quinta-feira, 27 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel becomes Isreal (Day 7: Tel Aviv)

I wake up with a sudden desire for blood. After many days surviving as a recollector in the Garden of Eden, my hunter’s instinct kicks in and I am eagerly craving for meat. I want to be on the top of the food chain again. I am no longer the Jew that stands trials, I am the Israeli that fights for its right to exist in its own terms – Jabotinsky dix it. Pedro, who is very happy eating the food that my food eats, has to accept to live side by side with his enemy. Just like everyone around us. And so we leave the house for another informal briefing with Sergio Edelsztein. By now we proudly tour the streets of Tel Aviv as if we had always been there. This seems to be a common syndrome in this area of the world and is proved to be highly contagious even to newly-comers like us. As we newly-come closer to Carmel Market (or Caramel, as I call it), we try to find a place to eat. We choose a terrace that not only will allow me to smoke but also will give us a chance to practice our odd people spotting skills. Sitting just behind us we found a good case study. A young looking woman, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying a gun around her waist, was having a meeting with an Arab looking guy. They were sketching some kind of objects or space on a piece of paper. The John Le Carré inside me was over excited. What were they talking about, who are they, what are they doing? As any good Israeli I know that a paranoid is only a well informed person and so I try to squeeze as much data as I can in order to anticipate any treats coming from my not-so-innocent looking tea sipping neighbours. All this action around us made me forget the misfortune of not having found any proper meat on the restaurant’s menu. I chose to remain hungry. I chose to remain alert. Just like everyone around us. Sergio was at his office dealing with his own Third Temple: Videozone. This international video festival was what brought me to Israel twice. As always Sergio remains apparently relaxed in the midst of many sources of stress. His wife was going to have some kind of surgery or operation and he would have to play stay-home-dad for a while as well as being the Art World shark that he so elegantly knows how to be. But what is that for someone who was born in Argentina and lives now willingly in one of the most fucked up part of the world? We chatted for a while about his projects and our adventures in the Middle West and then went for a coffee. While there, we got a phone call from Yael Bar-On. Her contact had been given to us by Arkadi Zaides as a possible “Ramallah Connection”. We made an appointment in another café in central Tel Aviv. Yael has had a fake artistic love story and so she seems to be the right person to help us appointing our blind date with Palestine. While in an international artistic residence in Italy she met a Palestinian artist named Ahmad Malki. Since they were not under the influence of the current state of affairs back home, they came up with the strange notion that they could fall in love. So in love that they would get married. And so they decided to become the Romeo and Juliet of the Middle East. That was of course an artistic project. But only they knew that. And so as soon as they started announcing such crazy idea to friends and family in the form of wedding invitations, both Israeli Capulets and Palestinian Montagues went bezerk! Yael was regarded upon as a traitor and Ahmad was considered to be a suicide-lover. The project bared the pompous sounding title of “Alii bella gerunt, tu felix Austria nube” (Let other people wage war. You, happy Austria marry instead.), a saying that has been used since the 15th Century to describe the political practice of Habsburg family. Another branch of the same venture was “Mix It Up”, a website devoted to offering an online meeting place and a micro-scale conflict resolution to Israeli and palestinian singles, developed by Yaek and Ahmad together with Japanese artist Sakiko Sugawa and Spaniard Yolanda de los Bueis. Unfortunately in the end, Ahmad had to refrain Yael’s creative frenzy and call off the performative wedding since he actually started to fear for his own life. It seems that the smokescreen of “the only democracy in the Middle East” had once again protected one of its children and doomed the fate of one of its natural born killers. After all, artists are also citizens and no matter how much they generate their own alternative realities, one day they will have to face the “real reality”: Isreal! In that moment we realized that Ahmad had felt in his own skin the consequences of daring to fall in love with the monster and so it was an absolute imperative for us to meet him as soon as possible. And in Ramallah. Yes, the mythical Ramallah. Yael, like any other good Jewish child from any other good Jewish family, was impressed that we actually wanted to go there. Ramallah is to Israelis what the end of the flat world was to our old man from Restelo: a free bungee-jumping fall into a big black hole of unknown dangers and monsters. Still she had the death wish like desire to meet again with the artistic runaway groom who had left her waiting in the leftist altar of politically engaged art. Fortunately or unfortunately, Israelis cannot enter Ramallah. Or to be more precise, cannot enter Israel after going to Ramallah. And so we came to realize the hidden agenda of Yael behind of our apparently innocent looking meeting: she wanted us to accompany her on a crazy illegal trip to the territories. Oh Israel! No day under your (hot) sun is without challenge! Since we have arrived, we were transformed into bubblicious upper-class Tel Aviv citizens, aliyah Zionists Jews willing to join the ranks of Irgun, left wing very active activists, and now, UN Blue Helmets kidnapped to serve as human shields. How can we not love you? You make us feel alive. Yael’s plan was to turn our 20 minutes pleasant sherut ride from Jerusalem to Ramallah into a shady remake of Sally Field’s movie “Not without my daughter” (6 frightful hours of ridding the dunes of despair in some G-d forsaken land in a dusty van from the 70’s driven by a man that has a piece of cloth for a face). Cool! Let’s do it! Our bravery sprung from our ignorance as well as from our arrogance: what could ever happen to us? We are Europeans, we have rights, we have sanity commissions and free public health care. Yes, we can! And so we promised to squeeze into our busy hand drawn excel sheet Yael’s eagerness to both break G-d’s law and meet Ahmad. Our minds were already bursting with expectations and could hardly pay just attention to the rest of Yael’s precious information. She mentioned a film we should see (Arna’s children), a place we should go to (the “Freedom Theatre”, in renown refugee camp/Palestinian city Jenin) and a person we should meet (Zemira something, a woman working on a PHD thesis about the love between Israelis and Palestinians). Like one book leads to another, every person we meet in Israel leads us to a handful of even more interesting possibilities. And we only have 14 days left… We must move faster. We must go. As a goodbye gift, Helpful Yael gave us Ahmad phone number and her personal blessing to our artsy love quest. In exchange, we promised to organize her illegal exportation to Palestine (Is exportation the new deportation?). Back in our flat, we devoted the rest of our evening to the detailed investigation of the work and life of Yael and Ahmad. Googling our days is how we spend most of our nights in Israel. It is the only way to make any sense of the stream of information that is thrown at our goy faces. If my blue Yerushalaim notebook would end up in the hands of Mossad they would sure offer me a job. We are lovers with method as much as the Nazis were haters with order. Before calling it a day, Pedro suggested me to call Ahmad instead. I only felt safe enough to do so after checking his facebook page. For a terrorist, he was very nice and welcoming on the phone. He suggested we should book a specific day for our meeting since he was currently very busy with the visit of his Bulgarian girlfriend. He also gave us the contact of a Jerusalem based Italian girl that could assist us with the logistics of entering Palestine. Her name was Beatrice Catanzaro. She was a left-wing activist who spoke Portuguese and who had previously been in Portugal (and that, as we know now, has many Portuguese acquaintances common to me and Pedro). I felt a rush just of knowing I was in the territories via Israeli Telecom. And as in all calls we did in Israel, I did not understand half of what was being said to me. It is very good that I was always an “A” student when it came to the “fill in the blanks” tests type in school. Still today I am convinced that Israeli secret services scrambled most of our calls by transforming simple English words into Yiddish gibberish. Because of that, neither me nor Pedro were very eager to make any phone calls whatsoever. It was hard not to laugh at each other when we had to scream over and over again over the phone: Sorry. I did not get it. Can you please repeat the last sentence?

quarta-feira, 19 de janeiro de 2011

Hoje, amanhã e depois em Melgaço

Queres Que Te Faça um Desenho?!
Uma co-produção Teatro Praga, Comédias do Minho e Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações do Centenário da República.

19, 20 e 21 de Janeiro 2011
Casa da Cultura de Melgaço, 10h e 14h

(foto: Susana Pomba)

Criação: José Maria Vieira Mendes e Pedro Penim
Com: Joana Barrios e Luís Filipe Silva
Cenografia: Bárbara Falcão Fernandes
Produção: Catarina Mendes, Cristina Correia e Pedro Morgado
Para mais informações é favor contactar:

- Espectáculos em Lisboa e no resto do país: Cristina Correia
Produção Teatro Praga
919271631 - producao@teatropraga.com

- Espectáculos no Minho: Pedro Morgado
Produção Comedias do Minho
966 516 236 - comediasdominho@gmail.com

segunda-feira, 17 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel Becomes Isreal (Day Six: Tel Aviv)

The heat is on in October. It’s rainy and cold in Lisbon but in Tel Aviv it feels like July and we can’t thank the Zionists enough, because otherwise we wouldn’t have had an extension of our Summer 2010. Small thinking but great temperatures. To fight the heat, and I mean fighting in the sense of helping (the two of them can go together), we put our glasses in the freezer to drink cool lemonade whenever we want.

By this time our breakfast had become the most sophisticated meal of the day, and we do it properly, with fruits, and hummus, and pita bread, and cereals, and chocolate cake, like if we were in a Portuguese soap-opera.

We had a busy schedule ahead of us in that day but there was a bit of time to go to the beach, it’s the Shabbat and all that there is to happen, happens after sunset. So we take the towels that we borrowed from the Siksik family, the Dolphin towel and the Banana towel, and hit the crowded Tel Aviv beach to swim (which is prohibited by the way) in the hot Mediterranean disputed waters, where you can walk and walk and walk and still not be able to wet your thighs. No wonder that Jesus was seen walking on water in the whereabouts, and so were we Goddamit!

Although in the Shabbat you are supposed to be observant, respectful and modest, in that particular Shabbat, in that particular beach it was all about getting laid. American loud girls being picked up by paramilitary Israeli proud hunks (with enormous Stars of David tattooed on their chests and backs), couples fondling and cuddling as if they were the last Jews on earth, and God Himself giving us porn magazines to read that were left in the sand.

With all this highly sexed atmosphere around us we begin to wonder if the perfect abs are already inscribed in the Israeli DNA, but in 30 minutes this was going to be proven wrong.

In fact this was a creation of the old Zionists, the New Jew would look unlike any Jew the world has ever seen, not anymore the pale short Jew with the crooked nose (in a way giving credit to old racist stereotypes, and we know that no one hates a Jew like a Zionist). What as laying in front of us was a muscled, tanned, sporty, shinny happy people, over concerned with their abs. Yes, it seems superficial. Achingly so. And what nation has ever been so concerned with the appearance of its citizens? Bingo!

The reason that we shouldn’t worry too much about all this was in something called Matkot, Israel's unofficial national sport. It’s a popular paddle ball game similar to beach tennis, but played incredibly fast, in a very aggressive fashion, like you are fighting for your life. And it’s so popular that the entire beach on that Shabbat was like a war zone. Dozens of pairs playing the game, some kind of Matkot Strip, shooting the ball has hard as they could as if Hitler was their fierce opponent, making it even hard to pass to the sea. The particularity of this game is that, albeit very furious and dramatic, it’s not really competitive and the funny popping sound that gets louder and louder as you walk through Gordon Beach Promenade can make you think that the beach is the setting of the reenactment of one of many Israeli wars. But the Pièce de résistance was the non-lean mean Matkot machine Queen, a middle aged housewife all dressed in white, dark shades, deep-fried tan, not in her best physical condition (obviously still a pre-Zionist), but playing the thing with a thirst for blood that I hadn’t seen since Erzsébet Báthory ruled Hungary.

Next step was our first encounter with Israeli performing arts: He Who Says Yes, He Who Says No by Bertolt Brecht directed by Michal Vaknin in Tel Nordau School, a kind suggestion of our friend Guy Birian. Impressions: very hot; nice audience members; old-fashioned mechanism of presentation (the reenactment of a school class in a school). Facts: we got in the wrong performance because there were two at the same time; we needed to participate in Hebrew and we tried our best and got some weird looks; we were all smiles in the beginning and sleepy in the end; we ran out of the space to get a taxi to the next appointment, another theatre performance in Southern Tel Aviv.

The traffic is an absolute mess and we can’t pass anywhere, so our taxi driver tries to take all the shortcuts that he can possibly know and as soon as we get do Dizengoff we see the whole picture: a demonstration. Passing right in front of us. Thousands of people marching in Tel Aviv, on a Saturday night, protesting the Lieberman’s cabinet approval the previous week of a proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law that would require naturalized citizens to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The lefties didn’t like that. And since we were Israeli Zeligs, so didn’t we. And so we became what was around us. Not without me having first a Bridges of Madison County Moment. My hand on the door handle. Will I jump out and run to my lover (Israel) or should I stay in the car with my husband (well… this has to be the poor old taxi driver)? It was suspenseful and heartbreaking. But the decision was easy. In the movie Meryl turned on the waterworks and stayed. In our movie Catarina dragged me out.

Embodying our legacy of children of the Portuguese carnation revolution we joined the crowd, and exactly like in the Brecht performance, we tried to imitate and scream the slogans: Lieberman fascist something… Yehudim ve Aravim something…

In the end of the street the march stops for speeches in Hebrew and Arabic and more slogans! The Hebrew slogans everyone could repeat (except us parrots), the Arabic slogans were… how can I put it… quieter.

Apparently everyone there wanted peace (and there were not so many left in the end of the march, I’ve seen Christmas Parties with more people, which means that the Israeli left is fading away as fast as falafel is being consumed in the streets) and as soon as the speech moment is over (Noa and Kalled were obviously too busy with their solo careers to attend the get together) everyone goes home to see Israeli Idol and leave all the propaganda material on the floor (it seems that it’s not very fashionable or popular to strand around with some WE LOVE ARABS banners). But for us it’s another motive of excitement. To bring home the banners and dream about the moment that we have to explain about that in the Ben-Gurion airport.

With this beautiful idea in mind we go with Oded and Arkadi to the last summer party on Gordon Beach (summer as in mid-October) where we get a pin with a random sexual orientation and with our hearts rejoicing we drink the night away.

sexta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel becomes Isreal (Day Five: Tel Aviv)

Schlomo Hamelech Headquarters: our heroes prepare to hit the road disguised as theatre professionals looking for local partners to support a play called “Israel”. We head to Arkadi Zaide’s flat in 26, Gordon Street. The mission seems easy enough since that street is only a few blocks away from our uptown palace. Unfortunately, that proves to be a very wrong misconception, when we come to realize that we didn’t have a floor and a door number to work with. Using our fine intuition and some visual hermeneutics skills we decide to go floor by floor analyzing the aesthetics of each door in order to find how does a choreographer entrance door looks like. We first rang the doorbell of someone who was devoted to oriental spiritual beliefs and practices, and supported non-profit multicultural organizations. No answer. Then we push the buttons of a design lover with minimal monochromatic taste. No one home. What is happening? Where are we? Oh G-d, why has thou forsaken us? We decide to call Arkadi and accept that we had failed the simplest of all missions. Apparently, Mossad had used its disinformation techniques on us. The meeting was not to be held in Gordon Street but in Jaffa instead. Our contacts (given to us by outstandingly nice Rui Silveira, through his link with “DBM - Danse Basin Méditerranée”) were waiting to have lunch with us at a renowned local restaurant named after its female owner: “Puah”. Jaffa to me sounded a lot like Yafo. I am deeply afraid to push the limits of my comfort bubble too far. I do not think I am ready to go to Arab territory so soon… Pedro laughs. He is a well-travelled man and the world is his oyster. So we went. If Hemingway were ever in Jaffa, he would be having his hangover late lunch in and with “Puah”. It’s a place with tons of personality and even more bric-a-brac paraphernalia all around. Old furniture and rugs come to life side by side with drawings, photos and poems framed by the love of the regulars for the food and atmosphere of this unique place (I start to sound dangerously like a cheap travelling handbook). We were welcomed by a very singular group of five: Arkadi Zaides, Guy Birian, his wife and renowned vocal artist (not a singer!?) Victoria Hanna and their two infants. The heat inside the restaurant was only surpassed by the loud volume of everybody’s conversation. The only effective bugs Mossad could have ever left in such a place would be cockroaches. It seemed the worse place to held a professional meeting and it was. So the meeting became a nice meal with a bunch of new-found-friends-to-be. Guy is the Israeli doppelganger of our friend choreographer Rui Horta. And like him, is involved in so many things at the same time that it makes impossible for anyone to have a “here and now moment” with him. Guy is always coming from somewhere and going somewhere. He knows everybody and has the ubiquity of G-d. Arkadi is in the other extreme (In Israel nothing exists without its extreme): laid back, Buddha-like smile and oddly still for someone who makes a living out of movement. Victoria is Victoria. I still recall our obsessive-compulsive faces when she held my precious Jerusalem bought Israeli blue notebook with fishy fingers, which were afterwards used to clean her sweaty forehead. Guy works both as a theatre teacher (in Israel and abroad) and a programmer of an interdisciplinary performative venue called “The Arena” in Jerusalem. Arkadi collaborates with him as an adviser for dance related issues and works as an independent choreographer and performer, touring regularly abroad. He expressed vehemently to us his longing for leaving Israel due to the fact that the dance shown in his country is only “of a certain type” which limits his possibilities of a creative dialogue with his international peers. Guy is trying to make him stay put, arguing that if one does not stay things will never change. Both are highly committed to projects involving Arab artists and organizations. As for “our” “Israel”, we again tried to explain our apparently misplaced love for such Monster to its suspecting children. This time Art spoke louder that Politics and our audience seemed to accept our strange premises for the project. A gush of suggestions, contacts, telephone numbers, names and events poured out of Guy’s pen. He wrote, scratched and underlined as much as it is humanly possible with a baby on one’s lap. We tried to follow such fireworks of networking but I must confess we were lucky enough to understand (did we really?) that we had to attend some Brecht performance by a brilliant newly graduated Theatre student in the coming days. He wanted us to meet and talk to everybody. “You must, you should, you have…” And we will, for sure. Thanks. “And I already talked to Puah. She has so many stories. You must talk to her” All that while trying to keep all the objects on the table away from his children’s mouths. Even I held a baby in my arms and dreamt of a virginal pregnancy that would make me and Pedro the Holy Family of the 21st Century. Arkadi mentioned he was soon to perform in Lisbon at CCB in the realm of the festival “Temps d’Images”. He is a good friend of António Câmara who, by the way, is an honorary Israeli at heart and has been here many times over. Since Arkadi was quite familiar with the daily life of Israeli Arabs we asked him some questions concerning the subtle bureaucracy eviction techniques used to turn Jaffa into Yafo. More and more we start to realize that there is much more a coexistence shades of grey than and opposition of blacks and whites around. Due to family obligations, the Birans had to leave sooner and so our long business lunch had to come to an end. We stayed a little bit longer chatting with Arkadi about Israel, Dance and “The Situation” but, as the night fell upon Jaffa, he decided to hop on his bicycle to get back to central Tel Aviv leaving us with the dilemma of walking back or taking a taxi. Again I was overcome with a sense of insecurity as if we were lost in a dark gloomy Kasbah in Baghdad. I am such a bubble girl! Thank goodness for the clock tower that raised above all buildings, showing us the way out of no Jew’s land. As someone who was in love with Michael J. Fox in the 80’s, I know very well that Clock Towers are portals to get back to the future. So there we found the DeLorean taxi that would beam Doc Penim and me up to Schlomo Hamelech. But the day was not over yet. We still had an appointment with the glittery dark side of Pedro Penim’s life. I was finally going to satisfy a long lasting dream of meeting his Eurovision fanatic friends since we were invited to have dinner with the Israeli branch of Eurovisionfreaks™. There was Nir (the politically radical cinema teacher), Oded (the dandy-like and exquisitely polite local actor), Itamar (who invited us to an upbeat spinning class), Roi, Shai, Itzik and Alex. It was nice for a change to discuss about another kind of international conflict in which Israel is deeply involved. And what an army of fans it had at that very table. Those guys knew everything about the Eurothing. I though Pedro was an odd ball in such matters but he is only an average knowledgeable citizen in Planet Eurovision. After a delightful dinner and an even more delightful Master class Quiz on Eurovision Trivia (won by a proud Oded closely followed by a surprised Pedro), we left the restaurant and headed to Oded’s flat. There, Itamar and Oded, dubbed over all the presenters voices of the 1989 edition of the festival while the rest of the group sang all the songs in competition as if they were their own. I had my own glory moment when “Conquistador” by Portuguese Eurhythmics Da Vinci broke out and I could finally join that lovely secret brotherhood of übber kitsch. While walking home, with Itamar and Pedro, our joint voices filled the streets of Tel Aviv with the Portuguese entries in the festival that although not very successful in their own times, lived on to become the Hatikvah of us three on that beautiful summer night.

sexta-feira, 7 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel Becomes Isreal (Day Four: Jerusalem)

In the previous night, and because we wanted to take a Bus in the next day to Jerusalem, our guides (not of the human kind) frighten us to death about Tel Aviv Central Station. So that you understand, its construction started in 1967 but it wasn’t completed until 1993 and here’s why: The complex includes a shopping mall serviced by 29 escalators and 13 elevators with over 1,000 shops and restaurants. Only three of the seven floors are used as a bus terminal. So apparently it’s impossible for a foreigner and even for an Israeli go get out of Tel Aviv on a Bus. This adds a lot of depth to the idea that Israel is not a country where you can get around easily, but not only for the enemies… for everyone.

Scared, we go to sleep with the mirage that there is another Bus Station in the city, quite close to our apartment in Arlozorov Street, but we were actually not expecting that it would be much better that the main one.

But morning has broken and we realize that G-d was on our side and the He definitely wanted us in Jerusalem that day. Bus number 48 was waiting impatiently in Arlozorov Bus Station to take us there and it was an easier task than winning a war against three countries in six days.

Inside the Bus we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we approach Jerusalem while listening to my Ipod and singing a new version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance: Ra-Ra-Ramallah, Ga-za- uh la-la…

As soon as we get to Jerusalem we take yet another bus the The Old City since we still had a couple of hours before our meeting with Emmanuel Witzthum at The Jerusalem Performing Arts Lab. Catarina is crazy about going straight to the Old City and me, like Moshe Dayan, just want to “keep out of all that Vatican”.

But so we go. A nice Arab school boy in uniform leads us to the Holy Sepulchre in change of a few shekels but he was too busy to lead some dumb Portuguese all the way, so we get lost and lost again until we finally get to “where we belong”. Having both been there in our previous trips to Israel we were not too impressed by the grossing image of people kissing the Stone and we go on making all sorts of jokes on Christians and Jews and Muslims and Orthodox and whoever crosses our way but we still manage to take silly pictures inside the Holy Place and live to tell the story.

Since we were now obviously late and my neurosis with the city is growing stronger and stronger and Catarina’s primal fear of anywhere outside the Jewish Quarter is also not helping we end up leaving to Old City through Damascus Gate, in the Arab side, and desperately try to take a Taxi to the (later famous in our talks) Hebron Road, 28.

In Damascus Gate, as Catarina was predicting all the way, the ambience changes immediately (it is Damascus after all) and suddenly we are in a chaotic hot city wanting to go to a place that nobody seems to know where it is. But finally we convince one of the taxi drivers to take us there for almost one million dollars and as soon as the taxi sets in motion we almost provoke a collision, it was not Car Crash TV, it was the Car Crash Reality of our trip.

So by this time I want Jerusalem to explode! Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Western Wall, Eastern promises, Western Spaghetti! And I want to run back to Tel Aviv as bad as a baby wants mommies’ lap. Give me the Jabotinsky Institute racist guide and I can cope with it, give me Hana’s internet chaos and I can cope with it, give me Tel Aviv’s heatwave and I can cope with it… But overwhelming Jerusalem killed me, and it wasn’t softly.

And to thicken the plot Catarina gives me a lesson on how to appreciate every step of our journey and the inevitability of dealing with all the religious mishmash (who would later tell that the religious mishmash would be for me the best of it all and that as I’m writing this I would, if I could, fly to Jerusalem in this precise second to immerge in the mess that, after all, I created… in my head of course).

So it’s with sheer immunity to the Jerusalem Syndrome that I arrive to Hebron (Road).

Catarina wants to enter some holly (as in inaccessible) place next door to the Theatre we intend to visit, but we soon find ourselves furiously knocking at the door, ringing the bells, to be finally welcomed by Emmanuel.

The Lab is a great theatre in the shape of an arena but somehow the people who use it more regularly don’t hold the architect that designed it in a very high opinion, and apparently so doesn’t the dog of one of the girls that pees in one of the walls as we enter the space.

Emmanuel introduce us to some of the programming that we has been doing in the space and we hear about an upcoming event where some Jewish orthodox dancers (does that even exist?) make a piece together exploring the relation between contemporary dance and prayer. Lost? So were we.

We have lunch with Emmanuel. He is an excellent listener and although we still don’t make much sense in describing our project he somehow seems to understand our intentions and the historical ambition of the piece, and in fact he would be the first, of many, to wish us luck in our task. We talk about the danger of our idea turning into a big fat cliché, how Israelis are perceived abroad, drag queens, the lack of information on the Israeli reality in general and even death threats... Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman sang Tammy Wynette, but Emmanuel could make his own version of the country classic. As for us we stand by our man, that very gently invites us to an opening later that evening in the oh so exciting and independent Museum on the Seam.

We go back to the Old City with another taxi driver that had just tricked two old British ladies with the “I don’t have change” strategy (oh Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv).

We strand around the Old City, Catarina is almost ran over by a couple of bicycles and this leads to a primal fear that we are going to be kidnapped and thrown to the sea (but this is not really our story), and so to take her mind out of a new Shoah Portuguese Version she buys a blue notebook that would be used as a diary and an excel sheet. Feeling a bit better because somehow we fed the Israeli economy (we’re fucked up people) we go straight to the Western Wall where it’s safe (right!) and, touched by the divine, we end up in the most amazing experience that we could have asked from our little trip to Jerusalem: Tekes HaShba'ah (yes I’m going to explain what it is!)

Tekes HaShba'ah is the “Swearing in” Ceremony after basic training of the Israel Defense Forces, where young soldiers after three months training swear loyalty to Israel in The Western Wall, and receive their M16 and their bible. It was a pretty amazing place to be: a live transmission so that the whole Square could watch (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was being broadcast live on IBA), entire families saluting their sons and daughters, cute boys singing Eurovisionesque songs (something that would certainly never happen in the Portuguese macho army), heart breaking speeches (not that we could understand a word, but the tone was really intense), and finally everybody in the large plaza singing the divine Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem, that so far I had only heard sang by Divas (Ofra, Rita, Barbra). It felt so wrong, it felt so right…

Smart as garlic (this is only for the Portuguese speaking readers) we left the Western Wall before everyone else, so this way we could find ourselves a Taxi to take us to our appointment in the Museum on the Seam.

Nihad, the taxi driver, once a true adorer of Ronaldo (before he came to the conclusion that Cri-Cri lost his humbleness), left us right at the door of the Museum built in one of the check points that used to divide the Jewish part of the city from the Jordanian side until 1967. The five dollar bill that he gave us as change for our ride has been ever since the marker on all my books about this project.

The exhibition had big names on it like Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Nauman, Paul McCarthy, and the locals Yael Bartana and Doron Solomons, everything was kind of grand, but also kind of 90’s and it left us pretty cold, to say the least. So… we warmed up with a glass of hot cider and more pictures on the rooftop of the museum, that we shared with an ultra-ortodox Jewish mother and her daughters, a family from the neighbor houses that was invited to come to the opening. Orthodox art, orthodox viewers. As good as it gets.

It’s now time to leave Jerusalem and return to Shlomo Hamelech Street back in good not-old Tel Aviv but first we had to find how to get there. While trying to sort out and recognize some Hebrew names that we kept forgetting 5 seconds after we learned about them we met Pavel and Itai, two students that would be again in our way, a few days later. The two of them took us straight to the Sherut (the small yellow bus) that would let us in Tel Aviv and, while walking there, Catarina makes sure that she had invited yet another few dozen Jews to come to live in Lisbon, and in this way taking a first big step in the Portuguese solution for solving all the problems in the Middle East.

In the Sherut we get to tell the story of our project once again to a nice polyglot Israeli couple, and once again we kind of scare everyone when we say we’re going to Ramallah and Hebron in the West Bank. Catarina wins more and more respect when she says that the first time she was in Israel was during the second Intifada (what she never said is that this was her 3rd time in Israel, not the second… but you know… Intifadas… once you’ve seen one…). Speaking of War of Stones, we hear again about the notorious episode of the settler that tried to run over a Palestinian boy with his car while being attacked by stones. The couple have different opinions. He thinks the settler was protecting his own child, that was inside de car, from the stones. She thinks there is no reason in the world to try to kill a child. And this is a normal subject to talk about on a peaceful Sherut ride… Israel is Surreal sometimes.

The road is long, the conversation flows and we are again in Tel Aviv, right in the place we never wanted to be in the first place, the scary Central Station, the closest I’ve been to a Mumbai Slum. And since being a Millionaire becomes us but we’re no Slumdogs, we head straight to poshy Shlomo Hamelech to sleep in good sheets with dirty hands.

quinta-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2011

When Israel Becomes Isreal (Day Three: Tel Aviv)

Armed with an thorough survey of Tel Aviv’s military museums, we decide to take the off-Broadway pair known as Jabotinsky Institute/The Etzel (a.k.a. Irgun) Museum first, which are both located in the exact same building (38, King George). The need that the Jabotinsky Institute seems to have for visitors is about the same that the Jewish faith has for converts. Not only there are no visible welcoming signs or information about its actual whereabouts but also its very façade seems to scream at us: “Don’t look, don’t stop, keep walking!” Still, that proved to be no match for our mission: we were as relentless as Charlotte’s character in “The Sex and the City” and no Rabi would close the temple’s door in our ex-goy-to-be faces. Even if the temple has an army flag waving from its top. And it did indeed. Army youngsters welcomed us with suspicious smiley faces while opening the heavily bared doors of Tel Aviv’s equivalent to Lisbon’s once famous cinema/boite “Caleidoscópio”. The place looked old, as old as a 50’s revival set built in the 70’s. One had the feeling, if not the absolute certainty, that no visitor had crossed those doors (and lived to tell the tale) for many many years. Taking in account that the State of Israel is only 62 years old I find it hard to believe that the Jabotinsky Institute looks much older than that. We follow strict orders and head for the first floor where we are awaited by... an empty desk full of Jabotinky’s “best sellers” for sale. That is, no one. We call out the international “Hello?” that is greeted back by the local “Hello!” A very nice middle-aged man brings some normality to the whole situation and in exchange for some shekels (13 coins, maybe?) promises to take us to the heart and core of the fabulous life of the Zionist Messiah, Ze’ev Jabotinsky (formerly known as Vladimir). The visit started with a multi-media presentation of Jabotinsky biography. Such presentation, the first of many we came to see in the course of our journey, set the tone for our love relationship with Israel. Multi-media presentations are the song that was playing when we fell in love with the monster. We are asked to take a seat in what looked like an IKEA amphitheatre placed in front of the most boring room of an ethnographic museum. Multi-media? Multi-tedia seems more like it. Yet, with the same astonishment that Moses followers looked upon the parting of the waters we behold the uprising of three video screens. Lights out. Cue Ari Jabotinky, the son: “- Tell me father, why were you never at home with me and mother?” Cradled by a constant left-to-right and right-to-left panning of the video beamers, we travel to 1929’s Odessa in the times when the Pogroms were the program. The father-like figure of Jabotinsky comforts the restless child inside us: he was not at home because “we” were not at “home”. The Jewish Diaspora was under attack and “our” people had to transform from endangered species into dangerous predators in order to survive. And so they did. Jabotinsky, a well-travelled journalist, founded the Revisionist Zionism movement and convinced many European Jewish youngsters to join the first Jewish self-defence organization (which would later become the infamous Irgun and the more politically correct Etzel) in an armed and offensive quest for a physical Zion under the suggestive slogan of "better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it!" One cannot reason with that. Well, maybe one could if the function of reason was functioning at that time. But, to be honest, for the total multimedia-slideshow-interactive-low-tech-highly-manipulative-sound-and-light-presentation suckers that we became while in Israel, it was impossible not to succumb to the absolute pleasure of being brainwashed by blinking screens and dusty moving mannequins. It should definitely be the 11th commandment: Thou shall not abandon one’s cognitive and critical apparel in exchange for the sheer joy of being baby fed cheap entertainment, wrapped around in a doubtful though sophisticated ideological slanket and nibbling on the poetical popcorn bag of clichés and common places. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. So Mr. Jabotinsky had to die and the show had to end. Still mesmerized by the powerful effect of such a simple device on our superior intellects and by the sheer frailty of our ethical and parapolitical convictions, we were taken aboard an Irgun ship carrying European pioneers to the Promised Land. Our eyes lit up as bright as the Bethlehem star in the night before Christmas was born. And Christmas it was (or Hanukah for our more Halal readers), for wrapped around the military austere looking concrete building we found the Euro Middle Eastern Disney World. We felt as in the bowels of Moby Dick, as in Captain Hook’s ship, we were sprayed with water from the Niagara Falls of the Fertile Crescent, we were immersed in a cinematic masterpiece of a lesser-known Spielberg who is by that no less faithful to the Jewish cause. The plot: The Pogroms intensify and Hitler’s moustache lurks around Europe’s Synagogues. With the help of Jewish self-defence organizations, Jews are returned to sender in illegal ships heading to the Mediterranean waters which are infested by British war vessels trying to block illegal immigration to Palestine (yes, back then there WAS still a Palestine). The travelling conditions are hard but the people inside the ship are beautiful. The bad Greek shipping wannabe magnate (Aristotle was his name, I dare to presume) wanted more money to harbour Haifa. Although their lives were endangered, paramilitary boy and Mata Hari girl fall in love and get married. The glass in broken in sacred ground and now let’s multiply and kill thy neighbour. Oscar winning soundtrack performance of “The Betar Song” written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and exquisitely sung by the cast. The End. Doors open and our friendly host makes sure our “Night at the Museum” has no ending. While unlocking another set of bars that lead downstairs, he asks us where are we from. Portugalim. A glimpse of recognition connects his eyes to us. 70% of Portuguese people are Jewish. Welcome home brothers! Hurrah! And we thought it was hard to convert. Jewish Honoris Causa by the Jabotinsky Institute was awarded to us after only two sound-and-light presentations and a few bites in kosher hummus. We are sooooo in one of the most selective clubs in history. We were chosen. Still, our education as newly reborn Zionists has to continue. One can never be too knowledgeable. We diligently wander around the ground floor gazing through the comic strip like glorification of Irgun achievements. What many dared to call terrorist attacks is proudly presented as brilliant military tactics and strategies. How little they had, how much they did. How few they were, how strong-minded they became. The images of blood and carnage seemed now to us far from the cosy environment of Jabotinsky’s rive gauche like bookshelves and solid wooden decoratively incrusted desk. It is again the classic problem of Philosophy: La passage a l’act. It is hard for us, children of the carnations, to accept collateral casualties of ideologies. What terrible song played on their radio? We were yet to face our biggest moral challenge inside the Bauhaus bunker of Irgun. And it came in the shape of the crossing between Heidi’s grandpapa and the Unabomber. He had the smile of an angel and the eyes of a killer and he was waiting for us in the basement. Yes, we did descended upon hell lured by the promise of yet another multimedia snort. Amidst several Revel-like reconstitutions of Irgun’s strikes on railways, air force bases and the Sunday-x-mas movie-plot-to-become King David’s Hotel bombing there was another video screen waiting to feast us with tales and tells of Israeli mythology. After a little problem with the language menus on the DVD (the army bratz that was serving in the museum obviously lacked the ingenuity that is so characteristic to all Irgun veterans), we again put our minds and bodies in the hands of the prolific Zionliwood Studios. Unfortunately, I really do not recall what was actually featured in that last movie since what happened afterwards was far more striking that any IDF bombing on Gaza Strip. The guardian of the Lilliputian models of Irgun’s guerrilla approached us as a sinner enters the confessionary room in the heart of Vatican City. He was born in Israel (when Israel was called Palestine). He had fought in the three wars [the Independence War (1948), the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur (1973)] side by side with the great leaders of this great nation. He was the stuff military museums are made off. He was the “been there, done that, next” man himself. One by one he pointed to the faces of the people on the black and white photographs and told us their names and their current whereabouts. Like Mr. Keating in “Dead Poets Society” he wanted us to cease the day. And indeed they ceased it. They were fighters than and are now political leaders, mothers, sisters and daughters of national heroes. Names like Sharon, Rabin or Moshe Dayan were being thrown at us in every drop spit coming from the grinch that killed Palestine’s mouth. They not terrorists. They heroes. They good Jewish boys from good Jewish families. Their war is of the brains. They were few but they were smart. Not like others. Like the black Negroes of Eritrea that had no brains. Israel is made out of people from seventy nations. They learn Hebrew in six months. This one here good fighter now in the parliament. They the Arabs want to be refugees. They not refugees. We are refuges. What they have? Nothing. We gave them everything. They have our water, our electricity, our language, our money. They have nothing. We no terrorists. We bombed King David Hotel but warn first. They Ignore. Hotel had no civilians. Only military. “Meeeeedo”, we would say in Portuguese. Our theatrical skills were pushed to the limits. My left wing upbringing was screaming inside my stomach like the Alien that ripped Lieutenant Ripley. As conceptually violent as it felt this was and will always be the day we first crossed eyes with our monster and lover-to-be. This secular Zionism poster child taught us the beauty of taking arms in hands for an ideal, he showed us that a soldier can actually have a mind of its own, he introduced us to the Jew that fights back and all that without even making a single mention to religion, belief or faith. The last Jew to turn the other cheek should have been Jesus. Now it’s an eye for an eye while we are cheek to cheek with the enemy. And so we parted with our newly found scary mentors and left the Jabotinsky Institute with many ethical butterflies in our stomach. It is funny that although we were in that place for more than three hours and that there wasn’t even a hint of any other visitor, the logistic procedures of Tate Modern applied: “Wait here for the group to form. Let’s all enter together. Please take a seat. The movie will begin in five minutes. Memorabilia can be found at the gift store. Come back soon.” I guess being Jewish is in fact “stronger than pride”. Heading home we stopped by Dizengoff Shopping Centre to unblock my cell phone in order to use the Israeli number that Sergio Edelzstein and her right production arm Diana had lent to us. And so as easy as grandpapa Jabotinsky had made us Jews, the very nice phone technician made my phone as Halal as it gets. We were now closer than ever to our claims in the Promised Land. And G-d made sure we knew he was happy about it for as I stood in line at Tel Aviv’s best falafel place, starving and about to faint, he ordered his angel Gabriel (disguised as a waiter) to lay in the very palm of my hand the nourishment I needed to pursue my noble goals for the next days.

quarta-feira, 5 de janeiro de 2011

Song For Whoever

I love you from the bottom, of my pencil case
I love you in the songs, I write and sing
Love you because, you put me in my rightful place
And I love the PRS cheques, that you bring
Cheap, never cheap
I'll sing you songs till you're asleep
When you've gone upstairs I'II creep
And write it all down
Oh Shirley, Oh Deborah, Oh Julie, Oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name (I forget your name)
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
I love your from the bottom of my pencil case
I love the way you never ask me why
I love to write about each wrinkle on your face
And I love you till my fountain pen runs dry
Deep so deep, the number one I hope to reap
Depends upon the tears you weep, so cry, lovey cry, cry, cry, cry
Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue
You made me so much money, I wrote this song for you
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I wrote this song for you
So let me talk about Mary, a sad story
Turned her grief into glory
Late at night, by the typewriter light,
She ripped his ribbon to shreds

Sderot Rothschild, Tel Aviv

segunda-feira, 3 de janeiro de 2011

Terceira Idade

“Biochemistry and language just don’t feel that different to me.”