I love a parade!

Israel doesn’t generally do parades in the American style, but this year we had a special treat. Ok, it wasn’t Macy’s (that was a rumor that got blown out of proportion). Still, there were balloons and floats, and the American flair of classic cars and marching bands!

And we start with the Nutcracker!

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Going US style with US Ambassador David Friedman!

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Smurfy!

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Awesome classic cars!

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And a little red corvette!

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Compilation of the bands!

 

ANIMAL!!!

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Work it, Dragon!

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Wait. We’re in Israel, right? Do you see some Israeli heroes?

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If you will it, it is no dream!

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Hunkering down

While I’m sure other stuff has been happening around the world, the last couple of weeks in Israel and the United States have been crazy.

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How we deal with it at my house

In the US, we had a blue wave in the House, more firings in the White House, CNN had a stand-off with the president, the president popped over to France, and major elections had recounts.

In Israel, the apathy of the citizens of Jerusalem was staggering – the new mayor won by about 6,500 votes in a city with a population of 865,000 with only 30% of eligible voters voting. Israel is defending its citizens against attacks by Gazan rockets (460 rockets over several days from Gaza into Israel), but now there is a cease-fire. However, the defense minister stepped down, which rocked the delicate coalition, and that may bring about national elections.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Yeah? I’ll have some of that fiction now, please.

The nice thing about fiction is that it’s clean and all the boring unimportant bits are taken out. You don’t have to waste your time on details that don’t push the story along. Real life has just too much stuff going on and you don’t know what’s really important or which way to look.

I’m a fan of thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and I’m not averse to vigilantes with strict internal moral codes. At the moment, my fictional world is making a lot more sense than real life. But I do need fiction that makes me think. I need a theory or a particular worldview to chew on.

A few weeks ago, a British show called Strangers caught my attention. A few of the main characters are British, but it was filmed in Hong Kong with Chinese actors speaking Chinese (scenes with subtitles!). My original thought about reviewing this series was to point out that Britain is now getting in on the Asian drama wave. But I’m going to take it in a different direction.

What I loved about this show was that it was filled with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I know the usual tropes, so I really appreciate a show that keeps you guessing. For instance, here is a synopsis of the first fifteen minutes: A woman is driving while crying on the phone. She’s hit by a truck. A self-satisfied professor starts his lecture and is pulled out of the lecture hall to be told his wife has died in a car accident. He’s afraid of flying, but goes to Hong Kong to identify his wife’s body and bring her back to England. He sees a man holding a picture of his wife. Who is this man? None other than her Chinese husband who she’s been married to for the past 20 years.

Say what? I’m hooked. And it goes on like that for eight episodes: an unexpected twist every fifteen minutes or so.

I won’t spoil it for you. The unraveling of the mystery is very well done; I enjoyed the meandering pace.

What made me think, though, was a nearly throwaway line in the first minutes of the show. The smug professor wrote a book called Do Nations Exist? The brown-nosing student says “Nations are imagined; they only exist in our minds.” The professor answers, “Surely a group of people claiming to be a cohesive whole is, at best, a lie agreed upon.”

You can watch the whole show without ever thinking about this line ever again. However, given the events of real life, you might see that the story shows you the answer. Our professor leaves his ivory tower and arrives in a dirty, dark, smoggy Hong Kong. He finds that everything he thinks is true is not, everything he expects in the world is upside-down, and all of his British cultural touchstones have no meaning in Hong Kong. He expects the police to help, they don’t. He expects the British consular officers to help, they don’t. He thinks the Chinese husband is working against him, he isn’t. Then there’s the journalist, the university friend, the activist, the refugee, the Triad gangster, the conglomerate owner, the British consul, the hotel manager – no one is who they appear to be. And what about the elections in Hong Kong? There are protests and the usual rumors and power plays. But how does it fit in? (As I mentioned, nothing is introduced that isn’t important. It’s clean and we know where to look, even if it might be misdirection on the part of the writer.)

It’s possible that the important bit of the line is “a lie agreed upon.” When you hold up the mirror of fiction to real life, you might find that everything you think is true isn’t. All your expectations are baseless. Your interactions in the world go awry because you are a stranger in a strange land.

But then why throw in nations at all? Do they exist? Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you are inside, then they don’t – or don’t have to. If you are outside, then they most assuredly do.

As for me, for the moment, I prefer to stay in my fictional world that makes some kind of sense. Real life is just too crazy right now.

Here’s the opening of Strangers

And a quick teaser

Civic duty

This past week Israel held municipal elections around the country. We had a government-endorsed vacation day to encourage voting. Businesses that stayed open were required to pay employees 200% (as if they worked on a holiday).

I went to my neighborhood polling station and found about 10 people outside promoting their candidates. They completely ignored me as I walked by. Did I project an aura of “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t even”?

I expected to have to wait to vote. But there was not another voter in the whole building. It was just me at 1 o’clock in the afternoon doing my civic duty.

People often take pictures of themselves voting and post them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the voting process is perfectly fine. But I didn’t do it because the voting system is frankly a bit ridiculous.

In Jerusalem, you vote for a party list and you have a separate vote for the mayor. You don’t mark a ballot or vote on any particular issues.  Personally, I feel like a kindergartner voting for class president.

When you walk in, you give the registrar your ID card and you receive two envelopes: a yellow one for the mayor, a white one for the party. You walk behind a cardboard partition and you’re faced with a divided tray filled with slips of paper. There are 21 parties each with their own letter (that may or may not obviously relate to the party name) and 5 mayoral candidates. You can also write in candidates.

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One slip of paper in each envelope, seal them, and drop them into the locked cardboard box.

Pick up your ID and go on your merry way having completed your civic duty.

Seriously, Jerusalem? WTF?

The next morning we find that we will have a run-off election because no mayoral candidate passed the 40% majority threshold.

Not among the two left standing is the candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing mayor, the prime minister, the Likud party, and other candidates who stepped out of the running. Well, there was a report that he had loan guarantees provided by quite a few Russian oligarchs.  And there was a weird text message campaign against him. I kept receiving anonymous messages saying that Gargamel doesn’t love the Smurfs and he doesn’t love Jerusalem either.

The young, secular guy who is left in the race was not endorsed by any major players and hasn’t raised as much money – although there is a rumor that he has money coming in that doesn’t have to be reported. On the down side, he has no management experience, he hasn’t worked with the Knesset, and he has a reputation for not getting along with colleagues.

But the worst thing is that even though there was a campaign to increase voter turnout and it was a holiday, Jerusalem’s voter turnout went DOWN from the last election. Last time it was 39% and this time it was 35%.

As I was walking to the voting station, I overheard a conversation:

“Are you going to vote?”

“Nah. I don’t like any of the candidates.”

You might think that Jerusalem was any old village in a far-flung corner of Nowheresville, not the home of 3 monotheistic religions, the crossroads of 3 continents, a flashpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Center of the Universe, and the capital of the State of Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are encouraged to boycott the elections (as a method of not recognizing Israel), so you can understand why they didn’t vote. But all of the 65% of eligible voters who didn’t vote pretty much thumbed their noses at the future of this city with a hearty “Whatever, losers!” and went to the beach.

The run-off is on November 13 and it’s not a holiday. I have a sinking feeling that Apathy will be the winner on that day too.

Monday Morning at the Movies – The Bookshop

I confess. I went to the movies on a Monday morning.

The Jerusalem Cinemateque is the home of several film festivals and is a place for movie lovers to gather and enjoy film. One of the major differences between the Cinemateque and a regular movie theater is that you will be shushed and chastised if you don’t observe proper movie-watching etiquette (they only recently allowed food in the theaters!).

You can buy a yearly membership and go to as many movies as you like throughout the year and get discounts on festival entrance fees. They have lectures and special screenings. Once I saw a new John Turturro movie followed by a Q&A with John Turturro. They screened The Karate Kid on a big screen on the lawn. I sat through all three Matrix movies in one night (ok, that was a mistake on my part)

This summer, on Monday mornings, they are screening several different movies and this week was The Bookshop. It was 10 NIS and I had missed the last showings at other theaters. It just so happened that I could arrange my schedule that morning, so at 11am I was in the theater.

The Bookshop stars Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson, and is rather gray and melancholy. It’s well-cast, well-acted, and well-done. But if you are not in the right mood, you won’t appreciate the small village Britishness of it.

Short review: Cautious thumbs up. Be in the right mood.

Long review: Below the trailer. Some spoilers.

 

“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.”

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 2:21

A British movie in the middle of the day brought out many British people and a variety of other English-speakers. The theater was surprisingly full. I heard English from all corners. But the interesting thing was that after the movie, it was the Hebrew-speakers congregating in the foyer to discuss the film.

“Such courage!”

“How could she stand up against the whole town?”

The grande dame of the village was a horrible, petty woman. She decided that there would be no bookstore in that old house and that was it. A younger woman decides to stand up for her right to have a bookstore. And the widower on the hill who rarely steps out of his house is re-inspired.

All the makings of a Hollywood Hero’s Journey. And this movie is definitely not that.

And yet.

I was reminded of the line from Ethics of the Fathers. Emily Mortimer’s character begins the work. She decides to try to open the closed minds of the villagers. Cue Sisyphus.

And it is the child who carries on the work – I won’t give away the ending (you probably won’t guess the final act).

From there to here, we see a lot of the dirty underbelly of an English village: gossip, us versus you, the smile to your face while stabbing you in the back, and power plays.

Like the Hero’s Journey, this too is a universal story, except that it’s not one that we like to tell; it’s a little too close to real life, and frankly, it’s sad. But that’s why that last moment in the film reminds you that you have to start the task even if you don’t finish it in your lifetime. Someone else will continue it in the next generation.

I’m a huge Anglophile and I love all the actors. I’m glad I saw it. But this is not a movie for everyone.

Friday Night at the Movies – Crazy Rich Asians

Given my earlier post, nobody should have been surprised that I went to go see Crazy Rich Asians at my first opportunity.

I love to go to the movies in Jerusalem on Friday nights. The timing has to be just right in order to get as few people in the theater as possible. If the movie screens over sunset, all the people who keep Shabbat won’t be there. The secular people who wouldn’t miss Shabbat dinner with their families are also at home; they’ll head out around 10pm for evening entertainment. So I check to find the movie that’s been playing for a while and is playing right at sunset. Result: Nearly private screening! Crazy Rich Asians just came out, so there was a “crowd” of about 40 people in a 300-seat theater.

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Friday night at the movies in Jerusalem, 9pm

Short review: Two thumbs up! Go see it! Here’s the trailer.

Long review: Below the trailer. Spoilers abound!

As an avid Korean drama fan (let’s not go so far as to say addict; I never binge watch, I marathon watch, so I feel I’ve accomplished something…), I was ready for this film. Or at least I thought I was. So many of the deeper nuances were lost on me. Plus, Asia is a big place. These Crazy Rich Asians aren’t Korean.

If you want to dip your toe into the K-drama (or Chinese drama or Taiwan drama) world, this movie is a good place to start. This is a 16 to 20 episode rom-com crushed into a 2-hour movie. And it has a lot of the tropes.

  • Independent girl – succeeds on her own merits
  • Semi-clueless boy – master of industry probably, but has been in his isolated world
  • Future mother-in-law hates the girl
  • Catty girls trying to tear down the independent girl
  • Birth secrets
  • Pointless shower scenes to provide “fan service” for the ladies
  • Everything is over the top
  • Independent girl wins and brings everyone up with her (We are all Independent Girl!)

The future mother-in-law is brilliantly played, but in comparison to K-dramas, this lady is a marshmallow. She has one great scene and then they have to move on. If she had taken a note from a K-drama mama, the viciousness and intrigues to get rid of this girl would have gone on for a few episodes (may I suggest Secret Garden or Boys over Flowers? Or in Chinese, Meteor Garden 2018). But this is also a Hollywood movie, we wouldn’t see as much of the deeper conflict between getting what you want (love) and family loyalty and honoring elders. Our clueless guy has spent too much time in New York and is ready to give up his family in a second (so he says).

A huge gutted fish in someone’s bed does send a message, even if you don’t write nasty comments using fish blood on the windows. Yeah, I’d have to say the catty girls tormenting our heroine were K-drama level.

Think of the most over-the-top wedding you’ve ever been too. Did they flood the church to create a mermaid-themed wedding with everything glittering and each person waving a lit flower while standing in what appears to be tall reeds? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Had it been another genre, flooding the wedding would have been the start of the tsunami plot line.

It was fun to watch and I enjoyed every minute. But I missed stuff.

At the beginning of the movie, we see our heroine playing cards. Her opponent has 2 pair. Even if you are not a poker player per se, you might have enough cultural knowledge to know that this is a good hand. At the end, we have a mahjong scene between our heroine and the future mother-in-law. The point isn’t the game, but the symbols in the game are obviously important to the scene. We understand that our heroine thinks really hard and lays down a tile that’s good for the future mother-in-law’s hand and it seems that m-i-l wins, but then our heroine shows her tiles. She gets up from the table and leaves with her own mom. Future mother-in-law is left at the table with an expression of acknowledgement? Respect? But what are the symbols within the game? Think how much more interesting the scene would be if you have cultural context. Luckily, my friend SHC is an excellent resource and sent me a great article all about that scene!

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram (the algorithm seems to think I have an interest in Asia, I wonder why that is?) and I found a letter that the director of Crazy Rich Asians wrote to Coldplay for use of their song. When I was watching the movie, I heard the song and enjoyed the fact that it was a cover sung in Mandarin. The song, of course, is “Yellow.” That’s nice, I thought. But I didn’t understand until I read the post this morning that: The. Song. Is. Called. “Yel-low.” Wow. I can be so dense sometimes.

Not a translation of “Yellow,” but lovely nonetheless

On my path to global citizenship, there is one thing I know for sure: I know nothing. But acknowledging it is a fine place to start.

In the meantime, go see Crazy Rich Asians and watch a few K-dramas while you’re at it.

Hamlet in the Park

It all started with Richard III for me. I was mesmerized. My expectations for the show weren’t very high because it’s English-language theater in Jerusalem. It’s not like we have Broadway-caliber actors living here with nothing to do in August. But then there he was. It was as if there was a light shining on King Richard and nobody else in the play mattered.

I think the vernacular here is: Squee! Fangirling!

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Anyway, I haven’t seen that guy in any other play, but I think I’ve seen him around town and there’s a part of me that wants to point and scream “Richard III!!!” Thankfully, I’m able to stop myself in time.

So every August, I go back to the park to see whatever Shakespeare play is on hoping for the same experience.

Sometimes it’s a hit. Sometimes it’s a miss. This year Hamlet was a hit (I mean, it’s no Richard III, but it was good).

It’s a uniquely Jerusalem experience, I think. The majority of the audience tends to be religious Anglos (by which I mean any variety of English-speaker). Lots of kippas, lots of covered hair, many children, lots of older people. But you also get teens (of many language groups) looking for free entertainment.* Sometimes the audience is great; sometimes the audience leaves a lot to be desired.

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I sat down first, but this lady decided that she needed to be closer and block my view.

On the plus side, we get up and move around the park, so at the next stop, you know already who to avoid.

I have to admire the guy playing Hamlet. It’s beyond theater-in-the-round; he has to act unselfconsciously crazy in the middle of the audience.

IMG_20180816_181521    IMG_20180816_182737The featured players are always a lot of fun!

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This year, I got a very good performance and a good audience (mostly), and I finished up the evening at my favorite restaurant.

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*Free, with a suggested donation. I always buy a T-shirt because I like to support community theater.  http://theaterintherough.co.il/

 

5 things that happened in Israel recently that maybe you didn’t hear about

  1. Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem
  2. Paraguay opened its embassy in Jerusalem
    Hardly a blip on the international radar. I wonder why that is.thinker-28741_1280
  3. Argentina canceled its pre-World Cup friendly match in Jerusalem. This one is complicated because there are unconfirmed stories everywhere. There seems to be agreement that protesters were encouraged to wave Messi jerseys smeared with fake blood. It’s been said that Messi and his family were threatened. Some are reporting that the cancellation is because the game was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. The BBC, linked here, says it’s because of the Gaza violence (which no one has said except the BBC).
  4. Speaking of Gaza, I haven’t seen very much about Hamas’s incendiary kites. These are not the Mary Poppins version of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”; these are kites flown over the border to cause fires. So far a nature reserve has been damaged and 6,200 acres of agricultural land has been destroyed. (One wonders why somebody who wants to move back into a house he says is his would set it on fire.)
  5. But I’m gonna end on a high note. A quarter of a million people (250,000) came to Tel Aviv to participate in the 20th annual Gay Pride March. It’s one of the largest marches in the world. Jews, Arabs, Israelis, and foreigners. Even the British Embassy had a float – the only diplomatic mission participating in the parade! See video here, more pictures here.

There may be those who would say that Tel Aviv is cold-hearted for celebrating Gay Pride while there’s violence in Gaza and fields are on fire in the south.

I say screw ‘em: In Israel, we value life and we celebrate it at every opportunity. As human beings we have a right to laugh, to love, and to be joyful. But more than that, we have a right to live, to exist. We will not be broken by fear or swirl into the abyss of sorrow.

The glass, my friends, is half full!

It wouldn’t be Gay Pride without Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame reminding us that life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.