Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doesn't Matter Where You Been as Long as It Was Deep

Accidentally, I had the evening that I needed.

Still without a vehicle, it seemed prudent to find neighborhood activity rather than having to walk too far in the December cold. The Oscar-nominated documentary "Promises" at the main library filled the bill nicely.

Presented by Richmonders for Peace in Israel and Palestine, I was apparently easy to spot as neither a Jew nor an Arab. The women at the welcome table wasted no time in inquiring how I'd heard about the event (Style Weekly's calendar), delighted to have lured out an Irish Catholic.

Or maybe just someone who'd never been to their film series before.

I have to say, I go to plenty of documentaries and few have a spread like this one - rolls filled with pimento cheese and chicken salad, fruit salad, punch and six kinds of dessert. Food aside, I spotted only two people I knew (a poet and an artist), but was pleased to see wide-ranging age diversity in the makeup of the crowd.

The film was introduced by the professor of Middle Eastern studies at Randolph Macon, who said he shows it to his classes as a way to help them understand the deeply ingrained conflict.

The filmmaker had followed seven children  - Israeli and Palestinian - for five years to make the documentary back during a time when it had been possible to travel back and forth easily (for Israelis anyway) to the West Bank. Updates to the story had been done a few years later.

What was fascinating was how entrenched ideas about the so-called enemy were in children, most of whom came across far more savvy about politics in their country than a typical 10-year old American kid would be. No doubt it was a function of war being the norm their entire lives.

The children represented a spectrum of secular, somewhat religious, right wing and ultra-orthodox, but just about every single one knew firsthand someone who had been killed, in some cases a friend. Scenes of children at the grave site of another child felt unbearably sad, much like a scene of a Palestinian boy and his grandmother visiting the site of the home from which they'd been ousted and relocated.

Listening to children spout learned hatred led to the filmmaker setting up a meeting between Israeli twin boys and a group of Palestinian kids. They were chosen because they were the only ones willing to fraternize with the "enemy."

The scenes where the children finally meet each other were the most hopeful in the entire film. From a spontaneous burping contest to a pillow fight to soccer playing, once with the "enemy," they became just kids and forgot about politics. At last they saw the hated Israelis or Palestinians as actual people and not bogeymen.

But the most startling part of all was when the  filmmaker went back a few years later to see what was up with the seven. With age came adherence to the principles of hate they'd been taught.

All except one Palestinian boy who'd moved to Massachusetts to live with relatives. Not only had his English improved hugely, but his vitriol had faded. He made the point that if so many different kinds of people can coexist in the U.S., why couldn't his little country get along?

After the film was a discussion led by the professor and he requested that people not get on their political/religious soapboxes (although one woman did try to defend Israel's mandatory military service) but consider the issues raised in the film. It was fascinating to see how differently people had interpreted it.

The issue that had the most people in agreement was about how unequally the U.S. provides aid to Israel and Palestine and how our overt support of the former is a major problem. Granted, it was an audience of people already interested in the subject, but it was definitely one of the more thoughtful and intellectual post-film discussions I've attended.

By the time we finished, the security guards couldn't get rid of us fast enough.

It had been extremely satisfying for me because I'd learned so much about the conflict (maps and diagrams throughout the film were invaluable in absorbing the different stages of land grabbing, camps and occupation) but also because it had been a very well made film and I got to see it on a big screen.

Leaving the library, I was more than ready for some food. I considered Rappahannock, but couldn't stand the thought of going even three blocks out of my way, so I stopped at Saison Market.

There, I found the owner behind the register ("Hello, young lady!"), James Brown singing "Sex Machine" on the stereo and a good looking root vegetable winter salad on the menu. Just as I was signing my check, I noticed Abuelita hot chocolate on the chalkboard and ordered that, too.

Coincidentally, I'd just read about Abuelita on the Pioneer Woman's blog and finding it at a Latino market is on my to-do list. Here was my chance to try it. But rather than wait and have it for dessert, I sipped the cup of chocolate before my salad even arrived, licking the last bits of chocolate from inside the cup with my finger.

Chocolate, it's what's for appetizer.

Then came salad. Butternut squash, beets, watermelon radish, frisee, Maytag blue cheese, spaghetti squash fritters and apple vinaigrette sat atop squash puree for a plate that was as much eye candy as surprisingly filling.

The brain trust from Richmond Comedy Coalition came in and I saw one of their best comedians, whom I'd also seen at last night's birthday party. Trying to get the jump on humor, I told him I was following him.

"That's what you think, but I'm really following you," he said with raised eyebrows and a grin.

As I ate, I read an article from the department of inspiration in a summer issue of New Yorker magazine called "A Room of One's Own" about a woman who won a three week residency for a writer with a book contract at a swanky East Village hotel (including free breakfast and coffee). She went to work on her book of poetry.

The down side was she was awakened far too early every day by nearby construction and had to live on a writer's (read: tight) budget of $20 a day for food, not an easy thing to do in NYC. But she also wrote poetry, taking her greatest inspiration from late night walks in the city.

See? It's not that I'm car-less, it's that my night walks are for soaking up inspiration. And cold toes.

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