Sunday, August 30, 2015

Musical Roots

It is true that a rose is a rose is a rose, but why is it a rose? The answer to that is like Tolstoy’s description of an unhappy marriage: each one has its own story.  Music styles have come and gone, leaving behind a rich and forgotten history of how that style got is name.

Some are easier than others.  For example, ragtime music, currently most represented by the songs of Scott Joplin, comes from the word ragged.  According to the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime, composers took a standard 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm and made it ragged, i.e. put the emphasis on the offbeat. There was even a gerund form describing the process of taking a standard 4/4 song and make it ragtime: ragging.  There is one amazing historical note in many senses: in 1895, Earnest Hogan, an African American no less, published and sold ONE MILLLION of copies of the first known sheet music of a rag, called (I am not making this up): "All Coons Look Alike to Me." I don’t know what is more amazing, the million copies at the time or the social commentary.  I am glad times have changed.

In other cases, the key is the sound.  For example, the origin of reggae, once again according to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggae, is probably an attempt to express the offbeat emphasis of its rhythm, possibly working off an existing Creole word, streggae, a loose woman. Other explanations, more academic exist, but intuitively it sounds quite probable.  Slightly more obscurely, the term hip hop, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hop_music, apparently comes from a musician making fun of a friend that had just enlisted in the army.  The phase was used with the sting being how you have to “hip hop” in the army. He (and we) got quite an earful.

The most obscure word origin I have ever heard regards a wonderful form of Cajun music and dancing (I really enjoy watching the dancing: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFVBghVUSwk) called Zydeco.  According to the usual source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zydeco, the name comes from the French phrase Les haricots ne sont pas sal├ęs, meaning the snap beans are not salty, whatever that means, with theories not lacking.  The music and instruments are not sophisticated but very homey. I strongly believe that 97 out of 100 people anywhere except in Louisiana have no idea what Zydeco music is, let alone the origin of the term. Ignorance is not bliss.


Feel free to send me any wonderfully obscure musical origins so I can add a post-post, accent on the first beat.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Regionalization in the Galilee

I have lived for almost 30 years in Karmiel in the Galilee. A recent shopping trip brought into focus a major change in the area: it is become an economic region, not the sum of a series of small towns and villages.

To demonstrate, my wife was looking for a dress for her daughter’s wedding. Searching on the Internet, she found some interesting dresses on a site for a store in a nearby Arab village. We went there and found a store that in terms of size has nothing to be ashamed of even if it were in Tel Aviv or Haifa.  At least half of the customers were Jewish.  Likewise, a few years ago, I needed some urgent tests on my heart. I was sent to a fully-equipped clinic staffed by a hospital cardiologist in an Arab village. 

This phenomenon is occurring throughout the Galilee. Beit Jann, once famous for providing recruits to the police and military, now specializes in cultural tourism, marketing its Druze heritage to tourists in Israel and abroad. Arab village businesses, whether restaurants or building supply stores, depend on Jewish customers.  Likewise, clothes stores in Karmiel, a “Jewish” town, cater to the local Arab taste in terms of color and style. A high percentage of the sales people are also local Arabs.  There is even a glatt (high level) kosher restaurant attached to a major Arab shopping center. This type of marketing attests to the wide customer base of all Galilee businesses.

The reasons for this economic linking include greater population, income and mobility.  The population of the Galilee has grown rapidly due to immigration and a high birth rate among Arabs. As education has improved in the area, so has income, allowing people to purchase more and fueling the regional economy.  Cars and drivers licenses are simply much more common. Owning is a car is now much more affordable than it was in the past. Moreover, Arab women are now getting drivers licenses, allowing them to expand their shopping base from outside their home villages.


The process in the Galilee is not “apartheid” as those ignorant critics accuse Israel, but unprecedented integration, which has created economic interdependence. I don’t expect this trend to stop in the foreseeable future.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What do you do for a living??

Work is work, everywhere in the world.  For most people, it means showing up somewhere at a given time, fulfilling doing specified duties and getting paid more or less money for the pleasure.  However, the name for a given job description varies from place to place and language to language.  Some professional titles are understandable only to the locals.

For examples, if you are employed in an American office as a gofer, you do not make holes in the floor.  Instead, you are a low paid employee, often the offspring of a regular employee, whose jobs is to bring items from one place to another, i.e. go for this and go for that.  For young people with proper legs and sufficient energy, it is not a bad way to make some money.  By contrast, if you are a sanitation engineer, the work involves waking up early, lifting weights and dealing with foul smelling items.  In simple terms, the person is a garbage man, an admittedly less attractive title.  At least in compensation, thanks to strong local union, such engineers do earn a nice salary even without the formal education.

In France, a verbicruciste plays an important role in society. S/he helps hundreds of thousands of people pass the empty moments of life in buses, trains, toilets and doctors’ waiting room, to name just a few, by writing crossword puzzles for their entertainment.   No doubt, every country has such selected public servants, but not many give them such a wonderful title. 

In Israel, every large organization, especially kibbutzim, must have a pkak.  Literally meaning a cork, such person must be a jack of all trades and master of none.  If he were the latter, he would not be a pkak. The job description is extremely wide and varied and can best be defined as doing anything that has to be done that is not specifically assigned to anybody or whose designated employee is not available for any reason.  In other words, the pkak does any job that has to be done now but for which there is no person to do it.  Having once worked as a pkak, I can say with certainty that the job is varied and appreciated.  In baseball, he would be called a utility infielder.


I would be interested in hearing about other unique professional titles in any language.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

All in the family

I recently attended a festive occasion arranged by my wife’s family.  They celebrated the aunt’s 90th birthday, her daughter 60th birthday and the birth of three grandchildren during that month.  The atmosphere was joyful, accented by homemade food, specially written poems and a presentation of the aunt’s rich life. Experiencing the gathering as an outsider, three major themes of Israeli family life stuck out, especially in comparison with too many American families.

First, all five of the aunt’s children attended and talked with each other.  In other words, whatever disagreements they may have, communication is maintained.  The willingness to forgive if not forget is typical of many if not most Israeli families. 

Second, three of the five children and many of the grandchildren lived close to the aunt.  Two of the daughters lived within walking distance.  From what I overheard, many of the grandchildren had lunch and did their homework with the grandparents.  Thus, the generational connection goes beyond formal bounds.  This binding of multiple generations leads to emotional connections.

Last, based on the stories that were told, the aunt and uncle did not buy their respect.  They did not have much money when they were raising their children.  However, they invested time and energy in their children, instilling them with their values and ambitions. These are not latch key children.  In the West, good parenting often seems to be equivalent to having a good income. The reality is truly quite different.


In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the good feeling of the birthday celebration. I admit that I felt some envy, not for the first time, watching the warm relations between the people there.  However, to make myself very clear, I heartfully wish them and everybody many such events.  They make life worth living until the age of 90, at least.