Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Five Words

Another meme sent my way by Bobfrom. This time he has given me five words to say something about: Generation, Translation, Heels, Disraeli, Ladino. I'll start with the obvious:


Need more be said?--->

As I am rather short, I have always had to rely on high heels to give me some extra height. I began to wear higher heels around the age of 16 and have not stopped since. In fact I feel very uncomfortable wearing flat shoes, not just because I have to crane my neck looking up at most people (except my daughter who is 9) but because I feel like I tilt backward or might trip when I walk. For walking long distances I wear
wedges like these.

A friend from my student days once told me that there is, apparently, something about the quick tap-tap sound of high heels that is
feminine and sexy and stirs the male erotic fantasies...


is a link in a chain. What connects me, who live here and now, with people who lived long ago, in other lands, who spoke different languages and had a different world to contend with. My father was born in 1932. And he knew his grandfather who had been born in 1875, who must have known his grandfather who would have been born around the time that Jane Austen lived. It seems incredible that a man who lived in the nineteenth century in Turkey, and I, who live in the 21st century in Canada, we both know the same person: my father, who lives in Israel. But while the geographical gaps are correctable, there is no corrective for the temporal gaps.

In my search for past generations, I had one important clue to work by: my father's family name which is very unique among the Sephardic names. It is so singular that with a little perseverance and the help of the Internet and some history books I managed to track it back quite a few generations, at least, theoretically so, since I have no way of making absolute claims here. And in my search I found that my father's ancestors did not come from Spain but rather from Portugal. Aconverso family, whose one of its member was burned at the stake by the Portuguese Inquisition. The family fled to Fez, in what is now Morocco, where a very prosperous Jewish community existed. But less than a year later, they realized they were not welcome there, being refugees, poor and possibly suspect (converted Jews!) so they moved back to Europe. The next time the name re-surfaces is in eighteenth century Ferrara in Italy. And then, nineteenth century all the families of the same name converge upon one small town in Turkey, not far from Istanbul.

The family name first appears in a fourth century manuscript about an archbishop's mission in Gaza, Palestine. It was a welcome discovery since for the first time I found out the meaning of the name. The current usage is apparently a Latinate form of a very common name among Jews.


A translation, any translation, is always an interpretation. No text can ever have a moment when it is stable and fixed in meaning. An interpretation, being a text itself, requires further commentary. Everything is already interpretation. No sign, no word, holds a precise interpretation, as, according to Foucault, "Between word and image, between what is depicted by language and what is uttered … the unity begins to dissolve; a single and identical meaning is not immediately common to them. And if it is true that the image still has the function of speaking, of transmitting something co-substantial with language, we must recognize that it already no longer says the same thing." Interpretation is always a violation of the underlying text, i.e. the original message. In this perspective, all translation is achieved through a violation of the source text. The most crucial challenge a translator is faced with, after having mastered the language, is how to define and analyze this translative violence with a view to containing it and minimizing its harmful consequences, while still maintaining a desirable level of readability and textual vividness.


“If you could only give me a minute of your precious time, dear sir,” she said glibly, “ I will tell you how you can take part in…”

“But I don’t need any encyclopaedia” I demurred, feebly, “And how long is a minute?”

“A minute is a minute”, With this decisive assertion, she extended her right, or left, foot to step into my parlour.

Ah, well. We sat down. She settled into an armchair and placed in front of her a splendid-looking attaché case, stuffed with whatever. Truth be told, she looked quite stylish.

She launched into her monologue, “I am the representative for the Bli-Bla-Blo Company. We buy and we sell, address and redress; we also negotiate and we arbitrate for the mega-rational, trans-global workers’ union’s township committee. We have in our possession a few surveys and thousands of questions, for any buyer and any seller. If you were but inclined to be so kind, then of course, it could be operational without being confrontational. When you order a pizza, do you prefer it hot or cold, or with extra toppings?”

When she spoke, her lips moved. Her mouth seemed a little parched. I fetched her a glass of water. She took a long gulp and asked, “Well, Mr…?”

“Look here, Miss, I don’t need any questionnaires, “ I reiterated, “And furthermore…”

“And answers?” She hastily interrupted. “What will you do if you were asked questions? Today”, she declared categorically “everyone needs answers.”


By the time he was 27, Benjamin Disraeli had already outraged much of England with his irreverent novels. He was enamored with excess. He was a dandy, a womanizer, and worst of all, a Jew. When he takes a seat in parliament at 32, he is nearly laughed out of the House by W.E. Gladstone (John Carlisle) for his flowery manner and flamboyant dress. Thus begins an animosity that will span over 50 years. His main supporter at this time is the wife of influential politician Wyndham Lewis, Mary Anne (Mary Peach). When Lewis dies suddenly, Disraeli proposes marriage, and even though she is 12 years his senior, they marry the following year. By the time he's 47, Disraeli realizes he has to conform to advance his career, and he does so with a passion. He becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer and comes to the attention of Queen Victoria. Within 15 years, he is Prime Minister, something no other Jew has ever dared dream of. And along the way, he has won the respect of the nation and the adoration of his queen. His career is a wild roller coaster of precipitous highs and devastating lows, but his impact on history has lasted until this day. His life is a drama of a man, a nation and an empire at its height."

Ian McShane (better known as that eternally juvenile rascal, Love
joy) is a memorable Disraeli.
His portrayal of Disraeli is almost as perfect as Disraeli's life was, too fantastic not to be true.


In my recent visit to Israel, I took my long-suffering but commendably-patient family to the half jubilee show of one of my favourite Israeli singers, David Broza. The show was one in a series of extravaganzas in celebration of Tel Aviv's centennial. It was a wonderful experience and one of its heights was a duet sung by Broza and the Ladino Israeli singer, Yasmin Levi. She was quite spectacular.

Here is a short video about her and Ladino.

Note the spinach which her mother is preparing. To this day, spinach is very important in the Sephardic kitchen, right next to the eggplant. When I was reading about the Spanish Inquisition and its pursuit of secret Judaisers among the conversos, I was surprised to learn that even back in the fifteenth century, the frequent appearance of spinach and eggplants in a family's food was a sign, a marker, a revealer, that the family was secretly practicing Judaism! Talk about perseverance, eh?

Which reminds me that I have to go chop some spinach for the empanadas I'm preparing for a picnic later today. We'll be having them with hard-boiled eggs and feta cheese and some fruit. It is a glorious weather on this Labour -day weekend and we are going out for a short hike around a small lake, and a picnic.


At 7:16 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often play the same game as you.
And it seems as if a hallway opens up that links you in a living way to the air in Jane Austen's room.

It's a stimulating thought that changes our ideas about time.

But it's an illusion as well in that we feel that we are connected to something interesting when, in fact, we aren't.

It only seems that way because we're dropping in for a visit the same way we go to a movie theatre and watch a highly edited story we don't actually have to experience as a reality.

At 6:01 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

What a wonderful post! Well worth waiting for.


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