Carrots and Jaffas Reading and Chat with Clare Bowditch

Once upon a time a redheaded warbler sang a song to a crowd of people gathered to hear her and readings from a book about two red-headed twins. The singer was Clare Bowditch, songwriter, mother of twins-plus-one, social activist, philosopher and entrepreneur.
The reader was Howard Goldenberg, author, GP and marathon runner.
In this 3 minute video Howard reads from Chapter 1 of his novel ‘Carrots and Jaffas’, a book about two identical twins whose intimate bond is ruptured when a kidnapping occurs.

Please let me know what you think. Should I publish an audio book?

The Elephant not in the Room

A roomful of people in the dusk of the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival, expectant, keen to hear and discuss “Carrots and Jaffas”. I anticipated we’d be fewer. I should have known Emily Lubitz (from Tin Pan Orange) and Martin Flanagan (journalist) would attract people. But Emily sent a series of text messages.

2300 last night: “Howie, we might need a rain check. My waters just broke. I’ll see the doc before tomorrow’s gig. Am keeping my legs crossed.”

1100 today: “Howie, I’m in hospital but not contracting. I asked the doc can I duck out for a couple of hours. She looked at me as if I was crazy. Still hoping I’ll be the elephant in the room.”

1300 today: “I’m contracting. If it’s a redheaded boy we’ll call him Jaffas or Carrots.”

So, no Emily.

Martin Flanagan, journalist, novelist, anthropophile, led a conversation about the book, about my choice to turn from serious non-fiction to the novel, about stolen children – the ultimate wound, about twinness, about the problems and pitfalls of the whitefella writing about blackfellas.

An audience of committed, highly informed and compassionate people engaged us in a conversation about the interfaces between Australia’s first peoples and later comers. They explored the curious and recurrent engagement of blackfellas in Jewish affairs that started with William Cooper, and the reciprocal engagement by Jews in Aboriginal advancement.

Martin and our audience created an atmosphere of the most distinctive quality. Humans and their stories, people and their dreams, the mystery and the sanctity of the Dreaming, the heritage that is memory, the sacrament that is storytelling – all these were raised up and seen at their height.

We went home fulfilled.

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You are Invited

Once upon a time a redheaded warbler sang a song to a crowd of people gathered to hear her and readings from a book about two redheaded twins. As she sang the crowd chewed on antithetical foods – carrots and Jaffas, small, red spheroids of joy.

The singer was Clare Bowditch, songwriter, mother of twins-plus-one, social activist, actor, philosopher and articulate introspector.

The reader was Howard Goldenberg, author, marathon runner, marathon eater, marathon talker. He read (affectingly) from his new book, a novel about “Jaffas” and his identical twin “Carrots”, two boys who grow with souls enmeshed. One is kidnapped and the two must struggle to find how to lo live as individuals. The author makes them and their parents suffer; he makes the reader suffer; and after adventures in the Aboriginal outback (in ‘country’), Howard allows all (or almost all) to trace an arc of redemption.

The crowd had come to Readings in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, not to eat lollies, nor to chew on root vegies, but to hear and see Clare, to be near her in the intimate space (one of Melbourne’s sacred sites) of Readings bookshop.

Why Clare? Becauser of her twins? Because of old friendship between singer and author going back to her teen years? Because the singer – like the boys in “Carrots and Jaffas” lost a sibling in early childhood? Because of red hair?

The true reason is the Bowditch heart, the same that pulled in the crowd. The heart that can say, “I’ve had enough claps” and “I’ve always drawn from the pool of suffering for my art.”

As Emily Dickenson says: I like a look of suffering/because I know it’s true.

Clare Bowditch sings true songs. In the same way “Carrots and Jaffas” is a true story.

Did I say the event has taken place? That part was not true. It is still to come:

READINGS HAWTHORN, THURSDAY 22 MAY AT 6.30 FOR 7.00 PM. ALL WELCOME

Not a Vegetable, not a Lolly, Something entirely Novel

Carrots and Jaffas

Carrots and Jaffas

I have just given birth to two brainchildren. Named ” Carrots and Jaffas”, the two are alive and well and between the covers of a book of that name available from Hybrid Publishers.

The conception of these identical twin red-headed boys was painful; the gestation was prolonged; the birth leaves their parent happy, proud, excited and sore. And, to tell the truth, a bit nervous.
Will the world love my newborns?
Will they survive?
They said, everyone has a novel in them: what if they meant everyone has a navel. I do.

They said the novel is dead. But kindle and axon and hundreds of bookshops around Australia seem unaware of the news. Readers will find carrots and jaffas – the novel, not a veggie, not a lolly – in bookstores from April or as an e-book from iTunes or Amazon.

See the sample attached: C&J 1-1

Please tell me what you think.

Report from Womadelaide

Early visits to Womadelaide exposed audiences to plentiful Jewish song, to Ladino and Hebrew, to Jewish and Israeli musicians, cantors, singers and folklorists.

Since Israel’s Gaza operations I find the Womadelaide landscape depleted of that Jewish and Israeli richness. That portion of the landscape has narrowed, possibly as a pioneering and undeclared expression of BDS, possibly as a coincidence. Of late Jewish people have encountered a lot of coincidence.

***

The guitarist of Tinpan Orange walks quietly onto the stage, as one might who lacks a foreskin.

I know his state: I circumcised him. (Does Womadelaide realise?)

The prepuceless one sings discreetly, sweetly, alongside the keyboardist and the violinist, as Emily his sister, publicly pregnant and wearing fruit and flowers in her hair, takes centre stage.

I know and love them so I have nothing dispassionate to say about this group, but the Frenchman sitting next to me on the grass murmurs his pleasure in the small quietness that follows every song.

At the conclusion of the concert the Frenchman stands and stretches, and we exchange slow smiles as we do after sleeping on a plane; as we do

upon waking with a person whose name we will never know, one with whom we have shared an hour of pleasure. The Frenchman says: I am at this festival three days now, and I listen to many concerts. This one is the most beautiful. This is the best, with Hanggai.

Hanggai is a gaggle of old Mongols that fiddle and bellow and sing. A couple of men of picturesque antiquity occupy either extremity of front stage wearing rags that upon closer examination are national dress. The two bow their traditional fiddles with a solemnity that belies the leaping tempi of their tunes. Behind them are instrumentalists, half-seen, whose clamorous attack upon percussion never amounts to an assertion of personality or individuality. The bellows at centre stage is a weight lifter, semi-nude in his cut-away jerkin of dyed and carved cowhide. His latissumus dorsi and pectoralis muscles are exclamation marks, his biceps are upper case. He strides to and from the edge of the stage, a lion pacing out his territory, his voice a roar.

He enjoys a good deal of self-approval in his imagined kingdom. We in the audience are charmed and amused.

And then Hanggai sings. A drone flows and rises from somewhere, higher notes join with a pounding bass, rhythmic sounds gain power and tempo, building and building to a pitch that swamps physiology: my chest is an echo chamber that pounds and vibrates to a beating from without. What is that sound? That deep, deep vibration coming from under ground, or rumbling from clouds unseen? On it drones, constant yet syllabic, hinting at a human source.

I glance to the thin old men, seated, as all leap and throb and swing about them. Sedate, studious, swinging chicken wing arms in their bowing, fiddling and singing.

From one of the two that sound emerges, that throat singing which is the group’s aural autograph. The throat releases its unearthing power through a mouth that smiles withal. I rest my pleasuring eyes upon the fiddlers: their eyes, their sparkling eyes, are gay. 

Carminho is introduced as a fado singer. She personifies (as I am informed by the braziliophone seated behind me) a classic grammatical contradiction. That is, “fado” signifies a singer is in the masculine gender while this singer is feminine. Every line, every phrase of her Portuguese lament (never really a song) seems to end in the “u” sound (heard as in “tutu”, but spelled “o”, the suffix of the masculine). After applause that never rises beyond the perfunctory, the singer thanks us: “Obligattu/o”. A woman would properly say “Obligatta”, murmurs the braziliophone. The singer is a woman lamenting, even thanking, in a man’s grammar.

I sit on the grass, one of a teeming multitude, all steaming in the Adelaide heat. The woman starts with a moan that rises quickly to a scream, her willow frame erect even as her voice shakes and shrieks and dissolves into staccato sobs. Portuguese seems to be a relative of Spanish – here, greeting a loved one, Carminho sings buon dia, amor –(good day, beloved) – but the words lack the flowing sweetness of Spanish. Portuguese, at least in fado, must be chewed and swallowed or spat out. Fado, like the Argentine bandoneon, is an instrument without a single happy note. And that is what we have come here for. For the fado, the Portuguese cry of pain, of fate. But I find this singer lacking in depth. She lacks – or neglects – the lower vocal register. However all about on the grass are figures and faces that are rapt, absorbed. Only half engaged myself I muse upon the crowd. Here are olive-skinned faces old enough to remember sons, brothers, husbands, lost in the colonies, in the wars, in Angola and Mozambique. And here are African faces, African voices conversing in Portuguese: these might have been the colonized. Fado carries the griefs of their losses too.

Afterwards my family and I exchange impressions. I am the only one who feels disappointed. Remembering Maritza, haunted by Maritza who sang here four or five years ago, I experienced anti-climax today. For me, Maritza’s is the authentic sound: I like a look of agony because I know it’s true.

My family recalls Maritza too and concedes the difference. That’s why they enjoyed Carminho better. Carminho is not a complete stranger to the light, to human joy.

Finally, Pokey La Farge. Pokey is as good as his name. This man is the antithesis of the fado singer, his music the roughhouse stuff of mid-west America. Harmonicas wail and rattle, fiddles fiddle, other strings are plucked in a frenzy, while bow-tied in his chequered shirt and his braces, Pokey paces the stage exhaling his riotous self-satisfaction in rollicking song.

And we in the audience, we inhale it deeply. The only times a saw a crowd of people so deeply and broadly happy were 1968, 1990 and 2010. And on those occasions the heavens smiled too, for Collingwood had won the premiership.

mariza at womadelaide

Well before start time the crowd starts to gather.
Endless preparations are underway on the open stage. Chairs are placed at intervals to form a shallow arc. Mikes are set up,
each at a measured distance from the chairs. In front of each seat an instrument rests. All is unhurried, meticulous. Setting up takes a long time.
When everything has been perfected, the lights go down and Lucky Oceans appears on the stage. As usual, his familiar full-bodied voice is soaked with affection and respect for the music he describes. He introduces us to “Fado”, the Portuguese style of sung lament: “Like the blues, like tango, Fado sings of sorrow. But unlike those others, Fado’s grief is absolute, irretrievable. The Fado singer laments a loss that cannot be redeemed.”
With a few laudatory remarks about Mariza, Oceans recedes, the instrumentalists take their seats and Mariza appears. Immediately arresting, she is slim and very tall, in her long black dress, a manifestation. In stationary moments she is a silhouette, a sculpture shaped like a tall letter “A”. Olive Oyl in a ball gown.

Mariza takes the mike, takes in the endless vista of expectant faces, and booms: “Good evening!”
The audience returns the greeting.
Mariza shakes her head, dissatisfied, and bawls again: “Good Evening”.
We try harder this time, creating a decent roar in reply.
But the diva shakes her head in theatrical disappointment, decides to give us one more chance, and cries out her challenge once again.
This time our reply is thunder and she deigns to accept the greeting
of her clients.

She looks down, looks heavenward, and gives voice, plunging into a full-throated lamentation that is at once black and bloody, a cry that sweeps across octaves, rising, roaring its implacable grief. Now the sound slows as a phrase is articulated, the voice a churchbell, tolling out sorrow, syllable by syllable. The bellowing voice descends to a sob, a note is held, then falls, and abruptly the song stops.
Mariza faces us, her left arm flung upward and backward, arrested in its flight of pain.
We applaud.
And instantly feel a little foolish… and delighted, and relieved of a growing tension, for Mariza has resumed her broken note and her song shakes and throbs again into swooping flight.

Minutes pass and we hundreds seated in the dark on the grass are transfixed as Mariza roams the breadth and sounds the depths of human griefs. She wails, roars, moans, gulps; then subsides, seemingly faint with the wrenching pangs of her song. In every phase and with every phrase, Mariza’s long left arm dances in waving spasms above her sinuous body. Mariza is a choreography of fado.

While she sings, no eye can be drawn from Mariza. We have spent but three minutes in her company and we are utterly captive, witnesses to a witness of compelling human woe.

It is only later that we register the contribution of her instrumentalists, the beauty and the felicity of their work. We note their playing at the command of the imperious Mariza who leads our gaze first to the violinist by dancing towards him as she sings. Presently the stage lights focus upon the two alone as fiddle and voice create an unforgettable duet. Dancing, Mariza advances, the violinist rises, and – still bowing his instrument – dances with the singer. The tempo and the pitch of their music rise faster and higher. Now Mariza sits, swaying in her seat before the violinist, who sits and sways and plays, until Maritza falls silent. Now the cadenza gathers speed, the sound becomes an hysterical wail, then an inhuman sobbing, finally a scream.
And once again, Mariza resumes her fado, and we note the cello, the percussion and the three guitars (one a round bellied Portuguese, one acoustic, the third a base), as the ensemble brings the song to its finale.

“That”, announces Mariza, “Is fado. And fado is Portuguese for fate.”

And that, we realize is high art. And the uttermost wrench of human feeling.