Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Funhouse Memories

I don’t know why I do it. The prices are at least 10% above normal. Mini-market co-owner Sasson is a singer at heart and to avoid boredom, he always has a “project”.  This week it is handmade spelt bread, which (with his help) I have convinced myself is better for my health. Brothers Sasson and Eli run the local “makolet” (mini-market) Shakuri; they have done so for years. Today something new arrived. Gourmet potato chips. “What on earth makes chips gourmet?”, I ask myself.  “Is it a guy with a white cap and gown, meticulously inspecting each chip as it travels to the end of the line.  I wonder to myself if there are gourmet people”?

Lately, I have gotten sick of newspapers.  The yucky ink comes off on everything, splotching like the migraines that plague me.  Sasson and I agree that papers are a waste. Surfing is cleaner. In either format, the news bites.  Danger lurks in every sooty page.  Better to swim in the aisle of the cottage cheese and ten kinds of yoghurt.  By the way, have you ever noticed the disappearance of “gil”.  It was my first memory of Israel, 1968.   Later in 1980 (Alyia time), I found a cute hotel to stay: Eretz Yisroel, a small place strangely plopped down next to a Sheraton Hotel high rise.  The elderly owner held out for decades until unfortunately he passed away.  He was a sweet man.  His daily Talmudic study kept him busy.  One day he saw a copy of Buber’s “I and Thou” under my arm and said “I’ll show you much more wisdom in this, and points to his “Talmud Bavli”.  In those days, the only wisdom I was interested in was finding a wife. Five years later I did (Ruth, darling).

So what does the “makolet” offer us? A passage backwards in time, when time was not so “expensive” as today’s, when a conversation with the local grocer could be the highlight of the day, when the hustle bustle of modern life was slightly neutered. As I speak, outside my window, the sun rises. The branches do their slow fox trot. To quote Walt Whitman, “I loaf and invite my soul.” 

A morning epiphany:  “makolets” are like funhouses!  New stuff, new pleasures. (One of my first childhood memories!  My cousin Mortt ran the arcades at Old Orchard Beach Maine; my brother Mark and I had “free reign” of the magnificent funhouse.  We knew every nook and cranny, every air spurt, every rickety step, all designed to shock, surprise and provide infinite pleasure).

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In retirement, the “makolet” becomes a daily adventure.  The other day I bought some cherry tomatoes.  When I got home, I saw that there were fuzz balls growing inside them.  In any other situation, I would furiously return to the merchant and demand compensation for digestion of botulism.   But with the local “makolet”?  Sasson gently looks at the fuzz balls, shrugs his shoulders and quietly gives me a refund.  Of course the local market is not a perfect place; like every funhouse it has its ups and downs.

What fruits are in season now?  I ask him.”Pris hadar“, he responds (citrus fruit). I think to myself, now if it were “Prix Hadar” (Hadar Prize) I would apply; oh yes, I just sort of did!  The thought of receiving a Bellagio Artist Residency looms like an oasis under the scorching sun.   In the application they ask, “What will the retreat contribute to your creativity?”..I dutifully answered, “The peace and calm of Lake Como will help inspire a new kind of meditative music” (I really want the grant!).

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In contrast to Bellagio, the “makolet” reminds me of Duke Ellington’s brilliant extended piece “Tone Parallel to Harlem”, where every nook and cranny, every NY tenement apartment we “visit” in the piece comes alive!  And so is “makolet”–if you have the time, the patience and desire to linger in what might be “Funhouse Heaven”. Rollercoaster heaven. Lake Como in a violent storm.  NY at its crazy finest. Israel dancing in its raw, sublime meat-eating life rhythms.

Makolet co-owner Eli Shakuri with a morning smile

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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