Sunday, November 30, 2008
Florence -- Haggling in the Synagogue
I had an experience last week that threw into even sharper relief the contradictions of caricature and irony found in the insider vs outsider use of Jewish stereotypes.
I was in Florence for a very interesting and wide-ranging conference on representations of Jews in European popular culture, organized by young scholars at the European University Institute in nearby Fiesole.
Before the official start of the conference, a group of us visited Florence's synagogue and the Jewish museum housed in its women's gallery. The synagogue is a stately Moorish-style structure with an ornate interior and towering green dome. A grandiose symbol of Jewish emancipation, it was designed by the architects Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini and Vincenzo Micheli and inaugurated in 1882.
The Jewish museum is on two levels -- the lower level is mainly a display of Judaica. The upper level was revamped and reopened last year as a multi-media history exhibit using objects, panels, sound and projected images to tell the story of the Jewish community in Florence.
After visiting the museum, I stopped in the gift shop (I love museum gift shops.) It's small, but has a lot on offer -- jewelry, ritual objects, stationery, etc. All seemed rather expensive, but, with Hanukkah gifts on my mind, I found a nice little pair of earrings for €15.
I wanted to get another piece, apparently made by the same designer. The saleswoman showed me a pendant -- for €20.
I didn't want to spend that much, I told her. Her response was immediate. "What would you like to pay? How much do you want to spend?"
Well, the earrings were only €15 -- I didn't want to spend more than that.
"OK -- €15 -- the pendant is yours!"
Damn, I thought. She gave me 1/4 off, just like that. I could have got it for less!
Then I thought about the last place I had come into contact with a reference to bargaining in a Jewish context -- the "At the Golden Rose" cafe in L'viv, where no prices were put on the menu so that patrons could haggle ("like Jews") as to what they would pay...
As for the conference -- I will try to write something on it later. For now, you can see the program by clicking HERE.