Bed bugs where you don’t expect to find them: Divan, 2004

by nobugsonme on January 1, 2008 · 3 comments

in bed bugs, bed bugs in the media, new york, new york city

I am always on the alert for bed bugs in the media: not just the news, but television shows (like The Simpsons), movies, etc.

Here’s an oldie that’s “new to me” and probably you too: New York filmmaker Pearl Gluck’s 2004 beautiful documentary Divan is about her exploration of her Hasssidic heritage, and centers around her dream of bringing a family heirloom–a divan, a 100-year old wooden upholstered sofa–back from Hungary.

The divan is not just a heirloom–it’s where esteemed Rebbes of yore slept when visiting overnight.

Gluck meets a Hassidic Rabbi (who appeared to be in his sixties) on pilgrimage, presumably from the states, at a synagogue in Hodász (Hungary). He tells her of these old divans,

In the divan, there can still be bed bugs left over from back then.

He tells her this in Yiddish, the word for bed bugs being vantsn. She asks,

What’s that word, vantsn, I don’t understand that Yiddish word?

Both the sixty-year-old and his forty-something companion reply,

Bed bugs!

We can only assume that Hassidic people from the 1950s to the 1970s took advantage of the latest pest control technologies, and that bed bugs were no more a problem for them than for other Americans for the latter half of the 20th century.

Therefore, the scene tells us that bed bugs were likely part of the stories told of older times. That Gluck did not know the word vantsn (though she was a native speaker of Yiddish, and left the Hassidic community as a teen), tells us these men either heard stories, or –perhaps in the case of the older man– maybe even experienced them earlier in life.

Of course, they’re back. They’re seriously not likely to be in a divan that has not been used for decades. But the idea they might persists.

The very next scene in the film shows Gluck talking with a man who restores divans upholsterer Leon Breuer, apparently back in New York City. She asks him if there are termites in the bed, and he replies,

I have a special schpritz for this stuff.

And the name of the magic potion? He wields a one gallon bottle:


The pyrethrin-and-alcohol contact killer is not likely to get bed bugs or termites out of a structure like this. But I enjoyed the film’s one-two punch vantsn and Steri-Fab.

Pearl Gluck’s film was delightful on other levels too.

I hope Gluck has not encountered bed bugs yet, but I assume she still lives in NYC, and by now has surely had friends who’ve encountered them, if she hasn’t herself.

1 hopelessnomo January 1, 2008 at 4:28 pm

I hope everyone takes a peek at the trailer and the stills. It’s quite beautiful.

Thanks, Nobugs. Happy New Year!

2 nobugsonme January 1, 2008 at 6:16 pm

It’s a good film. I highly recommend it!
Happy New Year to you, hopelessnomo!
And to everyone.

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