Tel Aviv Diary August 19-22, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from August 19-22, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut


5 days in the galileeı ı

ı of course I’m not online up north here – but I am addicted – so I am writing ıuncensored and uncorrected impressions and will put them on the web when I get ıhome. It may not be ‘fresh’ but it’s real.

ı Almost everywhere you go up north you’re in another world. As soon as we got out of ıour cars for some refreshment we were tourists, welcome strangers in a familiar yet ıforeign land. We asked at Al Asil (North of Carmiel, south of Sefad) if we could ıbring the dog into the restaurant and discovered that hospitality extends to terriers. ıAnd a few other pointers and shepherds wandering around.

ı We were too hungry to decypher and translate the food and allowed the waiter to ımake the decisions – he began with alfalfa (think its called filfellia) salad, collard ıgreens (Jargir?) and onions, pickled sorrel (olesh), and a few other delights like ıburghul and fried onion.

The main courses were equally strange and yet familiar, ıcourgettes stuffed with lamb in a yoghurt lemon source, kafta (ground ı lamb baked in tomato sauce) and a pulled beef in some kind of bacarahat cinammon ısauce with brown rice.ı All of it seemed familiar – I know I’ve had all of it before – the jarjir in harlem (!) ıThe rest in various restaurants and homes years and years ago.ı But I was enthralled – with the food and the people. And this thrall continued. From ıthere we went on to Amirim where we’d rented a little house in the forest – a faintly ıpissy smelling place that was nevertheless great fun – a big jacuzzi on the back porch ıthat we tried in the dark at night and saw the stars, a loft for the little kiddies it took ıthem a while getting used to, a garden rich in mulberry and sage and wonderful ıflowers.

ı Now Amirim was a real surprise to me – why I don’t know – if I knew it was ıvegetarian, and up in the mountains, I should have known it would have a kinky ıbunch of guests – like Haim Chertok who I bumped into at the grocery story. And ıme. Even the clerk at the grocer’s sent me off with words of warm advice, and when ıwe took the kids to the playground the dog made friends with every one. A group of ılong-haired haredi girls in long skirts and long sleeved-blouses taking care of their ıonly little brother learned for the first time to pet an animal. And when I told them I ıwas from tel aviv, one of them asked – do you know the Russo family?

ı The next morning we went to the monkey jungle – then I could see how many ıdifferent kinds of tourists there are – Shusha and I was confined to the entrance ıbecause the number of wild animals and birds and kids would have shook her up (plus ıthere was a rule about dogs). So they came to visit us anyway – swans and roosters ıand peacocks and pelicans. And I got to see some of the monkeys when I got ıspelled.

. but I was talking about the people – City Haredi and Mountain Haredi, ı Regular religious, and kibbutzers, christian and Muslim – in traditional wear, in ıreligious clothing, in regular clothes. On the phone I describe them to Orit and she ısays, of course, the whole area is ‘ruchni’ or, in english, ‘spritchal’ (like a corruption ıof spiritual)

The monkey jungle is inYodfat and we stayed there for lunch in a café ıthat was part of the kibbutz’s mess hall long ago, a place called Il Collina. It’s a little ıı‘tuscan’ and the food and the atmosphere is inspired by that. It was good and not ıexpensive – with pizzas and pastas and stuff, and apparently very famous.

Still in ıYodfat we went to visit its sock outlet and my fetish-ridden husband bought countless ıpairs of brightly striped socks for children. His equally fetish-ridden wife bought ıunderwear.

We kept missing the news on the radio – the paper here is always out ıof whack from the moment it comes out because new things happen from minute to ıminute, so missing the radio or the television news is being entirely out of whack. ıBut it must have been freudian. Who would want to know the news when the ıpossibilities seem so much better?

Here’s an example. We stopped for gas at a ıplace called Arabiya – a big Arab town with countless pharmacy, dentist, and doctor ısigns. Shusha and I got out and sat on the steps of the gas station office next to a boy ıwho knew no hebrew, and my arabic failed me suddenly. I started to tell him about ıthe ‘cat’ and he thought I was crazy. He did enjoy her singing, though. Then all of a ısudden Shusha spotted some man who she decided was a friend – he walk up a small ıalley and she ran after him. He got spooked and ran away, and the guys from the gas ıstation ran after to bring her back. She disappeared into her new lover’s courtyard but ıcame back when I called. And with no language there was something for all of us to ılaugh about.

When I came back and caught a minute of news on TV I saw only ıconflict and enmity. Now why should I want to see the news?

The second ımorning we took off for Manara, a spot that can take an entire day for a normal family ıto explore. We started out with the steep and breathtaking mountain cable cars, and at ıthe bottom some of us took a turn on the track cars. If Shusha was not with us, ıperhaps I would have tried the Omega, and maybe someone would have warmed up to ıthe cliff climbing or snappling, but we didn’t. We skipped the swimming pool and ıthe children’s entertainment center too, and were forced to skip the restaurant – which ıwas full, and decided to descend to Metulla for lunch. We were so hungry we didn’t ıstop on the way, and stopped at the first restaurant, the one by the old school, called ıı“Hatachana,” named both for the Station (or the ruins of the station) and the act of ıchewing. Having overindulged on meat, we drove through the main road of Metulla, ınow lined with restaurants and hotels, and went up to the Lebanese border. We’d ıactually been driving along the border for a while before we hit Metulla but I couldn’t ıpass without visiting the “good Fence,” the open border between Lebanon and Israel. ıı

I used to have good friends who lived in the last house before the border, but he died years ago and I haven’t been able to reach her for at ıleast 3 years. So I wanted to stop by their house and see who was living there – but it ıwas all closed up, even though their name is still on the door.

Even though I’d ıseen her many times since the hope of the “good fence” diminished, and I’ve known them through many different times, I will always associate them and their ıhouse with the wonderful feeling we had when we would buy trinkets from Lebanon ıon the border.

Although there are lots of places that mean a lot to me in that area, ıour next stop was the roaring lion at Tel Chai. This is the memorial to Yoseph ıTrumpeldor and the seven others who were killed in 1920 when a delegation of Arab ısoldiers investigating the possible presence of French military in the hebrew ıcompound opened fire on the settlers. Trumpeldor was already a hero from the ıJapanese -Russian war, the Russian revolution, and his presence had raised the spirits ıof the weary settlers. When he was mortally injured, he is said to have told the doctor ıtreating him, “it is good to die for one’s country,” and that quote has been frequently ırepeated, But in recent years it was reported that his last words were in russian “Yop ıfo yo mat” or fuck your mother.

Arik Einstein, about whom I have written ıfrequently here, had a song over a decade ago with the word, “Trumpeldor was a hero ıı– could it be that it’s all over?”

I had to wait outside of Tel Chai because it is a ıcemetery and Shusha does not belong there, so we sat on a stump just off the path and ıwaited. A steady stream of people passed, and because it was Shusha – looking very ısedate and cute – many children asked their fathers, “is that the roaring lion?” So I ıwound up talking to people from Beit Shemesh, from Jerusalem, from kibbutzim, just ıeverywhere. And they were all braving the heat of the day (35 degrees centigrade) to ıvisit the memorial to a man who died over 80 years ago and didn’t even know ıHebrew. In that sense I don’t think it is over.

ı It was getting a little late (4 p.m.) amd everything was beginning to close down, like ıthe museum at Tel Chai and the Hula Nature Preserve, so we decided to head for ıRosh Pina, the community found near the end of the 19th century (1884) and called ıı“Gai Oni” – or the valley of poverty – because it sounded like the adjacent Arab ıvillage “Ja-oni.” The town has been reconstructed and the physical form of the city’s ıcentre follows the original 19th century shape and structure, but in content it is more ılike a 60’s hippy village: jewellry stories, leather shops, galleries and cafés. The old ıfarm implements on display in the middle of the town seem a bit embarassed. And ıyet proud as well. More proud than the patchwork and ceramics, beautiful though ıthey are.

On the third day I was buying milk in the local grocery store, when Ezi ıpushed the newspaper at me – here’s something for our vacation. Bus bombing in ıJerusalem. 19 people killed. So far. Most not identified yet. Natan Zahavi on the ıradio would have preferred to put on sad music and go home – even he had nothing to ısay. He asked people not to call in with the usual platitudes, and it seemed like they ıtoo were in the same sad silent mood. What could we do? We decided to go up to ıTeffen, the museum and sculpture park near Ma’a lot Tarshicha, although in ıretrospect, I can’t remember why. Every time I’ve been there, except for a very ıspecific exhibit, I’ve been vaguely disappointed by the atmosphere and couldn’t ıremember why. This time when we came to the entrance and I saw the ‘no dogs ıallowed’ sign, I remembered why I didn’t remember the last exhibit we came to last ıtime. I stayed outside with Mocha while Ezi and Rachel went through the sculpture. ıNot that I didn’t enjoy myself. Then it was 4 in the afternoon in the winter and ıgrowing dark, and the birds in the parking lot were in a fury about which tree they ıwere going to sleep in. This time I split the exile with Ezi, and went to the drawing ıroom with Liora (who was a bit cranky from the ride and who knows what else) – but ıa workshop had just ended and the instructor refused to show us the secret of the ımagic drawing she had just taught, even though she could see the tears forming in ıLiora’s eyes. We grabbed some paper and went out to find crayons but the store had ınone to sell, and I think the saleslady was the sister of the drawing instructor. At the ıpost office we found a more sympathetic being, willing to see us markers, and passed ıthe rest of the time while the family wandered in marking up papers. Then I traded ıwith Ezi. So Teffen may have been a great place, but we couldn’t appreciate it.

I ıdidn’t really appreciate the great restaurant we went to in Kfar Vradim afterward, ıeven though now I know I’m generalizing because Shusha had to stay outside. This is ıan Arab restaurant situated on a hill, with a breathtaking view from all directions. As ıShusha looked in the window with an expression of great suffering, I complained that ıan Arab restaurant should have an Arab name (not just Kfar Vradim in Hebrew), that ıthe square-shaped Egyptian-looking waiters should be able to smile and communicate ısometimes, and that someone should have noticed how well-behaved and exceptional ıShusha was and let her in.

Okay, I have my own hobbyhorses.

The food ıwas very good. Standard Arab restaurant menu and very good and relatively cheap. ıThe kebab had a hint of sumak and cinnamon and lots of good parsley.

But they ıwere not nice.

And here we had been going through Arab towns and villages all ımorning without encountering a scowl like that.

Well, as we were driving down a ıone-lane road in sisra there was a tractor blocking because the driver was conversing ıwith a resident in the second story window, and when ezi threw his palms out to say, ıwhat’s up, he curled his fingers in front of his face to say, come and get me.

I ıthought he was kidding, but as he drove by I saw he wasn’t.

but it was his town, ınot ours. And if we want the scenic routes we should keep our mouths shut and hands ıon the wheel.

There was a great statue in the center circle of one of the towns we ıpassed through this afternoon – an Arab horseman in full charge. We went by too fast ıfor me to see when he died – I need time to decipher Arab ciphers – but I think it had ıto do with WWI.

Still the charging horseman threw me off and I dreamt about ıhim all night – not as a hero but as my enemy,

I think we’re picking the worst ıplaces in the Galilee to visit on purpose, just to ruin our vacation. I mean how can we ıenjoy ourselves when so much tragedy continues around us. I spend clandestine time ıcalling friends to make sure they and theirs are all right, and everyone knows ısomeone on that bus or in that neighborhood. It has to be clandestine because my ıgranddaughters are not to feel this tragedy. They don't need to hear or see it. So ıwhen the phone rings and someone asks me where I am and if we're okay, I sound ıhearty and happy. There is no one in this country whose heart has not been ıripped.

On the fourth morning of our trip the radio announces a new operation, ıı“slil mechuvan” going house to house in the casbah in schchem, and all that jazz. But ıwe still are accepting the road map. Right.

I couldn’t have foreseen how dismal ıSefad would be. Or did I make it dismal. We began at the candle factory – which ıwas closed. So we walked around the back way for a half hour in the religious quarter, ıtransparent as glass to all the residents, and then came to the candle shop. Very very ıbeautiful candles but I didn’t get to see them because to the question of whether I ıcould carry shusha in I got a very evil and emphatic look. So I just saw what we ıbought. Colorful and creative pieces, not terribly expensive, and made with a general ıaudience in mind as well as a religious one. I was trying to remember what I had ıbeen saying to myself in Arab villages, if I am in their territory I must respect it, but I ıcould not meet with any friendly faces or a kind word, and especially in light of the ımutual disaster we have just all experienced, this aloof and superior behavior seemed ısuperfluous.

why oh why couldn’t I find Adam Schoenbrun’s phone number or ıthe number of others I used to know in the neighborhood? I would have profited not ıonly from seeing good people but also from their advice as to where to go in Zefat. ıı

I always notice strange things – never the central ones. And I found myself ıobserving the cut and the sewing of the children’s clothes. Simple girls’ skirts. I ımyself made countless skirts like that long ago – but never THAT badly. I mean how ımany mistakes can you make in a single 4 piece navy garment. It couldn’t be that ıhard to cut the pieces in the same size, sew them together evenly and then put in a ızipper that doesn’t bunch. Also when you cut clothes down to smaller children you ıcan make them fit.

And then the cooking smells. I remember those smells – ırefugee soup I used to called it when I was a little girl a few years away from being a ırefugee myself. The children smelled of it. The apartments smelled of it. I think the ıpot was never cleaned but new things were always being added. I still don’t know ıwhat they put in it. But it wasn’t appetizing.

As if anything attractive and ıappetizing detracts from the tasks of holiness.

The artists’ colony was even more ısad – there were some artists with great work, but many of the galleries seemed ıclosed, and more were showing kitsch. Tourists were not in evidence. We spoke ıbriefly with a few who exhibited in Tel Aviv, and I remembered the first time I was ıthere – 1965 – and it was vibrant and mutually inspiring. Then I met people all over, ımaybe because I was young and people were more curious. And I felt space and ıinspiration there.

We had screamingly hungry children and no sense of where to ıgo – a very bad way to choose a restaurant. The nearest and easiest was in a center ıwe’d seen the other day on the way from Rosh Pina – a Thai place next to the ıdrugstore. Some indifferent looking people in religious garb told us we could bring in ıthe dog, and gave us lemonade, and suddenly the day began to improve. The food ıturned out to be perfect – something like Thai-Polish – everything a little sweeter and ıless hot than anything oriental I could imagine. But it had a character of its own. And ıI ate the kids food as well as my own.(This may have been because we had dinner the ınight before at a vegetarian restaurant in Amirim – very expensive and quite varied ıand complex, but not ultimately filling. You really have to be into that food – me I ıprefer hummous, pasta, chips)

I declined an afternoon visit to Mount Meron, ıeven though I thought my visit to the north would not be complete without a few holy ıtombs, and stayed home to listen to the dogs talking to each other in the late ıafternoon. The jacuzzi on the porch, a glass of local wine, a book of Shirley ıKaufman’s verses… ah, but the hudna just died. Abu shamas has been killed by five ırockets to his car and the hamas is boiling. That’s what we needed – ‘tslil mechuvan’ ıright into the heart of the road map. Efi Eitam and his guys say there never was a ıhudna anyway and we should be more aggressive about protecting our people, but ıAvraham Poraz and many others noted this morning (before the assasination) that if ıwe can strengthen Abu Mazen the Palestinian people would ensure the continuation of ıthe ceasefire.

It’s a moot point now, isn’t it. We know what I would have chosen ıhad I been in a position to make the decisions. And so what.

Thank goodness I ıdidn’t go to Har Miron. I have my doubts about Reb Shimon Bar Yochai anyway – I ımean maybe if he and Bar Cochba had kept their cool we never would have been ıexiled from this land, right? But what would have killed me about Miron is the mess ıand the ugliness. The traffic mess, the chaos, the uncooperative population – ıeveryone came back in vile moods, looking for simple pleasures to erase the ıexperience.

Day five and we are on our way home – but stop at Mount Tabor – ıat the top of the church the view is magnificent – you can see the whole countryside. ıThe churchyard is empty, except for some supervisor from the Vatican and an Arab ıworking building a little annex or something. The church itself is magnificent, lovely ıand quiet and holy. There are SOME things we could learn from each other.


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