How the Internet Began

I found this on a site for British expats in France so thought I would share it:

How the Internet Began
By hgibson in Ubuntu on 2012-08-14camels
In ancient Israel , it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dot.

Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and long of leg. Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.

And she said unto Abraham, her husband, “Why dos’t thou travel so far from town to town with thy goods when thou cans’t trade without ever leaving thy tent?”

And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said, “How, dear?”

And Dot replied, “I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and they will reply telling you who hath the best price. And the sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah’s Pony Stable (UPS).”

Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success.

Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever having to move from his tent.

To prevent neighboring countries from overhearing what the drums were saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers knew. It was known as Must Send Drum Over Sound (MSDOS), and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures – Hebrew To The People (HTTP).

And the young men did take to Dot Com’s trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung. They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or  NERDS.

And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land.

And indeed did insist on drums to be made that would work only with Brother Gates’ drumheads and drumsticks.

And Dot did say, “Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others.”

And Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel , or eBay as it came to be known. He said, “We need a name that reflects what we are.”

And Dot replied, “Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators.” “YAHOO,” said Abraham. And because it was Dot’s idea, they named it YAHOO Dot Com.

Abraham’s cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot’s drums to locate things around the countryside. It soon became known as God’s Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE).

And that’s how the Internet began.

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

 

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I finished ploughing through this tome and had to immediately go back and read the first few pages, as the book starts by plunging the reader into a strange, surrealistic almost nightmarish scenario of a person (man? woman?) constrained by unknown circumstances to remain in a hotel room in Amsterdam. The physical situation (a pretty standard hotel room) is described in great detail and then we are taken back in time to the situation of a young boy approaching what he expects to be a painful interview with the school principal, accompanied by his mother. The narrative voice is that of an adult, so that the device of presenting the narrator as a young boy does not come across as convincing at all.

From there the narrative takes off, whirling the reader through the mind of the anxious child, the chance entry into the museum (in New York), and the explosion (what the analysts call the ‘inciting incident’) which kills the boy’s mother, brings him into contact with a dying elderly man who tells the boy to take a small painting, the goldfinch of the title. In the museum the narrator has seen a young girl, whose image haunts him.

The ‘inciting incident,’ i.e., the explosion, is described at inordinate length, as is the long and tortuous route the boy takes to get out of the museum. This turns out to be a feature of the book as a whole, setting sudden acts of violence or twists and turns of the narrative against long and tedious descriptions or accounts of events. The various situations in which the main protagonist finds himself are all given at great and excessive length and in wearisome detail. And so, we experience the boy’s feelings as he waits in vain in their apartment for his mother’s return, is taken in by his best friend’s wealthy family, is then transported to Las Vegas to live with his less-than-successful father and the father’s girlfriend, strikes up a friendship with Boris, another half-abandoned boy, with whom he experiments extensively with drugs, and his eventual escape back to New York in the company of a small white dog, eventually reaching the antique shop once owned by the elderly man in the museum and now run by a large, kind man called Hobie. This is the situation in which the boy remains for the rest of his story, and the antique shop and the antiques trade form the focus of the rest of the action.

The narrator continues to describe his life up to the point where he is holed up in the hotel in Amsterdam, along the way introducing a host of interesting characters, some friendly, others ominous, but most of whom are depicted in a convincing way. There is also a renewed encounter with Boris, his friend from Las Vegas, now grown up and involved in some kind of shady deals, though nothing is spelled out very clearly. Boris is originally from Russia, and his way of speaking and accent are depicted with devastating and entertaining accuracy. The narrator gets involved willy-nilly in a violent and eventually fatal attack in an attempt to retrieve the painting he himself once stole from the museum, and this explains his situation at the beginning of the book.

In between the longeurs of the descriptive passages and accounts of situations that could and should have been cut in the editorial process are brilliantly evocative accounts of feelings, events, individuals, and developments that almost take the reader’s breath away. Interspersed with all these are passages where, instead of describing scenes or events the author simply lists a series of adverbs or adjectives, seeming to think that by doing so she is creating atmosphere. To me this simply reflects laziness, or weariness with the need to build a sentence rather than just giving a list of words. There are sections that display great knowledge of such diverse subjects as art, drugs, and antiques, and I found these both interesting and illuminating, though I’m not sure if that was the purpose of the book.

To sum up, this book has descriptive passages of luminous brilliance and insight and a narrative thread that pulls the reader onwards, alongside parts that are simply too long and almost unbearably tedious. Where was the editor in all this?

 

 

Jerusalem — Again

 

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So now the Palestinians are saying that the concept of any historical connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount in particular, is pure myth, and they are trying to get UNESCO to adopt a resolution to that effect.

I wonder what would happen if they tried to claim that there’s no connection between Christianity and Jerusalem. Their ability to totally deny proven historical facts and create a fictional reality simply beggars belief. Admittedly, Christianity’s association with Jerusalem is not entirely lacking in violence, murder and mayhem, yet it cannot be denied that it existed and continues to exist. Understandably enough, the inhabitants of Rome don’t seem to be anxious to proclaim their connection with Jerusalem, though I believe that the Pope is not averse to asserting Catholicism’s association with the city. But when all is said and done, the Vatican is an independent political entity and cannot be linked to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Jews should not need to be reminded that most of what Jesus preached was based on Jewish ethics and teachings. His presence in Jerusalem prior to his death served as the culmination of a life lived as a Jew in the Holy Land, where pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple for one of the three ‘foot-festivals’ formed just one aspect of Jewish observance, and he obviously participated in this custom (although that particular pilgrimage ended badly).

The Crusaders who conquered Jerusalem in the eleventh century and remained there for several centuries until they were defeated by Saladdin and his army, left their physical mark in the form of churches, fortresses and other mementos. Jerusalem is mentioned in numerous Christian texts and prayers, as it is of course in Jewish ones. To give just one example, anyone who attends a performance of Fauré’s touching Requiem cannot fail to be moved by the final chorus about Paradise, which ends with the tender repetition of the word Jerusalem by the choir.

Of course, the Christian references are primarily to celestial Jerusalem, perceived as a metaphor for heaven, a place of love and peace. That seems to be the vision perceived by the nineteenth-century English poet, William Blake, whose poem, ‘Jerusalem,’ set to music by Hubert Parry, is tantamount to a second national anthem for England.

On a personal note, Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, contains several references to Jerusalem, all taken from the Torah. The beautiful aria, ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain, O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem…’ refers quite clearly to physical Jerusalem, as do innumerable verses in the Bible. For me, hearing that particular passage is always a special delight, because the far more concise Hebrew text reads Mevasseret Ziyyon and Mevasseret Yerushalayim, which are the names of the place just outside Jerusalem where I live. To be sitting in the church of the neighbouring Arab village of Abu Ghosh and hear this performed is an incomparable experience.

And of course, the funniest thing of all is that the Quran doesn’t have a single reference to Jerusalem. The Muslims say that a verse mentioning ‘the far place’ is in fact about Jerusalem, but that contention is flimsy in the extreme. Granted, Muslims or Ottomans did rule Jerusalem for several hundred years, as they did most of the area of the Middle East, and Suleiman the Magnificent built an impressive wall around Jerusalem in the fifteenth century, but Jerusalem is considered only the third most sacred site for Muslims. The original version of the Al-Aksa mosque was built on the Temple Mount in the eighth century C.E. (and rebuilt and extended several times after being destroyed by earthquakes and used as a palace by the Crusaders).

Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that Jews traditionally turn towards Jerusalem when praying whereas Muslims turn towards Mecca, which means in essence that they turn their backs and behinds to Jerusalem (just visualize their position while praying). Nevertheless, as Goebbels remarked, the more outrageous the lie, the greater the chances that it will be believed. Fortunately, Goebbels is no longer with us, but it seems that those who lie as well as those who give credence to untruths remain.

(This article firstappeared in the September issue of the AJR)

 

 

Glyndebourne

 

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I’d often heard about Glyndebourne, the country estate where operas are presented at a very high artistic standard, but never dreamed I would actually be able to attend a performance myself. It wasn’t even quite clear to me where it was, somewhere out in the country outside London. It sounded like another realm of existence, one where one paid a lot of money for a ticket, and where ladies and gentlemen dressed in formal wear picnicked on manicured lawns (often getting rained on in the process, this is England, after all), and altogether belonged to another world. I come from a refugee background that, while cultured musically, was what you might call impoverished and far removed from the comings and goings of the world of opera, formal wear and upper-class mores.

And so, when the opportunity arose to join a group being organized to attend one of my favourite operas, Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ at Glyndebourne and to attend a ceremony to mark the dedication of a plaque being installed there to honour the late Sir Rudolf Bing, himself a former refugee from Vienna and one of the founders of Glyndebourne, I jumped at the chance. For me it was as if a fairy had waved a magic wand and given me the chance to fulfill a wish that I had always thought was nowhere within my reach.

From its very beginnings in 1943 it was the custom at Glyndebourne (as it is at Covent Garden, too, I believe) for the audience to wear formal evening dress (‘black tie’ for men means a dark suit and bow tie), which is not the style of clothes that is found in everyone’s wardrobe, and certainly not in mine or my husband’s. The latter, in fact, was not at all happy at being required to ‘dress up’ in that kind of outfit, but calmed down once he saw that all the other men there were similarly attired. To be quite honest, I’d say that the outfit suited him down to the ground and he looked every bit the aristocrat in his dark suit and (borrowed) bow tie.

To be at Glyndebourne and feeling that one is blending in with the rest of the audience, all of us dressed in our most elegant finery, felt a bit like taking part in a period film, or even participating in an episode of ‘Downton Abbey.’ The well-modulated tones in which everyone around us was speaking only added to the dream-like quality of the experience. To tell the truth, the audiences at concerts and performances of operas I’ve attended all over the world, and that extends to the Tel-Aviv Opera, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Teatro Massimo in Palermo and even La Scala in Milan, amongst others, are generally well-behaved and well-dressed (though not at the Proms, I might add), but there’s a certain something about Glyndebourne that sets it apart from all the others. Maybe it’s the typical Englishness of the event (though almost all the performers were from Italy, Russia, Romania and elsewhere) but somehow the ambience was particularly warm, cultured and welcoming.

To add to the general perfection of the event, the weather that evening, generally so unpredictable and inconsiderate, was as balmy and kind as anyone could have hoped for. Admittedly, since the construction of a new auditorium a few years ago the audience no longer sits in the open, but all the same the cooperation of the weather helped to make the occasion as memorable and enjoyable as anyone could wish for. And it goes without saying that the standard of the singing, acting and staging was of the highest order, though one or two dance sequences, in which Mozart’s sublime music was accompanied by dance moves and settings more typical of 1960s night clubs struck a slightly incongruous note. But nothing could spoil my enjoyment of the occasion and everything that it exemplified and embodied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proms? What Proms?

 

 

Anyone looking for an uplifting musical experience should steer clear of the famous Prom concerts in London’s Albert Hall.

The hall itself is enormous and impressive, seating several thousands at a time. In addition, especially cheap tickets are sold as standing room only in the center of the main auditorium. All well and good, provided those standing remain stock still throughout the performance, and on the whole I think they did.

As a result of a mistake in our booking procedure we found ourselves sitting in row 2 of the main auditorium, which meant that our view of the orchestra and the soloist (Stephen Hough playing the piano solo in Rachmaninov’s variations on a theme by Paganini) was obscured by the people standing.

That’s just one of those things, we said, and settled down to enjoy the performance. Lo and behold, in trooped a bevy of well-dressed and coiffured young men, obviously well-educated, each one clutching a large plastic glass containing…beer!  They took their places in the row in front of us and proceeded to quaff their drinks. This went on throughout the performance and seems to have become part of the Proms experience  (this was not the famous Last Night at the Proms, when riotous behaviour is de rigeur).

An elderly Indian couple took their places in front of us, also in the front row, and sat quietly. Every now and again the wife (presumably) would shove her hand into the handbag on her lap, silently extract a sweet and put it in her mouth. The young men continued to swill their drinks, albeit in silence.

Half-way through the first item in the programme (Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet overture) a large lady dressed in pink sitting two seats to my right suddenly stood up. I thought she might not be feeling well and wanted to leave. But no. To my astonishment she started gesticulating frantically and mouthing ‘stoppit! Stoppit!’ to the Indian lady sitting several seats away from her.

This presumably had the desired effect, and the Indian lady’s hand stopped traveling from her bag to her mouth. After the interval the Indian couple did not return to their seats. The young men continued to drink, but this elicited no response or criticism from the large lady in pink.

If this is the customary behaviour of the audience at the Proms you won’t find me there again. At least in Israel the audience isn’t eating and drinking during concerts, and neither do officious persons take it upon themselves to teach others how to behave. At any rate, not in a manner that can only be described as overtly racist.

 

Adieu Limousin

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Our summer in Limousin concluded with a short stay further south, at a Gite in the countryside near the picturesque village of Montcuq. Finding the place called Mondaunet put our GPS under a lot of pressure, as the name did not feature in its database, but eventually, after several phone calls to the owners, we got there while it was still daylight, knowing for sure that we’d never find it in the dark.

We were greeted by our host singing, ‘A blessing on your head, Mazal tov, Mazal tov,’ upon hearing that we were from Israel, and his patter, string of jokes, puns and songs kept up a constant flow during our two days there. Peter’s long suffering wife, the delightful Zoe, would occasionally mutter ‘I think that’s enough, Peter,’ but Peter was not to be deterred. And so we spent  our brief stay there in a constant state of hysterical laughter, other than when we were trying to counter with a joke of our own. It is quite an experience to be entertained by your host over a lavish continental breakfast in the charming dining room-cum-living room that Zoeand Peter have created themselves from what was once a tobacco-drying barn.

Judith, our friend in Montcuq, accompanied us on our last night to the neighboring village of Lauzerte, where a concert was to be given in the framework of the region’s Festival du Quercy Blanc in the medieval church of St. Barthélemy. Although the string trio does not have a name, the three musicians, Mark Drobinsky on cello, Anton Martynov on violin and Ralph Szigeti on viola, gave a stellar performance of works by Bach, Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven.

What a wonderful way to end another magnificent summer in La Belle France, and no Brexit or Brexiteer is going to spoil our enjoyment of the good things of life, and the good things of life in France in particular.

 

The Creuse in WWII

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In this far-flung corner in the middle of France lies an agricultural region where villages and hamlets, and mainly isolated farms, nestle in the verdant hills and valleys. The area is not distinguished by being near to the sea or anywhere near any mountains, and this in fact is its distinguishing feature. Because of its geophysical characteristics it is subject to long cold winters and fairly long hot summers, sometimes interspersed by spring and autumn, though this is not always the case. In some respects it resembles the Mid-West of the USA and, as I have lived for some time there, too, I have found that in both places the local people are warm-hearted, honest and kind.

I have no statistical data to bear out my theories, though I do have some personal information, so I must try to avoid descending into sweeping generalizations. Consequently, I won’t venture to state that in this part of France the Resistance was at least as active as anywhere else, and that a relatively large number of Jews and others considered undesirable by the Nazis found refuge in one or another remote village or hamlet.

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The occupying Germans did their best to hunt down and capture any and every expression of resistance wherever they could find it, and even elsewhere. The nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane paid a heavy price in 1944, when the entire population of the village (642 men, women and children) were massacred in a retaliatory action.

An exhibition of photographs taken by an amateur photographer in the Creuse during the Occupation is currently being held at the Departmental Archives in the town of Gueret. The photos were taken by Jacques Poudensam, a local pharmacist and dentist, and the grainy black-and-white pictures portray a period of hardship and determination, showing how the people of the Creuse coped with the situation, and also how they fought against the enemy.

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Thus we see tired housewives standing in line in May 1943 in order to buy their meagre ration of meat (anyone who has read Kristin Hannah’s novel, ‘The Nightingale,’ will have a pretty clear idea of the situation), as well as a German reconnaissance plane over the town in August 1944. Battles or skirmishes between the Germans and the local Resistance forces continued throughout the period of the Occupation, but intensified towards the end of the war, especially once news came through of the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944.

A number of plaques can be found on the walls of buildings in the centre of Gueret commemorating members of the Resistance who fell there in 1944, such as the one commemorating Wolf Glicenztzein, aged 55, who was killed there on 7th June 1944. The exhibition contains photos showing the French flag hoisted aloft the church tower in June 1944, and members of the Maquis marching proudly through the Gueret market place in August 1944. Finally, in November 1944, we see troops (presumably of the Free French forces) massed in Place Bonnyaud (where the Gueret market is now held every week). Bear in mind the fact that Paris was liberated by the Free French forces, led by de Gaulle, in August 1944, not long after the Allied landing in Normandy.

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And so, a small, almost insignificant exhibition in an out-of-the-way French town reveals the heroism and fortitude of the local populace at a time when most of Europe was suffering under the yoke of the Nazi aspiration for world dominance. Only by the concerted effort and sacrifice of many millions of people, both civilian and military, was it possible for that dream to be crushed so that sanity could prevail once more.

 

 

 

Bloody Barbarians

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I consider myself to be something of a purist when it comes to the English language, which is hardly surprising since I’ve spent most of my adult life working as a translator/editor/writer. I try to avoid profanities, and will rarely even press ‘Like’ for Facebook items that use them.

However, every rule has to have its exception, and the recent terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated in France, where I’m holidaying at the moment, have brought me to cast aside all my scruples about linguistic propriety and define the individuals who committed those outrages in the terms above (or worse).

Brought up in what seems in retrospect to have been the idyllic atmosphere of England in the 1950s, albeit in conditions of relative poverty and privation, I have imbibed the values and attitudes of a caring and egalitarian society, founded on the principles of justice and decency that stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

That may be why it is so difficult for me to understand what goes through the mind of a young man anywhere, anytime who takes a truck and ploughs through a crowd of people celebrating an evening of fireworks marking Bastille day, or wields a knife or gun to cold-bloodedly murder a middle-aged couple, an elderly priest, or a group of children together with their teacher.

I’m no psychologist, I admit, but it seems to me that there are too many people out there with criminal or psychopathic tendencies, and when those individuals are encouraged by a certain religion to go out and kill anyone who does not share their religious or political or national views the result is the kind of atrocity we have witnessed in the last few weeks.

Back in the Middle Ages it was considered acceptable to kill those who disagreed with you, and even Christianity, the religion of brotherly love, has engaged in activities of that kind in the past (think of the Crusades, the Huguenots, the Wars of Religion in Europe that ended with ‘cuius regio eius religio,’ whereby the ruler’s subjects follow his religion).

However, the generally accepted view till now has been that the defeat or collapse of the societies that perpetrated atrocities in Europe in recent years has put an end to modern acts of barbarity, with the establishment of the European Union constituting the cornerstone of the new era of international peace and cooperation.

Unfortunately, however, no one seems to have paid sufficient attention to what has been happening in distant corners of the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula, where the methods and mores of the Middle Ages still prevail. Now, it seems, those trends and attitudes have managed to spread their tentacles beyond that region, a process that is facilitated by the movement of people resulting from the barbarism of their own rulers.

Here, in rural France, where all is peaceful and the countryside a symphony in green, hearing and reading about those horrific incidents in another part of the country makes one shudder and wonder whether life can ever be the same again in the country of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. How can rampant barbarism exist in the country that has produced the highest expressions of human achievement in the arts, philosophy and science?

In an ‘Open letter to a Candidate for Jihad,’ Zineb el Rhazoui, a young journalist of Moroccan origin, writes in last week’s ‘Le Figaro’ magazine of her contempt for those young men who, unlike her, have grown up in France, benefited from that country’s free education and medical care, are more fluent in French than in Arabic, and don’t even know what the word Jihad means (effort, she says). They are so brainwashed by their religious leaders, she claims, that they are ready to abandon every shred of decency and respect for human life. She ends her article by pointing out that Muslims and Arab culture play a prominent part in modern France, and that it would be better for those young men and for society at large if they were to invest their energies in helping others and contributing to the wider society rather than indulging in a frenzy of destruction and murder that benefits no one, least of all themselves.

If only her voice would penetrate the thick skulls of those bloody barbarians.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Novels About Jews in England

 Conspiracy

 

A book entitled ‘A Conspiracy of Paper’ by David Liss (published by Ballantine Books, New York, 2000) recently came into my hands by chance. The main subject – intrigues, violence and even murder in connection with trading on the stock exchange in early eighteenth-century England – is not one that would normally attract my interest. However, the opening pages revealed that the main character, who is also the narrator, is a Jew, and this naturally aroused my curiosity.

As luck would have it, and again purely by chance, another book I read recently (‘A Second Daniel, A Tudor Intrigue’ by Neal Roberts), was also – albeit incidentally – about the situation of Jews in England, this time in the period of Elizabeth the First. At that time Jews had not yet been officially allowed to reside in England, yet nonetheless some did, and even the queen’s physician was a Jew, although he came to a bad end. Jews were officially allowed back into England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century, although they were subject to various restrictions as to where they could reside and in which occupations they could engage. Thus it was that, as was the case in most of Europe, Jews were not allowed to own land or engage in any profession other than certain kinds of commerce or usury.

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Jews had been living in England since the time of William the Conqueror (eleventh century), but were increasingly subjected to restrictions, harassment and eventually persecution, murder, expropriation of their property and expulsion by Edward 1 in the thirteenth century.

In eighteenth-century England certain aspects of trading on the stock exchange seem to have been open to Jews, and the ins and outs of these transactions are described in considerable detail in the book, particularly in relation to the rivalry between the two major financial institutions: the South Sea Company and the Bank of England. The events described in the book take place a few years before the famous South Sea Bubble, in which shares in the South Sea Company suddenly lost most of their value, causing many investors to lose a great deal of money.

According to an interview with the author that appears at the end of the book, its main protagonist, Daniel Weaver, is based on a real person, Daniel Mendoza, a Jewish boxer who was well-known for his successes in the ring in his day. Like his fictitious counterpart, Mendoza eventually became a debt-collector and thief-taker at a time when London was without a police force, and crime and violence were everyday occurrences.

The plot of ‘A Second Daniel,’ contains several parallels to ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ and the events surrounding the actual trial and death of Dr. Lopez, Queen Elizabeth 1’s physician, may well have served to inspire Shakespeare to write his play. The legal status of Jews in England at the time was precarious, to say the least, though the fact that Lopez was able to serve as the queen’s physician indicates that exceptions could be made. Fortunately, the author spares us a graphic description of Lopez’s death, although the mere knowledge of it is enough to give anyone nightmares.

‘A Conspiracy of Silence’ contains lively descriptions of the London underworld at the time, as well as of the life of the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Particularly telling is the following statement made by the narrator’s uncle: ” …you would understand the dangers of being a rich Jew in this country. We cannot own property, we cannot engage in certain kinds of business. For centuries they have herded us into dealing with their money for them, and they have hated us for doing what they permitted.”

Daniel Weaver finds himself maligned for being a Jew, albeit not an observant one, and attacked for trying to find the person or persons responsible for the murder of his father. He is successful in his quest, but loses the woman he seeks to marry. His tale is typical of the fate that befell many Jews throughout the centuries and wherever in the world they happened to be living. Harried and harassed, chased from pillar to post, persecuted and subjected to indignities, insults and maltreatment for generations, their sad and tragic history culminated in the Holocaust that sought to eliminate them from the face of the earth.

And yet they have survived. Their situation today, with a State of their own, is one which can only be described as little short of miraculous.

 

French Country Life

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If you want to get up close and personal with the life of the population of rural France you must at least once in your life attend a Kermesse Paroissiale, a kind of parish fete, a function which is held once a year in order to raise funds for and support the local churches.

Today there are very few functioning churches in central France, although virtually every village has at least one such structure, many of them dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when religious belief and observance were more widespread than they are today. These churches serve more as venues for concerts, when these are organized by the regional authority. This year, apparently as a result of the restructuring of the region’s government, with the merging of several regions into one unit in order to reduce managerial and administrative costs, the usual series of seven or eight concerts given in local churches in the summer is not being held, apparently due to lack of funds.

A friend who is an active member of her local church and the wider parish (which incorporates several dozen otherwise-empty churches) invited us to attend the Kermesse this year, and even persuaded us to donate a prize (one of my paintings) for the tombola to be held to end the event.

The programme for the day was packed with activities, starting at 9.30 in the morning with a mass and a guided tour of the abbey, continuing with the release of doves, and games for adults and children and ending with a tombola draw at five in the evening. The high point of the day was the cold buffet midday meal, consisting of dishes prepared by the members of the parish.

This year the Kermesse was held in the grounds of an ancient, partly-ruined abbey, providing ample space for stands offering drinks, crepes, second-hand books, clothes, and home-made cakes and biscuits. For each drink, crepe, etc. one paid a symbolic amount, and much friendly banter and even earnest conversation was conducted alongside the transactions. The weather was fine and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The only drawback, if it can be called one, was the fact that the number of participants far exceeded expectations, and whereas tables and benches for one hundred guests had been prepared inside what had apparently once been the abbey’s refectory, over one hundred and fifty people queued up to partake of the food. There was quite a crush, partly because some people were apparently unused to the principle of taking something to eat and moving away to let others approach. Nonetheless, everyone displayed admirable forbearance and waited patiently or simply jumped the queue and went round to the other side of the table in the elegant and jovial way that is unique to French country-folk.

When we managed to find a place to sit together with our French friends we were surprised to find an elderly couple sitting quietly at our table with nothing to eat. They both appeared to be handicapped to varying degrees, and told us that they were waiting for the crush at the buffet to abate before they could approach it. They looked wistfully at our plates laden with food, and after a while, seeing that there was no progress, Yigal simply took the elderly gentleman by the hand, led him to the buffet, and steered him past the people standing there to the other side, where he could prepare plates for himself and his wife. The couple’s gratitude was touching, but it struck us as rather odd that the locals did not seem to have any concern for those among them who were weaker or incapacitated.

Feeling exhausted by our efforts and the need to speak in French, we went to the cake stand and bought something to have with our coffee when we got home. The stand seemed to be manned (womanned) mainly by English-speaking ladies, and the main topic of conversation was of course Brexit and its implications. We left the abbey just as the musical interlude (an accordionist playing French tunes) was beginning. On the drive home through the verdant countryside we felt glad that we had made our own small contribution to cordial international relations.