Friday, February 25, 2011

A few good men

It was one of those days when despite nothing coming together somehow everything did. One kid sick, one kid wanting to play with sick kid who wanted time by herself. Cue superkvetchiness all round.

Upside was that after a whole morning plus of bickering with each other baby tired himself out so much that he needed a three hour nap and big sister took the opportunity to hole up in her room with a stack of books which left me to do the Shabbat cooking in peace, and find time to get a casserole going for dinner and straighten up the flat.

By the time DH came home all I was missing was a 1950s Mad Menesque skirt and frilly apron. Dinner dear?

Only what actually happened was that DH walked in the door looking beat, announced that he didn't feel up to going out tonight as per our plans and instead suggested I take myself out tonight. So I did.

A Few Good Men is one of my favourite films, to the point, ethical dilemmas, courtroom drama, my kind of thing, so when I saw that the Israeli Beit Lessin theatre company was staging an Israeli production of the play I had to go see it.

I was very curious to see how an American military drama would translate over here and I have to say I thought it was tremendously well done in pretty much everyway from the top notch acting to the creative, evocative sets. Most of the time I didn't even notice it was in Hebrew, I was focused on the story, the hallmark of one well told I think.

The local theatre's promotional ad advertised well known Israeli film actor Lior Ashkenazi "in the role of Tom Cruise" which didn't make sense to me as Ashkenazi is too old to be playing the young rookie JAG. Well, they were mistaken, Ashkenazi reprised Jack Nicholson's role as the Marine colonel, and I thought he suited it well.

There was fine acting all round but the stand out was Mordy Gershon playing the lead as Lt Caffee, (Tom Cruise in the film) Gershon sparkled in the role, he felt real and natural, superbly conveying his character's journey from a deal making cog just trying to get by until his law school debt is covered to passionate defence attorney pulling out every stop for the sake of justice.

The play itself was I think of special interest to Israeli audiences precisely because it is a military legal drama with themes very relevant to so many in a country with a draft and volatile borders to guard. Seeing what could in many ways be an original Israeli drama portrayed through the lense of the US military was a fascinating exercise, sparking a lot of interesting debate among the audience during the interval.

The set featured mutli-layered platforms gave the stage depth and allowed for smooth merging and switching of scenes, such as between Guantanamo sketched out with institutional looking metal stairs in the background and with a foreground of  polished wooden desks for the JAG offices. It sounds convoluted, but combined with subtle but spot on lighting, the effect was a perfect, understated compliment to the fine acting.

The only times I was painfully aware that this was an Israeli production were when I noticed glaring errors in translation, like the way a bunch of Marines and US Naval officers had lines about how proud they were to serve in the US Army. US Army? Hello, translator, there is a perfectly good Hebrew word for navy (tzi), not to mention that while I understand that when talking of the US military one can just say "Marines" in Hebrew, there is also a perfectly good (and used) Hebrew translation for Marines - nahatim.

And a tiny bit of research would have yielded the fact that there is a separate Dept of Navy responsible for both, and no Marine or naval officer that I know of would say they were serving in the US Army.

I know these details probably didn't matter to anyone else in the audience (DH would have told me to stop spoiling a good play with procedural nitpicking) but what can I say, I get pedantic about these things and it really bugged me that most of the Marines on stage weren't holding themselves in the manner that on duty Marines that I've seen would. Like the way the Lt JAG crossexamines his witness while slouching with his hands in his dress blues pockets or Lt Cmdr Galloway had her hair in a very un-regulation-like long dyed red plait hanging down her back with a puffed up quiff at the front while wearing her dress uniform to court or all the officers (except when they wore dress whites) appeared to have the same ranks - all had lieutenants' bars, even Colonel Jessop. Oops. You'd think that now JAG is off the air it might be easy to track down some surplus USN and Marines uniforms...

Those are just my nitpicks though, and while I do think they detracted somewhat from the atmosphere on stage, I'm pretty sure that for 99.99% of the audience these little errors made no difference to what was first class Israeli theatre. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Toast has never really been my thing, but a few months ago I just felt the need to buy a toaster. Nothing rational you understand, just the feeling that somehow it was missing from my life.

At least a decade and a half of a toaster-free existence and there I was, eyeing up the toasters in the store and walking home with a shiny new compact ultra-modern minimalist little number to add a touch of chic to my oh so not modern cluttered sort of rustic traditionalist kind of kitchen on whose counter it sat for quite a while looking totally out of place until one day I girded my loins and plucked up the courage to use the thing.

I set it on a cowardly number 2 setting, gingerly pressed down the trigger and waited.

Low and behold a few seconds later very faintly toasted bread popped out. No smoke. No charred edges.

Didn't quite feel right, but I served it to the kids with baked beans with mushrooms and sunny side up eggs, experiencing this vague feeling of playing at being mummy while I did so. Kids were thrilled. I felt a faint whiff of nostalgia for childhood tea times.

A few days later I tried again. This time I boldly set the toaster to 5, yielding surprisingly satisfyingly charrred edges to the toast, but not so much as to render it actual charcoal. I felt the stirrings of memory intensify, the scent of childhood breakfasts.

It wasn't quite what had drawn me to the toaster though. Something was missing

Two weeks later I found myself buying butter and marmalade. Butter I get from time to time, mostly to bake with or to make mac n'cheese. Marmalade though. I can't remember when I last bought marmalade. I don't even like marmalade. I don't even really like jam of any kind.

There it was though, an elegant little jar in my basket.

Once home I tried out my toaster again. Dark rye bread toasted to within an inch of its life on 6. Then I spread a thin layer of salted butter, topped with a heap teaspoon of marmalade.

I felt a twinge of something at the mere smell, but I was totally unprepared at the surge of emotion that washed over me at the first bite. Bittersweet like the marmalade, crisp and clear like the crunch of well toasted bread.

Oh Mum, how I've missed you.

No particular anniversary or memory, just the simple fact of being a mother myself I think, of wanting them to know the wonderful grandmother they'll never meet in real life.

Little things, like the smell and taste of her favourite breakfast, the way she liked her toast, her fondness for things crisp, bitter and tangy over sweet or plain.

My mother always joked that her madeleines really were madeleines. I joked that she just read too many French books.

I've just discovered that my madeleines are apparently burnt toast and marmalade. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rainy days and Mondays (are good for you)

I think one of my favourite things in the world must be coming home wet and muddy from a walk in the woods in the middle of a verdant Israeli winter. If my clothes reek of damp earth and woodsmoke from sitting around a campfire, so much the better.

The folks who organised my kid's morning in the forest certainly knew what they were talking about when they refused to allow rain to stop play, at least until at lunchtime it turned into a real downpour complete with hail. By then though everyone had enjoyed several hours of stories, crafts and running around and was about ready to scramble into their vehicles and head for home anyway.

Our outings to the woods have become a regular activity this year. J scampers off with her group and madrikha (youth leader) doing a good impression of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys climbing trees and making things from the forest floor's raw materials, while the toddler makes nature his playground with dry carob pod rattles to shake and twigs for scratching the dirt. Little wonder I guess that "tree" was amongst his first few clearly distinct words.

Today in the rain the madrikh taught the children how to safely and responsibly build a campfire, how to keep it burning in the drizzle, what kind of kindling works best to start a fire, which to maintain it, how damp wood would make it smoke and crucially, how to put it out. The tragedy of the Carmel fire is still in everyone's thoughts and with bonfires so much a part of the local culture teaching fire safetly to such young children is more prudent than ever. Only you can prevent forest fires. Indeed.

As the kids and a few parents gathered around the crackling fire the madrikh donned a silly hat and spun ever more complex yarns featuring animal folk tales from around the world. The children interjected comments or corrections now and then, my budding little story teller volunteering one of her original creations.

The rain beat down from time to time, some folks huddled under umbrellas or in their hooded anoraks, other just enjoyed the sensation, keeping warm by the fire as the rain soaked into their hair and clothes.

Even during the unseaonally warm days of dry drought, the green carobs and eucalyptus offered respite from the yellow browness of a landscape which should have been greened by winter weeks (and later months) earlier.

Using the miracle word here is to be sure a cliche, but that's just what it feels like now that winter has finally arrived, watching the land come to life again, finding freshly grown grass and shoots sprouting from the dust. Today we found carpets of pink cyclamen, clumps of tall white asphodels, covered in raindrops as though adorned by diamonds. All kinds of unfurling leaves promise even more delights on our next visit.