A Conversation With My Aunt

One of the greatest blessings a woman can have is a female dynasty linked by love. In honor of International Women's Day, Haaretz asked Ronit Matalon and Ibtisam Mara'ana to tell us about a female relative who inspired them.

My aunt Chantal is nearly 80 and is completely lucid. Everything about her is lucid, inside and out, especially her voice, which in the higher octaves could be confused with an ambulance siren. Aunt Chantal is what is called an "exemplary person," who overcame life's adversities while maintaining a fearless feminist optimism. She is a meticulous dresser, even more so in recent years, because she has no intention of becoming what she calls an "environmental blight. There are enough of those."

We met for a long conversation (frequently interrupted by catnaps, out of which she startled like one possessed ) to discuss the situation in Israel. This was by no means easy, since my aunt is very preoccupied of late with some personal hardship that is "completely absurd" but gives her no rest. It is a speech defect she has had since childhood, but only in the past year found the time to "look it in the face" and try to get rid of it. She began seeing a highly acclaimed speech therapist.

Nir Kafri

Aunt Chantal: But even acclaim is not what it used to be. Once the acclaims were much worse, and when you heard an acclaim, especially if you were a person of the female persuasion, you hid at home for three days to recover from the acclaim. Today acclaim is made from much more volatile ingredients and doesn't stick to the skin, like old perfume that smells like rotten eggs.

Does that mean that you're pro-nostalgia or anti, Aunt Chantal? I don't understand.

"I'm both pro- and anti-nostalgia. Both. What, did you also become one of those either-or people? I have no problem with nostalgia. As you can hear, I say the word properly, without switching letters. It's not nostalgia that's my problem, but all kinds of characters in the surrounding area who understand everything and everyone so well they don't understand anything, and because they don't want to understand anything and actually hate everything, they pretend to understand. Liars, you know what I mean?"

Not really. You lost me a little. What do you mean?

"Forget it. Why don't you ask me, for example, as a woman worthy of her name, about words from the belly? Feelings from the belly? Gut feelings? Have I got a gut feeling for you, as a person of the female persuasion."

Yes?

"My speech therapist is a very good therapist, if you care. Dr. Paz is her name. In our first sessions we worked on my sandwich and she also gave me exercises, homework. Now, Thank God, we're past the sandwich and our forces are advancing slowly but firmly.

What do you mean, "sandwich?"

"You see? Now I have to work to say it with the mistake, the way I used to: Shandwich! That's it. The shandwich is gone. Dead. The shandwich haunted me for years. No more. That Dr. Paz finally removed the shandwich."

A kind word from you about someone, and a woman! An event of cosmic proportions, do you follow me?

"Yes, yes, boy am I following you. You certainly have right on your side, if not courage or wisdom. Absolutely. I'm definitely of my generation in that, no question. Definitely one of those women who drew most of their energy for the war for justice from jealousy, bitterness and a lack of admiration for women. This mechanism, incidentally, is not unique to women like me, it's shared by all warriors for justice, women or men."

You're very abstract. I could barely follow you.

"With my present dimensions and shape I have no choice but to be abstract [the Hebrew word can also mean "undressed]. That's my Maginot Line, my last line of defense, being abstract. What did you want to ask?"

Lots of things. No end of things. Maybe I'll start with a question from our readers. What do you think is the best way to use quotation marks crocheted from wool for the transition season?

"Quotation marks? Did you mean quotation marks? Those two tiny parallel lines you put around words or sentences?"

Precisely. Quotation marks. That was the question. You should know that many of our readers "Liked" that question on Facebook.

"They 'Liked.' What hard work! All right, it's hard to come up with a snappy answer to that question. Crocheted quotation marks for the transition season. I'll have to give it a little thought, if that's possible. Just a moment. Do you think there's any point in suggesting putting crocheted quotation marks before and after the words "women's equality," but tastefully? In my opinion, crocheted quotation marks of that type have never been placed with genuine good taste."

That's all. One reader did mention that recently, in an article by one of our excellent boys, who is against the occupation and secular anti-Semitism against the ultra-Orthodox, there were quotation marks before and after "equality for women," but they were stainless steel. Or asbestos. Maybe asbestos. She wasn't sure.

"Asbestos or stainless steel! Amazing. 'Women's equality' couldn't even dream of expecting more perfect protection than asbestos or stainless steel before and after it!"

Precisely. So what about the crocheted quotation marks. Where do you think it's best to place them. Think about it. Crocheted. Those quotation marks are only crocheted, with one needle. In the final analysis it's so fragile, this crocheted thing, these delicate crocheted quotation marks in steel blue and cobalt blue and violet blue and smoky blue ...

"Enough, you've given me a headache. You have no mercy. Was it for this woolly nonsense you're saying we fought for woman writers? Let me think. Here's what I think: First we have to examine the legal issue, so they can't say the crocheted quotation marks around 'women's equality' plagiarize the stainless steel or asbestos quotation marks, do you follow?"

Always.

"Because the quotation marks around 'women's equality' are not plagiarism, they're not! Do you understand me? We need definition and distinction, clear and legal definitions and distinctions before we examine where and how to place crocheted quotation marks."

Your Hebrew has improved so much, Aunt Chantal. I'm amazed.

"Don't confuse me know with your condescending remarks. I'm thinking now. Here's what I think, listen up: Since women's equality, with or without crocheted or stainless steel quotation marks, is actually a subspecies of equality of persons of the male species, or of the Arab species (according to our excellent guys ), or of the Mizrahi species (also according to our guys ), or of the foreign worker species, or even of the female Arab species (also according to them ), our crocheted quotation marks are themselves a type of subspecies and not the species itself. So it's impossible to claim plagiarism here! Do you understand me? Not another species and not a species at all, but a subspecies! A subspecies and nothing more! That's my argument."

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. How did you manage this entire clever mental journey alone, without the help of friends and relatives?

Silence. Aunt Chantal, somewhat pale from pride and mental exertion, smokes a hookah and stares at the attractive Diet Coke bubbles that bubble inside.

But we still haven't solved the location problem. Where will the crocheted quotation marks live, I mean where should we put them, Aunt Chantal?

"What do you mean where should we put them? I'm telling you the matter has been solved in terms of halakha (Jewish law ). You can put them anywhere, meat or dairy, anywhere: "prime minister" with crocheted quotation marks, "foreign minister" with crocheted quotation marks, "Jewish and democratic state" with crocheted quotation marks and "the process of faziscization of Israeli society" with crocheted quotation marks, everything."

The what of Israeli society?

"That's what I'm working on now with Dr. Paz. Don't throw shata pepper on my wounds. What did you say? The increasing faziscization of Israeli society."

Fa sci si zation. Fa sci si zation. Say it.

"Don't trip me up now with that ... nu, facsisization. facsisization. I keep getting stuck in that 'fazi' in the beginning, and I do so love fazi [mangold] patties, you know that, like beet greens, and know even if they hang me I won't touch them, I've started to hate them so."

Don't give up. Fa sci si zation. Say it slowly: fascisization.

"Faziscization" (whispering ).

Louder!

"Faziscization, faziscization."

I can't hear you!

"Faziscization!"

I still can't hear! Did you have breakfast this morning, friends?

"Faziscization, faziscization, faziscization, faziscization! How I hate that word!"

Because it's "fashi," that's what you don't get, as "fashi" it's a lot less ugly.

"It's not a lot less ugly, it's not much less ugly than 'fazi.'

A lot less! Because it doesn't exist, because it's made-up, because it's "fasci," which you can't say.

"Did you come to fight or did you come to quarrel? Is that how you glom onto a disabled person? Fasci, fazi, like anyone cares."

There, you said it. You said fasci. Fascisization. You said it.

"I did?"

You sure did. Say it again, so it sinks in.

"Faziscization."