Up On the Roofs

rooftops1

I was married in 1943, during World War II. The ceremony was held on the roof of the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem. We were secular Jews but a religious marriage was the only option since Israel did not (and still does not) perform civil marriages.

In Jewish tradition, a wedding takes place under a chuppah (canopy). Chuppah means covering or protection and is intended as a roof under which the new couple will live in their newly established home.

Another roof experience was during a stay in Baghdad during a very hot month of August. At another time, I’ll explain how we came to be in Baghdad at such a miserable time of year. Sleeping indoors was out of the question and all the hotel guests spent the night on the roof under mosquito nets.

The roofs in the Middle East are flat since it seldom snows there and rooftops are multi-purpose areas serving as verandas, meeting venues, picnic places and lookouts. I remember a film with Marcello Mastroianni and Sofia Loren where they used the roof as a rendezvous.

Rooftop Image From Marriage Italian Style

From Marriage Italian Style

Besides their utilitarian function, roofs are a form of architectural art. The roofs in the Forbidden City in Beijing have graceful overhangs, often in several tiers with upturned eaves. They are also ornamented with figurines just as decorative as the statues in Gothic cathedrals.

rooftopschina

Roofs in Forbidden City

More examples of roofs as artistic expression are domes like St.Peter’s in Rome, Hajia Sophia in Istanbul and of course the Taj Mahal.

Let me also mention the bright orange tiled roofs of Dubrovnik in Croatia, destroyed in the 1990s and later rebuilt in all their glory. You can get a magnificent view
of this roof ensemble by walking on the ramparts, absorbing the contrast between the golden tiles and
the vivid green of the Adriatic Sea shimmering below. It is a sight I will remember for a long time.

Recently we have witnessed the spread of green roofs. Rooftop gardens, though by no means a modern invention, have become very popular. Besides the ecological benefits they provide, green roofs also have decorative and recreational functions. I remember a BBC television series in which a crime is committed by an MP who murders a journalist by throwing her off a rooftop garden.

And while we are on ecological grounds (or rather roofs) we must not forget the new solar heating panels which now decorate many roofs.

Have you wondered about the symbolism of “The Fiddler on the Roof” in Sholem Aleichem’s story and the Broadway show adaptation? It captures the precarious existence of the Jew in a hostile world.
Tevye says: “Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck.” The imagery is also present in two Chagall paintings: one in 1912 called The Fiddler, the other in 1920 called The Green Violinist.

 

rooftops3

Trinidad, Cuba

I know there are many more roof stories, I hope you have one too. For now I will leave you with this question: Why is the plural of roof not rooves? We have hoof/hooves, loaf/loaves, elf/ elves , calf/calves etc etc.

Editor’s note: Color photos by Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer

 

A Few Thoughts About Hands

Let me start this meander with something current and political.

All of my life, I have been very interested in people’s handwriting. Our writing is very revealing of who we are. In Israel, for many jobs, a sample of handwriting is a requirement. So here is what I notice about these two very different “hands.”

A graphologist recently exhibited samples of two signatures.

Donald Trump’s signature is sharply vertical. It is angular, spiky and looks like an EKG or an earthquake graph. To me, it suggests constricted meanness.

 

Trump Signature

Trump Signature

 

 

Obama Signature

Obama Signature

 

 

 

Barack Obama’s signature, by contrast, spreads horizontally, has a big round outsize B and another large O and, to my eye, represents openness and generosity.

So I will go on about hands but now reaching back in human history….

We write with our hands and although chimps and gorillas have hands similar to ours, with prehensile thumbs, they are not able to write. There have been experiments in which researchers have managed to teach chimps a rudimentary form of calligraphy, but they do not naturally express themselves in writing. It probably has something to do with the size and development of their brains. Animals use their hands or limbs to grasp, grip, build, climb, scratch, feed and groom themselves and create their habitats. Human hands “on the other hand” can build artifacts, repair clocks, crochet , play an instrument, shape pottery, perform magic tricks (sleight of hand) do complicated surgery and much more. Hands are used to point, show, drive a car and in handshaking. One area of communication in which hands play a major role is sign language.

Hands have played a huge role in art. In Dutch portrait paintings, the hands have as prominent a role as the face. There are hands that hold books, turn pages, handle coins, and pour milk from a jug. Other hands pray, curse or supplicate. Lovers hold hands. Leonardo da Vinci made numerous studies of hands, and the hand plays a major role in the Sistine Chapel painting :”The Creation of Adam.” Here it is…

Hands of God and Adam

Hands of God and Adam

 

I am also thinking of the “Hamsa” (also known as the hand of Fatima) symbol of a hand which wards off evil and is a symbol of good luck in many Middle Eastern cultures.

 

Fatma Hand

Fatma Hand

 

Hands have also invaded our language with expressions such as: hands off, lend a hand, hand over, hand-me-down, handyman, the handwriting on the wall, washing one’s hands of something and much more.

Writing something by hand (the way my blogs usually begin) helps one’s thinking. Taking manual notes helps in remembering since body and brain work together. (hand in hand?).

But for now, to hands, we wave goodbye.

Race and Music – Four Great American Divas

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson

Marilyn Horne

Marilyn Horne

Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman

Kathleen Battle

Kathleen Battle

The story of American black singers is one of triumph of talent over racial prejudice.

Marian Anderson(1897-1993) was a contralto whose voice was described as rich and vibrant.
Her parents were devout Baptists and she started singing in their church’s choir at age 10. She was paid 25 cents a song. As a teen she applied to the all-white Philadelphia Music Academy but was told, “we don’t take colored.” In 1925 she won 1st prize in a singing competition. She had her formal debut in 1933 in London at the Wigmore Hall .

Anderson then started performing in concerts and recitals. In 1939 she made history when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her permission to sing in Constitution Hall. With help from Eleanor Roosevelt, she performed at an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. She was the first African-American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. She also participated in the March on Washington in 1963. In 1961 she sang at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ceremony. Throughout this long career, Marian Anderson broke down barriers for other black performers.

Marilyn Horne (1934- ) is a mezzo-soprano opera singer who was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in California. She studied at the University of Southern California and sang in the Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus. After many years as a background singer, she was discovered by Igor Stravinsky and performed at the 1956 Venice Festival. She remained in Europe for three seasons. Like many of the black singers of the day, she waited until she was well established abroad before starting a career in the United States.

She returned in 1964 to appear in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at the San Francisco Opera. Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera wasn’t until 1970. She has since performed all the major bel canto roles, although she also sings traditional and contemporary American music. On July 5, 1986 Marilyn Horn performed in a televised New York Philharmonic tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. The performance in Central Park was conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Kathleen Battle (1948- ) was born in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1948. She is a lyric soprano and started her career singing Brahms’ German Requiem in 1972. James Levine selected her to sing in Mahler’s 8th Symphony. She went on to a career in opera and recitals. She was “Rosina” in The Barber of Seville and “Suzanna” in The Marriage of Figaro. By then it was acceptable for a black woman to sing white roles. She also sings spirituals, sometimes with Jessye Norman. Kathleen Battle has been accused of behaving capriciously like the stereotypical caricature of the “prima donna.”

Jessye Norman (1945- ) was born in Augusta Georgia. She is a dramatic soprano and was inspired by both Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price. Her statuesque build, regal bearing and opulent voice make her perfect for Wagnerian roles. She first established herself in Europe and sang the Marseillaise in France to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Jessye Norman can sing both soprano and the deeper range of the mezzo-soprano. She is a perfectionist and has been called a “grande dame.” Jessye Norman is also active in civil rights movements. Her autobiography is called: Stand Up Straight and Sing, her mother’s advice to her.

There are now many more wonderful black opera singers. Because of these four pioneers they have become part of the mainstream classical musical scene.

Inauguration Day 2017

ravens

 

In the kingdom of Howcouldthispossiblyhappen, a new king was being sworn in. It was in the month of January and Inauguration Day dawned cold and inhospitable. Arctic winds blew and covered the Inaugural platform with icy frost. The sky was obscured as darkness descended at noon. The people of the land could have watched on their televisions, but in truth many did not want to see the king whom many described as ugly. So they huddled together in their homes, schools and offices trying to find some warmth and hope.

 

And so it was that King Turnip and Queen Melon and their motorcade rolled down Panoramic Avenue through  deserted streets.  Clad in splendid purple and ermine, Turnip and Melon waved wildly to the non-existent crowd as their procession rolled slowly toward the Palace where liveried footmen awaited their arrival.

 

The people of Howcouldthispossiblyhappen were sad. They already missed their old King Banana and his wife Mango and the two beautiful young princesses. During their reign much had been accomplished, for King Banana cared about the welfare, good health and secure old age of the citizenry. They had heard rumors that King Turnip intended to wreck everything that had been carefully constructed, disrupt their peaceful existence and make war on their neighbors. They also feared that “barbarians” would be kept out of the kingdom and friendly “aliens” exiled. Many had come to realize that their new king was not only ignorant and unintelligent but also malevolent.

Soon the royal cortege arrived at the Palace to be greeted by polite and attentive staff that showed them to their quarters and helped them unpack their royal clothing and regalia.

 

For the first time in anyone’s memory, the sky was darkened as hundreds of ravens circled the palace.

 

 

 

Rushing for the Exits…….

 

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Yahya Jammeh

Yahya Jammeh

 

LEADERSHIP of African countries has always been fluid, but I’ve noticed a lot of movement just lately. As I started to collect these for you, further resignations elsewhere in the world are surprising us…this list changed in the few days since I originally started on this post.

 ANGOLA

Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, will step down in 2017 after having ruled for 37 years during which time he exerted total authority. His designated successor will be  Joao Lourenco. There are no direct elections in Angola. The head of the ruling party becomes president. Relinquishing power is so unusual in an African country that everyone was stunned.

THE GAMBIA

The Gambia is a small English-speaking enclave in Senegal, a much bigger French-speaking nation which surrounds it on two sides. It does not normally attract anybody’s attention. Now its president Yahya Jammeh is making news too. After having ruled for 22 years, he was defeated in the December 2016 elections by Adama Barrow. He conceded defeat and agreed to hand over power. Well, say you, that is normal isn’t  it? Not in Africa, it isn’t.  To understand how unusual these two occurrences are, one has only to remember the regular-as-clockwork protests, chaos, riots which normally accompany many African countries’ elections.

Late breaking: Jammeh recanted his acceptance, does not accept defeat and said he would call for new elections.

 

Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame

 

 

 

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe

 

 

BURUNDI, RWANDA, ZIMBABWE

Some African rulers have managed to stay in power for more than 35 years.  In Burundi Pierre Nkurrunziza sparked a revolt and mass protests that killed more than 240 people while clinging to power. Paul Kagame of Rwanda was trying to do away with Presidential term limits as did Yoweri Musaveri in Uganda.  Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, 92 ,is clinging to his seat with such determination that not even a tornado could dislodge him.  All these rulers know that their position gives them power, prestige, influence and a means to milk their respective countries for personal enrichment. Out of power you are nobody.

 

 

Akofo Addo

Akofo Addo

John Mahama

John Mahama

GHANA

 In Ghana opposition leader Akofo Addo won the 2016 election and outgoing president John Mahama congratulated him and said: I respect the will of the Ghanean people.

 

 

Ali Bongo

Ali Bongo

IVORY COAST, GABON

The French Government under Francois Hollande has had to intervene several times in the affairs of its ex-colonies when violent disturbances followed elections. In the Ivory Coast in 2011 the outgoing president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to hand over power to his elected successor. In Gabon, in 2016 the French succeeded in forcing Ali Bongo to agree to the results of another contested election.

 

Francois Hollande

Francois Hollande

FRANCE

The final surprise comes from President Hollande himself. In December he announced that he would not be running for a second term. This is the first time during the Fifth Republic (which started after the war with General de Gaulle) that an incumbent President has chosen to forego his second term.  Having come to power on a leftist platform of labor reform, he quickly angered everyone by pushing for harsh reforms that would deprive Frenchmen of their entitlements. Massive street protests followed. Somehow he managed to anger both the left and the right. After Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor who was known for his flamboyant style, Hollande dubbed himself Mr. Normal.

He did have some successes in Africa and he did pass legislation that promoted marriage for all, but to many Frenchmen these were marginal issues. The main issue was the state of the economy and that was not good. Taxes and joblessness rose.  Unemployment is currently at 10%.  Napoleon had said that an army marches on its stomach; voters too march on their stomachs. What matters to them are bread and butter issues and they felt they were worse off under Hollande. In addition, terrorist attacks had killed more than 230 people in the last two years and people were angered by immigration and Islamic jihadism.

Add to that Hollande’s bland persona and messy private life involving his ex-wife Segolene Royal, his lady friend, journalist Valerie Treveiler, and his other lady friend, actress Julie Gayet, and it all combined to drag down his popularity. His approval rate plummeted to 4%. (Some even say 1%.)

Realizing that he was headed for certain defeat if he ran again and not wanting to drag down his party with him, he removed himself from the race. He had finally made a popular choice.  In sum one might say: Nothing in his presidency became him like his leaving of it.

 

Since the above was written, two more Prime Ministers have, suddenly, called it quits.

 

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzi

ITALY

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned on December 4th after voters rejected his suggested Constitutional Changes.

 

John Key

John Key

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key shocked his country when he announced he would step down on December 12th. A popular three-term Prime Minister, he was considered a shoo-in for a fourth term. He said he was resigning to spend more time with his family.