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Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Island

It's 4:48 in the morning and I am happily at my computer. Writing.

Ages ago, in a different incarnation, I was a writer in disguise: mother, cook, cleaner, counselor - not necessarily in this order. We lived in a two-tiny-bedrooms apartment, and naturally those went to the kids. The living room doubled as the masterbed at nights.

A room of my own? Not even a bed, or a chair.

From time to time friends would give me keys to a vacant house, and I would sneak off for a day to write.

One day I discovered there are places known as Writers' Colonies. It gave me so much strength! So, there are places where not only writing but the writer herself is respected! I started telling people that we need to have such a place here in Israel.

To my great surprise, no one said, "Fine! I'm going to build one!" What they said - the ones who did not declare this a crazy idea - was: "Fine! Do it!"

Finally in 1984 I plucked up courage and established two residences for writers and artists, in Galilee and in the Desert. International they were, and the writers each had his/her modest renovated old apartment, for up to three months.

In exchange for this they contributed to the regional Jewish-Arab community actually over five hundred cultural and educational activities.

As for myself, I did have a room and a chair and a table and a bed - in the respective offices, or worldwide where I went to raise funds.

I was always writing in my head and on scraps of paper, in the bus, on planes, waiting for meetings. Then one day, eleven years later, my innkeeper, my devoted innkeeper which my body is, reminded me, not so gently, that it was time to have a room of my own before I collapsed.

Dutifully, I obeyed.

So here I am, in my large apartment, free at last and on my own. One room is my independent studio. Another room is the archive, with all my writing projects, except the current one, organized on files and far out of sight.

A third one is the room where I keep my sewing machine and ironing board and the winter clothes. I go there from time to time to dust and water the plants... Sewing, ironing, all those mundane "have-to's" can wait.

My apartment is filled with plants, the window frames and the doors covered with colorful paint. I'm surrounded by art and books and classical music. When people come in, they say, "It's like Nirvana here. So different from the violent world outside!"

But the outside knocks on my windows, seeps in through the radio news, throws itself in my face from the newspapers lined up outside kiosks down the whole length of the main and side streets.

So my working place, my faithful apartment, is my refuge, the only place where up to now I can be "the mistress of my destiny", sovereign.

I choose when to turn on the radio, open the door, answer the phone. Banished are the TV and all mobile phones.

I was a resident at two distinguished artists' colonies in the USA. The food is good, the country green and peaceful, (or so it used to be back then before 9/11); but nothing compares with my little tranquil island.

Here I'm closer to my colleagues, Palestinian and Israeli writers and peace activists.

In the Heart of Darkness, they are my island.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Once she was a child (Noffey Haneffesh: Soul Landscapes)

Soul Landscapes tells the universal story of childhood in times of upheaval, as conveyed by some of the most extraordinary international woman writers. Done mostly on location, these intimate encounters mirror a rainbow of human existence shaped by injustice, turmoil and struggle, and still victorious: six year-old Russian Svetlana Vasilenko awaiting death while caught between the Powers dueling with nuclear bombs; the little Italian child Dacia Maraini starved in a Japanese concentration camp; twelve-year-old. Belgian Am?lie Nothomb, reading by candlelight in a Bangladeshi lepers' house; five-year-old Leena Lander living in the Finnish prison for delinquent boys where her father worked as a supervisor, contemplating in fear and horror her sexually mangled doll found thrown in the forest; eight-year-old Palestinian Anissa Darwish torn by war from the Malkha village of her sweet childhood and the author herself - Corinna Hasofferett, born in Tecuci, Romania - all and each of the writers in this book map the way to survival and hope.
They ask us also to take a second look at our own life, and, well informed, to make sure the right decisions are taken in all that concerns this precious little world.

As a literary form, ONCE SHE WAS A CHILD is a hybrid: it owns the genes of literary fiction, with its attention to language, ambiguities and symbols, carved out by the author's mostly invisible questions, and editing; and it carries the genes of narrative nonfiction as those are real life stories of real, and most impressive persons, showing how gloriously they've survived Evil. Glimpses from The Past, of childhood recollections, set, like pearls on a string, with the author's journal as the connecting thread or background. The reader is invited to absorb. At the end of the book s/he'll discover in a separate section, as an addendum, how far they've reached in The Present.

HudnaPress. Hebrew Publication Date: Spring 2003
Rights information can be obtained at: hudnapress (at) gmail (dot) com


In the Beginning

When my children were little we were standing one day at the bus stop. It was very hot, August. Suddenly, across from us, two children, suddenly one of them cried to his friend: 'You Arab!'

I looked at my children startled. The younger was then three, the same age I was when I came out of kindergarten and they threw stones at us and cried, 'Jidans, go away to Palestine!' Children I'd played with the day before.

I wanted my children to know that 'Arab' was the name of a people, not a curse.

So I made contact through friends of some friends with members of the Arab intelligentsia who lived in a village in the Galilee and we visited them, they visited us, a contact was made. Mahmud and Lutfia Diab, from Tamra, two hours from Tel Aviv. That was in 1970.

Three years later Lutfia's younger sister, Amal, married her teacher, Munir Diab. And Munir began in those years to manage there the first Arabic community center. So in 1975 the idea occurred to me to arrange a meeting between educated youths from Tamra and from a neighboring Jewish settlement with Jewish and Arabic artists. Munir loved the idea and thanks to him it really happened. We had meetings and conversations with Aharon Meged, Anton Shamas, A. B. Yehoshua. Once every two weeks. One time in Tamra and one time in Shlomi. Finally we had an evening of theater improvisation with the late Peter Fry. He came several times and prepared them.

From the start I'd limited my involvement in that for only half a year. I would come there every two weeks. Shlomi is located eight hundred meters, half a mile, from the Lebanese border. At that time terrorists murdered at night a mother and her two year old daughter, in Dovev. And still people came to the meetings and participated. Very willingly. But in one of the meetings, in Shlomi, someone said, 'Fine. Only you are returning to Tel Aviv and we are staying here not knowing what terrorist will roll upon us at night from the mountain.'

In my apartment in Tel Aviv we lived at the time five people in a space of four hundred and twenty square feet. No room of my own, there wasn't even a bedroom.

Then I thought, if there was a place to which artists would come for a stay of some weeks or months so they can be free to create, then both the artists and the community would benefit. It would answer to the needs.

I returned to Tel Aviv and began telling all kinds of people and organizations, that that was what they had to do. Some said, How come, and some would say, 'Why not, do it.' In those days the world was divided for me into dreamers, and doers. Two separate groups. Me, do? I come up with ideas, and they should do. But all the time it still bothered, burned in my bones. In 1984 I suddenly got up and said, 'I am acting to found such a place.' Now I understand that in that moment I turned from a child citizen into an adult citizen. Very difficult. You need to go to the world, and bow down. It's impossible without money.

Within all these hardships, in Europe as well as in the United States, I would go into bookstores, to find solace. And I would think, So many books, So many woman writers! Who are they?

view/add comments :: 0 comments :: updated Friday, 4 April 2003 03:24 PM GMT+02

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Haaretz on "Sodot" (A Minyan of Lovers)

Beside the road I saw two kittens. One jumped between the cars and managed to reach the other side of the road. His brother remained on the traffic island, hurt, his hind legs paralyzed, and was trying courageously to reach a safe place, dragging himself on his front legs.

I stopped the car in the middle of the road. Horns hooted, it was raining, I was late for an important meeting - but the sight of that kitten was wounding my heart.

There are such moments: The world stops its rush for a second, you feel almost suffocated, the stomach hurts. Naked nerves. a sudden need to touch, face pain, feel.

Those are the moments Corinna relays. The heroines of her book, Anna and Siwar, live on the naked nerve, where love and pain interchange continuously:

"What happens to one who continually embraces an iceberg? Whose heart will be first to melt? There is always this longing, call it a yearning." (page 241)

Corinna writes from both inside the body and the body itself - in a way which is so physical and emotion laden that it is hard to believe she's using the language we all know. There is total symbiosis between the writing and the feeling. Corinna creates a kingdom where there is no room for the governing of syntax rules. Most of her sentences are simply coming into being, are present on her own terms. The dialogues are uttered some from her mouth, some from her head, in a whirlpool in which times, speakers, and subjects intermingle, creating words and sentences written with the rhythm of poetry:

"Salim is calling from the village,/and Andrei/ who'd asked,/'It's not hard on you, don't you miss sex?'/'The alternative is much better?'/'Once one man has caused you harm and you punish all men?' asks the interviewer in the newspaper the woman that was victim of rape and has written a book. She's not answering and goes back to her home where she sleeps with a revolver under the mattress." (page 157)

In the same way in which she sheds the rules of prose and mixes them with the association-laden poetic form - Corinna also refuses to accept completely the rules of State and Religion, replacing them with her own morals.

Anna, the heroine, standing before the Rabbis at the divorce ritual, refuses to cover her rebelious shoulders with the offered rag and puts on her own scarf. She's the one sending away the husband and she expresses this not in words but in what is unsaid:

"A man and a woman are splitting apart, they have been together for many years and now must be weaned of so many habits, like when you remove a bunion and it grows right back...
...he says, 'OK, I'll find myself some dump to live in.';
This time she no longer says, 'Stay.';
Puts on a red skirt and appears before three male judges in the religious court. They stand with grave faces behind a tall bench.
None of them laid a warm hand on her belly to feel the foetus move.
Imposing themselves as permit-givers out of their territory.
In hers."
(page 156)

Anna, in a feminine dress, is sexual, attractive, independent and tempting.
Mimmicking men's ways, she counts the males who come to her bed upon her divorce. She's the mother who struggles to protect the son imprisoned in the military cell, attempting to translate his naivety as stemming from hers, to hold on to the similarity between them; trying to give love, warmth and tenderness to the whole world except her own self, which she's not really hugging.

"Dorn, now I know why you looked at me the way a loving, indulged child looks at his mother when I gave you a midnight snack at home. Johanna would stand in front of the refrigerator, protecting it with her body so the children wouldn't take food for their friends. She was frigid. Now she'ss a vegetable. If I had stayed, that would have been my fate too." (page 204)

It's not spelled out if those are the words said to him or that have never been uttered. It's not even important from her point of view since the intensity of her feelings covers all. Her thoughts tear her from deep inside and like water seep to all avalable spaces.

Her fights against laws, her silences, her secrets and decisions, have left her with no room of her own. She stands exposed, withdrawn and above all - exhausted, left with the unsaid and silenced sayings, with thoughts which, if only uttered, might have helped create a bridge between her and the world instead of pain and exposed nerves shrinking away from closeness while longing for it.

"Revelation", the last chapter, is Siwar's journal pages. Yet it is not only the revelation of Reality before Siwar's eyes (her observations of her husband's betrayal, her dependance upon him as a man, father and home, her obedience to society's rules).

The journal is also Anna's revelation, as much as it is Corinna's Manifest on loneliness. A manifest on the inability to reach out and touch, not only a man but also the mother; on pain and oblivion and the shattered option of salvation.

Because, who are we realy saving. when we save a kitten? Are we saving it or is the act pointing to our own self?

"At night when the baby's asleep and Salim's at his meetings, when a hidden pain wells up despite my tiredness, I turn to you, my notebook. The rest of the time, it is I, not you, who am abandoned. I have become a married woman and a mother, like my mother. Not grieving over what my mother did to me any more, but wondering when I get lonely what it was that that man did to her. When I was young I refused to see her when she asked for a meeting. I was thinking while the social worker's muffled blows struck home, isn't it enough that she and her lover murdered her old husband? Who will punish her for her other murder, for the murder of me?

There is a point midway between forgetting and knowledge. I am destined to circle round it, unable to forget, disabled by memory."

(c) all Hebrew rights, except to the quotations: Gal Karniel, Haaretz Book Review, 21.1.03