‘A View of the Harbour’ by Elizabeth Taylor

I bought this book, which was originally published in 1947, through Bibliophile, a company which buys remaindered books of all kinds in bulk, then offers them for sale at greatly reduced prices by means of a monthly journal containing summaries of each book, which is sent out to subscribers. I always enjoy reading its contents, and have often succumbed to the temptation to buy one or more of its wares.

I cannot deny the fact that the name of the author intrigued me. But this is not the Elizabeth Taylor the famous film star but a very English, very skillful, writer who describes life, manners and mores in Britain in the period just after WWII. About a year ago I wrote here about another book of hers, ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,’ describing life in a seedy London hotel which serves as a retirement home for genteel English ladies whose ‘golden years’ are less golden than they might have been expected to be.

The present book looks at a very different mixture of characters: the various inhabitants of a seaside town on the English coast, and the interactions between them. Here, too, the little world the author portrays is revealed to us in all its colourful variety, both social and psychological. In fact, one could say that were Jane Austen to descend from on high and resume her humorous and perceptive accounts of the interior and exterior lives of individuals living in post-war Britain, she might well have written this novel.

All the niceties of middle-class English life are portrayed here in language that flows easily and without pretentiousness, giving the reader an account of life as it is lived in a small town, with all the provincial prejudices, preservation of the proprieties, friendships, courtships and even decline and eventual death that are characteristic of any small, enclosed society. While the narrative jumps from one character to another, the reader is exposed to insightful comments, sometimes affectionate, sometimes sardonic, but always entertaining.

Certain characters come more vividly to life than others, and the author obviously bears a particular affection for frumpish Beth, whose domestic life is governed mostly by the life of her imagination as she writes yet another novel, and is totally oblivious to the relationship between her beautiful, elegant friend and neighbor, Tory (Victoria), and her husband. The relationships between children of various ages and classes and their parents are also described with a sensitive eye and pen.

Above all, though, it is the ever-present sea, with its harbour, fishing boats, seagulls, the changing rhythm of the waves, and lighthouse that dominates everything, bringing the inhabitants of the town together and forming a common bond between them.

 

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Humans Without Borders

A chance remark made by one of my fellow-pupils in the weekly German-language class I attend in my neighbourhood retirees’ club aroused my curiosity. Thus I learned about the activities of a group of Israelis who have made it their mission to assist Palestinians whose children require advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Like the other members of the volunteer organization known as Humans Without Borders (HWB), two or three times a week my fellow-pupil, Tuvia, who today looks more like a geriatric hippie than the bank manager he once was, goes to one of the military checkpoints around Jerusalem (e.g., Kalandia or Bethlehem), picks up a Palestinian child, with one or two accompanying parents, and drives them to one of the Israeli hospitals where they are treated for one of the various diseases that afflict the young Palestinian population. Apparently, because of the high rate of intermarriage in Arab families the proportion of children suffering from renal diseases is particularly great. The hospitals involved in the Jerusalem area are Hadassah, Sha’arei Tzedek and Augusta Victoria, and on an average day there are some twenty or thirty journeys to and from hospitals.

Thus, a child can undergo dialysis or chemotherapy, treatments which are not always available in the Palestinian hospitals. Sometimes they recover and sometimes they do not, and the cases which are unsuccessful are invariably very distressing for all concerned, including the Israeli drivers, who develop an attachment to ‘their’ clients and their families. Tuvia proudly showed me a photo he had been sent of a baby born to a Palestinian family after the death of the child he had been driving to and from hospital for some time. Tuvia has a B.A. in Arabic language and literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, so communicating with his ‘clients’ is not difficult. In most cases the families know basic Hebrew, and can thus overcome the language barrier.

Naturally, a project of this kind involves considerable organization and coordination. When the association was originally founded in 2002 by Canadian immigrant Larry Lester the coordination on the Palestinian side was implemented by Gamila Yafit Biso. Today, however, all the arrangements are made by means of various messaging apps. HWB is a non-government, non-political charitable organisation, and has some 200 volunteers from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society as well as from the world community. The costs of medical treatment are paid by the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to transporting Palestinian children in need of advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, the key aims of the organization are to visit and support the children and family members during hospital treatment, secure medical devices for use by the children in their homes and provide practical support to these families and communities in their daily lives. A similar organization is based in the Tel Aviv area, with many more volunteers, who are often called upon to collect children from the Erez crossing to Gaza and bring them to hospitals in Israel.

HWB also organizes fun days and picnics for the children and their families, whether as a day on the beach or outing to a swimming pool, with food and entertainment laid on. HWB believes that it is every child’s right to grow and develop in a caring and supportive environment, and is committed to enhancing the safety and well-being of Palestinian children and their communities. By promoting direct, friendly contact between Palestinians and Israelis, and through its efforts to brighten the lives of the children and ease the anxiety of their parents, the organisation contributes to the fostering of greater mutual respect between the two sections of the population. The organization is a recognized charity, and donations may be made through the New Israel Fund.

(This article first appeared in the August 2019 edition of the AJR Journal)

Old Bag, New Bag

Travel broadens the mind, they say. However, one of the less delightful aspects of travel is making sure you haven’t forgotten anything. I’m not talking only about essentials such as passport, documents, etc., but rather about the myriad other objects you have to have about your person to cover every, or almost every, possible contingency, mishap or disaster that may befall you on your travels.

Like the MoominMom, I generally have a fairly capacious handbag (what our American cousins amusingly call a ‘purse,’ which in my UK parlance is reserved purely for cash money). But since travel involves so many more of those potential misfortunes, the resulting increase in essential items requires a proportionately larger bag. After all, how can any self-respecting wife, mother or woman leave the house without an ample supply of dry and wet tissues, liquid for washing hands, spare underwear, basic makeup requirements, notepad and enough pens to make sure that at least one always surfaces when you thrust your hand into the darkness within to find one? Not to mention the secret zip pockets a bag must have for other utility items of sanitary hygiene, sticking plasters in case of accidental cuts and bruises, pills against headaches or other unidentifiable aches and pains, lists of medicines and/or addresses (OK, I’ll admit that in this day and age the smartphone can take the place of some of those lists, but the battery might run out at just the crucial moment, so it’s best to have a paper backup), chequebooks and, of course, two actual purses (for money), one for the currency of the country you live in and one for that of the country, or countries, you’re visiting.

And that’s not everything, but I don’t want to bore you quite to death. My story goes as follows: I used to have a large, white leather handbag for travelling, with dividers, pockets, zip compartments et al, but it eventually fell apart, and I invested a rather large sum of money on a genuine leather capacious black bag which looked as if it would fit the bill (see photo). However, when I started out on my latest journey, the black bag failed the ultimate test. It did not close neatly with a zip, but hung open, displaying its innards to all and sundry, and exposing my multiple weaknesses for all to see (and potentially take).

The situation required urgent remedy, and I decided that I would keep an eye open for an adequate substitute while in France, and to hell with the cost. To my delight, at the very first ‘brocante’ in the nearby village in rural France I came across a stall manned by a cheerful African gentleman displaying colourful bags of some woven fabric. A colourful woven bag had not been contemplated previously, but it suddenly seemed like a good idea (see photo). Upon inspection, the innards of the largest one proved to have a wealth of dividers, compartments, zip pockets and, best of all, a hearty-loooking zip to close the whole thing up to my satisfaction. After parting with the very reasonable sum of twenty euros, the bag was mine, and when put to the test easily ingested all the contents of the big black bag, which now languishes in hideous solitude. Sorry, old bag, but this old bag now has a new bag.

 

‘The Art Thief’ by Noah Charney

Right until the end the reader is kept guessing as to the identity of the art thief behind the convoluted series of disappearances and reappearances of forged and genuine paintings. The two paintings at the centre of this novel are ‘White on White,’ by Kasimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde painter, which was stolen from the Paris premises of the Malevich Society, and the ‘Annunciation’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the seventeenth century painter, which was stolen from a church in Rome.

The events described in the book take us from a distinguished art scholar to an expert on security systems, the bidding process at Christie’s and the policing systems and methods of Italy, France and the UK. That’s all well and good, but how are we supposed to keep track of the various comings and goings of the stolen pieces of art, interspersed with ‘clues’ provided by obscure biblical verses? And why would a thief want to provide clues to the whereabouts of the missing art pieces? Not only that, but why on earth should one forged   replica be painted over another, and what does it all mean?

In my view the often pretentious style of writing in this book and the scenes and situations portrayed simply provide the author with an opportunity to show off his knowledge of art history, security systems and other aspects of the high cost of art in the world today. In between all this, the reader is required to exercise a little bit of linguistic detective work to decipher the occasional conversations in Italian and French. What for, I hear you ask. You may well ask. I think this is all part of the author’s need to show off his knowledge, which is admittedly extensive, of the various subjects.

The portrayal of the characters involved also leaves much to be desired. The bumbling, overweight French detective is more concerned with the food on his plate than finding the missing art work, and the lugubrious British detective does not bring a lot of credit to Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Department, though we are given an interesting insight into his private domestic life and the depressing way of life of the ordinary Londoner. Its all so depressingly stereotypical.

All in all, this book could have contained the seeds of an interesting story, but instead it gets involved in ever-more-complicated tricks and attempts to obscure the trail. I have a sneaking suspicion that the author had his eye on having the story somehow picked up by Hollywood. If it does I hope some scriptwriter manages to sort out the story line to get it to make sense.

Not Getting Any Younger

 

Although in my mind I’m still the eager, naïve 22 year-old who came to Israel to work and study (and get away from the depressing climate and weedy men of the UK), I have to face the fact that time has not passed me by. I’m constantly getting messages from my body telling me ‘that’s enough,’ ‘time to sit down for a while,’ ‘don’t overdo things,’ and especially from my back, which is taking its revenge on me for having neglected it for all these years.

While at school I avoided gym and physical exertion of any kind, in my forties I started exercising and have continued to do so on an almost daily basis ever since. It may have helped as I still have the use of my arms and legs, which is something to be thankful for at my advanced age (76), but the messages from my body keep coming thick and fast.

I do what I can to assuage my miserable muscles. When I start an intensive cooking session, e.g., on a Friday afternoon when my entire family (15 in all) is coming for dinner I enclose myself in a special back support belt (I always think of Abraham ‘girding his loins’ when I put it on). I have a special high chair in the kitchen so that I can sit at the sink when I peel and cut vegetables. I saw it at a friend’s house and immediately demanded one for myself. This entailed my other half taking a trip to a part of Israel which we had never visited before, but he came back with the precious object, and it has served me faithfully ever since. And in order to follow the instructions of the physiotherapist whom I consulted about my back pain I rest for twenty minutes in between half hour cooking sessions. Approximately.

If that were all, I could consider myself fortunate, but I’m afraid that my mind seems to be developing a mind of its own. It has taken to deciding what is important and what is not. Hence, I managed to find myself on holiday abroad without such basic essentials as toothbrush and sunscreen. But I console myself with the thought that those things can easily be bought at the nearest pharmacy, which is not the case with regard to prescription medicines and a disk-on-key with essential material, which has been known to happen.

There was a time when going on a journey overseas was a hazardous affair, involving tearful departures and the possibility of untoward events. Today, however, most people seem to think there’s nothing to it. They hop on a plane and fly off to all kinds of exotic and unfamiliar destinations without batting an eyelid. For me, however, it involves getting out my packing list and checking it time and again. And still I forget things. I have worked out the reason why this happens (too many things to think about), but that is no consolation. My mind as well as my body is showing signs of wear and tear. I’m beginning to wonder whether it isn’t perhaps time to just give up, stay at home, put my feet up and take up knitting.

‘The Journey Back From Hell; Conversations with Concentration Camp Survivors’ by Anton Gill

Although published thirty years ago, this book is at least as relevant today as it was when it first appeared. As the survivors of concentration camps grow old and die it is more important than ever today to have their memories and first-hand accounts on record.

These in-depth conversations were held with individuals who experienced one or more of the Nazis’ concentration camps. Although the author is not a trained psychologist,. he has managed to gain the survivors’ confidence and elicited from them detailed accounts of the mental and physical ordeals they underwent, giving them in their own words, without unnecessary embellishment or analysis. As we read these accounts we feel that we are hearing their genuine voices as they speak openly and honestly about their experiences in the camps. These accounts are often preceded by descriptions of life in the ghettos or in hiding before capture and transport ‘east.’ In many cases the concentration camp experience is rounded off with a forced march, the infamous ‘death march’ (of which there were many) to another camp or undefined destination, as the Germans sought to escape the advancing Allied forces.

The first third of the book comprises a detailed historical account of the circumstances around the establishment of the concentration camps, the way they were built, and the method of their functioning, in all their horrific and inhuman detail. The research that has obviously gone into this section of the book is impressive in its attention to the specifics of the running of the camps as well as the results of psychological studies of survivors.

Several hundred individuals were interviewed, mainly in the UK, the USA and Israel, and each and every one had a unique tale to tell, even though certain elements of their ordeal remained consistent between them. All in all, it makes one wonder at the capacity of the human being to endure suffering, both physical and psychological, and adapt to the most monstrous conditions.

Almost all the survivors attribute their survival to sheer luck – having been in the right place at the right time, or not having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many, if not all of them, saw close relatives being taken away or abused, and then comes the laconic phrase “I never saw them again.” In only one case is an interviewee reported as having burst into tears. The brutality and dehumanizing processes endemic in the camps, with senseless forced labour as well as work on behalf of the German war effort, beatings, endless roll-calls and systematic starvation meant that in many cases people were unable to grieve or express any emotion at the time. Some people said that they were able to grieve only after liberation, and one person says how pleased he was to find himself crying at a funeral some time afterwards. Another described being amazed to the point of laughing at the sight of a funeral for a single person, with a casket, flowers and somber music, after having seen piles of bodies cast aside like so much trash.

Not all the interviewees were Jews. Members of the French, Polish and even Italian resistance movements who had been incarcerated in camps were also asked to share their memories. Their experiences may have been slightly less horrendous than those of the Jews, but they were still subjected to forced labour and starvation diets. They were less likely to be sent to the gas chambers, however. Nonetheless, they did not escape the emotional and physical scars of their time in the concentration camps.

Family ties or those of friendship often helped people to endure and to simply stay alive in the camps rather than just giving up, becoming a ‘mussulman,’ and losing the will to live. In many cases the association with others from similar backgrounds or who came from the same country and shared the same language formed a bond of fellowship, which helped them survive the ordeal. The sense of a shared past has also caused many after the war to seek out the companionship of others who have undergone the camps, attesting to their sense of alienation from anyone who ‘wasn’t there.’

Some survivors found religion, while others rejected it. In the final event, what seems to have got them through the terrible ordeal was a combination of chance, physical and mental fortitude and small lapses in the efficiency of the Germans’ dreaded killing machine.

All or Nothing

It pains me to write this, but there seems to be a straight line between the rejection of the UN Partition Plan by the Arab countries in 1947 and the Palestinian Authority’s current refusal to attend the Bahrein workshop arranged by the USA in an attempt to move towards a solution of the ‘Palestinian problem.’

At the time of the Partition Plan there was no Palestinian Authority, or even a Palestinian entity, yet the intransigence that was displayed then has become an integral part of any interaction with anyone seeking to resolve the issue. I know that David Ben-Gurion and the leaders of the Yishuv were not at all happy with the compromise solution proposed by the UN in 1947 but were prepared to accept the offer simply in order to attain some form of a Jewish homeland. The Arab states attacked the nascent State of Israel but were rebuffed, and the result was that the Jews had their state, Israel, and the Arabs (or Palestinians) did not.

The line continues, with steady ‘progress’ through the Arab states’ ‘three nos’ of Khartoum after the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel offered them peace: ‘No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it’ was their motto, and that was the stand taken by the members of the Arab League during the decades which followed.

Since then some movement has been made towards peace, but by comparison with what might have been it is pitifully small. Yes, now there are peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, after the painful lesson of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and also between Israel and Jordan, following the rapprochement between Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. In both cases the agreements were achieved with the active involvement of the USA, under Jimmy Carter in the first case and Bill Clinton in the second.

Along the way, and as a result of these agreements and the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, the Palestine Liberation Organisation morphed into the officially recognised Palestinian Authority, with institutions of orderly government, some degree of self-rule, and even a modicum of cooperation with the Israeli authorities.

Efforts were made at later stages to get the Palestinians to sit down with the Israelis to negotiate a peace settlement, when Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert each served as prime minister, and with American backing,. Under both these leaders generous settlements were offered to enable the creation of an independent Palestinian State, but in both instances the Palestinian leadership (headed by Yasser Arafat) rejected them.

Since then there have been shifts within Israeli society, with the right-wing parties assuming prominence and the electorate choosing to elect the Likud and follow a path which does not augur well for the eventual creation of a Palestinian State. On the contrary, the intransigence of right-wing politicians has become even more pronounced, with an ominous bent towards messianic and bible-based views.

If the Arab countries had accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947 the Palestinians would have their state today, and the world might have been a better and friendlier place. And if the members of the Arab League who gathered in Khartoum in 1967 had accepted Israel’s outstretched hand, there might be peace in the region today. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely, given the attitude of the disunited Palestinian leadership today, that anything positive will result from the ‘Deal of the Century’ being offered to them today by Donald Trump.

There’s no point dwelling on what might have been. But it all goes to show that those who insist on getting everything and are not prepared to countenance compromise tend to end up with…nothing.

Digital Poker Table: The Next Generation of Poker Technology by Robbie Strazynski

Today I’m hosting a guest blogger, Robbie Strazynski, who has written an excellent article about a new product that is going to take the world by storm. So here goes:

Last year, while walking through the hallowed hallways at the Rio during the World Series of Poker, I noticed a vendor with an interesting product I had never seen before, a Digital Poker Table. The vendor, Ariel Shefer, told me all about his product and how proud he was that it’s American-made and manufactured. Based in Las Vegas, Shefer decided to rent some space at the WSOP “as a trial” to see if it was something players might be interested in, and that if so he had plans to expand next year. I found our conversation particularly enjoyable as it took place in Hebrew, Ariel’s native tongue, and of course I’m a big fan of Israeli creativity and ingenuity as I myself have been living in the Holy Land for the past 20+ years.

Well, fast forward 12 months and it’s indeed now “next year.” Once again, while wandering the halls of the Rio, I spotted Ariel and his Digital Poker Table. With thousands of poker players passing by his spot each day, many of them are taking interest, so I felt it was time to take a closer look at what his product is all about.

Digital Poker Table: A Description

Imagine running your poker home game with no need for a dealer, chips, or cards. Picture yourself and your group of poker friends playing at a state-of-the-art digital table, with more hands dealt per hour and no hassle or controversy over split pots or misdeals.

Digital Poker Table, from Galshan Digital, makes all of this come true. Bringing together the best elements of live and electronic poker, Digital Poker Table provides an entirely automated poker experience.

 

With an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and multiple poker variants available to play in either cash game or tournament format, Digital Poker Table represents the next generation of poker technology. No setup is required; you just sit down and start playing. The Digital Poker Table does all of the dealing and chip counting!

Best of Both Worlds

Digital Poker Table combines the fast action, automatic chip counting and flawless dealing of online poker with the personal experience of live poker.

An ideal, cutting edge solution for poker home games and small businesses, Digital Poker Table deals every hand with a computer-generated, random deal, along with perfect chip counts and pot splitting. As players who grind games like Omaha Hi-Lo know all too well, pot splitting can become a complicated and sometimes controversial matter. Not with this product.

Game variants available include Hold’em, Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Tahoe, and each of these games can be played with No-Limit, Pot Limit, or Fixed Limit betting structures.

Whether you want to operate your poker game as a cash game or a single table sit-and-go tournament, Digital Poker Table provides all of these game options. The table can also run all of these variants in a mixed-game format for that true WSOP-like experience!

The action in your poker game will also speed up considerably, as Digital Poker Table deals 45-50 hands per hour, versus the average of 25-35 hands per hour with a live dealer. Spend less time setting up, dealing and counting chips, and spend more time playing poker. Plus, players save loads of money in tips, since it’s an electronic, rather than human, dealer. That’s money that stays in the game, on the table.

Moreover, cheating by way of marked cards, “going south” with chips, string betting, and other forms of angle-shooting are instantly eliminated from your game with Digital Poker Table, as the product ensures a fair deal and an ethically-run game every time.

The Future is Here

Ariel believes that, much like slot machines, digital technology represents the future of poker.

When digital slots were first introduced to the market 20 years ago, some casino operators doubted that digital versions of slot machines could ever replace traditional slots, and that customers wouldn’t enjoy the games without the mechanical wheels and coins dropping.

The vast majority of slots on a casino floor in 2019, however, are digital. As such Digital Poker Table represents that same evolution when it comes to poker.

Online poker players already enjoy the benefits of faster action, easy-to-read, accurate chip counting, and effortless splitting of pots. Digital Poker Table takes all of those elements and incorporates them into a one-of-a-kind, live poker experience.

Moreover, due to the product’s digital nature, improvements based on customer feedback can be (and already have been) quickly and seamlessly integrated. For example, some who bought the table weren’t too fond of the electronic-sounding voice, so both male and female voice-overs to call the action were added into the table’s software as additional options.

On Display at the 2019 WSOP

To get an up-close, in-person look at both the 10-person and 4-person versions of the Digital Poker Table, just walk through the halls of the Rio Convention Center at the WSOP, like I did, and you’ll find them on display in the main corridor, adjacent to the Brasilia Room.

Bruce Liebowitz is an avid poker player who stopped by for a demo and purchased Digital Poker Table last year, at the 2018 WSOP.

“I love the table,” Liebowitz said. “I run a home game every week, and I was at a point where there were just so many arguments over splitting the pot. When you don’t have a professional dealer, there’s just a lot of controversy in a home game. Particularly if you’re playing a pot-bet game, where everyone just splashes the pot. No more arguments over chopping the pot, no more arguments over how much can I bet. It’s like having floor and a dealer at your table, all the time.”

As the operator of weekly home game, the product has been, quite literally, a game changer.

“I was considering buying a table with a spot for a dealer, then hiring the dealer,” Liebowitz said. “I was literally in discussions with a guy about building two different tabletops; one for when I had a dealer and one for when I didn’t. Then I went to the WSOP and I saw Digital Poker Table.”

Liebowitz is not just a customer; he’s recently joined Galshan Digital as an investor. “I love and believe in the product and decided to become part of the team,” Liebowitz said.

Special pricing is available throughout the WSOP, and Ariel will be on hand at the Digital Poker Table display each day if to answer any questions and demonstrate the product. If you decide to stop by and try out the table, be sure to tell him that Cardplayer Lifestyle sent you!

website: WWW.DIGITALPOKERTABLE.COM

About Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker blog in 2009.

Having quite literally learned how to play poker around the kitchen table as a child, “living a Cardplayer Lifestyle” is something that he’s always aspired to. After having worked as a copywriter and marketing professional in the online gaming industry for a number of years, Robbie transitioned to become self-employed in the poker media industry in March 2017.

Robbie translated Pulling The Trigger: The Autobiography of Poker Pro Eli Elezra, from Hebrew into English.

Robbie is also the host of the Red Chip Poker Podcast, co-host of PokerNews’ Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast and creator of the Poker Notes Live mobile app.

Connect with Robbie on Twitter @cardplayerlife, or via email: robbie@cardplayerlifestyle.com.

 

The Way to Whinge

One of the Facebook groups I belong to is called ‘Brits Whingeing in Israel’ (motto: ‘Lose some, whinge some’), having split off from ‘Brits Laughing in Israel,’ which in turn split off from ‘Brits Living in Israel.’ The politics behind the various groups and sub-groups is not clear to me, but I definitely benefit from all of them. The best thing about whingeing is that it gives people like me the opportunity to moan a bit about things that annoy us about life in this wonderful country, which we all love.

The etymology of the word ‘whinge’ is an enigma in itself. I never heard it used in my youth in England (which admittedly I left in 1964), though I do recall the word ‘whine’ being used, probably with reference to my childhood self. I first encountered the word when it was used by Margaret Thatcher, and it seems to have belonged to the upper class vocabulary she liked to adopt, becoming widespread currency subsequently. My own edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, published in 1964, does not have an entry for it. But that’s the nature of language, it’s constantly changing. And that’s a subject for a whinge of its own.

The ‘Brits Laughing in Israel’ Facebook group has one or two stars, who seem to consider it their mission in life to invent or discover puns or jokes on a daily basis. This enables me to start my day at the computer, iPhone or iPad by bursting into hearty laughter, or sometimes just a mild smile. But heck, there can be worse ways of starting one’s day.

Most of the posts I’ve seen on the whingeing group are about the inability of the average Israeli (some members call them ‘natives,’ but I find that a trifle condescending) to form an orderly queue, politely say ‘sorry,’ please’ and ‘thankyou’ when appropriate, and of course, there are always plentiful opportunities to moan about bureaucracy, postal deliveries and drivers. Fortunately, politics are off-limits, otherwise there would be no end to the whingeing.

Following a recent experience, I posted my own whinge, which went as follows: “At the opera in Tel Aviv the other night. Despite written and broadcast reminders to turn phones off, in the middle of the first act (Cosi fan Tutte) the phone of the lady in the seat next but one to me rang. After the interval, as the announcement to turn phones off was being broadcast again, I asked her if she’d heard it. She attacked me verbally for having the nerve to remind her. So much for culture in Israel.”

Not surprisingly, this prompted a veritable deluge of similar posts (or whinges, if you prefer). Phones ringing in cinemas and theatres, and more often than not, people actually answering, not caring about disturbing all the other people around them. One wonders sometimes why people ever leave their homes to go to a cultural event if all they’re going to do is talk on the phone, but who can fathom the complexities of the Israeli mind?

And that brings me to the peak of my whinge-worthy events of the past week. As is the tradition in these parts, twice a year a choral music festival is held in the nearby village of Abu Gosh. The concerts are held mainly in the beautiful St. Joseph’s Church with its wonderful acoustics, which invariably enhance one’s enjoyment of the music.

We had bought tickets in one of the three front rows for a performance of Bach’s St John Passion. Personally I prefer his St. Matthew Passion, but Bach is Bach, so we took the less-loved work. Still, the music is wonderful. In the performance we heard the excellent Barrocade Ensemble was conducted by Michael Shani, the soloists – mainly talented Israeli artists — were wonderful, and the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir performed with unexpected authority and grace.

Everything was proceeding as it should, and the sublime music was taking us on the well-worn path to the ultimate tragedy, when a ring-tone rang out through the church, augmented of course by the wonderful acoustics. This occurred not once, not twice, but three times, though presumably not always from the same phone, and fortunately not within close range from where I was sitting.

But that was not the highest – or, rather, lowest – point. At one of the most delicate points of the piece, when the counter-tenor was singing about Jesus’s moving poignant acceptance of his fate, someone in our row dropped a GLASS BOTTLE, which rolled noisily along the marble floor between the seats. Although the singer did not stop, I could see his face and he was visibly shaken, and the performance continued unabated. I was more than shaken, I can tell you. Luckily for whoever the bottle belonged to, I was not sitting in close proximity to him or her.

It is beyond me to understand why anyone should bring a glass bottle (was it beer? wine? water?) into a concert. The only reason I can think of is that the person thought they were attending a pop concert in the open air. But tickets for the concerts in Abu Gosh are not cheap, (neither are they for pop concerts, I know) so I would have to rule out that possibility. I hadn’t thought of this before, but perhaps it was deliberate sabotage by someone who disapproves of Jews enjoying church music.

The concert ended, everyone applauded and filed out in an orderly fashion. I wonder, though, was I the only one who felt cheated out of the transcendent experience of being able to listen to magnificent music in an inspiring atmosphere?

 

‘La délicatesse’ by David Foenkinos

The book, which I’m proud to say I read in the original French, begins with a semi-humourous description of Nathalie, the main character, with allusions to fanciful generalizations about anyone bearing that name as well as specific descriptions of the pretty young woman who is the Nathalie of the story. Nathalie meets Francois by chance in the street, he speaks to her even though they have not met before, and soon they become lovers, and then a married couple. We learn about Francois’ character and thoughts, his hobbies and habits, at least as much as we learn about Nathalie’s, and we witness the pleasant weekly routine of the young couple.

Nathalie finds employment in a financial company, and Charles, the boss of the organization, is so taken with her photo on her application form that he insists on interviewing her himself. She is given a responsible position, and for five years she and Francois are happy and doing well, but suddenly everything changes when Francois is run over and killed while out running one Sunday morning.

In between the various segments of the book the author places comments, quotes, stage directions, statistical facts, or incidental comments that often bear little relation to the flow of the narrative, and in fact serve to distract the reader from the story and the characters we are reading about. Even the title of the book, ‘La delicatesse,’ is discussed in an abstract way and its dictionary definition examined. We are given to understand that the word can also be used to describe Nathalie.

Naturally, it takes a long time for Nathalie to get over the loss of her husband and return to work. Her colleagues do their best to treat her with sympathy and understanding, though the knowledge that the beautiful young woman who works with them is now unattached arouses their curiosity and interest. Charles, who is married but is in love with Nathalie, invites her out to dinner. She accepts, but rejects his amourous advances, causing Charles to become confused, depressed and bewildered.

One day, one of Nathalie’s colleagues, a young man called Markus who is a member of the team she heads, enters her office to discuss some aspect of their work, and is taken aback when she suddenly kisses him. This causes him considerable dismay and confusion, and some time later, after careful consideration, he decides to march into her office and kiss her in the same manner. Their relationship develops. They dine together one evening and although he is not very attractive she find his company entertaining. Their colleagues gossip about their relationship, and the rumour reaches Charles, who tries to ascertain what attracts Nathalie to the unassuming young man, even inviting him to an embarrassing and unsuccessful dinner one evening.

Charles’ jealousy drives him to arrange for Markus to be transferred to a branch of the firm in Sweden. When Nathalie learns of this she is furious, abandons her post and takes a train into the country. Markus is told by Charles about his transfer and immediately resigns. Nathalie sends Markus a text message telling him where she is. He takes the next train to join her, and together they drive in the rain to visit her grandmother, Madeleine, in her house in the country.

Markus and Nathalie spend the night together in Madeleine’s house, and their relationship seems to be developing into a romantic attachment. Throughout their time together, Nathalie and Markus have been engaged in a delicate dance of finding a connection with one another, albeit in a very different way from the approach adopted by either Francois or Charles.

Charles goes home to his wife and tries to make an effort to renew their relationship. Markus and Nathalie play hide-and-seek in the garden of Madeleine’s house, just as Nathalie once did with her cousins in her childhood. The two appear to be destined to have a happy and loving relationship.

It’s all very French.