January 2013


So I seem to have signed up for the A to Z Challenge for the third time running.

BUT I don’t have a theme yet.

Two years ago I wrote about writing and social anxiety.
Last year I wrote about Jerusalem.This year?

Following my post from yesterday, I’m thinking of doing some research on memoir writing and organising the fruits of my labour alphabetically.

Do you think that could make an interesting topic?
Is there any other topic you’d like me write about?

I’m open to suggestions at this stage.

I spent the last two days at a memoir writing seminar led by the author Ilana Blumberg.

I haven’t attended many such activities, so I can’t compare, but this one was excellent. It covered many topics, let the participants participate and included writing exercises. Sharing our hastily written pieces showed up the similarities and differences in our lives.

It came as no surprise to me, in a seminar held in Israel and conducted in English, that all the participants had moved to Israel from other, mostly English-speaking, countries. None of us was forced to leave our native countries and for all but one the move was intended to be permanent.

But, as I listened to the tale of one woman who’d moved with her husband, ten children and twenty-four suitcases, I realised how different the emigration/immigration process can be. I came on my own with one case. I hopped on a plane and landed less than five hours later to join a year-long programme. My stay in Israel could be temporary or permanent. I didn’t have to decide at that point.

That’s not to say that my immigration process was all plain sailing. But I didn’t have the difficulties of arriving with a large family.

The seminar has made me think again about memoir. I did write one once, but when I reached the end, I decided I needed to start again and change the structure of it. I thought of a new way of organising it, began again and stopped. How could I be sure that way was any better? Maybe the best way, in the end, is to write it chronologically, because that shows the sequence of events and the affect each event had in shaping the personality of the author… me.

The seminar included a discussion of what Vivian Gornick in “The Situation and the Story” calls… well… the situation and the story. The situation is what happened. It shows the events – the descriptions, the conversations, the actions. The story is the emotional journey caused by the situation. The story is what we need to tell, but it’s not clear what the story is. This is something the writer has to work out. Without a story, the memoir is a jumble of events. The story tells the author which events to tell and how to tell them. It tells the author how to create order from chaos.

I suppose that’s why I don’t have a structure. I haven’t yet worked out what my story is.

The seminar was held in the picturesque neighbourhood of Yemin Moshe. It’s a neighbourhood of alleys and cobblestones. Of several stairways leading down to the Old City of Jerusalem. The view is magnificent.

Arriving early, as I often do, I decided to take a short walk around the area. My feet led me to the house we lived in for about fourteen years until we moved out seven years ago, and I realised how much I miss this place. I remember how lovely it was to be able to step from the house into this area of history and beauty, away from the noises and smells of modern day life, yet within easy walking distance of the town centre and the Old City.

Yemin Moshe - view along Malki Street

I’ve never missed a home before. Certainly not the one I grew up in. I was eager to leave the place with memories that were mostly sad. In one of my writing exercises in the seminar, which I read out loud, someone noted that, when writing about visiting my former house and school, I’d mentioned looking at both from the outside. That does reflect how I feel now about my former life. I’m outside it now and pleased to be so.

Yes, today is a public holiday. No, it’s not Purim yet – our day for dressing up. And Tu B’shvat, the new year for trees, had not been brought forward. (Besides, neither of those are public holidays.)

Today is election day. After all these years of living here, the reason why  it is a public holiday still eludes me. Still, it’s warm and sunny today, so why not let people relax and enjoy themselves.

In Britain, today would be called a bank holiday; no doubt that has historical significance. In Israel, it’s called a shabbaton, which comes from the word for sabbath: day of rest. It certainly seems like a day of rest today.

As we walked round to our local voting station, we couldn’t fail to notice the lack of traffic on the roads and the unusual calmness of the people we saw. In the station itself, usually a school, the same calm atmosphere was apparent, as you can see.

Voting

There was no queue, no problem. We voted and left.

Afterwards, in hot sunshine, I sat on a bench in the little park opposite the voting station. Some election leaflets littered the grass. Occasionally one or two of them got up and moved to a position nearby, helped by a breeze. I watched two men quietly putting up yet another election poster, fixing one side to a sign indicating disabled parking and the other to a branch. People ambled by on their way to vote, one talking to a mobile phone. Children rode bikes. A woman held a dog on a leash while her partner went to vote.

Ordinary people exercising their right to vote. When I lived in Britain, I took that right for granted. Here in Israel, it means more, knowing that not one of our neighbours really has that right.

100 Word Challenge

Click to join in the fun

The challenge: 104 words including:

the extreme weather meant

I’m throwing fiction to the elements this week. We had our extreme weather about a week before most of you.

So near and yet so different

In Tel-Aviv, the extreme weather meant flooding, road closures and terrible traffic jams.

In Modi’in, a shopping centre was flooded, giving rise to the picture of a restaurant, the diners with their feet in water, that appeared on Facebook. Another interesting picture compared the shopping mall to Venice. They did look rather similar.

In Jerusalem, the extreme weather meant a traffic shutdown, a welcome holiday, snowmen, snowballs and beautiful, silent whiteness. What a difference a few kilometres and a few hundred metres make!

A week later, we sat lazing on the grass in warm sunshine, not a trace of extreme weather in sight.

Frozen pond

Frozen pond

The challenge: 105 words including:

the notes from the piano….

I sat perfectly still, my eyes closed, my breathing steady, at once calm and excited by the notes from the piano. Amazing how just a few notes could warm my heart as they did. I smiled and opened my eyes to watch the performance, following the player’s fingers as they pressed and released the keys. I could see the concentration written on her face.

When she finished playing the piece, I clapped heartily. Then I went and hugged her.

“Well done! That was lovely,” I said. “I really enjoyed it.”

The first piece of music my daughter had learnt to play on the piano.

I’ve been meaning to get back to the windmill for a long time. The thousand words a day writing challenge, 100k in 100 days, is pushing me to do it today. That’s what writing challenges do.

Last April, as part of another challenge – the A-Z Challenge – I wrote about the windmill in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighbourhood of Jerusalem. I posted a picture taken a few years ago:

Montefiore's Windmill

Montefiore’s Windmill, 1999

and another one taken when I wrote that post:

Montefiore's Windmill

Montefiore’s Windmill, 2012

Yes, the old windmill was undergoing renovation to turn it back into what it used to be – a working windmill.

I also mentioned that the windmill, built in 1857 by the British Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, was hardly used, mainly because Sir Moses and friends failed to take local conditions into account: there was not enough wind on most days to turn the sails.

That’s the story I’d always heard and read. It’s the one I heard told yesterday by a guide to a group of tourists on Segways while I photographed and wrote about the view.

View from Mishkenot Sha'ananim

View from Mishkenot Sha’ananim

But when I was in London last summer, I heard a different and more colourful explanation of why the mill was hardly used.

I joined a tour of the Jewish East End, the East End as it used to be at the beginning of the last century. I was particularly interested because my father grew up there, but the tour was fascinating and anyone interested in history would enjoy it. Our guide, Judy, was excellent. We learned many things – even the origin of the word: curfew.

Towards the end of the tour, we entered the Bevis Marks Synagogue to hear from another excellent guide, Maurice. This one, while telling us all about the history of the synagogue, pointed out the seat that used to belong to Sir Moses Montefiore, who, it turned out, was responsible for initiating and provided funding for various projects around the world. One such project was to set up the two adjoining neighbourhoods of Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe, among the first to be built outside the city walls. Yemin Moshe was named after him, Moshe being the Hebrew for Moses.

This is the story that Maurice told – an alternative to the “lack of wind” story. Despite the challenging modes of transport available at that time and his advancing age, Sir Moses Montefiore frequently travelled to the holy land. On one visit, the residents of Yemin Moshe told him of their difficulties in obtaining flour. There were several flour mills in the area, but they had all hiked up their prices recently and the people couldn’t afford them. Montefiore announced that he would build a number of windmills to grind flour and that he would give away the flour to the residents. He had the first one built in Yemin Moshe. The mill began to work, the people received free flour and the other flour mill owners panicked and reduced their prices. Having achieved his goal, Montefiore didn’t need to build any more windmills and the one he did build was no longer needed.

I don’t know which story is true, but the second one turns Montefiore from a fool into a very clever man, and I don’t think he could have done all that he did and be stupid.

So, the windmill has been restored and now looks like this:

Mishkenot Sha'ananim Windmill, 2013

Mishkenot Sha’ananim Windmill, 2013

Mishkenot Sha'ananim Windmill, 2013

Mishkenot Sha’ananim Windmill, 2013

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I hope it works!

Snow is falling in Jerusalem. I can see white flakes coming down silently as I write this.

OK. I know. Many of you are so used to snow that you don’t see it as anything special. But in Jerusalem it’s very special. We don’t get snow every year. Last year it snowed a bit one day, but it had hardly settled when it melted. This time, we have real snow.

And besides, how many of you have seen a palm tree in the snow?

Palm tree in snow

Palm tree in snow

Most homes in this country never see snow. People travel to Jerusalem to see it – if they manage to get here when the roads are closed.

So forgive me my excitement on this unusual day. Tomorrow, when the snow has melted, we’ll think about how to clear the path to the front garden.

Where's the path gone?

Where’s the path gone?

Update: I had to add this photo of our pond taken by my son.

 

Frozen pond

Frozen pond

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