Tel Aviv Diary July 5 ->, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - July 5 -12, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 5, 2004

I arrived last night, can't figure out where my keys are yet, and have no perspective on anything. But the smell was amazing from the first moment - the earth, the hibiscus, the magnolia.

Coming to Tel Aviv in the past few years has been less of a pleasure than it used to be - the pushing, demanding passengers, the lost sense of an adventure... On the other hand, the passengers i got stuck with were all very fine, intelligent, analytical, resigned and patient. With few exceptions there was less of a sense of 'entitlement,' much more of a sense of responsibility.

I'm still unpacking and acclimating myself, but Here are the subjects I'd like to discuss: 1. The Jewish Museum in NY and Israel 2. The Neue Museum in NY. 3. Kurt Gerron - again 3. How to treat an Israeli 4. An Israeli Film called "Walk on Water" about second generation Nazis, holocaust survivors, gays, israeli men, and stuff like that 5. Farenheit 911. in that order of importants. Farenheit 911 may be an important film because it will flip the election, but it is naive and manipulative. and i'm overwhelmed with the wrongness of manipulating information - Now that we have seen the way the American government did it, costing thousands of lives, we have to stay as far away from it as possible. That's why i came back so immediately to my little diary. if nothing else it is honest.

As for Kurt Gerron, I have decided to write a piece on him. I had thought that if the films had been so good, there was nothing left to add. But his absence screams at me from everywhere. He's not important to the Jewish Museum and not in any index about German history in the Neue Museum. The DVD of the fantastic documentary Prisoner of Paradise isn't out yet, although the video of Ilona Ziok's Karusell about him is available. We got hold of the 1929 film "Diary of a Lost Girl" that has him in a small but key role. But his other 68 films aren't available. I guess i just have to find a way to get to Berlin and do something about this.

July 6, 2004

Some friends wrote to ask how a person gets used to israel again after the U.S. An interesting question - but all i could think of were the prices - and all the things i didn't buy. all the clothes, the shoes, the linens. why should i not buy things in the U.S.? because the suitcase is heavy and the money goes to other countries and not israel. why should i buy in the u.s.? because its sooooo cheap compared to here. why should i be looking for bargains? because this is such an expensive country. wait - said charles. I bought all kinds of things in Israel and they were all that more expensive than the U.S. Well, okay, the books are double. the clothes are about double. bt the food is about the same. So what's the problem? Well, my salary is about 25% of his.

What about the security? wrote a friend from Spain. Don't you feel more safe outside of Israel? Yeah, right. My friends in the U.S. are either terrified of another terrorist attack or sure the whole thing is made up.

which brings me to my great revelation -

I used to think that being a literature scholar is a profession of tangential relevance in the world. but now that i have been exposed to documentaries, 'news' programs, and all kinds of prearranged docu-theatre like public beheadings, i now know that my job is central. how literature works and how it works on people is what you need to know to understand what is going on in the world. it's all about writing the more effective, plausible script. the real events don't count. so one day you say you've beheaded an Arab-American and it gets headlines, and the next you bring him out and say - no he's learned his lesson and it gets 3rd page. I'm going back to read my Aristotle. He and al Keida (and sometimes Bush) really know the rules.

July 7, 2004

When I first came back I thought I wasn't understanding the content of the news because I'm jetlagged, or have culture shock, or have forgotten who things work around here. But now I see I didn't understand because it's totally crazy around here, and getting crazier every moment. People are talking about assassinating the Prime Minister, Think of that. Less than 9 years ago the assassination of Rabin changed our entire political direction, and now the extreme right is being accused of planning to kill the present leader. "The Assassin is already in our midst" proclaimed Tzachi Hanegbi, the minister of justice, and i figure he is the one to know.

Now is this really true? It even makes sense - Sharon has behaved in an 'undemocratic' manner, turning his back ideologically from those who eleceted him, and they feel the right to behave undemocratically in response. But it also makes sense to 'announce' a planned assassination, to conjure up some support for a beleagered prime minister. But it is crazy.

Yesterday I thought I was really losing it. There are these tv commercials for "Escape," a cool cellphone system. They are usually very wild, monsters appearing from a bathtub where a young guy is apparently taking care of himself, a rake gets stuck somewhere in some other guy's behind, etc. but the latest one is in Yiddish. Not a great yiddish, not a perfect yiddish, but yiddish!

And as I write this the room starts shaking and i think that someone broke down the door and the dog start barking like crazy and it turns out that we just had an earthquake. what kind of earthquake i don't know yet. but we're supposed to be going into construction next month to fix the broken column under our apartment next month.

Thanks to John Williams who pointed out the Bible prophecy of an enormous earthquake around here - I don't know where it is in the Bible, but I do know that the prophets - like Elijah and Amos - also have big earthquakes. And they are predicting a really big one around here within the year.

Thanks too to Robert Whitehill who sent me the lyrics to "All Shook Up."

July 8, 2004

The most amazing evening - Watching the Hebrew premiere of Michael Frayn's play "Democracy," about the rise and fall of Willy Brandt, I kept wondering why The Cameri theater had rushed to translate and perform a play about German Politics and the people who betrayed Brandt. And then at the break I saw Shimon Peres in the hall, and suddenly it all made sense.

After the play Peres was called on to the stage to be thanked for advice and he spoke about how wonderful Brandt was and what an honest hero he was. He brought up a story about the late Minister Avraham Burg who would go to the doctor and his doctor would ask "what hurts you?" and he would say, "My friends."

So I think maybe this play was considered a parable for Israel politics. And indeed when we came home the big news on TV was that Minister Paritsky of Shinui had tried to screw his fellow party member Avrham Poraz by getting him blamed for some trumped up legal infractions. So there is a basis for this comparison.

Here's a review:"On paper it's dull as ditch water, yet Democracy, Michael Frayn's play about the former German chancellor Willy Brandt, turns out to be a deliciously witty and intriguing hit... You don't need a specialist interest in German history. You are carried along by the tale of how Brandt's confidant and personal assistant Gunther Guillaume found himself spying on the chancellor for the East Germans..." The Daily Mail. But of course what interested me was the intersection of literature and life that we discussed the other day - and the way a literary education is now useful - maybe even critical - in political analyses.

I keep remembering now how Peres talked about how the play proved the value of democracy but as far as i could see it was proving how democracy demands total awareness.

July 8, 2004

The political backdrop acts as a foil for every individual activity in this country. As I write this CNN is broadcasting the Senate committees results of the inquiry into the war on Iraq, and I cannot help but think about how the ill-based decisions affected the lives (and deaths) of millions of people.

But this report is an obvious example. I am thinking of many more- many less obvious events. Take the concert we heard last night, for instance.

A simple concert, the little Beersheva Symphony Orchestra playing classical 'hits' that seems to come from another world. Dvorak, Brahms, Saint-Saens...

The concert was a tribute to their sponsors, companies who stepped in to support the orchestra when the government pulled out support, for lack of funds. There was a speech by the principle donor, one of those speeches about the guy who earned two coins and bought a bread with one coin and a flower with the other - the bread so that he could live and the flower so that he would have a reason to live. (I've heard that story about 10 times this year - always from people who really don't think much of the arts). And the Minister of Education gave a speech about how much the help of the audience is still needed.

The concert was surprisingly good, the pianist inspiring, the orchestra full of synchronized fire. But it was clear that the only people who really felt the meaning of the music were those players and a few people in the audience. Certainly not the government, tottering from one crisis to the next...

And yet all these Russian immigrants sitting on the stage, abandoned by the government that brought them to this country, produced amazing music.

At the end of the concert played a tribute to Naomi Shemer, the national songwriter who died 2 weeks ago, with the audience joining in with the text:

The Eucalyptus grove,
the bridge, the boat
and the smell of salt on the water.

This was the thing that joined them all together, the beleagered musicians and the wealthy donors: the love of the country.

June 10, 2004

Forgot to publicize the Thin Lips performance on Friday. It isn't even in achbar ha'ir. so it will be a low key small audience. for details, write me or look at the thin lips site

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