I met Yale Strom
in 2000, in Bucharest. He was doing a documentation for a future book he had in mind: it was about the Yiddish theatrical activity in Romania. I waited for him at the main railroad station: he had traveled all night in a sleeping car, and he intended to stay in Bucharest for half a day and visit the Jewish Theater. He had the return to New York the same day.
Yale was not alone. Together with him was Garry, a recent acquaintance of me: I had met him in New York a couple of months before, at the 2000 Docfest
We entered firstly a restaurant and took a copious breakfast followed by strong coffee.
And Yale started to talk. I think it is hard to meet such an open guy, and so passionate. Well, he is a man of many passions, and of many talents. I'd say there is a common denominator: the Yiddish culture. Yale is firstly a musician, and his primary passion is Klezmer
. But he is also an artistic animator, leading a Klezmer band, the Hot Pstromi
. And Yale is also an ethnographer, looking for Klezmer artifacts wherever he can find them: of course in the South Eastern Europe, as well as in the East, to Poland to Ukraine to Russia.
Klezmer performed by Yiddish artists, but nowadays more by Gypsies. And so through the years he's been getting more and more interested in all aspects of Gypsy Weltanschaung, befriending and visiting them often, playing together Klezmer music. Gradually he became passionate for all aspects of South Eastern European popular culture: from music to poetry, to all expression of performing arts, to myths, to cuisine! Was it only about Yiddish? Oh, no! It was now the Balkan world, and also the Russian world. Yale told me about his movie on Birobidjan
, and the Jewish Autonomous Region
some place in Far Eastern Siberia.
What he is looking for is actually Yiddish artifacts and people playing Klezmer music. And this means for him to understand these people, to understand their music, their traditions, their life, their cuisine, everything, to become one of them, to play Klezmer with them, then to make documentary movies about them, then to write books, to tell us his findings.
We left the restaurant and it seemed for me that I knew Yale for ages. And I didn't know by that time anything about his CDs, movies and books!
We talked to a cab driver who agreed to take us and go wherever need was, up to the Jewish Theater and then to the airport. The driver was an enthusiastic young man who took us also to some places of tourist interest (before going to the theater): firstly the huge Palace of the Parliament, then some old churches. He was a student actually, at the Bucharest University, where he was doing a major in Geology, and he needed to support himself, hence the cab job.
It was the period of presidential elections in Romania and all people were very excited about. No candidate had got enough votes in the first round, and a runoff was to be in a week or so. People in Bucharest were very polarized (and the driver was no exception). It seemed that the only guys not taking care about the runoff were Yale and Garry. Happy fellows! Anyway, the conversation with Yale was now intertwined with the political remarks of the driver, the whole becoming a funny mix of English stories about Klezmer and Romanian political statements.
By all accounts it was a great day, and I kept contact with Yale along the years through eMail. His messages have always a sentence or two in Yiddish, greetings for good health and good fortune. These Yiddish greetings have always been kind of a puzzle for me, solved through some basic German and a lot of effort; but it paid!
I had meanwhile moved to DC area and I wanted to go visit him: he lived in New York. As it always happens, what seemed very feasible proved impossible for lack of time. And when I found a window of two days to come to New York, I found out that Yale had just relocated to LA. I found in bookstores lots of his CDs and I bought them, also a great book on Yale's South Eastern European wanderings, maybe I find time some day to write about it here.
Well, I am now again in Bucharest, and Yale intends to come next year for a series of concerts. That would be great to meet him again, and to greet him like Vos machtsu, Yale?
(A Life in Books)
Labels: Yale Strom