Saturday, September 22, 2012

How to understand Israel from comic books alone

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I love reading autobiographical comic books that are set in other countries. I don't know much about Israel, but during the past couple of years two interesting graphic memoirs came out about people's experiences in Israel, so, naturally, I bought 'em, read 'em, and learned a thing or two!

The first book is Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less , and the second was Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle.

Glidden's book is a memoir of her Birthright Israel trip, beautifully illustrated with watercolors throughout. First thing I learned: just for being Jewish one can get a free 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Israel!

Glidden's story isn't so much about Israel itself as it was about how young Jewish-American liberals feel about Israel -- also an interesting topic, BTW:

I found the book a little frustrating, though, because she set off with the express intention of confirming her belief in the pure black-hearted villainy of Israel, and her grand epiphany was that it's more complicated than that. Well, duh, it's more complicated than that. If the situation were simple, the conflict would be resolved. Yet, weirdly, she seems taken aback to discover that Israelis have justifications for some of their controversial actions:

Glidden did a lot of interesting research before her trip, and told some great stories about the things she saw matched up with her expectations (or didn't). Yet, there's a limit to how much insight you can gain from a 10-day guided tour, and in the end I was mostly just glad not to have so much emotional baggage around such a complex and important issue. (Of course I'm sure I have equivalent baggage surrounding other equally complex and important issues...)

Delisle, by contrast, spent a year living in Jerusalem where his wife was working for Doctors Without Borders:

Delisle identifies as Christian (he's a francophone Canadian), but he mentions in the story that he doesn't believe in God. (Glidden also mentions in passing that she doesn't believe in God.)

His occupation for that year was a combination of stay-at-home-dad and comic book author/artist -- in particular keeping his eyes open for interesting stories in his surroundings. I had an easier time relating to him since he came upon subject of Israel without a lot of preconceived ideas, just looking to learn what he could. And it was actually kind of fun simply to encounter a story in which a man has to juggle his childcare obligations with trying to find time to do his own projects.

Delisle met tons of fascinating people during his stay, and saw some remarkable things. He taught comic-drawing workshops to a variety of students -- Palestinian as well as Israeli, and the contrast is pretty amazing. He visited Hebron multiple times, guided by people on all different sides of the conflict. He met Bedouins and Samaritans. He met people who were separated from their lands and livelihood by the wall (as mentioned in Glidden's comic above). He watched the Doctors Without Borders mobilize during an armed conflict in Gaza -- and much more! And all of the characters and stories were fascinating and surprising.

ETA: also often entertaining and funny. I hesitated to write that the first time because so many of the situations are serious -- yet the human condition is funny, often even in tragedy.

I have to admit I liked Delisle's book better -- it gave a more extensive and varied portrait of the lives of different people living in Israel and Palestine. But I heartily recommend both of them, not just to learn a thing or two, but as interesting human stories.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Children's memories of childhood

The other day Nico and Leo were talking about what they remember about living in Bordeaux. They were both born in Bordeaux, and lived there until they were 6 and 4 (respectively). Now they're 11 and 9 -- and soon we'll hit the five-year anniversary of our move to Switzerland.

Leo said he only remembered three things from Bordeaux: (1) The chocolate croissants (this is one of the most fantastic things about living in France -- every Saturday and Sunday morning we would walk a couple of blocks to the local bakery and get a big bag of fresh-baked croissants and a loaf of bread), (2) The dog-poop that we always had to watch out for on our way to the bakery (this was pretty memorable for me, too, see merde, alors !), and (3) That we had a toy house inside our house. In the kids' room we had one of those plastic toy houses that's big enough for little kids to play inside, but gave it to friends when we moved to Switzerland. I don't have a picture of it, but here are some pictures of our old house.

Nico remembered a little more. He said he vaguely remembered his school (though he couldn't remember any of his teachers or friends), and he remembered the local crêperie where we used to go to have crêpes for dinner. (Then he remarked that he can't wait until we go to Paris again so we can have crêpes with whipped cream.)

It's very cute when they ask about what happened when they were little. When Nico was barely old enough to walk and talk, he loved cars. We would walk all around Bordeaux looking at all the different cars, and Nico could identify a number of different makes and models. Now, not so much, but the one constant has been that he loves anything that has a long list of different variations that he can draw elaborate charts of.

Leo asked me a few months ago what he was like as a baby, and I told him (truthfully) that he was a hugging maniac. He was the sweetest, calmest baby in the world as long as I was holding and cuddling him, but he absolutely would not tolerate being put down by himself even for a second. Fortunately, when he was a tiny baby, I had the opportunity to work from home (writing my first Java book), and Leo was resting on me essentially the whole time I was working on it. And he has remained incredibly affectionate to this day. He's the huggingest little 9-year-old boy you can imagine.

I feel like I should go through all of our old family photos and make an album of them. One weird problem of the digital photo age is that all our photos are in some hard-drive somewhere, and the kids almost never see them. They'd probably remember their earlier adventures better if they were reinforced with photos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you...

My mom used to say that anyway -- and that's the attitude I'm taking towards some news I discovered the other day. Apparently there's a new journal of Mormon Apologetics, and they devoted some space in their inaugural issue to calling my blogs "childish rubbish" and "bit raunchy and as lacking intellectual content."

Hard to believe they bother to publish claims like that about little ol' me? Well, you can read all about it on my latest Main Street Plaza post.

And -- for those of you who aren't interested in such frivolity -- I uploaded another episode of the Star Trek series I starred in!!! This is a funny one involving a Tholian plot to steal my pet hamster: