It’s been a while since I last posted. Since then, we have had a General Election (with no clear-cut outcome), celebrated Pessach (Passover), Independence Day and Lag b’Omer, witnessed a national tragedy at the Lag b’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron, in which 45 people lost their lives, (for which nobody is ready to take responsibility except the Police Commander Northern District, who seems likely to become the scapegoat) and suffered a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the drive-by shooting of three yeshiva students – one of whom, sadly, died on Wednesday night, just a few hours before the vile, terrorist murderer was captured (alive, unfortunately), by Israeli security forces.
In other news, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, who was elected for a four-year term but has continued to hold office illegally for the past FIFTEEN years, has – predictably – postponed the elections, blaming Israel (again, predictably), although the real reason for the “postponement” is that Abbas was almost certain to lose, as his Fatah party is divided, and his administration is widely regarded as being corrupt.
And now to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of you will know, Israel’s vaccination rollout has been so successful, and the infection rate has dropped so drastically, that most of the economy has now opened up. The wearing of face-masks outdoors is no longer required, except in mass gatherings, cultural events can now take place (my own choir has a concert scheduled for the beginning of July, I have tickets for the opera later in the summer), the hospitality industry is getting back on its feet, etc. etc. There are some precautions still in place. For example, admission to the opera is only for holders of the “Green Pass” (certificate of vaccination, or of having recovered from COVID-19), but this requirement, too, might have been relaxed by the time I go – and probably will, since I heard yesterday morning of a whole slew of regulations having been altered/abolished. In fact, it’s becoming quite confusing!
So, is COVID a thing of the past for us here in Israel? The Ministry of Health keeps warning us that it is likely to return in the winter, possibly in variant forms that are resistant to the vaccine.
I don’t know – but maybe it would be wise to make hay while the sun shines and take a holiday in one of the few countries to which it is possible to travel without risking quarantine on my return. Or, in the words of the poet – “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”.
For those of you who are still in various stages of lockdown, let me recommend a couple of books to while away the time.
First up is the sequel to “Rapid Eye Movement” by Amanda Sheridan, which I reviewed a few months ago. (WARNING; If you have not yet read “Rapid Eye Movement“, this review of the sequel may, inevitably, contain spoilers.)
Ms. Sheridan’s second novel, “The Dreaming” revisits Jennifer and Ilan, now married and living in Tel Aviv. Ilan, an officer with Israel’s Mossad, has been away for several months, working undercover, embedded with a Jihadi terrorist organisation, and tasked with discovering and preventing their diabolical plot. It is when contact with Ilan is somehow lost that his boss conceives the idea of using Jennifer’s peculiar talents to locate him and complete the task for which Ilan is risking his life, even if that means sacrificing Ilan himself.
Like its predecessor, this book is one to set pulses racing and is best read when you have plenty of time to spare – preferably over the weekend when you don’t have to get up early the following morning, because it is, once again, one of those books where you are going to be telling yourself “just one more chapter” – and then another, and another … until, once again, you realise that Jennifer’s dreams are causing you sleepless nights!
For those of you who are bothered by such things, I should mention that this book contains some rather explicit sex scenes. On the other hand, it also has a lot more action than Ms. Sheridan’s previous novel, as, through Jennifer’s dreams, we are plunged into the terror and the danger of Ilan’s mission and get a taste of the moral dilemmas facing those who keep us safe from the horror which would be unleashed upon the world, should psychopathic terrorists like the sadistic Sayeed have their way.
Will Jennifer succeed in saving her husband? Can Ilan foil the Jihadis’ nefarious plans, which, if allowed to succeed, would bring about the deaths of thousands – if not millions – of people?
In the end, Jennifer is forced to make a dangerous promise – a promise which leaves the door open for a third book in the series, to delight Amanda Sheridan’s many fans.
The second book I want to recommend is for aficionados of what, for want of a better description, is described as “literary fiction”. Fans of the film “Chocolat” (starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), or of the novel on which it is based, will enjoy Joanne Harris’s most recent book, (the fourth in the Chocolat series) – “The Strawberry Thief“. Although it is, in some sense, a sequel to “Chocolat” it can be read as a standalone novel (I, in fact, have not read any of the previous books in the series).
“The Strawberry Thief” of the title refers both to young Rosette, one of the narrators of the story (which is told from multiple points of view), who trespasses on land belonging to old Narcisse, owner of a florist shop in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where she steals his strawberries, and to a repeating design made popular by William Morris and adapted by the mysterious tattooist Morgane, who arrives in the village as if brought by the wind, causing much disquiet amongst its inhabitants, including Rosette’s mother, Vianne (the character played by Juliette Binoche in the movie).
The language of the book is replete with passages calculated to arouse the senses, and couched in some of the most poetical prose I have ever read, which cry out to be read aloud.
Who, for example, could resist an opening passage such as this?
There’s always a moment before a storm when the wind seems to change its mind. It plays at domesticity; it flirts with the blossom on the trees; it teases the rain from the dull grey clouds. This moment of playfulness is when the wind is at its cruellest and most dangerous. Not later, when the trees fall and the blossom is just blotting-paper choking the drains and rivulets. Not when houses fall like cards, and walls that you thought were firm and secure are torn away like paper.
No, the cruellest moment is always the one in which you think you might be safe; that maybe the wind has moved on at last; that maybe you can start building again, something that can’t be blown away. That’s the moment at which the wind is at its most insidious. That’s the moment where grief begins. The moment of unexpected joy. The demon of hope in Pandora’s box. The moment when the cacao bean releases its scent into the air: a scent of burning, and spices, and salt; and blood; and vanilla; and heartache.
Old Narcisse, the florist, dies at the beginning of the novel, leaving a valuable parcel of land to Rosette (to the consternation of his only daughter, the grasping and hypocritical Michèle). Narcisse goes to his grave taking with him a secret which he shares with no-one, other than the priest, Reynaud, whom he despised in life but to whom he leaves his final, written, confession. Reynaud, another of the story’s narrators, is also burdened by a secret guilt. Secret guilt seems to be shared by many of the characters in the book and much of the story revolves around the way they help each other to free themselves from a guilt which is sometimes misplaced. Morgane does it by means of her tattoos. Vianne, the expert chocolate-maker, and later, her daughter, Anouk, do it with their seductive and sensuous chocolates:
It is my recipe, and yet it is not quite familiar. A little less sugar, a little more vanilla, or cardamon, or maybe turmeric. In any case, it is sweet and good, and it smells of other places, of wonderful things to discover. But it also smells of home; of the scent of fig leaves in the sun, and Armande’s peaches cooking. It smells of moonlight on the Tannes, and the scent of Roux’s tattooed skin against mine. It smells of the past and the future, and suddenly I realize that I am no longer afraid of anything that future may bring. The hole in the world has somehow been filled. I am whole again, and free.
In another sense, the book is about learning to let go – not only of guilt, but of those you love, and about understanding that only by letting go can you hold on to them.
Or, to quote Gibran Khalil Gibran:
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”
Two very different books – but I enjoyed both, as I hope you will.
And finally, another recipe. Since Shavuot (Pentecost) is almost upon us, and on Shavuot, it is traditional to eat dairy foods, this recipe is right on target. Not a cake, this time, but a savoury pie – (in Hebrew, pashtida – פשטידה – accent on the last syllable) – once again, adapted from a recipe (or rather, taking elements of several recipes) which I found on line and altered so much as to feel I am justified in calling it –
SHIMONA’S OWN CARROT AND ONION DAIRY PIE.
2 large eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tub (150 gr.) natural-flavoured yoghurt
Salt and black pepper to taste
100 gr. grated yellow cheese (cheddar or parmesan)
1 tsp oregano
1 large onion
2 medium carrots
3/4 – 1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 large tomato (sliced)
Optional – a fistful of chopped parsley
1. Chop the onion into small cubes.
2. Grate the carrots (or chop into small cubes).
3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, oil, yoghurt, salt and pepper.
4. Add the oregano and, if so desired, the parsley.
5. Add the grated yellow cheese, carrots, onions, flour and baking powder.
6. Mix till the flour is absorbed into the mixture.
7. Grease an English cake tin (for a loaf shape) or a round pan (or else line with baking paper).
Pour in the mixture and decorate with sliced tomato on top.
8. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C. for 40 minutes or until the pie is golden in
colour and stable.
That’s all for now. Have a great weekend.
Shabbat Shalom – שבת שלום
I am so happy for you and all Israel that the covid infections have dropped as they have.
Here in Wales also the vaccination process has gone very well, so there are very few cases now and no deaths! Like you I’m not sure how long that will last, but at the moment we are relishing in our relative freedom, albeit masks are now the must have fashion accessory!
I read about the terrorist attacks and the awful incident on Mount Meron! ❤️ So sad the second and so evil the first!