Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Zionist in Me

OK, there's something that's been bothering me for quite awhile - well, probably at least since I was twelve. And that's the Jewish question ...

You see, I don't like intolerance of any sort; and what irks me more than most things is when someone mistakes strong opinion for intolerance. I was raised in a political household. It was also a Catholic household, which means I was weaned on guilt - until I was seven and got smacked by a nun for daring to suggest that there was a woman in the picture of Da Vinci's Last Supper, but that's a topic for another blog. Not only was I raised in a Catholic household, but it was a Southern Catholic household, which - in the Sixties - was like waving a red flag to a bull in rural Virginia, which was primarily Protestant (meaning Southern Baptist and Pentecostal Holy-Rollers speaking in tongues, something today known as Palinism). Christians of this ilk didn't much like Catholics, and every Wednesday afternoon whilst we Catholic kids were let out for recess at our parochial school, the local public school was walking down the street to the public swimming baths for their swimming lesson. They'd regularly do nice things like spit at us through the iron gates. That was the nicest thing. Suffice it to say, I learned a whole new four-letter vocabulary from boys I'd later date when we met up again at the public high school.

But I digress. They didn't like us. They didn't like us because we were Catholic. Because, according to them, we worshipped the Virgin Mary, we had strange statues in our church and Christ was still on the cross. And the head of our church was foreign and didn't speak English. They didn't much like Jews either, because according to them, Jews killed Christ. The ironic thing about all this is that I attended my parochial school in the mid-Sixties, at the time of desegregation in the South. My school was private and it was also open to non-Catholics if you could afford the fees. Now right about this time as well, the Supreme Court upheld a plea by Mrs Madelyn Murray O'Hare, a Texas atheist, to remove all prayer and forms of Bible study from state schools. Mrs Murray O'Hare argued that the Constitution established separation of church from state, not only in government and state, but also in government and state institutions, of which the public school system was a part. Smart woman.

So because of this, a great many people with children in state schools who wanted exposure to Bible and Christian teachings removed their children from these schools and put them in the only religious school around those parts - St John the Baptist Elementary. My school. And the majority of parents who did this were the black Protestant ministers. Ergo, we had an integrated school. Unbeknownst to the vociferous Protestant fundamentalist inhabitants of the area (today commonly known as base Republicans), they applied for admission to St Johns for their children too. Why? Because they didn't want their children being educated with blacks. So they paid their year's tuition and - hey presto - their kids were being educated with blacks. And Catholics. And two Jewish kids, who were there solely because the education offered was good (when the nuns weren't smacking hard).

So I've grown up around all sorts, and my best and oldest friend is Jewish. We were best friends because our fathers had grown up together and were best friends. And when they married, our mothers became best friends too. I think we got on so well because of the guilt factor. Guilt is ingrained in the Catholic's soul from birth - after all, we're supposedly born into sin - and if your Catholic mother doesn't lord that over you, some nun will. Ross had a Jewish mother. Enough said. There was never anything romantic between us, and we were at school together right from kindergarten until we graduated from the University of Virginia. A lot of our friends and many relatives thought we were a couple, however. We're still friends today, and in hindsight, we may not have been still if we'd slept together. I remember when I married, the night before my wedding, my mother telling me she'd always half-suspected I'd end up with Ross. I laughed at that until years later, after Ross had finally tied the knot at forty, him telling me his mother's assessment of the situation.

The day before his wedding, his mother (who didn't like the woman he'd chosen) lamented that she'd always hoped he'd end up with me.

'But Ma,' protested Ross. 'She's Catholic. Surely you wanted me to marry a Jewish girl.'

'I've known her since she was in diapers,' his mother retorted. 'I know her mother and her mother raised her right. She understands guilt.'

Too right.

But, again, I digress.

What's bothered me lately is the situation in Israel, specifically the fighting along the Gaza Strip. Actually, it's bothered me more lately, but the two-state Palestinian situation has bothered me a lot, especially since coming to England to live two decades ago. You see, I firmly believe in the state of Israel. I believe it has an inherent right to exist and that the Jews have a right to the land in which they live. What's amazed, shocked and surprised me is the intensity of subtle anti-semitism that exists in the United Kingdom, masked as sympathy towards the Palestinian plight. I've heard no less than the wife of a serving Prime Minister (Cherie Blair) admit that she could understand the desperation which led some young Palestinians to become suicide bombers. (Cherie Blair, I might add, is a practicing Catholic). She made this comment during the time her husband was Prime Minister and placing his full support behind the Israeli state. I've heard high-ranking and influential members of the British media show anti-Israeli bias teetering on outright anti-semitism in their supposedly unbiased reporting. (Believe me, the BBC could rival Fox News for its 'impartiality'). I listened with disbelief at the aggravating Transatlantic tones of the BBC's pet Canadian Barbara Plett actually crying when Yasser Arafat, dying, left his compound for the last time. I've watched the anorexic Irishwoman Orla Guerin show equally anorexic and suffering Palestinian children whose plight was caused by Jewish, not Israeli, but Jewish intransigency. I've heard people in a position to know better liken the Jews to the Nazis of sixty-odd years ago.

And so, when the latest war started again in Gaza, confused, I turned to my oracle. Ross. I e-mailed him for an explanation because, quite frankly, I was beginning to get confused and irritated at the sight of so many children being torn limb from limb on my television each night. I was even more confused by the Palestinian slant being given on no less than MSNBC, via the web. And that's when Ross explained to me the evil of Hamas ... that those poor people on that strip of land bordering onto the sea are actually being used as human shields by Hamas. That it's a political and sociological ploy to sacrifice them in the conflict as a means of making Israel look bad. That there is a Palestinian state and that state is Jordan, who doesn't want these people pouring into its realm. So, it's a question of unwanted immigrants, basically. And good old modern day spin.

The other thing he told me was backed up by my husband, who occasionally surprises me with his knowledge ... that the British, as a rule, have always favoured Arabs over Jews. I can't imagine why, but they have. And this present debacle has brought out here, all the old hidden, inherent prejudices that make otherwise normal, working class people look like brownshirts. Of course, here too, in the UK, there's a sizeable Muslim population which, encouraged by British Empire guilt, a distinct lack understanding of multiculturalism and how it should work, plus a desire to curry (bad pun) potential votes, has been encouraged to retain its culture intact to the point that there is absolutely no cultural integration with the indigenous English people. In fact, there's a Religious Hate Law here which is only applied if a Christian/Jew says anything derogatory against a Muslim. However, Muslims, during the time when the Danish Mohammed cartoons were getting worldwide press, took to the streets here in droves and called for death and beheadings for ALL 'infidels' - that means Christians, Jews, Hindus and we who doubt. Is that not hate?

Recently, papers here have been awash with appeals for the poor and suffering children of Gaza. The independent television networks here (all two of them who show commercials) obliged by giving the appeal the necessary air time. But, for some reason, the state funded BBC did not. It suddenly remembered its charter for impartiality and cited that as the reason for refusing to air the appeal. And the people took to the streets in protest at the BBC, which was hilarious because for once in its bloated, opinionated, overfunded life, the BBC was practicing what it preached. To air the appeal, it stated, would look as though it was anti-Israel, and it had to be - dare I say it? - fair and balanced.

So welcome to the real world, BBC, where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Oh, and I still want Israel to prevail, no matter what. Even if that means those poor people have to go back to their 'original' Palestinian state of Jordan.

My friend Ross says I'm a Zionist. I'm actually proud to be one.

Ma'zel Tov.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Art of Diplomacy

I work for an international transport company, which means having to deal with European countries and companies - specifically, France, Spain and Italy. As no one in the UK can be assed to even learn a foreign language, my brief is to communicate, by written word and verbally, with various and sundry of these countries. Many moons ago, when I was young and foolish and teaching middle school Spanish and French, I used to fight a losing battle trying to get my students to realise that learning a foreign language was more than just conjugating the odd verb. It was actually communicating, using that language to impart to others an idea, a wish, a desire, a command. It was also learning about the culture of that particular country - not just its history and geography, but the mindset of the people: how they function, how they view things as different to how we view things. Learning a foreign language is a lesson in life, especially if you have occasion to visit, live or work in a particular country where English isn't spoken as the first language.

Now, at this point, having done this for more than 20 years, I can honestly say that speaking a foreign language is really and truly like being a diplomat. A diplomat's job is primarily to promote the interests of his home country abroad in a particular other one. So, in my job, I'm trying to sell my company's image, ethos and ideas abroad to Spaniards, French and Italians - it's also trying to haggle acceptable prices out of the curs, especially now that the pound's bottomed out. So all my hard-earned university education and summers spent learning Spanish, Italian and French on my back from various amourous males at a time when an American girlfriend was a commodity paid off ... it bloody got me a British husband, didn't it?

And that's the point. Try explaining to a Brit that a Spaniard wouldn't do things the way a Brit would. Or a Frenchman wouldn't do things the way an Italian would. Don't even mention the French to a Brit! That's fatal. If parts of the US are still fighting the Civil War, the Brits and the French are still at the Hundred Years' War! And these people are aiming for a United States of Europe?! But seriously, as much as I despair of life on this sceptred isle, I'm a sucker for the Continent, especially all things Mediterranean.

The first place I set foot in Europe was Spain, then France and Italy. And I'm not even talking about the Coast, but the inland cities of Salamanca, Dijon and Perugia. I took to the lifestyle and attitudes like a duck to water. Honestly, it was as if I'd come home. This was in the mid-Seventies, and Spain was in the last throes of Franco, a country repressed to the goolies by the shadow of the Catholic Church, an organisation I fell out with mightily at the age of seven. But, you know, misbehaviour and the art of rebellion is all the more sweeter when it's done on the sly, and I've got to thank the Catholic country of Spain for my sexual liberation. That was a turning point for me, especially since I was sexually weaned on a diet of the odd backseat, guilt-ridden teenage angst encounter in high school and graduated to drunken fraternity encounters in college. Honestly, gross encounters of the third kind are akin to a bad copy of the Renaissance painting depicting Venus and Mars, with Venus looking decidedly put out after a foray in the hay with Mars, who's basically rolled over and gone to sleep. The only thing lacking for the university version would be the puke on the floor beside his side of the bed. You get my drift.

The Spaniards, as well as the Italians, introduced me to the joys or oral sex - giving as well as receiving. Give a good blow job, ladies, and you'll receive tenfolds of ecstasy in kind. The Spanish boys like their girls on top, but they don't make them do all the work, either. There were al fresco encounters and evenings of slow, sweet enchantment culminating in multiple climaxes. If you've never tried the Med, ladies, do so for that reason.

It's why I've gone native to an extent. Living with a Brit has had its moments, but basically, they are more or less like a more repressed version of an American. They talk the talk (in a fashion peppered with toilet references) but walk the walk? Never in a million years. What about all these sexy Brits who garner American trophy wives? McCartney? Jagger? Mr Gwyneth Paltrow? Money talks. Nothing more. Going native means I've taken an Italian lover, occasionally. My travels for my company now take me to the Emilia Romagna area of Italy - specifically Bologna. It's the culinary heart of the country, where the food is as sexy as the men in question. So my special friend makes the tedium of business that more palatable in both ways, if you'll pardon the pun. It's not just the sex, which is good, very good. It's the intellect as well. He's a diehard Italian communist, well-read and a professor of literature. So my mind as well as my body is stimulated.

Do I feel a pang of guilt? In a word, no. But it still doesn't alleviate my homesickness for the US. I suppose you never really miss the water until the well runs dry, but I've got to ask myself what exactly it is I really want to sacrifice in order to liberate myself from this stagnant and superficial life I lead in Britain.

I'm open to suggestions anyway, if anyone reads this.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hoos Here?

I'm here, even if no one else is. I'm an expat Virginian, who - for her numerous sins - is condemned to ride out eternity in the UK, having married a Brit at the beginning of the Reagan era in the US. Ex-teacher and political junkie from the Left, am I, and I'm following the sad tradition of Virginia women for embroiling themselves romantically with British men. I even live in Kent, where - thirty-odd miles up the road from me, my ancestor Pocahontas (the first American wife) lies in the ground of the appropriately-named Gravesend. She died here. Thirty miles northwestish and you find the castle once owned by Nancy Astor, a Virginian who became the first woman elected to the British Parliament - no other Brit woman had either guts or gumption. She's buried in Britain too, and I had the privalege of breaking the glass ceiling at the formerly all-male university found in Nancy's hometown of Charlottesville. Well, here's one Virginia girl who's not going to end her days pushing up daisies in the Motherland.

I've suffered perpetual homesickness for over 20 years. I've also suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune of being an American abroad in the Bush era. Before I married and came to the UK, I was an Anglophile. Nothing to tarnish the image of a nation admired like living amongst the natives. There are loads of myths abounding in the US about Britain. Like: The British are unfailingly polite. (They're not ... They're bloody rude. Ruder than New Yorkers, in fact). They're cultured. (They have some of the lowest educational standards in Western Europe. Face it. We have rednecks; they have chavs). Chav is an anonym for Council House and Violent. Chavs make rednecks look intelligent. At least, a redneck is violent and brutal after provocation; with chavs, that's a way of life. And the women are the worst.

And then we have the prevailing assumption that Americans, as a whole, are stupid. This isn't an idea that originated within the last 8 years of the Bush dictatorship. It's something that's been rammed down my cultural throat for over 20 years. Americans are stupid. They're bimbos. They don't know the geography of their own country, much less the rest of the world. Look at'em .. the majority don't have passports. This is true; the majority don't. But the Americans who do and who do manage to travel abroad, aren't often arrested for getting blind drunk enough to piss and puke in public and then to start fights of varying degrees of violence. And, again, that's just the British women.

I've worked as a linguist here in the UK, for diverse companies, since arriving. I speak 3 other languages, in addition to English - Spanish, French and Italian. My job has been to communicate with countries speaking those three languages, for lazy (but otherwise educated) Brits who simply can't be assed. I wish I had a dollar bill for everytime somebody has asked where I was from and then marvelled at the fact that I was articulate in four languages, much less that I was intelligent. I've even been told I wasn't like the 'typical' American. Well, what IS the typical American to these bozos? They meant, really, I'd been here for so long that I was becoming like them. Perish the thought! But it speaks volumes that the view of the majority of people here, from the BBC pundits on down (more about them in a future blog) to the lowest chavs, think that Americans are of sub-standard intelligence.

Well, that's as such my means of a pretty dire introduction. I'm fairly homesick tonight so I'm in a pretty downsided mood. Hope someone pops in out of curiosity to read these ramblings.