Flight To Enchantment


London, Spring 2013

I was walking along Riding House Street in the West End towards All Souls Church Langham Place very close to the BBC and the revamped Broadcasting House. It was a little before 2.30 on this sunny afternoon and I had my old 35mm film camera with me. 

People often ask what prompts the moment to take a picture? How long do you have? But in this case, the brief answer: as I was meandering along this thoroughfare that links the bustling grandeur of Regent Street with some fascinating back roads leading to Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road where an exciting assortment of restaurants, cafés and shops await discovery, I found myself enmeshed between three sets of high verticals and yet all these buildings were very different to each other: an archetype 1960s office block on my left with glass predominant, on the right-hand-side there are hints of the baroque with this grand edifice of an early 20th-century pedigree and then straight ahead there is the tell-tale steeple of All Souls Church designed by Nash in the early 19th century and a survivor from the Blitz of the Second World War. Instinctively I felt that this might make an interesting picture - such is the eternal optimism of us photographers. So I stopped walking and carefully aimed my camera trying to capture this trio of verticals. I pressed the shutter and it clicked comfortingly. More about the finished image in a moment.

This area of London has a special resonance for me as just around the corner from All Souls is that evergreen media institution: the BBC and back in the early summer of 1985 I had the privilege of attending a production/presentation course there. It was an excellent training ground in radio and it helped to enhance my understanding of the spoken word on the airwaves. I learnt, for example, that the best pictures exist on radio and how one was to speak when broadcasting. It was an exciting eye-opener and I relished every moment of it.

Shortly after this course, there was a very happy event in our family when my wife gave birth to our first son that same summer. So, I suppose you could say that I came of age as a fledgling father and a novice broadcaster at around the same time 31 years ago. Later, I went on to use these newly-acquired media skills as a freelancer for the BBC World Service while working overseas in the Middle East. Sadly, no basic training in fatherhood was available at the time but I learnt about this new role as I went along, supported by a marvellous life partner, and hope my efforts as a parent have been half-decent, as they say in Dublin.

And returning to the image in question, the bird flying majestically through the top of the attached picture is a complete fluke I promise you - no photoshop, honest guv. Every so often as a photographer, you get these lucky breaks. For me, this image has come to convey a sense of timelessness within what is normally a busy metropolitan setting and yet it is also something extra - a memory or glimpse of happiness with a hint of movement, of life. A flight to a better place, to enchantment perhaps?

The image, Flight To Enchantment, can be seen at: http://www.artslant.com/global/artists/show/162261-nicholas-mackey

Image ©Nicholas Mackey 2013 


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Final destination Switzerland, or helping our loved ones to die

Euthanasia has always been around, yet, not surprisingly, it is not a popular topic of discussion, quite the contrary. Every so often something happens which reminds us of its presence, and significance, in our life. Lately it was personal accounts of several terminally ill Israelis who chose to end their lives in a Swiss clinic.

It seems that nowadays beautiful Switzerland is more than a tourist attraction for healthy (and quite comfortable) Israeli tourists: It has become a final destination for unhealthy (and quite comfortable) Israelis in search of a dignified death. In both cases the visit to Switzerland is a choice reserved only for those with money.

This morning on the radio (Reshet Bet, Ha'Miznon, the canteen ) Haim Zisovitch discussed mercy killing. In Israel mercy killing, and doctor-assisted suicide are illegal. Thus, for those terminally ill patients who could not afford the trip to Switzerland, the options in Israel are limited.

Luckily for dying patients, even here there are merciful ways to interpret the law. I personally know of several examples including that of my own mother.

Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel



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What you should never say to a widow

Shortly after my husband passed away I was sitting at the office grading papers and weeping. Suddenly I saw my boss standing next to my chair and she asked: “Why are you crying, the worst is over isn't it?”

There are certain things that you should never say to a widow, like making assumptions about how she feels, comparing her plight with that of other bereaved people, or commenting about her future prospects. But that’s beside  the point, I would like to focus on her supposition. Most times we can do very little about the end of life, and being around a loved one, who suffers, without being able to help is unbearable. It is only natural to wish for control over the situation and to imagine how it ends. Moreover, the feeling of relief, once it is actually over, is equally natural. But does it mean that the next stage will be better or easier? I am not sure.

Perhaps this wish for difficult things to end could be compared to something unrelated to death and quite controllable. Many times people who hold high-pressure jobs imagine that they quit. We could see dramatic resignations in the movies since it is quite a popular wish. But in real life those who actually act upon this impulse often report that once the initial relief is over next comes void.

The novelist M.T. (Jean) Dohaney, who lost her husband when she was in her early fifties, captures this feeling of loss in her memoir When Things Get Back To Normal: "I have been daughter, sister, wife, mother. These labels covered only part of me, yet increased all of me. 'Widow' covers all of me and decreases all of me, I learned yesterday that the word widow is derived from the Latin 'viduus' meaning empty.”

Indeed, according to the  etymological dictionary, this is the meaning of the word in several ancient languages. The word “vidhuh” in Sanskrit, for example, means lonely, solitary, and in Latin viduus means bereft and void (from the root to separate).

This feeling of forced separation could explain why so many women who lost their husbands are reluctant to let go of their marital status as wives, and to replace it with widows, on the identity card.

The sociologist Deborah Kestin Van Den Hoonaard argues that although women who lost their spouses try to hang on to their identities as wives, they no longer have the social resources to do so. She calls that condition: “Identity foreclosure.”  It is as though, as a result of a foreclosure, they find themselves with all their belongings out on the street. They don't know who they are to themselves, who they are to their close friends, and how to fit into society.

I remember well the feeling of  shock and  confusion that Van Den Hoonaard describes. However, after careful consideration I am inclined to agree with the conclusion that upon losing my husband the worst was over. Everything that came later was somewhat easier because, at that point, it was up to me.

The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel


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Books For Adolescents: Naftali Bennett As Tom Sawyer

In a course on Literature for Adolescents that I took as a  graduate student we learnt about the sharp decline in reading for fun once children hit puberty. The required list of novels for the course provided another reason why teenagers were not that interested in reading. Most of the novels that we read had predictable formulas, and demonstrated lack of respect for the intellect of the readers.

According to a recent article in The New YorkeDo Kids Read Seriously Anymore? by David Denby: "Work by the Pew Research Center and other outfits have confirmed the testimony of teachers and parents and the evidence of one’s eyes. Few late teen-agers are reading many books. A recent summary of studies cited by Common Sense Media indicates that American teen-agers are less likely to read “for fun” at seventeen than at thirteen."

But the novel A Trumpet In The Wadi, by the renowned Israeli novelist Sami Michael, which was taken out of the required reading list in Israeli high schools, is nothing like the young adult books that I had to read for my course. It is a thought provoking story that youngsters could really enjoy. But perhaps reading serious novels has become, as  David Denby claims, “a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother.”

Obviously our Education Minister is aware of the crucial problem of teenagers who do not read, and proves that he understands the mentality of the young adult. Thus, rather than pleading with kids to read good literature he chooses reverse psychology and removes A Trumpet In The Wadi from the required reading list. Did he secretly do it in order to lure kids back into reading?

If he did, he learnt from the best: in many ways Naftali Bennett reminds me of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s hero. Like the Minister, Tom is certain that he is much cleverer than the rest, and uses his ingenuity to get what he wants at the expense of others, as the famous story of whitewashing the fence illustrates.

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No – no – I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence – right here on the street, you know – but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

“No – is that so? Oh come, now – lemme, just try. Only just a little – I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”

“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly – well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it – ”

“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say – I’ll give you the core of my apple.”

“Well, here – No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard – ”

“I’ll give you all of it!”

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with – and so on, and so on, hour after hour...

…He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while – plenty of company – and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village."

Mark Twain summarizes the lesson of the whitewashing anecdote with these words: "Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain"

The classic novel Tom Sawyer, was banned in schools around the US,  because Tom was seen as a questionable protagonist in terms of his moral character. We know that since the book was "difficult to attain" it became even more popular and in demand. Naftali Bennett  just added another book to the best selling banned books.

The essay appeared in the Times of Israel



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Latest Comments

Rosy Cole What you should never say to a widow
30 August 2016
Thanks kindly, Orna, and I wish I had more to share here. But I'm not really an essayist and seldom ...
Katherine Gregor If Martin Luther had taken some Vitamin C...
30 August 2016
Thank you, Nicholas but – honestly! – I had no intention of being irreverent. I just got carried aw...
Orna Raz Books For Adolescents: Naftali Bennett As Tom Sawyer
29 August 2016
Thank you dear Rosy, I totally agree.
Orna Raz Books For Adolescents: Naftali Bennett As Tom Sawyer
29 August 2016
And still,, when they turn 18 and go to university they somehow turn out to be brilliant young peop...
Orna Raz What you should never say to a widow
29 August 2016
Dear Rosy, thank you so much for the insightful comment. I would love to read you essays about the d...

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