Saturday, July 19, 2014

War culture

Part of the Israeli experience, unfortunately, is the going through these overly frequent periods of mass military operations as a civilian.  The British of World War II and the North Vietnamese of the 1970’s are quite familiar with the sensations of random violence from the air.  It creates, no pun intended, a heavy atmosphere for even the most banal activity, regardless if your town is subject to or spared from the missiles.  For purposes of context, I live in Karmiel in the northern part of Israel. In my 25 years here, I have experienced on a first hand basis missiles during the two Iraq wars and the Second Lebanese War, including helping young daughter get through this.  I admit that my somewhat limited exposures does not compare with those living in Sderot  in southern Israel or Kiriat Shmone in northern Israel, but does provide some intimate knowledge of the joy of rockets in air.  Also, as in all crises, reactions are individual, varying from person to person.

The randomness and helplessness of being a civilian creates several common phenomena.  First, using official and unofficial information, people creates their “rules of safe behavior”.  On one extreme, this can mean never leaving the safe room.  On the other extreme, some individuals assume that life and death are just a matter of luck and go everywhere since it makes no difference.  My attitude under fire was that, based on my analysis of the cases of actual death by missile, my home is my castle, i.e. stay inside as much as possible to be safe. I believe that I am correct, at least statistically.

For those that leave the apparent safety of their house, the next issue is what to do if you are “caught” by an alert while driving or doing shopping.  Yes, people do need to eat even during a war.  In the former, there are several attitudes.  I admit that I used to keep on driving, counting on the laws of probability to keep me safe.  In other words, I have much less chance of dying from a missile than I have from a car accident.   The home front department advises otherwise: pull over, get out of your car, and hit the dirt or, if possible, get near a wall, covering your head with your arms.  I don’t feel scared enough to do that, but it does make sense.  If out in the city running errands, some people first check where the nearest safe room or stair case is, similar to parents with small children checking where the bathroom is. The opposite reaction is quite “human”: turn on the Smartphone video and film the whole event.  Logically, it is probably the most dangerous way to react, but instinctively it takes over if a person believes in immortality and is not actually frightened by the rocket.

The last issue I will address is dealing with the tensions.  People release their tension through one or more of the following physical manners: mashing teeth (dentists are quite busy after the war), eating more or less than usual, talking about their fears or insisting that the endless tension has no effect on them, constantly or never watching the news, or playing video games, to name a few.  I know that this stress does leave a scar on a person’s psyche, but so do one’s parents and childhood years in general for that matter.

So, war is hell, but a personal hell for civilians.  It is also part of an Israeli’s identity, distinguishing him or her from most other people.  From time to time, people will list the “wars” they gone through.  Sadly, my list is getting longer and will probably expand in the future.  As that optimistic Israeli goes, we also get through that.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My daily bread

Despite the endless rows of other food that fill up supermarkets, the most important corner of any grocery store is the bread racks.  Tens if not hundreds of types of bread products tempt and confuse us. Linguistically, some very common stables have interesting histories of which most people are not aware.

Some breads were for special occasions. A kaiser or Vienna roll was made for the Emperor Franz Joseph’s birthday.  A pretzel was for lent since it required no eggs. People often gave bagels as a gift, including Jews over 600 years ago. 

Some flours have quaint backgrounds.  Graham flour, from which Graham crackers are made (ideal for smores, a wonderful sandwich with chocolate and marshmallows melted over the open fire), was invented by a pub owners who wanted his clients to drink more and came up with a whole wheat flour that helped absorb the alcohol.  Pumpernickel, a component of expensive breads today, was once supposed rejected by Napoleon for his personal use and left for his horse and is allegedly translated as “the devil’s fart” for its effects on the digestive system.

Some desert favorites have also come from far away.  Crepes, my personal favorite (with Grand Marnier, sugar and lemon), come from the Latin crispa for waved.  The Bretons make a whole wheat crepe adding meat, which I strongly recommend.  Their name is either les galettes or les saracens, i.e. moors since the wheat grew in the moors.  As for the classic American doughnut or donut, one theory of the name is that the bakers added nuts in the middle since that dough tended to be undercooked there. 

It is true that you can’t live on bread alone but you sure can gain weight on it.  While you are enjoying its satisfying taste, look up a bit of its history, food for the mind you could say.