I’m a serial monogamist.
I’m a one at a time kind of girl and I always have been. Sometimes I go through them quite quickly and you’ll think I’m fickle because my current favourite changes like seasonal ice cream flavours, but then I suppose that’s the nature of flitting from one to the next so frequently. But there are constants. The ones I always come back to, like the tide returning to the shore. Those are the real favourites. Comfort flavours.
I rarely, if ever, cheat.
I won’t say I’ve never cheated. That’s not true and I don’t like to lie.
But I haven’t done it often. I tried it though, like so many people do.
The truth is, I really do just prefer having one at a time. There’s such pleasure in losing yourself entirely in just one – the experience is sweet and to be savoured, only this, right now, entirely, fleeting, soon to be over. But while you’re here nothing is better and there is nothing I want more than this one. Just this one. Nothing else.
I’m talking about books.
I’m talking about the particular, delicious, sensual and sometimes erotic pleasure in losing yourself in one single world. And when it’s a world you so want to explore, that’s where true magic lies. If you’re lucky it will be a trilogy or a series and you’ll have more time. But it will end. It always does. You can’t go on with it forever. They always end, as they must.
I become envious of people who are making their discoveries for the first time. There isn’t anything like it. The element of surprise, the sheer joy of reading a book for the first time, one you’re really enjoying, is almost too much to bear. I think that’s part of the conflict while I read them. There’s one voice in my head telling me to slow down, while another (far more frequently victorious) is already planning how I’m going to irresponsibly stay up all night to get to the end.
I become giddy with the joy of it. It bubbles up inside me at this beautiful, fictional place and the fact that I’ve got permission to be there. Me? Yes, me! I’m invited to indulge in the delights in these pages and I want them all now please but I don’t want it to end. I must know what happened. But I really don’t want it to end. I can’t not know. But then it will be over and I’ll have no more left but I’ll wish so hard that I did. And I always feel bereft when I do, inevitably, reach the final page.
There’s a kind of superiority borne from this virgin-envy. I find myself becoming snooty. Consoling myself with placatory platitudes: “she won’t love it as much as I do”, “don’t worry, he won’t understand the full implications of the ending”, “it’s ok, it won’t speak to any of them as much as it did to me.”
I hate book groups. I can’t stand them. Reading, for me, is so intensely personal. I don’t want you to tell me what to read this week or next week or any other week. I’m selfish with my reading. It’s for me. We can recommend books to each other, but I’ll never expect you to read something because I don’t read when expected to. I read because I want to. I don’t want you to take away what I’ve seen here in this book that I love, in this world that I’ve found, by discussing it to death with pre-prepared questions that are so annoyingly inane, a child would be insulted by them. I find it unbearable to plan to dissect something that is so beautiful.
It’s my reading. Don’t force me share it. Don’t make me cheat on it with you or with another book that you’ve said I must read because the group voted and democracy rules, or because it’s Sally’s turn to choose but Sally has terrible taste and we all know it but everyone gets a turn. Let me instead open up a bit of myself and choose to give it to you as a gift. It will be a shy offering, and as I open that door and let myself back into that world, this time with you holding my hand, you’ll see my eyes look somewhere past you and my face light up and it’s like the sun is shining or like I’m visiting an old friend…because that’s what is happening. I’m visiting a friend. More than a friend. A lover – one I think of and remember fondly.
I love to read. It’s one of my life’s greatest pleasures. To sit and take in a world of words from somebody else’s beautiful mind.
I love to read books one at a time. To know that I’m giving myself totally to them for the time that I’m discovering them. To give them the respect that they deserve. To be only in that world, entirely immersed and surrounded by new sights, new voices, a small universe captured in words on pages…that is something that I feel is a privilege and it fills me with joy, excitement and a visceral pleasure.
I’m a serial monogamist. But only with books.
This Spectator article says some of what I wanted to say about the cancellation of the Incubator (an Israeli theatre company) show The City at the Edinburgh Fringe. I disagree with some of it – the fact that the article dismisses the show as being automatically rubbish because it’s a hip-hop opera is potentially a flippant joke, but is actually a fairly idiotic comment. The genre of the show is irrelevant and so is the writer’s taste in theatre. The content of the show is relevant though. The show does not appear to be incendiary in any way. It’s not about the conflict. At least, I don’t think it is.
One of the many sad things here is that the company didn’t get the chance to perform their show once. They should have been judged, like all art, on the basis of merit and quality. Not on the fact that they come from a country that happens to be in the middle of a cyclical and on-going conflict. Further to that, it sets an unnerving precedent for other groups who enjoy a good protest. Oh, the EDL don’t like a show with mixed races in? Quick, stage a big enough protest and venues like the Underbelly will cancel the show. That’s not what the arts are about.
There are people on both sides suffering. But what’s reported is how many are dying. A friend of mine asked me recently in a heated and interesting conversation we were having if I wanted the Palestinian people to succeed in killing more Israelis and by proxy more Jews. She asked if that’s what I would prefer to the Israelis killing Palestinians. Perhaps I should be horrified but having thought about that, part of me wants to say yes. Because then the world would take note. If the planned Rosh Hashana attack had gone ahead, if the tunnels were successful and the death toll on the Israeli side rose, the world might not see Israel as terrorists. I don’t agree with the scale of the attack or with all of the decisions of the Israeli government, but the terrorism does not come from the side of Israel. That is the wrong word to use.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski said about China:
“Broadly targeting an entire religious or ethnic community in response to the actions of a few only increases the potential for violent extremism.”
He said it about China, but it applies here and it applies both ways. It applies to Israel’s treatment of Gaza and it applies to the way the world is treating Israelis and starting to treat Jews.
I don’t believe every Palestinian person is a terrorist bomber or rocket builder or launcher. I don’t believe every single one of them is evil. I do believe they live in a state of fear between the rock of Israel and the hard place of Hamas. I do believe that your average run of the mill Palestinian person is terrified because they face being dead if they do and dead if they don’t.
In their shoes, I’d probably decide that Israel was the less terrifying enemy too, and choose to fight them and here’s why:
Israel, eventually, will stop. There’s the possibility that if you stand there holding your child they won’t kill you. That’s why they keep using the children as human shields.
Hamas does not seem to show that kind of mercy so it makes a weird kind of sense to ally with them because although they are less powerful, if you fight them they probably won’t turn around and let you live. They may be less powerful but they’re more dangerous. What a horrible and terrifying choice to have to make. To allow your children to be brought up in a culture of hate and violence but to have no real way out aside from death.
But this has no bearing on a hip-hop opera from an Israeli, government funded theatre company. Incidentally, if the theatre group were from Gaza and funded by Hamas, an actual terrorist organisation posing as a political party governing Gaza, they wouldn’t have cancelled the show because there wouldn’t have even been a protest.
To the venue and protestors: You should be ashamed. Because you’ve taken a rare opportunity to allow something positive to come out of a country that has been at war and rather than embrace it, you’ve destroyed it. You’ve prevented something good coming out of that Israeli government money you hate so much and at the next budget meeting, perhaps that money won’t go into art, because they’ll see it as wasted. Perhaps next time, that money will go into weapons. How short sighted you are. Rather than protecting the art, standing by your choices as a venue, you caved instantly. Giving in to hate is never the answer. There appears to be no hate in this show. The art itself is not controversial. But you’ve shied away from the controversy that is political and that cannot be what art is. Surely that is where art should have the strength and support to stand up, to be seen and heard? Israel is not entirely defined by this conflict and it shouldn’t have to be. By destroying this art, you’re forcing a country and all its people into a box that is defined only by war.
Plus who are you all kidding? When a government gives grants to shows in the arts we don’t then give that money back to the government. It goes into developing more art. It’s not as if the ticket sales money is going straight into building another tank. And anyway, it’s the EDINBURGH FRINGE – you’ve basically created another dimension if you come out with any money at all, let alone a profit.
Qatar is a country that still has slavery and we’re holding the World Cup there. I don’t see any borderline violent protests about that causing them to change that decision or cancel the World Cup. And I think an entire culture of slavery where hundreds of people die from being over worked is worth protesting about. Where’s the big scene outside World Cup HQ? Anyone? Anything? No. Of course not.
The fifty arts figures who signed the petition to stop the show should also be ashamed and check to see if they’ve done that for the countries mentioned in the Spectator article I’ve posted at the beginning of this. I strongly suspect they haven’t. Never mind that this theatre group advocates peace and dialogue; they’re Israeli so they must be silenced and stopped. A better protest would be to not buy a ticket or to see it first and then decide whether it’s offensive to have it on. A better way for the Underbelly to respond would be to offer free tickets to the protestors and give them the opportunity to decide whether the show was offensive or not, again, based on the show itself not on where the people are from.
For some reason people don’t approach this conflict with moderation in their opinions. The extreme supporters on both sides, littering my Facebook wall and twitter feed, don’t allow there to be people from Israel who are just people or people from Gaza who are just people. The extreme supporters on both sides refer to the other as animals. None of them are animals. Don’t ever forget that.
In my first fringe, some years ago, I sat through a play at the fringe with genuine antisemitism in it. I felt uncomfortable sitting in the room and I would have left had I not managed to get my leg stuck and had it not been pouring outside. That play ran all the way through the fringe. I complained to the venue that it made me feel unsafe because of the violence of the antisemitism, the feeling in the audience that seemed to be supportive, and the way it was expressed. A wise representative said it’s part of the play and that art should explore things that make us uncomfortable. The theatre is a safe environment within which we can and should look at the parts of the world, at parts of ourselves and humanity that we don’t want to admit to or face.
By cancelling this show the message is that Israeli artists are not welcome here. The theatre is not a safe place for them because of where they are from, regardless of their message. I highly doubt the show will find another venue. No one will want to touch them. That show won’t be seen in Edinburgh.
The overspill and blurring of lines between attacking Israel and attacking Jews is starting to crop up and is being reported: The signs going up around Europe that Jews aren’t allowed in shops and cafes. The Belgian doctor refusing to treat a Jewish patient. You know, in Israel the Israeli doctors do not discriminate about who they treat? And you know that many of those doctors are Jewish? They treat Palestinian and Israeli and Arab and Jewish and Muslim and French and Belgian and English and Scottish and Chinese patients alike.
Is the hip-hop opera being cancelled in Edinburgh the same as what’s growing in Europe? I’m not sure. I’m very reluctant to cry antisemitism, but the interchanging of “Jewish” and “Israeli” is starting to look very much like that and, as a Jew who is not Israeli, I find that terrifying. Do not punish me for the actions of people on another continent. My actions are not the same as theirs and yes, I am Jewish and some of them are Jewish, but if you gave me a gun I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I would be afraid of pulling the trigger, assuming I knew how to take off the safety lock. If you put me in a tank, I’d sit there, useless and probably cry. I thought, naïvely perhaps, that we had moved past this system of judgment.
It is one of the saddest starts to the Edinburgh Fringe I have ever experienced. And I would be sad wherever the company were from. I might actually be sadder if the theatre group had been Palestinian and cancelled because it would probably mean that Jews who support Israel had been protesting and I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of expression. I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of anyone.