Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can beautiful people really feel the Blues?

I first saw the movie, Bagdad Café, long before coming to live in the desert, but even then its haunting sound teased me with dark promises as to where a desert road might lead. When I first listened to the Blues, I felt very much the same way. I wasn't there yet, but it touched me in ways no other genre of music did. The Blues is like Guinness. Either you love its bitter taste, or you don't like it at all. And if Guinness is somewhat of a rarity in most Israeli restaurants and pubs, the Blues is almost non-existent on the Israeli music scene.

Why is it that Israelis have never locked into the Blues? It doesn't even appear as a genre on most Israeli music listings. The YES satellite music select station, which proudly offers over thirty music categories to choose from, does not include the Blues on its list. Nor does the Wikipedia page - Music in Israel - mention the Blues on its long list of popular Israeli music genres. Perhaps an Israeli foundation - The Israeli Blues Society - will help spread the word. It's not that Israeli music hasn't considerably evolved over the years. It has: especially Israeli rock. Why is it then that Rock has become increasingly popular with Israeli youth, but not the Blues? Are there age restrictions to feeling the Blues?

Some of us are born old. Old Souls. We flirt with this all our lives. And then time catches up with us and we are just old. That's how I felt the other night while listening to Lazer Lloyd and Ronnie Peterson play the Blues at a pub in Kibbutz Tlalim. They had come there, down a long desert road, to this little oasis in the middle of the desert.

The makeshift desert pub was full of young people - beautiful young people - for this musical event. It's not that I have anything against beautiful young people. I was almost one, once. But now my presence felt like a hiccup in the passage of time, as I appeared to be the only one over the age of forty.

My eyes slowly scanned the room as the young audience awaited the appearance of Lazer and Ronnie. What were they expecting to hear?  I asked myself. Were they here out of curiosity or had they somehow developed a passion for the Blues, down here in the desert? And then Lazer and Ronnie appeared. They sat at the front of the crowded room, without the benefit of the buffer of a large stage that usually separated them in their larger venues. Perhaps it was this that knocked them a little off-balance at first, or the strange quiet of the desert setting. Or the shock of playing to a young audience: an audience of beautiful young people with expectancy still in their eyes, Ronnie appeared to have a bit of a problem synchronizing with Lazer's changing chords. Lazer appeared to improvize, at times, as if slowly feeling his way into this irregular setting. Some people soon started to sway back and forth with the rhythm. Some simply nodded. And others just sat rooted to the spot, as the music washed over them.

Ronnie and Lazer looked at first like I felt: aged and washed out. But it didn't take long until Lazer found the groove. One might even say that he caught fire, carrying Ronnie along with him. And everything else did not matter. It was the Blues again. Only the Blues.

The crowd was appreciative. I suppose each person took away something different. And for those of us who were Old Souls, we said hello again to old ghosts, and felt the music take hold and rip out our guts, leaving us exposed, the pain a welcome old friend. And for a moment, I did feel truly alive.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How much is a Canadian flag worth?

The first time I saw Andy, he was being pelted by stones by the neighbourhood kids in Belgium. He looked quite dishevelled and forlorn at the time, to say the least. We swooped down to prevent any further attack. Seeing that we had formed a buffer zone, the children lost all interest and drifted away.

"Thanks," Andy said. "You saved me."
"I wouldn't go that far," I said. "They were small stones."
"Well, you saved me from the indignity of it all. I mean, what did I ever do to them?"
"You're American," Hannah said.
Andy took a minute to digest this fact, wondering how anyone could ever dislike an American.
"So how is it that they didn't stone you?" he asked.
"We're Canadians," Hannah explained. "Here," she said, reaching down into her backpack. "I have a Canadian flag I can sell you. Put it on your backpack. It will make all the difference. You won't see anyone being stoned with a Canadian flag on their backpack. Most Americans have one now."
"But you don't have a Canadian flag on your backpacks," Andy remarked.
"We don't need one. We're Canadians."
Andy struggled to make sense of the logic. But he took the flag from Hannah.
"How do I attach it to my backpack?" he asked.
Hannah pulled out a small sewing kit from her backpack.
"I'll sew it on," she said. It will cost you a little more, but it's worth it."

I had met Hannah when hitchhiking through Switzerland. A fellow Canadian, she had been on the road much longer than me and had picked up many tricks of the trade. When you are travelling through Europe on a very tight budget, you have to be ingenious.

So Hannah sold Andy a Canadian flag and her sewing skills. I couldn't help but feel that this was highway robbery. But Hannah defended her actions.
"I am doing him a favour. See how happy Andy looks now."
And he did look happy. The first time I really saw him smile. Grateful for the intervention of two passing Canadians who welcomed him into their protective entourage.

The irony was that when it was time to separate, it was I who left the entourage. Hannah and Andy wanted to cross the Channel and explore England. I had already had enough of Britain in Canadian History classes, which were really all about Britain. This was still before Canadians had developed any real lasting cultural identity. And before Margaret Atwood and my discovery of Guinness.

It was also shortly after I discovered that Hannah and Andy were sleeping together. Did I feel some sort of betrayal: Hannah crossing over to the other side of the border? Not really. Hannah was an attractive girl. But I don't think I ever thought of her in that way. At least, not until I realized that they were tight together (the amazing things you could do in one sleeping bag). And I doubt if she felt that way about me, either. Hannah and I had one thing in common: we had no desire to explore the obvious. My being clueless about women didn't help either. Still am. But we will leave that for another blog.

So Hannah and Andy boarded the ferry at Oostende for England, and I bade them farewell, after sharing a warm hug with Hannah and a strong  handshake with Andy.
"You take care of each other, eh?" I said, then watched as they walked over the ramp onto the ferry. 
I never did make it over to England to see how an innovative Canadian might have found ways to exploit the British and whether the Brits were any more tolerant of a Yank in their midst. It was only about twenty-three years later that I finally made my way over to England, taking my son on a whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Scotland for his Bar Mitzva. We didn't hitchhike, so I don't know if Americans kept touting the Canadian flag on their backpacks.

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Perhaps I shouldn't call them Americans, as Americans occupy a much larger area than the United States. But, as a Canadian, this is how we knew them then, and as a rather indescript exile, this is how I still know them now.

** At the time, my Torontonian accent was also apparently a dead giveaway of my being Canadian, although I am told I lost it long ago. Canadians don't think they have an accent, but I have come to recognize the clear Canadian rural twang over Israeli television when a Canadian series comes on. 

*** There were a few times when I was mistaken for an American. "Where are you from in the States?" a shopkeeper asks me. "I am from Canada," I dryly reply. "Sorry," he says, fearing that I have been insulted.

**** Israelis don't think that there is any difference between Americans and Canadians, or at least no difference worth getting worked up about. We will ignore them, for now.