Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Nicholson’s Place

Oh come one, all Polanski wanted at forty-some…. was to lure, drug, rape and brutalise a child his own size.


Yeah, but does God believe in the Vatican, is what all those secular and atheist Czechs are asking?

What If….?

This is a real Yom Kippur story. And my memory serves me well. Rehavia, I said, around this time of year, at the Montifiori Club where he had invited me, you as a former ranking Israeli air-force officer know much more than naive, little me, but why does Israel prefer to deal with 5 direct enemies… instead of 1?

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it seems to me that by tolerating a Palestinian state, you get the other 4 off your back straight away. Isn’t it a lot easier to control daily murder and mayhem by holding a country that has everything to lose, accountable? I think the problem is that right now Palestinians feel they couldn’t have less, that they have nothing to lose and because of this gain all that Arab solidarity. ”

“Anthony, there are things you don’t know!”

“I mean, two recent wars won and nothing to show for!”

“What do you mean, nothing to show for?”

“Well generally speaking, winning a war means winning the peace and that my friend has proven to be extremely elusive. You guys are in deeper than ever before…!”

“Maybe from your perspective…”

“Not just my perspective: for all the world to see. I mean, why win those wars and lose the big battle? Take the issue of the Golan Heights, with modern-day missiles what’s the point of keeping them? Permanently annexing them for ‘security’ reasons, to many nothing but calculated expansionism. Why not negotiate their own penalty with the Syrians, forcing them to take some responsibility for having attacked you and keeping a punitive slice of land with their reluctant agreement. Like with the Alsace or Lorraine, now French, once reparation for Germany’s aggression, and only then giving Damascus back any of the rest, but nominally at least, one enemy less. Let’s be honest, what security would you really have compromised? Isn’t gained the better word? You guys are smart… it worked very well with Egypt and the Negev, didn’t it?

“Anthony, you don’t understand. There are things I don’t even know or understand! Besides, Syrians are no Egyptians. ”

“Pretend they are, for heaven’s sake! Stop out-guessing yourselves!!”

All right, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the way my discussion went more than twenty years ago. Of course my friend was insinuating severe internal divisions in Israel, already then, before Rabin’s assassination. But this conversation really took place, sometime in the early eighties. With a high El Al official who I had befriended and it occurred after yet another serious crisis in his homeland, I honestly don’t remember which. Now 2 decades later it has finally become formal Israeli policy to acquiesce in the formation of a Palestinian state, where to draw the borders still up in the air as a lot of living and growing and developing has been going on during 60 years, at least on its side. So as it turns out, in my innocence, but as a free-thinking world-citizen, I wasn’t all that far off the mark at the time. And it also means that ordinary folks can voice an opinion, especially as those involved in a serious conflict sometimes no longer see the trees for the woods.

So now this for more innocence that hopefully will get proven right, not later than 20 years from now: what if instead of obstinate confrontation with an impossibly irrational adversary, Israel created not a Marshall Plan but say a ‘Moses’ or a ‘Moshe’ Plan for a former Ottoman Empire back-water, whose only taste of modernity let alone statehood comes from a very brief period of League of Nations’ mandated British rule? America did it for Germany, why not Israel for Palestine? A state ready to move into, like a beautiful, pre-fab house. The idea whereby one rewards nominal rule of rights and the establishment of new guiding institutions, a territory but not full territorial control, to a population kept from violence and frustration with something they’ve never EVER had: a constitution, a final political entity and… WEALTH.

Stick and lot’s of carrot, in this case in order to safeguard Israel’s own internationally sponsored existence, in what will otherwise surely become a hopelessly hostile environment. And nothing like a Palestinian resettlement reeking of ‘Please go away, we’re back here now!’, not even anything like ‘Here’s a cheque, kindly go live somewhere else!’ but a ‘We were given a rebirth and we’re making damn sure that you’re having one, too!’.

In other words Israel’s greatest victory the one over itself, at the same time making the Palestinian ‘right-to-return’ argument a wholly academic one. Through a nominal state created for an adversary against its own will perhaps, there out in the open, with precise borders, but so effective, so alluring, including security, the framework of vital institutions, modern buildings and a civil service taught rigorously that pervasive graft guarantees pervasive poverty, hence adequate schools and schooling, medical services, roads & public transport, start up industries, JOBS and SALARIES, plus the prospect that if it behaved maturely and responsibly in a couple of generations it would be the finest, wealthiest truly independent Arab trading nation on the Mediterranean, barring Lebanon.

One can see the yachts and cruise ships stopping over at Gaza, the only threat with which to blind its neighbors the one of wealth perhaps i.e. its style of living, its competing exports, its creativity, its subsequent miracles with desert and coast. To all intents a house ready to move into doing the trick. The trick of peace, real peace. A political turn-key operation if ever there was one. A place where Palestinian mothers would not have to worry where their sons hung out all of their useless days and nights, still resentful of the intruders, those new Jews, not caring to know why they came back, elbowing them out, yet look, look, moving them, those displaced Palestinians into Gaza and large surrounding desert, yes, yes… but wait… that’s not all… slowly turning that very place into a large near-paradise. Out of a profound understanding that hatred and jealousy lead to lasting grief, and altruism even though more practical than sincere perhaps, the ONLY way ahead. Investing a good slice of the billions upon billions received to develop and defend itself, in such a way that it would hardly have to defend itself at all. And money to spare to get its own social house in order with the constant arrival of unqualified and often backward immigrants.

Of course, there would still be strife, and hot, shallow heads trying to prevail. But in the long run nobody would doubt this ultimate accommodation, the ultimate wisdom of making it so and ….of accepting it so. Practical wisdom of the highest order on both sides of the divide: no self-righteousness, no humiliations, no programmed suicides, in fact all contrary misery and cruelty becoming completely…. stupid and unthinkable.

Too bad it didn’t happen that way.

Not yet.

(Written in April 2006)

(Please scroll back and read my closely related Sept. 20 posting, called Sacred Blues)

Ye Olde Slam Dunk

Very few scholars know this, but early 19th century Emily Brontë was the first to dedicate a full novel to an upcoming basketball player and his equally tall twin brothers, tentatively calling the work “Staggering Heights”. She subsequently changed characters, plot and modified the title somewhat. Check it out!

Kill, Kill, Kill

The problem with fundamentalists is that contrary to their OWN Creator they seem to have no respect for life, the dignity of it once His work here is complete and with which they’re not helping Him at all.

They have little notion of mundane issues like job creation, health care, hygiene, road repair, food supply and what have you, let alone education. What they offer basically is insanity. But religion, like revolution, eating its own is nothing new. And we do know what happens to societies embracing this sort of culture. Aztecs, folks like that.

However, with modern immediacy I give it a couple of generations, not centuries, before sanity regains its footing in those parts where they prevail.

Meanwhile, brace yourselves!

No Greater Fury

Road Rage is nothing compared to ‘Rhoids Rage.

White Lies

I refuse to read Proust, because of the recent French ban on imported British beef (British Political Commentator)

Trolley Car Line Greed

Don’t get me wrong, A Streetcar Named Desire’s a great rhythmic title and it’s what Tennessee Williams was truly terrific at: seductive labels firing up our imagination well before taking in one of his plays. Titles like a car dealer’s banners and flags, as with Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten or Long Day’s Journey into Night, making one wonder if the playwright hit upon a grand tag first, then managing to write a play around it until getting struck by that great American disease of sinking into self-parody. The type that musically and so pathetically afflicted talents like Liberace and Elvis. But what the hell, the marquee’s everything, ain’t it? Though applause does lead to artistic death, small doses at the time, as does lauding by the hour and insipid flattery by the line. It did Mr. Williams in, which is a shame, but you can’t get around it, it all started with titles just being titles, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has nothing to with cats and tin roofs, and Night of the Iguana not a single lizard on stage as far as I know. As for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More, well, you get my point.

Thus with A Streetcar Named Desire, dealing little or not with streetcars or containing any more panting or slow-burning desire with all this conjures up, than many, many other works by playwrights short and tall. Of course everything can be made to fit, including the Elysian Field neighborhood of New Orleans, suddenly a Purgatory rather than the vaunted mythical Valhalla where slain heroes frolicked, but convenient poetic license aside, shouldn’t metaphors apart from being beautiful, make some unexpected sense? Unless, of course… they’re nothing of the sort.

Beside the ‘Tennessee’ business, the slickness of the State nick-name (Can you imagine Sir Normandy Halliday?), plus Mr Williams’ imaginative, baroque southern language and much name-dallying rather than tight, contemporary plots, and speaking a handful of languages myself, it always amazed me how European theatre folks took his titles so literally and his work in such vapid awe. For on another level, would anybody in his right mind ever announce Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Below Lactic Forest? Yet that sort of mechanical stuff gets paraded round by civil-servant run, state funded continental European theatre. I mean, a look at the Welsh map quickly reveals there in fact exists the remnant of a forest quaintly called Milk Wood. And certainly, it’s rather difficult figuring out what milk and woods have in common, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the one part Mr. Thomas didn’t make up. So once there existed a milky white forest, one more commonly associated with Siberia than with Wales. So what! Perhaps already then an obscure metaphor, though certainly not one now. Either way Milk Wood, being a ‘nom propre’, to be left alone in the way that Montenegro never gets translated as Blackmountain or Carlsberg and Monte Carlo as Charlie’s Mountain. What gets translated is the ‘Under’ part, the preposition, leading to something like

En dessous Milk Wood

Sotto Milk Wood

Onder Milk Wood

Unter Milk Wood

Debajo Milk Wood

or whatever, in a given idiom. But what at this particular time provokes my brief outburst is the ridiculous translation of A Streetcar Named Desire by those same state perpetrators. For ‘Desire’ shouldn’t be translated into something that despite Tennessee Williams’ naughty insistence never was.
A Streetcar Named Desire’s a clever take all right, it has the makings of such a magnificent metaphor, except that this streetcar rides for real, in New Orleans, and an old rickety affair it is. With as end of the line the Desire neighborhood where Desire Street and Desire Parkway reign. In fact End Line Desire or A Streetcar To Oblivion would have been a far more apt title for the play, given its dramatic surge. Still, it does ring much better than, say,
A Subway Direction Idlewild Airport, if, in the late forties, the plot had been set in Queens, N.Y. The problem then with these Europeans is never having taken the trouble to travel to New Orleans, and in translation having augmented William’s little title fraud to a degree bordering lunacy. Coming up, and translating it all straight back for you, with titles like Trolley Car Line Greed, producing an image of someone compulsively absconding with public transport units. (Damn, there comes another one. I’m getting mighty tired of this! Do I get anything else done today?)

So that what this is all about is not so much Mr. Williams and the dutiful, industrial productions of his work in Amsterdam, Prague, Antwerp and like cities, but all that lazy European hero-worship. Or better still, the living off international name-tags, the going along blindly of it, the lacking of all pride of it, the sad absence of critical judgment of it, the seeking to be looked up to as an important cog in the theatre trade without having a grain of creative judgment or ability oneself. Serving up and getting away with risk-free, pre-approved works: the frequency with which these and other ‘known’ plays are repeated staggering. This no longer about stage art, this is all about attempting to obtain stature by association. This is all about robbing great talent, playwrights nearer by, of oxygen and opportunity. Those who wait and wait and who are often shut out until they die, as production budgets, inevitably limited, get squandered on ‘recognition’ pieces, produced like cultural pabulum, bad translations mostly adding insult to injury.

– Did you like it?
– Oh, darling, It gave me the shivers. It was so dutiful…
– Pardon me?

Anyway, when traveling around Europe, should you notice the staging of yet another Tennessee Williams play, advertised for the 100th time in Zurich, Zagreb or Modena, try not to be impressed. And if you haven’t got a clue which particular play’s up except for the author’s name below it simply because you don’t understand the language it’s written in, don’t worry. Neither likely do the comfortable, don’t-rock-the boat, hip-on-the-surface-but-tragically-conventional chaps behind such stage fluff. All of it art by committee, with predictable results.

Shocks, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think these ego-tripping, falsely anointed fonctionnaires should ever mount another Trolley Car Line Greed. Anymore than they would A Highway Job Called Robbery, by the superb Oxfordshire Smith.

Chez Bill

Naughty waiter to Clinton: Excuse me, Sir! Would you like some hair on your filet mignon?

Insane Energy

Hitler proved Einstein wrong: contrary to common interpretation E = MC2 stands for Energy equals Madness times the Speed of Light, squared. The great physicist belatedly recognizing the limitless energy emerging from massive daylight idiocy and, somewhat embarrassed, accepting the amendment of my own invention, by sticking out his tongue.

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