Saturday, February 21, 2004

A few months ago, a friend at work told me that they were making a film version of Cold Mountain, and if I hadn’t read it yet, I should do so before seeing the film. Even if it turned out to be an excellent production, he said, it could hardly be as good as the book. I’m afraid I revealed my ignorance by looking at him blankly. He gleefully looked down his longish nose at me, obviously satisfied that he was far better read than that Imshin person with all her airs and graces (It’s a lie, I tell you!). In his presence, I politely jotted down the names of book and author, meaning to look it up, and promptly forgot about it the moment he was no longer in the room. Don’t you hate it when people take pleasure in making you feel small, so they can look clever?

A week or two ago, he asked me if I’d read Cold Mountain yet, the hint of a sneer on his upper lip (or was I just imagining it?). By now I’d heard of Cold Mountain, those pretty blue eyes were already advertising the film on every street corner.

So I ordered it from Amazon.co.uk. It’s faster delivery. On Thursday, I went to the Post Office across the road to pick up the parcel. Parcels aren’t usually delivered to the door in Israel.

“You must hate us now,” a woman called Miryam said in English to a lovely looking woman, standing behind me in line. The other woman looked slightly familiar, petite, blonde, forty-ish. Where had I seen her before? Was she famous? “No! No! I don’t hate you!” She answered, obviously embarrassed, in a gentle German accent, and proceeded to tell her friend about moving back to Europe with her child and getting settled. Maybe the son was in school with Youngest last year? Miryam, who looked about sixty and should have known better, was not deterred. “Because I feel so ashamed about what we are doing…,” she pressed on. Thankfully, the familiar looking blonde woman refused to be sucked into a discussion about “the situation”, with the thoughtless Miryam, in such a public place. Queuing up in the Post Office is so boring, everyone was hanging on every word of this, the only diversion. I was ashamed too, but not of “us”, of Miryam.

Anyway, the book is wonderful. I am still at the beginning, third chapter, and feeling fortunate that I read so slowly. I can savor every word. Magnificent, it says on the cover. Indeed. Even though it is about the horrors of a terrible war, one that people of the same country waged against each other.

I am reminded of a night, many years ago, at a friend’s apartment. After having one two many, a young man with short fair hair, a strong, square shaped face, and gentle, sad eyes, began telling of his experiences from the battlefield; terrible, nightmarish recollections of face-to-face combat during the Lebanon war. I was young. I had never heard such graphic descriptions before. The young man was dating the friend’s pretty sister, at the time. She chucked him, a month later, for the longhaired, extremely cool, hippy type, she later married and headed off to India with. I would have stuck with Sad Eyes, if I were her. Longhair was fun, a real charmer, and I liked him, but Sad Eyes had soul. I never saw him again, and I wouldn't recognise him in the street, but, every so often, I find myself thinking of the things he said that night.

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