Friday, October 8, 2010

Excerpt from Susan Neiman's Slow Fire

Posted by Alan Childress

Much of my (re)publishing project is in legal history, law and society, and legal ethics, yet one that is BookCoverSlowFireK easy to get lost in older works but has no law to it at all may be the most entertaining and poignant. Jeff recommended it to me. It is by philosopher Susan Neiman (below), now the director of the Einstein Forum and previously a professor at Yale and Tel Aviv U. Her debut memoirs, Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin, lets us live in 80s divided Berlin before the Wall came down. It is in new paperback, Kindle, or (as of today!) Nook, and was previously a well-reviewed Shocken book.  An excerpt:

My glass was empty when Dieter returned. “Do you want another wine?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Let’s go somewhere else. I’m almost out of cigarettes. I need to find a machine that sells Salems.”
“Salems?”
“Sorry, I mean Reynos. Salem is the American name for Reynos. I don’t know why it’s different here. All of the other imported cigarettes keep their old names. It’s the same cigarette, though, and the same packaging. In America I always smoked Salems. Here I smoke Reynos.”
“How’s it spelled?”
“S-a-l-e-m.”
“And it’s exactly the same packaging?”
“Same colors, same number of letters, same design, everything.”
“Then it’s obvious. Salem would never sell here. The name is too Jewish.” Susan Neiman final_flat
“Too Jewish?”
“Sure. Where do you think the name comes from?”
“I don’t know. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I guess. There’s a Salem, Massachusetts, but they don’t grow tobacco there.”
“But it must come from Jerusalem, originally.”
“Jerusalem?” I repeated. “I never thought about it.”
“For German ears, it’s a Jewish name.”
I was dumbstruck.
“They pay a lot of attention to things like that,” said Dieter. “I used to do graphics for a big advertising agency in Hamburg. Once they wanted to import an American laundry detergent. They had to call off the whole deal when they learned it was called Puff.”
We laughed. Puff is German slang for “whorehouse.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s hard to know how you’d market it. ‘Whorehouse gets your clothes cleaner than any other brand.’ ”
“Let’s go,” said Dieter. “We’ll find you some Salems.” He pronounced it “Sah-lem.” It was half past two. “Look,” he nodded, “coming in the door. That’s Marina. A real Kreuzberg character. She never goes anywhere without her rat, and she always dyes her rat to match her hair.” I look closer. Sure enough. The long rat snuggled on her leather-covered shoulder was a brilliant, electric blue.

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