Putin on the Agony

This time, it’s been a month and the truth is that I haven’t much felt like posting to this blog recently as there have been so many diversions.  That being the case, I suppose I should start with the most obvious digression, the goings on in southeastern Europe.


However, in addition to calling to mind Lonnie Donegan’s “Puttin’ on the Agony”,


recent events in Ukraine also reminded me of spaghetti puttanesca, which is one of my favourite pasta sauces. Apparently it’s an easy sauce to prepare, and includes tomatoes, garlic, olives, and anchovies, although I have to admit that I possess no first-hand experience of that.  It seems that it needs to be cooked but briefly, and all I can say is that it’s very fragrant and rather spicy.   It’s worth noting that puttanesca translates as “in the style of the whore.”, (or lady of the night), the name deriving from the Italian word puttana which means “whore” and that in turn arises from the Latin word putida which means stinking (or putrid).  At any rate, some people have told me that that relates to the fact that spaghetti puttanesca “has everything in it”, hence the name.  Either way, puttanesca relates very well to the leader who has taken the world to the brink of World War III.

Street sign, Tel Aviv (March 2022)

The media coverage of the war (seemingly, Russians are, Basil Fawlty-style, are not permitted to “mention the war” or call it an invasion (it’s ‘only’ a “special operation”).  At the beginning, a couple of months ago, as the Russian army prepared for its “special operation”, the toing and froing of Western leaders to Moscow and elsewhere in order to meet the Russian dictator was reminiscent somewhat of that 1938 meeting in Munich between Mr. Chamberlain and Herr Hitler, after which Chamberlain stated that  “… the German Führer … and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe.  We regard the agreement … as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”  Except that in 2022, the efforts of the Western leaders proved less fruitful that those perceived to have occurred in the mind of the then British Prime Minister and Moscow 2022 was, I thought, just a re-run of 1938— but on steroids—with Putin playing the role of Hitler.  However, as time passed, it has become more and more obvious that Putin is not really akin to Hitler at all but to that alternative dictator, Stalin, as he imposes more and more means of silencing the Russian populace and keeping them ignorant by any and all means possible as to what is happening.  Reading Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People —  The Story of Russia’s History and Politics, the level of corruption among Putin’s associates makes corruption every place else seem like child’s play.  And in this respect, this conversation between the journalist and writer Jonathan Freedland and Professor Timothy Snyder is well worth spending an hour on.


And I have to say that whatever some Ukrainians might have done to Jews in World War II, it does not mean that I am not moved by the images of ordinary civilians under attack from land, sea and air by the “special operations” of the Russian army for unlike 1938, everything is being played out in real time on the media——TV, radio, newspapers, &c.— which made me think that if there had been similar media coverage 85 years ago would all that had happened to the Jews actually have taken place.  Remember that at that time, the only way of learning what was going on was via radio and newspaper reports and perhaps a couple of minutes of video news if you had gone to the cinema to watch Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges.  Today, we are fed images 24/7 and images projected in Russia come with different subtitles.  The response of the West has been to impose sanctions on Russia and Belarus, the impact of which on the global economy are as yet unknown.

How all this will end is anybody’s speculation and how long it will take to end is anybody’s guess.  Whatever the past failings of Ukraine and the Ukrainians, they did democratically elect a president with 73% of the vote and this is the country that Mr. Putin has pledged to “deNazify”, which, in gross understatement, is rather rich, given that Mr. Zelensky, Ukraine’s democratically elected president also happens to be Jewish.  But then, we have to remember that Putin is playing to Russian memories of the Nazi treachery and invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

I have no knowledge or even a view as to whether Mr. Putin is out of his mind (i.e., mad).  His behaviour over the past couple of years whereby he greets people and talks to them one on one around a table made for 20 or more suggests more than just social distancing caution. It suggests that he’s afraid of dying but if that is what is going to happen, then he’d like to be remembered as the man who saved Mother Russia from whatever threats there are from the evil outside world (Russian paranoia again).  However, more than that, he seems (is?) more like other despots who have come and gone and who surround themselves with sycophants and others whom only tell him what he wants to hear (or what they think he wants to hear) and that lends itself to forming a somewhat distorted view of the world.


Now for some photographs and other diversions.  A couple of weeks ago, I popped over to visit Shuli and Tami, my daughters.  In addition to just being able to be with them, it was a sort of special occasion for they were playing host to the “old Aviv String Quartet” for this was the first time in 20 years that the four original members of the quartet had all been together and they thought it a good opportunity for nostalgia and reminiscences.

Aviv String Quartet, Melbourne. July 1999

By the time I got there, they were well into dinner and the second bottle of wine but It was wonderful to see them all together again after so long, albeit two decades older.  And then the miracle happened …

… because the “Old Aviv Quartet” sat down to play together, chamber music as it was and should be played.  Without rehearsing, they just parked themselves on chairs in Shuli’s living room and played quartets by Haydn, Debussy and Brahms — all with the same nuances that had marked them out 25 years ago, as Tim Ashley had reported in The Guardian“the Aviv String Quartet is rapidly emerging as one of today’s finest chamber ensembles. Rich, warm and distinctive in sound, their playing combining technical exactitude with instinctive emotional intensity…”


In addition to the upsetting news coming out of Ukraine, there was another event that shook me, and that was the premature death, at age 52, of the larger-than-life Australian cricketer, Shane Warne, possibly the greatest bowler ever to have lived.

Why I was so upset, I’m not quite sure but it weighed heavily on my mind.  Cricket was the one sport I enjoyed when I was young although I wasn’t all that good at it. I was a fast bowler of sorts but my real dream was to have been a leg spin bowler, a skill that required a manual dexterity that I didn’t possess. Richie Benaud, later captain of Australia and one of cricket’s best loved commentators was my hero of the times and was the leg-spin bowler par excellence in the pre-Shane Warne days.  Much later but still many years ago, while browsing through CDs at the HMV store on Oxford Street, I espied someone next to who looked uncannily like Mr. Benaud.  So all that remained for me was to sidle over and ask him if he was whom I thought he might be.  A smile and a just a couple of words from that unmistakable voice were enough to confirm my suspicions immediately and as I related my childhood dream to him, we shook hands and parted.


The other diversion, and one much more pleasant than Ukraine and the early death of a cricketer, was a visit from London of a lady who, for the moment, will appear under the pseudonym IVO. She came to be with me for a planned 2½ weeks but ended up staying for four.  As my late mother used to tell me, “If you want to get to know somebody, then go live with them.”  However, having experienced that, I would just add that if you really want to get to know someone, then go live with them when you’re both ill!

We travelled around and met friends and eventually ended up visiting myself sister, Roz, whom I hadn’t seen “in the flesh” for a year and a half.  We drove back to Tel Aviv from the Golan Heights through torrential rain on Friday morning but by Sunday, IVO was feeling unwell and we decided that a PCR test for Covid was needed.  The results came through that night; she was positive and I negative but to cut a long story short, I tested positive two days later and we ended up being entrenched together in the flat for almost a week and it was an interesting experience from which we both emerged unscathed.  Quite the opposite, in fact—although I’m note sure I’d recommend this as the way to get to know someone better.  I don’t know who described the symptoms of a Covid attack as “mildly flu-like”; I’d never had a flu like this before and I thought I might be on my way to meet my demise.   All I can say is “Avoid it like the plague because it is a plague.” And although it’s gone, it’ll take another while before I can truly say that I feel normal again, whatever “normal” is supposed to mean!  And BTW,  IVO has recuperated and has successfully made her way home to London.

Climbing up walls with Covid. Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv



En route to the Golan (1) Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)


En route to the Golan (2) Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)




Lupins after torrential rain. Givat Yoav, Golan Heights.


Snail after a rainy day. Stricker Street, Tel Aviv



Kumquat tree. Givat Yoav, Golan Heights


Signs of the times. Zikhron Yaaqov



Spring is on the way. Almond blossom. Haifa

And diversions notwithstanding, there was usually time for a walk in the park.


Blue-hair day, Yarqon Park



Feed the birds …


… and look at what happens


At the kitchen window


I’m looking straight at you!



A bloated feeling. Tel Aviv


A Guinness overdose. Zikhron Yaaqov



Delivered by Caesarean section. Nissenbaum Street, Tel Aviv

… and one more for the road!