Israel Stories

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Cave

Everyone needs a safe place. Some people have a safe place deep inside their psyche, some people use alcohol or drugs. All men need a cave. I have a basement and Beethoven.

After a particularly harrowing bath-time, I retreated to my cave, made myself comfortable in my big fake leather chair, warmed my hands on a cup of herbal tea, slapped in Ludwig's 8th and closed my eyes. Nothing, not a sound, not a note. I opened the CD draw and closed it again. Nothing. I took the CD out and polished it, nothing. Then I noticed written across the underside of my beloved CD was a scratch like none other. Actually this scratch was a signature, written in year-one handwriting, bearing the name of my eldest daughter. "Oh dear," I said, "but how sweet, she’s so clever," I thought; then remembering I wasn’t her grandparents, went on the warpath.

A good argument in the morning always gets the blood flowing. But my little darling was asleep, so I resolved to discuss the matter over breakfast.

But that wouldn’t bring my CD back, so I decided at the earliest opportunity I would need to shop for a new one.

My first stop was my local music shop in Bet Shemesh. “Do you have a classical music section?” I asked hopefully. “Yes we do, it’s in the corner.” So I went to the corner but there was no classical music, not a Beethoven to be seen. “I thought you said the classics were in the corner.” “They are, classic Carlebach, All Time Great Classics of Hassidic Music, Chaim Moshe Classics.” “Never mind,” I said, and left the shop.

Ok, so Jerusalem was my next stop; bit further afield, and in retrospect should have taken the left fork and gone to Tel Aviv. Life is much easier in retrospect, but getting there is harder (I don’t really know what that means either!).

I remember my favorite Israeli record shop: Piccadilly records. It reminded me of the small record shops in Camden (London). But when I arrived at the shop, to my dismay, it had closed down; "for some time," I was told by a neighbor.

I went home despondent. The next week I had a meeting in Tel Aviv so I looked up record shops in the area and found a small shop very close to Rothschild. I called them and asked if they had a copy of Beethoven’s 8th - they did, and whether it was the Berliner Philharmonic - it was. Wonderful, and was it conducted by Karajan? It was. Jackpot, the exact copy. I asked them to save it for me.

After my meeting I went straight to the shop. I Asked for Moshe and reminded him of our conversation the day before. “Yes, yes, I remember I have your copy right here.” I picked it up, the cover read Andre Previn conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Ok, also very good, but it was Beethoven’s 5th.

“Look,” I said, “I asked you for the 8th and this is the 5th.” So what do you think he said to me? What’s the most Israeli answer you can think of? Well he could have said, "no, no Beethoven never wrote an 8th," or "this is better, buy this one," or, "you asked me for the 5th," or "what’s wrong with the 5th , not good enough for you?"

Well none of the above. What he actually said to me was that although the CD and cover say it’s the 5th it’s really the 8th!

So I asked him to play it and it started with the classic ‘da da da daaaaaaa.’

“That’s definitely the 5th," I said, “do you have the 8th?” He looked at me like I was asking for one of his kidneys. He got out of his chair and brought me a selection of CDs. He dropped them on the counter between us. “These are all I have,” he growled.

So is sorted through them. Apart from Kate Bush, Etnix, Talking Heads and Abba, there were only 3 remaining CDs. The first was Mozart, second was Vivaldi and the third was Beethoven. I checked the cover and the CD, it was the 8th. I couldn’t believe it.

I wanted to be sure it wasn’t scratched; it looked like a second hand copy to me so I asked him to play it and guess what, it started with the classic ‘da da da daaaaaaa.’

“This is the 5th” I complained. “Oh that’s the one, I got confused,” he looked at me and smiled, “I knew one of the Beethovens’s got mixed up. Still what’s wrong with the 5th, don’t you like it? I tell you what, I’ll give you a discount.”

“I just want my safe place,” I murmured. “You want a safe place, I’ll tell you about safe places, my family escaped from Poland in the war, running from hiding place to hiding place, pretending to be Greek refugees, never safe, and we arrived here in Israel with nothing, and now you want to share your safe place with some German!!!!”

“But Beethoven wasn’t in the war,” I feebly answered. “Yes that’s what they all said,” he shouted, “I wasn’t there, didn’t see anything, just following orders, you’re all the same.”

“Don’t you mean 'they’re’ all the same?”

“You listen to them, pay money to buy their works!” Then, a voice from heaven, actually from the back office, shouted, “Moshe Reuveni, will you stop shouting!”

“Reuveni, that doesn’t sound very Polish…” He looked at me and lowered his voice, “it's not it's from Persia, but a good argument in the morning always gets the blood flowing. My wife calls me a cantankerous old man; I say if the birds are allowed a dawn chorus I can always have my midmorning symphony.”

I left the shop thinking about the Iranian music shop owner who had an identity crisis thinking he was a German-hating-Pole disguised as a Greek refugee and accusing me of being a collaborator for listening to a German composer who lived in Vienna.

Everyone needs a safe place.


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