Monday, September 26, 2011

The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the most thrilling memories I have is standing with my daughter - I think she was ten or eleven years old - in front of a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls and listening to her read it, recognizing words from a 2000 year old document. Every penny spent on Hebrew parochial school seemed to make complete sense (cents) for the first time. The vastness of two millennia of history and tradition suddenly vanished, time and space contracted into a single awesome moment in a chamber more powerful than a nuclear reactor; the mind of a little Jewish girl. I'm guessing this why the Dead Sea Scrolls going on the internet actually gives me goosebumps.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coco Chanel: Opportunist and Anti-Semite

In addition to her collaborations, Chanel spoke loudly and vehemently against Jews, and even tried to take advantage of the Nazi seizure of Jewish businesses and property. Her world-famous perfume, Chanel No. 5, was owned and produced by the Wertheimers—a rich Franco-Jewish family. Chanel had always been paranoid that the Wertheimers were stealing from her (though her lawyer assured her of the contrary), and during the war, when the family had fled to America, she attempted to take full control of Chanel No. 5. But the Wertheimers had anticipated that the Nazis (or Chanel) might try to steal their company, and therefore they signed it over to a Frenchman for the duration of the war. Chanel couldn’t touch it. The Wertheimers also sent a spy, Herbert Gregory Thomas (under the pseudonym, Don Armando Guevaray Sotto Mayor), to retrieve the chemical formula to make Chanel No. 5 as well as collect all the necessary ingredients. He then brought everything back with him to America, so that the Wertheimers could continue to produce and sell the fragrance. Vaughan finally gets his spy moment here, and it is certainly one of the most exciting portions of the book.

She partied with the Nazis at the Paris Ritz and then gave bottles of perfume away to American GI liberators to bring back home to their mothers, wives and girlfriends. Read the book review here.