It really has been a long, long time since I last posted to this blog and I have no excuses other than the fact that I’ve been out and about in between waiting for the joiner to clear up the mess that the plumbers left when they installed a new toilet a few weeks ago. So far in this regard, there have been several “false alarms” such as when I arrange a date and time for the man to come and two hours after the appointed time and after several texts and attempts at calling he calls back to say that he’s not feeling too well and will be in contact again next week. Meanwhile another morning ruined fruitlessly killing time. And that was five days and several reminders ago—and I’m still waiting.
The big news of the past few days (for me at any rate) was the decision of the Israeli government to designate the UK once more as a “red” country. As the Israeli daily Haaretz reported in today’s issue:
“The Health Ministry [has] expanded its list of “red” countries on Sunday … to include the United Kingdom and Denmark, amid the omicron variant’s spread in Israel, the ban on travel [going] into effect on Wednesday evening. Entry to Israel from these countries is forbidden as well, but permission may be granted by the ‘exceptions committee’.” The term “Exceptions Committee” stinks and strikes me as the latest variant of the well-known Israeli social virus, commonly referred to as “protektzia”. Thus, Britain (and Denmark) have added to a list of 49 countries that include most countries in Africa. Oddly (or perhaps less oddly than imagined) Belgium, too, had been placed on the list and then removed, to which my cynical self said to my jaundiced self that somebody in the Ministry of Health forgot that there are around 20,000-25,000 Jews living in Antwerp, mostly identifying as Strictly Orthodox, and they like to travel in order to be with their family members and friends who live in Israel so why mess up their lives?
Altogether as of a couple of days ago, the national total of people in Israel diagnosed with the omicron Covid variant is less than 100 with another 100 or so suspected of having contracted it. However, it appears that more than 40% of Israelis are not fully vaccinated and therefore have a lower level of protection against this omicron variant of COVID-19. So Israel has definitely adopted a policy of better safe than sorry. Yet, if they only knew that O’Micron is a well-known Irish virus that attacks leprechauns and it you accidentally catch it, you may find yourself next to the proverbial pot of gold, they might change their mind.
None of this interests me very much at the moment, though, because there are still 5 weeks left in London before I am due to find myself once more in the Tel Aviv metropolis and as things like travel restrictions change daily, and sometimes twice daily, I’ll being to take an interest in a month’s time.
As for news in the UK, beside omicron, there’s the ongoing discussion as to whether or not parties were held in 10 Downing Street a year ago, who attended them, who knew who attended, were they actually parties or just business meetings with drinks at hand, were the drinkers/revellers/partiers at arm’s length from one another (orangutang’s arms, of course), and most importantly, who forgot to tell that Harry Houdini (Whodunnit?) of British politics, the Prime Minister, what was going on in his own backyard, because we all know that he didn’t know for he only needs to know what he wants to know, and so forth.
What emerged from all this, in addition to the establishment of and the green light given for various parliamentary committees to investigate these matters, was the resignation of Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s former Press Secretary who resigned from her government job in December 2021, after footage had been released of her joking with colleagues about that Downing Street Christmas party at a “press conference rehearsal” during lockdown in December 2020.
Hired, apparently, because she was able to tell the truth, something that is sorely missing from within BoJo’s coterie of loyal followers/appointees, she at least had the decency to read her declaration of resignation in the street outside her home from within a flood of tears (sans makeup)! What a difference a year makes!
Meanwhile, London has said goodbye to autumn and has more or less welcomed in winter.
I was also under the impression that squirrels hibernate in winter and perhaps some do — but those in the back garden seem livelier than ever so maybe they’ve decided that in order to stay warm, they have to keep active rather than sleep.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I went with friends to the Imperial War Museum for the first time. What they wanted to visit was the new “Holocaust Exhibition” on display there. My impression was that there was “too much in a too-enclosed space”, a sort of practical class in Holocaust Studies 101 although it may have provided information for people who know nothing or next to nothing about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
However, I did find one exhibit in the display particularly informative, and it read:
…which I thought made for interesting reading in itself.
There were a couple of events last week that were particularly pleasing. I attended a concert of the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall in which the guest leader/concertmaster was none other than Sergey Ostrovsky. I’ve known Sergey for nearly 25 years, from the time that Shuli became a member of the Aviv String Quartet and have heard him perform in all sorts of places. However, this was something special. And the added plus was that the orchestra was performing Mahler’s 4th Symphony, which is one of my favourite pieces of music. Great!
The following day, it was back to pictures with a visit to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, a place I had not been to for some years. Truly an amazing art collection in such a relatively small space. The collection includes such masterpieces as Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies Bergère”, which I could have looked at for hours. It’s a painting that features a modern setting in the then most famous and modern of Paris’s café-concert halls, which was noted among other things for its electric lighting. The brushwork is Impressionistic and its framing was influenced by the new art of photography. Nevertheless, its meaning is obscure, and it deals with a problem that occupied Manet throughout his working life: the relationship between reality and illusion. The picture seems to be a straightforward; it’s a frontal image of a barmaid serving behind her marble-topped counter, who looks out the viewer/customer. But behind her is a huge mirror with confusing reflections, for her reflection has been moved rightward while at top-right, there is we see an illusory image of a man who appears to be directly in front of her, and whom she is leaning forward to serve.
Apparently, the painting conforms to a one-point perspective view as Manet actually constructed the scene not from a frontal head-on position, but from a viewpoint slightly to the right, from which angle, the assumed ‘conversation’ between the barmaid and the man is an optical trick – the man in fact is standing outside and to the left of the new viewpoint, and is looking away from the barmaid and not standing directly in front of her and anyway, he frontality is also optically deceptive. Instead of standing parallel to the bar and looking straight ahead, she is facing slightly to the right of the picture as we see it, facing the new viewpoint. So, it seems that Manet was not trying to manufacture an illusion in the mirror but simply portraying reality, the illusion stemming from his pretending to paint the barmaid head-on.
The bottles, the fruit and the vase of flowers are arranged on the counter and are reproduced with all the precision of a still life painting. Other interesting items include the legs of the trapeze artist which appear in the top-left corner of the picture, Manet’s signature, which appears on the wine bottle at bottom left as well as three of Manet’s friends among the blurred images in the mirror.
And the Manet was not the only exceptional painting in this wonderful collection, which included [again] Constable and several wonderful Impressionist paintings, as well as one of Vincent van Gogh without his right ear!
And before entering the exhibition itself, there were the merry skaters having a wonderful time in the courtyard, “Skate at Somerset House” returning this year, sponsored by Moët & Chandon, with the ice rink transforming this neoclassical courtyard into as indispensable winter destination.
The previous weekend, I’d visited Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath, to see what they called their “Winter Wonderland”. It was rather spectacular even though walking around was a little more difficult that I would have liked.
However, notwithstanding all these visual gems, the highlight of the past two weeks was neither books nor orchestras. Nor was it paintings or anything like that. Because last Saturday night, I went to see Steven Spielberg’s remake of that musical theatre classic, West Side Story.
Despite reports that it has grossly underperformed at the box office in its first week, this film is absolutely amazing; it was simply a feast for the ears and eyes, not to mention the emotions. I think it is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, it not the best. Of course, one has to admit that Spielberg had wonderful material to start off with, what with the fantastic music by Leonard Bernstein that has become so familiar to us over the past 60 years and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics which were and are a perfect match for Bernstein’s music; the new dialogue by Tony Kushner is also superb. But Spielberg managed to turn West Side Story into the most amazing dramatic film I’ve seen in years. There were scenes that just left you in tears.
Everything about it was fantastic — Bernstein’s music, Sondheim’s lyrics, which I heard clearly for the first time, Kushner’s dialogue and the choreography were out of this world, the photography and the lighting were outstanding, the acting for the most part was top-class. There was hardly anything wrong with it. It’s really quite incredible and, of course, all the time there’s Bernstein’s music in the background, the orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
Mind you, not everyone agrees with my take on the film. Richard Brody, a well-known film critic and someone who —obviously—knows a lot more than me about lots of things—wrote in The New Yorker :
“A rich and famous artist spends a hundred million dollars to revive a corpse with the blood of young people. The creature is still alive, but barely, and the infusion leaves it deader than when it started. This is not the plot of the latest horror film from A24 but the unfortunate tale of Steven Spielberg’s efforts to remake “West Side Story,” the movie musical about love and ethnic rivalry among New York City gangs. With the screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg has attempted to fix the dubious aspects of the 1961 film, including its cavalier depiction of Puerto Rican characters and its stereotypes of a hardscrabble New York. But, instead of reconceiving the story, they’ve shored it up with flimsy new struts of sociology and psychology, along with slight dramatic rearrangements. They’ve made ill-conceived additions and misguided revisions. In the process, they’ve managed to subtract doubly from the original.”
And then Brody finishes his review with:
“The story of the original “West Side Story” is that of white Jewish artists (Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins, later joined by Stephen Sondheim—yes that’s what he wrote but, of course we have to remember that this is 2021 and that Brody is a self-styled atheist Jew—who planned to make a musical play about Jewish and Irish gangs and then, worrying that they were heading for cliché, shifted their focus to people they knew nothing about. The result was a big stage and screen hit that has always been diminished by the blind spots of its script and its casting. Spielberg didn’t open up the story to involve new ideas and experiences, nor did he reckon with the cultural and political forces that gave rise to “West Side Story” in the first place. In a year that has also seen the release of “Tick, Tick … Boom”, a meta-musical about the composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson, one wonders about the meta-film of “West Side Story.” Perhaps the behind-the-scenes tale of its creation and its compromises was the audacious new musical that the moment was ripe for. Dismayingly, Spielberg didn’t have the courage or the insight to imagine it.”
Sometimes, I really do think that the media and the critics really live up to the accusation that they just do no more than fill a given number of words or column inches within a certain time period in order to be paid their salaries on time.
You just have to see and hear the movie and live through its 2½ hours to conclude that what some critics write is, as often as not, pure bullshit!