Saturday, February 27, 2010


  Anyone taking in the recent health care "debate" -- in whole or in part -- must surely need an antidote, and here it is: garlic!  Garlic kills viruses and bacteria, supports the immune system, increases energy, lowers blood pressure, wards off vampires, and is the bane of smoozing politicians. 

Bread And Puppet Aioli

    You know that great yellow stuff you used to get smeared on your Bread & Puppet bread at performances (now replaced for reasons unknown by garlic merely suspended in oil)? That stuff. What they make for the peasants in southern France and Italy: when they come in from the fields for lunch, they are handed a loaf of bread to rip apart and dip in a big, common bowl of God's gift to sweat, and a full afternoon of hard work.

    Here's how you make it:
3 eggs
canola oil
1 head of garlic

    Separate yolks and place in large mixing bowl. Give the whites to high-cholesterol partners innocent of Lipitor.

    Here's the tricky part:
    Pray to the aioli gods.
    Add oil, A DROP AT A TIME, to the egg yolks. I'm not kidding -- a drop at at time, at least at the beginning. Bread and Puppet macho would have you whip the oil and eggs together with a fork. I cheat and use an electric mixer on low speed. Don't tell Peter Schumann.
    As the volume of oil builds up, you will be able to add it more quickly, a couple of drops, then a few, then a very thin, intermittent stream. But WARNING: if you add the oil too quickly, the aioli will not "catch", and you'll end up with an oily mess. Patience, patience. Franz Kafka wrote:

    There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that we were expelled from Paradise, it is because of indolence that we cannot return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were expelled, because of impatience we cannot return.

    He must have been a very good aioli maker.
    How much oil? Reasonable question. I'll defer the answer.
    The mixing bowl should now be filled with something that looks and feels very like mayonnaise. In fact, it IS mayonnaise. This is how you make mayonnaise.  The funny thing is, once you get to a certain point, you can add oil much more quickly (but not too quickly), and make as much as you like. The yellow will become more diluted, but aside from that, you can plan to feed the multitudes if you have enough oil. Add loaves and fishes if desired. That's how much oil.

    Chop garlic into tiny, tiny pieces. Bread & Puppet macho insists you chop with a broad blade very sharp knife, then squoosh the pieces with the flat of the blade to squeeze out the final juice. When puppeteers aren't watching, I use a garlic press.
    How much garlic? Use the whole head, or just part of it? That depends on how big the garlic is, how much aioli you are making, and how strong you want it. I've never made enough to use more than one entire head -- about half a large mixing bowl's worth.
    Mix the garlic mash into the waiting bowl, and stir in thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

    Eating: Although you can eat it immediately, it's best to let it stand, refrigerated for a couple of days. It mellows out into something strong and smooth, but not nastily fierce. Folks either love it or they hate it. Some stomachs can't stand too much garlic without refluxing. You can give out Rolaids with the aioli to those folks. Best on fresh-baked hearty bread.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Last Shabbat, as part of "Brand Israel", the state-supported ballet arrived in Burlington with their lavish production of Don Quixote, to bring (according to  their website) "honor to the state of Israel."

Given the unruly contents of that extraordinary book, I thought it curious to pick that story to, in the words of the Foreign Ministry, "show Israel's prettier face" as "an enlightened center of arts and technology." So I wrote a little piece which our group, Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel, thought we might distribute to the incoming audience, so that they might have something to read while waiting for the show to begin, and to ask them, gently, to understand the burgeoning movement toward boycotting Israeli produce as was done to end a similar apartheid in South Africa.

This is what I wrote:


Whether conscious or not, there is a deep irony in the choice of Don Quixote as a touring piece for the Israel Ballet.

For the company here presents a story of enchantment and self-enchantment, delusion and self-delusion, a fairytale of madness and delusory nobility, the story of a dreamer driven mad by ancient books, his mental state now lucid, now insane.

Tonight you will meet The Knight of Sorrowful Countenance, surrounded by enemies and magicians, battling the world of evil. He is cruelly used, physically and mentally, beaten and scorned by the powers around him. Normally grave and self-controlled, he can be goaded into mad fits of rage, unable to distinguish between his fantasies and the world's realities.

By the end of the book, our hero's soul is taunted by doubt, by the suspicion that his quest to reestablish the past through arms and armor may be an illusion. "I find myself, Niece," he says, "at the point of death, and I would die in such a way as not to leave the impression of a life so bad that I shall be remembered as a madman: for even though I have been one, I do not wish to confirm it on my deathbed."

There are lessons here for all of us.

You art-lovers, people of conscience, members of the international community of intellectuals, have historically stood with the ancient -- perhaps quixotic -- moral responsibility to fight injustice -- as you did, for instance, in helping abolish wage slavery among grape-pickers in California, or apartheid in South Africa -- through various forms of boycott.

Given that the UN has many times condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal, and that six decades of diplomacy have until now failed to convince Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its oppression of the people of Palestine, we ask you in the future to support a general boycott of Israeli goods and cultural offerings --  an international non-violent effort to impel the Israeli government to end its occupation of Arab lands, to end the house demolitions, dismantle the walls, recognize the claims of Arab citizens of Israel to full equality, and to promote the globally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

As it is not anti-American to call for ending our own wars, it is not antisemitic to call on the Israeli government to change its policies in the name of freedom and justice.

Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel

Eight of us from vtjp left 249 one-pagers in the hands of audience members, and thought we had achieved a good opening for a larger community discussion, and more active events in the future. As one audience member wrote to the website,

Last night I attended the Israeli Ballet at the Flynn Theater.  As I
was going in I was handed a flier - A Modern Don Quixote.  This was
done respectfully and the message thought-provoking.  Whether we
agree with the message or not, it was a very good way to get your
message out and make us Think.

But her message was headed What Were You Thinking??!!! She continued,

A few minutes after the performance began your guys marched to the
front of the room with large banners of protest.  What were you
thinking?  For those of us who have been supportive or at least try
to understand the Palestine/Israel situation, this was a slap in the lost the support you had.  And, that's what I'm mad
about.  You have a message.  YOu need support.  And by doing
something crazy like this you lost it!  I know of many Jews in that
audience who decry what Israel has done/is doing, but I can just bet
that they are pretty angry with what you did last night.  And to do
so to those who work in the arts?  Just because they live in Tel Aviv
you do not know that they are against you.  My interactions with
performers across the world is that the majority of them try to bring
peace between nations, especially the ones they are all wrapped
with.  This was a very inappropriate action!
Please, really do what your mission states - Just Peace.  Try to make
it work, too, and the rest of us will be more willing to support you.

The fact is, it wasn't "our guys", but rather four independent human rights activists, one of the four Israeli, who, unknown to us, planned, actually bought $50 tickets for front row seats, and carried out the inside-the-theater event you may watch at 

And now things get really interesting. Somehow Yedioth Ahronoth, a major Israeli newspaper, learned of the evening's events, and with, let's say...excessive imagination, described them to the readers of its on-line English version, You may read the article here. The forcing a way into the theater, the security personnel, the police, the escorting out, the intermission were all -- well, let's just say poetic licence, if poor reporting. Maybe it sells newspapers.

But what is most interesting of all are the now more than fifty comments. I suggest you begin with #28, written by one of the protesters, not to prioritize it, but just so you get the facts of what actually went on. Then, if you have time and interest, read  the flow of other comments -- an extraordinary display.

The controversy, though a tempest in the teapot of middle class, ballet-going, mostly liberal Burlington, gives us a glimpse at several key threads in the quest to end the four-decade Israeli occupation of  Palestine and to achieve peace with justice in the core of the core of the middle east.

I will only name some of the issues, since this space is inadequate to discuss them. (Our website,, has great depth, gets 30,000+ hits a week, and can serve as a good introduction to the problems, present and historical.)

1. It's very hard to discuss rationally anything that presents with the word Palestine in it. The 250th copy of our mild-mannered flyer was brought back to us by an elderly man who had walked all the way back from inside against the incoming crowd. It was crumpled up in a ball. His instructions were "You can shove this up your ass!" 

2. The question of whether Israel is practicing "apartheid" or not is still an issue, though the upcoming intensifying of the Gazan situation with the underground fourth wall now under construction to choke off the very last trickle of goods and food (and yes, no doubt some weapons -- though the $3 billion a year worth of rather larger weapons the US sends to Israel, are seen as "military aid" and not "smuggling") may very well modulate from a question of apartheid to one of frank genocide, as 1.5 million captives are starved to death. Jimmy Carter ran afoul of these semantics with the title of his book. And many South African activists assert that what is going on in Gaza and the West Bank is not apartheid, but much worse, with far tighter restrictions and far more brutal behavior.

3. This issue is important because the American public generally understands that boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) were key in bringing down the apartheid regime in South Africa -- a piece of modern history generally approved of. In the face of half a century of US-supported Israeli intransigence to the norms of international law and behavior, it is looking as if a similar BDS campaign may be the only way to effect change in that world-poisonous situation. Our flyer was meant to ask the audience to consider the need for such a strategy.

The Palestine-Israel struggle is one of many fronts of extreme turbulence we face today. We will need many approaches to shake things up from their pathological gestalt.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Today is February 14th, so let me wish you a happy Firebombing of Dresden Day...whoops, no, I meant to say Valentine's Day, and I hope you all have sent your sweeties messages that will win over their hearts and minds.

That's what this lovely young Israeli girl is doing for her Lebanese friends. "From Israel with love," she is writing. That's what Gen. Stanley McChrystal is currently doing in Marjah as you read. His 15,000 troops have blocked off all roads so that no messages will get lost, and pre-valentines have been dropped instructing the population not to try leaving.

The idea behind this largest love-offensive in a decade is to win the hearts and minds of the local Afghanis, so that the Taliban can be replaced with democratic leaders sent in from Kabul. Even Hallmark couldn't match that.

And speaking of Dresden, I'm sure many of you have read Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five. If not, grab a copy right away. You won't forget it. It's a riot.

But even Kurt -- who was there -- didn't really understand why all those people were getting burned and suffocated to death. An excellent article backgrounding the affair appeared recently on the Global Research website:

It seems there was almost no military necessity for this enormous operation by February, 1945. Rather, the barbarous wiping out of the population was directed at our allies, the Soviets, to warn them not to get too uppity with their post-war victor claims. The Russkis needed to witness the application of this kind of air-strike by the US and Britain which could just as easily be turned on them.

Six months later, the US alone would put on a similar show at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The cover story would be the same -- we need to do this to end the war  -- like the massive final blasting at our own fireworks displays. But the real story (victims aside) was to intimidate our Soviet friends with our love-power and solidarity.

Hearts and flowers, hearts and minds. May our beloveds beware.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Bertolt Brecht lies in his grave.  The alarm goes off and off.  Time to get up again.  Evil-doing comes like falling rain.  Get up.  We need you.

In the grey light before morning the pine trees piss
And their vermin, the birds, raise their twitter and cheep.
At that hour in the city I drain my glass, then throw
My cigar butt away and worriedly go to sleep.

No, up.  Not sleep.  Get up.  It’s time.  Fifteen days the rain is falling. The birds have stopped their cheeping.  Cheep, BB, cheep at least.  Twitter.  Piss. Someone will hear.  Someone will understand. Here’s my crust of bread.  Eat,  BB,  eat, then speak.  Get up and speak.

Like one whose blood flows from a wound and who awaits the doctor: his blood goes on flowing.  So do we come forward and report that evil has been done.

Yes!  Good.  Come forward.  Report.  Report on the good times that starve the millions and poison the world. 

The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror.  Then a hundred were butchered.  But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the buchery, a blanket of silence spread.  When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out ‘stop!’

Stop!  (My voice is small.)  Stop!

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.  When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.  The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

And rain also in winter.  And the tree limbs snap, and the wires break, and people huddle under what blankets they have, and the circus band blares out its tunes, and some there cackle and others smirk.  I am discouraged, BB.  What will become of us?

Of those cities will remain what passed through them, the wind!

And then?  When it all comes crashing to the ground, what then? What shall we do?

-- Remember:
Hatred, even of baseness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse.  Even we,
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.

Bertolt Brecht wrote poems and essays and plays.  He spoke up for the poor.  He said, “First, people have to be able to feed their faces -- then they can think about morality.”  He was number one on Hitler’s hit list.  We need his voice today.

Here – from the grave -- is what he says:

"Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the COURAGE to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the KEENNESS to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the SKILL to manipulate it as a weapon; the JUDGMENT to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the CUNNING to spread the truth among such persons." - Bertolt Brecht, Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The calendar offers up some provocative coincidences -- provocative and tartly instructive. January 27th, for instance, has given us both Mozart's birthday, and the liberation of Auschwitz.

Mozart and Auschwitz. Could there be two poles further apart? Two poles at the blazing core of German-speaking culture, that playing field for the possibilities of the human.

Those familiar with Mozart know that his writing is not all sweetness and light. The late works, especially, peer unflinchingly into that wildness and pain that was his life, that led him, at 35, to a pauper's grave, whereabouts unknown. So to find the dark moments in Mozart is not hard.

One of the characters in my recent novel, The Good Doctor Guillotin, Tobias Schmidt, the German piano-maker who wound up building the first guillotines during the French Revolution, describes a concert in Paris by the 22-year old Austrian visitor in which he played a set of his variations on the bawdy folk tune "Ah je vous dirai, Maman". (We know the melody as that of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".) He talks about how “in the middle of the unending C major of this trivial folk tune, Mozart had thrown himself and his listeners into a precipitous C minor variation which ripped open the pleasant, clever world, and exposed the darkest forces lurking in the background.”

Yes. Fairly standard, even in Haydn, and more to come in Beethoven. Yin and yang: the black dot in the middle of the white. High German culture -- and then Auschwitz.

But then, there is the other dot -- the white one in the middle of the black. The paradox is that this one can prove even more painful.

In another scene in the novel, Schmidt is accompanying Dr. Guillotin's violin in a room in the captured king's prison palace:

“Why are you crying?” Schmidt asked.
Guillotin had put down his violin.
“Why are you crying?” he asked his pianist.
“I’m not crying. That’s sweat,” Schmidt said, wiping away a tear.

I’ll tell you why they were crying. They were crying because in the E minor violin sonata there is a moment too beautiful to play—the trio in E major, haunting, unbearably poignant and lovely.

Guillotin had gulped at the key change, started to tear up at the first rising sixth of the theme, and by the repeat of the first phrase had to lower his instrument.

Schmidt was crying because—like the C minor moment in the Ah, vous dirais-je variations he had heard Mozart play—this moment, too, seemed to open a trapdoor revealing all those lurking dark forces, then shut it quickly again—but in reverse and inside out. Here it was a trapdoor not into darkness but into a universe of light, of the possible, of all that could be but isn’t.

They were crying because they understood this: That such a world is hidden from us, unattainable, glimpsed only in Mozart’s cruel caress. A dark E minor minuet: the dance par excellence of the aristocracy. Grace, beauty, decorum. Delicate but controlled and controlling. And then the intolerable knife thrust of the exquisite trio—revealing the old order for all its implications, its unsuspected possibilities of disaster.

Is that what we’re crying about?” Guillotin demanded. “An exposé of the old order? I thought we knew that. I thought we were trying a new order.”

“That’s what I, at least, am crying about,” the piano-maker said. “It’s not the ghastly court and the canting nobility I’m mourning, it’s the stability and structure, the placidity and contentment, the state of grace they would pretend. I’m crying because I understand the loss. I fear it; I fear such transience, fear mortality—in this context of most beauty. I’m crying because we will now have to face the great trembling—at hand—and inescapable.”

Guillotin dried his eyes, wiped the rosin off his strings, and, taking this cue, Schmidt closed the piano, an instrument he had built for the music room of the Tuileries palace.

The awfulness of beauty. The unbearable face of unattained, unattainable possibility. The white dot in the middle.

I wonder if those who are having so much difficulty giving up their dreams of the Obama-they-would-have are paralyzed by the same awful contrast between the dot and its matrix.