wouldn't know. He squeeks every once in a while when the new company intimidates him, he's to die for, but hold it a minute. "Look," I tell Itka, "I may have to stay at my place tonight until he gets shots and stuff. I don't know if I'm capable of sleeping in the same house with a stray dog." I've only just gotten used to waking up with Misha slumped over me. I know my limits.

Itka promised to spray him gainst ticks and fleas and lock him for the night on the balcony. She's not intending to keep him. A Jaffa apartment can hold up to one canine. "There are lots of stray dogs in jaffa," she explained to me, "but this one has a chance, he's young, good looking, someone will take care of him, so it doesn't make sense to leave him for the neighborhood kids to torment." Later that night, outside a bar coincidentally named "the Cat and the Dog," we met our beloved friend Y. the spy and decided that she would make a wonderful owner.

"I do want a dog," Y. the spy admitted, "But I want a beagle. I've literally been having dreams of owning a beagle."

This clashed with Itka's worldview, "You mean you're intending to buy a dog?"

"What can I do, I'm dying for a beagle."

"You can name him Beagle," I suggested. Y the spy said she'll think about it. Meanwhile Itka and I returned to a house with two dogs. I slept only too well (though you'd be naive to think Beagle stayed on the balcony), then spent breakfast staring transfixed at how they played some kind of a pretend-biting game with each other. Misha was at her finest, perfectly hospitable and kind. She seemed determined to make little Mr. Beagle feel at home. Itka was doing a wonderful job juggling two dogs and a caninophobic boyfriend. There was special harmony at the apartment this morning, smelly, drooly harmony, the best kind.

I'll conclude with a passage from a children's book by the inimitable Yoram Kaniuk. Sometime in the seventies, when living on a relatively rural area outsied Tel-Aviv, his home became a literal zoo, complete with a donkey. In his book "The House in which Cockroaches Reach Ripe Old Age" he describes a girl and her mother who keep adopting animals to the horror of the father. At one point he exclaims: "That's enough! There are fish here, there are cockroaches and mosquitoes, there's Vered the dog, there's Tanchoum the cat with her kitties and grandkitties, to say nothing of the donkey and the hedgehogs and the turtle. Not another dog!"

But later on he's being interviewed on television as the head of the most colorful household in Israel and suddenly the whole menagerie makes him very proud. At the very end he even cries when one of the cockroaches dies.

Beagle found a loving home in Jerusalem and is renamed Che. Thanks to all who offered to adopt him.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Poem by Alexandria born, Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy.
Translator unknown.


As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find the things like that on your way
as long as you keep thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony.
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ladies in La

Last year, while attending my first ever Eilati classical music festival, I took photographic studies of women's faces with musical instruments. The guest orchestra was St. Petersburg's Mariinski ensamble, which made for some very striking faces in a full symphonic setting. I posted those photos here.

This year, I found myself being more daring and shooting entire female musicians while they make music, from opera singer Daniella Lugassi in diva attire to Georgia's own Anna Kakhidze on the synth. In what is becoming my version of the annual swimsuit issue, I bring you this year's fetching women making music in Eilat, feast your ears.

and since the best thing about last year's post was the photo of the view from my hotel window, I'm attaching the current one, as a farewell to this very fun weekend.