Kobi Oz in Toronto, Part III
Getting Ready for the Show
On the morning of the performance I woke up in a panic as a result of which I forced myself to watch a crummy TV show about a fisherman, flabby people throwing fishing lines who bothered themselves and me with their fishing rods and baits, and salmon psychology and boat models. It didn’t relax me. I took to the cold street to walk a few miles and to go through all the complicated continuity pieces aloud. I thought people would thing I was crazy, walking along mumbling and then I looked to my right and I saw a black man walking while giving a speech about Messianic times. And next to me there was a white anarchist who stamped his feet and cursed the “cruel” Canadian regime. I undoubtedly have something of the amateur megalomaniac. I was always scared of getting to the Shiloah tunnel in the center of Jerusalem and the plug pops out. There’s even a song about that in the show:
Maybe my soul will find rest Here in the tunnels of Jerusalem. Maybe I’ll emerge and find a kingdom. How much of this is megalomania? How much of this is anthropology? How much of this is guilt? How much of this is because my life is dirty?
There are so many loud off-the-wall people in Toronto that, maybe, if I actually walked around in silence they’d think I was mad. I wanted to make sure I had the words down pat. Every street here goes on for miles. I walked and I walked. Everyone here is nice. Everyone has time to chat with me. I like the Canadians. They are like Americans-lite, no pressure, low-greed and lightweight, and look happy. I got peckish so I mumbled myself to a self-aware vegetarian restaurant on Elm Street called Commensal. You eat there by weight, fill your plate with the choicest pulses, green vegetables, lasagna and sweet potatoes, weigh your plate, add a drink with flower essence and grapefruit bits, eat with gusto and save the Earth – after all, this is a restaurant that contributes to lots of green organizations with the right ideas. I returned to my room imbued with the power of the vegetable world. I’m ready for the show!!!!
The Mod Club Theatre is a rock club with tall tattooed blondes, a sound monitor, a rough and ready rock ‘n roll stage, a second floor and a self-respecting bar. We, naturally, tried to create some Jewish warmth, something simple that would get people’s attention, something devoid of coldness. The Koffler Centre volunteers arranged the black place into a combination of a synagogue and a community singing club. At the sides there were screens for the English translations of the songs, facing us were rows of chairs and along the sides there were happy tables for families and friends who came in groups. During the sound check we explained to the punk goddess who was in charge of the stage sound that we like a really quiet ambience, and that we like to hear the vocal chords and the guitar strings, the accordion’s bellows and the violin bow, that we wanted the instruments to make their natural sounds – in short, we wanted a listening-friendly stage.
Later we explained to the Anglo-Saxon in charge of the sound that we wanted the audience to let the music into their heart, and didn’t want the music to pound the audience into submission. We wanted the audience to be attentive to us and we didn’t want to attack it with electric energy. We wanted to approach the audience nicely. After the sound check we hid in the dressing room and peeked out once in a while. Please let there be an audience.
Thank God they came. It was full to overflowing. They set up seats on the second floor and there were plenty of people standing on the first floor. I was excited. They really came. Jews and former Israelis from Toronto who knew it wasn’t Tea Packs, and they were still willing to come to hear something new.
It’s hard to describe the show, at length, without losing some of the humbleness I’m trying to adopt. I’ll talk about my fears, which turned out to be unfounded, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Although I’d been afraid of sounding cumbersome my English went over well. The stories went across really well and the jokes were even funny. When someone shouted out that I should speak in Hebrew I explained to him, in Hebrew, that even if there was only a small bunch of people there who didn’t know Hebrew we had to be hospitable and make sure they understood what was going on. The audience applauded that enthusiastically.
I saw people with tears in their eyes when I sang “Elohai” with my granddad Nissim’s voice, and even I cried when I sang “Shva’at Einayim”. I saw big grins when I did “Zalman, It’s Not You”. You could say the audience was moved and connected with the show just like an audience in Israel.
Except for a few calls for me to sing “Yoshvim Bevet Café” for an encore there weren’t any special requests. And there was long and moving applause.
The band worked harmoniously and so well together. We really had fun. I did an especially varied show. I added two liturgical poems by Asher Mizrahi, a song by Rabbi Carlebach and a song called “Betokh Neyarr Itton (Inside Newspaper Paper)”, I have no doubt that the next English shows – one in England at the end of the year , and one in America in January – will be very successful, please God.
Now, the show’s over and went well, I can get out and wander around a bit. Young Street is the longest street in the world. It goes on for 1,896 kilometers (really! I checked that again and again, it’s in the Guinness Book of Records). It’s mischievous. I decided to take Johnny the pianist and check out the street with him while I look for a decent non-brand shoe and a nondescript backpack, but with a good back. Meanwhile, Johnny would look for good shots to take with his new camera (he’s a great photographer, as he is a fantastic pianist).
We jumped around, restlessly, from bag stores to shoe stores, and it was only when we got to Elliot’s used book store, and imbibed the scent of old books beautifully arranged on three pleasant floors, that we took a breather. Books definitely open up the soul when they’re shut.
Then we found ourselves in the piano temple, a store of old piano restorers called Paul Hahn & Co. In the display hall there were old pianos that looked like new, the likes of which you don’t see anywhere else. We stroked the pianos and found ourselves in a back room where all the piano priests were busy with their silent sacred work – filing, tensing, screwing and painting – and all smiling in an expression of enlightenment. To my mind, their work is wonderful. I think they are a reincarnation of the Temple builders.
We returned the street feeling revitalized and tremulous. Yellow leaves swirled around Young Street for exactly ten seconds, before a municipal employee gathered up and placed them in a cardboard bag. Toronto’s really clean. Cleanliness is quality of life, and it’s clean there, really really clean.
Two French delicatessens stock full of cheeses, wines and vegetables, and a shiny fish store pricked our midday appetite.
We went into a Korean grill bar and discovered we’d done the deal of our lives. For NIS 50 a person you get an unlimited supply of Asian salads, meat, chicken and fish and you cook them on a table, which is really a burning stove. You just put them on the fire and eat them with tongs. It was very tasty. As an amateur Jew I made sure not to mix meat with fish. I made room on the stove for the fish, and a place for the meat, and we cooked in turn. It was tasty.
Noam, on the other hand, just wanted to go home.
Farewell at the Niagara Falls
Canada is blessed with tons and tons of water. The toilet bowls there are the fullest in the world. You sit on a lake. When you press the button to flush the toilet bowl turns into a bustling circus ring, brown horses with white silk scarves march in unison and wave at you, until they disappear to the roar of the water behind the scenes. That’s the way it is when there’s water.
Back at the airport. I discovered that if I hum the Ariel Zilber-Meir Goldberg song “Unemployed Blues” to myself I end up smiling to everyone and everything goes really quickly. The security checkers smiled at me with their non-Israeli smiles, all the stairs made way for me, all the suitcases heeded by call and all the gates opened up for me. Ariel Zilber paved my way all the way to the plane. Try out the song on your next flight – it really works.
Gal Pereman, who used to be the Tea Packs bass player and, today, is a producer, manager and friend, celebrated his fortieth birthday in the skies. We told the reserved Canadian stewardesses and they busted a gut to make him feel good, and even poured some Irish Cream into his coffee. They went over the top. Heads will roll.
As we came in for landing I hummed the first stanza from Haim Nahman Bialik’s poem, as an ode to the airship:
Tremulous daughter of pigeons Bright daughter of pigeons I landed in the sea On the wings of the boat Lead me To the land of choice
After we landed we all met up by at luggage collection point. Johnny the pianist smiled the smile of those who return to the land of our holiness, and said: “From the sky the Ayalon Freeway looks like a river of gold.”