Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Oscars – Israel Style September 25, 2008

A colleague and I attended Holy Land Central’s (HLC aka Israel) version of The Oscars Tuesday night… Although I haven’t ever physically attended Hollywood’s Academy Awards Ceremony, let’s say I could just tell from years of U.S. couch viewing that the two events were about as far removed from each other as… umm…hummus and caviar.

The first striking difference I noted as our cab pulled up curbside to the ceremony’s Tel Aviv Opera House venue was lacking paparazzi, red carpet and fanfare.  Not that I was expecting it for myself, mind you.  I’m 1) not a celeb and  2) my simple black cocktail dress & black Via Spiga heels accented with a strand of pearls and red silk Dior headscarf were nice enough but not star quality Pay Attention to Me! stunning.

This is HLC where casual is where it’s at.  But I had hoped to see Starz arrive to flashing megawatts and crowds of admirers.  Instead, all attendees – common folk and celebs alike – quietly milled about in the Opera House lobby sipping wine and nibbling cheese.  No bodyguards or cordoned off VIP area.  Politicians in these parts get bodyguards but not actors.  They’re sort of regular folk who appear on t.v. but that you might see at your local cafe.  Oh, there’s so and so.  Wow, he looks different in person.  Can you hold the foam on my latte?

Celebs were easily discernible, however, by their professional styling: complimentary make-up, good hair and brightly hued, glammy sheer and sequined formal gowns.  Actors entered the lobby, pulled poses, photographers snapped and then it was back to the conversation or glass of wine at hand.

The ceremony was painfully under-produced so when, for instance, the Israeli network carrying the event cut to commercial breaks, we the audience weren’t offered any indication of a pause.  Everything simply went quiet following an acceptance speech.  Participants walked off stage and there was a lull.  It was up to us to work out the details.  Oh.  A commercial.  I see. A few minutes later the music would start up again or the hosts would come out on stage.  Back in business.  Here we go. Strange.

As films go, Waltz With Bashir was the evening’s big winner; it took 6 awards including best director and  best film and it will represent Israel as a contender for this year’s foreign film at the Oscars.  An animated semi-documentary, Bashir is director Ari Folman’s autobiographical foray backwards into buried military memories of serving in Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War.

Folman and animation/tech crew spent four years making the film and it’s doing well on the circuit. Sony picked up distribution rights and the L.A. Times‘Clive Barker described it as “ingenious animation” and an “overwhelming anti-war” movie.  Each time Folman made his way onstage to accept an award Tuesday night, he came across as humble and grateful.  An uber-mensch very much admired by the crew members he invited onstage with him to accept the Best Picture Award.

As he and crew made their way up to the lectern for that honor of honors, however, I was horrified to witness half the audience rise from their seats and begin filing out the exit doors.  A little Respect here, People!  Come on!  He just won best film!

Over a post-ceremony glass of wine in the lobby with my friend Ilana who heads Israel’s Film Academy, I mentioned my alarm over the seeming disrespect.

Yeah, it was disgusting, she remarked.  I think it was a simple case of the audience wanting to get back out to here to the alcohol and food.

Shame.  Because they missed Folman’s scant but poignant speech welcoming into the world 8 babies born to staff members during production.  In fifteen years, he said, I hope these kids will watch this film and see it as just another animated movie that has absolutely nothing to do with their realities.

I’ll drink a post-ceremony cocktail to that.

Check the trailer here.


No Hurting Kids Allowed! September 17, 2008

My son started 1st grade this month; I blogged it here a few weeks ago.

As we now settle into the routine of week three, my petit jewel is revealing a penchant for learning: he is eager to come home and complete homework assignments and he asks permission to skip ahead in his books.

I’m, on the other hand, recovering from the shock of observing MY child, less than a month into formal education, reading text.  MY BOY IS READING!!!… IN HEBREW & ENGLISH!

I know.  No biggie for those of you multi-lingual old timers.  So indulge me for a minute, okay?  Thanks.

I also blogged about how the whole school in Israel (Holy Land Central or HLC) thing is a no-reference-point situation for me because I didn’t grow up here. So buying books, getting “uniforms” (tee-shirts bearing the school logo) and even being told by the headmistress that yes, we parents of English speaking kids can bring in a private English tutor for our kids during regular school hours without going through bureaucratic hassle or paperwork is all new and wondrous for me.

One aspect of the school experience, however, is oh-so-universal…

1st Grade Son, casual-like, while playing with Legos: Oh mom, when I was on the playground today a big kid threw a ball in my face and he and the other big kids laughed.

Stefanella, putting down Newspaper: Did you get hurt?

Son: It felt like my nose would fall off.

Stefanella, steam rising: Lemme see…  How big of a big kid?  Did you cry?

Son: I think they were in 3rd or 4th grade.  Yeah, I cried.

Stefanella, through clenched teeth: Was there a playground teacher out there?  Did anyone help you?

Son: Yeah.  She said she would tell the boys’ teachers later.

Stefanella, pondering: And it wasn’t an accident?

Son: No.  They laughed when the one boy did it.

Stefanella: You’re okay?

Son: Yeah.  Can I play computer games?

Stefanella, seething: Sure, honey.

Stefanella, Internal Dialoguing: I’ll show you what’s funny.  Hurt MY BOY?  MY BOY?  The one with a halo ’round the back of his Head?  Ooh, you all don’t KNOW what hurt is!  I’ll come over there and show you.  NO ARMS, NO BALL THROWING!  Picking on MY little boy?  Uh Uh.  I don’t think SO!

But of course, I did nothing.  Because that wee story shot me back a few decades.  And a schoolyard is a schoolyard is a schoolyard.  T’ain’t a thing I can do.  Make it worse, maybe, by storming the kids or talking to a teacher.  Unless it gets bad.  Otherwise, this is what proving ground is all about.

And as a mom, it sorta sucks.

Stefanella, in a calmer state: Honey, if the boys throw balls at you again, let me know.  Sometimes kids just do stuff like that.  Okay?

Stefanella, internally dialoguing: Just do stuff like that.  Just do stuff like that? *#*%@ I’ll just DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT! #@*% *sigh*


Bring a Gun to School Day!! September 12, 2008

Last month I caught this Reuters story about Harrold, Texas schoolteachers gaining district approval to carry guns in school.   At the time, I was too busy getting my own son ready for 1st grade to blog it but I bookmarked the story because it was waaaay too good to let slip by without comment.

Clearly I wasn’t alone.

In late August The New York Times carried this story on Harrold’s new “teachers with guns” measure.

Here’s the thing: Harrold is a small, “impoverished” town characterized by “grain silos”.  The high school in question has a student population of 100 and employs two dozen teachers.

From what I could gather, there hasn’t been a problem with violent incidents in the school in the past but the proposal was put forth as a preemptive measure:

In the center of the storm is (school superintendent…sf) Mr. Thweatt, a man who describes himself as “a contingency planner,” who believes Americans should be less afraid of protecting themselves and who thinks signs at schools saying “gun-free zone” make them targets for armed attacks.

Mr. Thweatt maintains that having teachers carry guns is a rational response to a real threat. The county sheriff’s office is 17 miles away, he argues, and the district cannot afford to hire police officers, as urban schools in Dallas and Houston do.

Umm, okay.  But if, as the NY Times article sites, the idea is to ward off a Columbine-esque repeat…Columbine happened nearly a decade ago.  What took Harrold’s town-folk so long?

“Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” said David Thweatt, the schools superintendent and driving force behind the policy. “Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.”

Hmmm…now where else have I heard that rationale?  Oh yeah.  Within other small towns, communities and insular religious groups adopting a “we’ll keep this silent and in the family” approach to problem solving.

And specifically, speaking of Columbine, I also heard that same rationale nearly a decade ago while producing a post-Columbine story on Youth & Guns in America for German network television.

Living in the U.S. at the time, I traveled to L.A. for pre-production work that included visiting gang members in South Central projects, driving around Watts with an ex-Crips member, touring an NRA range and attending a weapons and gun exhibition.

I was a woman working on my own and risks were inherent but most of the week was spent listening to a lot of superfluous talk and a lot of rhetoric.  More followed during production week when I returned to L.A. to join my German colleagues in filming all of the above plus night sortees with the LAPD.

I got an earful of the “right to bear arms” and “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” credos.

Funny that because at the same time, the ex-gang bangers were on a crusade to get the younger generation to put down their weapons and duke it out hand to hand.  “Old school style” they said.  They seemed to understand that guns, indeed, DO kill people.

Of the above, guess which group genuinely sent chills down my spine?  Hint:  The one with loads of $$ and a strong U.S. government lobby…

Let’s hope none of Harrold’s teachers gets his or her britches in a twist over an incomplete homework assignment.


Shalom Kitah Alef…1st Grade, Here We Come! September 1, 2008

The last week or two has been a concentrated flurry of prepping my 6-year-old for 1st grade.

And because we’re here in Holy Land Central aka “HLC” aka Israel, the entire experience of getting him ready for this school system has meant initiation time for me too.  Because I didn’t grow up here so I do-not-know-the-ropes.

The process began with the list of school supplies that arrived in the mail.

I’m fluent in Hebrew.  I read newspapers, watch movies & t.v. and carry on semi-intelligent conversations in the language of the Biblical Land each and every day.  But I didn’t know what a full third of the listed supplies were nor did I know what they would be used for.  “LabelsA green plastic assignment folder ? He’s talented, but Oil Pastels, watercolors, markers and a sketch pad for art classes? He’s six!”

So it was off to the good neighbor’s house who patiently translated.  And dully sent me packing to the bookstore.

Which presented learning curve hurdle #2.  But before we go there, a friendly word from your sponsors: All you Nortes Americanos out there: You Are Privileged! You live in a wealthy country.  Bow your heads in Gratitude and utter THANKS!

From kindergarten to college my parents never paid for school books.  In my growing up years, the deal was: Show up on the 1st day of class and there’s a standard issue.  Done Deal.  Unless a text falls from the window of a fast-moving car, rolls into a mud patch or is fed to Bingo the dog for dinner, not one dime changes hands in exchange for trusty texts.

In the crazed scene that was my local Tel Aviv bookstore last week, however, parents frantically handed syllabus and supply lists to harried counter people who scrambled to fill orders.  Living in HLC, I have come to appreciate good old fashioned elbows jutted, “get outta my way because I DO OWN THE PLACE” attitudes & jam-packed scenes because it’s part of the …oh let’s just call it charm for lack of better phrasing, shall we?  The bookstore was no exception: charm overflowed.

An hour after arriving I was $200 lighter and had discovered that my childhood memories of prepping for a school year by picking out a new pair of shoes and an outfit for Day 1 would not be rite of passaged on down to my son. Nor would most of my school-associated memories because the school experience is completely different over here.   

Heck, at orientation night we parents were treated to a child psychologist’s lecture on transitioning from Kindergarten to 1st grade.  I don’t think my parents got those deliverables when I was a kid.  To illustrate the inherent difficulty of learning to read & write,  the psychologist asked parents to phonetically string together the sentence: “Shalom Kitah Alef” (Hello 1st Grade) ….in Tagalog.  It wasn’t simple.

As the school year opened this morning, my son and his 1st grade peers were greeted by a clown at the front gate and a ceremony performed in the schoolyard by 5th graders. “Hey 1st graders,” the older kids crooned to the pack of wee ones, “we know you’re frightened and it seems overwhelming but don’t worry.  We’ve been there and you’ll do fine.”  It was touching.  My son’s response: “ was sorta fun but kind of boring”.

It’s actually kind of heady stuff learning the ropes with my child as he moves into new phases of his life in this new and oft times very foreign place.

As I contemplated pushing through the throng of parents to plant a final farewell kiss on his cheek before he entered the school building for the day I discovered something else:

He was talking to a new friend.  He wasn’t searching for me.  He was okay.

I vacillated between the messsage echoed in the previous night’s deliberate bedtime reading choice, Oh,the Places You’ll Go! and my internal dialogue:

That’s it?  I don’t run after him?  I just let him go through those doors and start this next life phase just like that?