Thursday, September 13, 2018

Honey

Joëlle’s humongous plasma TV takes up a whole high wall of her hairdressing salon. You can’t miss it. And I, not having a TV of my own, don’t want to: an appointment with Joëlle is an appointment with culture. Besides French soaps, she favors Israeli cook-offs or the spitfire chat-chat of talk shows. Her natal French and acquired Hebrew lead me through the weird life of chanteur Johnny Hallyday to an ancient and skilled woman teaching her great-grandson to make honey cake. The cake is for Rosh Hashana, which is imminent. Commercials wish me Shana Tova, and at last, six glamourosos of both sexes sit in a wide U, mikes clipped to their hip clothes. One woman sports long sleeves but naked shoulders, one curly haired man wears sunglasses nipped into the cleavage of his shirt. All of these people are Jews, and they are all talking at once. I hear them say Rosh Hashana but I don’t know if they’re condemning or celebrating. They talk straight into the commercials. They’re talking when the camera returns. They don’t seem to care that I’m out here; they’re busy.

Another commercial with more Shana Tovas and when we return a young woman, sweet faced, dressed plainly, warm with smiles, is talking about her career. Joëlle tells me the woman is a chef, a new Israeli from New Zealand. The panel pelts her with questions ensemble, and gently, smiling at the onslaught, she replies. Black and white stills show her at her pots and ovens. Joëlle says, “They’re asking her what she makes special for Rosh Hashana.” She describes a honey upside down cake in English and Mr. Curly Hair translates to Hebrew. “Ha-fuach”; I pause. It’s the word in the Megilla of Purim, where good and rotten, optimism and dread, normal and insane, are tangled: upside down.


They throw her more questions; it’s a mosh pit of noise. She describes a complex dish, then slips back to English to say, “Honey coated ham.” No one needs to translate. This panel of hip Jews, to a one, becomes absolutely still. Ms. Shoulder looks down at her shoes, Mr. Curly stares ahead. The director must be nervous with this hush. The timing wildly off, he cuts to commercials, which wish me, again, Shana Tova.


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