Thursday, 30 July 2015

Germaine Davys

Today is the 100th birthday of my mother’s first cousin, Germaine Davys. Germaine was murdered in 1944, as she – according to an eyewitness – tried to flee from Auschwitz. She was born in Bucharest, had apparently been an active youth leader in the communist cell in Bucharest before leaving for Paris to study for her doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne.

In 1942, she was arrested by the French police, who at the behest of the German authorities rounded up Jews and delivered them to the SS for deportation to Auschwitz. 

Her mother, my great-aunt Feli, told me how for years, whenever she heard steps in the Garden, she would instinctively look out hoping that it was Germaine who had survived and come back.

  This portrait of Germaine 
hung in my great-aunt Feli’s small flat in Tel Aviv.

Opera (this) Week

After Tristan and Isolde in Bayreuth, there was Figaro in Salzburg and last night Evgeny Onegin (with the great Anna Netrebko as Tatyana) in Munich. The week will end with Norma (Cecilia Bartoli) in Salzburg.

BUT, someone must put an end to all these tiresome directors who force their irritating productions on the opera loving public. A difficult-to-pronounce and no-reason-to-remember named director turned Evgeny Onegin into a gay plot taking place in an unclear time and place that seemed like a workers’ holiday resort in the Soviet Union. Netrebko was wonderful, even if you occasionally had to close your eyes. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Back from Temple Bayreuth

Back from Bayreuth, the Wagner temple, where worshippers of Wagner flock for their annual ritual. The quality of the opera productions in Bayreuth has been deteriorating for years – a not untypical outcome of a family run business, in which the main criterion for leadership is being a descendant of the founder, in this case of Richard Wagner.

There was special anticipation this year, for the opening night was a new production of Tristan und Isolde, directed by the now sole director of the Wagner Festival, great granddaughter of Richard W, Katharina Wagner. In true Nibelungen style, Katharina got rid of her co-director and half-sister Eva. Eva has not been killed but rumour has it that she is not permitted to tread the “Green Hill”, i.e., the temple grounds. 

The production had some quirky und unnecessary ideas. Unfortunately, most of the time, the stage was under lit, and it was hard to impossible to distinguish facial expressions and mimicry. This would point to Katharina’s lack of professionalism. But, all-in-all, it was fairly safe, which should ensure Katharina’s acceptance by the Wagnerians.

The evening’s real disappointment – to my mind - was the great Wagner and Strauss specialist, conductor Christian Thielemann. In interviews he explained how the music had drug-like impact on the senses, that it could in fact be life threatening. It didn’t. The second and third acts of Tristan und Isolde, in which one normally gets goose bumps, left my skin in peace. But, Wagnerians love their Thilemann, who has so clearly tied his flag to the Bayreuth (“a house to which my heart is bound”). He is indeed a very gifted conductor, whatever his other failings may be and the singing (except perhaps that of last minute cast change Isolde) was very good.

Thus, the druids of the Wagner Temple, had a good opening shot for this year’s events.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I hope that you have all registered, as I no longer send emails informing of new blog items. 

I continue to be grateful for comments!


The Iran Deal

Both sides are feeding us spin. The American administration, through all avenues open to it, is explaining why the Vienna agreement - that will bring an end to the sanctions on Iran - is the best we can all hope for. In Israel, virtually the whole of the political class - including the parties that call themselves opposition - are briefing against. Netanyahu is the leader of the doomsday evangelists.  And yet, you get some of the most senior of Israel’s defence and security experts (including some former heads of Mossad and of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service) explaining that the agreement with Iran is in fact good for Israel.

So what to think? Trying to form a view is probably impossible. At the end of the day most of believe what fits our worldview and what we want to believe.

In matters pertaining to risk assessment I tend to have more faith in security experts than in politicians of the extreme right, or any politician in fact. You cannot expect a politician to forget his or her ideological convictions. Indeed, most will not hesitate to lie, to promote their political stance. 

Netanyahu has a long track record of lying to mislead his listeners, including in his speeches to the US Congress. That makes him and his flock of message repeating ministers and spokesmen worthless. Not irrelevant – as people do listen to what official Israel is saying – but definitely not trustworthy.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Donald Trump and John McCain

Donald Trump decided that it served his purpose (whatever that may be, as even he must know that he will not be the Republicans’ presidential candidate) to insult John McCain where it really hurts: “He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

I actually think that Trump is right. Being captured does not make you a hero. Drunk, disorderly and insubordinate McCain had a second rate naval career on which he has based his whole political career. He finished fifth from the bottom in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. In his very short flying career, he lost several airplanes and when his plane was shot down in Vietnam and he was captured, it was after he had disobeyed orders to abandon the mission. He got away with it all because both his father and his grandfather had been highly decorated admirals.

For once, Trump is right.

Berlin and its Condoms

Berlin – as the posters around town are proclaiming – is using condoms, and… there are even bins that welcome the used ones.

Now, what would my Berlin grandmother, who left the city that was by no means coy in the Weimar years, have thought of that?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Just in case you are at one or more of the following venues, you may wish to come to my reading events:

28 September    Gummersbach
30 September    Siegen
22 Oktober         Wuppertal
10 November     Refrath 
11 November     Wipperfürth
27 Januar ’16     Fulda
16 Februar ’16   Kassell

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Truth

This is what I had to find out at a party in Romania, a couple of weeks ago...

Quds Day London

About 350 participants, some brought by buses from Leicester and Birmingham for the annual Quds Day demonstration in London, chanted In a thousand, in a million – we are all Palestinian.  The charismatic animateur instructed and they repeated BBC – shame on you or Who is the bloody terrorist – Netanyahu, Netanyahu, as well as one, two, three, four – occupation no more.

Mother with daughter wearing Hizbollah flag

Stop Iranophobia

A solitary young man draped with an Israeli flag tried to hand out pro-Israel leaflets. At some point, one of the demonstrators stole his flag and ran away into the centre of the demonstration. Organiser: “please be careful, there is a Zionist troublemaker around”.  Another solitary man, danced with a sign “The Soldiers of the Caliphate are sent by Christ”.

In front of the American embassy, we were informed that the Americans had sold the embassy building to the Qataris, “their slaves”.  Next year, the speaker said, we would no longer demonstrate at the American embassy. Why? Is Nine Elms (where the new building is situated) not posh enough? At least one of the speakers spoke about the eradication of Israel and a very eager blond German explained to his Iranian Radio interviewer how the media is all pro Israel and only he reported directly from Gaza and saw all the atrocities inflicted by the Israelis. The German, apparently a freelance journalist, explained that he would also be at the Berlin demonstration the next day and that he is available to interviews also by Skype.

The icing on the cake, and much feted by the organisers of the demonstration, were 4 members of Neturei Karta, a small Jewish ultra-orthodox sect that believes that Jewish exile will only end with the arrival of the Messiah. They are virulent opponents of the state of Israel and like to make their views known.

The man was unable to tell me which book in the Torah...