Tumbalalajka

After posting the “Eating Blue Damson’s with Harry” a few of you asked me about the song I included in the link. The song Tumbalalajka (obviously referring to the instrument of balalajka) is a riddle song seeped in ancient Eastern European tradition, often ascribed to the Jewish community for their love of riddles, although its’ origin is not fully traceable. As part of the process of courting the boy picks a girl to answer his riddle:

“What can grow without the root?

What can burn and never stop burning without a flame?

What can play a song without a fiddle?

What can weep and never shed a tear?” – the boy asks the girl.

If she answers the riddle, they can get married straightaway….the song starts off…

There’s another way to look at “Tumbalalajka” – as a means for young people to explore the mysteries of life and slowly get to know each other…(what a wonderful thought!).

In this particular version sang by the Pressburg Klezmer Band the girl answers  the riddle as follows:

“a stone can grow without the root,

 love can burn without a flame,

wind can play a song without a fiddle, and,

a heart can weep without shedding a tear”.

Good listening…

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Eating blue damsons with Harry

How much can you pack into 17 years of your life? Is the first 17 years of your life more important than your last 17 years….if you are…for example…96?

This September I met Harry, whose who also calls himself Zvi. In my native Slovak tongue, the word ‘zvi’ relates to ‘invite’, but in Hebrew, it means ‘gazelle’ (according to Google).

Harry and I were born 52 years apart in the same Slovak town called Svaty Jur. I am 44 and he is 96. I live Birmingham UK, he lives in Tel Aviv. We have never met before, however, the chances are that every year in September, both of our minds wonder to the leafy vineyards of Svaty Jur, her gentle slopes riddled with bunches of golden grapes.  Lingering scents of  honey and damsons are carried through our brains by imaginary breeze and we see fruit insects hovering above every barrel of ripe harvest….I could go on and on but will spare you the detail!

There are other things we have in common with Zvi. All my childhood, I lived beside a disused synagogue my grandfather used to refer to as the Jewish Temple in the town where, as far as I was aware, there had been no Jews. I wrote about this place on my site previously.  Zvi, too, lived not far from this site as a child but in his days – mid 1920s – the building was used as a place of worship, one of many – catholic, protestant evangelic and so on within the same quarter of a mile.

But today, this place that once filled us both with piety is crumbling in front of our eyes – ITS ROOF IS FALLING and a group of local enthusiasts, led by my lovely sister Anna is desperately seeking to mobilise support for its conservation. It’s a complicated process involving a private land owner, the state national heritage regulator, several donors and international charities – with no tangible result at present – but ‘hope is the last thing that dies in men (and women) ‘ as they say!

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It is true to say that Harry is the only known living survivor of the worshipers of this late synagogue, he is also the only survivor of the Svaty Jur Jewish community as far as we can tell.  As an honorary citizen of the town, he visits every year to mark the beginning of the Hebrew New Year Rosh Hashana and commemorate lives of those from Jewish community who died in concentration camps or were otherwise never found again after the Second World War. Harry has been a driving force behind this important Holocaust Memorial event for 27 years – ever since the borders between the European East and West relaxed, following ‘the fall of Communism’ as it’s known in modern history.

 

But this year felt somehow different – or at least that’s what his lovely grandson Eyal and Harry’s full time carer Sonia, who both accompanied him, tell me.

After his flight to Budapest, followed by a ride to Svaty Jur via Bratislava, he was greeted by the Pressburg Klezmer band, performing a concert in his honour at the medieval catholic church he would have seen up on the hill as a child.

Harry said he could never imagine hearing the well known Jewish tunes, including the songs of Hebrew worship, inside a Christian establishment. He has been able to talk to younger generation, some of them descendants of his former classmates, who were genuinely interested to hear his life story. Meetings were set up for him to discuss synagogue’s future with local representatives, plans were made for a civic association to be set up in his name to continue promoting education about the Holocaust.

But most importantly, Harry was able to reminisce about running up and down the middle street near the synagogue (and it is still called that – the Middle Street), picking up odd jobs for wealthier familes, nicking fruits and eggs from the backyards (as did most kids those days), remember pretty girls with raven curly hair and eat lots of blue damsons, from those old damson trees that you can only find in the backyards  (just like my kids do today)!IMG_0919

And so this is my little way to say thank Harry for finding the time to visit our little town again, for giving us a chance to connect the dots, make up for the past and perhaps continue the family connections for many years to come!

 

Like a stone into water

 

*In memory of someone dear*

She appeared gracious in her drunkenness.

The greasy hair did not take away the soft cheekbone.

The pale skin,

lucid eyes,

kerchief falling

and her dreams always stalling –

it was either the sound of the pigsty

or his voice that interfered.

 

There was no shame in liking that cellar full of lumber

where petrol smell permeated all the tools –

next to celeriac

and potatoes sprouting

the muffled sound of neighbours shouting

into the air that should have smelled of honeysuckle instead.

 

Underneath the hidden window,

earthen floor harboured various bottles.

Plum spirits,

walnut liquor

and the local Silvan wine she drunk much quicker

even thought, it did absolutely nothing for her.

 

It was the sheer bottles she liked the best.

The way that chicken feathers stuck to them

appearing soft and clean as those of tiny owls

that were playing on her mind,

the worlds she was thinking up below the ground,

stories of forest mushrooms, love and war.

 

At the age of 37, she was gone.

‘Like a stone thrown into water’, my mum always says.

Where she dwells the tide carries on, loud and complicated

yet, she sees stillness in that flow that appears to move all of us.

 

And this week, they moved in and painted the cellar light green

and several corks were found on the earthen floor

that did not fit any bottles.

Out of the plastic dustpan an ombre feather ascended.

On a day so windless it has played with the air

as if the nest has been disturbed,

as if her presence was still there.

 

On a balmy night in Mosselle

On a balmy night a star appeared somewhat early

Into the fading day light she fell through the fork of a tree

Like a grain of barley against the sky, and there she hanged,

Calling for the night to give her luminance.

 

Under that same tree, a woman thought

She could just start walking against the mild breeze

Shut the door and without locking it

Straddle past the locked cars without suitcases or passports

through the run down streets of Victorian Erdington

Where night traders light up their cigarettes to cheer her on

And a  polite man with a rucksack says hello

Listening to his accent that sounds familiar she carries on

To the narrow street where a car stops and talks to a woman in a pencil skirt

and the woman answers back in the foreign language our woman understands.

 

Our woman’s walk is urgent but without fear because she’s rehearsed it many times.

Hundreds of miles feel only as hours

Dartfort Crossing, Dover, Calais….

Their lorries and sea containers are insignificant

Belgian flatness and passing clouds do not stir her

She does not care about flower baskets on the motel entrances

Or the misty rain that shrouds her shoulders

From the grassy road verges, she skims over the beauty of Brugge

She suddenly sees the world for what it is – an illuminated snake

More dazzling and meandering than any star!

 

But then she spots the Moselle river

That schemes around the hills like a friendly snake

The scent of honey and golden grapes is unmistakable

She rests her head between the Riesling vines,

And, without any bed, she sleeps a comfortable sleep

Under the tree with a branch like a fork.

 

And a star, that has always been there continues to keep her company,

Regardless of her staying in a foreign land or returning home

passing Erdington, Dover, Calais, Moselle and Sait George,

or even stopping in a vineyard half-way though….

The star that does not move, yet follows her every move,

is asking for more Luminance.

 

 

 

 

 

Port Motherwell

He lives in Motherwell and knows that fences get hot in January.  The heat from the sun does not bother him but the tourists do. Their passing cars steal the view from the graveyard.

The Motherwell graveyard is bigger than Motherwell township itself. It is also greener, neater and full of people in their best suits.

Like ships that move in and out of Port Elizabeth, the Motherwell graveyard receives coffins with dated goods.

Today, the sun is shining on another funeral and the boy wonders if the hole in the ground  feels any cooler. Surely, it can’t be as bad as toilets on the far side.

Small cloudlets appear above Nelson Mandela Bay, like ethereal jelly fish they tease the land with a thought of rain, meanwhile, the water ban still continues.

The man with the moustache continues to mouth the words the procession knows by heart. The Christian rhymes, stifled by the hot air dwell on the ground…how is God ever gonna hear them in South African heat?

Boy’s dirty finger nails are caught in the iron wrought fence. ‘You must cut them today’, it is what his mother laying in Motherwell graveyard would have said.

*On the road between Motherwell township and Motherwell graveyard in January 2018, the boy was stuck to the fence looking towards the graveyard as the funeral was taking place…the rest is imagined. 

 

 

 

person Margarita Serafimova, seven poems

There’s something eerie about Margarita Serafimova’s poetry – I mean in a good way xxx

ISACOUSTIC*

Margarita Serafimova was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize 2017. She was awarded a merit-based fellowship by Summer Literary Seminars as one of fifty runners-up in their 2018 poetry contest. Margarita has three collections in Bulgarian. Her work appears in Agenda Poetry, London Grip New Poetry, Trafika Europe, European Literature Network, The Journal, A-Minor, Waxwing, Nixes Mate Review, StepAway, Ink, Sweat and Tears, HeadStuff, Minor Literatures, The Writing Disorder, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Noble/ Gas Quarterly, Origins Journal, miller’s pond, Obra/ Artifact, TAYO, Shot Glass Journal, Opiate, Poetic Diversity, Novelty Magazine, Pure Slush, Harbinger Asylum, Punch, Tuck, Futures Trading, Ginosko, Peacock Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, Liquid Imagination, and many other places. Some of her work: https://www.facebook.com/MargaritaISerafimova/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.

~~~

The evening port
was passing into the earth.
It was impossible to be outside the blue.

~~~

Resurrection

I looked at the water.
It was the book of life.
After that, I…

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Irene Hergottova (7 Poems)

My poems have been published by Underfoot Poetry. Thank you so much to Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for encouraging me to go over the lines lingering in my drawers and for providing space for new authors on their brilliant blog.

Underfoot Poetry

Nothing of Me on the Moon

The moon where I live
sucks up all darkness,
it’s a pond upside down.

The moon that I know
casts a circle of brightness,
a Chinese lantern in the sky.

Like a pot of honey never falling,
she just sits there, waiting for my glance.

I no longer ask such questions as
what’s the air like, is there noise?

I am happy sitting near the window
resting my eyes on the distant ball of stone.

I narrow my view—does she ever wonder,
am I a blot of blood, a stubborn stain
or just a fleeting interest
with a shimmering spotlight,
a random puppet
positioned in a frame…?

In the blink of an eye, everything’s forgotten,
there is nothing of my presence imprinted on the Moon.

An ocean that no one sees,
drops of rain falling on its surface at night…
I mean the sea…

View original post 1,312 more words

The devil’s own sheepfold

20180407_182024-COLLAGE.jpgMud banks have cracked into little pools of spit, urine and detergent.

Shimmering still waters where horses admire their own reflection

are fed from village women buckets giving a false impression of modernity

like Ariel, the magic powder that washes away all the sins.

Its end of March and the marshes are wetter than last year but today I do not care, it’s

the Orthodox Easter and all the twigs from the wines will go on fire.

Our vineyard is of a hybrid sort, like a bastard son of  two insignificant varieties…what

kind of person drinks a bastard wine? The hybrid vines trail the hybrid country, the

place divided by the creak full of mud and hope, it’s where mosquitos play one ants’ nest

against another and in deep dug cellars last year’s chillies tickle whiskers’ cats.

And so today, the bonfire made of vineyard twigs lits the corner of the world that does

not belong anywhere – who cares if it’s Romania or Moldova, the flames caught on the

camera paint devilish faces full with limbs and bodies perfectly formed. Was it not for

the blue crosses shining down on us from the moon lit graveyard we would be scared.

The village woman said, on the other side of the marsh there’s a ‘stina’, the devil’s

own  sheepfold where snake’s head rises from the grass into the charmer’s tune . It’s

where you disappeared on our walk and returned with a bottle of fresh

water. ‘From the spring up on the hill’, you said. Now I am not so certain was it up or

down in the ditch?

The sun has seeped into the horizon, leaving purple sheen above the stina now bare of

me and you but that horse with a plated tail.  The sheep bleating

behind me leaves the shepherds shouting the words I do not understand.

 

 

 

Sharks, Penguins and Clouds: SA 2018

Don’t make a trip from Somerset West to Boulder’s Beach on a New Year’s Day unless you want to drive very slowly! When you get there, do not swim too far from the beach or you might be bitten by a shark!

It turns out everyone else had the same idea. Everyone, from the townships of Khaylitsha and Mitchell’s Plain to quirky Muizenberg and Fish Hoek was either crossing the road to get to beach or driven close by it, if not to see the penguins, then at least to see one of those beach-kind of weddings. (Turns out 1st January is a very popular day for weddings in Western Cape – and yes, I am writing this blog with a 5 weeks delay!).

The weather was very hot, the wind was very strong and we watched it all from the window of the Ford Fiesta for two hours until we arrived in Simon’s Town.

The townships were on a scale unimaginable and it was a wake up call for those tourists  have so far seen only the manicured vineyards and farms around Stellenbosch.  Repeated rows of corrugated steel roofs and tilted electrical poles seeped into the blue mountains horizon somewhere in the far, far distance. People, young and old and children walked to places and judging by the size of their rucksacks they were used to some distances. A groups of youth was heading for beach and whistled past the queue of slow traffic.

 

Not far from the Mitchell’s Plain there was a Muslim wedding. The bride’s dress was being thrashed by the unforgiving Atlantic wind, the veil lifted around her face and I was tempted to come out of the car, if only to take a photo, but of course, that’s when the traffic started to move and the kids said I was a ‘weird wedding crasher with a lousy camera’.

In Muizenberg, another wedding party was walking up a hilly street, some men were wearing Jewish caps, others had no head coverage including the groom who was Black. Muizenberg looked like a place where everyone wanted to be seen eating a posh meal opposite the beach. I recognised the colourful beach houses, I have seen them in pictures before. I never knew there was a large Jewish synagogue.

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We carried on along the coast, just like the trains on the coastal railway did and it was somewhere there we saw the Start of the Sea Catholic Convent School that looked completely out of place as we concluded that surely, no one ever goes to school in such a stunning tourist spot. Shark spotters and black flags were everywhere, a number of surfers have been bitten/eaten in around False Bay, I was told, in recent years.

The only thing to say now is that we did finally arrive at Simon’s Town and parked up our car on the curb very badly. We joined the queue to see the penguins at Boulder’s Beach, together with a hundred or so fellow tourists. I began to wonder why is it that children always decide to throw tantrums just after their parents buy the expensive tickets. I had this idea that we would be strolling the beach and the penguins would congregate before our eyes just like they do in Happy Feet. And whilst we did see them dotted around the large rocks, we had to obey the long queue and listen to everybody else’s child wanting to see them up close (in addition to our own).

Still, our photos were worth it and we got to eat our picnic food further down on the Boulder’s Beach.

Having rested on the sand, windswept and wind-burnt, we drew up to the Cape of Good Hope which is the place where mountain peaks meet with clouds and mists. It is not everyday I can say we’ve driven through clouds, but we definitely did – on 1 January 2018!

In case you wonder why I haven’t taken more photos of all these events, there are two reasons – 1. I was sitting in the car for most of the journey; 2. when we finally arrived, my battery run out!

 

 

 

SA 2018: ‘Being’ White in Macassar

This is not a post about the Indonesian port, neither it is a planned tourist trip. This is where the Google showed the nearest shop between Somerset West and Raithby, South Africa.  Last night we were the first family to arrive at the Country Guest House under a start lit sky.  And whilst our friends were changing flights from Dublin to Istanbul and onwards to Cape Town, we wanted to surprise them with a fridge full of kids-friendly snacks.

And so we asked Google Maps and the Google Maps showed Shoprite. The mobile screen (which I had to grudgingly hold upright to navigate my husband) promptly highlighted a blue line leading to the nearest grocery store. As the line got shorter and our car drew  nearer, the name of the village showed up on the right hand side reading MACASSAR, followed by several civic buildings, including the local council, dentist and health centre.

Macasar Village Down Town Protest 25 May 2009_1

We drew through what looked like a housing estate, not unlike many inner city places in Birmingham UK, into a small market street with an open parking lot. The cash point was right by the grocery store, we saw the machine as we were parking up. It was only when the machine started counting the notes we realised everyone was looking at us. ‘We are the only White people here’, my daughter stated the obvious. ‘This is weird’, she expected a reaction, but everything is ‘weird’ in the world of teenagers and so I pretended to busy myself with a shopping trolley.  In the country with a history of forced resettlements, segregation and controlled movements of people we suddenly became acutely aware of the colour of our skin.

We went about our business pretending not to notice the unwanted attention, some of us managing better than others, looking for Pringles, chocolate milkshakes and sun cream, only the suncream was nowhere to be seen. And then that thing happen, (that thing that always happen if you believe in simple acts of kindness), somebody noticed our we were ‘out of place’  and immediately emphasised. A guy stacking shelves left his cans of tomatoes and walked across to us: ‘Looking for something?’, he smiled broadly. ‘We can’t find any sun cream’, I pleaded. ‘Follow me’, he said and at that moment it seemed the odd feeling evaporated.  They did not stock much sun cream, he explained, but we found a dusty bottle nevertheless. They did not sell any beer, he added, but the next door ‘liquor store’ did. He located a manicure set that no one has asked for in a while. In the end, we have left the Shoprite with enough baby bells to last us for weeks!

Macassar beach

Macassar, I later read, was a village with a bit of a reputation for political action.  Situated on sand dunes not far from the popular Strand, its residents protested against relocation of people from the informal settlement Nomzamo into their midsts. They had enough of their own housing and schooling problems, let alone share their place with any newcomers. Macassar, similar to its namesake port in Indonesia is largely inhabited by Muslims with proud history of fishing and boat making skills. The sand dunes, though attracting spectacular flock of flamingos, did not manage to establish its reputation as an attractive tourist destination. Its Pavilion features in ‘the most amazing images of the abandoned beaches in the world’ on Pinterest.

Still, its PEP retail and a clothes boutique (where a young Chinese student was being trained in how to use the till) provide excellent bargain for the fair skinned who are in need of sun glasses, swimming costume or hats.