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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Memories of Place, and visitors from Jerusalem, Ramallah, and the United States


It’s now been two weeks since I arrived in Israel, ten days that I’ve been in Umm el Fahem, When I start dictating to myself about my experiences, in the shower, or worse, when I am trying to read, it’s definitely time to hit the blog again! I used to have a similar kind of experience, years ago, when I’d been doing a lot of typing, realizing that I was mentally typing my thoughts in my head. That doesn’t happen when I’ve been typing on the computer. Maybe because the touch of the fingers on the keyboard is much softer on computer that on an old manual typewriter, (or as Max and Carolina once referred to it, an old fashioned computer.) But I digress, before I have even begun.

Yesterday was a quiet day here. Everything was indeed closed, it seemed. But as I didn’t go out until evening, I can’t say for sure. By dinnertime things were bustling again. The gallery was closed, at least until the leader of a group on their way here called Said. It’s a good thing they called, so Said was able to come to welcome them and give them a tour. They were American. I don’t know if they were even aware of the strike.That’s all I know, because I slept through their entire visit!

I am curious to know more about both of yesterday's situations, the murders and the returned soldier, jailed for murder for 20 years. I am hoping to have some conversations this afternoon, with my class, and with Jamal and his wife, about their perspectives on both situations. We already know Jamal’s opinion on the soldier, he was clear about it the other day. But what do people in general think, and is there any more detail to the triple murder/family feud story? Family seems of the utmost importance here, nuclear family, but also extended family. What preceded this event? What will happen to the young couple now? I admit to being fascinated by true life crimes, especially one that occurs in the very place I am living. Will it make a good topic of conversation in my class of the young women staffers? Or is it something they would shy away from? Do most couples arrange their own marriages here? How important is family approval or involvement.?

Can we have a discussion on these topics and then play 20 questions? Or would it be too drastic a shift in mood?

One thing I have been doing with this group is reading over the brochure, which needs some updating before it is printed and distributed. It seems to be a practical and useful exercise, for them and for me. Luckily we have almost finished it, since two of my four students have now declared their reluctance to read!

Next, I plan to try using a book published by the gallery called Memories of Place, which is part of the permanent exhibit aat the gallery. It is a collection of photos, some vintage, and some contemporary, that documents life in the city and the surrounding area. All of these photos, and some videos, are part of the growing archive of the gallery. One video is filmed from a car driving through the city the last time it snowed here, about 20 years ago. Although this project is different from the major goal of showcasing contemporary art, Said feels that it an important part of the gallery’s mission.

Many of the photographs are of an historical nature, but some are contemporary pictures of older couples, posed in their living rooms. The room also features a set up of a traditional living room, with low couches and pillows. I haven't seen anyone sitting in the furniture there, but hope that some do. I would especially like to see the school groups using the room, which perhaps they do.

I don’t know how this will go over with the staffers, but I am going to try to ask them to choose a photo from the exhibit and then talk about it, explain what appeals to them about it, why they think it’s important. It seems very relevant to their desire to learn language that is related to the gallery. But it may require more sophisticated language skills than they have. I don't want to frustrate them. I’d better come up with a back up plan before 3 pm!

Layla, Rawan, Eiman, and Mohammed are all working on the archives project, which encompasses the Memories of Place exhibit. The young woman all work on filming and transcribing the memories of elders. They can often be found in the archives office, headphones over their headscarves, listening to and transcribing the accounts Mohammed is the computer guru. I don't know if the project eventually includes translating them, but I would hope that local people, at least, would come to watch and listen.

Lilli has asked me to help her with the website. I made clear to her even before I came here that I did not have technical skills, but would be happy to help her with writing, proofing, editing, etc. And so I have been going over the website, making notes, and will go ove r things with her next week, when she returns from her Sukkot vacation. The site is basically quite nice, I would like to know who did the translation, because it is very good. But there are a couple of places where I feel the language is a bit too flowery, at least for an English language audience, and it will be interesting to discuss that with Lilli.

There are a couple of places on the site that are under construction on
The website .One is the the section for the Memories of Place exhibit.

Right in the middle of the prevous sentence I had two unexpected visits, so a half hour or so (maybe more, it’s hard to keep track of time) ha s gone by since I began writing about the website. One was a man and woman, with Said, from an arts foundation in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The other was three friends of Suzi. They both came by the apartment, where I am writing. These are the first visitors we have had here to the apartment (they've come to see the rooftop sculptures, and they arrive back to back. I will write more about them when I finish up my previous train of thought.

Lilli wants my help on writing up the website section on the exhibit and the archives, another thing I will be happy to do. If I actually accomplish these several projects, create the day visit in coordination with GoEco, and continue my language classes for the next weeks, I will be very pleased. Then, of course, there is the issue of follow-through. I wonder if Ann, the English woman who put the brochure together last year, knows that it never got printed, much less distributed. I do hope we can get that together, too. One encouraging thing, in terms of organizing the visits here is that the family of Jonathan Gelbin, co founder of GoEco, and Said are good friends.

Re today's two visits, the first people were from an arts foundation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, the Qattan Foundation. I assume they are discussing with Said how the organizations can work together. The other folks are a friend of Suzi, and two friends of hers. One woman is an enamel artist .The man is a tour director, gave me his card, and said to call him, not with the idea of giving him business, but just if I had any questions or needed advice about travelling.

I have my staff class in a few minutes, and after that am going to Jamal’s house, for English conversation with him and his family, and, no doubt, some delicious food. Tomorrow morning (remember, Friday is the weekend here) Suzi and I are invited to Said’s house, for breakfast, and for a lesson in preserving olives!

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