Jerusalem: Day 13

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Falafel in The Old City, Arab Quarter

So much of this trip has been about food.  Dancers of course must eat.  So must the rest of us.  This noon Emma, Andrea, Marcie and I walked over to the Old City to find some falafel which we eventually did, under the sign above.

Andrea, Marcie & Emma, falafeling

Personally I am  not enamored of the Old City as it’s crowded, people are rude and out of touch with themselves in space (hence a lot of jostling and clogged passageways that are narrow to begin with), and the sheer volume of religious souvenirs is plenty with which to grasp the story of Jesus and the moneychangers.  I found the Arab quarter with the most energy and life.  That is where we found our falafel on Shabbat, when pretty much the whole city closes up.  Mind you they drop things like french fries and potato chips into the pita pockets that also contain the falafel and cabbage, lettuce, pickles….throw in some spices and perhaps some hummus and you’ve got a meal that’ll really stick to your ribs.

Attempting to summarize this journey is impossible.  I’ve been so busy that there’s been no way to make notes in the handwritten journal much less blog.  Encountering the klezmer band in the walkway at Mamilla Mall at the start of Shabbot.  Walking through Masada and floating on The Dead Sea.  The company performing at Sherover Theater and discovering at the last minute that one of the drops was stuck in the flyspace so they had to dance in front of one drop rather than the usual transition from one to the other midway through the dance.  Visiting Tel Aviv twice, once to explore the ancient port of Jaffa and swim in the Mediterranean and dine with the marvelous Gappel family; the second time to dine at The Salon, star restaurant of Israel’s most famous chef, Eyal Shani. A  few days later, Shani’s “Chance Brunch” at the Israel Museum, a fundraiser for the Jerusalem Season of Culture, one of our host organizations.  Dining al fresco at the home of two Israeli academics, the Rokems, and feasting on broiled grouper in tahini and pasta with sundried tomatoes and poached zucchini with dill.  Watching children dance in front of the spectacular Anish Kapoor sculpture Heavenly City on the grounds of the Israel Museum, and wandering the Noguchi-designed sculpture garden on the same 20 acre campus, the scent of jasmine wafting through the air.

Dancing before the Anish Kapoor

Tonight we finish, tomorrow the company travels on to Moscow and I return to the U.S. of A.  More reflections on Israel then. Perhaps.  I did enjoy a contemporary version of a burning bush at The Salon, when the chef’s countertop was purified by fire after all of the chopping and cooking was done.  

Jerusalem: Day 3

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An Israeli settlement in the distance on the West Bank, the Wall in the foreground.

Upon arrival here on Tuesday afternoon (it is now Thursday), I felt nothing but a sense of wonder at being here.  I still feel it. Mind you this is not a romanticized sense of wonder, for it’s impossible to be here for more than a few minutes without gaining an awareness of the contradictions, complexities and confusions of this churning, ancient, modern city of so many oft-colliding cultures and ideologies.  Driving from the Ben Gurion Airport, the barbed wire along the roadways and the occasional check-points and armed towers overlooking Arab territories illustrate how fraught conditions can suddenly become. Yesterday afternoon one of our hosts at the Jerusalem Season of Culture, David, took my travel mate Trevor and me to the Goldman Promenade on a ridge south of the Old City.  It’s not the popular promenade for a romantic view of Jerusalem.  It’s a less-traveled and more telling view, that shows not just the Old City with its radiant pale walls and gleaming gold Dome of the Rock, the forested Mount of Olives rising on the hill to the north, but also the under-developed Arab village on the eastern hillside and in the dusty wadi below, and the long, tall Wall built by the Israelis on West Bank, on the theory that this would facilitate suppression of incoming Palestinian suicide bombers.  Jewish settlements, flagged by their red tiled rooftops, are visible distant on the West Bank. Further north and west you can see the Galilean desert, the Dead Sea to the south, and on its far side, Jordan.  Behind the Old City loom the tall buildings and cranes of the modern city on the hill.  If you are there at a time of day of Islamic prayers, you hear the call to prayer piercing across the wadi.

You cannot walk a block even in the modern city without encountering the haredi — the ultraorthodox Jews that represent the most conservative branch of Judaism and represent a third of the population of the capital.  “They only study and have children,” one person remarked as we drove to an outdoor event last night.  “So I pay for their children and mine.”  Several had been on my flight; I watched as one gathered his minion of men in black to chant prayers in the airport lobby at Newark before we boarded. Nearby, an Arab family with four children sat under a flat screen monitor broadcasting CNN.

The artists and curators hosting us describe the conflicts and frustrations openly, and talk freely about the complexity of Jerusalem as opposed to, most notably, Tel Aviv.  “Very difficult, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem thing,” one person commented. “Jerusalem is all about the issues of politics and religion, in Tel Aviv they want to party and go to the beach.”  Yet many who work in Jerusalem live in Tel Aviv and commute the 45 minutes each way.  The concerns of our hosts, in the artistic work and curation that they do, revolve around positing that there are other ways to frame human experience than through the lens of the conflicts that dominate this part of the world.  “Artists can criticize the problem…to a point,” we were told.  “But it is not all that Jerusalem is.”  On the other hand, one said last night, after we had paid our driver and exited our taxi, “he’s an Arab.  They kill us.”  The bitterness seems rarely more than a layer away.  “When you get onto a bus,” another person remarked, “you can’t help but look around at each person and wonder, ‘does he have a bomb? does she?'”

The young woman who met me at the airport asked, as we drove to Jerusalem, “were you afraid to come to Israel?”  I answered, “I can’t say I didn’t think about the possibility that anything could happen at any moment here…but that wasn’t going to stop me.”   She smiled and answered, “Good.”  She is a sabra, born here. I’ve met many others who immigrated from the U.S, each with stories of how they came and why they stayed.  Most say things like “I meant to stay for two months.  That was 24 years ago,” or, “the first time I came to study for six weeks, and I knew I would come back and stay.”  It sounds like a calling.

The wonder continues, as do the fish dinners and the falafels and the gallery visits and walks through the market (I saw, yesterday, the Iraqi Market where men gather to drink tea, smoke, and play backgammon all day long, throwing their die in the uniquely “Jerusalem way” with a special flick of the wrist). I visually study the black haredi hats on ultraorthodox heads after learning from David that the different families have different hats, where the brim size may differ or the crown have its distinct shape.  “They must wear what their grandfathers wore, and their grandfathers before them,” he explained.   I relish the sunshine, the Los Angeles-like weather, the constant patter of Hebrew on the street, the passion and energy of our kind hosts. Conundrum upon conundrum.

 

 

 

 

 

FINIS.

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I left the office yesterday around 5:15.  My soon-to-be ex-office looked chaotic, what with all of the books and files in boxes, the pictures removed from the walls and stacked for transfer to my as-yet-unidentified next office, and furniture marked for relocation or staying where it is.  I put a sign on the door that says “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  Really!”

It was a quiet ending to a tumultuous, productive, illuminating 12 years of chairing the Dance Department that Does.  We had 80 students when I arrived, now we have over 260, an over 300% growth rate…and we are now very much a 21st century dance project in more ways than one.  The ultimate dream of my tenure as chair came true just last week, when our long-proposed and longsuffering proposal for an MFA in Dance as Civic Discourse received final approval.  It will be a couple of years before our first cohort arrives, but I had hoped on taking the job that we’d have an MFA by the time I stepped down.  I toss shining pearls in the path of those who never gave up the effort to see it through. Especially our Provost.

There are insofar as I know only two things I will miss in leaving administration:  the stipend and my fellow chairs, who are some of the most hard-working and undersung and (at least in some quarters) micromanaged people in our institution.  All the rest I leave to my successor with relief.  It’s time for me to put my energies elsewhere. It’s someone else’s turn.

Last night my friend Sarah (who is also in a huge life transit of a different sort) and I went to Erwin’s on N. Halstead (one of my favorite Chicago hangouts, do try the specials…last night the pre-fixe included an amazing blood orange float) for champagne and some supper…we toasted “Endings and Beginnings.”  You can’t really have one without the other, though new beginnings are somewhat harder to come by as we get older.  I’ve always liked change and am rather gleeful about the fact that this one doesn’t require moving from one city to another.  Though I’ll be on the go a lot in the months ahead, I’ll always be looping back to the South Loop….and in a little over a year, I return to teaching in the subjects I love and absent the perpetual responsibility of all the operations being on my watch.

I leave the job with — most of all — a sense of gratitude to my marvelous colleagues on the faculty and staff, each of whom contributed to the transformation we all witnessed in that dozen years.  Now my liberation from the Mountain of Administrative Hellacity is upon me and I plunge off its high ledge with glee.  And gratitude.  And a really good parachute.  Wheee!

 

 

11. A Saturday.

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In the sweep to purge my household of unnecessary, unwanted, unknown or forgotten items and store That Which Must Be Kept For Now efficiently and accessibly, I plunged through a box of letters and a bag of notebooks this afternoon.  I may save the letters for another time (they included my mournful letters to my high school boyfriend during the summer between our junior and senior years when he was working at a camp in the Adirondacks while I stayed home in Virginia).  The notebooks were mostly dismiss-able, excepting the one I kept in graduate school while studying and writing poetry with the still-marvelous poet, Peter Klappert.  (He’s still teaching at George Mason University and his collections of poetry are on Amazon.)  I began flipping through it with curiosity and eventually had to sit down and really read.

My own poems in this notebook interested me considerably less than re-examining the exercises and assignments he gave us (along with examples).  As I sorted through the villanelles, list and catalogue poems, epigrams, and adaptations among others, and reviewed his instructions, I realized anew what a fine teacher I had in him and what a trove of instructions I have stumbled back upon lo these many years later.  It occurred to me that it might be an interesting new exercise to give myself the course all over again — well, to follow Peter’s decades-old instructions — and see what comes of it NOW.  In his final feedback of my work (I got an A- in the course, it says so on his note), a long and insightful (and not entirely complimentary, he didn’t like the “naivete and sprightliness” of most of my poems) paragraph, he noted at one point, “Conscientious & successful revisions of almost everything…a fine ability to look at what she is doing in an almost abstract, theoretical way – to see the aesthetic problems inherent in something, as a chess player might view a game.”  He encouraged  trusting my craziness more, to take wilder risks and experiment on my own.

It’s not bad advice for any artist.

35.

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After a near-to-year-long silence it is time to revive and sally forth.  One of the best things about being an academic is the periodic opportunity for sabbatical.  I have one approaching.  An entire year’s worth.  So as I sit in my living room looking out across Burnham Harbor (never mind the railroad tracks and the parking lot for Soldier Field) towards the Lake, watching The Tudors while the two cats doze, I anticipate.  35.  35 days until the sabbatical begins.  35 days to my liberation.

Ate oatmeal this morning with one of my colleagues at Yolk and remarked as we walked out into the rain afterwards that we’d gone from a Chicago winter to an English winter and probably would go from there directly to a Chicago summer.  He agreed.  And so we walked in the English-ish rain to a meeting with our peers and considered, discussed the status of an institutional effort to reorganize, or reprioritize, or something along those lines.  The purpose of this initiative is unclear.  Some of us wonder if the potential consultant identified will even WANT to undertake the project should he determine we are “ready” for it, which many of us believe we are not.  That said, I do a virtual handspring and a frisky cartwheel and toss pearls aloft because I will be on sabbatical all next year and am shortly loosed from the immediate bonds of these concerns.  I don’t have to worry about becoming “tight, nimble and sparkly.”

In anticipation of the adventures ahead, I also here report that my ticket for Tel Aviv was purchased this afternoon.  This on the day that NT sent a long email with advice and information about everything from security at TLV (extremely high) to how to dress at religious sites (modestly) to where to take a day trip (Masada at the Dead Sea).  Kathy G., travel gal extraordinaire, is now vigilantly watching for an upgrade into business class for the long haul.

Dublin.ie

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Ireland has always held mythological status in our family.  “The old country,” my grandmother used to call it.  (Her mother was Bridget Flanagan.)  Like many Americans I still have distant cousins here, mostly in the west of the country.  “Ah yes,” one Irishman said to me yesterday. “I would’ve said your people are from the west.  You look it.  Shannon?”  Yes, I said.  They’re from near Shannon.

Yes indeed, as long as I say nothing, I pass.  It is rather astonishing to be in the place rather than the idea after hearing so long of the idea of the place.

I arrived yesterday morning in an astonishingly dense fog, after seven or so interminable hours on an Aer Lingus flight from Chicago.  At least it was non-stop, with no volcanic ash disrupting plans.  Jet lag is of course brutal for the first 24 hours (I love the Japanese phrase for this, “jisa boke,” which is translated “time dumbness.”).  You crash, you get up disoriented, you walk for a bit, you think you are going to go to sleep again but discover you can’t, you (in my case) end up in a theater and try to watch dancing and end up battling going to sleep…and so it goes.  But on Day Two the brain starts to re-organize and things begin to improve.  And Dublin is easy to fall in love with.  Especially on two unbroken days of warm spring sunshine.

The reason for this trip is attending the closing weekend of the Dublin Dance Festival, a marvelous three-week program of modern and contemporary and experimental dance that occurs here every May.  So far I have seen four presentations (including two mixed-bill programs featuring Ireland-based choreographers and dancers), most recently the beautiful Jean Butler (of Riverdance fame) in a Tere O’Connor work entitled “Day.”  Butler is wildly famous here, and her departure from traditional Irish dance to work with a very postmodern choreographer in the American O’Connor was described to me this afternoon as “like Baryshnikov leaving classical ballet to do postmodern dancing.”  The 40 minute solo was beautifully performed (she wore a deep sapphire blue dress, her strawberry blonde hair in a bun on her head) and demonstrated those signature elements in Tere’s work, the pauses to reflect, the sudden spurts of action punctuated by  elongated gesture, the luxurious drops into the floor, the looping shifts in rhythm.  I won’t give it a total rave as I am always somewhat perplexed by his more recent choreography and this work was no exception.  The “but” is that with a performer of this quality and nuance, who cares whether I can make sense of the dance as a whole.  Furthermore, I find the provocation of the often-disjunctive phrasing in Tere’s work stimulating.  So, pearls to them both, especially Ms. Butler, for plunging bravely into a different movement world.

Yesterday afternoon’s Irish showcase included a duet by one of Ireland’s pre-eminent modern dance choreographers, John Scott, with strong, touching performances by American dancers Marc Mann and Michael Snipe.  “ACTIONS” is exactly that, and is a duet that should be seen over and over as it shifts and changes with each performance.  The two men work together and independent of one another in this process-oriented dance,  offering up a study that smartly blurs the lines between rehearsal and performance.  More pearls.

It’s a pearly sort of weekend.

Bite Hard

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I went to Virginia over the weekend to see the folks and had lunch at The Stray Cat in Arlington.  This restaurant is a few doors down from its sibling cafe, The Lost Dog.  I was there with my goddaughter, her mother, and HER mother.  Much catching up ensued.  I  fixated on the Lost Dog t-shirt that the hostess was wearing, proclaiming “LIFE’S SHORT BITE HARD.”  My goddaughter fixated on the skirt and how it was attached to the rest of the outfit.  (I asked, when I asked to take the picture.  It’s a plain old skirt.  Over black tights.)  We all had salads, mostly Mediterranean with  olives and shredded chicken.  The vinaigrette with feta cheese dressing was especially good.

I wonder what the t-shirt message equivalent would be for a cat?  I suppose this would depend on the cat’s mood.  On a nice lazy morning while lolling in the sunny spot on the sofa it might be, “Life’s Short. Purr loud.”  On the occasion of being put in a carrier to go to the vet: “Life’s Short. Scratch deep.”  When the dry food plate is empty, “Life’s short.  Howl Incessantly.”  Etcetera.

Howling incessantly sometimes works and sometimes does not.  When my cats howl they usually get their way. I on the other hand have no such luck.  If you are a cat and you howl over your empty plate and the answer from your owner is, “I understand,” but the plate remains empty, what’s a kitty to do?  Scratch deep?  Not an option if de-clawed.  Run away from home?  Pah.  It’s too warm in here.  Sit in the corner with a pout, and personify the sourpuss?  How inelegant.

I would rather be purring loudly.  Can someone please point me in the direction of the sunny spot on the sofa?  I can’t seem to find it on my own today.