Alexander, a Novel of Utopia

Alexander; A Novel of Utopia

by

Klaus Mann

This book was written in German in 1929 by the son of Thomas Mann, and with an introduction by Jean Cocteau, who was a friend of the illustrious literary family. It has been translated and provided with an English introduction by David Carter.

The character of Alexander of Macedonia, ‘Alexander the Great,’ has fascinated historians and laymen alike through the generations. In his novel Klaus Mann sought to illuminate the character of the individual who led his conquering troops across most of the known (and unknown) world of his time, in his quest to reach ‘the ends of the earth,’ providing psychological insights into his character and motives. The Freudian implications of Alexander’s resentment of his father Philip, combined with his contempt for him and his close relationship with his mother Olympias, cannot be ignored. As presented by Klaus Mann, Alexander’s zeal for conquest was directly allied with the task given to him by his mother.

The language of the book, albeit in translation, is both poetic and hyperbolic, seeking to reflect what was going on in Alexander’s mind as he and his army progressed through Egypt, the Near East and on into the ancient cultures of Babylon and Persia, which he adopted as his own. During his time in India Alexander was influenced by Indian philosophy and practices, which were resented by his Macedonian troops. Nevertheless, Alexander’s youth, energy and physical beauty brought him the loyalty of his troops as well as the allegiance of the peoples he conquered. To this day some Jewish boys are given the name Alexander, echoing the adulation afforded the conqueror by the ancient residents of Judea. And, of course, many of the cities founded by him throughout the region, most notably in Egypt, bear his name. However, after many years of fighting and conquering his troops rebelled, demanding to return home, and it was on this return journey that Alexander fell ill and died.

The novel is presumably based on ancient sources, such as records left by contemporaries, including Aristotle, who was hired by King Philip to tutor his son. However, it is essentially a poetic and emotional study of the trajectory of Alexander’s life and eventual death. Klaus Mann’s interpretation of Alexander’s quest for and attainment of power in the lands he conquered, together with his image of himself as absolute ruler, provides an insight into the workings of the mind of a being whose thirst for fresh conquests could not be slaked. In some respects this could be interpreted as an analogy for the ethos of the Germany of Mann’s time.

As an acknowledged homosexual, Klaus Mann identified with this aspect of Alexander’s character. He certainly portrays Alexander as a complex and powerful individual who, towards the end of his life appears to have become unhinged because of his mania for power. His death is portrayed in a way which would seem to be analogous with – or even presaging – the death of Jesus Christ, and if we accept it in that sense it is as if Klaus Mann has elevated Alexander to the status of a god.

Laugh or Cry?

These days I feel like Alice in Anti-Wonderland, where what seemed impossible yesterday is now happening before my very eyes. I would say ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ if I could, but I feel more like saying ‘Awfuller and Awfuller.’

Each candidate for a ministerial post in the government that Netanyahu is trying to form seems to be totally unsuited for the positions of responsibility they are about to fulfill. One of them, known for his seditious views and general disregard for the rule of law, is to be appointed Minister of Public Security, giving him control of the police force and other law enforcement bodies. Another, who has very little knowledge of defense matters and did a minimal term of service in the IDF, wants to be Minister of Defence. Netanyahu is holding out against this, but there’s no knowing what the end-result will be.

And now we come to the archetypical ‘fingers-in-the-till’ politician. A man who has even served a prison term for managing to confuse public and private finance to the extent that he and his relatives have ended up owning extensive property all over Israel. Someone somewhere must be having a laugh if they are seriously thinking of appointing him Minister of Finance.

But those are the facts, and the bottom line of these and other similar appointments of politicians whose main objective is to channel public funds towards the constituency that has elected them, trampling roughshod over the principles of democracy, egalitarian distribution of wealth and the rule of law.

I grew up in an orthodox family and was even an active member of Bnei Akiva in my youth, but living in Israel enabled me to identify as Jewish without being hampered by outdated rules and regulations requiring me to behave as if we were still living in the Middle Ages. The sad fact is that the modern world is anathema to the adherents of the ultra-orthodox version of Judaism. But they have now gained the upper hand in the governance of Israel, and the way ahead is looking ever bleaker.

The first sally came from the man who would be Minister of Defense who, in one fell swoop, managed to alienate a large section of the population that probably voted for him. By castigating the tradition of holding soccer games on a Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon he shot a poisoned arrow at the heart of Israel’s secular society. And that was only the beginning. Whether his desire will be achieved remains to be seen, but it is just one symptom of where the new government is headed. Which much-loved tradition will go next? That is anyone’s guess, but it should come as no surprise to anyone when public performances of material that is not in keeping with the ultra-orthodox way of life will be banned. In an attempt to mollify that segment of the population the Egged bus company has already scrapped ads that show scantily-dressed women. It is very possible that soon no female image will be permitted in public places, and the repression of women inherent in orthodox Judaism will prevail throughout the country.

There are parts of some towns in Israel where women are required to walk in an area separate from men. There are buses where women are not allowed to sit in the front seats. Every now and again one hears of orthodox men refusing to sit next to a woman on a plane. Orthodox men won’t shake a relative’s hand if she is a woman because touching a woman is considered to contaminate him. So don’t tell me that the repression of women is not an integral part of the Jewish religion.

If no one puts a stop to it, this government will do its best to take us back into the Dark Ages.

Contrasts

When life seems bleak, music, literature and art provide us with consolation. Thus, it came about that we were able to attend two musical events in one week. What a feast! And what a difference.

The first was an intimate evening provided by our friends and neighbours whose son, Ariel Lanyi, is an internationally acclaimed musician based in London. As he was here on a family visit his parents kindly opened their house (and grand piano) for an evening of virtuoso playing. We were privileged to hear a performance of music by Saint-Saens and Schumann (the latter’s Symphonic Variations), sitting close to the pianist, able to enjoy his intricate fingerwork and brilliant musicianship, to experience the music at close quarters, and afterwards to rub elbows with this talented musician.

The second event was a performance of Offenbach’s opera, ‘Tales of Hoffman,’ given by the Tel Aviv Opera. Why do we go to the opera? In my case, at least, it’s to experience a night of music and drama, a show, a performance, in which consummate artists appear on stage, sing, act, sometimes even dance, and the sum total of talents provides an uplifting experience, sending me out into the night feeling inspired, entertained and perhaps even enlightened.

That, at least, is what I expected. The excitement of the occasion starts even before we enter the auditorium as we sit and enjoy a sandwich and coffee or tea in the café area inside the building. Around us are other opera-goers like ourselves, people of middle age and upwards, middle class, middling appearance, trying to look their best. Observing some of the overweight, ungainly women around us gives me food for thought. I suppose that once they, too, were young and pretty, and now (like me) they are faded and dumpy. But at least we can all still enjoy a night out listening to music and watching a show.

And so it begins. The hushed audience sits expectantly as the curtain goes up to reveal the enormous and intricate monochromatic set which consists of dozens of small showcases displaying a myriad of different objects. So far so good.

The orchestra strikes up and onto the stage surges a crowd of men dressed in black who begin to sing something tuneful and unfamiliar. The ‘Tales of Hoffman’ is based on the concept of the writer, A.T.E. Hoffman, portrayed as a frustrated poet unable to write and constantly falling in love with one or another object of his passion. Admittedly, there’s not much of a narrative flow there, but there is some good music from time to time (the coloratura singing of the mechanical doll, Olympia, in the first act, the Barcarolle at the beginning of the third act, and other pieces, whether choral or solo), but in principle there is scope for interest and enjoyment.

At the back of the complex stage set is inset a rotating room representing Hoffman’s study, and in which the poor principal singer has to sing while being tossed to and fro as it moves. In the second act this becomes a rotating turntable representing a record (‘His Master’s Voice’), and in the third act this is a roulette wheel. A very clever and impressive idea, both in conception and in execution.

Having all the characters, including the women, dressed alike, and all in black, did not help to distinguish between them, and the general idea behind the opera is too abstract and obscure to enable one to follow what plot there is and find it an enjoyable experience.

So by the end of the evening (the performance lasted three hours with two intermissions) I was too exhausted and almost annoyed to find anything positive to say about it. The designer, Stefano Poda, is a world-renowned artist who dictates choreography, costumes, set and movement. My assessment of the performance I saw last week is that his concept is gloomy and depressing. I’m not sure that Offenbach would have approved. I certainly didn’t.

What Lies Ahead

Our fifth general election in four years has just taken place, and the decision appears to be clear. Israel has moved to the right. The parties which espouse limiting the rule of law as delineated by the country’s founding fathers, as well as the practice of restricting fiscal prudence by showering benefits and financial aid on segments of the population which adhere to the unproductive ultra-orthodox way of life, have gained control. In other words, the country is now condemned to a future in which those elements which refuse to do military service, work or pay taxes are to be supported indefinitely by those other elements which do work, pay taxes and serve in the military. One of Binyamin Netanyahu’s promises to the ultra-orthodox parties was to allow them to continue educating their youngsters without providing them with the basic tools that would enble them to eventually find employment, i.e., they will continue to concentrate solely on the study of religious texts. In addition, the right-wing parties which form his coalition proclaim their intention of imposing antiquated religious laws wherever they can, prosecuting homosexuals, deporting dissidents and generally bringing a modern, multicultural society to the brink of mediaeval misery. Shades of Iran.

The result of the election will not affect my generation very much. We older people will probably continue to live much as we have done before – residing in our own home, attending concerts and the theatre and occasionally even going on holiday abroad. What worries me is what will become of our children and grandchildren. They are now condemned to carrying the burden of an ever-growing section of the population which contributes nothing and insists on being supported. There’s no getting away from demography. That segment of the population continues to grow at a disproportionate rate by means of its advocacy of large families, with the average number of children far in excess of that of the general population. What this means for the future of the country is truly horrific.

Some seventy years ago Israel was founded on democratic principles by hard-working, secular and free-thinking people. Although desperately poor, the country accepted destitute Jewish immigrants from all over the world, no matter whence they came – Europe (many of them Holocaust survivors), North Africa, or Asia. The country’s resources were stretched to the limit to provide food and shelter for everyone, as well as to fend off the invading Arab armies, but everyone pitched in, doing their best to accommodate the newcomers. With the passage of time, employment and permanent housing was provided for all, education was made available to everyone, and slowly but surely the country developed, becoming a phenomenon, a shining light of enlightenment and progress. The ultra-orthodox segment, originally a tiny fraction, grew exponentially, gaining political power and demanding (and gaining) an ever-increasing proportion of Israel’s GDP.

Today there is rejoicing in the political parties on the right, including those that are entrenched in religious belief and so far to the nationalist right that they can be considered fascist. This surge in ultra-nationalistic feeling bodes ill for the entire population, and especially for relations with the Arab residents of Israel. It also casts a shadow over developments in the West Bank regarding the indigenous Palestinian population there.

We did our best and turned out to vote for the parties of progress and liberal ideals. But it was not enough. Part of the blame rests with Jews who have chosen not to come and live in Israel, preferring to criticize its politics from the diaspora. Time will tell whether my grim forebodings are justified or not, though I probably won’t be around to see how things turn out.

The Sound of Music

The concert season in Jerusalem resumed this week, and it was like meeting old friends, In fact, we did actually meet old friends. The first concert of the season of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra found us sitting in the packed Henry Crown auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. Together with us were many familiar faces, as well as friends and acquaintances from various walks of life whose paths have coincided with ours at one point or another, and whose friendship we have continued to cultivate, fertilized by our common love of music.

The orchestra was present to its fullest extent, crowding the stage with an impressive array of instruments, including an impressive brass section. Their virtuoso ability was stretched to the utmost in the music chosen for the evening. It started with four specially commissioned pieces by contemporary Israeli composers. Each piece was unfamiliar and did not make for easy listening, though none was longer than seven minutes. At the end of each piece Steven Sloane, the conductor, turned round to the audience and motioned to the composer concerned to stand up and take a bow. And after the last piece all four composers, three men and one woman, were invited on to the stage to take a collective bow. An admirable gesture obviously intended to encourage young Israeli composers.

The rest of the evening followed more traditional lines, with a stirring performance of Schumann’s piano concerto played by veteran pianist Elisabeth Levanskaya and, after the interval, Berlioz’s Synphonie Fantastique. This last draws on all the talents of every instrument in the orchestra, producing marvellous sounds, both pianissimo and fortissimo, but especially the latter. Berlioz knew his onions when it came to getting the maximum out of the orchestra, and it was emotionally stirring to see and hear the whole orchestra, together with the brass section and the extended timpani section, giving their all in the last movement of the symphony (Witches Sabbath).

The dry cough that sometimes afflicts me in concerts seemed to be kept at bay for most of the concert, and when it did choose to descend upon me it was luckily in the last movement, when any sound I made was well and truly drowned out by the massive noise produced by the orchestra. The sight and sound of two huge, highly-polished tubas doing their bit to produce a thrilling effect at the end was something I won’t forget in a hurry.

One can’t have a concert without an audience, and it is a pity that so many music-lovers in Israel don’t seem to know how to behave. At first I thought that some of the people sitting near me were suffering from Parkinson’s because they kept moving their hands, but when they managed to stop I realized that they were simply ‘helping the conductor.’ The worst culprit sitting near me, though fortunately not next to me, was an elderly lady who waved her hands around above her head to show her identification with the music. If the conductor hadn’t been standing with his back to her he might well have volunteered to let her take his place.

Our Friendly Neighbour

For a number of technical reasons we decided to hold our family celebration marking a milestone birthday in the neighbouring island of Cyprus. Family members came from various parts of Israel and the world, a hotel in the seaside resort of Ayia Napa was chosen and the dates for our four-day stay were selected. This last coincided with Israel’s eight-day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), when schools, colleges, universities and many places of work are closed.

The flight lasted about half an hour, and the drive to Ayia Napa took another half-hour, and then we were at our destination – a small hotel on the beautiful coast, part of a continuum of hotels. Our hotel overlooked the sea and the marina where yachts and fishing boats bobbed up and down with the waves and fishing and sailing excursions were offered.

From the moment we arrived (there were seventeen of us) the manager and the staff of the hotel went out of their way to please and meet our various demands. Tables in the dining area were moved so that we could all sit together. Our ‘birthday party’ meant that we more or less took over the hotel lounge, but no one complained. Balloons and champagne bottles were placed on the long table at dinner, a superb cake replete with pyrotechnics and candles was served with a flourish, and everything was done with grace and what seemed to be natural cheerfulness. Smiles were the order of the day everywhere we went and whatever we did.

The history of Cyprus goes back many millennia, and the island has been invaded and settled by many different nations and cultures, among them the Greeks and the Romans, of course. Its inhabitants appear to have learned to adapt to their checkered history, though the two main groups identify as either Turkish or Greek. In 1925 the British made it a Crown Colony, and established a strategic military base there. In 1960 the island became independent, but tensions between the two groups persisted, and in 1974 Turkey invaded the country. The resulting combat ended with the partition of the island into a Turkish and a Greek part, though the Turkish part is not recognized by the UN or any country other than Turkey.

While we were there we were not aware of any tension or hostility, and since the livelihood of a large proportion of the inhabitants rests on tourism it is evidently in their best interests to maintain the prevailing mood of optimism and charm. The climate is very similar to that of Israel (mostly Mediterranean), which leads most hotels to close down completely during the winter months. Along the promenade of Ayia Napa there are restaurants catering to every taste, but with special emphasis on fish and seafood.

Whether in the hotel or outside it, everyone is friendly, helpful and polite. And despite its volatile past Cyprus could well be called ‘Land of Smiles.’ It was something of a surprise, therefore, to come across a memorial plaque installed on the promenade in 2021 commemorating the victory in a ‘heroic battle between Greek Revolutionaries and Turkish soldiers of the Famagusta Guard’ held there in 1828 ‘with the victory of the Greeks.’

There is no avoiding the parallels with Israel’s own history and the conflict between two populations both laying claim to the same land. The Turks and Greeks of Cyprus seem to have settled into the modus vivendi of partition, with a clear line dividing the two parts of the island. At present there are no overt hostilities, and it would seem to suit both sides to keep the situation as peaceful as possible, enabling everyone to get on with their lives and livelihoods.

Ah well…

Four Times Twenty

During the last few years I have been spending part of the summer in France, supposedly to avoid the summer heat of Israel. That has come to be something of a joke, as the summers in France have been as hot as – or even hotter than – the ones in Israel.

Still, there are many benefits to life in France, or at least the rural part where we usually stay. The food is good and relatively cheap, there is a quieter, slower pace of life, and people are friendly, polite and usually well-mannered. For my husband and myself it is a time of relaxation and contemplation.

Mastering the French language is usually not too much of a problem for speakers of English, especially if, like me, they were taught some of the basics of French (as well as Latin) at school. In many cases the vocabulary is similar if not identical, though the grammar can be daunting.

But the biggest bugbear for me is the numbers. They follow a law of their own, one which bears no resemblance to anything any speaker of English can recognize. Sometimes the number involves having to do addition, so that twenty-one is vingt-et-un (twenty plus one), but twenty-two is vingt-deux. And sometimes you have to multiply, so that eighty is quatre-vingt, which is four times twenty. But after that you have to add, so that eighty-one is quatre-vingt-et-une (four times twenty plus one) and so on, but ninety-two is quatre-vingt-douze (four times twenty plus twelve) namely, multiplying and addition all rolled into one. Quel horreur! It’s a nightmare for someone like me whose grasp of arithmetic is somewhat shaky.

But as I have just turned eighty, it is something of a consolation to use the term quatre-vingt to define my age rather than the mundane English term. There is something charming, even magical, about defining myself as four-times-twenty, as there is still an element of youthfulness somewhere in there. Even if I’m four times twenty, the twenty is still in there somehow, reminding me that once I was indeed just twenty, in the far-off, long-lost world of my youth.

It’s also occurred to me that most of the people I grew up with and who were the friends of my youth must also have reached the same ripe old age. Help!

So, vive la France, and vive le Français, as long as it enables me to retain some latent element of the person I once was, and help me to overcome the ravages of time on my person.

The Revenge of the Elders of Zion

by

Dan Sofer

Attracted by the intriguing title, I read this book in its ebook version on my phone, and as I tend to read books on my phone only when I’m waiting to see the doctor or dentist, it took me rather a long time to read it. The convoluted plot and considerable length (sixty-one chapters) also contributed to extend the time involved in finishing it. However, I persevered despite an ever-increasing need to extend the bounds of credibility, so that it was curiosity as to how a particular predicament would be resolved rather than intrinsic interest in the plot that kept me reading.

As the story begins we are introduced to David Zelig, a young man living in New York, who finds himself elbowed out of the family firm in the movie industry by the man appointed to manage it. David is doing his best to survive while at the same time trying to avoid being drawn into the well-oiled world of Jewish fund-raising. In a moment of inspiration, or perhaps desperation, he recruits two friends, young Jewish men living in New York, like himself, to attempt to combat the rising tide of antisemitism. Taking as their motto the derogatory term used in the notorious antisemitic text produced in tzarist Russian and then disseminated throughout Europe, i.e., the so-called Elders of Zion, the three set out to infiltrate and undermine the Moslem-financed antisemitic organisation which happens to use the same misnomer.

It is beyond my ability to recount the various surreal escapades, adventures and misadventures endured by the three in the course of the book’s sixty-one chapters, suffice it to say that priceless Fabergé eggs, esoteric Christian relics, desert islands inhabited by czarist dissenters, billionaires in private jets and Islamic terrorists are all involved at one stage or another. There is also a romantic side to the story, as David falls in love with the beautiful FBI agent appointed to help him, and their relations give rise to all manner of acts of derring-do and implausible acts of courage.

Without giving too much away, the book ends with a satisfying settling of accounts, and the prospect of everyone living happily ever after. Unless, of course, the author is already at work on a sequel of equal improbability.

Holy Days and Holidays

I suppose the etymology of the two phrases (Holy Days and Holidays) is the same, but their significance in this day and age is very different. Holidays are a time for enjoying oneself, whether relaxing on a beach or trekking up a mountain, whichever suits your taste. Holy Days are a time for contemplation, prayer and – in the case of the Jewish religion – observing the various practices that are enjoined by the religious authorities to which one adheres.

For most people, religious practice follows the pattern set out by one’s family, with traditions handed down through the generations. In my particular case I decided to break with the traditions of orthodox Judaism, finding that living in Israel was sufficient to satisfy any inclination I may have had to follow the customs I imbibed in the parental home. Each family, each ethnic group has different traditions and different ways of observing them, making for a wide variety of modes of observance.

Some traditional modes of marking the festivals, primarily those connected with food, seem to have become embedded in the way they are observed. Many of these traditions are determined by the availability or non-availability of certain foods at certain times of the year. Since the origin of many of the Jewish festivals is connected with the agricultural year and seasons, this is reflected in their observance even in countries for which this partiularl aspect has no relevance. After all, Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel over two thousand years ago, but clung to the traditional seasonal routine imposed by the Jewish festivals. Now that some Jews are back in Israel the festivals seem to be celebrated at their appropriate seasons, but that isn’t always the case for Jews living in the diaspora.

The same goes for the observance of the Jewish calendar day, starting the evening before the day of the festival, and ending when there is no more daylight. When I was growing up in England, which is situated further north than Israel, that meant that in the summer the Sabbath didn’t begin until ten o’clock at night on the evening before, and ended around midnight the next day. Thus, all the prohibitions and injunctions associated with the holy day (not driving, using electricity or cooking) had to be observed at times that caused a major disruption of our usual routine (when to sit down to eat the evening meal, for example). Even in Israel today those rules and regulations require setting routines and mealtimes in accordance with the time of the setting of the sun, which varies in winter and summer. I’ve ditched all adherence to such arbitrary rules and the family sits down to eat at 7 p.m. come rain or shine.

As the Jewish New Year approaches there is an upsurge in sales of honey in Israel because everyone (myself included) wants to partake of something that symbolizes a sweet year. I am even prepared to eat an apple with honey, remembering my mother’s table with its shiny, polished red apples waiting to be consumed. But I refuse to go down the road of various ethnic groups which consume an array of different foods symbolizing the plentiful bounty of our ancient forebears, culminating in that much-prized delicacy ‘the head of a fish.’ As far as I’m concerned that is the ultimate insult, both physically and psychologically.

Be that as it may, and however you mark the High Holidays, may you have a joyous year, with health, happiness and all you wish for yourself.

Back to Reality

The first thing that hits you as the plane starts the descent towards the airport in Israel is the difference in the colours on the ground. If you have just left one of the countries of Europe, as we did, there is a noticeable difference in the shades of green that you perceive. The brilliant emerald green of the fields of rural France (or Germany or England or wherever), even in the summer of 2022 when temperatures rose to unprecedented heights and there were restrictions on water usage, remained in one’s visual memory, only to be erased (or at least put in the shade) by the greys, browns and dusty dark greens of the Holy Land. And, of course, the ever-present white of the stone buildings.

Yes, it’s good to be home, to be back in our own comfortable home, in the bosom of our family, and to find a note on our door left by our kind neighbours welcoming us and inviting us to come and get the basic provisions they had bought for us. Who could wish for a warmer welcome? The neighbours in the village in rural France were hardly aware of our appearance in our house there, and wouldn’t dream of buying provisions for us. To each his or her own, and his or her own habits and customs.

The adaptability of the individual to changing situations is something that really deserves deeper study. In (almost) one bound we left behind the serene, silent tranquility of rural France, where the roads are wide and relatively empty, and drivers are almost invariably courteous and considerate, to find ourselves bogged down in endless traffic jams being hounded by anxious, stressed-out drivers who tootle their horns with glee whenever the fancy takes them.

After a couple of days back in Israel we are still driving as if we were in the Creuse, not hooting or pushing in but waiting patiently for every other car to join the lane we’re in. I’m not sure that the ‘Creuse effect’ will last very much longer though. I pride myself on having managed to drive to the supermarket, buy some provisions and return home more or less unscathed. It may be pathetic, but I consider that to be no mean achievement.

One of the great consolations of our life in Israel is the presence of friends and family. And also the cultural, especially the musical, life. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend a grand performance of Mahler’s monumental second symphony (The Resurrection) soon after returning, and that alone was enough to fill our spiritual and cultural batteries for some time to come. And of course, throughout the year there are the usual concerts, whether symphonic or chamber music, as well as operas, to look forward to. Not to mention our traditional Friday evening family meals when we’re able to catch up on the comings and goings of our children and grandchildren. The musical offferings in rural France are fewer and further between, and often involve driving for a long time to reach the venue.

In rural France we were more or less cut off from the news media, apart from the weekly French newspaper, but it so happened that the news of the passing of Queen Elisabeth reached us when we were visiting relatives in the south of France. It was interesting to see the involvement of the French media in the event as one TV programme after another focused on the life of the Queen and the developments in the Royal Family. It enabled us to exercise our French and share in the developments in England and elsewhere.

At home in Israel we’re enveloped by the news media, whether printed, broadcast or telecast, and the effect on one’s nerves is unavoidable. Add to that the constant barrage of information about political parties coalescing or separating, individual politicians bombarding us with news and views and predictions of impending election results, and it’s goodbye to tranquillity.

There really is no place like home.