Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ich lieb' dich nicht, du liebst mich nicht

Though I have become insanely busy lately, (and not in a good way), I am hoping to still make time to see From the Trenches to the Street: Art from Germany, 1910s-1920s at the Block Museum in Evanston.

Meanwhile, I present for your enjoyment a couple of more recent German exports:

undt this (not for those who are easily offended by German gay crossdressers)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Writing about War - Isaac Babel

A friend of mine asked me to recommend him a good work of Russian literature. While there's no shortage of such works, I am thinking of telling him to read some Isaac Babel.

He was a complicated man, I can't say I admire him as a person, but as a writer...

Here is an excerpt from one his his masterpieces, Red Cavalry. This book is based on his travels embedded as a reporter with the Soviet First Cavalry Army. The translation is my own:

Late night we arrive in Novograd. I find a pregnant woman in the apartment that was assigned to me and two red haired Jews with thin necks; the third is asleep, covering his head and rolled up to the wall. I find rifled armoires in the room assigned to me, scraps of women's winter coats on the floor, human feces and shards of sacramental dishes, used by Jews once a year - on Passover.

- Clean this up - I say to the woman. - How filthily you people live...

The two Jews get up. They are jumping around on felt soles and picking up the broken pieces from the floor. They are jumping around silently, monkey-like, like the Japanese in the circus, their necks swell up and turn side to side. They put a ripped feather-bed down on the floor and I lie down by the wall, next to the third, sleeping Jew. Frightened poverty closes in over my bed.

Everything is killed by silence, and only the moon, grabbing with blue hands its round, shiny, carefree head, is tramping outside the window.

I stretch my stiff legs, I am lying on the ripped up feather-bed and I fall asleep. The division commander of the Sixth is in my dream. On a heavy colt, he is chasing the brigade commander and puts two bullets into his eyes. The bullets pierce the head of the brigade commander and both his eyes fall on the ground. "Why did you turn the brigade around?" - yells Savitsky, the division commander to the wounded man - and here I wake up, because the pregnant woman is feeling around my face with her fingers.

- Pane1, - she says to me, - you are screaming in your sleep and you are tossing around. I will make your bed in the other corner, because you are pushing my daddy...

She lifts her skinny legs off the floor, and her round belly, and takes the blanket off the sleeping man. The dead old man is lying there, on his back. His throat is ripped out,
the face chopped in half, blue blood on his beard like a piece of lead.

- Pane, - says the Jewess and fluffs the featherbed, - the Poles were slaughtering him and he was praying to them: kill me in the backyard, so my daughter doesn't see how I die. But they did things how they wanted, - he passed away in this room and was thinking about me... And now I want to know, - said the woman suddenly with a terrible force, - I want to know, where else on this whole Earth will you find such a father as my father...

1 Pane - (Polish and Ukrainian) Sir

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Visiting a grave

A few days ago, I went to the cemetery to visit my grandmother's grave. It has been a month since she died. I had brought a small stone to leave at the graveside, which was hard to find because of the snow that fell a week ago.

I was nervous that I would have a hard time finding the grave. I remembered the lot number, lot #167 in Gan M'nucha section, south east corner, but I really didn't feel like stopping at the office and asking them for help. So I decided to give it a try by myself.

There was a funeral in progress not more than a hundred yards away which made me feel weird, like I was intruding on someone else's sorrow. I had to get out and walk quite a distance because the cars from the funeral were blocking the way.

The air was crisp. It was cold and the ground was covered with a thin layer of snow. You could make out footprints on the snow where people had come to visit other graves. I tried to find some way to walk across the cemetery without stepping on people's graves; it felt disrespectful, as if I were profaning the sanctity of the place.

I had little trouble finding the grave. I found the lot marker to confirm I was in the right spot - miraculously, it was exposed. The cemetery put a little nameplate at the head of the grave with my grandmother's name. I wiped the snow away from the nameplate and placed a small rock next to it.

I looked down at the grave and took a deep breath. The mound of dirt was frozen and covered with snow, and it somehow felt different from when I saw it last at the burial. It no longer looked new; it looked dirty and undignified. It stood out from the other graves, looking very cultivated and neat with the headstones, the flowers and bushes.

I let the memories of my grandmother enter my mind. In my head I told her that I was keeping her memory alive, that I did not forget her. I promised that I would come visit her again.

Then I left.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

And speaking of Shmiras Shabbos and Seinfeld...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A nightmare comes true

Last week our shul had its annual dinner. It was in a big heated tent in the parking lot. It was a warm day for January, about 50 degrees. The tent was hectic. The kids were running around everywhere and acting crazy. It was crowded and we were missing a chair at the table, no soup bowls, no wine. The heater was blowing a jet stream of very hot air straight at me, making it almost unbearable to sit. The people next to me called over one of the girls from the catering service and she was futzing with the controller for the heater to adjust it, but couldn't get it to not blow such hot air so hard. I took the thing out of her hand and futzed with it for a while. No way to make it cooler, just turned it off. Then a little later someone turned it on again, because they were cold. I think I turned it off a little later 'cause I got hot again.

On the way home, my cousin made a comment about the neighboring table giving us dirty looks all through the meal. I said I didn't know why this should be. At this point my wife started yelling at me - "Why wouldn't they? They were watching you turn the heater on and off all night!"

That's right. The dinner was on Shabbos!

Which I had completely forgotten about sitting in that tent. Surrounded by the screaming kids. And the blast furnace heater.

And as it clicked I almost threw up. It pretty much ruined the whole weekend. I don't even know what to say to people I run into - really, I know that you are not supposed to TURN OFF HEATERS on Shabbos. Really, I wasn't just flaunting chillul shabbos in front of the whole shul.

Oy, g'valt, g'valt, g'valt!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Oldie but a goodie! The Speechalist

I don't really have much interest in politics, but this is just too funny:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What the hell is an Aluminum Falcon?

Blacks and Jews

I found this video, and thought it pretty good. More than the rapping, I liked the message. But when I saw the comments on YouTube, I was so disgusted by the anti-semitism that I am really about to lose my faith in humanity completely. I don't even understand why such a positive message would receive so much hatred in response.

Does anyone still remember what Communism means?

From Bloomberg (emphasis mine):

Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Stock Index more than doubled last year and was Asia's best-performing benchmark.