The Beast deeply laments the passing this week of Alain Resnais.  He was 91, his final film having premiered at Berlin just last month.  In 1955, before Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year in Marienbad, those features that assured his international reputation, Renais made a number of shorter films (on Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso’s Guernica, on plastic, among others).  The greatest of them (notwithstanding Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah) remains the most significant Holocaust documentary of them all: Night and Fog Nuit et Brouillard: in its brief thirty minutes of almost unbearable eloquence — of both sight and sound— it stands supreme.  Its importance to world cinema only grows with time.

          More fleetingly, and but a day after Renais’ death, Hollywood’s  Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had its annual say.  Its choice of the year’s Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave, is the subject of this edition’s lead article.  Is their judgment debatable?  Isn’t it always?  Both older and newer than cinema, another visual genre of remarkable achievement —three-dimensional street art— gets an airing here too in an attention-grabbing photo essay.

          The edition (our 33rd) also includes two looks at the seemingly intractable Israeli/Palestinian dilemma, by Ellis Douek and Leonard Quart, respectively.  Philip Hogge takes us aboard a sailing vessel during several tempestuous hours.  And we conclude with Part 2 of David Rankin’s two-part “Memories of an Irish Catholic Boyhood.”

          Please enjoy them all.

          And while he’s not with us this time around, the Beast is very happy to announce the publication of Daniel Snowman’s new biography of Giuseppe Verdi, published by The History Press.  The champagne is poured.  For more information, see




Walter Wells

          For the better part of a century now, even in the American South, slavery has been seen as an abominable stain on the nation’s past.  Oddly, however, depictions of the “peculiar institution” still have the ability to engender controversy.

Steve McQueen, Director of ‘12 Years a Slave’, a poster of Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Solomon Northup) behind him.          Steve McQueen’s much-heralded movie, 12 Years a Slave, this year’s Oscar-winning picture, is our most immediate case in point.   Several years in the making, released methodically to venues and audiences of ever increasing size, it is now widely regarded (though with some dissent) a modern classic, a brilliant and essential masterpiece that portrays, as films in the past have not, slavery’s full spectrum of depredations: the strangulated eye of the lynching victim; flesh torn by the disciplinary whip; the terror felt by the captive mother, her small boy wrenched away from her for auction, as she’s assured she’ll soon forget him.  

Illustration of the author, from Solomon Northup’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ (1853)          McQueen’s film, as is well known by now, adapts the 1853 memoir of the same title by Solomon Northup, a freeborn black American family man from upstate New York, who is kidnapped, shipped south, and sold to the owner of a Louisiana plantation. He spends the next dozen years, incommunicado, suffering the ever more savage brutalities of successive owners, until a benevolent contractor (a Canadian) secretly bears a message from him to his family in the north, leading ultimately to his release.  Property laws, though merciless, were rigorous nonetheless.  The freeborn man has his legal freedom restored.

          Slavery is hardly unmapped territory for Hollywood.  Glory, Amistad, Beloved, Lincoln, all come quickly to mind, as does public television’s Roots.  Edwin S. Porter’s adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1903 was among Hollywood’s earliest full-length features.  Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) is slavery’s best-known silent treatment.  Selznick’s Gone With the Wind (1939), like Griffith’s epic, treats slave life more or less indirectly, while other, more recent films –-Mandingo, The Legend of Nigger Charley, Django Unchained, films unconstrained by earlier censorious restrictions— treat it graphically and exploitatively.  

          But, says current consensus, they were different.  12 Years a Slave treats the subject “seriously,” a rare film that tells it like it was.  (Or so we understand it was.)  Rather than merely absorb the context of slavery, it “unpicks [as one critic has put it] its all-debasing power plays, enumerates its everyday horrors, and shows us the rhythms and rituals that have left it lingering in the nation’s muscle memory.”  This seems Armond Whiteindeed to be the film’s intentions, both admirable and necessary.  The question remains, though, to what extent the intentions are realized.

          One particularly sharp dissent on the film –ballooned out of all proportion by the critic’s boorishness at an earlier award ceremony—is that of Armond White, a reflexive contrarian who edits and writes for New York’s City Arts magazine.  In 12 Years a Slave, he argues, “Brutality, violence and misery get confused with history.”  White excoriates the film for “[d]epicting slavery as a horror show… .  It belongs to the torture porn genre, but is being sold (and mistaken) as part of a recent spate of movies that pretend ‘a conversation about race.’”  

          White even proposes a social context  for the film:

                              For commercial distributor Fox Searchlight, 12 Years a Slave appears
                              at an opportune moment when film culture –five years into the Obama
                              administration—indulges stories about Black victimization such as
                              Precious, The Help, The Butler, Fruitville Station and Blue Caprice.
                              (What promoter Harvey Weinstein has called “The Obama Effect.”)

          Wholly at odds with this critique (and hardly alone in that regard), David Denby in the New Yorker complains that White fails to consider “the body of the movie –its plot, its tone, its visual style, and narrative strategy.”  Denby’s perfectly right.  These questions, mostly unaddressed by White, are essential.  Once answered, though, I’m not so sure they make an overriding case.

On location in Louisiana, McQueen directs his actors, Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon, whom his identity-erasing masters call Platt).           The plot is predictable.  Since we go in aware of Solomon Northup’s story (it’s implicit in the title), the plot’s inventiveness must be felt in its personalized turns and complications.  In 12 Days, these come down mostly to a series of brutalities and deceptions (some quite predictable) that repeatedly frustrate a yearning for freedom that we nonetheless know will, within 134 minutes, be realized —for Solomon anyway.   One of those subclimaxes, for example, sees Epps, the sadistic plantation owner (monumentally overplayed by Michael Fassbender) ordering Northup to whip Patsey, whom Solomon had earlier known and Epps is now sexually exploiting.  This triangular moment, however tense, replays not only Northup’s memoir but Uncle Tom’s Cabin wherein Legree orders Tom to whip a woman who has failed to pick her quota of cotton.   Will Solomon compliantly whip Patsey, or won’t he? —not the subtlest of personal tests.  His story is unquestionably a nightmare of personal anguish and entrapment, where subtlety need not dwell.  But insofar as being a “true” slave narrative, the film’s truth remains exploitatively narrow.

Epps, the snarling plantation owner, menaces Solomon yet again.          Is the film violent throughout, as widely charged?  Yes, torturously so —both physically and psychologically.  And while McQueen argues (quite beside the point) that it’s “not as violent as most films you’ll see in the cinema,” the question is really whether its violence is gratuitous —as it is in, well, most films you’ll see in the cinema.  Is it, as Armond White calls it, pretentious “torture porn”?  That depends, of course, on the presence of artistic qualities that redeem those many screen minutes devoted to mayhem, humiliation and psychological oppression.  White finds no such redemption.  But in asking for aesthetic redemption aren’t we forgetting that it’s Slavery we’re talking about?  McQueen insists he’s showing us the truth about it.  What he actually shows us over the course of two and a quarter hours is one important segment of the truth —the one that yanks that greatest number of emotional chains.  In the process, his film misses much of slavery’s other, less dramatic (and equally scabrous) realities —ones that, sadly, have characterized its existence since antiquity, and continue to.

          There seems, moreover, a confusion in the film’s narrative strategy, which vacillates—and never really resolves the differences— between evoking our contempt for the system of slavery and our pity over Gary Kelley, ‘Solomon Northup’this particular man, a free black northerner, for having been shanghaied into it.  I’m to care about both, of course.  But while Solomon sporadically resists the system’s worst malefactors, his constant preoccupation is to restore the freedom to which he alone is legally entitled.  He makes occasional gestures at escape (knowing they’d be futile), but attempts repeatedly to gain his freedom by getting a message back to New York and trusting to the court to recognize the legality of his claim —which eventually, in his twelfth year of enslavement, comes to pass.  Solomon leaves the plantation, goes back home, and the story, for him, ends “happily.”  Slavery, on the other hand, continues to abominate for another twelve years.  That doubleness leaves a sense of incompleteness in its wake.

          Visually, there is no denying that 12 Years a Slave is lush, and alluring.  McQueen, a visual artist, paints with a muted color pallete befitting the uneasy languor of plantation life (and in the process he avoids the excesses of musical score that, in lesser hands, would be dictating the emotions we’re meant to feel).  Like Herzog, Haneke, Scorsese (to name but three), McQueen is given to long, unbroken takes, some of them almost unbearably powerful (like Solomon’s suffering grievously with a tree-bound rope around his neck and only his toe reaching the ground as others walk past avoiding him for fear of similar punishment).  Others (like the whipping scene, in which both Epps, egregiously, and Solomon, agonizingly, do whip Patsey till her flesh tears) are insufferably excessive.

          Despite McQueen’s publicity myth that Northup’s 1853 memoir (written shortly after his release) had effectively disappeared and been rediscovered by his wife, in fact the memoir was adapted in 1984 Avery Books in Gordon Parks’ ‘Solomon Northup’s Odyssey’ (1984)into a powerful film for television by the esteemed photographer/ filmmaker Gordon Parks.  Called Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, the film ran as part of the PBS series, American Playhouse —to positive reviews.  The two films do differ significantly.  In Parks’s hands, Northup (played by Avery Brooks) is an heroic figure enraged and unafraid of striking back against his masters’ cruelties.  McQueen’s Northup, while ever alert to the degradation surrounding him, is less inclined to strike back and more consumed with the mercurial uncertainties of life in slavery.  (Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is the more nuanced of the two.)  Critic Chad Williams, looking carefully at both films, sees Parks’s stressing the strength of the slave community, McQueen’s its fragility.  Thirty years on, McQueen also lends a special dignity to enslaved women missing from the earlier film.

          While McQueen’s film is overtly the more violent of the two,  Parks did lament, in an interview after his was screened, that he’d been asked to “tone things down” in order to “get it done and get it out.  .  .  .  It could have been stronger,” he said.  “There are compromises you always have to make.”

          Far from taking sides between the films, Chad Williams maintains that taking them “together we get a fuller appreciation for Northup’s experience and the broader experience of slaves.”  And yet, even together, the portrayals still strike some viewers (I’m one of them) as partial.  The fragments they provide are those reliant on the visceral truths most susceptible to witness.  What to we make of memories such as those below, from a woman once herself a slave?

          During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration sent journalists south to locate and interview still-living former slaves about their lives before emancipation.  The resulting transcripts were published as A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.  Among the surprisingly numerous interviewees was Miss Charity Anderson of Toulminville, Alabama, who Charity Anderson in 1937believed herself to be 101.  She’d been born at Bell’s Landing on the Alabama River where her owner, one Leslie Johnson, operated a wood-yard supplying fuel to river steamers, and a tavern where, as Charity’s interlocutor put it, “travelers whiled away the delays of a dubious riverboat schedule.”

          Now rheumatic and housebound, Charity Anderson whiled away her hours in a chair, knitting, sewing or simply gazing into the flames in her fireplace.  “Missy,” she says at one point,

                         peoples don’t live now; and niggers ain’t got no manners, and
                         doan’ know nothin’ ‘bout waitin’ on folks.  I kin remember de
                         days w’en I was one of de house servants.  Dere was six of us
                         in de ole Massa’s house.  .  .  . Us did’n’ know nothin’ but good
                         times den. My job was lookin’ atter de corner table whar nothin’
                         but de desserts set.  Joe and Jerry, dey was de table boys.  Dey
                         neber tetched nothin’ wid dere han’s, but used de waiter to
                         pass things wid.

One can almost feel today’s reader cringing.

                         My ole Massa was a good man.  He treated all his slaves kind,
                         and took good kere of ‘em.  But, honey, all de white folks wan’t
                         good to dere slaves.  I’s seen po’ niggers ‘mos’ tore up by dogs
                         and whupped ‘tell dey bled w’en dey did’n’ do lak de white folks

                         But, thank de Lawd, I had good white folks and dey sho’ did
                         trus’ me, too.  I had charge of all de keys to de house, and I
                         waited on de Missis’ and de chillun.  .  .  .  Dey did’n’ have a
                         thing to do. Us house servants had a hahd job keepin’ de
                         pickaninnies out’er de dinin’ room whar ole Massa et, cause
                         w’en dey would slip in.  .  . he would fix a plate for ‘em and
                         let ‘em set on the hearth.

                         No, Missy, I ain’t neber worked in de fields.  Ole Massa he
                         neber planted no cotton.  .  .  . But I could sho ‘nuff wash and
                         iron and knit and weave.  Sometimes I weaved six or seven
                         yahds of cloth, and do my house work too.  I lernt the chillun
                         how to weave and wash and iron, and knit too, and I’s waited
                         on de fo’th generation of our fambly.  I jes’ wish I could tell
                         dese young chillun how to do. Iffen dey would only suffer me to
                         talk to dem, I’d tell dem to be more ‘spectful to dere mammies
                         and to dere white folks and say ‘yes mam’ and ‘no mam’, instid
                         of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ lek dey do now.  .  .  .
This, remember, is more than seventy years after the fact.

                         Honey, de good ole days is now gone foreber.  De ole days was
                         railly de good times.  How I wish I could go back to de days
                         w’en we lived at Johnson’s landing on de ribber, when de folks
                         would come to ketch de steamboats and we neber knowed how many
                         to put on breakfas’, dinner or supper fo’, ‘cause de boats mought
                         be behin’ times.  I ain’t neber had to pay a fare to ride a steamboat
                         needer.  I was a good lookin’ yaller gal in dem days and rid free
                         wherever I wanted to go.

                         But whut’s de use dreamin’ ‘bout de ole times?  Dey’s gone, and
                         de world is gettin’ wicked’er and wicked’er, sin grows bolder
                         and bolder, and ‘ligion colder and colder.

          Keeping in mind that Armond White took McQueen to task for “depicting slavery as a horror show,” should we be asking:  Was it not also something other than that?  Does Charity Anderson’s recollection (“My ol’ Massa was a good man,” etc.) amplify White’s complaint by suggesting that slavery was not so much just a “horror show” as a multidimensional reality?  

          I think quite the contrary.  In truth, slavery was a more multi- dimensional horror show than even 12 Years suggests.  After seven decades, Charity Anderson was still-living proof of how completely one entire psychological make-up, every fibre of it, had not just submitted to the Way Things Were, but embraced it for its lessons on how black people ought to live.  For Charity, the notion that one human being should own another is never questioned.  Her testimony bespeaks an outcome in its own way no less a horror show than the physical and mental tortures depicted by McQueen —for many, a three-century-long Stockholm Syndrome before its time.
WALTER WELLS is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Dominguez Hills, the University’s former chairman of American Studies, and editor of The Fickle Grey Beast.  Chad Williams’ insightful comparison of McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave with Gordon Parks’s Odyssey of Solomon Northup (1984) can be read at:  To be fair to Michael Fassbender, contemporaries knew Epps (the character he plays) to be among the most sadistic plantation owners in Louisiana.  Still .  .  .



Ellis Douek

          Several years ago, before the vaunted Arab Spring, I recall receiving, by e-mail, my monthly newsletter from the Association of Jews from Egypt, an organization that normally arranges nostalgic trips, and reports on the maintenance of old synagogues and the memories that touch on our past lives Farouk Hosny, Egypt’s former Minister of Culturethere.  This issue dealt with Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, who had been put forward, with unexpected tenacity by President Mubarak, to become the head of UNESCO, a post which hopes to attract a person of peace, culture and dialogue.  Mr Hosny had a decent track record, leading the fight against illiteracy in Egypt, improving educational access, and creating new schools, theatres and museums.  He was even something of a feminist.

          Yet the whole affair was mysterious.   It can hardly have been a career move for Mr Hosny, who was 73.  Certainly many younger, highly respected Egyptians would have been welcome in an institution dedicated to tolerance, diversity and freedom of speech.  And there was a greater problem: Hosny’s well-publicized anti-Semitic remarks, culminating in an assurance he gave the Egyptian Parliament that he would publicly, and with his own hands, burn any Israeli or Hebrew books found in the new Library in Alexandria.  Since public book-burning repelled a few members of UNESCO, he was led to apologize —in a letter believed to have been written for him by Mr Henri Guaino, an advisor to France’s then-President Sarkozy, who supported Hosny’s nomination.

          I assumed that my newsletter —a Jewish publication after all— would repeat the well-known reasons for Hosny’s unsuitability.  But I noticed, as I prepared to press “Delete,” that quite the opposite was true.  It supported his nomination.  I could only reckon that the Arab world, where symbols and loss of face are most important, was involved in obscure deals with Western countries.  Moreover, Israel itself seemed not to care, presumably using the nomination to advance some other, more important deal.

          The preceding May, a group of elderly Jews had prepared to embark for Egypt with their families.  Emotions were high.  Children and grandchildren were going to be shown old homes and youthful haunts, as well as the usual antiquities.  Permissions had been obtained and lectures arranged when, suddenly, the Egyptian authorities, ostensibly for security reasons, cancelled the event.

          There had indeed been extensive television coverage in which Amr Adib, a prominent presenter, had assured his viewers that the visiting Jews were planning to reclaim the houses and property they’d lost more than a half-century earlier.
The New York Times, May 16, 1948
          An outpouring of hate in the Egyptian media followed.  But oddly enough, it openly acknowledged the 1948 seizures of Jewish assets, a fact rarely admitted by Egypt or any other Arab government.  Indeed, the 850,000 Jews then living in Arab lands —from North Africa and Egypt to the Yemen and Iraq—since biblical times, had virtually disappeared in a systematic policy of discrimination, persecution and expulsion.

Jews dispossessed from Arab countries aboard ship to Israel, 1948          Ethnically cleansed and dispossessed, these Jewish refugees started their lives again in France, the rest of Europe and the United States, but mostly in the new State of Israel, where they were easily absorbed —turning disaster into opportunity.  Strategically, the Israeli government, choosing to regard them as part of the ‘Ingathering of Exiles’ rather than as political deportees, did little to put their grievances before the world’s forums.  And so the situation remains.

          While there have been well over a hundred UN resolutions dealing with the Palestinian refugees, there have been none over the plight of Jews expelled from Arab lands.  It is true that many of the Jewish immigrants realised that it was in their interest to be “returnees to Zion” rather than asylum seekers.  Nonetheless, the comparative fates of Arabs displaced from Palestine, and that of Jews driven from Arab countries, are riven with asymmetries.  The expelled Jews were welcomed in Israel.  Despite the initial cost and hardship of a sudden influx, in the long run they contributed vastly to the growth of the country, while the Palestinians were, on the whole, badly received by fellow Arabs.  The Jewish refugees have done relatively well; the Palestinians have not.  

          When the Arabs refused, in 1948, to accept Israel’s existence, their refusal to integrate dispossessed Palestinians was neither simply a dishonourable, nor a foolish, gesture.  Though cruel, it was a well- thought out policy designed to perpetuate the plight of their refugees since it undermined the “morality” of the Jewish cause.  It generated pro-Arab emotions and, though too appalling to call it a Recent scenes (above and at right) at Yarmouk, the Palestinian settlement near Damascus.success from most people’s point of view, this suffering of the Palestinians has been the only effective aspect of Arab strategy.  It has continued to this day, typified by the Pales- tinians settled in the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk, a collection of poor apartment blocks, where the inhabitants, most of whom were actually born in Syria, have been refused the benefits of citizenship and the area labeled a “refugee camp,” giving it a sense of impermanence as well as United Nations assistance.  Israel continues to be blamed on historical grounds for the poverty and deprivation imposed on these poor people  by the Syrian government.  That government today is literally starving them in their ghetto and dropping barrel bombs on them. That this is horrific goes without saying.  What is less explicable is how little has been said about it in the world media –and even more specifically, the fact that neither the Palestinian Authority, nor Hamas, have commented on it at all.  

          What is now at stake in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is something much deeper than territorial adjustments, which are often negotiable.  A people can identify so intensely with what they believe is their history that it becomes part of their sense of self, and therefore sacred.  That makes a yearning for accuracy both irrelevant and threatening.  While Israelis have come some way in grasping the Palestinian experience and working it to their advantage, this is not the case with the Arabs, whose cause suffers as a result of their inability to appreciate what impels the various groups that form Israeli society.

          The Palestinians’ sense of injustice, so profound that it cancels out all else, demands the return of all that was lost, even that which may have been imaginary.  The need for total restitution is so ingrained that peace appears a betrayal of those who lost their lives in the struggle.  Their failure to drive out the Jews by force or insurrection is irrelevant before the monstrous historical unfairness they feel is the only cause of all their misery.  Palestinians can hardly expect American, Russian, or European armies to kill or deport the Jews on their behalf.  Turning to Iran, or even to God –by strict observance, suicide, or something else— may also end up letting them down and making their sense of failure even greater.

          On the other hand, acknowledging that when perhaps 700,000 Palestinians lost their homes, 850,000 Jews living in Arab lands also lost theirs, might paradoxically help the Arabs escape the emotional and psychological confines that prevent their realizing an independent future.  In the absence of a decisive, mutually acceptable arbiter, each side needs to judge itself.  This process is underway among Israelis, but not yet in the Arab world.

          It may be unreasonable to suggest that Arabs offset the continuing suffering of Palestinians against the earlier sufferings of expelled Jews.  It may also irritate those touched by the Palestinians’ plight to be asked to take into account the past distress of a thriving group who now have decent lives wherever they are.  Arab academics and media, on the other hand —with easy access to information (all that I’ve alluded to here is common historical knowledge)— could, if they wished, show their hurt and mortified people that injustice has not been suffered by them alone.  Forced population movements have been common in history, and certainly in the 20th century, between India and Pakistan, Germany and Poland, Greece and Turkey, and elsewhere.  If Arabs were to feel less uniquely humiliated, they might encourage leaders who have promised more than they can deliver (and who now offer, after great human cost, an outcome well short of their people’s aspirations) to propose a tangible future, not just a cause.
ELLIS DOUEK is Surgeon Emeritus, Ear, Nose and Throat, at Guy’s and St. Thomas Hospital in London, and the author of A Middle Eastern Affair.  He has also completed a soon-to-be-published memoir of his life and career in medicine.



Leonard Quart


          Having taught “American Studies” –the country’s history, politics, literature and film—for many years,  I was recently taken aback by the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israel’s The American Studies Association votes, rather contentiously, to boycott Israeli universities.institutions of higher education.  It’s the first boycott the 63-year-old Association has ever initiated: its aim, to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.  It was a politically counterproductive decision that quickly led to a backlash rather than support—an outpouring of criticism from the US Congress, from the AAUP, in editorials in the Washington Post and elsewhere.  The presidents of at least a hundred U.S. colleges have condemned the vote.

          While the presence of settlements and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (with land thefts, harassment at checkpoints, and the like) have undeniably caused profound civil and human rights problems, the boycott, as a group of distinguished American scholars has pointed out, “would punish scholars simply because of their nationality.”  There is also the fact that Israeli universities have little immediate affiliation with the Israeli government.  Their faculties are often critical of government policies.  And a double standard is involved (one that Israel’s critics often wield), the ASA never having chosen to boycott countries like China, Sudan or Myanmar, among others, whose human rights abuses dwarf Israel’s.  

          I know that some of the ASA members crafted deeply felt arguments to justify their decision.  Some felt that “the history of European anti-Jewish racism compelled them to support the boycott,”  to “speak out against the occupation” and “to stand with Palestinians who are persecuted for their nationality and their claims to a homeland.”  But having spent a lifetime teaching in a university, and knowing too well how even learned academics often respond like political lemmings (having sometimes been guilty of that myself back in the 60s), I presume that many of the votes were probably reflexive.
          Of course a wrongheaded, mainly symbolic decision by the small, 5,000-member ASA has little impact.  In the larger scheme of things it’s utterly insignificant.  What’s crucial when dealing with the Israel/Palestinian conflict is trying to figure out how both warring parties can ever free themselves from the quagmire that, despite promising moments like Camp David in 2000 or Oslo, they’ve been trapped in for decades.  And at this point, however dogged Secretary of State Kerry’s attempt to work out a peace formula, it’s hard to believe, given the obstacles both sides predictably pose, that a breakthrough is possible.

          Meanwhile, a new book by Haaretz columnist, Ari Shavit —My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Random House)— delivers a mixture of personal and family memoir, Israeli history, and political and social analysis.  It is an ambitious, critically nuanced, albeit slightly overwritten book that avoids polemics, and shows how painfully difficult the Israeli/Palestinian conflict actually is to resolve.  
          Shavit’s book is a complex balancing act.  A fourth-generation Sabra, he is a passionate believer in the Zionist enterprise, seeing it “as the most amazing revolution of the 20th century.”  He views Israel as “a life saving project,”  and an astonishingly vital and successful one.  But he also expresses an existential fear that

                              my beloved homeland will crumble as enormous Arabic masses
                              or mighty Islamic forces overcome its defenses and eradicate its
          Shavit was once a part of the peace camp as a young activist and a journalist, but now his position can more accurately be defined as centrist.  He is morally outraged by West Bank occupation (he regards it as Israel’s “malaise”), and he supports a two-state solution (seeing the settlements as a folly,  both politically and morally).  However,  he’s critical of the left-wing position as well, feeling it naïve to believe that withdrawal from the West Bank, despite its necessity, would provide a quick-fix solution.  
Herbert Bentwich (1856-1932)          In his sweeping account of Israeli history, Shavit takes us from the achievements of his great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, one of the founders of Zionism in Britain, who led a group of Zionist pilgrims to Palestine from London in 1897, through the ethnic cleansing of 50,000-70,000 Palestinians from the predominantly Arab towns of Lydda and Ramle during the 1948 War of Independence, to an overly hopeful treatment of the triumph of new politics ushered in by the 2013 election, in which a new party of secular moderates, Yesh Arid, won a number of seats.    
          The chapter on Lydda powerfully details the darker side of Israeli history.  It makes clear just why the Nakba (or “Catastrophe”) —the Palestinian exodus (through flight or forcible expulsion) of more than 700,000 refugees during the 1948 War— remains a horrific, indelible wound.  While Shavit considers it his duty to deal with Israel’s transgressions, he feels the context has to be understood.  He sees the choice in Lydda as a stark one: If it weren’t for the army doing “the dirty filthy work,” the nation would not have been born.
Lydda, c.1900Lydda, 1948, “the ‘dirty filthy work’ of expulsion.”          I’ve merely skimmed the surface of Shavit’s richly textured book, which includes (among other things) interviews  with key figures on the rise of the Ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party, the creation of Israel’s nuclear umbrella, and the development of a hedonistic youth culture in Tel Aviv.  The book is bursting with often penetrating portraits of various Israelis who helped shape the country’s history and its current human landscape. 
          One may agree with Shavit that Israel is “walking a tightrope over the abyss” without fully accepting his belief that hope for peace in this generation is impossible.  He does write, however, from the center of the Israeli experience, while most of the ASA voters —and I myself— write as outsiders, removed from Israeli history and society.  Incapable of fully sharing Shavit’s intense love for his country, I find further criticism of his analysis difficult.

          Whatever my reservations, though, Shavit’s book radiates intelligence and an epic sweep that merit only respect.
LEONARD QUART is Professor Emeritus of Cinema Studies at the College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center.  He is co-author (with Albert Auster) of American Film and Society Since 1945, and a contributing editor at Cineaste.  See:  A lifelong New Yorker, he lives and works in Greenwch Village.



          Recent years have witnessed a burgeoning of  3-D street art.  Carefully calculated linear perspective, and clever shading, cause a three-dimensional image (often of ominous portent, as here below) to appear incongruously on the two-dimensional surface of a street, walkway or plaza.  When viewed from the optimum angle, the effect can be startling.

          It’s trompe l’oeil, of course, art meant to trump one’s visual expectation, to fool the eye.  As old as Antiquity, the genre found renewed popularity during the Renaissance, largely on the walls and ceilings of palaces and mansions and the insides of ecclesiastical domes.  Theatrical stages, too, have long employed trompe l’oeil to create receding vistas on flat sets.  Recent years have witnessed a burgeoning of the art form on public thoroughfares.  A few more examples follow.

          Street artist Julian Beever displays a genius for merging horizontal and vertical flat surfaces into disconcertingly “real” 3-D images.















Our angle of view here is critical. Move as little as three feet to the left (from the original viewing point) and the illusion vanishes —leaving us, however, with a clearer idea of how Beever pieced together his image of the invasive snail.

          German painter, Edgar Mueller, who created the image we began with above, has become one of the best known of 3-D street artists, thanks in part to YouTube videos showing him at work.  Here below is a recent effort of Mueller’s on the seafront at Dun Laoghaire in Ireland, the artist appearing in the photo at right.








          Live pedestrians (and the occasional model) are usually only too happy to lend a verifiable presence to these wonderfully disconcerting images.










           And sometimes, by virtue of disorienting perspective, those presences effect the role of incredibly shrinking (or shrunken) bystanders.




















          Flat surfaces all.   And the world of illusion. 

          Special thanks to one of the Beast’s best friends, Bob Miller, for inspiring this gallery of three-dimensional street art —the current generation’s answer to Renaissance practitioners of the art of trompe l’oeil.


VIDEOS of three-dimensional street art and of 3D street artists at work are plentiful at, along with a number of other still shots at



Philip Hogge

          Someone‘s shaking my shoulder, forcing me up from that warm, comfortable oblivion.  

          “Wake up, wake up man!”   

          Why?  Why now?  I’ve only been asleep for a few minutes.  “Wha’s the time?” I mumble.

          “Nearly 4 o’clock, you’re on watch in ten minutes.  You’ve been sleeping since midnight.”  

          Oh God, why am I here?  Why the hell did I ever agree to go sailing again with these people.  A violent lurch rolls me sideways against the hull.  I hear the gurgle and swish of water racing past only inches from where I lie.  It’s pitch dark, I can’t see a thing.  Everything is leaning sideways.  Crash!  The boat shudders and water splashes down the open hatch above me onto my face.  I try to lever myself out of the bunk but another crash forces me back.  I disentangle a leg from the folds of my sleeping bag, but one foot remains trapped inside.  

          Yet another crash rolls me out onto the bunk below, provoking a stream of obscenities from its rudely awakened incumbent.  With advanced gymnastics, I avoid disturbing him further, but I slip and end up on the floor, sitting in a pool of icy water.   I feel slightly sick, and wish I were home.  

          I’ve slept fully dressed, but now need to find my oilies and my seaboots before going on deck.  I’d carefully left them –somewhere– with the boots still in the trousers, so I could just step into them.  I grope amongst stinking damp oilies in the wet locker.  Oh hell, someone has moved mine from the peg I left them on.  And a boot is missing.   Another crash and a lurch send me sprawling across the opposite bunk, provoking more curses.

          It’s slippery underfoot and the violent tossing about makes standing impossible.  I give up and resign myself to kneeling in the puddles.   At last I find my oilies, and the errant boot, but how do I now stand up to put them on?  I wedge myself between the gimballed table and the forrard saloon bulkhead –and get banged on the head by the wildly swinging oil lamp.   

          Now, reasonably stable at last, I manage to put one leg into the oilies, but they’re sticky with damp.  However hard I push, my leg won’t go the whole way down.  I feel for the corner of the bunk, sit, and worm my foot down the leg into the boot.  At last –one down, now for the other.  But where has the other damn boot gone?   I find it under the table, which decides at this point to take an almighty swing, banging the other side of my head.  But I’ve found the boot and pull it on.

          I zip up the trousers and grope for my jacket.  Then –as so often– climbing out of bed raises an urgent need to pee.  I hang my jacket back in the wet locker, stagger forward and squeeze through the door into the cubicle where the heads are, and contemplate my next move.  In a small boat, heaving around in a gale, you need at least three points of contact to avoid being thrown around – either two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot.  But how can I hold on, undo the zip, lower my oily trousers and find my willie simultaneously?  Cold has an unfortunate effect upon male pride, the recalcitrant object is almost impossible to locate through layers of trousers and long-johns!  So I use my head.  Placing my feet well apart, I press my own head against a deckbeam and, now, with two hands free, finally undo the zip.  The desire is urgent, the minute object found and —oh!— the relief.  

          Now, the next problem.  The boat-builder, for reasons known only to himself, decided the mast should pass through the deck and down one corner of the cubicle to the keel below.  So in a space less than four feet by three, there’s little room for the heads, a basin, and an unfortunate occupant.  No room to bend over, much less to pull up my trousers.  I open the door and lurch out into the saloon with my oilies still around my ankles.  I struggle like a wounded caterpillar to pull them up, grope for my jacket and ready myself to face the tempest.

          The oil lamp, swinging from the saloon skylight, lunges again at my head, but this time I avoid it and grope my way aft towards the companion way.  In the dim red light over the nav table, I check the position on the chart and grin weakly at Liz huddled in the galley, thanking her for waking me.  I climb the steps, look out through the hatch and am met by a slug of cold seawater, some of which goes down my neck.   Huge black mountains with white crests thunder past as the boat rises to meet them.  Spray lashes my face as I step out into the cockpit.  I slump onto one of the seats and, again, wonder why I’m here.

          “Get yourself round this!” shouts Liz as she thrusts a mug of hot sweet tea into my hands from below. 

          Thud!  Another wave crashes against the hull sending salt spray into my tea.  Well, at least it’s warm but the salt makes it taste disgusting.    

          “Right, Phil,” yells the man at the helm, “Let me know when you’re ready to take over.  We’re steering two five zero, wind’s steady from the northwest, and we’re close hauled on starboard tack with two reefs in.  She’s safe enough, for the moment.”

          I digest this good news as we heel further over in a gust, spilling the last of the tea down my front.

          “We’re about fifty miles north of the next shipping lane,” he says.  “No ships in sight, but possibly a yacht way out to port, heading the same way as us.”

          Ducking down below the boom, all I can see is phosphorescent foam streaming along the lee rail and, beyond, retreating rows of white crested mountains.  “OK,” I say, “I’m ready now.”

          John stands up, allowing me to slip in behind him so I can take the tiller.  We’re stomping along at eight knots, bursts of spray flying over the weather bow as white horses gallop in from windward.  I wedge myself against the coaming with a foot against the opposite cockpit seat.  Comfortable at last (relatively speaking), I look around as John goes below.  

          “See you in four hours”, he says as he disappears below.

          “You OK up there?” shouts Liz, “I’ll be in my bunk.  Call me if you need me.”  Sliding closed the hatch, she too disappears.

          I’m left on my own.  John will soon be sound asleep and, with luck, Mike, will sleep on, oblivious to my having fallen on his head.

          The racing mountains seem less threatening now.  I‘m adapting to their rhythm, easing and heaving the tiller to meet each one.  Now and then a wave bursts against the bow sending phosphorescent jewels crashing into the jib.  I scan round for ships, but see none, not even the yacht supposedly down to loo’ard.  I am alone with the elements.  I relish the solitude.  Down below the others are sleeping, only Liz awake ready to be called if needed.

          The wind still howls in the rigging.  The clouds still race overhead, but the gale seems to be easing a little.  Within minutes, the moon bursts out low on the horizon, spreading a glistening staircase across the waves.  Everything is transformed, the sails glow above my head.  The Pole Star appears behind me over my left shoulder.  The clouds are tearing themselves apart and clearing from the west.  More stars appear.  Jupiter shines out from behind the mainsail and the Milky Way begins to spread its arc across the velvet blackness above.  

          My senses tingle, the gale heightening my sense of being alive.  Now I know why I’m here.  I‘m at peace with the elements.   All I need is my breakfast!
PHILIP HOGGE is a retired British Airways pilot and amateur sailor.  After spending most of his professional life crisscrossing the globe by air —and sailing for the sheer exhilaration of it— he now enjoys a quiet, rural existence in the south of France.



David Rankin


          During that frigid winter of my seventeenth year, my uncles –all nine of them— lovingly abetted by the rest of the family, took very good care of me.  My Uncle Tim’s having urged me, in my smitten delirium, to say my goodbyes to Lois by the frozen lake was only a hint of it.  I was the nephew they’d brought back to Providence, at three weeks of age, after their sister, my mother, had died in California bearing me.  

          Uncle Joe, an earnest soul, would take me to his house for an Italian dinner cooked by Aunt Virginia, a slight and animated woman with a sweet face.  (In time, Joe, the Irishman, had become more proficient than she with Italian hand gestures.)  Joe had trained an old mutt to do tricks that I saw but could scarcely believe.  He was a mechanical wizard who worked in mills most of his life.  The boss never had to call an outside handyman.  

          Uncle Steve gave me driving lessons in his 1936 Ford.  He limped, often in pain from a foot that had been run over by a hard rubber tire that preceded inflated ones on trucks. At Christmas, he worked two jobs, at truck and taxi, to have money for gifts.  He augmented his income by shooting craps at the Union Hall on Sundays after Mass. His wife, Flo, forbade him to gamble, so he’d say a truck spilled a load of toys, and he got to keep a few for helping clean up the mess.  When my team ran low on bats and balls, off he and I would go to the Union Hall.  I’d wait in the car.  He’d come out,  hand me a bunch of money and say, “See how much that will buy.”  He had a lovely disposition. Ultimately, that injured foot was amputated.

          Uncle James, a seafaring man, chief engineer for a shipping line, had been a star in football and baseball at Hope High School.  (He tore his write-ups out of the Providence Journal before the family could read them, but his brother Tim would go down to Sock’s store and buy another copy.)  James made wonderful sketches in charcoal and sculptures in wax and wood.  Though taciturn and given to sarcastic asides out of the corner of his mouth, he took time to instruct me in baseball when he was in town, and even to a few ballgames in Boston.  (His wife, Dottie, was a wise-cracking Irish girl.  She said, “The only reason your Uncle James and I stay married is that he’s gone most of the time.”)  One time, many years later, when I’d become a professor, his ship came into the Port of Los Angeles.  He invited me to have drinks in the bar of his hotel.  (He chain-drank rum and Coke.)   He asked if I read much Shakespeare, and, for at least an hour, he talked as I had never heard him talk before. He had read many of the plays over and over during his free time at sea.  Uncle Tim had said, “Jimmie is very smart.” Indeed, his insights into Shakespeare were not contaminated by academic expectation or by the opinions of experts.

          Uncle Russell, the eldest, lived in Quincy, Massachusetts, and ran with the Kennedys. He was portly and florid with beautiful white hair. He’d been a successful florist when young but was an even more successful food broker by the time I showed up.  He brought groceries for his mother and books for me – like David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, and an occasional Twain, but nothing to corrupt me.  My family name was Buddy.  Russell was the only member who called me David.  My mother, about whom he told me a lot, had been second born and close to Russ.  He once said; “When your mother died out in California in childbirth, I thought that the earth had been deprived of its best woman.”

          Years later, when I returned from Britain with a new Ph.D., I stayed a couple of days with Russell and Helen, in Quincy. He must have assumed that a doctorate in English came with a trailing knowledge in all the other arts.  He asked, “Who’s your favorite tenor?  I prefer Björling.” And he put on a record.

          Uncle George was short and wiry and dapper, and wore a gold filling in a front tooth.  His wife, Adelaide, outweighed him by at least fifty pounds and bore him nine children.  They produced their own black Irish beauty, my cousin Kathryn, named after my mother, one year my junior.  She and I were chummy, perhaps a little too chummy; and might have been kept an eye on.  

          George was the leading Pillsbury salesman in southern New England.  He showed up one cold day in his company car, and said, “Come on, take a ride in my new car.”  We were driving on Broad Street when he said, “Hey, there’s a pool room. Ever shot pool?” (Annie, my grandmother, told him that I had been spotted entering a pool hall.)  What could I do?  He racked the balls for a game of eight-ball.  He fussed with the cue stick, as if unfamiliar with its function, and kept missing shots.  I won the game.  Then he said, “Let’s shoot straight pool. It’s more interesting.”  I never got to take a shot.  He ran the table twice. Then he missed a shot deliberately.  He said, “I’m a little rusty.” And bit me gently on the neck, as was his habit.  

          Even in his teens, George had supported his taste in expensive clothes by separating older players from their money.  He’d been a pool hustler.  

“JAPS BOMB HAWAII! WAR IS DECLARED!”          I learned a lesson that day.

          Uncle Ellery was the family clown. He was lanky and loud and physically affectionate.  He could juggle milk bottles – or me when I was a tot.  He and his girlfriend, Esther, took me to a movie starring Joe Penner on December 7, 1941.  Coming out, blinking in the sunlight, we heard newsboys shouting the attack on Pearl Harbor.

          In due time, Ellery was drafted.  He came home to Ned and Annie on leave before being shipped overseas.  He was in civvies when I got home from school, and up to his old tricks.  Next morning, I woke up tied by a sheet to the bed. We went to an amusement park and on pony rides, and to a bowling alley, Ellery fooling around at each stop. The night before he returned to camp, he took me to St. Michael’s. The church was quiet and smelled of incense.  We knelt and lit candles.  Next day, when I returned from school, he was in uniform with a huge duffle bag.  I’d never seen him uniform.  Uncle George waited in the car to take him to the train station.  Ellery was at the door with Annie and Ned.  I knew about the war. There were gold stars in windows in our neighborhood.  I grabbed him by the leg, howling, “I don’t want them to kill my Uncle Ellery.”  Ned had to pry me loose.  I didn’t see Ellery leave.  I was in Annie’s arms crying.

          They didn’t kill my Uncle Ellery.  But he was a changed man.  He’d been in the European campaign from Normandy on D-Day and across France into Germany.  He was remote.  He’d be gone in the morning, leaving behind ashtrays filled with butts.  I told Annie that Ellery didn’t love me any more.  She counselled patience.

          One morning I woke up –tied to the bed.

          My other two uncles, Austin and Donald, like many young men back then, had gone west to California.  After I myself went west, I saw them often.

          I could write a whole book about Uncle Tim.  He was my protector, my mentor in manhood, a gift to children, a scourge to anyone who threatened a member of the family, silly or fierce, as demanded by the occasion.  A master of the affectionate tease and bluff indignation.  To this day, I rank him amongst the two or three most important men in my life.

          On Saturdays, he drove me to and from hockey games in Roger Williams Park.  With a stop at Jennie’s Ice Cream Parlor on Elmwood Avenue.  He and Jennie, for whose semi-pro team I was the “The mere mention of hockey . . . “batboy, would minister to a fat lip or puffy eye or scrape on the cheek before he dared deliver me back to my grandmother.  She was more relaxed about baseball than about football.  The mere mention of hockey sent her to rosary beads.  She’d ask about teams and players (she’d heard, correctly, that the T-Street Tigers football team comprised a bunch of ruffians), and about times and places.  But she never forbade me to play. “I won’t make a mollycoddle of him.” One or more of my uncles attended games to ensure safety, Tim in particular.  And to shut up profane loudmouths in the stands.  One look from Tim did the job.  Since I was smaller than most of the other boys, Annie did express concern about injury.  Tim assured her that I was very talented at sports.  She came back with, “So are the professionals.  They get hurt.”  A puffy eye one Saturday was no help to Tim’s cause.

          The rosaries must have worked, though.  Apart from a few scrapes and bruises and an ankle turned from sliding into second base, I returned from games anatomically unaltered.

          The snow (though it wasn’t soon enough for boys who dreamt of themselves in Red Sox uniforms) gave way to slush, a yellowish remnant of white mounds that had sparkled in sunlight.  Winter loosened its grip on old Providence.  I saw the Mulvaney girls a few times at Mass, but only to say a quick hello. Sometimes, when running errands, I would dawdle near Lois’s house.  But she was never in sight.  Then I’d invent an excuse when Annie asked what took me so long.

          After school let out for summer vacation, the boys and girls of South Providence sprang into action.  Mike and Pat and I played in pick-up ballgames in Richardson Playground.  Mike was a good hitter.  Pat swung from the heels on every pitch, and hit soft bloopers or missed altogether.  John and Joe Gray, even smaller than I, were a very good double-play combination.  Teddy Laurie was too small to be a catcher, but he didn’t know it.  The biggest among us, Jack McCauley, was a solid first baseman.  Bobby Berard ran funny but caught everything hit his way in the outfield.  We played until the sun went down.  As the elders, top age 17, we worked the younger kids into games, making allowances for their age and size, just as we had been worked into games by the elders who preceded us.

          No adults were present.  We settled disputes on our own.  The principle of fairness was vigorously enforced.  We used whatever equipment we could scrape together.  Who cared?  It was pure animal joy.

          On warm evenings, ah, yes, the girls came out for games of hide and seek.  Barbara Mulvaney wore white shorts that showed off much more than her healthy calves.  Mary Lou Weicker and her sister “On warm evenings, ah, yes . . . “Geraldine, all freckles and red hair, went home after only a few rounds.  Pat Mahoney abstained; he didn’t play kids’ games.  (By then, his lost love, Jane, was dating a fireman.)  Bob Murphy tried vainly to attract Barbara’s attention.  Portly Billy Anderson was grateful to be included.  

          Ultimately, Barbara and Mike and Lois and I were the last survivors of the game.  We sat on the grass between rounds.  Mike and Barbara, who had to be flushed out of the high grass once during the game, flicked blades of the stuff at each other.  She was dynamic.  Lois was demure.  She had put her hair up.  Her olive skin took on a deeper color as the sun faded.  She wore pants that came to her knees and a peasant blouse.  I talked about the Red Sox game that day.

          Barbara asked Lois if she would be sitting for the Harrington family on Sunday.  Lois said yes.  Barbara said that she hated to babysit alone.  Lois said she didn’t mind.  Barbara said, there was nothing to do —the Harrington kid went out like a light and stayed out.  Lois said that she read.  Barbara wanted to know why –“There’s no homework.”  Lois laughed and said, “Books.”  Barbara turned to me, “You like to read books too, don’t you?”  I nodded.  Barbara said that I should keep Lois company, so we could talk about books.  Lois looked a little uneasy.  Barbara said, “Invite him.” Lois said to me softly, “Would you like to?”

          On the first Sunday, Lois and I did talk about books and school in general, and baseball.  Too much on my part.  On the second visit, she mentioned that she had listened to a concert by the Boston Symphony.  Dumb me, I said something about “that kind of music.”  Sunday night offered a full spate of popular radio programs, Jack Benny at the top.  During them at least I kept my mouth shut, save to laugh.

          It was well into summer by my third visit to the Harringtons.  We had usually sat in the kitchen.  That night we drifted into the dining room, as if by pre-arrangement, and sat on the couch, in the soft overflow of light from the kitchen.  Her hand lay between us on a cushion.  I reached for it.  She took my hand in hers.  I put an arm around her.  This time the black Irish beauty was really in my arms.  She turned her head towards me.  She was sweet sixteen by this time, and had never been kissed, I later learned.  I was an awkward seventeen and I’d never even tried.

          Thank goodness some things come naturally, if not skillfully.

          On the radio, Horace Heidt was conducting his talent contest.  Dick Contino, the ultimate winner, was playing “Lady of Spain” on the accordion.  It was eleven o’clock, by far the latest of my visits.  Annie would be checking the clock at home, even though she imposed no firm curfew.  I hugged Lois.  One kiss was all that I had in me anyway.

          Neither Lois’s parents nor Annie demanded we account for our summer evenings.  We were trusted to behave like good Catholic kids and come home at a reasonable hour.  And we did.

          Lois came to those baseball games not only because she went to St. Michael’s School and knew several of the players.  But how was I to know that she had another reason?  Perhaps the main reason.

          I was a backward Catholic boy.

          It was a different time and place.
DAVID RANKIN is Emeritus Professor of English at Californis State University, Dominguez Hills, and author (most recently) of Rod Dedeaux: Master of the Diamond (2013).  See  He is also a professional photographer whose portraiture and studies of classical dance can be sampled at