Archive for February, 2011

Egyptian revolution blues

There’s been plenty of chatter about the protests and regime-toppling going on in the Middle East and North Africa lately.  Much of that (probably too much) has been coming from the US government, which seems to abhor a verbal vacuum of any kind, even if it doesn’t really know what to say.  One friend on Facebook, an Islamophile, is delighted to see Mubarak overthrown, and bristles at the suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood (which glorifies jihad and martyrdom as much as Hamas or Hizbullah) might highjack the revolution and create a new fundamentalist Islamic state.

While we all wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that this revolution succeeds in laying the foundation for the democracy, freedom, and increased standard of living that they want, it’s legitimate to have concerns about the possibility of a less desirable outcome.  The peace with Israel has been a cold one, but maintained to a passable degree over the past 30 years.  What happens to that peace under a new, as yet undetermined, regime is anyone’s guess.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend and teacher, Rav Binny Freedman, was about to give the weekly English language shiur at our shul.  Before he began, he asked who sponsored the kiddush, and in honor or memory of whom.  Our neighbor said it was in honor of two friends of hers, and she added, “And so that the events in Egypt should turn out well for the Jews.”  Rav Binny chuckled, and observed that there is a tradition adhered to by the more chauvinistic Jews among us that everything that happens in the world is for the Jews.  So even though we don’t know whether the outcome will be good or bad for the Egyptians, we are obliged to see it as good for us—it just depends on how.  Will it be an easing of our lives by creating a stronger, friendlier, more cooperative neighbor who can perhaps help facilitate peace and stability across the region?  Or will it restore a former enemy to our borders, giving us a kick in the pants?  We watch and wait.

Sandy Cash, a Beit Shemesh friend and folk singer with a sharp wit, delightful sense of humor, and a knack for turn of phrase, churned out a song (from which the title of this post is taken) and video on this topic that she posted on YouTube, and that has gone viral in the last week.  (She even got written up in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.)  For a little perspective, and a rueful (but much-needed) chuckle, here’s the song:

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Winter at Darlington Hall

We haven’t had much of a winter in Israel (do we ever?), and for some reason, my thoughts have been turning to the real winter in the Northeast where most of my family and friends live.  I’ve been singing “Let It Snow” to the kids at bedtime, and hearing with mingled amusement and envy about friends whose kids are home for snow days (though that envy has dissipated by the fifth straight snow day).  There have been a couple of vaguely forecasted snow days for Efrat, but none have actually produced anything white.

While I have a few content-oriented posts percolating in my wee little brain, I am a bit mired down in transcribing and editing (my new stab at work).  So in lieu of a real post, I’ll share with you some photos of my parents’ home and environs taken by my father in the last few days.  Those of you in New England will roll your eyes in recognition, but for those of you on the West Coast, in Israel, or in the southern hemisphere, they may inspire a nostalgia for the winters of old (or never, as the case may be).

Note: Those who are familiar with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day will recognize the name of the country home where it’s set, Darlington Hall, which is also my pet name for my parents’ house on 10 acres in southern Vermont.

Road to Darlington Hall

Darlington Hall from the road

The farm "next door"

Seeing these images makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be worth a trip back to the US in the winter sometime so the kids can see real snow, experience a cup of cocoa by a fireplace, and sled down the hill with their cousins.  School, travel-adverse weather, and other things come in conflict with such a trip, but still, I wonder…

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“Open winter”

I’m in possession of my great-aunt’s copy of the Bible, published in 1868.  This King James translation, gently used and lovingly re-covered by my mother (a skilled bookmender), has color pictures throughout of the life of Jesus, a few tattered ribbons marking pages, one ball-point pen marking (arcing the verse from Micah which says, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”), and a very interesting clipping from an unknown Vermont newspaper (perhaps the Orleans Chronicle), of unknown date.  Here is how it reads:

“This an open winter?”

This office is in receipt of a letter from Dwight H. Squires of Ogdensburg, N. Y., formerly of Derby [Vt.], in which he enclosed a clipping from “The Advance News” of Ogdensburg, N. Y., which classed the weather in Vermont the past three months as an open winter as compared with that of 1862.

“This winter we think that we have been getting a lot of snow but after reading the following paragraph taken from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, published at New York on April 26, 1862, it appears that this could be called an ‘open’ winter:

‘SNOW—The snowfall during the past winter has been very heavy throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Northern New York.  In Peacham, Vt. the people for a long time used their chamber windows for doors, and the orchards were so buried that the tops of the trees appeared like bushes, the uppermost twigs only, rising above the snow.  One drift in Troy was tunneled for a distance of over 50 rods [825 feet, or 251 meters], and loads of hay, wood, etc., passed through.  In Newport a large drift was excavated so as to make a room 60 feet by 40 feet [18 meters by 12 meters], and 18 feet [5.5 meters] high in the center.  In this room a festival was held, 180 ladies and gentlemen being present.  Two large tables were spread and the snow palace was illuminated by twelve hanging lamps.’”

When I wrote my mother to tell her about the clipping, she responded, “And if you have a newsclipping about a snowstorm from Aunt Reet, that couldn’t come close to matching the snowstorm in the 1880s when Grandma McDanolds wrote about it [in New Hampshire].  THAT was a snowstorm!!  Socked everyone in for a week or so, couldn’t even get to the barn to milk the cows for a couple of days, and when it finally stopped snowing, Grandma and Uncle Harry climbed up it to mark on the tree where the top of the snow was.  Later, when it had all melted (I think it took until May), it was 35 ft high.  Incredible.  Even this winter has been bad everywhere, but especially New England.  CT usually gets about 41″ of snow, this year so far they have something like 89″.  (Or maybe it’s 49 and 81, but whatever.)”

I stay in touch with my shul community from Newton, Mass., by following the shul’s chat list.  The big theme in the past few weeks has been snow: borrowing roof rakes to get the heavy snow off before the next blizzard comes and dumps another load on it, trying to keep the gutters from clogging with ice, and how and when to file insurance claims for ice-damage to gutters.  (The insurance companies say not to bother to file a claim now, since more snow is probably on the way, but to wait until the spring when all the damage is done, then file one claim.)  And with all the snow days, friends on Facebook are having to entertain homebound children with cabin fever, getting behind in their own work, and generally pining for a thaw.

I miss snow, sometimes.  But not that much snow.

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Nasty commute

This is a photo sent my mother by a friend from her hometown in northern Vermont.  On the one hand, I envy that amount of precipitation.  On the other hand, I am grateful not to have to shovel the little precip. we do get here.

Ah, the wonder of nature.  Just wait until spring comes.  Now where did I put my canoe?

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More help wanted

I’m back after another gander at Israemploy’s offerings.  Included in the job listings for February 2, 2011, are the following:

Android Developer, Android Expert needed in Kfar Saba.  Wow, I’m back in the 1970s again.  Does such a person get to build Artoo Deetoo?  Seethreepio?  I’ve seen the movies, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert.  Guess I’ll have to pass.
Tel Aviv needs an Ant and Maven Expert.  If they want an ant expert, I can give them Yossi’s phone number—he takes care of my ant problem.  But a maven expert?  Isn’t that redundant?
They need Child Minders in the North.  I’ve always had difficulty with this British expression.  Does it mean the child is supposed to mind (i.e. obey) me, or I’m supposed to mind the child?  And isn’t that a brand of canned soup in the UK?
Someone in Jerusalem needs a Female Coach for Housework.  Wouldn’t a housekeeper do just as well?  Or is there a need to have a whistle around my neck and a loud voice to shout out orders?  “Dishes, step lively!  Grease, got off that stove right now!  Bathtub ring, move out!”
Rehovot needs a Fishmonger.  Whenever I used to yell as a child, my mother told me I sounded like a fishwife.  I never knew what she was talking about (did I look like I was married to a fish?), but I still have a loud voice.  (Fishmonger must be the politically correct term for a fishwife.)  Of course, if I want to work on the production end of things, I can apply to be a General Worker for a Fish Farm up in Beit She’an.  Probably less yelling involved in that.
And then there’s this one from the Center: “gestionnaire de compte motive de langue maternelle française”; in other words, if you can’t read this, this job is not for you.
Someone in Givat Shaul needs a Lady’s Companion.  This sounds delightfully old-fashioned, left over from the days when wealthy women hired less wealthy women to be their friends (because sometimes you have to pay for quality).  They would read, converse, do needlepoint together, keep one another company.  I decided to see what this would entail in the 21st century.  It says, “Seeking woman to walk with lady on Shabbos by night and motzei Shabbos.”  Take walks two nights a week?  That’s it?  What, no novel reading?  No needlepoint?  This description also carries with it the standard statement that “This position is considered suitable for members of the Haredi/Ultra-orthodox community.”  I’m never sure what to think when I see that.  Does it mean that I won’t be forced to mix with men, non-haredi Jews, or other unsavory characters?  Does it mean I’ll make enough money two nights a week to support a husband who sits in yeshiva all day, plus eight to ten children?  Or does it mean I won’t be expected to know about evolution, how to use the Internet, or who the prime minister is?
Jerusalem is also looking for Matchmakers.  Oy, don’t ask me.  The one time I set up two friends whose only thing in common was that they were secular, it was a disaster.  (I guess for a relationship to work, you have to have more in common than being willing to eat out at a seafood restaurant on Shabbat.)
Python Expert needed in Tel Aviv.  Say, I didn’t know there was a reptile house there.  And I invested all that money in a lion-tamer hat!  Well, it turns out these must be pretty smart snakes, because the qualifications for this job are “3 years experience designing and implementing web UI; programming experience in Java Script, HTML and XML; 4-5 years experience in Python development; knowledge of relational database back-end such as MySQL or PostgreSQL; and knowledge of C/C++, SVN and Linux.”  Forget me for this job.
Sales and Channel Manager Rest of the World (Israel & Latin America).  Note to self: the rest of the world is Latin America.  Brush up on Spanish and learn Portuguese now.
And finally, someone in Jerusalem is looking for a Yiddish Speaking Nanny for childcare and light housework.  You’ve got to be kidding!  If you find someone who speaks Yiddish, it’s going to be an adopt-a-bubbe, and housework will have to be limited to making chicken soup, tending a carp in a bathtub, and teaching the kid the elements of matchmaking (so she can grow up and take a job like that in number 8).

Another day, another giggle; another day, and no work.

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After a long, dry spell of movies the Cap’n and I had no desire to see in the theatre (interrupted only by the seventh “Harry Potter” film), we splurged the last couple of weeks and shlepped to the cinema not once, but twice.

Last week saw us at the Rav Chen in Talpiot for “Black Swan.”  The review in the Jerusalem Post made it look intriguing, artful, if a little twisted.  After seeing it, I think that was very generous.  Yes, the dancing (done by Natalie Portman herself) was very good, and the story (in which she, as Nina the prima ballerina, is required to dance both the black swan and the white swan parts in a new production) potentially interesting.  But this is not an ordinary woman being asked to stretch herself to dance a challenging part; it’s a neurotic, lonely, repressed dancer thrust suddenly into the limelight (in a world that is exceedingly pressurized and competitive already) being asked to do the nearly-impossible.  None of the enticements (sex, drugs) and pressures (from her mother and the competition from other dancers) to perform the part successfully work, and she very nearly muffs it.  The catalyst that gets her over the top and enables her to perform both innocently and seductively is shocking and bizarre, and is emblematic of the confusion throughout the film between Nina’s bizarre fantasies and the bleak reality that is her life in reality.  When I studied short fiction writing years ago, we discussed in each story what happens to the main character.  What does she learn?  How does he change?  At the end of “Black Swan,” I’m not sure what Nina has learned, or whether she’s any better off for what has happened to her.  There is nothing to suggest that the demons that haunt her can be vanquished, and in fact, the viewer has reason to believe that her career and neuroses may well follow those of the previous principal ballerina’s.  I can’t remember leaving a movie theatre feeling as physically ill as after seeing this movie.  I can take a good amount of violence and psychological trauma from the movies, but I had to put down the window to breathe the fresh air (and exhaust) to calm my nerves on the drive home.

(I should note that the Cap’n, who has the toasties for Natalie Portman, commented that the movie was “very well done.”  He was not nearly as grossed out as I was, perhaps because he’s not a woman and has never experienced the ridiculous pressure to please others, be perfect, admired, the best, and beautiful all at the same time.)

A few nights of “Deep Space 9” and “The Tudors” helped slowly to draw out the poison in my soul.  But the true palate-cleanser came Sunday night when we attended “The King’s Speech.”  The Smadar theatre, located in the charming, gentrified Jerusalem neighborhood of Emek Refaim (aka the German Colony) is a small art-film house cum restaurant and bar.  It’s clearly an intellectual crowd, and the films shown there are the sleepier, more thoughtful, usually foreign films that make it to this part of the world.  “The King’s Speech” is one of the few English films that are shown there.  (They also screen French, Spanish, Danish, and others, with Hebrew subtitles.)  When I read about “The King’s Speech” on a blog, and watched the trailer online, I knew this was the tonic I would need after last week’s freak-out.  The combination of Colin Firth (whom I like) and Geoffrey Rush (whom I love) seemed too good to be true.  Even Helena Bonham Carter, whom I have grown tired of in all of Tim Burton’s films of the past few years, looked excellent.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Bertie, the Duke of York (and father of the current Queen) has a stammer which makes public speaking nearly impossible.  As a prince, he is expected to make the occasional speech, but as it becomes increasingly clear that his older brother, David (Edward VIII), is likely to abdicate to marry two-time American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, the fact that he is about to be thrust onto the throne, into a war, and in front of microphones with ever-increasing frequency, makes public speaking a necessity.  Firth plays Bertie, who (with the encouragement of his wife, Elizabeth, played by Bonham Carter) seeks help from speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush).  Their relationship develops slowly, in fits and starts, as Bertie’s father’s health declines (George V, played with bombast by Michael Gambon) and his relationship with his brother David (ingeniously-cast Guy Pearce) deteriorates.  Helena Bonham Carter’s performance was called “tart, in Merchant-Ivory fashion” in the review in the Post, but I thought it was more nuanced than that.  She was formal and clipped in her public role, but a warm and compassionate wife—as one would expect a royal figure to be.  The screenplay has an excellent balance of seriousness (Bertie’s humiliating first speech at Wembley Stadium, and his confession to Logue about some of the darker periods of his childhood) and humor, as when Bertie insists his stammer couldn’t be cured by any of the doctors in Harley Street.  “They’re all idiots,” Logue responds, to which Bertie retorts, “They all have knighthoods.”  “That makes it official,” says Logue.  Or when Logue encourages Bertie to use every filthy word he’s ever heard (which he does without stammering).  The music is also excellent, with an extremely powerful use of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

I realize, writing this, that there are similarities between these two movies.  Both Nina and Bertie have to overcome difficult obstacles in order to perform their roles (as ballerina and king, le’havdil).  It was much pleasanter, though, to see Bertie succeed with the love and support of his wife and the able help of Logue, than to watch Nina flounder helplessly with a domineering mother, a slick ballet director on the make, and no friends.  And where we’re unsure whether Nina’s success will endure or fizzle after this one triumph, at least we know that Bertie is able to function capably in the future.

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