Below is an article about the restaurant that I performed at from 1993-1999. It's written by my favorite writer for the Jerusalem Post. Reprinted by permission of the Jerusalem Post. Click hereto go directly to the section that talks about my juggling.

Here I am doing torches in a toga:

torches in a toga


NOT PAGE ONE: Ate too, Brute?


By SAM ORBAUM

(May 19) It's an obvious idea, but for 2,000 years nobody thought of it: a Roman restaurant, in Rome.

We're not talking gnocchi here. I don't know what the Italians have been so busy with over the centuries, but it never occurred to them that, when in Rome, you could make a lot of money doing what the Romans did.

Leave it to Israeli ingenuity. The owners of Jerusalem's Culinaria - a theme restaurant true to Apicius-era dining, right down to the togas - are planning to export their idea right back to where it all began.

But why stop there? They're going to embark on a little empire-building of their own, with a culinary invasion in the footsteps of the Ro man Legionnaires: throughout Europe, here in Jaffa and at the Dead Sea, and, uh, in Miami. (No, the Roman Empire did not reach that far, but Miami has tourists, so what the heck.)

The overseas chain will be modeled after the nine-year success of the Culinaria, except for a couple of details: it won't be kosher, and the shtick will be different.

The shtick is what makes this joint unusual. You don't just khlop the food, grepse and waddle out the door. Co-owner Shmuel Mantinband, an Orthodox Jew whose calling card gives his title as "Caesar," and Imam Tibi ("Curator"), a tall, handsome, twinkly-eyed Arab from East Jerusalem, run a show that has the place rollicking. These folks don't just greet you at the door with a mumbled "Good evening"; trumpets blare to proclaim your arrival, which can be a bit embarrassing if you're late and trying to sneak in unnoticed by the rest of your party.

Then, unless you're a fuddy-duddy, you allow yourself to be bedecked in toga and garland, and Legionnaire's sword, shield and helmet (all made of authentic plastic).

Getting to your triclinium (table) can be a bit dodgy if the juggler is tossing fiery torches around. Better to trip over the harpist, flutist or guitarist. At your triclinium, the first thing you do is - complain. They forgot the damn forks. There are none; forks weren't invented until the Middle Ages. You're encouraged to eat with your hands, though they do provide a little two-pronged spear for the fastidiously manicured.

The menu, like the decor, is strictly ancient. There's no potatoes, tomatoes, corn or eggplant, and God forbid you should ask for a Coke. The most notable compromise with modern times is that the restaurant no longer waters down the wine, as the Romans were wont to do; it seems 20th-century diners complained.

I WONDERED if, in this meshugga city where everybody takes everything so seriously, anyone ever threatened to firebomb the place for glorifying a conquering culture. No, Caesar Shmuel said. Then he winced. "There was one guy. He said, 'Does this mean that in 2,000 years there's going to be a Nazi restaurant?'

"Phht! Even the likes of NRP MK Hanan Porat has managed to digest a meal here without mentioning Masada. However, he did firmly decline to wear a Legion naire's helmet, in case some humorless news photographer was lurking. How would that look?"

It is perfectly consistent with Jerusalem logic that a Christian establishment is owned by Jews and managed by an Arab. And it is the latter, Imam, who delivers the comic monologue for Hebrew-speaking groups. It took a while to perfect his shpiel, though. At first, he made an understandable mistake. Pointing out the efforts they'd made to recreate an authentic Roman dining room, he made note of the color of the walls, painted in "Bombay red."

Huh?

He was subsequently given a quick speech-therapy session, to teach him to say the sound "p"- which Arabs have trouble with. Now, it makes a lot more sense when he describes it as "Pompeii red."

Imam could afford to make a mistake; Scott Seltzer could not. By day, Scott works in computers; by night, he's the Culinaria's juggler. He starts off tamely with rubber balls, working his way up to fireballs. Scott, a 27-year-old native of Tucson, Arizona, has been juggling since he was seven; he's been performing at the Culinaria for the past five years.

Ever had a mishap?

"My first night."

Oy.

"I set fire to a lady's dress. But just a little bit. Another time, I set fire to my hands, but I mean really ignited them. I managed to laugh it off, so no one realized it was an accident.

"Oh, and there was the time I was trying out a new trick. The lit torch flew out of my hands - and landed right in a girl's plate. The family loved it. They thought I'd singled them out because it was her bat mitzva."

BEFORE you step back out into the present day - well, actually, you don't, because the Culinaria is located on the Cardo, an excavated Late Roman-era boulevard - make sure you go to the bathroom. Even that's worth a few laughs. Along the corridor are painted cartoons of plotzing Romans pointing the way to the "lavatorium."

And what other restaurant in the world has a "vomitorium" - fully equipped with throat feathers?

It's a manic thought: This is what Jerusalem will ultimately contribute to international dining.

Back to my Juggling Page.


Scott Seltzer
Moshav Tarum, ISRAEL
scott@juggler.net

Cardo / Juggling Page for Scott Seltzer / scott@juggler.net