Tel Aviv Diary May 30, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from May 30, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

May 30, 2003

Sharon is beginning to show he means business - releasing prisoners, easing the situation in the territories, etc. My fingers are crossed. Even though i know that's only for Christians.

For those of you who are interested in Kurt Gerron, I still haven't received the film I ordered about him, but I still talk to his portrait every day - ask him for his cinematic opinion of the 'situation' or of what is going on in my living room. He has a cynical view of life for some reason, but seems to be enjoying himself in the last few months.

Wish i could have taken him with me to the Dan Acadia for lunch today - it is such an elegant place even now - something that recalls the British colonial influence. It would have been a good place to relax. And as we sat there, the yellow sky that has been with us for two days turned blue again as the dust went back to the desert.

He did enjoy our shabbat dinner though. We have him placed so that he participates in every meal.

I wonder what he does with our illegal cleaner when she comes. She's become so frightened of discovery she's taking her son born here and her husband and making off for Spain. And she's so distracted she didn't even clean him or the table in front of him this week. She really deserves a better life, but doesn't have much of a chance unless her home country gets a little civilized. Or maybe we change our economic policies to acknowledge the existence of such people - i mean she's been around for 15 years.

May 31, 2003

Shabbat morning - the Lady next door hasn't been screaming for the past few days. Maybe longer. I've been so used to hearing her for over 20 years I don't usually pay attention, but suddenly the silence hit me. She is the one who always reminds me of Auschwitz. Her obsessive-compulsive clothes washing always makes perfect sense to me, and her constant conversations with 3 voices also seem logical. And she is so much a part of what Tel Aviv means to me, that I think I'm going to see if she's all right, or on some new medication.

Didn't get an answer yet. She often hides out on weekends anyway.

Last night at dinner Jake Lassner caused my kids eyes' to pop out when he predicted a return to religion in Israel. "As soon as you get rid of the religious people in control" he said, "people will find religion again." They stared. I'll warrant most of their religious energies have been spent on avoiding religion and knowledge of religion because it is forced down their throats. It's not a question of belief but of control. So they try to know as little as possible. And talking to Jake they found they had to have most of his terminology translated. Words i have grown up with but have not had occasion to use for years - like aruv. THere are lots of terms conering religion we know and don't really understand in hebrew. Even words like kosher. Many non religious people around here keep kosher, but many don't understand the rules or the reason.

The discussion of words led me to a diatribe against the OED. I had no idea I had anything against the OED. Bandi and I used to examine it together. He'd say, "look up the word CABLE" and I'd read out the etymology - Indian for hemp or something. But it is obvious to anyone who knows Hebrew that the word for cable is Kevel. There were a lot of unacknowledged hebrew words there - and we were just fooling around. Imagine how many a thorough check would turn up. It's probably that there weren't too many Hebrew scholars on their staff then, but it has done some damage to the status of Hebrew.

When we came back tonight from the Chilean Ambassador's evening on Neruda, I turned the page of the calendar and suddenly realized i could be turning the page of a new era. What if this is the month we begin to realize that Sharon and Abu MAzen really mean business? One of the speakers about Neruda reminded us of that night that Pinochet overthrew Allende - and what a tragedy it was for the left here (and Neruda), even though the local left won a great victory in the elections that night. Meir Pa'il, the leader of the 'victory' pointed out then that all our eyes were on Chile. What a sense of international interrelationship we had then.

But if as Jake points out revolution just means turning the wheel of fortune round again, maybe it's time for the world to turn back to the left. (All right - my directions here are mixed but you get the idea.).

June 1, 2003

Theoretical progress today: 1. the closure is being eased and some Palestinians are allowed entry to Israel. 2. fishing area widened in Gaza 3. a few hundred Palestinian prisoners released. 4. Sanctions eased in ther territories. Usually this move presages a big terrorist attack here, but let's hope it won't happen. Let's hope June is a month of new beginnings.

I know most of my friends (especially from the US) think I'm crazy to risk my own life - but we have to take a chance.

Keep your fingers crossed for each individual in these lands.

Today Ha'aretz has an article about a study that shows that young American Jews aren't connected to Israel. It's here. Wow. big surprise. i don't know the people in charge who are exporting Israeli art and culture but they must be over 80 and very very uptight. While the young people here have no voice outside of this country. For instance. I know a number of rock singers who have made English demos of their work. They are good. Hemi Rudner, Sharon Moldavi, Ronen Shapira, Barry Sacharov. Sometimes they are politically left, sometimes not. But i can't believe they wouldn't be a thousand times more successful as ambassadors than the georgian folk dancers i saw on Independence eve with the U.S. V.I.P.s - dancers they had seen hundreds of times before. I can't believe that the thousands of poets I know in Tel Aviv wouldn't mean much more to college kids in the U.S. than the retired consuls in shiny suits they send. Becky Griffin - our new MTV representative - is going to be seen all over the world but part of her contract is that she NOT discuss politics. Now I know this girl, and she knows more about politics and logic than those old men in shiny suits.

But I guess the old men in shiny suits are making the rules. I mean even in the pop up ad for the ha'aretz home page, where they make an offer for a free trip to israel for young people - they are showing old peoples' dreams of young people - and not the young people i know. old and unrealistic.

(later) Sharon asked his Likkud fellows not to make waves - to wait for later for introducing legistlation and bringing up controversial issues. Hmm. Maybe this thing will work after all - Even though Bibi just got through making a speech at Ben Gurion pointing out the fact that terror attacks and attempts have continued throughout this recent period.

To answer a few questions about belly dancing. I will make this into a big issue if you like. The class I go to is at Studio B and is taught by Barbara, who is American. She is a very good dancer - formal and correct. There are a number of classes and schools in Tel Aviv - which has become very into belly dancing. And last week when I went to the Flea Market at Yaffo I discovered a whole store for belly dancing scarves and bras and stuff - very elaborate costumes and very cheap. Me I bought a great costume at an unofficial shop on King George Street a few years ago. Instead of going to Cairo, you can come here. When I was in Jordan I saw more commercial costumes - shoddy and very expensive. But I probably didn't know where to go.

So much for costumes. As for the music - many people dance at weddings and joyous occasions to "mizrachi" music. I don't like to dance to it because it doesn't use quarter tones and complicated rhythms, but it's very in. My favorite singer remains Hakim. Once in a flea market on the upper west side in NY I suddenly heard Hakim's music and raced to the vendor - but he wouldn't sell it to me - saw i was Israeli.

Yes, I may be too old for this stuff but I am inside my body and don't know what it looks like - i only know how it feels.

June 2, 2003

Bush is sending us a babysitter! That's what Maariv calls it. For me it is an old friend, Bob Blackwell, whose ex-wife Anne has been the subject of a number of my poems. Especially one about bargaining. This one is from Ignorant Armies and I hope it is a political presage:



When I was very small

Aunt Raisel who survived the holocaust

said to the peddlar, "You call this fabric?"

Look how it wrinkles, see how it tears,"

"Why the Queen of England wears

no better wool." "And bought it from you,

I suppose. I'll give you two groschen

for this rag, no more." "No less than four

could I take for such cloth. Your mother

who never married taught you nothing."

"Your father was a thief before you, I knew

him well in our town." Thus she would

jew him down, and I was red with shame.

Later, each spit on the curb where the other walked,

angry and sure he'd been had.


Margalit, from Spain, took me to the wholesalers

one day for a bathing suit. Her way

was to draw close to the man

and remind him of all she had bought

before, all the women she had steered

to his store. "We have a special friendship

she whispered, with an elbow and a wink.

I think, "It'll never work,"

but we walk out with our low priced parcel

and broad smiles. When I look back in the shop

I see him counting our cash again, grinning.

The bathing suit fades in the first sun.


Gentle Anne shops in the shuk for gifts

"That plate is lovely," she breathes,

"How much?" The swarthy shopkeeper quotes a price

I can only sniff at two hundred is outrageously high.

But she puts the plate on the counter

and continues admiring the engraving,

the way it catches the light.

"Yes, and that pitcher how heavy and solid it is.

My mother would just love that shade of blue."

He smiles, polishes the glass with his sleeve.

"You have such fine things here. It is an honor

to be in a shop owned by a man of good taste."

She wouldn't waste her words, dear Anne,

and never - as far as I know - lies.

The shopkeeper orders coffee for three:

I tug at her sleeve, "The price! The price!"

"It's all right," she smiles, and I think,

absurdly, of ancient women Rebecca, Yochevet, Shulamit.

Over coffee she tells of her husband, the babies, her writing

and asks the man about his shop, his wife, living in Yaffo.

All the while I watch the stack of plates,

trays, and statuettes she has put aside.

When we've finished our coffee, and the final candlestick

has been placed in the pile,

She says, "This is all worth so much

these gifts will please my family

but I only have three hundred

to spend today."

They go back and forth a while and agree

with all the sweetness and quiet

Anne is known for.

We walk past the shops

carrying her parcels

carrying her peace.

This is not a great poem - not enough clear description of her tactics and how trust and good will changes the attitude toward bargaining, the results, and the feeling after. Nevertheless it reminds me of a way of life i try to learn.

We lost touch years ago - she called me the day before my first colonoscopy and i was so flustered i lost her number to call her back. But she's always remained a model for dialogue. And now Bob Blackwell is here - I don't think he's as good at it as she was, but he must be influenced by her in some way...

June 3, 2003

The point was I didn't have the vaguest idea not only about 'bargaining' but also about any form of interrelationship with people with whom I had been living for years. I had to have someone else point out to me that there was an art to communication.

As for bargaining, I still don't know how. I usually wind up paying more than the normal person because of the scarlet letter on my forehead that says S for sucker. And I'm usually grateful that that was all I paid.

I also had to have someone point out to me that all people are human beings. Something I would have thought was second nature. But bad habits and bad attitudes are easily learned, and have to be unlearned sometimes with great difficulty. I admit - I spend more time unlearning, and relearning that most normal people.

And I admit I am easily swayed by all kinds of propaganda - well you know that if you read these pages -and I must spend a great deal of time checking out the reality behind my opinions.

And that's why I get along with cats and dogs much better than people. They don't even try to influence me.

Why am i not writing about Sharm El Sheik and Aqaba? It's hard to write when you're not breathing. holding your breath

And anyway nothing here has changed so far - high terrorist alert around here, rock throwing in shechem, shooting, etc.

And lots of people around here are really upset about the freeing of terrorist prisoners.

But then it's going to take us all a long time to get used to not hating. And Arrafat is still telling terrorists to kill. We've had well over 50 foiled terrorist attacks in the last week...

you are visitor number


To Karen Alkalay-Gut Diary

To Karen Alkalay-Gut home