Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Dimitri drove the combine with all the discipline his twenty-one-year-old self could master, none. From behind the wheel six feet above the arugula field in Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech, the Kats residence in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., North America might have been on Mare Nostrum, the Moon. His brother the surgical resident was a mythical undead. His Law Review brother could have been on the moon Deimos, not at Duke. His younger sister, who only dated rich men at least ten years older than herself, could have been an exhibit at the wax museum in Hollywood.
And och, Bozhe moi, those parents! What was Khrushchev thinking when he gave these people their exit visas, anyway? The Katses were nobodies, not like the usual refuseniks with Ph. D.’s who got stuck cleaning toilets, or worse, while waiting for their exit visas. Obviously, intelligence skipped generations. Dimitri had grabbed the first lifeline: a program offered by Habimah, the national theater company of Israel. Life on the kibbutz. A steady diet of rehearsals. Driving heavy equipment during harvest seasons. Casta divas for the taking. Even a Jordanian on a good night. No Palestinians, though. The intifadeh was on. A death wish? No, thanks. Later that summer, the company was off to Moscow. Dimitri hadn’t signed up to go find any long-lost relatives at the Bolshoi; his role was far more humble. He’d just run the rehearsals and accompany the theater school while the company performed in the country of its birth.
“Hoi, Raf, hitarrarta ktzat? Have you woken up a little yet?” Dimitri shouted out the tractor . He made a habit of teasing the poor loser who draws Halivat-Haboker, morning milking, for his or her chore. Dimiti had it inserted into his contract that under no circumstance did he need to participate in any Kibbutz activities that commenced before 6 a.m. Halivat-Boker began at 4:30. It was 10:30, midmorning. Rafi had eaten breakfast and taken a nap already. A yeled hakibbutz, a son of the farm collective, Rafi had made y’ridah and aliyah five times in four years, this time because of a Russian flutist whose name sounded a little too much like “sex.”
“Yes, who did you have last night?” Rafi was a young 24, but at least he had a degree. A couple of them. At 21, Dimya had no degree, no focus, but most important for Dimitri, no parents carping on him for the first two “no’s.”
“Nothing much, habibi, it was men’ sectional last night.”
“What, no cute tenors?” You weren’t an Israeli man if you didn’t bust on your chevre for being “homo.”
“Fuck, I just played music and went to bed. Rafi, wanna come tonight? It’s the women’s sectional, and beside, we’re auditioning a new flutist.”
“Cus-a-mak!” Rafi leapt up on the grille and started flagellating Dimitri with his shirt, fresh from the laundry. Rafi was chunkier than Dimitri, although Rafi was the distance athlete and Dimitri was the smoker. Dimitri’s thin, pale frame disappeared under Rafi’s broad torso, richly tanned from miles of distance running.
“Homo,” Dimitri took his turn. “Get your ape-ass off me and smoke this joint.”
Rehearsal started at 8pm, right after aruchat-arev in the common dining hall. Dimitri was covering as the rehearsal pianist for Joel Engel’s 1917 score to The Dybbuk, the centerpiece behind the upcoming exchange program with Moscow. At a kibbutz rehearsal, the feel was more like an annual “Messiah-sing” at Christmas than an earnest preparation for an international cultural event of historic significance. The ranks of the chorus swelled from fifteen singing actors and twenty-five extras to almost a hundred voices. Hed-Arzi sold almost a thousand dollars of complete scores. Nobody performed from complete scores. These tomes would receive the autographs of Mira Rafalowicz, who published the 1977 edition, and Joseph Chaikin, who was producing the Moscow event. The task of repetiteur, the banging of notes on the piano for the sake of the musically illiterate, fell to Dimitri.
“You can conduct this blind,” said Dimitri, handing Rafi a score. “Go.”
“Rachem alai, ani iver,” Rafi spoofed a line from Ivrit Chayah, one of the popular Ulpan (Hebrew intensive) programs. “Have pity on a blind man.” Drafted. Was this Habimah, or was this amateur hour? After a bit of dithering, the pros took over once the amateurs sounded like they had heard of the piece before tonight. The leading lady, Leah’le – or at least her understudy – didn’t show up until 9:30.
No matter, thought Dimitri, jutting his jaw out just a bit more than usual.
The woman, a 28-year-old Yemeni bombshell whose frumpy headdress and casual clothing could not conceal the sparks jumping off her evergreen tan, started a long pas-de-deux with the rehearsal pianist, while the conductor gesticulated at, rather than shaping the curves of the score. Three hours later, Rafi left Yasmeena sharing a smoke with her pianist and went for a run. A long. Long. Run.